Summary: In the opening verses of this critical chapter of Acts 8, three progressive features show "How God uses Evil for Good", describing: 1) Persecution (v.1–3), which stems from 2) Preaching (v.4-7), which results in 3) Productivity (v.8).

Acts 8:1-8 [8:1] And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. [2] Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. [3] But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. [4] Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. [5] Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. [6] And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. [7] For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. [8] So there was much joy in that city. (ESV)

On Sunday, January 8, 1956, on the shore of a lonely river deep in the Ecuadorian jungle, five missionaries were murdered by Auca Indians. News of the massacre shocked the world. To some, their deaths seemed a senseless tragedy. Many decried the promising missionary lives cut short, the five young wives bereft of their husbands, the children left fatherless.. Those with deeper spiritual insight saw things differently. Nate Saint, one of the five martyrs, had written: "As we weigh the future and seek the will of God, does it seem right that we should hazard our lives for just a few savages? As we ask ourselves this question, we realize that it is not the call of the needy thousands, rather it is the simple intimation of the prophetic Word that there shall be some from every tribe in His presence in the last day and in our hearts we feel that it is pleasing to Him that we should interest ourselves in making an opening into the Auca prison for Christ". (Elisabeth Elliot, Through Gates of Splendor [Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale, 1981], 176)

At first glance, Stephen’s death in Acts 8, may also seem pointless. Here was another promising life cut short. He was a powerful, miraculous preacher, with a deep knowledge of the Old Testament. Such was the godly character of his life that he was one of the seven chosen by the church to oversee its daily affairs. Why was it necessary that one so gifted have such a brief ministry? Further, his ministry seemed to have ended in failure. Not only was he killed as a heretic, but his death also triggered the first persecution against the entire church. That persecution, spearheaded by Saul of Tarsus, scattered the Jerusalem fellowship. Such a skewed view of Stephen’s death, however, betrays a lack of understanding of the way the Holy Spirit works. The persecution, which seemed to be a negative, was in reality a positive factor. It led to the first great missionary outreach by the early church. Satan’s attempt to stamp out the church’s fire merely scattered the embers and started new fires around the world. In the words of the early church Father Tertullian, the blood of the martyrs became the seed of the church. What Satan and his instruments meant for evil, God meant for Good. This, and so many other situations like it are instances where “God uses evil for Good”.

For the majority of faithful believers across this planning and underway in North America, we see the manifestation of persecution against those who stand for the cause of Christ. The question, then, is how important is following Christ is to us. If it is our consuming passion, we will not resent suffering because amidst the pain we have the underlying assurance that it is leading us to achieve the greatest impact for the Kingdom of God. John and Betty Stam were missionaries in China who were martyred by the communists in the 1930s while they were still in their late twenties. John Stam once said, “Take away everything I have, but do not take away the sweetness of walking and talking with the King of glory!” Those who find such joy in their union with Christ will find that suffering is indeed a blessing, for it leads them to greater depths of the greatest pleasure one can know. We need to redeem pleasure from the stranglehold of emptiness to which the world has condemned it (Fernando, A. (1998). Acts. The NIV Application Commentary (267). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.).

In the opening verses of this critical chapter of Acts 8, three progressive features show "How God uses Evil for Good", describing: 1) Persecution (Act 8:1–3), which stems from 2) Preaching (Acts 8:4-7), which results in 3) Productivity (Acts 8:8).

We can see “How God uses Evil for Good” through:

1) Persecution (Act 8:1–3)

Acts 8:1-3 [8:1] And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. [2] Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. [3] But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. (ESV)

The persecution the church had faced up to this point had been directed at the apostles and their associates who were proclaiming the risen Jesus. Peter and John had encountered opposition from the Jewish authorities, and Stephen had just died a martyr’s death in chapter 7. As of yet, however, no persecution had been aimed at the general members of the church. That was to change quickly. In Chapter 8:1, where we will spend quite some time, we see that Saul approved/consented of (Stephen's) execution/death. That he approved/consented (syneudokon) indicates that is was active approval, not just passive consent (cf Rom. 1:32) (Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1985). The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Ac 8:1). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.). Grammatically, this statement attaches .. to ch. 7 at the end. But it belongs rather to the commencement of the present chapter, since it serves to introduce the narrative of that persecution of the Christians which now began to extend (Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Gotthard, V. L., Gerok, C., & Schaeffer, C. F. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Acts (139). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.).

There arose on the very day of Stephen’s death, a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem. That persecution, detonated by the murder of Stephen, was led by a Hellenist Jew named Saul of Tarsus. So thoroughly did Saul agree to what was done with Stephen that he moved to do the same thing with the entire church in Jerusalem. In other words, Saul became the prime mover in this persecution (Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles (312). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.)

Stephen’s death, then, was the catalyst for the storm of persecution, led by Saul, that broke on the church. Because of the persecution, the believers were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. This is the first occurrence of the word persecution in Acts (except for the use of the verb in 7:52). As used here, it means harassing somebody in order to persuade or force him to give up his (profession of faith), or simply to attack somebody for religious reasons. Stephen’s martyrdom was the impetus for an immediate increase of persecution against those who followed Christ. Such a public exhibition would encourage other groups, who may have been holding back until this point, to proceed with persecution … against the church at Jerusalem. The predictions of the Lord Jesus Christ were coming true: “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20); “they will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God” (John 16:2). (Barton, B. B., & Osborne, G. R. (1999). Acts. Life Application Bible Commentary (132). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House.).

The Christians maintained their faith and preserved their lives by flight to points where their persecutors could not be bothered to reach them. It was sufficient for them to flee to the countryside of Judea and Samaria in order to escape from trouble. The members of the church in Jerusalem may not have understood what was happening to them, but Jesus would not let His church become limited racially, culturally, or geographically (Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1997). The Nelson Study Bible: New King James Version (Ac 8:1). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.)

Where did they go when they went to “the regions,” ? ??? ???a? “the regions,” does not mean that they went only into the country districts and avoided the cities. Samaria became especially attractive to the Christians, for they were losing their (distain) toward the Samaritans, and in this country, so close at hand, the Sanhedrin and its minions could exercise no authority (Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles (312). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House). Persecution forced the believers out of their homes in Jerusalem, but with them went the gospel. The gospel, shows no favoritism. Salvation is intended for all nations. The cross of Christ is long enough to bridge any chasm between people (Gaertner, D. (1995). Acts. The College Press NIV Commentary (Ac 8:8). Joplin, MO: College Press.).

• Sometimes we have to become uncomfortable before we’ll act. We may not want to experience it, but discomfort may be the best thing for us because God may be working through our discomfort. When you are tempted to complain about uncomfortable or painful circumstances, stop and ask if God might be preparing you for a special task. (Barton, B. B., & Osborne, G. R. (1999). Acts. Life Application Bible Commentary (134). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House.)

It is significant that some of the Christians in Acts 8:1 were prepared to stay in Samaria and they did not experience opposition there from the Samaritans. It can be presumed that the opposition in Jerusalem came principally from Stephen’s opponents and that it was directed mostly against his associates in the church. The apostles were presumably left alone; the fact that they could stay on in Jerusalem (no doubt along with other Christians) confirms the suspicion that it was mainly Stephen’s group which was being attacked (Marshall, I. H. (1980). Vol. 5: Acts: An introduction and commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (160). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.).

• For reasons we may never know this side of heaven, 2 groups of believers may undertake the same action, yet only one faces opposition. Don’t presume because one group faces or does not face opposition that they are in or out of the will of God.

That “All” scattered, does not mean every individual Christian, except the apostles, left Jerusalem. That the Jerusalem church continued to exist is clear from Acts 9:26; 11:2, 22; 15:4; and 21:17. What it does mean is that the church was broken up, and many of its members forced to flee. Acts 11:19–20 suggests that those who fled were primarily Hellenists (Greeks). Further, “from this time onward the Jerusalem church appears to have consisted almost entirely of ‘Hebrews’ ” It was only natural that the Hellenists of which Stephen was likely one would bear the brunt of the persecution. Like faithful watchmen, the apostles remained at their posts. They remained in the city out of devotion to their Lord and the desire to shepherd the flock in Jerusalem.

(F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971], 174).

Luke’s word for their dispersal: "scattered" (diaspeiro) comes from the Greek word for “seed.” They were scattered like one scatters seed. But scattered seeds grow, and the irony is that the persecution and scattering of the Christians only led to their further increase (Polhill, J. B. (1995). Vol. 26: Acts. The New American Commentary (211). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.).

• Is that true of you? Wherever you find yourself—whether scattered by work or family or education or some other means—have you considered yourself planted in that place? Have you put down roots and born fruit for Jesus Christ? That is what these early Christians did. It is because of this activity that even the (evil) things that had happened to them served to advance the cause of Christ (Boice, J. M. (1997). Acts: An expositional commentary (133). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.)

• Every time there is an attack by Satan, through the evil intent of his agents, God knows that it is that attack that produces the greatest growth; Faith becomes stronger, testimony becomes bolder, wonder by the onlookers brings inviting, and glory to God becomes grander.

An additional reason appears in verse 2: Jerusalem was still a mission field. The devout men who buried Stephen, and made great/loud lamentation over him, may not have been believers. Luke uses the term devout elsewhere to speak of pious Jews (cf. Luke 2:25; Acts 2:5). Perhaps they were friends of Stephen’s from the Hellenist synagogue he attended. Despite its rejection by the leaders, there were still people like these whose hearts might be open to the gospel. Their great/loud lamentation—forbidden by the Mishna (the authorized Jewish commentary of the scriptures) in the case of an executed criminal—amounted to a public protest of Stephen’s death. (Peterson, D. G. (2009). The Acts of the Apostles (p. 276). Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.)

• Despite an age of seeming insanity over a totally confused notion of tolerance, most people, when they are confronted one on one, can recognize injustice when the facts are presented and actions are put under a broader microscope than contemporary social engineering from media and entertainment sources.

Meanwhile, the storm of persecution continued unabated in verse 3, as Saul was ravaging the church. Armed with “authority from the chief priests” (Acts 26:10), he began entering house after house in search of Christians. he dragged off men and women alike, and committed/put them in prison. Not content to harass the saints in Jerusalem, he “persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons” (Acts 22:4). He “kept pursuing them even to foreign cities” (Acts 26:11) with the permission of the Jewish leaders (Acts 22:5). Ironically, it was on one of those missions that he was converted (Acts 9:1ff.). In his zeal for his beliefs (cf. Gal. 1:13), he fulfilled the Lord’s prediction recorded in John 16:2. He sincerely thought he was serving God by incarcerating and executing believers. And only a direct confrontation with the Lord Jesus Christ would persuade him otherwise. The effects of Saul’s persecution were devastating. He was “ravaging” (Lumainomai) a word which appears only here in the New Testament. It means “to destroy,” “to ruin,” or “to damage.” In extrabiblical writings, it was used to describe the destruction of a city (Walter Bauer, William Arndt, and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature [Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1979], 481) and mangling by a wild beast (Fritz Rienecker and Cleon L. Rogers, Jr., Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982], 278).

• Today, armed with the backing of social campaigns, school board mandates, provincial so called human rights commissions, and activist judicial rulings, there are contemporary zealots seeking pulpits, Christian schools, and even family teachings to root out what they see as homophobia and bigotry. In what must be the greatest irony to a proposed doctrine of so-called tolerance or pro-choice, if your choice is not their choice, your choice must be overruled and silenced.

Please turn to Matthew 10

There are many testimonies in this congregation of how faithfully following Christ has pitted husband against wife, parent against child, and friend against friend. This should not be a surprise, for it is what Jesus told us to expect in faithfully following him:

Matthew 10:34-39 [34]"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. [35] For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. [36] And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. [37] Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. [38] And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. [39] Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (ESV)

Saul literally tore the church apart—an act that would haunt him for the rest of his life so that he felt utterly unworthy to be called an apostle (cf. Acts 22:3–5, 19–20; 26:9ff.; Gal. 1:13; 1 Cor. 15:9; 1 Tim. 1:13). The persecution resulted in the scattering of the church. But God used the wrath of men for His gospel purposes. In what would be a regularly repeated tactical error on the part of the enemies of the gospel, both demonic and human, they overreach themselves, and so what appears to be a defeat for the cause of the gospel becomes the basis of a huge new evangelistic advance (Milne, B. (2010). The Acts of the Apostles: Witnesses to Him ... to the Ends of the Earth. Focus on the Bible Commentary (181–182). Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications.).

Illustration:

One need but contemplate the miracle of the church of Jesus Christ in China today to see that truth etched in present history. What was estimated as a Christian community of between one and two million in China in 1949 when the Maoist revolution fell on the nation, and not least upon the church, is today a Christian community of anything up to a hundred million. Indeed, one optimistic growth projection even speaks of the possibility of up to a third of China as Christian by 2025 (David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing (Regency Publishing, 2003), 285, and passim.).

Not that the cost was anything less than terrible; some twenty million are estimated to have died in the Maoist repressions including many, many Christians. Jesus had of course warned of such costliness. ‘ “No servant is greater than his master.” If they have persecuted me they will persecute you.’ Nate Saint, Christian pilot and former US airman, refers to the lesson he quickly learned during his military training—that he was personally expendable if involved in a military conflict. It was a lesson he was to directly experience personally some years later as a missionary soldier of Christ to the savage Auca Indians of the Ecuadorean jungles (Elizabeth Elliot, Through Gates of Splendour (Harper, New York, 1957).).

But every Christian needs to face up to it also. The Lord can certainly ask for that if it should serve His mission, and He may.

We can see “How God uses Evil for Good” through:

2) Preaching (Acts 8:4–7)

Acts 8:4-7 [4] Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. [5] Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. [6] And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. [7] For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. (ESV)

In spite of the persecution, those believers who were scattered were not cowering somewhere in fear but went about preaching the word. They had been doing so before the outbreak of the persecution, and after being scattered they continued to preach. Went about is from dierchomai, a word used frequently in Acts of missionary endeavors (8:40; 9:32; 13:6; 14:24; 15:3, 41; 16:6; 18:23; 19:1, 21; 20:2). Notice it was not the Apostles, because they remained in Jerusalem, but the Hellenistic Jewish Christians scattered throughout the region who became the early evangelists (Utley, R. J. (2003). Vol. Volume 3B: Luke the Historian: The Book of Acts. Study Guide Commentary Series (112). Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International.)

• It has always been God's intention for every Christian to be an evangelists. Everywhere we go, everywhere we are scattered: at work, school, or social situations, every one of us have been put there by God to preach the word.

The action here of the evangelists was that of "Preaching" which is from euangelizo, which refers to proclaiming the gospel. All the scattered believers were involved in evangelism. Although some are specially gifted as evangelists (Acts 21:8; Eph. 4:11; 2 Tim. 4:5), all Christians are called to proclaim Christ. Satan’s persecution promoted the very thing it was designed to destroy. It fired the believers with new zeal to proclaim the gospel in new areas. The Greek literally says, they were “announcing the good news of the word.” These were not ordained ministers, professional evangelists, or specially commissioned missionaries. They were just ordinary Christians doing what should come naturally to a Christian (Wade, J. W. (1987). Acts: Unlocking the Scriptures for You (pp. 80–81). Cincinnati, OH: Standard.)

• Accordingly, if we have lost sight of this clear biblical reality, we may discover to our discomfort, as did the believers in Jerusalem, that God is perfectly prepared to treat our personal schemes of domestic security, self-ful?lment, ?nancial aggrandizement, and career development with a cavalier disinterest if they stand in the way of the realizing of His heart-concern, the spread of the gospel through the world (Milne, B. (2010). The Acts of the Apostles: Witnesses to Him ... to the Ends of the Earth. Focus on the Bible Commentary (179). Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications.).

In verse 5, the Holy Spirit focuses on one man as an example of faithful evangelism. Philip, the first missionary named in Scripture, becomes the key figure for the rest of the chapter. After having stated that all the apostles remained in Jerusalem (v. 1), we understand that Luke refers to the deacon Philip (6:5) and not to the apostle (Philip 1:13). The congregation at Jerusalem was sadly disrupted; the deacons were no longer needed, and Philip was thus free to leave Although Paul later instructed Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5), Philip is the only man in Scripture actually given the title “evangelist” (Acts 21:8). That is a fitting honor in light of his pioneering work in spreading the gospel. Like Stephen, his faithfulness to that task led God to use him in a wider ministry (cf. Matt. 25:23). (Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles (315). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House).

• If you desire to be used of God in a greater scope, or with greater power, be faithful with the calling and responsibility that you presently have. It is often the coveting of another opportunity that causes us to neglect what is before us now. God does not promote incompetence.

Beginning his evangelistic work, Philip went down from the high plateau of Jerusalem to the city of Samaria, located some forty miles north of Jerusalem. Luke makes a rather matter-of-fact statement that one of the deacons by the name of Philip was sent by the apostles to Samaria to preach. That implies so much. The disciples had watched Jesus minister to some of the Samaritans and had kept their inner prejudices to themselves. But their real feelings had reflected the Jews’ hatred of the Samaritans at the time. When the northern kingdom fell in 722 B.C., many of the Jews were killed and others were carried off to Assyria. A few were left and intermarried with the Assyrians who were brought in to repopulate the conquered land. Their offspring were known as Samaritans. When the exile ended, and the Jews of pure blood were called to return to Palestine, a deep hatred developed between them and those who were despised as half-breeds. Second Kings 17:33 records their religious syncretism: “They feared the Lord and served their own gods according to the custom of the nations from among whom they had been carried away into exile.” (Ogilvie, L. J., & Ogilvie, L. J. (1983). Vol. 28: Acts. The Preacher’s Commentary Series (146–147). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.).

• This is exactly the environment into which we are called. Canada is a blend of displaced people blending together superstition and self-rightlessness. The lessons from Philip's ministry in Samaria are the lessons that will enable us to minister.

Jesus' express command in Acts 1:5 was initially fulfilled by Philip, who proclaimed to them the Christ. Proclaimed is from kerusso, which means “to proclaim publicly,” or “herald.” By New Testament times, the Samaritans had shed their idolatry. They now worshiped the true God—although after their own confused fashion, which Jesus described as “worshiping that which you do not know” (cf. John 4:20–24). The Samaritans, like the Jews, looked for the coming of the Messiah (John 4:25). Given that foundation of belief, Stephen could simply proclaim Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. To reject the messenger would mean to reject the message and rebel against the authority behind the herald, Almighty God. How people respond to God’s messenger and God’s message is serious business.( Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 435). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.)

• With some we need to spend time in pre-evangelism, tearing down their false system of belief and proving the truth of Christianity. Only then will they be prepared to understand the gospel message. Others, like these Samaritans, already have that background. They are ready to hear the gospel.

The Holy Spirit had prepared their hearts to respond to Philip’s message. As a result, his preaching resulted in a wholesale spiritual awakening, as verse six notes that the crowd/multitudes with one accord paid attention to what was said by him. The effectiveness of Philip’s ministry is highlighted here as crowds gathered and saw Philip perform miraculous signs. The signs which Philip did, like the signs seen earlier in Acts, authenticated him as a true messenger of God (cf. Acts 2:43; 4:30; 5:12–16; 6:8; 14:3; 15:12). These miracles authenticated the message and the messenger and got the attention of onlookers. Thus, the gathered crowds paid close attention to all he said (Barton, B. B., & Osborne, G. R. (1999). Acts. Life Application Bible Commentary (136). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House.)

Verse 7 gives some samples of the miracles performed by Philip: For unclean spirits, crying/shouting out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. Luke notes that those possessed by unclean spirits, or demons, were freed from their bondage. Jesus had frequently encountered and healed demon-possessed individuals (cf. Matt. 4:24; 8:16, 28; 9:32–34; 12:22–28; etc.), as Satan mustered all his forces in a futile effort to oppose Him. Jesus was still healing the demon-possessed through this associate of the apostles. Philip’s miraculous acts were reminiscent of Jesus’ ministry. He also encountered and drove out many demons during his ministry on earth. Unclean/evil spirits/Demons are ruled by Satan. Most scholars believe that they are fallen angels who joined Satan in his rebellion against God and who, in some cases, may cause an (unredeemed) person to be mute, deaf, blind, or insane. Demons also tempt people to sin. Although demons can be powerful, they are not omnipotent or omniscient and cannot be everywhere at once. Demons are real and active, but Jesus has authority over them.... Although Satan is allowed to work in the world, God is in complete control. God can drive demons out and end their destructive work in people’s lives. Eventually, Satan and his demons will be thrown into the lake of fire, forever ending their evil work in the world (Revelation 20:10) (Barton, B. B., & Osborne, G. R. (1999). Acts. Life Application Bible Commentary (136–137). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House.).

Many are controlled by demons who give no outward sign of it. That is especially true of those involved in promoting false religion. Despite the claims of those in the so-called “spiritual warfare” movement, believers today do not have the authority or ability to command or to directly cast out demons. The temporary sign gift of miracles was the power (dunamis) to cast out demons (1 Corinthians, MacArthur New Testament Commentary [Chicago: Moody, 1984], 302). Demon-indwelt people exist in our own day, although they may not be as commonly manifest in Western culture as in third-world cultures. As C. S. Lewis notes, Satan and his demons adapt themselves to whatever world view prevails in a given society. They are equally at home with Western materialists and third-world magicians (The Screwtape Letters [New York: Macmillan, 1961], 3).

Please turn to Ephesians 6

Like the other sign gifts, the sign gift to cast out demons at will no longer regularly operate today. As with physical healing, however, we can pray for God to intercede. Nowhere in Scripture are believers told to “bind Satan” or exercise authority over demons. Satan will not be bound until a holy angel does so in the future (Rev. 20:1–3). And those who attempt to assert their authority over demons risk winding up like the Jewish exorcists, the sons of Sceva, of Acts 19:13–16. It is dangerous to claim for ourselves authority God has not granted us. As Acts progresses, the role of the miraculous diminishes, and the epistles nowhere suggest that Christian leaders or missionaries continued to perform them (Richards, L. O. (1991). The Bible reader’s companion (electronic ed.) (715). Wheaton: Victor Books.).

The biblical instruction for conducting spiritual warfare is laid out in Ephesians 6:10–18.

Ephesians 6:10-18 [10] Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. [11] Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. [12] For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. [13] Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. [14] Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, [15]and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. [16]In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; [17]and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, [18]praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, (ESV)

• God’s people must resist evil (cf. James 4:7). They cannot be controlled by it (cf. 1 John 5:18), but they can be tempted and their witness and influence damaged (as we see here in Eph. 6:10–18) (Utley, R. J. (2003). Luke the Historian: The Book of Acts (Vol. Volume 3B, p. 83). Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International.)

Unable to resist Philip’s God-given power, the unclean spirits in Acts 8:7 were crying/shouting our with a love voice as they came out of many who had them. Demons often cried out when they were cast out of an individual (cf. Mark 1:23, 26; 3:11; 5:7; Luke 4:33, 41), perhaps in rage and protestation. Besides casting out demons, Philip also healed many who were paralyzed or lame. Such healings of serious physical ailments made the power of God evident. It is no wonder, then, that the people paid close attention to the truth in Philip’s preaching. There is no ultimate dualism (Good and Evil are not two equal competing forces). God is in total control; evil is defeated and judged and (one day) will be removed from creation.( Utley, R. J. (2003). Luke the Historian: The Book of Acts (Vol. Volume 3B, p. 83). Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International.)

• Today, a testimony of love, compassion and concern, in accord to the word of God, proclaiming the word of God, has power. God uses such an individual to confirm the power of the Gospel to change lives.

Illustration: The North African Christian writer and apologist Tertullian (c. 160–225), addressing the rulers of the Roman empire, said, “Kill us, torture us, condemn us, grind us to the dust.… The more you mow us down the more we grow, the seed is the blood of Christians.” A similar statement comes from an Anglican bishop from Uganda, Festo Kivengere. Speaking in February 1979, on the second anniversary of the death of his archbishop, Janani Luwum, he said, “Without bleeding the church fails to bless.” (Tertullian, Apology, ch. 50; cited in Stott, Acts, 119.)

The 20th century has seen a lot of persecution and martyrdom of Christians. Dr. Paul Carlson may have been correct when he told the Congolese believers before his martyrdom that more believers have died for Christ in (the 20th century) than in all the previous centuries combined. But associated with the persecution is great effectiveness in evangelism, as the amazing growth of the church in China in the past half-century proves. The rapid growth of the church in Sri Lanka in the past fifteen years and the rise of persecution have gone hand in hand. Speaking on persecution in Sri Lanka at the World Congress on Evangelism in Berlin in 1966, (it was) said that the question to ask is not, “Why are we being persecuted?” but, “Why are we not being persecuted?” That situation changed after the church started taking obedience to the Great Commission more seriously. Evangelism provokes persecution while persecution energizes evangelism (Cited in James and Marti Hefley, By Their Blood: Christian Martyrs of the Twentieth Century (Milford, Mich.: Mott Media, 1979), 589. This book gives a stirring account of twentieth-century martyrdom.).

• If we are obedient to Christ, even if we live in countries where there is relative freedom for Christians, we will face suffering of some sort—even if it is the suffering of tiredness or of pressure out of a concern for people. It may be the hurt that comes from people who disappoint us even though we refuse to give up on them. It may mean being betrayed by people we trusted. It can take the form of persecution for sharing Christ with non-Christians who do not want to hear the gospel, or for telling Christians things that they do not like to hear.

Obviously, all the above things can be easily avoided. We can avoid tiredness by not responding in love to a need of someone else. We can avoid the pressure of concern for people by not taking things pertaining to their lives as a personal responsibility. We can avoid the hurt of disappointment by not having such high hopes for people. We can avoid betrayal by not trusting people and investing in them. I fear that much thinking on Christian ministry tends in the direction of helping us avoid such pain. Such patterns indicate that the (Western) church has lost the biblical understanding of suffering and pain as something glorious. (Fernando, A. (1998). Acts. The NIV Application Commentary (268–269). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.).

Finally, and only briefly, we can see “How God uses Evil for Good” through:

3) Productivity (Acts 8:8)

Acts 8:8 [8] So there was much joy in that city. (ESV)

The powerful miracles and preaching of Philip resulted, as it had in Jerusalem, in the salvation of many Samaritans. But as true biblical preaching inevitably does, it produced another vastly different response. Some accepted the gospel, believing and reacting with much joy in that city. They were the true believers, the wheat. Their joy came not just from physical deliverance from diseases, or spiritual deliverance from demons, but from complete deliverance from sin through the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. The apostolic sequence is: Christ is proclaimed; miraculous healing attests the message; people take careful notice; conversions to Christ result and joy erupts spontaneously among the new believers (8:6–8). Aside from the miracles, which were not the invariable attendants even of apostolic preaching, the experience of the work of God in the church today follows the same basic pattern as it did in Samaria. If there is little power and joy in many modern churches, it suggests there is a pressing need for the earnest preaching of the cross and the effectual outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Joy is the normal fruit and evidence of the Lord’s working among us (Keddie, G. J. (2000). You Are My Witnesses: The Message of the Acts of the Apostles. Welwyn Commentary Series (106). Darlington, England: Evangelical Press.).

The persecution of the Christians and its consequences constitute a glorious evidence of the government of Christ, who rules also in the midst of his enemies [Ps. 110:2], and always promotes the interests of his kingdom. An event which appeared to the eye to threaten inevitable destruction, so that it was a question whether the church of Christ could continue to exist, or would be annihilated, was, on the contrary, converted into the means of invigorating and extending it. The dispersed Christians preached the Gospel; thus, the storm which burst forth, carried the seed which had (previously) been gathered together in a single spot, to many different regions, and, in some cases, to a considerable distance. And that seed germinated and produced fruit. The Gospel now begins its course, which is to extend over the whole globe, after having been (previously) confined to the one city of Jerusalem. Thus, even when (people) think evil, the Redeemer means it unto good [Gen. 50:20], that is to say, He not only counteracts the intended disastrous results, but also employs the devices of enemies, in an unexpected manner, as means for extending his kingdom (Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Gotthard, V. L., Gerok, C., & Schaeffer, C. F. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Acts (140). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.).

(Format Note: Outline & some base commentary from MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1994). Acts. MacArthur New Testament Commentary (225–234). Chicago: Moody Press..)