Gentiles Who Practiced Judaism and Became Converts in Acts: Believers Who Believed? Or Drawn by God and Converted to Christ?

The book of Acts has a number of terms to describe people who followed Judaism to a degree and would become followers of Christ. Their descriptions make them sound like believers who naturally accepted Christ when they heard of what He did for them, but this was not necessarily the case. These terms include proselytes, devout, worshipers of God, and those who feared God.

Proselytes (prosēlytos) included those who heard the mighty works of God in their own tongues (Acts 2:11), Nicolaus from Antioch (Acts 6:5), and synagogue-attending converts who followed Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:43). For the latter, they were even described as devout proselytes (sebō prosēlytos; Acts 13:43). Being a proselyte could describe one’s present (Acts 2:11) or past (Acts 6:5) adherence to Judaism.

Those who were devout (sebō) or worshipers of God (sebō theos) included those who would believe the gospel, such as the devout proselytes in Pisidian Antioch (13:43), Lydia (Acts 16:14), devout Greeks in Berea (Acts 17:4), devout Athenians who attended the synagogue (Acts 17:17), and Titius Justus who housed Paul (Acts 18:7). There is one instance in which the devout were synagogue adherents but persecuted Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:50). So, a devout person might apparently deny the gospel, indicating an absence of faith to begin with. This being the case, whether or not those who believed in Christ had faith prior to hearing the gospel is hard to say. What we do know is that, for some of them, their time in the synagogue prepared them to accept the Messiah (e.g., Lydia). For others, however, it did not (Acts 13:50).

Another term for devout (eusebēs) describes Cornelius and one of his soldiers (Acts 10:2, 7). Cornelius was also one who feared God (or, a “God-fearer”; phobeō theos; Acts 10:2, 22), as were Paul’s non-Jewish listeners in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:16, 26). In these instances, Cornelius would believe the gospel, and Paul’s God-fearing listeners would follow his gospel. As with the devout and worshipers of God, whether or not these individuals had faith prior to accepting the gospel is hard to say. For instance, Cornelius is described as devout, upright, fearing God, a giver of alms, and eagerly obeying the angel that told him to send for Peter (Acts 10:2–8, 22). At the same time, before believing the gospel, he had been considered unclean by Peter and the Jews (Acts 10:28; 11:3), likely because he had not fully converted to Judaism. He probably followed the OT in many ways but had not been circumcised (Acts 11:3; cf. Exodus 12:48). This being the case, though fearing God to a degree and being slowly but effectually drawn to saving faith over time, he needed to hear the Word of God about Jesus Christ, be granted by God the repentance that leads to life, and believe this message in order to be saved (Acts 10:34; 11:1, 14, 18).

Why I Will Not Watch the Joker or Movies Like It (and Neither Should You)

Should you be tempted, there are several reasons not to see the newly-debuted Joker (or movies like this one). I’m sure that if I were to watch it, I could offer a hundred more. (And while some choose to be the filter for others by watching movies like this one and warning them of the content therein, I would suggest that Spirit in us as Christians is the better “filter,” leading us not to watch this kind of thing to begin with. Cf. Galatians 5:16–26.)

Here are at least three reasons not to watch the Joker:

First, Hollywood has no design for your edification as a Christian. This is said for even “better” movies that seem to have fewer objectionable scenes and themes for your mind’s consideration. To intentionally put one’s mind for 120 minutes towards a movie that entertains and climaxes on one sinful moment after another seems to be anything but obedience to passages such as Romans 12:1–2 and Philippians 4:8.

Second, it offers as entertainment the very violence it says that the film is supposed to condemn. One is supposed to abhor the violence that makes a man into being the villainous Joker. But then the movie is said to revel in his revenge through violence upon those trod him down. I read in the news that the lead actor left an interview because he was asked if the movie actually promoted the very violence that it says to condemn. He apparently didn’t know how to answer the question. Besides this actor’s naively playing such a role and apparently (at least initially) not being able to care less as to what impact his production has upon you as the viewer, the very fact that the question was asked betrays that the answer is, incidentally at best and intentionally at worst, yes. In the end, yes, you as the viewer will be tempted or told to glory in the Joker as he robs the Lord of vengeance and sinfully retaliates against his aggressors.

Third, there are better ways of redeeming the time before the coming of our Lord (cf. Ephesians 5:15–16). Do something intentionally Christian. Or enjoy the natural things of this world with a view to glorifying God in His creation. Read a good book. Spend some time with your family. Or at the least, for the few that are out there, maybe just choose a movie that has some wholesome qualities.

What I’ve said of the Joker above could be said for thousands of movies besides. Please know I write these things as one Christian to another and as a pastor who simply desires that we glory in what is truly worth our affection. Whether we eat or drink or watch a movie, we should do all to the glory of God, but only in a manner that is truly glorifying to Him.

The Sharp Disagreement of Paul and Barnabas: Who Was Right?

Acts 15:36–41 records a disagreement that arose between Paul and Barnabas. Paul asked Barnabas to join him to check in on the churches that were planted in Acts 13–14 (Acts 15:36). In wanting another to help, Barnabas suggested John Mark (Acts 15:37) who had “left them and returned to Jerusalem” (Acts 13:13). Since John Mark “had withdrawn” and “not gone with them to the work,” “Paul thought best not to take with them one” who had done such a thing (Acts 15:38).1

Barnabas was not convinced by Paul. In fact, in Paul himself, Barnabas showed that he was a man to give someone an opportunity to serve in ministry when others would not (cf. Acts 9:26–29). Barnabas was apparently convinced that Mark had learned his lesson and was worthy to serve again. But, as it was, “a sharp disagreement” parted these two great men (Acts 15:39).

In giving careful attention to what follows in Acts 15:39–41, it seems that neither Paul nor Barnabas were wrong, as disappointing as it was to see them disagree. Notice:

  • Rather than one or the other seeing the churches again, Barnabas took Mark to see the believers in Cyprus (cf. Acts 13:4–12), and Paul took Silas to go beyond to Syria and Cilicia (Acts 15:39–41). So, no one disagreed so as to abandon the trip. Everyone kept on ministering.
  • Though Paul stubbornly refused to accept John Mark and parted ways with Barnabas, the church nonetheless commended Paul to God’s grace for the trip ahead (Acts 15:40). “Commended” in Acts 15:40 is in the singular, referring to Paul in particular (but obviously having Silas in view). The commendation was not for Barnabas and John Mark.
  • While this commendation was not to Barnabas and John Mark, it does not follow that the church did not approve of their ministry. In the end, Barnabas was doing what he was doing at the initiation of Paul (cf. Acts 15:36).
  • The church in Jerusalem seems to have approved of both Barnabas and Paul as well. John Mark came from there (Acts 12:25), and Silas did as well (Acts 15:22). Being one to explain Jerusalem’s letter to Antioch (Acts 15:32–33), it would have been helpful for Silas to spread this word even further (cf. Acts 16:4).

As time went on, we see Paul speak of both Barnabas (1 Cor 9:6) and John Mark (Col 4:10; 2 Tim 4:11) with approval. If perhaps there is any blame in the situation, perhaps it belongs to John Mark for abandoning the trip in Acts 13.

Whatever the case may be, we see an instance in the early church where two leaders disagreed over a matter of personnel. In God’s grace, the disagreement stopped no one from serving, and, in fact, more men served as a result. Even in disagreement, if both parties are seeking the honor the Lord, good things may still happen in the end.

  1. All biblical quotes are from the ESV. []

An Encouraging Passage for a Church Searching for a Pastor

Multiple Scriptures instruct churches as to how to go about finding a pastor. 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9 list out requirements for the pastor—a pastor must desire his role, be able to teach and administrate, have an exemplary character, and be confirmed by the church that these things are so.  Acts 6:1–7 gives a play-by-play example for how to “appoint” deacons to the church, instructive for how to “appoint” pastors as well (Acts 6:3; Titus 1:5)—leaders lead, and congregations decide in the process.1

In several ways, Acts 11:19–26 is an encouraging passage for churches without a pastor as well. To clarify, as it speaks of Barnabas and Saul (Paul), I realize these men are unique in the history of the church with respect to their caliber and calling. Paul was the foremost apostle to the Gentiles, and Barnabas was shoulder-to-shoulder with him in this ministry (cf. Acts 13:1–3). At the same time, though their role was something beyond a local church, they more or less functioned as Antioch’s first pastors, and thus their example is instructive and encouraging for churches without a pastor today.

The Role of Acts 11:19–26 Within Acts as a Whole

The church was birthed by the Spirit, grew and spread in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria (Acts 1–6; cf. 1:8). Persecution drove its followers out of these areas, and Saul was called to be an apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 7–9). Peter, the foremost apostle to the Jews (cf. Gal 2:7–8), saw the Spirit poured out on the Gentile Cornelius and his household and told Jerusalem about the matter (Acts 10:1–11:18). When we arrive at Acts 11:19–26, we have been left to anticipate how God would use Paul to take the gospel to the uttermost end of the earth. Acts 11:19–26 begins to tell us how this happens, and the rest of the book of Acts could be broadly summarized as recording how Paul took the gospel to the world (Acts 13–28).

A Summary of Acts 11:19–26 

Though driven from Jerusalem by persecution, Gentiles continued to give the gospel, and  many more Gentiles were saved (Acts 11:19–21). The church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to lead the believers in Antioch, and the church flourished under his ministry (Acts 11:22–24). It is here in particular that we have one of our examples of a church without a pastor receiving someone who more or less functioned as a pastor.

As the passage goes on, Barnabas realized that the church could use another good man as well, and perhaps he saw Antioch as a Gentile church that could become the base of operations for Paul’s mission to the Gentiles. So, he left to “look for Saul,” “found him,” “brought him to Antioch,” and the two taught in Antioch for a year (Acts 19:25–26). Here again we find an example of a church adding a man who functioned as a pastor.

God’s work through these two and the church was so effective that the surrounding community coined the term “Christians” to apply to the believers in Antioch (Acts 11:26). They lived like Christ, spoke of Christ, and were marked off as a group of people that were united around Him.

How Acts 11:19–26 Can Encourage a Church Without a Pastor

With this understanding of Acts 11:19–26 in mind, let’s consider the passage with an eye on how it can encourage a church searching for a pastor.

First, be encouraged that the Lord can grow a church without a pastor.

As believers scattered to Antioch, they gave the gospel to Gentiles, “preaching the Lord Jesus” (Acts 11:20). Because “the hand of the Lord was with them… a great number who believed turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:21). All of this took place without any mention to the leadership of these believers.

While every church should ideally have a pastor and even multiple pastors as necessary, a healthy group of believers will continue to make disciples and function as they ought in the absence of a pastor.

Second, God can use the greater body of Christ to help a local church find a pastor.

Upon hearing of the Lord’s work in Antioch, “the church in Jerusalem… sent Barnabas to Antioch” (Acts 11:22). When Barnabas saw this marvelous outpouring of “the grace of God, he was glad” and powerfully preached to them, being the “good man” that he was (Acts 11:23–24). As a result, again, “a great many people were added to the Lord” (Acts 11:24). The hand of the Lord can work mightily through a thriving church  that has been blessed with a gifted leader.

Just as Jerusalem was a help to Antioch then, churches can enlist the help of others in seeking out pastors today.

Third, pastors can help find pastors.

In Acts 11:19–26, we have not only one but two examples for finding a pastor for a church. As the church grew, Barnabas saw the need for more leadership. The fact that he had to “look for Saul” in Tarsus implies that he did not know where he was except for general location of the city, and it was a city of 500,000 people. Finally, he “found him” and “brought him” back (Acts 11:25–26).

Churches sometimes struggle to find a pastor, but, as helped by the leadership of its church or other leaders in the body of Christ, the church’s hard work pays off, and the Lord can bless a church with a needed pastor, just as He did for Antioch.

Fourth, a church continues in God’s grace with its new pastor.

Notice that, all along the way, Antioch flourished in the grace of God. Whether without Barnabas, with Barnabas, and then with Barnabas and Saul—the hand of the Lord was upon the life of this church every stage of the way.

That a church continues in God’s grace means that God can bless a church while temporarily without leadership. Adding a pastor obviously helps to organize the church to take the Great Commission even further. Either way, God’s grace is evident before and after a church has found its pastor.

Fifth, a pastor should lead the church towards finding his successor.

This point comes after Acts 11:19–26. As Barnabas and Saul ministered in Antioch, the church eventually added three more men to its leadership—Simeon, Lucius, and Manaen (Acts 13:1). Because of their unique calling, Barnabas and Paul passed the baton to these men to carry on the pastoral work of the church while they went to give the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 13–14). We can guess that Barnabas and Paul likely played a key role in growing these leaders, and the church was able to continue with an established leadership, even as Barnabas and Paul went away.

Ideally, a pastor today may find it helpful to train a pastor before he leaves, or he may find it helpful to simply lead the church in finding its next pastor and then stepping down when the new pastor comes. Or maybe he can outline the process, step aside, and let the church take it from there. Every church is different, and no two transitions in leadership are quite the same. One way or the other, though, a church should have a plan to find its next pastor, and, as God is gracious, the church will have an idea of who that person is as well.

Conclusion

In all the above, what is evident for Antioch, if nothing else, is this—God sees when a church is without a pastor, can bless it in a pastor’s absence, can bless it by providing a pastor, and will continue to bless it when a pastor arrives. If possible, a church and its pastors should raise up pastors from within the congregation. At the least, pastors should lead the church in finding who will lead the church in the future or leave the church with a plan to do so. If your church is without a pastor, may you be encouraged that God can bless you as He did with Antioch long ago.

  1. All quotations are from the ESV. []

Conquering Jealousy Through Christ: Our Example and Help in the Time of Need

Every Christian can struggle with the sin of jealousy, wanting something that is not ours and being displeased with God for holding it back. God gives us the life that we have, and, being displeased with it, the sinful jealousy in us wishes for another, whether slightly or significantly altered, thinking God wrong to have granted us what we have. Our affection is for something that is not when it should be for God Himself, thanking Him for what we have. If we are His children, we have Him, and whatever we have in this life besides is ultimately an expression of His sovereignty, wisdom, and love for us.

Stephen Charnock, in The Existence and Attributes of God, describes the inner workings of sinful jealousy in this way: “We are unwilling to leave God to be the proprietor and do what he will with his own, and as a Creator to do what he pleases with his creatures. We assume a liberty to direct God what portions, when and how, he should bestow upon his creatures. We would not let him choose his own favorites, and pitch upon his own instruments for his glory; as if God should have asked counsel of us how he should dispose of his benefits. We are unwilling to leave to his wisdom the management of his own judgments to the wicked, and the dispensation of his own love to ourselves” (p. 131). In this jealousy, “Man would make himself the rule of God, and give laws to his Creator” (p. 127). What a sin this jealousy is.

In reading Charnock, my own thoughts went to Christ as our example and help in this matter.

First, when Christ was offered the kingdoms of this world, He quoted Scripture to withstand the temptation of the devil (Matt 4:8–10; Luke 4:5–8). Though He could have had it all in the here and now, He chose the Father’s will and thus has everything for eternity.

Second, when He went through His suffering, though asking for something else if possible (Matt 26:36–46), He nonetheless endured His affliction, thinking it nothing when compared to the joy that was to be His (Heb 12:1–2). Though tempted to avoid the pain, He obeyed and has joy forevermore.

In both of these matters, He was sinfully jealous for nothing and wanted only the Father’s will, choosing neither wrongful gain nor an escape from His suffering. So, even in our jealousy, Christ can sympathize with our weakness and minister grace to us to overcome this sin in our time of need (cf. Heb 4:14–16).

Do you struggle with jealousy today? Learn from the example of Christ. Ask Him to give you the grace of being content with the infinite riches of salvation. And, in not having what you might desire, thank God for teaching you that, when you have nothing else, you do have Him, and He is more than enough.

Liberty, Limits, and Love: An Example for Us Today in the Prohibitions of Acts 15:20

In Acts 15:1–35, the Jerusalem Council concluded that requiring Gentile believers to be circumcised and obey the Law was wrong (Acts 15:2, 5, 10, 19). Salvation is only “through the grace of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 15:11).1

At the same time, James did ask to “write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:20). While sexual immorality is obviously wrong (and worth mentioning because of its frequency among the Gentiles), it seems that the other three matters were somehow related to the law. The reason for their prohibition involved what was “read every Sabbath in the synagogues” from the Law of Moses, something done “from ancient generations” and “in every city” by “those who proclaim him” (Acts 15:21).

Using the Law, then, to figure out why these other three matters were forbidden, Leviticus 17:10–13 clearly forbids both the eating of blood (Lev 17:12, “No person among you shall eat blood”) and the eating of animals that had not been drained of their blood (Lev 17:13, “Any one… who takes in hunting any beast or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood”). This last prohibition seems to be the point of reference for “what has been strangled” (Acts 15:20). If an animal died by strangulation, it would not have been drained of its blood. If its meat were eaten, it would have been with the blood still in it. Thus, whether eating blood directly or in the meat of an animal, both were forbidden by the Law.

As to “the things polluted by idols” (Acts 15:20), this is also a matter of food, synonymous with “what has been sacrificed to idols” (Acts 15:29). While Paul would give further instruction on the matter in 1 Corinthians 8–10, James’s present concern (to which Paul gave no objections) was probably along the lines of Romans 14:15: “For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died” (cf. Rom 14:13–23). In other words, if the Gentiles really loved their Jewish Christian brothers, they would not eat things that the Jewish Christians denied and offend their sensitive consciences. The Gentiles would give up their liberty to eat these things so as not to hinder their fellowship (cf. 1 Cor 9:19–23).

In learning from how James led the church then, we see that one’s liberty is not a matter of license to do as one pleases in the presence of all. Rather, Christian love limits certain practices for the sake of fellowship with others. When it comes to something questionable, the church should always be more careful than not. Limiting one’s liberty is not necessarily legalism. If done correctly, it is an act of love.

  1. All quotations are from the ESV. []

Leaders Lead, and Congregations Decide: Congregationalism in Acts 15:1–35

I realize that a number of hierarchical models of church structure find their alleged home in Acts 15, but I personally believe that congregationalism comes to the fore when the text is carefully examined. In short, Acts 15 gives an example of two truths for congregationalism: leaders lead, and congregations decide. What follows below is more about the latter than the former.1

Both churches involved—Antioch and Jerusalem—example congregationalism in how they relate to a conflict at hand, namely, whether or not Gentile Christians were supposed to obey the Law of Moses.

Antioch

  • Paul, Barnabas, and others “were appointed” by their church in Antioch “to go up to Jerusalem” to settle the matter (Acts 15:2). If the identity of the party doing the appointing is not clear in Acts 15:2, it is made clear in Acts 15:3—these men were “sent on their way by the church,” that is, the church in Antioch.
  • Upon resolving the matter in Jerusalem, being something for the church as a whole (since, after all, it sent representatives to inquire on the matter), Paul, Barnabas, and the representatives from Jerusalem “gathered the congregation together” clarify for them the doctrine of the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:30; cf. 15:32).

Jerusalem

  • Upon the arrival of the representatives from Antioch, Jerusalem considered the matter as a church. Paul, Barnabas, and the others “were welcomed by the church,” along with its leaders, “the apostles and the elders” (Acts 15:4). After hearing a report of God’s work among the Gentiles (Acts 15:4), the church likewise was present to help resolve the conflict at hand—“all the assembly” was present (Acts 15:12).
  • The leaders led, and James was at the front in giving his judgment on the matter (Acts 15:13–21). At the same time, what “seemed good” to him in resolving the matter was also good to “the apostles and the elders” and “the whole church” (Acts 15:22). They had altogether “come to one accord” as to a resolution (Acts 15:25).
  • Demonstrated negatively, “some persons” teaching false doctrine and creating the conflict at hand went “out from us” (i.e., the Jerusalem church) and did so with “no instructions” from the leadership or the church (Acts 15:24; cf. 15:1). “Instructions” were apparently necessary for representing the church. The false teachers were consequently rebuked by the Jerusalem church in that its official letter was contrary to their teaching.
  • Positively put, Judas and Silas were sent by the church with instructions and an official letter. The church and its leaders were “the brothers… who had sent them,” that is, Judas and Silas (Acts 15:34). Having completed their mission in Antioch, they returned to report on the matter to their sending church in Jerusalem.

In all the above, the Jerusalem Council was mostly a matter between two churches—Antioch and Jerusalem. At the same time, it involved Christians Jews and Gentiles in general, so other churches received the letter as well (cf. Acts 15:23, “Syria and Cilicia”).  Representatives were sent by one church to inquire of another, and that church in turn sent its representatives back to the first church to give a clarification. After the hard work of carefully navigating the thorny issues involved, it all ended with “encouragement” and parting “in peace” (Acts 15:31, 33).  May God grant to us the same as churches navigate through conflicts today.

  1. All quotations below are from the ESV.  []

No Greater Place: Devotional Thoughts from Psalm 84

Psalm 84 holds a special place in the heart of many. Christians have come to worship and commented with the words of Psalm 84:10: “For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness” (KJV).

Charles Spurgeon introduced his thoughts on the psalm in this way: “If the twenty-third be the most popular, the one-hundred- and-third the most joyful, the one-hundred-and-nineteenth the most deeply experimental, the fifty-first the most plaintive, this is one of the most sweet of the Psalms of peace” (from The Treasury of David).

What about this psalm is so sweet and gives such peace?

On the one hand, it is an encouraging pilgrimage psalm—a psalm to be recited and even sung while traveling “the highways to Zion” (Ps 84:5), that is, making a pilgrimage from one’s home to the temple in Jerusalem, God’s “dwelling place,” “the courts of the LORD,” and “the house of my God” (Ps 84:1, 2, 10). And yet, though God’s presence is manifest in His temple, the psalmist’s true joy is ultimately found in “the living God” (Ps 84:2). The temple, its courts, and dwelling therein were not joyful ends in themselves. They were a central place to Israel’s worship, and God was the center of their worship.

On the other hand, it is also a psalm of trust. Knowing that those at the temple were “blessed” to be where God’s formal worship regularly took place (Ps 84:4), and knowing that even those on the journey to the temple were “blessed” by God’s strength to go there (Ps 84:5), the psalmist, whether at the temple in heart or person, was “blessed” because he was “one who trusts in” God, receiving every good things from Him (Ps 84:11–12).

While we may feel far removed from Israel and having a mandated central location for worship, there are some similarities between them and us today. Psalm 84 is just as alive to us as it was for them so long ago.

Consider the church’s weekly gathering on the day of the Lord. A local church meets together at a regular time and place each week. If our affection is properly for the Lord, we will long and even faint with desire to join His people in worshiping Him. We find strength day by day to sustain us between these gatherings to worship Him. At the end of the day, it is not the place or time of gathering that somehow gives us nostalgic joy. Our joy is found in worshiping the living God, something we can do in spirit anywhere and anytime.

Beyond this, we, too, are pilgrims but seeking a greater temple. We travel this spiritually arid world, making what springs we can, seeking the New Jerusalem, complete with its own special presence of God—it houses the throne of the Father and the Lamb. Like the psalmist who was strengthened by having the highways of Zion in his heart, so also we know the way to the New Jerusalem—through Jesus Christ who prepares this place for us. May we abide in Him, and may He abide in us, every step we take until we reach this heavenly glory.

A Passage for a Pastor Called to an Established Church

“Every pastor is an interim pastor.”

I’ve seen that saying a few times, and the typical thought behind it is that every pastor will eventually hand off his ministry to a successor unless the Lord comes again. This saying helps us to keep our ministry in perspective, reminds us that the church is bigger than our individual ministries, and moves us to pray that the Lord will sustain His church since we can only do so much for so long.

Perhaps you, like me, are one of those successors, the next man in the lineup of interim pastors. You are not a church-planting pastor but a committed pastor who God is using to continue the ministry of a church that was established before your coming. How will our ministry endure? How can we minister in such a way so that our church will outlast us? Does the Bible give any specific guidance to us for this kind of ministry?

It does, actually, and below is a quick walk through a helpful passage, 1 Corinthians 3:10–15. When it comes to pastoring an already established church (or, in principle, coming in as a leader to an already existing Christian organization), we will consider 1) what you cannot do, 2) what you must do, and 3) what to expect when your ministry is over.

Let’s read the text first and then follow these three thoughts.

10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:10–15 ESV)

What You Cannot Do: Lay a New Foundation

Paul begins by speaking of “the grace of God given to” him to serve as an apostle, evangelist, and church planter. This grace enabled him to be “like a skilled master builder” who “laid a foundation” for the church, “which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 3:10–11). In other words, through the message of salvation through Jesus Christ, God used Paul to make disciples and plant a church in Corinth. This foundational message is the bedrock upon which every church is built. Therefore, “no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid” (1 Cor 3:11).

This being said, the one thing that you cannot do as a pastor coming into an established church is simple—you cannot preach another salvation, another Christ, or another anything that would effectively replace the foundation upon which your people are built. You will have effectively destroyed what foundation is there, and Paul has strong words for such a one: “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him” (1 Cor 3:17).

Do not lay a new foundation. Instead, consider our next point…

What You Must Do: Take Care in How You Build 

With the foundation of Jesus Christ already in place for an established church, our command is simple: “Let each one take care how he builds upon it” (1 Cor 3:10 ESV). We build, and we build carefully.

In context, an example of how to build a church upon something else is to build it upon someone else. Not understanding how the ministries of Paul, Apollos, and Peter (Cephas) complemented one another, people were dividing themselves as being followers of one or the other (cf. 1 Cor 3:4, 22). They were boasting in men, being motivated by pride, and thinking in terms of how to prosper the church through one personality or another instead of focusing on the gospel and Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Cor 3:18–23).

Given our proclivity to personal ambitions and the desire to magnify ourselves or others within the church, we must do exactly as Paul commands: “take care” in how we build. Don’t come to a church that preaches Christ and make it all about yourself or something else. Carefully build upon the good foundation of Jesus Christ that has already been laid. Let distinctives be distinctives, let tangents be tangents, and take care to make Jesus Christ central to your work.

One very good reason for carefully building is…

What You Can Expect When Your Ministry Is Over: Your Work Will Be Examined

Paul elaborates on his building illustration to speak of materials that will or will not burn away in the presence of fire. Whether “gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,” Paul’s mention of these materials is to show that, whatever the material may be, “each one’s work will be manifest” (1 Cor 3:12–13). Speaking of Christ’s return, he declares that “the Day will disclose it” (1 Cor 3:13). Again, “it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test the sort of work each has done” (1 Cor 3:13). In other words, Christ will come again and judge each work for its value and quality. We receive our due accordingly.

In considering these materials, gold, silver, and precious stones are not consumed by fire, whereas wood, hay, and straw are. Some ministries have lasting value, and others do not. Among the valuable, some have more value than others, and among the worthless, some are more worthless than others. The Lord will be their Judge.

As for the pastors of these ministries, and as for anyone who supports their ministries, the quality of their work is what determines their loss or reward. “If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Cor 3:14–15 ESV).

Whatever your giftedness may be, build upon the foundation in such a way so that it survives the fire of judgment in time to come. Otherwise, while you may make it into the kingdom, it will not be with what your reward may have been. You “will be saved, but only as through fire.”

If Jesus Christ is the foundation upon which your church has been built, then lay no other foundation. Rather, build a ministry made of gold, silver, and precious stones on Him and no one or nothing else. He Himself will come again and examine your work and reward you accordingly.

How to Preach So That Disciples Persevere: An Example in Acts 14:21–22

The life and teaching of Christian leaders plays a part in the salvation of those who hear us (1 Tim 4:16). It’s important that we know how to speak God’s Word in such a way so as to move others to persevere. We should work at it. God is obviously the one to do such a work, but He can work all the more through those who work hard at their preaching and teaching. This being said, let’s learn something of how to preach for others to persevere in Acts 14:21–22.

Luke records of Paul and Barnabas, “21 When they had preached the gospel to that city [Derbe] and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:21–22 ESV).

In Acts 14:22, we see the content of the preaching of Paul and Barnabas to churches that needed to persevere in the face of persecution. Paul and Barnabas would repeat this ministry again in Acts 15:35 and Paul alone in Acts 18:22–23. It was a ministry of preaching and teaching to people who faced persecution and needed to persevere.

Their preaching in Acts 14:22 is given three descriptions, instructive for us as preachers today who likewise want to see disciples persevere. Our preaching should include…

“Strengthening the souls of the disciples” 

To “strengthen” (epistērizō) is “to cause someone to become stronger in the sense of more firm and unchanging in attitude or belief” (Louw-Nida). It overlaps with the related verb “strengthen” in Acts 18:23 (stērizō—same verb minus the prepositional affix; Paul was “strengthening all the disciples”—same place, same activity later on). What is said for stērizō could be said for epistērizō. From other uses of this verb, then, we could say that…

Preachers strengthen the souls of the disciples through teaching and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ (Rom 1:11–12; 16:26). While God uses believers to strengthen one another, it is ultimately Him and His Son who strengthen believers through the Spirit (cf. 2 Thess 2:17; 3:3; 1 Pet 5:10).

“Encouraging them to continue in the faith” 

The verb behind “encouraging” (parakaleō) is variously translated in other verses as “urge,” “exhort,” “appeal,” “beg,” “implore,” “plead,” “invite,” “ask,” depending on each context. While we should not pack every possible sense of the verb into each usage, noting this range of translation helps us understand something of what Paul and Barnabas were doing in their preaching. They were passionately persuading their fellow believers “to continue in the faith.” “The faith” involved their belief, yes, but it also involved the content of their faith, the doctrine of Jesus Christ and salvation through Him at the very least. So then, just as it was for Paul and Barnabas, so also it is for us today…

Preachers should preach in such a way so as to exhort, appeal, and urge their fellow believers to continue believing what they have believed and to continue to live according thereto.

“Saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God”

With this description, we have a particular instance of what Paul and Barnabas were “saying”—“through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” As noted above, the Jews had chased Paul and Barnabas out of these cities before. Harassing the Christians thereafter likely took place as well. They probably saw upon Paul the marks of his stoning. Whether verbal, physical, by one, or by many, “tribulations” would come. Knowing that persecutions will come…

Preachers must warn others of persecution that might come and that persevering even through this will bring them into the kingdom of God.

This may all sound rather mundane and obvious, but it is a matter of whether or not some may enter the kingdom of God. We strengthen and encourage and warn give hope for the sake of those who hear. So, ask yourself: How well do I really work at preaching the gospel with precision and power in order to strengthen the souls of those who hear me? How often do I earnestly appeal to these dear disciples to truly persevere in what they believe and hold to be true? And how often do I warn them of what tribulations may come in this life and encourage them of the kingdom that will come?

Hopefully we are already attempting to preach like the example we see in Acts 14:22. If not, we need to brush up and put some work into what we say from God to others (cf. 1 Tim 5:17). May God help all of us who preach to strengthen, encourage, warn, and give hope to His disciples!