From Persecution to Proclamation
By John McCoury
Roan Mountain, Tennessee
“And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” Acts 8:1-4
It was by means of the persecution that arose over Stephen that these early Christians were pressed out of Jerusalem, spurted out into the areas around, into Judea and Samaria, and began to preach the word, all according to the program of God. God used Saul of Tarsus, even before he became a Christian to accomplish this. God works to use the very obstacles thrown in the path of Christians to advance his cause. You can picture young Saul, enraged over what he regarded as a heresy, trying to stamp it out with all the energy of his flesh, entering house after house, dragging off men and women and committing them to prison. This is the rage of a tortured conscience, which tries, by zealous activity, to cover up its anxiety, emptiness, and hurt. Yet God uses this as an instrument to accomplish his purpose.
God does two things with this rage of Saul’s: He forces the church out of Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria to fulfill the divine program as he had outlined, and he makes the early church depend not upon the apostles but upon the gifts of the Spirit distributed to everyone — for these who were scattered abroad were not the apostles. Dr. Luke is careful to tell us that. These were ordinary, plain-vanilla Christians like you and me. And yet they had gifts of the Spirit. But they would never have discovered their gifts if they had not been pushed out, and put to work. So God used this pressure to place them in circumstances where they began to develop the gifts of evangelism, of witnessing, of help, wisdom, knowledge, teaching, prophecy, and all the other gifts of the Spirit that had been made available to them.
Sometimes I think that God will have to do this in our day before people will begin to believe that they have spiritual gifts and put them to work. He may have to bring persecution upon us so that there cannot be dependence upon a central ministry, but each one will begin to utilize the gifts that God has given him.
Are you going through some kind of pressure today? Well, it is not punishment for our sins — Jesus took our punishment fully, on the Cross. The pressure, the trials, and the problems that come are by no means always the result of sin in our lives. Sometimes they are, but it may be God’s way of moving you, of pressuring you into a new experience, into a new understanding of his truth and of his equipment in your life, and giving you a new opportunity to put it to work.
Thank you, Lord, that you are completely sovereign over my life and I can trust you to use me wherever you see fit to do so
Jesus said, ‘In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world!’ (Jn.16:33) Our ‘cheer’ (contentment) is not with our trials, but with God who is at work, causing ‘all things to work together for His good.’ (Rom.8:28) Will you rest in God as He works within your difficulties to make you more like His Son?