PART 3 NEW TESTAMENT APPLICATION

19

JESUS

It may seem strange to take Jesus as an example of applying some principles, especially Old Testament ones; it is more usual to take Him as an example to learn principles from. However it can seem extremely hard, if not impossible, to follow His example and teaching, and easier to follow the example of other Bible characters with whom we more readily identify. We can also see Nehemiah as a forerunner or type of the saviour to come.

 

As Nehemiah heard that the people of Jerusalem were in great trouble and disgrace (Neh. 1v3), so too God saw that all had sinned and fallen short of His glory (Rom. 3v23) - were indeed in disgrace and trouble, for the wages of sin is death. (Rom. 6v23). The initiative that God took, and had been preparing for and waiting since the fall, was to send His Son into the world to save sinners (John 3v16 and 1Tim. 1v15). He came at just the right time (Rom. 5v6), with one basic resource, the power of the Spirit (Luk. 4v14) and quoting Isaiah 61v1-2. Like Nehemiah He fasted and prayed at the beginning of His task (Luk. 4v2), for the involvement of others (Luk. 6v12-13), when encountering opposition (Luk. 4v2), for strength for Himself (Luk. 22v41-43) and for those He was enabling (Luk. 22v32), and for, not against, His enemies. (Luk. 23v34).

 

Jesus' task was more than simply to save sinners; it was to build His church, a community of saved sinners, and it was to this end that He chose and taught, equipped, enabled His disciples to continue the work of bringing sinners to salvation after His return to heaven. (Mat. 16v18 and 28v18-20). If Jesus thus followed the pattern of Nehemiah we can be assured that the pattern is also applicable to us.

 

To turn things round we can now take Jesus as an example and briefly outline the power, preparation, scope and purpose of His mission. His power, resources, came from the Holy Spirit as seen in the preparation for His ministry. As a child He grew in wisdom and grace (Luk. 2v40) and the Holy Spirit descended on Him at His baptism (Luk. 3v22). The temptations in the wilderness were a time of strengthening for service; He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness (Luk. 4v1), and after overcoming Satan and temptation by the knowledge and correct use of God's word, He returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit. (Luk. 4v14). Throughout His life He spent much time in prayer (Luk. 5v16). The scope of His ministry is revealed by His quotation from Isaiah 61 in the synagogue at Nazareth, a kind of self commissioning service, during which He indicates that the Gentiles will be included as in the time of Elijah and Elisha. The next one and a half chapters show the scope of His ministry in practice. He casts out demons (Luk. 4v35 and 41), heals the sick (Luk. 4v39-40), preaches good news (Luk. 4v43), and calls disciples to continue His work (Luk. 5v8-11), which Levi immediately does (Luk. 5v27-29). The purpose of His ministry was that the poor might receive the good news (Luk. 4v18 and 43) of the forgiveness of sins (Luk. 5v20-26 and 32) as announced by John the Baptist (Luk. 3v4-6 and 1v76-77), and explained to Joseph (Mat. 1v20-21), that a redeemed community might be established. (Luk. 1v32-33 and 68-75).

 

Nehemiah's work can also be outlined under the headings of power, preparation, scope and purpose. His purpose was to remove the great trouble and disgrace the people had fallen into; the immediate scope of the work was to repair the walls and gates of Jerusalem, but as seen it involved overcoming opposition from outside, dealing with problems within the community, and with Ezra's arrival teaching the Law, disobedience to which was the root problem, as Nehemiah realised. (Neh. 1v17).

 

The ultimate purpose, if not seen by Nehemiah at the beginning, was to make a people obedient to the Law, in preparation for the coming Messiah, and hence to fit in with Jesus' ministry. Whatever the scope of ministry, whether a narrow preaching or proclamation of the gospel, or the wider range of Isaiah 61, whatever the development project, whether teaching English to refugees, building a medical centre in eastern Europe, running a community newspaper or planting trees, the ultimate purpose is to fit in with Jesus' ministry to build a redeemed community. The wider scope which at its widest embraces the whole cultural mandate is the context for the ultimate purpose.

 

The power for Nehemiah was as for Jesus, the Holy Spirit, shown by his dependence on prayer and on God's word. Nehemiah began by praying for four months and continued to pray at every turn. He depended on God's word, claiming the promises (Neh. 1v8-9), and he called for obedience to the Law when there were problems in the community. (Neh. 5v6-8). The references he pondered over would have included Ex. 22v25, Lev. 25v35-37 and Deut. 23v19-20. There was also practical preparation as he surveyed the walls before showing his plans to others. (Neh. 2v11-16). Then there was God's preparation of Nehemiah, all that had previously happened in his life and brought him to the position of cup bearer to Artaxerxes. God often uses and expects us to learn from the totality of what has gone before to take us on to the next step, whether in our individual lives, as churches, or in development projects.

 

20

PAUL

 

With Paul, Saul before his conversion, the initiative is clearly God's, as Paul is given the task of taking the gospel to the Gentiles at the time of his conversion (Acts 9v6 and 15). The context is that of the early church, growing rapidly in Jerusalem, and beginning to spread into Samaria, but still unwilling to go to the Gentiles, as shown by Peter's reluctance to go to Cornelius. It was in Antioch that some of the Jewish Christians scattered by the persecution (ironically instigated by Paul!) first started preaching to Greeks. (Acts 11v19-21). It was then that Paul was brought to Antioch to begin his ministry among the Gentiles (Acts 11v26) and from there he set out on his missionary journeys. Once more the basic resources are the Holy Spirit and prayer. (Acts 13v2-3). The other resources, or rather context are there by God's providence, namely the relative ease and freedom of travel within the Roman Empire, and the Roman judicial system which actually protected Paul from the Jews when they opposed him (Acts 18v12-16, 19v35-41 and 21v32), and with another twist eventually got him to Rome, the heart of the Empire.

 

Paul had continual opposition to his preaching from the moment he first preached the gospel in Damascus immediately after his conversion (Acts 9v23). On his first missionary journey he was hounded from place to place (Acts 13v50-14v7 and 19-20), and his first trip to Europe resulted in imprisonment. However unlike Nehemiah his ministry was an itinerant one and he saw opposition in one place as time to move on to the next, as Jesus had said. (Mk. 6v11). When it was God's plan for him to remain somewhere for a longer period then he was protected from persecution (Acts 18v9-11) by the Roman authorities! (Acts 18v12-18).

 

On his missionary journeys Paul planted churches, leaving established groups of disciples, not isolated converts, and later made follow up visits or wrote to them, enabling them to form local churches. His strategy to reach the Gentiles was to go to the local synagogue where there were already Gentiles converted to Judaism and ready to receive the gospel. Indeed they were often more ready than the Jews.

 

Paul also worked with a team, beginning with Barnabas and John Mark, but continually changing, and made up of converts from the places he went. These he trained on the job and left some as church leaders in different places, but again he kept in touch with them by letter. (1Tim. 1v3 and Titus 1v5), for example leaving Timothy in Ephesus (not Lystra, his home town) and Titus in Crete.

 

As with Nehemiah, so with Paul, we can also look at his ministry in terms of power, scope and purpose. Paul's call and purpose was to take the gospel to the Gentiles, in his own words to take it where it had not been before, so he was not building on other people's foundations (Rom. 15v20). Again it is part of, indeed a clear part of God's purposes, though it took the Jewish Christians a while to realise this. The scope is most clearly a geographical one as Paul went on extensive missionary journeys through many provinces of Asia Minor and on into Europe, eventually to Rome, the capital of the known world, and planned to go on westwards to Spain. (Rom. 16v28). In terms of tasks the scope of his ministry was preaching, teaching, church planting by establishing elders in each city, and writing. Timewise it continues as his letters form a major component of the New Testament and continue to bring people to conversion, and are used by the church for discipleship training.

 

By now it goes without saying that the power for his ministry came from the Holy Spirit who gave him spiritual gifts (Rom. 15v18-19), strength (2Cor. 12v9-10 and Phil. 4v13) and guidance (Acts 13v2 and 16v7-10).

 

Much of Paul's preparation came before his conversion, such as his extensive theological knowledge from being a Pharisee taught by Gamaliel (Acts 22v3), his trade which enabled him to be self supporting (Acts 18v3, 1Cor. 9v18 and 1Thes. 2v9), and his Roman citizenship which guaranteed his freedom to preach and travel (Acts 18v12-16). Though he began preaching powerfully immediately after his conversion (Acts 9v19b-22) his life was threatened and he was sent home to Tarsus for a while (Acts 9v30-11v25) during which time the church was prepared by God to accept Gentiles.(Acts 11v1-24).

 

21

THE CHURCH AT EPHESUS

 

Ephesus on the west coast of Asia Minor, with a population of over 300,000 was the most important city of that Roman province, though not its capital which was Pergamum. It was a major port for exports at the end of a caravan route, a gateway into Asia Minor from Rome, and an important pilgrimage centre with its temple of Diana, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, which was four times the size of the Parthenon. There was a diverse population with a free Greek senate, Roman officials, a large Jewish contingency, and everything else that went with a cosmopolitan port. It was also a cultural centre with a library and university as well as a gymnasium, stadium, and the theatre mentioned by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles which could hold at least 30,000 people - one tenth of the population

 

Ephesus also became a centre of Christianity and the New Testament contains more information on the church there than any other. It is therefore instructive to look at the Ephesian church as an example of the Nehemiah pattern, not in relation to community development work as such but to the planting of the church itself there in a multicultural , multi-ethnic and multi-faith city. Paul did not establish a Jewish church, a middle class Roman church and a Pentecostal one in the working class port area, each best able to reach its own kind with the gospel. But no wonder it was to the Ephesians that Paul had to write "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." (Eph. 4v3).

 

However Ephesus was not unusual, and indeed it was the norm for new testament churches to be multicultural involving at the least Jews and Greeks or Romans. The church at Corinth was definitely similar to that at Ephesus. Christianity alone can unite people across all boundaries, and the church must do that if it is to be a manifestation of the Kingdom of God and a forerunner of the heavenly New Jerusalem where people of every nation worship together. (Rev. 7v9).

 

While Jesus' ministry was confined to Palestine and therefore He went round village by village (Mk. 6v6b), Paul's was to the Gentiles and his initiative was therefore to go to the major urban centres, as these would have synagogues - and each synagogue included proselytes and other God fearing Gentiles whom together with the Jews who believed would form the nucleus of a church able to take the gospel to the surrounding area. Due to persecution many of Paul's visits were short ones, but he also worked with teams of people, did return follow up visits to appoint elders (Acts 14v21-25) and of course wrote to them.

 

Paul first visited Ephesus on his way back from Corinth where he had spent eighteen months, to his home church of Antioch. It seems he may just have been changing ships there as though he reasoned with the Jews in the synagogue he declined their invitation to stay on. Instead he left two team members there, Priscilla and Aquila, to establish a church (Acts 18v18-22). Apart from Paul himself they were the original literal "tentmakers" (Acts 18v3).

 

Aquila was a former Jewish slave and his wife was from a wealthy Roman background, and they had just completed eighteen months experience of working with Paul in the cosmopolitan port of Corinth, and so in terms of human resources were the right kind of people to start a church in Ephesus.

 

One of their first tasks was to help Apollos who came from Alexandria and preached about Jesus in the synagogue. Although an Old Testament expert he only knew the baptism of John, and so Aquila and Priscilla invited him home and explained the gospel more fully. He then went on to Corinth where he had a successful ministry, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah. (Acts 18v24-28). This is just one example of the gospel spreading via this international transport centre.

 

When Paul returned later with his team of Gaius and Aristarchus from Macedonia he first dealt with twelve of Apollos' early converts who had not been taught about the Spirit (Acts 19v1-7), and then preached for three months in the synagogue. As usual there was opposition, though here only vocal not violent, and Paul moved out of the synagogue and for two years used the lecture hall of Tyrannus, probably part of the university and available daily during the siesta - siesta classes rather than evening classes! (Acts 19v8-9).

 

The result of establishing a church at Ephesus, the gateway to Asia Minor was that everyone in the province heard the gospel (Acts 19v10) and churches were founded in at least six other cities in the interior, written to later by John from the nearby island of Patmos. Demetrius, a non-christian, acknowledged the extent of the spread of Christianity through the province (Acts 19v26).

 

Paul also exercised a healing and exorcism ministry which had a profound effect on people of all religions (Acts 19v17). Sorcerers were converted and publicly burnt their scrolls to the value of 1,000,000! Then Demetrius started the famous riot over the loss of business to the craftsmen who made shrines of Artemis. It was Roman justice which protected the mission team. (Acts 19v23-41)

 

The story of the Ephesian church continues with Paul's meeting with the elders at Miletus three months later (Acts 20v19-38), his letter to them and the other churches of Asia Minor about six years later, then his letters to Timothy, a young pastor in Ephesus, and finally after about another thirty years John's letter recorded in Revelation chapter two.

 

Timothy was from Lystra and Paul met him on his follow up visit there, and he joined Paul's team. (Acts 16v1-3). He helped Paul in Corinth (Acts 18v5), probably in Ephesus, and then was sent by him to Macedonia with Erastus. Later when Paul himself returned to Macedonia he told Timothy to stay in Ephesus and wrote to him there with many instructions. (1Tim. 1v3). It seems that Timothy was timid (2Tim. 1v7 and 2v1), young (1Tim. 4v12), likely to neglect his gifts (1Tim. 4v14 and 2Tim. 1v6), and prone to frequent illnesses (1Tim. 5v23). But God chooses the weak things of the world to work through (1Cor. 1v27), and Timothy's background with a Jewish Christian mother and pagan Greek father, together with the training he received from travelling with Paul, equipped him well for Ephesus.

 

It is vital that churches today are fully representative in congregation and leadership of the surrounding area, as a manifestation of the Kingdom of Heaven and witness to reconciliation in Christ, and to identify with the community in order to enable them in community development.

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