Moving Ahead in 2019

Since the inception of the church on the day of Pentecost, Satan has attempted to destroy its purity and testimony. Yet God in His providence and sovereignty has always strengthened, protected, and guided the faithful few who have continued to press forward and remain steadfast for the truth. In the first few years of the church’s existence, God visibly revealed His power and work through the church—this new organism—in several ways. The first six chapters of the book of Acts record how God empowered and emboldened the apostles and other believers to preach the gospel; how He dealt with sin and impurity in the church immediately and visibly (as in the case of Ananias and Saphira); how He allowed the apostles to work miracles as a sign of the authenticity of their message and the authority of the One in whom they preached; how He sent angels to miraculously deliver the apostles; and, how He even worked through the counsel of an unbeliever, Gamaliel, to accomplish His purpose. The bottom line is this—God desired that His church continue to press forward in declaring the truth and accomplishing His will no matter what happened! Opposition against the church came from all sides and sources. Yet the believers continued to move forward despite every obstacle.

Even today, in 2019, Satan is still extremely busy using every means possible to attempt to destroy churches and shift the focus of believers away from what God desires them to be doing. Throughout history, Satan has used many means and tactics to steer the believer (personally) and the church (corporately) away from faithful obedience to Scripture. Consider several of Satan’s tactics:

1. Physical threats and persecution

2. Dissemination of false teaching even among professing Christians

3. The theory of evolution—man answers to no higher power

4. Attacks on God’s Word—Satan has used several different means to destroy man’s confidence in the Word of God

5. Theological and moral relativism—the belief that no absolute transcendent truth exists

6. An improper view of the purpose of the church—diverting the focus away from a God-ordained, God-focused ministry

7. Discouragement

8. Apathy and indifference—one’s priorities center around everything other than spiritual things

Despite these multi-faceted attacks against the church, God is sovereign, and He has always strengthened the few who abide in Him and remain intent on faithfully studying and obeying His Word in order to keep moving forward—no matter what everybody else is doing. If we are to carry on as God desires us to do, we must learn from Scripture how to press forward in service for Him. And, we can learn from the past. From Acts chapter 5, notice several principles that facilitated the forward momentum of believers in the early church despite great suffering and persecution. The resilient believers in the early church moved forward by…

Obeying God Rather Than Men (Acts 5:29)

Today, our loyalty must rest with Jesus Christ. He is our Creator and thus knows what is best for us, His creation. He is our Redeemer who loved us and purchased us with His own blood. He is our Lord and Master who reigns over us and, in His sovereignty, controls all things. His is our God who is holy, just, righteous, and true. Why would we want to give our loyalty or allegiance to any fallible person or program? Just as the believers in the early church chose to obey God rather than men, we must do the same.

The pressure today to please men rather than God is great. Christians are told to refrain from being so dogmatic—from believing they possess the truth. Christians are told to change the method for Christian service so as to appeal to a wider audience of people. They are often duped into believing the lie that changing the method does not change the message. Christians are told to join in ministry with those with whom they disagree on doctrinal matters in order to accomplish more for the kingdom of God. Any Christians who resist the pressure to change, conform or compromise are scorned, mocked, and often labeled “intolerant” or “unloving.”

Yet the consequences of pleasing men rather than God are serious! Should we choose to seek the approval of men, we will actually forfeit our usefulness for the Lord. The apostle Paul told Timothy that if a believer separates himself from those things that are contrary to the Word or will of God, “he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work” (2 Tim. 2:19-21). Demas served as a good example of one who forfeited his usefulness for God because he became ensnared by an ungodly love for the things of the world (2 Tim. 4:10). When we seek to please men rather than God, we also are guilty of actually denying our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Seeking the favor and approval of men is incompatible with faithfulness to God—the apostle Peter discovered this truth the hard way when he denied Jesus three times in an effort to find the approval of men. And, of course, should we choose to please men rather than God, we will experience a loss of reward at the judgment seat of Christ. Such are serious consequences indeed!

If we are to move forward in 2019, we must seek to please God rather than men in all areas of our lives—as the leaders of the early church did. Yet these early Christians also moved forward by…

Preaching the Truth Without Compromise (Acts 5:28-32)

Notice the accusation leveled against the apostles by the religious leaders of their day: “Ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s (Jesus Christ’s) blood upon us” (5:28). Yes, they certainly did spread the truth throughout Jerusalem. Their “doctrine” entailed the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (v. 30) as well as His ascension and high position at the right hand of God the Father (v. 31). They held back nothing concerning the person and work of the Messiah. Time and again, Peter and John rose up to declare the facts of the gospel. Yet not only did they present the facts of the gospel, they also declared the reality of personal sin and accountability. They applied the truth to the unbelievers of the day—particularly the religious leaders who were instrumental in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. In short, they preached “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). They declared without compromise the facts of man’s sinfulness and accountability as well as the free gift of salvation through faith (trust) alone in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

In the day and age in which we live, God’s work cannot go forward without the straightforward and unadulterated exposition of the truth—His Word. The Bible makes it clear that the Word of God is the means by which believers know the mind and will of God and thus move forward in His work (1 Thess. 1:6-8; 2:2-4, 13; 4:1-2). Every believer is responsible to understand the importance of the Word and live it by faith day-by-day (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The gospel must not be altered or adulterated (Gal. 1:6-10), and the spiritual food fed to the saints must not be altered or adulterated (Acts 20:28 cf. 1 Pet. 5:1-2). Progress in the church, and progress in the Christian life, are contingent upon desiring to know God better through His Word and then meditating upon it day and night (Psa. 1:1-3).

The temptation to compromise the message of the gospel and the importance of sound doctrine is great. The gospel is an offence to the lost. Sound doctrine is an irritant to compromised brothers and sisters in Christ. Due to these facts, many well-meaning believers choose a path of compromise and least-resistance in order to be accepted by more people. Yet the apostles in the early church did not embrace such a path. They understood that God’s Word and work would only move forward as the truth was proclaimed without compromise. We must embrace this same mindset.

If we are to move forward in 2019, we must seek to please God rather than men in all areas of our lives and proclaim the truth of God’s Word without compromise—as the leaders of the early church did. Yet these early Christians also moved forward by…

Rejoicing Amid Suffering for Christ’s Name (Acts 5:41)

To “rejoice” does not necessarily entail an outward display of happiness; rather, it means to be full of inward peace and confidence even amid unhappy circumstances. If we are to faithfully serve our Lord and walk worthy of our high and holy calling in Christ, we must expect to endure suffering for Him. The apostles in the early church were beaten, imprisoned, and mocked. Jesus told His disciples prior to His death and resurrection, “Because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (Jn. 15:19). He added, “They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service” (Jn. 16:2).

Even today, if we are abiding in Christ and living a life that glorifies God, we can expect suffering (2 Tim. 3:12), just as the apostles in the early church expected and endured suffering. We can expect emotional suffering and discouragement as we are misrepresented, falsely accused, and cut off by others who do not agree with our lifestyle and worldview. Many believers in various parts of the world can even expect physical suffering as a result of their relationship with God and testimony for Him. How is it possible to rejoice in the midst of such circumstances as the apostles rejoiced? It is only possible as our rejoicing is “in the Lord” (Phil. 4:4). When we rejoice “in the Lord,” we are certain of what we are standing for; we are certain for what to expect yet future; we are certain that our labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58). And, with such confidence and assurance, we can press forward amid trial and tribulation for the Lord’s glory!

Consider the impact of the Lord’s work had the apostles given up and succumbed to discouragement. Not only would they have forfeited their usefulness, but they also would have discouraged many other saints who were earnestly endeavoring to declare the truth and contend for the faith. Our attitudes and actions have consequences, and if we are to press onward and move forward in the work of the Lord, we must “rejoice in the Lord” even amid trials and suffering. The apostle Peter exhorts believers who are experiencing “fiery trials” to “rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy” (1 Pet. 4:12-13). Notice the conditional statement—we will only be “glad … with exceeding joy” at the appearing of Christ if we are faithfully pressing forward in His work and even rejoicing amid suffering.

If we are to move forward in 2019, we must seek to please God rather than men in all areas of our lives, proclaim the truth of God’s Word without compromise, and rejoice in the Lord in the midst of suffering and hardship—as the leaders of the early church did. Yet these early Christians also moved forward by…

Continuing to Do Right (Acts 5:21, 42)

Despite physical persecution and verbal assault and threats, the leaders of the early church never gave up—they never quit the battle for the truth. Following their imprisonment and miraculous release and instruction by the angel to “go, stand and speak in the temple to the people,” the apostles “entered into the temple early in the morning, and taught” (5:20-21). They wasted no time! Shortly after they were captured once again and threatened and beaten, “they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for [Christ’s] name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ” (5:41-42). These faithful Christians continued to do right regardless of the cost. They never gave up! Diligence and persistence characterized their attitude and behavior. Rather than growing “weary in well doing,” they chose to press forward in declaring the truth.

Not only did they refuse to give up, but they refused to give in as well—they never changed or compromised despite the pressure to do so. The temptation and tendency to compromise is often greater than the temptation and tendency to quit. The apostles only needed to alter their message or remain silent long enough to appease the religious leaders of the day. They only needed to discover what the unbelievers felt they needed or wanted to hear and then twist the gospel message in order to clothe it in acceptable terms so as to gain acceptance by the religious leaders or a larger following among the common people. Yet compromise was not an option. They diligently declared the unadulterated truth despite the fact that it was not well received by the Jews or Gentiles.

The New Testament is replete with exhortations for the believer to never give up or compromise in the Christian life. Both the Old and New Testaments are filled with examples of men and women who were blessed by God because they remained faithful to the end and “kept the faith” as well as examples of those who did not stay the course. The apostle Paul, who fought a good fight, finished the course God had set before him and kept the faith, exhorts every believer to be “stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58). It is impossible to press forward in faithful service for the Lord if we have quit or compromised.

God is not finished with us individually, and He is not finished with His body—the church—corporately. Throughout the New Testament, we are called to keep moving forward, accomplishing the work and will of God until He returns for us or until we see Him face to face in death. Consider the words of Paul in closing—2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18. Yes, Gamaliel’s advice came back to haunt him—this was of God, and God Himself made sure it moved forward. We must keep moving in that same direction until our Lord comes.

—Matt Costella