We need to recognize that every church will face obstacles to ministry, discipleship and fellowship. It is essential to the unity of the body that we respond to these obstacles correctly.We need to be sure that we view them as speed bumps and not road blocks!
The purpose of Speed Bumps: Slow us down and make us focus on what’s going on.
As we examine the book of Acts, we see the founding of the church and its early development. We tend to think of the early church as perfect and that its only problem was persecution, but the early church faced some real internal challenges as well. Let’s examine how they handled these bumps in the road. (All Scripture quoted here is from the New King James version)
Speed Bump#1, Fleshly Pretenders
Context: Acts chapter 2, The Day of Pentecost. Note 1-6. We see the gift of tongues, a sign gift to the Jews (This will be very important later when the gentiles begin to believe as we shall see). This is followed up by Peter’s fabulous sermon, vs.14-47.
Vs. 36 is the focal point. Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
Result: Vs. 41-42. Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.
This is the birth of the wonderful new entity, the Church! We see this fabulous fellowship where everyone is excited about what God is doing. Note vs. 44-47. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
The Church is “truckin” along joyously; however, the Apostles begin to face some hassles from the religious leaders in Jerusalem.
5:1-2, But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
We wonder why would they do this? The only answer can be that they were given to the flesh rather than the Spirit. They were more worried about what people thought than what God thought, so they lied, and God took their lives in response! This is the first act of church discipline by the divine hand of God! This tells us that God takes the church and our attitude toward it seriously. Note the atmosphere in vs. 11, So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.
Question: Suppose this happened in your church. What would the reaction be? Certainly, it would be sobering. The upside of this was that the church was purified This was very important at this stage of development. There just could not be any fleshly pretenders.
Result: Vs. 12-14. And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch. Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly. And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women,
Verse 13 suggests that some stayed away, and yet the Lord added multitudes to their fellowship! So we see a blessing on the other side of the bump! True believer came in as pretenders went out! We find then a pure church in the sense of sold out believers.
Speed Bump #2, Division/Strife
Context: The Apostles are still getting worked over, 5:40-42.When they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
6:1, Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.
People felt they were getting left out; their needs not being met; and the church was unfair and played favorites. (Possibly, they felt their leaders weren’t listening or didn’t care.) Whether it was true or not doesn’t matter, it was their perception.
Question: What are some of the ways the leadership could respond?
(1) Do nothing
(2) Try to do it all themselves
(3) Put more people into ministry
We see in vs.2-6, that they wisely put more people in ministry. So the speed bump became an opportunity to do something great! Now there is a bigger body concept.
Result: Vs. 7, Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.
So we see blessing on the other side of the bump! We love the fact that many of the priests believed!
Speed Bump #3, Persecution
Context: Stephen is killed! Acts 7:54-60
8:1-3, Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.
Now, it’s not just the leaders that are being persecuted for their faith; it’s everyone and Saul is the ring leader!
Question: What would happen in America if our own government began to persecute Christians? Our emphasis would change from buildings to discipleship!
Result: 8:4, Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.
They were run out of town. With the scattering went the Gospel. Instead of being focused in one place, God used persecution to move them out!
So we see blessing on the other side of the bump! God used this situation to further His kingdom and for His glory!
Speed Bump #4, Fear
Context: In Acts 8-9, we see Philip going out as a great evangelist, and the conversion of Saul the great persecutor.
9:26, And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple.
The church just could not bring itself to welcome Saul with open arms. They are terrified of this man.
Question: Was the fear legitimate? Yes. This man had the authority to make their lives miserable; and while we might expect that we would react differently, I seriously doubt it.
What overcomes fear? 1 John 4:18 Love for Christ.
9:27, God had a man willing to step up and lead through the fear.
But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus
Result: Vs.31, Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified.
So we see blessing on the other side of the bump! They had peace and were edified.
Speed Bump#5, Change
Context: Acts 10 Peter’s vision & the gentiles being saved. Note 10:34-36, Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him. The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all.
11:1-3, Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, saying, “You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!”
With the Gentiles coming in, the church dynamic now totally changes! There are 1,000s of years of culture to overcome here. It seems impossible. Yet see God’s plan. In Acts 11:16-18, “Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.”
We learn here that the gift of tongues would be the bridge between Jew and Gentile. God poured this supernatural gift out upon the gentiles as well as the Jews proving they were equally saved by grace.
Result: 19-21, Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.
So we see blessing on the other side of the bump! The Gentiles come in at exactly the right time. Isn’t God good! So the Church at Antioch begins and becomes the model for the rest of the Christendom. Note 22-24, Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.
Also note 25-26! Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
Question: What if they had dug in their heels instead of stepping out of the flesh and yielding to the Spirit on this issue. There would have been two totally separate churches, Jewish and Gentile. This would have been tragic. The early church needed both the Jews and the Gentiles to make it what it was to become. I’ve always felt the greatest miracle in Acts was that the Jews and the Gentiles could come together and function as one body. (See Ephesians 2:14-22)
Speed Bump #6, False Doctrine
Context: Acts 13:1-5, Missions officially begins. In Acts 14:21-23, we see some structure with appointing of elders in these new churches.
When Paul and Barnabas retuned to Antioch they gave a report. Acts 14:27, Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.
What a great praise report about what God is doing!
Acts 15:1-2, And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.
Now the church is facing a severe test; false doctrine is coming in. If this doctrine was accepted, it would make salvation based on faith in Christ and circumcision. Any time we add anything to the finished work of Christ to atone for sin, we eliminate Christ! The doctrine of salvation is based in Christ alone, by grace alone through faith alone. We add nothing.
Question: What happens when someone comes into your fellowship and seeks to teach a different doctrinal position then the church holds? Does doctrine really matter? Yes! For the body to have unity there must by necessity be a unity of fundamental doctrine. Any doctrine that diminishes the work of Christ is a false doctrine and must be rejected. Any doctrine that causes division must be dealt with.
Results: The Council at Jerusalem. Acts 15:6-29. They concluded that both Jews and Gentiles are saved by grace alone! 15:8-11, So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.
The result of that: Vs. 30-31, So when they were sent off, they came to Antioch; and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the letter. When they had read it, they rejoiced over its encouragement.
So we see blessing on the other side of the bump! There was unity by taking a stand for sound doctrine.
Speed Bump #7, Contention
Context: Paul & Barnabas return to the churches. Acts 15:36, Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.”
Speed bump #7, Contention
15:37-39, Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus.
We can’t get around the fact that this was indeed a personality conflict, and there was contention between these two brothers; However, I’m not sure they departed contentiously.
Note the end of verse 40. The brethren recommended. I wonder if the leadership at Antioch didn’t help them work through this problem. Any way you look at it, they went their separate ways.
Question: How do we resolve conflict? We must set aside the flesh and examine our convictions. Are they of the Spirit? We may need the brethren to help with an outside voice. Our desire should be peace, not war, note Ephesians 4:1-3.
Result: Two teams of missionaries head out. Barnabas and John Mark, Paul and Timothy.
Acts 16:5, So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.
So we see blessing on the other side of the bump!
What do we learn from all of this? Speed bumps aren’t bad; they just are. They aren’t road blocks. We need to take the godly model to heart and keep going on. Rather than despair when we come to obstacles, we need to ask, “What is God doing and how can we best serve Him?”
There is always a blessing on the other side IF we walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh. The flesh becomes the Road Block, not the situation.