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Calling Your Bluff in the Buff: Acts 19

Paul and company have traveled onward. (What, you thought that if I didn’t blog it, it didn’t happen? Right…words can hurt, but reality is whatever it is, whether you say it or not.)

They have traveled, whilst Apollos is in Corinth doing some teaching, over to Ephesus. Paul preaches and people come to faith in Christ. It’s a truly beautiful situation. For the first time, it seems that Paul is going to preach without the Judaizers causing problems or even without causing too much controversy with the Jews themselves. (Remember, the Judaizers were the ones who thought that being a good Christian required one to first live according to Jewish law.) He does end up leaving the synagogue and teaching in a Gentile school room, but that was going to happen: eventually, the Jews that did not want the Gospel would not want the Gentiles.

Side note: a drive for “racial purity” is completely inconsistent with the Gospel: if you have the Gospel, you want all people that God has created to hear it and you are willing to fellowship throughout life with all who are your fellow Believers. No lines, no segregation. If you want a Sunday meeting or a life only for those just like you, you don’t want the Gospel. Even if you put “Church” on the building.

This chapter then gives us a couple of contrasting stories about the power of God. First, we get the picture that God is working through Paul to heal people and anoint people with the Holy Spirit. Even a handkerchief that Paul had touched carried the power of God to people and evil spirits went out from them.

By contrast, there were the seven sons of Sceva the Priest. These seven were going about, commanding evil spirits to leave people. They even called on the name of Jesus when they did so. Except when they did this, the evil spirit called their bluff and beat them out into the buff.

It just did not work without the seven sons having their own faith in Christ.

Now, we could take the wrong lesson from this, and many have. Here are the wrong lessons:

  1. Prayer hankies, blessed by preachers, to heal you. Seriously, folks, that’s nonsense. Especially since it’s usually connected to a request for money. There is nothing in the text here that indicates Paul came up with this idea—it appears that it just happened, people realized it, and praised God for it.
  2. The extended nonsense: the Greek word for handkerchief and for apron can relate to towels/headbands related to sweat. And so it’s the perspiration of the Apostle that’s helpful, so we should all collect some preacher sweat. Please, please: do not send those people your life savings. If a minister won’t pray for you just because you ask for it, find a different one.
  3. The “At least make sure the demons know your name” debacle: the evil spirit admits to having “heard of” Paul, and so we should make sure the demons know our names. Christian, your job has absolutely nothing to do with demons. It has everything to do with glorifying God. Demons might get in the way and have to be dealt with by the power of God, but if your plan includes seeking anything from the demonic, it is wrong. End of story.

We need to actually look at the text and get past these. The text actually gives us a enough to grasp what is happening in this situation.

And it is not about: Hankies, sweat bottles, or even Paul.

It is about the power of the God, shown through His Holy Spirit, and expressed in worship of the Lord Jesus Christ. Look again: there is a continuity of expressions regarding “the evil spirit” throughout Acts 19:11-16. That “The” is important in Greek, and it’s important in English. We’re dealing with the same problem, probably the same person and people: the Sons of Sceva, not being Believers, cannot do anything about the evil when they are in front of it. Paul, with the aid of other Believers, does not even need to be present.

The power is in God and is mediated through His people. Not through those who can cite the right rites. Only through those whose hearts are God’s in the first place.

What happens next?

The best thing for church growth: FEAR. Fear of people? No. Only injustice and unrighteous need fear the church. It is the fear of God that all people must have.

Because when that happens, Acts 19:20 hits, and the Word grows and prevails. People abandon their prior sinful practices, even at great cost, and stand publicly with Christ.

Then, of course, the riot comes. Why? Because so many people abandon idolatry that the idol-makers find themselves made idle. There is much here as well, as the crowd in Ephesus insists on the supporting the worship of the gods they make. Amazing how people do that—I had a pastor who often said that we either accept being made in God’s image or we attempt to make a god in our image.

On to us, though, as there is precious little left to be done for ancient Ephesus:

What is your trust in, when you face the evil things that afflict this world? More specifically, when those things afflict you?

I am not talking about finding a demon in every sneeze, nor should you hear me applaud the “never-go-to-the-doctor-just-pray” mentality. That we should pray and seek the aid of those God has gifted should be a “duh” thought for us.

Also, though, how do you handle the challenges that afflict you spiritually? Do you run to the old rituals? To the current “flavor of the month?”

Put your hope and trust in the Living God. Let the rest of the tricks slide away…

Today’s Nerd Note: The post is already long, so here’s a short one: Acts 19:35-36 give us an important learning text in our doctrine of Scripture. Even though I believe that every word of Scripture is infallible, that the Bible is truth without any mixture of error, the text can accurately record inaccurate (or outright lies) spoken by an individual. For example, Acts 19:35-36 should not be taken as Biblical proof that the Diana Statute legend is true. The textual recording here is accurate in this: that’s what the town clerk said. Not that the town clerk was right, just that this is what he said.


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