When reading through the New Testament it jumps out how passionately the early church engaged in prayer and teaching the word. In the book of Acts, it says they devoted themselves to teaching and to prayer. The word devoted means to persevere, to be constantly diligent and steadfastly attentive to. Prayer and teaching weren’t things they occasionally squeezed in among a variety of other activities. Prayer and teaching were front and center, and they constantly engaged in these spiritual activities.
This devotion to prayer and the ministry of the word are revealed dramatically in Acts chapter six. It states that some of the widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. As needs go, widows going hungry is as legit as it gets. But when it was brought to the apostle’s attention, they were adamant that it would not be right for them to neglect their responsibilities in order to take care of feeding the widows. They gave brief instructions for others to take care of the distribution of food and then declared, we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4). They fully understood that prayer and the ministry of the word were absolutely essential to the spiritual life and welfare of God’s people. They refused to get sidetracked into taking care of other issues, no matter how pressing they may have seemed.
I’ve heard church leaders say this passage simply relates how the early church did things but it doesn’t mean that we are supposed to do things the same way. But I believe God chose this story to make a powerful statement about His ways, and how His ways accomplish His purposes. This point is driven home as the story wraps up in verse 7.
And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. (Acts 6:7)
This is the payoff verse that reveals the point of the story. Although the widows were taken care of, notice that isn’t the focus of the story. The results that came from the apostles unswerving devotion to prayer and the ministry of God’s word are amazing! And through this example God endorses this priority for all His people.
Scripture says the apostle Paul, was a wise master builder1. When read in its context, you realize this isn’t talking about Paul building churches. The building he did was to lay the foundation of Jesus Christ in believers’ lives for them to build on.
So how does a wise master builder go about laying the foundation of Jesus Christ? Just like we saw in Acts chapter six, Paul focused on teaching and prayer.
Paul’s devotion to teaching:
he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. (Acts 19:9-10 ESV)
Every day, for two years, Paul taught the word of the Lord. This is what Paul devoted himself to, and again the results were amazing. I’m sure Paul would’ve been dumbfounded by the idea of churches allocating a mere 45 minutes a week to the ministry of God’s word.
But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. (Acts 18:5 NASB)
Not only did Paul’s own ministry focus on teaching the word, he also exhorted other leaders and all believers to be devoted to God’s word.
Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. (1 Timothy 4:13 ESV)
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom… (Colossians 3:16 ESV)
For though by this time you ought to be teachers… (Hebrews 5:12 ESV)
Constant and thorough teaching of God’s word is crucial for laying the foundation of Jesus Christ in believers lives.
Paul’s devotion to prayer:
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, (Ephesians 1:16-17 ESV)
I’m not including the whole prayer, but just from these opening verses, you can see that this is a prayer that calls for God to do powerful, spiritual things in His people. And since it’s written in the Bible, we can be confident that God desires these things for all His people.
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy (Colossians 1:9-11 ESV)
What an amazing prayer! Take a moment to reflect on the richness of the spiritual aspects Paul asks for, and think what believers would look like if they were experiencing and growing in these things.
Paul had faith that God intended these spiritual blessings for all true believers. And this faith caused him to pray for these things diligently and without ceasing. Do you pray this kind of prayer for other believers? Are there people in your life who diligently pray this kind of prayer for you?
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19 ESV)
Paul had tremendous vision and expectations for God’s people. And he got on his knees before the Father, fully believing that his prayers made a genuine difference in people’s spiritual growth, their relationship with the Lord, and their fruitfulness for God. He knew that prayer was one of the most powerful ways he could impact believers’ lives.
Paul understood that the most powerful and effective thing he could do to serve God’s people was to pray and to teach God’s word, and this was what he devoted himself to. But what was he looking for this to accomplish? What was the actual goal of his ministry?
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Colossians 1:28-29 ESV)
Paul didn’t toil to boost church attendance, he didn’t toil to raise money for a new building, he didn’t toil to come up with dazzling new stage designs. Paul toiled and struggled toward a singular goal, and this goal was to present everyone mature in Christ. The word mature means completed, finished, brought to its end, perfect.
Christ was proclaimed so that people would be brought to maturity in Christ, and all of Paul’s energy and effort went toward this goal.
The book of Acts shouldn’t be viewed as merely a history of the early church. The events in Acts begin immediately after the death and resurrection of Jesus, and they provide wonderful insight into how the church began to implement and carry out what Jesus had taught and modeled in the gospels. Rather than theological passages, Acts communicates through stories, as God uses these real-life events to reveal His ways and how powerfully they work.
As I studied the Bible over the years, especially the book of Acts, I began to see a substantial difference between the early church and today’s church. The early church tapped into God’s power by following His ways. In contrast, today’s church has mostly settled for what it can produce by its own creativity and self-sufficiency2.
Over the years I’ve tried to point out how we are neglecting the very things that brought the early church such great success, but most people didn’t seem interested. At best, my arguments were simply ignored, and if I persisted, they were usually met with annoyed resistance. This response totally baffled me. But finally, it dawned on me, most churches today aren’t pursuing what the early church pursued. The issue isn’t just a difference in methods, it’s a difference in goals; because the goals you choose will dictate the methods you use.
The goal of the early church was to make disciples and to bring every believer to maturity in Christ. And they understood that prayer and teaching are God’s means for this to happen. But in contrast, the goal of most churches today is to build their individual church. Most church leaders are fully convinced that God has called them to invest themselves in building their church, and that goal determines what they do and how they do it.
While building a church is commonly regarded as a godly thing to do, it’s imperative to ask if this is actually a deviation from what the Bible tells us to do.
But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:3 NASB)
This warning contains valuable insight into how the devil goes about leading people away from God’s plans and purposes. When the devil tempted Eve, he didn’t come to her with something obviously dark and evil. His temptation was presented as something that appeared to be good. That’s the art of deception; getting people to buy into something that appears to be good, when in truth it’s contrary to what God desires.
The first time the word church is mentioned in the Bible, Jesus said “I will build my church” (Matt 16:18). This concise statement lays foundational principles about how God intends for his church to be built. Notice, Jesus didn’t say he would build a bunch of churches. He didn’t say he would build your church. And he certainly didn’t tell us to build our church. Jesus said that he would build his church. Building the church is Jesus’ work, and the church he is building is his church.
While building the church is Jesus’ job, the Bible is very straightforward at communicating what our job is. God’s assignment for his church is expressed so simply and clearly in these two passages.
Go into all the world and preach the gospel. (Mark 16:15 NAS)
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations… teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)
Both of these scriptures involve the ministry of God’s word. Both of these scriptures tell us to go. Neither tells us to get them to come.
These commandments of Jesus are what the apostle Paul devoted his life to. He went and preached the gospel. When people responded, he taught them the word of God in order to make disciples. Churches were born out of Paul’s commitment to preach and teach the word of God, not a commitment to start or build churches. We have put the cart before the horse, and it just isn’t going where God wants it to go.
Building a church is fundamentally about getting people to come to your church. And in this simple idea lies the root problem. If your goal is to get people to come to your church, then you will begin to structure your church according to what people want. You end up doing all kinds of things to meet people’s perceived needs, and all of this takes the place of meeting their true spiritual needs as defined in the Bible.
Making disciples is not just another thing the church is supposed to do. It’s the number one, most important thing that the church is supposed to give itself to. If we truly understand what making disciples encompasses, then we will realize this is the only thing the church is supposed to do. If the church excels at making disciples, then everything Jesus desires in and from his church will grow and prosper. God has provided us with powerful spiritual tools that are extremely proficient at making disciples and bringing them to maturity in Christ. We need to come back to utilizing God’s ways to accomplish God’s goals.
Do you fellowship in an atmosphere that reflects devotion to prayer and the word of God? If not, start with yourself by choosing the path of discipleship and asking God to help you to grow in these areas. Also, ask God to connect you with other believers who are hungry for all that God has for His people. Then get together and diligently pursue the Lord through prayer and His word. You don’t have to be a church leader, and you don’t need a large group. All you need is a heart that longs to see God work in your life and to work His purposes in His church.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. (Luke 6:21 NASB)
For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst. (Matthew 18:20 NASB)
You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13 NASB)
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- 1 Corinthians 3:10-11 NAS According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
- Philippians 3:3 ESV For we are the circumcision, who worship [serve] by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—
One thought on “God’s Ways Accomplish God’s Goals”
The part of the article that noted Jesus said “I will build My church” everyone needs to remember, it belongs to Christ, it is not mine. So many misunderstand the Church of Christ is not a sign on a building denoting a denominational name, it’s a description for those who gather together to worship and as you noted follow instructions given in scripture. Thanks