I am working through one of my favorite chapters in the Bible: Acts 19. It has always drawn me and what I love about the study of Scripture is that each trip through a passage can yield new insights and nuances. This trip through has been no different.
Paul is in Ephesus and he starts with 12. God is not worried about small numbers. He takes those 12 and moves through the Spirit to touch an entire region and establish a church that would influence the early church for centuries.
I love Acts 19 because it also shows the economic impact of the gospel. The temple cult was hit in monetary terms and it upset the business owners. Real change in an area will show economic shifts. It will show spiritual shifts. It will show priority shifts.
This trip through Acts 19 I could get caught up in the reaction of the trinket shop owners because their revenue took a hit. It is an easy parallel to today’s culture (but it is also a lesson rooted in history as well). When the powers that be lose their control and their economic advantage, they will stir up the crowd but they won’t use their economic loss as the reason. They will stir up patriotism and love of “our way of life.”
Okay, as we used to say in Pentecostal circles, “That’ll preach!”
So, I’ve been beating that drum for the last few days as I’ve walked through that passage. It’s a fun trip, to be honest. It gets my emotions stirred and I’m angry all over again.
Then… I am reminded of the full story. It’s not just the trinket shop owners who are in play. It’s not just the powers that control the temple cults who are in play. It is the spiritual force behind that temple that is at play. That spiritual force had control of that region… and King Jesus has just come to town.
So, I am reminded that I am to work for change in my world… and I am to pray for change in my world. It is not an either/or option (as we like to think). It is a both/and. As a believer in this world at this moment in our culture facing the deep rooted ugliness of racism all over again… I work… AND I pray.
Paul reminds us of that is, of all letters, Ephesians.
12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens. (Eph. 6:12)
I am reminded of the task facing the world in World War II and I am reminded of known and unknown leaders of that time. It was a real world struggle, but it was also a spiritual struggle.
There were the world leaders like Winston Churchill who led nations to mobilize and act to stop the Nazis. There were the almost unknown leaders who led in spiritual and physical roles. I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who did the spiritual work of leading an underground church movement… AND joined a group that tried to bring Hitler down by assassination several times. I also think of Thomas Merton who came to realize the Lord had led him into a monastic movement during this time for the purpose of prayer.
It was all of those actions that were brought to bear to halt the spread of a world threat.
As much as I simply want to shout against the foolishness of people in our time who want to shout out “patriotic” phrases to save “our way of life,” I also need to realize that’s the easy target. I must work at dismantling racism. I must pray as well. There are spiritual forces at work. I can work “on the ground” and see a law change… but that spiritual darkness will hover and pop up again in some other way… just as it has done throughout the history of our country.
We need all hands on deck, especially among believers, to dismantle this evil.
Is it possible? I think Acts 19 gives me hope.
Get to work! And… pray!