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The Call to Ministry

16/01/2020

The Individual Call, and the Purposes of God.

Acts 8:26-31

Simon has been dealt with by Peter and has been called upon to repent.  He doesn’t, and according to the early church fathers becomes the first ‘Christian’ gnostic heretic. Peter and the other apostles return to Jerusalem and the revival continues apace at Samaria.  But what about Philip?  God has other plans in mind for him.

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1 Experiencing the Call of God.

How is someone called into ministry?  How does God issue a call to a man to be a pastor or an elder in the church?  How does God Call a man or a woman into missionary service, to work in the local assembly?  If you ask some ministers they will tell you that they respond to a ‘call to service’ at some missionary convention or meeting.  Some will tell you that they felt so strongly about the call to service that they really couldn’t do anything else.  Others have more fanciful notions, – that they hear an audible voice, or see some vision or have a dream… Common among evangelicals is the notion that god will give you a verse…   

Philip received a call from God to go to a new work.  And what a strange call it is, – a call that is unique to the apostolic period of the church.  See

  • The nature of the call.  Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip. Now of course there are angels, and according to Hebrews they have a specific role in relation to the believer…  Hebrews 1:14  But that ministry is done spiritually, not in a superstitious way, nor should one expect to see an angel standing in front of us…
  • The specifics of the call. “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.”  There was a busy road between Jerusalem and the recently built desert city of Gaza.   One commentator estimates that 50% of the worlds trade travelled along that route.  It was a very busy road.  
  • The challenge of the call.  This is a desert place.  I can’t imagine how far the heart of the modern Pastor would sink on receiving a call like this.  The evangelist will want to be at the very heart of the action – this is where everything is happening, not leaving the revival behind and going off to a place that is uncomfortable, dry and barren, both geographically and spiritually.  Yet this is exactly what Philip is being called by God to do, and when the Lord calls us, who are we to decline!  Philip’s response was unequivocal and without hesitation…  27 And he rose and went.   

You can see that this is a very special, specific, detailed call indeed.  Now, if God calls one of us to serve Him, should we too expect the call to be delivered by an angel in similar manner?  

Some simple observations:

  • We should not expect apostolic experiences to be our experiences.  As with the issue of the reception of the Holy Spirit that we looked at in our last study, we should remember that Luke is writing to faithfully record the Acts of the Holy Spirit in the ministry of the Apostles.  We are not apostles, neither are there any genuine apostles around today.  However…
  • There is no doubt that God does incline some believers’ hearts towards service.  Amos illustrates this for us. Amos 3:8 The lion hath roared, who will not fear? the Lord God hath spoken, who can but prophesy? But how will he bring about the circumstances where that divine call is realised?
  • God’s sovereign purpose is always being worked out in all our lives, and he will bring about the circumstances and events that will lead us all throughout life, including leading those whom he had called to ministry into his service.  We call this DIVINE PROVIDENCE. Generally it is through such providential leading that God brings us into service for him.  Philip has already discovered the hand of God in his life, for he had been a deacon at Jerusalem, helping to run the church’s aid programme to the widows, when the great persecution broke out, and he had been forced to flee from the city,  God had used his flight to safety to bring sinners to salvation.  God, – working out his purposes through the ordinary circumstances of life.

The Heidelberg Catechism helps us here. Q27 What do you understand by the providence of God?  A.  God’s providence is his almighty and ever present power, whereby, as with his hand, he still upholds heaven and earth and all creatures, and so governs them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed, all things, come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand.   Matthew Henry has a nice way of putting this.  We cannot now expect such guides in our way; but doubtless there is a special providence of God conversant about the removes and settlements of ministers, and one way or other he will direct those who sincerely desire to follow him into that way in which he will own them: he will guide them with his eye.”  God simply directs our paths, and sometimes that leads us into dedicated service for him.  

 

2 Trusting the Purposes of God.  And there was an Ethiopian

This is very encouraging for us.  God is concerned about the great periods of revival, he ordains those times, but God is concerned about us as individuals.  God sent Philip the evangelist to witness to a single man, who through the convicting work of the Holy Spirit was seeking the Lord.  Mary Ross Cousin wrote a song based upon the letters of Samuel Rutherford, the Covenanter Minister of Anwoth, who in the 1660 Great Ejactment was banned from his pulpit and sent to live in Aberdeen, where he yearned for his church and people.  The song demonstrates the importance of a single soul…

Fair Anwoth by the Solway,
To me thou still art dear!
E’en from the verge of Heaven
I drop for thee a tear.
Oh! if one soul from Anwoth
Meet me at God’s right hand,
My Heaven will be two Heavens,
In Immanuel’s land!

God is concerned and out YOU, about YOUR SOUL.  He wants YOU to come to Christ and be saved.  Let’s get some background on this man:-

A The Eunuch’s Position.   

  • He was an African servant of a queen.  a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians,  He was a black man, a civil servant, and of course that meant that he would have been a eunuch – a man who would never have children or a family.  Possibly by no choice of his own, life had become empty and meaningless?
  • He was entrusted with high office.  who was in charge of all her treasure. this man was the ‘chancellor of the exchequer’ a man of great influence in the land.  His conversion would be influential too.
  • He was seeking the Lord.  He had come to Jerusalem to worship.   Despite all his influence and all his authority, here was a man who travelled a 1000 mile trip to seek some meaning for life.  There were many from the gentile lands who had become tired and weary with slack morality and polytheistic confusion, and many hundreds every year made their way to Jerusalem, in the hope that they would find the true God, and and perhaps the nation with the strictest moral code in the world, the Law of Moses was a welcome change from the openly promiscuous culture of the times.  I sometimes wonder if that might happen now, when our culture is sliding deeper and deeper into a morass of immorality – will people become more and more disillusioned by the culture and seek for a more solid code of ethics, and perhaps find it in Christianity?  This man was at Jerusalem worshipping, as a ‘God-fearer’ or a proselyte, and while there, he’d obtained a copy of the Scriptures.
  • He was in the place where the Lord could help and meet him.  and was returning, seated in his chariot,   And now he’s coming home.   Picture the scene, he’s on that desert road, but he’s not alone – there’s many others travelling along it, lone travellers, camel trains, and of course as a high official he would have had his entourage, his retainers and his guards.  And there’s a man, a stranger called Philip, who seems to have just turned up at the side of the road… 

B The Eunuch’s Perusal. When you read the Bible there are three things you need…

  • Concentration. and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 30So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet   He was reading.  It would have been normal in those days for a text or a letter or scroll to be read out loud, that’s why Luke records that Philip HEARD his reading.  Another faithful historical reference.  When reading out loud, distractions are diminished, have you noticed that when you read silently your mind can sometimes wander, yet Bible reading requires some concentration, and it also needs…
  • Comprehension. “Do you understand what you are reading?”  That’s a basic skill.  I remember doing it at school, where we have to read a document and then answer some questions to demonstrate that we had actually understood what we have read.  Sometimes getting benefit from God’s written word simply needs basic comprehension skills and little more.  Just simply asking Who, What, Where, When, Why and How?  Sadly these basic skills seem to be lacking today. 
  • Confession. 31And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me? But let’s be honest,  There are difficult passages in the Bible. We don’t need to be afraid of them, we just need to admit that we don’t know everything, and seek help from a trusted commentator, or an older Christian, or one of the church leaders.  It’s good to seek help.

C The Eunuch’s Plea. 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Isn’t it a good job Philip was there – was where God wanted him to be?  Isn’t it good that he had the God given, spirit led courage to speak up and witness to the Ethiopian?  Would I?  Would you? 

Now, why does the Holy Spirit record this man’s conversion on the sacred page?  What is Luke teaching us?

  • See the SPREAD of the gospel.  Jesus told his disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel, and in Acts 1 he says, But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.  That’s what Acts is about – the spread of the Gospel from Jerusalem to the very ends of the earth and this is another stage in that mission.
  • See the LIBERALITY of the Gospel.  God doesn’t care about the colour of man or woman’s skin, or their position in society, for his grace can extend to every race and every station in life.  This is amply attested to in Scripture.  Acts 10:34 Romans 2:11,  1 Peter 1:17,  Colossians 3:25  We are to have the same attitude too,  Proverbs 24:23 James 2:9  
  • See the PURPOSES of God in the Gospel.  Now God is going to open up the Gospel work in Africa, and I wonder when this Eunuch gets home to Ethiopia, full of joy in his new life in Christ, will he start to witness enthusiastically for Jesus, for within a short time many people in Africa will also come to Christ and new churches will spring up all across the African coast of the Mediterranean.  From that church would spring up great theologians, like Tertullian, like St Augustin of Hippo…. And of course among them would be Arius, the father of all heretics…

So God’s purpose is being worked out, and the Gospel is spreading all over the world.  Next study, we’ll get a closer look at this Ethiopian, and we’ll examine his conversion.

© BobMcEvoy January 2020

From → Acts, Bible Study

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