Wednesday, April 2, 2014

How God uses trials to strengthen His church

Acts 5:41 So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.

We turn our attention today to Acts 3-8 to consider a subject that many readers may not want to hear but nonetheless is necessary to understand: that God strengthens His church through trials. In past posts we have explored these chapters in noting how God uses two other methods for strengthening His church:
1. Prayer

2. Preaching

This third method of trials will be our focus today.

Understanding what the Bible teaches about the place and purposes of trials and testing in God's plan
There are over 250 passages in the scriptures that touch upon this theme of trial and suffering. Oftentimes when we are experiencing testing, we ascribe it to God punishing us for unconfessed sin or for something we have unknowingly done wrong.  Certainly such forms of "correction" are taught in nearly 80 places throughout the scriptures. However what is interesting to note is that overwhelmingly, trials and storms are Sovereignly permitted in our lives to purify us in an area.  In studying the passages that speak on this subject, the author found 145 places that demonstrate God's purifying purposes.  Additionally, another 30 spots indicate that God uses trials and testings to advance His kingdom purposes, which mean that we may very well be experiencing a storm of life that has more to do with God's overall plan, rather than just us alone.

Now why are such statistics encouraging? Because we know that in every trial, there is always a Divine purpose, with a Divine process, with a Divine end in mind.  2 Timothy 3:12 reminds us - "Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:6-7 "In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 7 so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ." Believe it or not, God's use of trials in your life is for your advantage according to James 1:3-4 "knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."
So then do we have proof that these truths actually work? The Book of Acts supplies the answer by showing us how the early church advanced under the various trials and testings that she had to endure in her first year of life. In short order we will aim for the rest of this post to answer this question: How does God use trials to strengthen His church?

1. Testing yields a testimony. Acts 4:3, 4:13
It has often been said that in every mess God can bring forth a message, and in every testing God brings forth a testimony. The more the church was tested, the more testimony she had. Adrian Rogers once said you can tell what is important to a man by what makes him laugh, cry and get angry.  When these early Christians were pressed and tried, what came out? Jesus! But notice secondly....

2. Warfare leads to worship. Acts 4:23-31, 41-42
Perhaps the reader never thought of worship as warfare - but it truly is.  Undoubtedly these early Christians were being attacked not only by the kingdoms of this world but the kingdom of darkness. Right after their release from prison, the apostles went back to the Christians gathered in a worship service.  The result? These people cried out to God and sought the face of God and ultimately the heart of God! They quoted scripture and before it was all said and done, the Spirit of God fell and the place was shaken.  This early church was a broken people who were ready to be used mightily by God.  Their worship ascended to the clouds and beyond because of the Divinely appointed cleansing agent of trial and testing. So testings are used by God to create a testimony and strengthen worship but notice thirdly...

3. Persecution leads to proclamation. Acts 5:25-26,29; 6:15 and 7:1-60; 8:4
In the wake of all the persecutions we find in Acts 3-8, we discover an increased effort and ability to communicate God's Word. It may sound so odd to think about that, especially when in our day and age we would like to be the majority voice in our media driven world.  Nonetheless notice the following statements:

1. Acts 5:26-29 Then the captain went along with the officers and proceeded to bring them back without violence (for they were afraid of the people, that they might be stoned). 27 When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.

2.  Acts 6:15 "And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel." When the Sanhedrin were putting the pressure on Stephen, the scriptures say his face shone like an angel.  The sermon in Acts 7 is among the greatest sermons recorded in Holy Writ.

3. Acts 8:4 "Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word." This statement was made on the heels of Stephen's martyrdom.  Notice the unexpected outcome - persecution led to bolder preaching and a much larger effort on the part of the Apostles and early church.   

We have considered today how God uses trials and testings in the life of His church.  We noted the following three ways from Acts 3-8:
1. Testing yields a testimony
2. Warfare leads to worship
3. Persecution leads to proclamation

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