Bible Matters #5: “Cast Out” For the Kingdom
Are You Willing To Be “Cast Out” For the Kingdom’s Sake?
By Ed Browne
When you think of the most influential acts in the life of the New Testament figure, Paul (Saul) of Tarsus -- acts specifically leading to the spread of the gospel and church growth -- which ones come to mind? His fearless preaching throughout the Roman Empire? The founding of many churches? His penning of much of the New Testament? The many sufferings he endured for the sake of Christ?
How about this one?
If I were to say to you that one of the most influential acts performed by Paul which led specifically to the spreading of the church and its message of salvation occurred before Paul ever knew Christ, what would you say? What’s that? You think I’m crazy? Well, that may be so, but ...
Let’s take a closer look.
In Acts 7, we have the riveting account of Stephen, the first Christian to be martyred for the sake of Christ. Having performed tremendous signs and wonders in the name of Jesus, Stephen was opposed by certain Jews who engaged him in debate. Unable to withstand the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke, they arranged to have him accused falsely of blasphemy and had him drug before the religious council. There Stephen delivered such a bold testimony for Jesus as Christ and the Jews as betrayers and murderers of this Christ, that those present were enraged. Simultaneously, Stephen looked up to Heaven and boldly cried out that he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father.
The Jews had had it.
Cut to the heart by the words of Stephen and full of fury, the Jews cast Stephen outside the city and stoned him. Those legally witnessing the execution 'laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul'. Hmmmmm.
Introducing Saul of Tarsus.
Who was this guy? Obviously, somebody important because Acts 8:1 goes on to say that '... Saul was consenting to his (Stephen's) death.' Perhaps the best answer is found in Acts 9:13. In a dialogue with The Lord, Ananias says of Saul, 'Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here (Damascus) he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.' Saul, a zealous Pharisee, had carte blanche authority to imprison any and all followers of
Jesus -- a job he took very seriously. And you thought you had a checkered past!
Yo Ed, what about helping the church to grow?
That was it! Acts 8:1 goes on to say, 'At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were ALL scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.' Saul spearheaded this persecution. Not only did Saul help kick them out of Jerusalem; he then chased them to Damascus! He was relentless. Verse 3 states, 'As for Saul, he MADE HAVOC of the church, entering every house and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.'
You call that help?
Absolutely! Verse 4 tells us why. 'Therefore those who were scattered went EVERYWHERE preaching the word.' Welcome to church growth 101. God would not allow His church to become Jerusalem’s couch potatoes. He saw to it that the word of salvation was spread. He’s still doing the same today. GULP!
Consider the following well-known words of Jesus: 'The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore PRAY the Lord of the harvest to SEND OUT laborers into His harvest.' (Matt. 9:37-38; Luke 10:2).
I know, I know, you diligently and consistently ask God to ordain and release missionaries into the mission field. You also remember to ask God to help the evangelists and other big-mouth types to witness to people. And you make sure that you stay open to whatever God wants you to do - right here. You even have a 'God bless all who enter here' plaque conspicuously displayed near your front door. What’s more, you’re seriously considering a brand-new fish bumper-sticker to go on your brand-new car.
Let’s take a closer look.
I guarantee you’re not going to like this. The English word 'pray' is used a gazillion times in the New Testament. It is the translation, however, of many different Greek words. While virtually all of them have as their root meaning the idea of 'ask', 'petition' or 'request', only one has as its root meaning, 'to beg'. It is a forceful, fervent, almost-desperate pleading. And it’s the word used above by Jesus.
It gets worse.
The English words 'send out' are also used frequently in the New Testament. They also are the translation of various Greek words. Normally, the words convey the idea of 'commissioning'. There are only three times that the Greek word 'ekballo' is translated 'send out': the two verses cited above and one other that speaks of God’s 'sending out' His justice (or judgment). 'Ekballo' is used a total of eighty-two times in the New Testament. Its meaning?: 'cast out' (as in demons), 'drive out' (as in enemy forces), 'expel' (as in excommunicate), 'force out' (as in scatter abroad). 'Ekballo' is a violent, forceful word. There is nothing gentle about it. When the persecuted believers in Jerusalem were 'scattered abroad', they were 'ekballo’ed'.
A more exact rendering: 'The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore FERVENTLY BEG (a command) the Lord of the harvest to
FORCE OUT laborers into His harvest.'
Remember, when the Jerusalem believers were scattered, they were ALL scattered, except the apostles. And EVERYONE who was scattered preached the word. Missionaries are commissioned; the rest of us are 'ekballo’ed'! Why would Jesus command us to beg the Father to force us into the harvest? Simple. He loves the lost. Their salvation is more important than our comfortable existence. His heart breaks for the lost and we are His 'sickles'.
Application Time: Some difficult thoughts.
1. It is neither easy nor comfortable to engage in the harvesting of souls; but it is highly rewarding. Who wouldn’t draw satisfaction from being part of a successful rescue attempt? Doing so involves making His reality our reality. The rest will follow.
2. 'Life' has a way of distracting us from Life - His Life. To keep real the truth that this world is passing away, is only a temporary existence, we must diligently focus 'on the things which are above.' Actively study and dwell on the afterlife. The more you do so, the more this life will become re-prioritized and That Life a reality.
4. Are you willing to 'beg' the Father to force us -- you -- into the harvest? Why not join me in doing so daily? What if it means being 'scattered'? Is it worth it? Are you willing?
'... he who wins souls is wise.' (Prov. 11:30 b).
'Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever.'
"Everything we shut our eyes to, everything we run away from, everything we deny, denigrate or despise, serves to defeat us in the end. What seems nasty, painful, evil, can become a source of beauty, joy, and strength, if faced with an open mind.": Henry Miller (1891-1980) American writer