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Worshiping God in spirit and truth

Back to all sermons Living the mission of God: the book of Acts

Date: October 7, 2018

Speaker: Eric Stillman

Series: Living the mission of God: the book of Acts

Scripture: Acts 18:1–19:41

This morning, we are continuing in Acts, as we are to chapters 18 & 19. These chapters continue to focus on Paul’s missionary journey as he moves from major city to major city preaching the gospel about Jesus, and in these chapters he will be in Corinth and Ephesus, two main centers of trade and commerce in the ancient world.


I want to frame these chapters by referencing a line from John 4:21-24, during a conversation between Jesus and a Samaritan woman at the well, which goes like this:


John 4:21-24 - Jesus declared, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.  22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.  23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."


According to Jesus, God is seeking worshipers. In particular, he is seeking men and women who will worship Him in Spirit and in truth. What does that mean? This is how John Piper put it in his book “Desiring God”:


Worship must be vital and real in the heart, and worship must rest on a true perception of God. There must be spirit and there must be truth. . . . Truth without emotion produces dead orthodoxy and a church full (or half-full) of artificial admirers . . . . On the other hand, emotion without truth produces empty frenzy and cultivates shallow people who refuse the discipline of rigorous thought. But true worship comes from people who are deeply emotional and who love deep and sound doctrine. Strong affections for God rooted in truth are the bone and marrow of biblical worship. (81–82)


I want to use that truth to frame our reading of Acts 18 & 19 today, because these chapters are filled with men and women, some of whom are truth-deficient and others who are Spirit-deficient, and I think there is a lot for us to learn as we seek to become the men and women God desires.


First of all though, let me address the idea of God seeking worshipers, in case that is offensive or curious to you. This is how C.S. Lewis felt explains it in his book Reflections on the Psalms:


“We all despise the man who demands continued assurance of his own virtue, intelligence, or delightfulness; we despise even more the crowd of people round every dictator, every millionaire, every celebrity, who gratify that demand… worse still was the statement put into God’s own mouth, ‘whoso offereth me thanks and praise, he honoureth me’ (Psalm 50:23). It is hideously like saying, ‘What I most want is to be told that I am good and great.’”


 “But the most obvious fact about praise – whether of God or anything – strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honour. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless (sometimes even if) shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise – lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game… I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?” The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about.


Praise is a natural thing – when we enjoy something, we want to praise it. When you feel that someone is beautiful, you want to tell them. If someone has made you proud, you want to tell them. If you read a great book or watch a great movie, you want to praise it to others. When you experience a beautiful sunset, or breathtaking mountain view, or incredible waterfall, you want to praise it, share it with others. When we enjoy something, we naturally want to praise it, and to invite others to praise it along with us.


Lewis continues:


I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with… The worthier the object, the more intense this delight would be. If it were possible for a created soul fully to “appreciate”, that is to love and delight in, the worthiest object of all, and simultaneously at every moment to give this delight perfect expression, then that soul would be in supreme beatitude.


When we enjoy something, our delight is incomplete until it is expressed. Ever watch a movie by yourself? See a moving video? What do you want to do? Tell others about it! Post it on Facebook! Express to others how amazing it is and hope that others join you in praising it! Shout it from the rooftops so that others will join in praising and share in the enjoyment! This song is amazing. Share it with others so that they can join you in praising it.


Think about – you go to the theater and you watch a movie, and it is amazing. You can’t believe how much you enjoyed it. What is your natural inclination?


Watch it again

Think about it

Learn all you can about it – watch documentaries, read the making of, find interviews

Tell everyone how awesome it was

Watch it with others so you can watch them enjoy it too and enjoy it together


What is this? Worship, evangelism, fellowship, meditation – these are all natural outcomes of enjoying something.


Lewis continues:


It is along these lines that I find it easiest to understand the Christian doctrine that “Heaven” is a state in which angels now, and men hereafter, are perpetually employed in praising God… To see what the doctrine really means, we must suppose ourselves to be in perfect love with God – drunk with, drowned in, dissolved by, that delight which, far from remaining pent up within ourselves as incommunicable, hence hardly tolerable, bliss, flows out from us incessantly again in effortless and perfect expression, our joy no more separable from the praise in which it liberates and utters itself than the brightness a mirror receives is separable from the brightness it sheds. The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.”


To discover the most beautiful thing, to be able to perfectly enjoy it and express our enjoyment and share that joy with others – that would be heaven. The fact that God is seeking worshipers does not mean that He needs people to praise Him. Rather, it’s an invitation to enjoy Him.


In the light of that, let’s look at some of the individuals and groups we experience in these two chapters:


Acts 18:1-21 - After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth.  2 There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them,  3 and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them.  4 Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.  5 When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.  6 But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, "Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles."  7 Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God.  8 Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.  9 One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: "Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.  10 For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city."  11 So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.  12 While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him into court.  13 "This man," they charged, "is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law."  14 Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, "If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you.  15 But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law-- settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things."  16 So he had them ejected from the court.  17 Then they all turned on Sosthenes the synagogue ruler and beat him in front of the court. But Gallio showed no concern whatever.  18 Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchrea because of a vow he had taken.  19 They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.  20 When they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined.  21 But as he left, he promised, "I will come back if it is God's will." Then he set sail from Ephesus. 


We have to address the Jews. It seems like in every chapter Paul preaches to Jews in the synagogue, and some believe, but some stir up a riot to persecute him. Why?

They are zealous, but they do not know the true God. And because of this, their misplaced zeal caused them to crucify Jesus and oppose His disciples. They are full of spirit, full of zeal, but they are missing a crucial component of the truth.


There are many who believe “It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.” Tell that to the Jews killed in the Holocaust. You can be sincere and sincerely wrong. There are plenty of sincere religious people around the world, and they can not all be right. You need to be both full of the Spirit but also full of truth. If your understanding of God is off, you can be zealous for the wrong things. If you believe that you are saved by your good works, you can be zealous for that. If you believe that everyone outside your church is going to Hell, you will be zealous in your evangelism and make a mess of things as a result. You have to have both spirit and truth.


 22 When he landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church and then went down to Antioch.  23 After spending some time in Antioch, Paul set out from there and traveled from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.  24 Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures.  25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John.  26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.  27 When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed.  28 For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.


Apollos is a Jew who worshiped with great spirit and truth. He is referenced in 1 Corinthians 1:10-12:


1 Corinthians 1:10-12 - I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.  11 My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.  12 What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ."


He spoke and taught accurately, but he didn’t fully understand the gospel – he only knew of the baptism of John. And so Priscilla and Aquila take them in to disciple him.


Some of you are on the right track, but like Apollos, you need someone to disciple or mentor you, to explain the Word of God more adequately to you, as Priscilla and Aquila did. Who is discipling you? Who is mentoring you? Who is helping to fill in what you are lacking?


While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples  2 and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit."  3 So Paul asked, "Then what baptism did you receive?" "John's baptism," they replied.  4 Paul said, "John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus."  5 On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.  6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.  7 There were about twelve men in all.


Paul meets some disciples who believe, but have never received the Holy Spirit. The only baptism they received was John’s baptism. And so Paul places hands on them, and they receive the Spirit and begin speaking in tongues and prophesying. They know some truth, but not the whole truth, and have never received the Holy Spirit.


These are very religious people, but are not truly believers because the Holy Spirit does not live in them. And so they are baptized. Baptism is the sign of the new covenant, and outward expression of an inward reality.


Romans 6:1-5 - What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?  3 Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.  5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.


Is there a second baptism, a baptism of the Holy Spirit? Is that what this passage is teaching? This is not a secondary baptism. They have repented in response to John’s preaching, but they have not been baptized into Jesus. When they are baptized into Jesus’ name, the Spirit comes on them. You may speak in tongues, but this passage is descriptive, not prescriptive. It happens here and in Samaria to demonstrate visibly that these groups have been accepted by Christ.


Having said that, being filled with the Spirit is not an all-or-nothing experience. It’s not that you receive the Spirit at conversion and that’s all that matters. You ned to keep on being filled with the Spirit. It’s like a balloon – a small balloon is filled with air, but it can be filled some more. Keep on being filled with the Spirit.


Ephesians 5:18 - Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.


Being filled with the Spirit means to be empowered for spiritual living and ministry


Luke 24:49 - I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."


Acts 1:6-8 - So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"  7 He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.  8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."


The bottom line is that you can have the Holy Spirit but still need a deeper filling of the Spirit to empower you for spiritual life and ministry. Ask God to fill you with His Holy Spirit, that you might more fully worship God in Spirit and in truth.


8 Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God.  9 But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus.  10 This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.  11 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul,  12 so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.  13 Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, "In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out."  14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this.  15 One day the evil spirit answered them, "Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?"  16 Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.  17 When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor.  18 Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds.  19 A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas.  20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power. 


Let me address this briefly. In this passage we see Jews who do not know Jesus, but think they can just say the words and something will happen. This event shows that spiritual power is not just superstition, and that truth is not just a head thing. To worship God in truth is to know Jesus. The spiritual power is not in the form, not in the words, but in the relationship, in having the Spirit of God in you.


21 After all this had happened, Paul decided to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia. "After I have been there," he said, "I must visit Rome also."  22 He sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he stayed in the province of Asia a little longer.  23 About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way.  24 A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in no little business for the craftsmen.  25 He called them together, along with the workmen in related trades, and said: "Men, you know we receive a good income from this business.  26 And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that man-made gods are no gods at all.  27 There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited, and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty."  28 When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!"  29 Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul's traveling companions from Macedonia, and rushed as one man into the theater.  30 Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him.  31 Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater.  32 The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there.  33 The Jews pushed Alexander to the front, and some of the crowd shouted instructions to him. He motioned for silence in order to make a defense before the people.  34 But when they realized he was a Jew, they all shouted in unison for about two hours: "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!"  35 The city clerk quieted the crowd and said: "Men of Ephesus, doesn't all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven?  36 Therefore, since these facts are undeniable, you ought to be quiet and not do anything rash.  37 You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess.  38 If, then, Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a grievance against anybody, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. They can press charges.  39 If there is anything further you want to bring up, it must be settled in a legal assembly.  40 As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting because of today's events. In that case we would not be able to account for this commotion, since there is no reason for it."  41 After he had said this, he dismissed the assembly.


Lastly, to worship God in Spirit and truth means to worship wholeheartedly, to destroy our idols, to not allow anything else to be the object of our worship or devotion or trust. When the commerce of idols is threatened - He says that man-made gods are no gods at all - Demetrius the silversmith incites a riot.


We are all looking for something to give us meaning and identity. We take good things and make them ultimate things. If I just have this, then I will be somebody: success, family, spouse, social cause, moral record. Like Demetrius, we defend our idols and get upset when they are threatened. But man-made gods are no gods at all. They can not give us what we are looking to them to provide.


To worship God means to give up our other idols and to find our joy and strength in him alone. Worship Him in Spirit and in truth. Are you truth-deficient? Read his word. Find a mentor. Study. Are you Spirit-deficient? Ask God to fill you with His Spirit. Meditate on His Word until it grips your heart. Let us become worshipers who worship the Lord in spirit and truth.