And when he [Paul] wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.
Sometimes, we need to see our team win. When, from an earthly perspective, it seems like the church is so often on the losing side of cultural battles, being reminded of the truth of Scriptures over and against the rule, authority and power of this world can be deeply encouraging.
In this little nugget from the ministry of Paul, we're given a glimpse into one way such encouragement can come: apologetics. We typically define apologetics as the "defense of the Christian faith" and often think about apologetics as something primarily evangelistic. And while we certainly need to be ready to give answers to those seeking the truth, Paul's ministry reveals how much the church needs good apologetics. We might even wonder if the primary focus of apologetics ought to be the church rather than the world.
During a short ministry trip to Achaia, Paul follows his normal pattern of ministry: to begin by proclaiming the truth to the Jewish people in and near the synagogue and later to bring that same gospel to the Gentiles. But here in Achaia there were already some believers. And Paul's ministry to the Jews had an incredible impact on them: "...he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public." Luke doesn't record here the conversion of many Jews but the encouragement of many believers.
Pastors, parents, Sunday school teachers and youth group leaders, take note: God's people need to see a win every now and then. They need to see how the truth of Scriptures stands up against the philosophies and undercurrents of the world around us. Preaching or teaching the Word of God without bringing it to bear on the broken systems of a fallen world, teaching that is expositionally solid but applicationally weak, will remain theoretical and not fully strengthen God's people. If the ministry of the Word never bridges the divide between the Biblical world and our own, God's people won't be "greatly helped" by our ministry.
How does apologetics do this? How do we refute the world's ideas and claims, especially given how many they are and how little we may be trained in understanding them? Luke again makes this clear: "...[Paul] powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus." What type of apologetics helps the church? That which uses God's Word to reasonably and powerfully defend the identity and work of Jesus against those who deny it. In other words, apolgetics isn't a separate task from our normal preaching and teaching, but a say to sharpen our focus as we preach and teach. As you study, learn to focus your studies especially on the person and work of Jesus.
When you prepare a Sunday school lesson or a sermon, it is wise to consider what Bryan Chapell calls the Fallen Condition Focus: "...the mutual human condition that contemporary believers share with those to or for whom the text was written thqt requires the grace of this passage." (Christ-Centered Preaching, 42) Determining this focus helps us use the text the way God intended. But it remains important to apply this focus both to the people in the pew or in your class and also to the world around them. They need to feel the weight of God's wrath and grace for themselves. And they need to see those same truths enter into the arena and "powerfully refute" the ways the world is pressing upon their souls.
God's people need to see the win. They need to see from the Scriptures that Jesus is Christ and how Jesus' person and work utterly defeats materialism or nihilism or the hook-up culture or fear-based politics or religious pluralism or whatever scheme Satan is currently battering them with. This is hard and takes extra work. You need to study the Word of God and the people of God as well. But the result is worth it, because you will be used by God to "greatly help those who through grace had believed."
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