by Pastor Ola Joseph Kolawole
You cannot afford to judge people by the tiny little fraction of their story which you know. We are all work-in-progress
Accepting help doesn’t show weakness; it simply shows that you are wise enough to avoid mistakes.
God not only works at the right time, He also works through the right servant, and both are essential
If you are a Child of God, you have the Holy Spirit. It’s either you have him or you don’t – you don’t get a fraction of Him. And you don’t need speaking in tongues to verify this.
Thank God for the privilege to have come thus far in the Book of Acts. Before I go further, I should mention that one of the most helpful resources for me in my Personal Bible Study in the past few years is a YouTube channel called “The Bible Project”. They have illustrative videos summarizing every book of the Bible and many other videos diving into different Bible themes, tracing it from Genesis to Revelation. Brilliant stuff! Someone curated a playlist of all the videos they have on the book of Acts. See here.
The first 2 videos are for the book summary (Chapters 1 to 12 and then 13 to 28). The rest are more in-depth look into the Book in smaller sections (1 to 7; 8 to 12; 13 to 20; 21 to 28).
Chapter 8 is very interesting. (It is even more interesting that my most recent book, PANDEMIC JOY — was written solely based on the first 8 verses of this chapter. You can find a copy here for a free. The chapters open up a fresh aspect of the entire book. We can readily spot the fact that the mandate Jesus gave the disciples in Acts 1:8 — to be witnesses in Jerusalem ⇒ Judea ⇒ Samaria ⇒ uttermost part of the world — began to find literal fulfilment in this chapter.
While it won’t be practicable for me to do an exhaustive commentary on the whole Chapter, I will simply point out four characters (Saul, Philip, Simon the Sorcerer and the Ethiopian Eunuch) in the chapter and point out a few points on each of them.
1. SAUL, THE FIERY PERSECUTOR (Acts 8:1-3)
We had a brief mention of Saul in Chapter 7 and again here in Chapter 8, both passages describing him as a persecutor. I have singled him out as one of the four characters in this chapter to make a couple of points. First, because we know how his story ends, it is easy for us that whenever we read of Saul/Paul, we imagine in our minds that we are referring to the great Apostle who started out as a Persecutor but eventually became arguably the most influential of all the apostles — and that is very true.
But assuming that you were alive in the days when the events of Acts 8 unfolded and the dramatic conversion of Acts 9 was yet to happen, you would never know how Saul’s story would end up, right? All you could see at that very moment was a zealous persecutor who was all out against the people of God.
I bring this up to remind us that we can never know the full story of anyone who is yet living. There is more to them than the little-here-and-there that you know! Your angry boss today may very well be your father-in-law next year. The drug addict of today may become the Bible Translator of tomorrow. That difficult team member you struggle to get along with may very well be the one that will link you to your much-needed miracle in your next decade.
By implication, you cannot afford to judge people by the tiny little fraction of their story which you know. We are all a work-in-progress. I know it’s easier said than done, but if you will always remind yourself where you are coming from — that you are not where/who you used to be — you will be able to maintain a perspective to life that makes you the kind of person who, according to 1 Corinthians 13 (AMPC), “is ever ready to believe the best of every person.”
2. PHILIP, THE FAITHFUL PREACHER (Acts 8:4-8)
Philip models for us what faithful discipleship looks like both here and the next time we hear of him in the Book of Acts. Among other things, he reminds us of the fact that irrespective of the location and circumstances we find ourselves, we must continue to be witnesses for Jesus. While we did not live in the days when Jesus walked this earth physically, we are still witnesses of His life by virtue of our baptism into God’s family by faith. It does not matter whether Philip was in Jerusalem or Samaria or Azotus or Caesaria, wherever he finds himself, he is being intentional with his ambassadorial responsibility. So should we.
One of the great facts of our time is migration. Necessitated by various factors, people will continue to move across villages, towns, states, nations and continents. But as we are involved in this reality, let us do so without leaving the gospel behind. And you don’t have to be a pastor or an evangelist before you make the preaching of the gospel central to your relocations. Philip was (just) a deacon (Acts 6:5) but he was dependent on the Holy Spirit. And, by the way, that’s all we need to live like this.
To give an example, I had an Indian neighbour when I was in Bradford, UK. Even though we live together in the same shared apartment, we don’t see one another for days. I could tell she doesn’t know the Lord but wasn’t sure how to approach her with the good news. To knock on the door of her room and ask to come in to speak with her will not be wise — she lived alone. Not long after I moved into the shared apartment, I learnt that it was her graduation day. She had just finished her PhD and will be returning to India shortly. On the graduation day, the Holy Spirit said to me as I came home after a very long day, “Go back to the City Centre and get her a graduation gift.”
I was very tired and also quite broke financially, but I gathered the few coins I had left and rushed to the City Centre before the major shopping mall there closed. I got her a graduation card and a journal in which I wrote a prayer. I bumped into her again later that night and handed her the gift.
A few days later, she began to pack her things in readiness for her return to India. She’d been in the UK for about 6 years for both her Masters and PhD, so she had quite a lot of things to pack and she needed help. Guess who she came to ask for help? Me. I thanked the Holy Spirit knowing that the door had been opened.
As we packed, we chatted. This went on for a couple of evenings. On one of the evenings, I discovered that the money she had budgeted for shipping her things to India was short by £50. It just so happened that I had been blessed with over £100 on that day, so I disappeared to the nearest ATM and returned with the £50 she needed. She was glad.
On our final evening of packing together, she was ready for the good news. We prayed together and her joy became full. We are still pleasantly in touch till today.
When we are faithfully obedient to the Holy Spirit, we will be faithful witnesses.
3. SIMON THE SORCERER, A FALSE CONVERT (Acts 8:9-25)
Warren Wiersbe says “It is a basic principle in Scripture that wherever God sows His true believers, Satan will eventually sow his counterfeits (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43).” I agree.
One of the maladies facing the church of God today is the issue of false converts — people who are part of our congregations and even involved in one way or the other but whose hearts are not right. They are part of us but with faulty motives. Simon is a type or example in Scripture of the false confessor — someone who attaches themselves to the faith superficially but has purely carnal motives! Such people reduce Christianity to a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Of course, the Christian faith brings benefits—immeasurable benefits!—but they are largely spiritual and almost always delayed! When we expect them to be immediate and earthly, then we are destined to be disappointed.
Don’t be deceived by the fact that Luke says “Simon himself believed” (Acts 8:13). The basis of his “faith” was not in the Word of God, but in the miracles he saw Philip perform, and there is no indication that he repented of his sins. He certainly did not believe with all his heart (Acts 8:37). His faith was like that of the people of Jerusalem who witnessed Jesus’ miracles (John 2:23–25), or even like that of the demons who “also believe” (James 2:19). Simon was baptised and continued with Philip, not to hear the Word and learn more about Jesus Christ, but to witness the miracles and perhaps learn how they were done.
Peter’s words to Simon give every indication that the sorcerer was not a converted man. “Thy money perish with thee!” is pretty strong language to use with a believer. Besides, Peter asked him to ‘repent’. While it is not out of place for believers to repent (see Rev. 2-3), the command to repent is usually given to unbelievers.
In summary, Simon’s story shows how close a person can come to salvation and still not be converted. Simon heard the gospel, saw the miracles, gave a profession of faith in Christ, and was baptized, and yet he was never born again. He was one of Satan’s clever counterfeits. Indeed, had Peter not exposed the wickedness of his heart, Simon would have been accepted as a member of the Samaritan congregation. Unfortunately, there are many such people in the church today! Of course, God has not made us judges over who is genuinely saved or not, but we want to be sure, individually, that our heart is right with God.
4. THE ETHIOPIAN EUNUCH, A TRUE SEEKER (Acts 8:26-40)
Different aspects of this man’s life as portrayed in these few verses could be highlighted but I will zero in on one aspect which we could readily miss, viz: Even though he did not understand what he was reading in the scriptures (from Isaiah), HE CONTINUED READING. Our persistence in our desire to engage with God’s Word, even when we have gaps in our understanding, naturally attracts knowledge and clarity to us. If you will maintain the posture of a student — a seeker of knowledge and truth — like this man, you will find that God always comes through with the answer we need. I have heard a pastor say that one of the greatest principles of living a life of faith is in continuing. You are fasting, and then in a momentary forgetfulness, you threw in some peanuts into your mouth before you remember that you are fasting; don’t go and add garri to the peanut and end the fast earlier than intended, rather CONTINUE! You read a portion of the scriptures which you don’t understand? Don’t stop reading because of that; CONTINUE! As Paul said in Galatians 6:9 CEV, “You will be rewarded when the time is right, if you don’t give up.”
Of course, as tradition has it, this Ethiopian Eunuch became the channel through which the gospel made its way to Africa. (On a side note, don’t believe that Christianity just came to Africa in the past few centuries when Western Missionaries started coming. No. In fact, historically, without Africa, Christianity and civilization as we know it around the world today won’t have happened. For more on this, See “How Africa Shaped The Christian Mind” by Thomas Oden.) In any case, whether or not this Eunuch brought the gospel to Africa, he models for us a core principle of Christianity: DON’T STOP; CONTINUE!
Continue in doing good.
Continue abiding in the Vine.
Continue to live as a living sacrifice.
Grace to you as you do so.