Spirit Power for Witnessing
I suspect it takes a new grandmother less than five minutes to pull out her “Grandma’s Brag book of pictures” to show anyone who will give her the slightest opening.
I suspect it takes most men less than five minutes to turn the subject to their new car.
I suspect it takes a teenaged boy very little time to tell everyone who will listen that they just bought a motorcycle.
When we have exciting news, we are very quick to tell everyone about it. Why then does it take us so long and why do we find it so difficult to talk about the most exciting news of all and that is the news of the gospel?
Part of the reason is surely that our enemy puts fear into us. Part of the reason is that we are handling something so precious that we are afraid to handle it carelessly. Part of the reason could be that we have our own doubts about the gospel. Part of the reason is that we try to do so in our own power and fail to understand the power of the Holy Spirit which God has given us to proclaim the gospel.
Today is Pentecost Sunday. It is the day we remember that ten days after Jesus ascended into heaven, God sent His Holy Spirit to indwell believers. As Jesus stood on the mountain talking with his disciples, just before He ascended into Heaven, he said in Acts 1:8, “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.”
What is this power that Jesus was speaking about? How do we have power to witness? Today as we examine Scripture to think about the power of the Holy Spirit which is available for witnessing, I hope that we will be encouraged and will be able to see more of what it means to witness with power as Jesus promised.
I. The Power Of The Spirit
Neither Jesus nor the early church proclaimed the gospel in their own strength.
A. Working Through Jesus
When Jesus began his ministry, he was anointed by the Spirit. On the day of his baptism, the Spirit came upon him like a dove. This was a symbol that God was present with Jesus. This happened just before he began his work. Luke 3:21-23. It tells us that the power with which Jesus did his work was the power of the Spirit of God present with Him.
Jesus was aware of this when he said just a short time later while ministering in his home town of Nazareth. To his own family he said, in Luke 4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed...” Jesus preached and ministered in the power of the Spirit.
Later, the church understood that Jesus had ministered in the power of the Spirit. Acts 10:38, God “...anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and ...he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.”
Even though He was God, the Bible tells us that when he did his work, He did not do it alone, but did it in the power of the Spirit.
What is so amazing is that Jesus Himself tells us in John 14:12, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” In other words, when Jesus left, the power of the Spirit to preach and do the work of God did not leave.
B. Working Through The Early Church
And so we see that in the early church the spread of the gospel was also a work of the Holy Spirit. Acts 1:8, gives us an outline of the Spirit empowered ministry which began in Jerusalem and continued out to the uttermost parts of the earth. This verse is in fact an outline of the book of Acts. Ch. 1-7 speak about the powerful work of the Spirit carried out through the apostles in Jerusalem. Chapters 8:1-11:18 speak about the powerful ministry that spread to Judea & Samaria and from 11:19 to the end of the book we read about the way in which God’s Spirit led his servants to proclaim the name of Jesus to the “uttermost parts of the earth. What Jesus predicted and promised, happened as the gospel spread out from Jerusalem with power.
The power of the Spirit in witness was evident when the Spirit moved Philip to go to witness to the Ethiopian Eunuch. It was the Spirit of God who empowered Stephen to proclaim God’s word with boldness even in the face of death. It was the Spirit of God who opened the way for Peter to proclaim the gospel to the Gentile group under the leadership of the Roman soldier, Cornelius. It was the Spirit of God who prevented Paul from going into Asia and going to Macedonia instead.
II. How God’s Spirit Works
Is the power of the Spirit which was so active in the early church still working today? How is the power of the Spirit of God at work in the proclamation of the gospel?
A. Preparing Hearts
Most of us have probably attended auction sales. I have noticed that sometimes people will buy an item just to move the auction along, but they really don’t want what they bought. Sometimes they will leave it there or they will take it straight to the dump. On the other hand, I have also noticed what it is like when someone really wants something. The way they look the item over, the way they bid and the joy and care with which they take their precious item with them is evidence that they really want it.
Sometimes we have trouble witnessing because we are trying to convince a person that they want something that they really don’t want. They may accept the gospel just to get us off their back, but they will not live by it afterwards because it was not something they wanted.
On the other hand, I have sometimes led people to the Lord when they were ready and really wanted the gospel. It almost seemed too easy and they accepted it and began to grow. What is the difference?
The difference is that in one case the Holy Spirit has prepared the heart of the person for the gospel by his convicting work and in the other, that has not yet happened.
The power of the Spirit is at work in preparing hearts to receive the gospel. We cannot make a heart ready to receive the gospel. When people are ready, that is a work that the Holy Spirit has done. John 16:8-11 says, “When he (the Holy Spirit) comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.”
Witnessing in the power of the Spirit means that we recognize that it is the Spirit who prepares hearts to receive the gospel. All we need to do is wait to see where the convicting work of the Spirit is happening and then move in with a word of witness as we have been commanded to do.
It is the work of the Holy Spirit to convict people and so to prepare their hearts to receive the gospel. When we rely on that convicting work and don’t do the Holy Spirit’s work ourselves, we will see the effective power of the Holy Spirit at work.
B. Sending Workers
Another task of the Holy Spirit is that of sending out workers into the harvest field. Those who are involved in mission boards know that people sometimes apply for missionary service who have not been called by God for that task. What is true in the broader missionary endeavor, is also true in the task of witness anywhere. Now although it is true that all of us are to be witnesses, that does not mean that all of us are to do the same kind of work in witnessing. We must seek God’s call for us specifically.
The power of the Spirit is active in calling out workers. Romans 10:14,15 says, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
Notice that the text says, “how can they preach unless they are sent.” Although the church must be involved in the discerning process, it must discern where the Spirit is leading because it is the work of God to send workers into the harvest field.
Our part in this process is to pray that God would call workers into the harvest field. In Matthew 9:37,38 Jesus invited his disciples to do just this, “Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
As we have noticed the ripe harvest field in Manitou, we have struggled with enough workers to do the work particularly in VBS and clubs. I want to encourage you as you continue to struggle with this great opportunity not to twist each others arms, but to bend your knees and pray that God will send out workers. Then we will work with the effective power of the Spirit.
C. Empowering Workers
The reason we will then work with power and effectiveness is because those whom God sends, He also empowers by His Spirit.
The first way in which the Spirit empowers for witness is through giving gifts for ministry. 1 Corinthians 12:7 tells us that it is the Spirit who has gifted each one. “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” In the rest of that passage as well as in Ephesians 4 and I Peter 4 we have a considerable body of Scripture that talks about the way in which the Spirit of God gifts people for ministry.
When someone works in their area of giftedness, they have power to accomplish what they could clearly not accomplish on their own. When Billy Graham preaches, there is more that happens than just good words. Many preachers could put words together just as well and perhaps better than Billy Graham. But God’s Spirit has gifted him to be an evangelist and when he preaches people hear God speaking and by the power of the Spirit, they respond.
If you are frustrated in your area of ministry and seeing little or no results, perhaps you should consider doing something else. Perhaps God has not called you to this task. When God calls, He also gifts.
But not only does God’s Spirit give gifts for ministry. He also empowers those who do the work He calls them to do with special power to do His work.
How did the apostle Paul so effectively reach much of the Gentile world in Asia minor and Greece and even up to Rome? Listen to his own testimony from Romans 15:17-19, “Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.”
Paul did not succeed because he was so great or such a wonderful speaker. He was faithful in proclamation, but recognized that he succeeded because of the power of the Spirit of God.
There are two ways in which the Spirit of God empowers our ministry.
The power of the Holy Spirit is present to empower the words that are spoken. 1 Thessalonians 1:5,6, “because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. ... you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.”
This also happens today. The Spirit of God will still empower our words. When Johannes Reimer spoke to us as pastors a few weeks ago, he told us that when he preaches, he knows whether or not he must make an altar call. He told us that he does not know how he knows that there are people who are ready to respond to the call, but he knows. That is a work of the empowerment by the Holy Spirit.
The other way in which the Spirit empowers our witness is through “signs and miracles.” In Acts 13, there is a story about a time when Paul was in Paphos. He was invited to speak to the Roman ruler of the place, but a Jewish false prophet was opposing Paul. In Acts 13:9 it says that Paul, filled with the Spirit looked at this false prophet and condemned him to blindness. The story goes on to say that he became blind and as a result of this sign, the Roman ruler to whom Paul was speaking believed, because of the teaching about Jesus. That was the power of the Spirit of God at work in signs and miracles.
In these ways, the Spirit empowered the acts of the early church witnesses in order to proclaim the word with power. The Spirit does the same thing today.
D. Changing Hearts
Having convicted the heart, sent out the worker, empowered the worker, when the servant of God then speaks the word of God and a person accepts the gospel, it is the Spirit of God who changes their hearts. Once again, the power of the Spirit is active in witness.
Sometimes we are amazed that people don’t accept the gospel. To us it seems so obvious that this is the best way, it is the way to life, it is the way to freedom and peace and it is so clear that Jesus died to make it possible. We just can’t understand why everyone does not accept the message!
The reason they do not accept the message is because they are stumbling around in a dark room without any idea that there is a light switch. We may shine our flashlights into the darkness all we want, but unless they find the light switch, they will continue in the dark. It is only the Holy Spirit who is able to turn on the light for them. When they are convicted, hear the message from us by the power of the Spirit and believe in Christ, then the Holy Spirit turns the light on for them and suddenly it all becomes clear.
1 Corinthians 2:7-10 says, “we speak of God’s secret wisdom,...None of the rulers of this age understood it,...but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.” Apart from the work of the Spirit, the truth of God can not be understood.
Apart from the Spirit of God, people’s hearts cannot be changed. John 3:6-8 says, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” The only way to be born again is by the Spirit of God. We do not convert people, it is only the Spirit who converts people.
And so we see the way in which Acts 1:8 is carried out. Jesus promised, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit is come upon you and you will be my witnesses.” How is the power of the Spirit active in our witness? The power of the Spirit is active as the Spirit convicts people of sin, as the Spirit gifts people for ministry, as the Spirit calls people to service, as the Spirit empowers that witness and as the Spirit changes the hearts of those who respond to the gospel.
So often we have tried to do the work of convicting people, of pushing people into ministry or of saving them. When we take over God’s work, we destroy and break down many things. When we rely on the Spirit of God to do what He is supposed to do, our ministry is effective and powerful.
On the other hand, when we receive the call of God and fail to do it, when we receive a gift from God and don’t use it or use it for selfish purposes, we also fail to be effective.
Don Posterski says, “...our primary role in influencing others to become Christians is to complement what God is already doing. It is to be in partnership with the activity of the Holy Spirit.”
When we do what God wants us to do in the power He has supplied, we will not only be effective, but we will have joy in what we do. I think it is very important on this day of Pentecost to recognize and fall in line with the work of the Spirit of God who empowers us to witness.