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Power Encounters

Psalm 78:34–38a

Understand the nature of evil

God wants us to learn from our mistakes and not to keep on repeating the same sins over and over again. The history of the people of God is that, ‘in spite of’ all that God did for them, ‘they kept on sinning’ (v.32a).

God, in his love for us, respects our freedom. Although he has the power to overrule our freedom, he does not. He acted supernaturally on behalf of his people. Yet, ‘In spite of his wonders, they did not believe’ (v.32b).

He disciplined them and they would return to him (v.34). ‘But they didn’t mean a word of it; they lied through their teeth the whole time. They could not have cared less about him’ (vv.36–37, MSG). Yet over and over again he was full of compassion and mercy, forgave ‘their iniquities and did not destroy them’ (v.38).

Why does evil seem to prevail so often in spite of God’s power? Perhaps this passage gives us part of the answer. It is not simply an encounter between the supernatural power of God and the supernatural power of evil. Human beings and human freedom are part of the equation. As the apostle James writes, ‘Each of you is tempted when, by your own evil desire, you are dragged away and enticed’ (James 1:14).

As you read of God’s power in this psalm, remember that, through the Holy Spirit, that power now lives in you.

Lord, thank you for your mercy and forgiveness and for the power of the Holy Spirit living in me. Help me always to be loyal to you (Psalm 78:37).

Acts 18:9–12, 19:11–13

Take authority over the power of evil

Filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul took on the powers of evil. He faced ‘a united attack’ (18:12). ‘One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you”’ (vv.9–10). ‘That was all he needed to stick it out’ (v.11, MSG).

Presumably the Lord spoke to Paul in this way because he was tempted in the face of evil (being hauled off to court again on trumped-up charges) to be afraid, to give up speaking and to be silent. Do not give up in the face of opposition.

Paul saw power encounters between good and evil: ‘God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 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’ (19:11–12).

The power of God in Paul’s ministry was so impressive that even people who were not Christians tried invoking ‘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”’ (v.13). Tomorrow we will see the dangers of this approach (vv.14–16). The attempt to ‘tap the power’ of the name of Jesus by these Jewish exorcists had disastrous consequences.

Paul overcame the power of evil through the power of Jesus to perform miracles. This was part of the multifaceted way in which the Holy Spirit worked in his ministry. We see here some of the different areas of ministry where we need training and that our theological colleges, training schools and discipleship of all church members need to cover:

1. Teaching

‘He stayed another year and a half, faithfully teaching the Word of God to the Corinthians’ (18:11, MSG).

2. Mentoring

Paul spent a great deal of time ‘strengthening all the disciples’ (v.23). Priscilla and Aquila were probably among those that he mentored. Often those who have been mentored well become the best mentors.

For example, Priscilla and Aquila then mentored Apollos. Apollos was ‘a terrific speaker, eloquent and powerful in his preaching of the Scriptures. He was well-educated in the way of the Master and fiery in his enthusiasm’ (vv.24–25, MSG).

Priscilla and Aquila took him aside. ‘They invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately’ (v.26). He then became even more effective. ‘He was a great help to those who by grace had believed’ (v.27).

3. ‘Ministry’

We see an example of ‘ministry’ in the power of the Holy Spirit. ‘Paul placed his hands on [the Ephesians], the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied’ (19:6). Every Alpha Weekend, we have the immense privilege of laying hands on people and praying for them to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

4. Discussion

Paul ‘had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus’ (v.9). The small group discussion on Alpha is perhaps the most important part of the course. It gives people the opportunity to explore, to talk through issues and to begin to find some answers to their questions.

5. Apologetics

Part of the discussion involved ‘apologetics’. This comes from the word ‘apologia’, which Paul uses at his trial when he says, ‘I make my defence(apologia)’ (26:2). It means presenting a rational basis for the Christian faith against objections and misrepresentations.

Paul ‘reasoned’ with them (18:19). He argued ‘for three months [and] spoke boldly, persuading and arguing and pleading about the kingdom of God’ (19:8, AMP). He taught Apollos, who entered into public debate, ‘proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ’ (18:28).

Lord, help us to minister like Paul in the power of the Spirit by proclaiming the word of God and overcoming the powers of evil through the name of Jesus.

1 Kings 21:17–19a,20

Be prepared to confront evil

Most of us do not like confrontation. But sometimes God calls us to confront evil.

In this passage we read about Ahab who, ‘pushed by his wife Jezebel and in open defiance of God, set an all-time record in making big business of evil’ (21:25, MSG).

First, we read of an encounter between evil and evil. Ben-Hadad king of Aram attacked Ahab. Out of the mouth of an evil man come wise words: ‘One who puts on his armour should not boast like one who takes it off’ (20:11). It is never a good idea to boast about what is going to happen. It is better to report it afterwards!

Then, we see how God’s power is greater than the power of Aram (chapter 20).

Next, we see just how evil Ahab and Jezebel are in the way they treated Naboth (chapter 21). In order to steal his land, they plotted to have him taken out and stoned to death. Then they stole his vineyard.

Elijah was a man of extraordinary courage. He was utterly fearless in the face of evil. God told him to go and ‘confront Ahab’ (v.18, MSG). Fearlessly he accused him of theft and murder and told him that he was in ‘the business of evil, defying God’ (v.20, MSG). He warned him that God’s judgment was about to fall on him.

Elijah’s words were so powerful that when Ahab heard them he repented: ‘He tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted… and went around meekly’ (v.27). Remarkably, God showed him mercy (v.29). No matter what we have done, it is never too late to repent and seek God’s mercy.

Lord, help us, like Elijah and the apostle Paul, not to be afraid to take on powers of evil. Give us courage in the face of evil. Fill us with your Holy Spirit.

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