We visited Buna this weekend to see the family. As part of this trip, we were able to spend Sunday morning in worship at First Baptist. The message from Brother Paul was a wonderful exploration of the effects of Paul's work in Ephesus recorded in Acts, chapter 19, verses 11-20.
God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirts went out. But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.” Seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. And the evil spirit answered and said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. This became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, who lived in Ephesus; and fear fell upon them all and the name of the Lord Jesus was being magnified. Many also of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices. And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.
Acts 19:11-20 (NASB)
We start this passage with the successes and blessings of Paul's work in Ephesus, the power of God being displayed mightily in this city. So much so, that as Brother Paul mentioned, you can see it is truly the work of God and nothing Paul could do. It's such the power of God pouring out of Paul, even into handkerchiefs and aprons that he is carrying, transferring that healing power of God to those in need.
And what we see next are the hangers on. The profiteers. The schemers that are finding ways to bring benefit to themselves from the real, genuine miracles that they are observing around them. Here, they are Jewish healers or exorcists who believe they can use the magic words "in the name of Jesus" to their own gain, despite having no belief in Jesus themselves. They are copying Paul's actions without having the personal faith and relationship that he has. And we see how it turns out for them.
This message got me ruminating on the ways that we try to use Jesus for our own personal gain, instead of following Him for the purpose of His glory. Put another way, how often do we treat our faith as rabbit's foot or bargaining chip for our personal development?
We still see "faith" healers today. You can find many places on television and the internet to find many, many different spiritual leaders who will provide divine healing or the removal of evil spirits for a "slight" monetary fee. I believe much of the appeal, as it is, to Scientology is found in this idea. Followers pay for audits or continuing mental health and emotional health treatments.
But the idea of using Jesus for personal gain goes far beyond this long lived example.
How many politicians are using Jesus and their "faith" as a badge for political gain, to get that set of voters?
How many "religious leaders" are using Jesus for pure monetary gain? Does Creflo Dollar's ministry really need a Gulfstream Jet? How much wealth accumulation is enough?
How many of us wear our faith when it is beneficial for us or can bring us something? We only communicate with God when we are asking Him for things, but at no other times. "Slot-machine" prayers. We only share our faith when it makes us look good or lets us voice our opinion and insight. We attend a particular church to "network" or for the services that it offers us.
This passage provides us a warning for this misuse of Jesus' name. These sons of Sceva are swept out battered and bloodied by the evil spirits they are trying to drive out, along with the most scathing response to their attempts "who are you."
But we also see that God's purpose will not be frustrated by this misuse. In fact, the passage ends with the word of the Lord growing mightily and prevailing.
It's up to us to determine where we fall. Will we be the ones attempt to use Jesus for our personal gain to our own destruction, or will be the ones used by God for His glory? Lord help me be the latter and turn me from any attempt at the former. May the glory be yours.