The Holy Spirit and the Bible
[January 20, 2008] When we read the Bible, we read it differently than any other book. A lot of history is here, but we do not read it that way. Instead, we read it as our own story, as though we were in it. It is as though when you lift your eyes from the page, you are still in the world of the New Testament. This is in fact what is going on. Because of the resurrection of Jesus, because of the Holy Spirit living in us, Jesus—as He was in the gospels—is in fact with us here and now. There is no difference. So we read with this sort of immediacy, as if it were our own diary. So everything we read is very personal, we read it very carefully with great attention.
How Jesus Worked
It is often pointed out that Jesus started out preaching in the synagogue and, when He was no longer welcomed, He preached in the open air. What we also need to pay attention to is the simple fact that Jesus worked mostly in people’s homes. When He started, He invited those whom He called to where He was staying (John 1:39) and then immediately set up a ‘base’ in Peter’s home in Capernaum. If you pay attention to this way of doing things, you will see that Jesus goes from home to home and, in particular, from one dinner invitation to another, from meal to meal. You see this especially in Luke (the gospel written for the Gentile mission). Jesus is constantly eating in people’s homes when He ministers to them.
You will also notice something else. Jesus expected this for His disciples. In Matthew, after Jesus announces the foundation of the church in chapter 16 (the revelation of Himself is the foundation) and the way of the cross (His own way) as the way of discipleship, He gives a series of teachings from 17:22 to 20:16 about the way of the church, and He ties it directly to the way of the household: marriage, children, property and aging. The way of the church is IN the homes of the believers.
The Workers and the Harvest (Matthew 10; Luke 9, 10)
Let us look at how Jesus sends out the twelve in Matthew 10. There is a parallel account in Luke 9:1-5, and interestingly, in Luke, shortly after the twelve return, Jesus sends seventy-two others with the same commission—“to go into every city and place where He Himself was about to come” (Luke 10:1-16). These three accounts shed light on each other.
The first thing to notice is how Jesus sees the crowds and is moved with compassion for them. They are ‘harassed’—that is, they are worn down with problems and stress, they have so much work to do and are so busy, caught up in the ‘world,’ just like people today. He looks and sees that the harvest is ready (John 4:35). The problem is not the people. They are ready. It is that there are not enough workers to gather the harvest. So the first thing He tells His disciples, and us, is to pray, pray for workers. Who are the workers? It may surprise you.
The second thing to notice is that Jesus tells His disciples that they have authority over the powers of the devil—the power to release people from bondage. They are to announce that the kingdom of the heavens has come near. This refers to Jesus Himself. The long awaited kingdom—the coming of God announced by Isaiah and John the Baptist—is present here and now in Jesus Himself. If we would turn to Him and give ourselves to Him we would know the presence of this kingdom. Not only are we to tell people, we are to show them by praying for them—for them and their problems. “Freely you have received; freely give.” We are to exhibit Jesus’ compassion by taking an active interest in people and sharing with them what we have found in Jesus.
The third thing is how they are to do this. Do not pack a bag, He says, because the people themselves will provide you with all you need. When you go to a town, find in it someone who is worthy, who will open their home to you. In Luke, Jesus calls this person a “son of peace” (10:6). They may not even be a believer yet. But they open their homes to the messenger. Jesus says the disciples were to stay in that home, “eating and drinking the things from them … do not move from house to house … eat what is set before you” (Luke 10:7-8). And from this place they were to heal the sick and announce the coming of Jesus. That was how they were to work, and—as I pointed out—this is exactly how Jesus worked. If we listen, it also applies to us.
The Church in Acts and How the Gospel Spread
Not only is this how Jesus worked, and how the disciples worked during Jesus’ ministry, it is how the Gospel continued to spread throughout the work of the apostles and churches of the New Testament. It was homes that multiplied the church more than preachers, or rather, the so-called preachers planted homes that became centers where the Gospel spread. Until the time in which we live, this was when the Gospel spread fastest.
When the church first began, in Acts 2:46-47, everyone broke bread from house to house, partaking of their food with exultation and simplicity of heart, praising God and having grace with all the people. “And the Lord added together day by day those who were being saved.” It was also the standard way of reaching Gentiles. Cornelius was a “son of peace” who invited Peter into his home to speak to him and his extensive family and close friends (Acts 10). In Philippi, Lydia opened her home to Paul and Silas and Timothy, and the jailer did too (Acts 16). Paul spoke to the Ephesians how he shared the faith with them from house to house. In Acts and Epistles the church was always coming together in the home, and this is also how the church spread. Just as in Luke 10:7-8, 1 Corinthians 10:27 speaks of an unbeliever inviting you to their home. In Acts and Epistles, the church is lived out in the homes.
Christian Culture versus Religion
When people talk about ‘religion’ they often mean a certain part of their life having to do with their private beliefs and some rituals they practice. In this sense, ‘Christianity’ has become a religion. However, for Jesus and the apostles it is absolutely not this sort of thing. The Gospel, the Christian faith, the church, is not a part of your life; it is not a set of beliefs; it is not something you do at certain times of the day or week. It is your entire life, your ‘form of life.’ In other words, Christianity is not a ‘religion,’ it is a new culture that has to do with your life-style, your values, your perspective, with everything, including how you do home and work. It is a culture that liberates you from the culture of the world that enslaves you. Jesus frees you from the world. He makes you independent, so that you can live a new life.
The Gospel calls us to live the church-life in our homes, and to open our homes to one another and also to others. Our homes (and where we work), are the places where we invite people to discover Jesus. This hospitality is an indispensable part of the call to discipleship.
The Great Commission
We all know that the command of Jesus to all His disciples is to go out and disciple all the Gentiles, baptizing them and teaching them about Jesus. He promises to be with us and we have His authority to carry out this work.
Unfortunately, the tradition of Christianity has made the spread of the Gospel the job of preachers and it has created buildings for this purpose. Christianity has so institutionalized the Gospel that it has put the Holy Spirit in prison. Ironically, the Acts of the Apostles ends with the apostle to the Gentiles going to Rome in chains. This is what has happened to the Gospel. We have put it in chains. Nevertheless, the apostle still shared the Gospel with people in his rented home, and there he was unhindered (Acts 28:30-31).
In our day, people are returning to the way of the Scriptures, and the Lord is fulfilling His promise with them. All around the world the church is growing rapidly—everywhere except in North America and Europe—because it is returning to the pattern of the New Testament. It is not catching much public attention because this movement is ignoring the institutional church. All this growth is taking place in peoples’ homes. Because it is ‘under the radar,’ it is hard to give solid statistics, but for example, from my own research, I can tell you that in China, from 1930 to 1950, one house church spread into 600 towns and cities. When the church in China was forced underground and could only meet in homes, it spread, from 1950 to 2000, from one million to 50 million believers. That is incredible! There are many more examples like this throughout Asia, Africa, South America, Russia and Europe. The United States has held back. With wisdom, with Christ, we want to move forward.