“These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also” (v16)
What an amazing claim! By chapter 17 in the book of Acts, the mission of the church had so impregnated the culture and communities around it that the accusation was able to be levelled at the church that they had “turned the world upside down” (I think a better phrase would be the right way up, but that’s another issue). To turn the world upside down is the process of radically re-ordering people’s lives (Augustine) and through that, their action. This was the work that was taking place wherever the church spread. New desires were leading to new devotions which led to new lifestyles. A world turned on its head.
However, I want to ask how the early church accomplished such a dramatic change! I think we get a little glimpse earlier in this chapter. We read how the Apostle Paul: “went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures”. Paul’s missionary goal was to plant churches! However, his methodology was to reason from the scriptures. Maybe another way we could put this is to say that his primary tool for advance was the opening of scripture and allowing its power to transform the hearts of individuals, family groups and whole communities. Paul was reliant upon the power of the Bible to transform people’s lives. Are we? Or have we lost confidence in the Bible?
What would happen if each one of us were to invite two or three non-Christian friends to read the Bible with us evangelistically? To read it evangelistically means reading it in such a way that answers the four big questions that need to be answered so people hear the gospel message and not just a me-centred message dressed up in Christian clothing: Who is God? Why are we in such a mess? What did Christ do? And how can we get back to God? (Stiles* see below for link). What would happen if you and I did this, again and again and again and again … yep, and some more? I think we would be getting closer to turning the world of Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft and the surrounding towns and villages upside down. Don’t you?
If we’re going to see this type of world-altering transformation, we’re going to need to come back to a simple reliance upon the transforming power of the Bible.
“When the heart full of God’s love can draw on the mind full of God’s word, timely blessings flow from the mouth”. (John Piper)
I read about communities being turned upside down in the book of Acts and my heart longs for that today. Yet, if I’m honest, I’m not sure it could be said of my life that my “custom” is to seek out every opportunity to open the scriptures with people around me. Lord forgive me and change me. Lord, I pray for opportunities to open the Bible with non-Christians and see the transforming power of your word getting to work in their lives!
Note: If you’re wanting to get started with this, I would suggest reading the gospel of Mark or John with a small group of non-Christians.