In Acts 18, Paul traveled from Athens to Corinth and stayed there for 18 months. Then he traveled on to Syria and to Ephesus. People there asked Paul to stay longer, but he left for Caesarea, promising to return to Ephesus, if God willed. He traveled on from Caesarea to Jerusalem and then to Antioch.
Now in Acts 19, Paul is back in Ephesus, where God performs extraordinary miracles through Paul. Even articles of clothing and handkerchiefs that Paul used were enough to heal and drive out evil spirits. Seeing this, some Jewish exorcists started to use the name of Jesus to confront the evil spirits, but the evil spirits saw through their fake faith and defeated them.
Before I became a Christian, I would read passages like this and wondered whether these kinds of things really happened. Miraculous healings and evil spirits just seemed like myths or imagination running wild. But as I came to believe the Bible as the word of God, I had to conclude that if the Holy Spirit is real, then evil spirits are also real.
As the years accumulated, I saw that through prayer, healings did happen that couldn’t be explained just by science, although I never witnessed anything like what is described in this passage, where people were instantaneously healed through articles of clothing.
As for evil spirits, I had no experience with that, but my mentor shared with me his experience when he was a missionary to China and Tibet. He also shared with me how he and his wife were sometimes called to help with people in the Northwest who were being troubled with evil spirits. So, I asked him to put together a Bible-based study on the subject, as well as from his experience, and invited a small number of people who I felt could benefit from it to participate.
It was God’s timing, since soon after we completed the study, I received a call from a church member who was attending college at Central Washington. He had a Japanese friend who was being troubled by evil spirits and was wanting release, and he wanted me to try to help him. They happened to be visiting Seattle and wanted to meet somewhere. A few months later, I was asked to help a young woman from Japan who was being troubled by frightening visions.
The spiritual realm is real. In our hearts we already know this, since we believe in the triune God, but it is easy enough to ignore the existence of evil spirits, since they don’t manifest themselves in concrete ways in our daily lives. In a civilized and modernized society like we live in, one of the tactics the enemy uses is for us to ignore or forget the existence of evil spirits.
The important point though, is that the result of these spiritual events like healing and exorcisms – is that the name of the Lord Jesus is being praised.
All of us have been given gifts and abilities, whether temporarily or for life. And whenever these abilities get us noticed, we are to use the opportunity to witness for our Lord, give praise to Him, and to point people towards Him. We are not to use these opportunities to only benefit ourselves.
There is a singer that started out in the contemporary Christian music scene that also appealed to non-Christians and she became a big “cross-over” star and became famous and wealthy. Her songs got vaguer about Christ, and on her popular website, there is no mention of Jesus Christ, no expression of appreciation to God, and certainly no witnessing to the fact that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the savior of the world.
In contrast, although Paul performed miraculous things and became very famous, he never took advantage of this to become wealthy and comfortable. He knew exactly where these gifts and abilities came from, and for what purpose these opportunities were given him – So that the name of the Lord would be praised.
So whether we get known for our healings, exorcism, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control, instead of being pleased for ourselves, we ought to use it as an opportunity to bring praise to the name of Jesus Christ.
I think I’ve mentioned in the past, but when Hudson Taylor, the great pioneering missionary to inland China, was praised for his greatness, Taylor corrected the person by stating that he was just an ordinary man who served a great God. That is a good thing for us to keep in mind in our lives. Whenever people think well of us, we should credit that to the fact that we are just ordinary, but we serve an extraordinary God.
The enemy is going to consistently try to get us focused on ourselves. He is going to try to convince us that our successes are through our talents and efforts. Once we believe that, then we are no better than those who tried to use Jesus’ name to drive out evil spirits even though their faith in the Lord was fake. We were saved so that we can do the good works of God. So, when the opportunity arises, let us ensure that the praise goes to the name of the Lord Jesus.
(the above is a summary of the message shared by Shun Takano during our worship service on June 12, 2022.)