Reaching “the whole imperial guard”: Why every Christian needs a personal Acts 1:8 strategy

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Reaching “the whole imperial guard”: Why every Christian needs a personal Acts 1:8 strategy

August 9, 2022 - Jim Denison, PhD

© By Wirestock/stock.adobe.com

© By Wirestock/stock.adobe.com

Our biblical mandate is clear: “Let all the earth fear the Lᴏʀᴅ; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!” (Psalm 33:8). The church’s strategy for fulfilling this mandate is clear as well: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

However, have you considered this commission as a personal strategy?

Many years ago, I shared a platform with Dr. Mac Brunson, a longtime friend who was then pastor of the historic First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. I heard Dr. Brunson make the declaration that every Christian needs a personal Acts 1:8 strategy—a plan to reach their “Jerusalem” where they live, their “Judea and Samaria” in the region around where they live, and “the end of the earth” as well.

I had never considered this text in this way before, but I am convinced Mac was right. I need my own Acts 1:8 strategy; so do you. The more antagonistic our culture becomes to the gospel, the more urgent our strategic response becomes. In making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19), we need to know what we will do and how we will do it.

Reaching “the whole imperial guard”

Reading recently in Philippians, I was struck by a statement Paul made regarding his imprisonment (presumably in Rome, though some scholars think he was in Caesarea Maritima when he wrote this epistle). The apostle assured the Philippians that God was redeeming his imprisonment in Rome: “What has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ” (Philippians 1:12–13).

The “imperial guard” was the special guard of the governor (if Paul wrote this letter from Caesarea) or the emperor (if he wrote the letter from Rome). They were among the most influential people in the city. It is hard to imagine how Paul the missionary could have gained access to them with the gospel, but when he became their prisoner, they became his audience every hour of every day.

In addition, Paul wrote, “Most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (v. 14). The Lord redeemed Paul’s courage in sharing the gospel by showing others that he could empower them as they shared the gospel as well. What God enables one Christian to do, he can enable other Christians to do.

None of this would have happened if Paul had seen his imprisonment as a detour rather than a destination. If he were merely waiting away the days until he could get where he intended to be, he would have missed all that God wanted to do with him where he was.

Reaching your firehouse

A fireman once asked Charles Spurgeon how he could develop a personal ministry. Spurgeon encouraged him to go back to his firehouse and bear witness to Jesus there.

My longtime friend John Maisel, the founder of East-West Ministries and a hero to generations of Christians, has discipled countless businessmen over the decades. Many of them have told John that they would like to resign from their businesses to go overseas as missionaries. John typically responds: “Do whatever God is calling you to do, of course, but know this: it is easier to find missionaries to go overseas than to find businessmen who are missionaries where they are.”

We are clearly called to use our influence in our “Judea and Samaria” and “to the end of the earth,” but let’s be sure to focus as well on our firehouse, our office, our Jerusalem. And let’s encourage our people to do the same.

Reaching our community and nation is crucial for our community and nation. Scripture declares: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lᴏʀᴅ” (Psalm 33:12). This was true not just for Israel but for all people: “The Lᴏʀᴅ looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man . . . he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds” (vv. 13, 15).

This is a binary reality: “Behold, the eye of the Lᴏʀᴅ is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love” (v. 18). A holy God can bless only a holy people lest he contradict his own character and encourage that which harms those he loves.

He wants to “deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine” (v. 19), but he can give only what we will receive. This is why using our influence to help people follow Jesus is the greatest gift we can give them.

“It is in God that we find our neighbors”

What is your personal “Jerusalem” strategy? Are you encouraging your people to develop theirs?

How are you and they reaching your “Judea and Samaria”? How are you fulfilling your “end of the earth” kingdom assignment?

One last word: to reach others with God’s love, we must experience God’s love. We cannot give what we have not received or ask others to go where we will not go. When we know Christ, we can make him known.

In fact, the more we know him, the more we will want to make him known.

To this end, an observation by Henri Nouwen spoke to my heart:

Jesus’ primary concern was to be obedient to his Father, to live constantly in his presence. Only then did it become clear to him what his task was in his relationships with people. This also is the way he proposes for his apostles: “It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit, and then you will be my disciples” (John 15:8).

Perhaps we must continually remind ourselves that the first commandment requiring us to love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind is indeed the first. I wonder if we really believe this. It seems that in fact we live as if we should give as much of our heart, soul, and mind as possible to our fellow human beings, while trying hard not to forget God. At least we feel that our attention should be divided evenly between God and our neighbor.

But Jesus’ claim is much more radical. He asks for a single-minded commitment to God and God alone. God wants all of our heart, all of our mind, and all of our soul. It is this unconditional and unreserved love for God that leads to the care for our neighbor, not as an activity that distracts us from God or competes with our attention to God, but as an expression of our love for God who reveals himself to us as the God of all people.

It is in God that we find our neighbors and discover our responsibility to them. We might even say that only in God does our neighbor become a neighbor rather than an infringement upon our autonomy, and that only in and through God does service become possible.

How will you share your Father’s love with your neighbors today?

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