"We saw that we weren't making even a dent in his resolve, and gave up. ’It's in God's hands now,' we said. 'Master, you handle it.'
"It wasn't long before we had our luggage together and were on our way to Jerusalem. Some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us and took us to the home of Mnason, who received us warmly as his guests. A native of Cyprus, he had been among the earliest disciples.
"In Jerusalem, our friends, glad to see us, received us with open arms. The first thing next morning, we took Paul to see James. All the church leaders were there. After a time of greeting and small talk, Paul told the story, detail by detail, of what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. They listened with delight and gave God the glory." Acts 21:14-19 (The Message).
Jesus' first words to would-be disciples on the brink of His public ministry were, 'Follow me,' and His final instruction to them on His return to the Father was, 'Go, and make disciples.' In the intervening years, the apostles carried out His mandate faithfully. Now, as they met together in Jerusalem many years after that day, they were sharing the stories of their obedience.
Not only were there pockets of disciples in many cities and towns across the Roman Empire, but they were also all disciples -- followers of Jesus. The apostles were careful to attach people to Jesus and not to themselves, and they also ensured that God's Word was their source book, not human reason or personal interpretation.
The result was that the church was one body made up of cells all over the empire. There is no evidence of conflicting denominations or fragmentations based on human leaders pulling people away from Jesus. The potential was there; the writers of the New Testament letters were careful and diligent to put out the fires of division and conflict that were constantly being lit by unscrupulous counterfeit disciples.
But among the true believers and the church leaders there was unity based on their loyalty to and love of one Master. When Paul told his story to the leaders of the church in Jerusalem, they could celebrate and rejoice with him because they shared the joy of what God had done through him. It was not Paul's work. It was God's work and Paul happened to be one of the vessels God had used.
But Paul was only one among many who were sowing the seeds of God's Word wherever they went. He blazed the trail for others to follow. He wrote letters to churches that other faithful evangelists had founded and he was not slow to acknowledge their ministry. This was not a competition but a partnership because the kingdom they represented was not theirs but God's and their mandate was not to build the church -- Jesus said He would do that -- but to make disciples, and that's what they were bent on doing.
There is a feeling of camaraderie and oneness among these people as we read the account of Paul's reunion with the church in Jerusalem. They were all in it together and Paul's success was their success.
What went wrong that the church is so fragmented and that there are so many different streams of thought and practice in the church today? Jesus made it very simple:
1. He said, 'Follow me; learn of me; obey me.' His intention was that we be bound to Him as our model and our mentor, not any human being who thinks he can be a substitute for the Master. We are heading off in the wrong direction if we let go of Jesus.
2. He gave us His written word as our source book. We have access to everything about Him in His Word. When we choose to ignore His Word and substitute human words for His Word, we are on the wrong track.
3. He gave us His Spirit as His indwelling representative -- another just like Himself -- whose role is to teach us about Him and make Him real to us so that we can follow Him. When we ignore the Holy Spirit or try to squeeze Him into who we think He is or what we think He ought to do, we lose the one person who can make unity possible.
Jesus' impassioned plea to the Father was "That they may be one, Father, just as we are one." That can never happen until we return to the simple basics of following Jesus, listening to the Holy Spirit and sticking to His Word.
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