The Primacy of the Soul (1)
And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14.21, 22
A rightside-up world
The book of Acts recounts the incredible story of how the Christian movement grew from a small sect in a distant outpost of the Roman world to become a network of hundreds of churches involving multiplied thousands of believers with an impact that, as even unbelievers noted, was turning the Roman world upside-down (Acts 17.1-9).
We might rather say that the Christians, against all odds, in the face of stiff opposition and persecution, and without any of the conveniences of travel or communication that we know today, turned their world rightside-up for Jesus Christ.
The world had never seen anything like it. Suddenly, within a single generation, in towns and cities from Jerusalem to Athens to Rome, men and women of Jewish faith, pagan faith, and no faith at all were uniting as one, confessing Jesus Christ to be their Savior and King, loving and caring for one another, and making an impact for good on their neighbors, their culture, and Roman society in every aspect of life. They created a new community – the Church – where worship was a joy, learning became a way of life, caring and sharing were everywhere the norm, goodness and kindness extended to all, and the Good News of the Kingdom was everybody’s business and message.
The world had never seen anything like it. And we are the heirs of this powerful, world-changing movement.
As we work our way through the book of Acts we see this movement growing, gaining momentum, taking firm root, bearing astonishing fruit in courage and love, multiplying and expanding into new communities and regions – and all this in the face of implacable and at times violent opposition and resistance.
Which should raise the question: How did they do that?
Well, I think I know the answer. The early Christians were a people on steroids.
Our text says this clearly – at least, in the Greek. The word “strengthening” in the phrase, “strengthening the souls”, is, in the Greek of the New Testament, ἐπιστηρίζοντες – episterizontes. Say that word again. Did you hear that - -sterizontes? As in “steroids”? These days we might translate this, “giving steroids.” The apostle Paul and the others were “giving steroids” to those first believers!
No wonder they had such strength and perseverance!
Of course, Paul and the others were not giving physical or bodily stimulants to the first Christians. Our word literally means, “to strengthen above normal.” Which is why “steroids” are called what they are. The apostles were giving these people a measure of strength beyond what they’d ever known before – strength to worship, share, witness, edify, grow, love, and endure trials such as these folks had never known before.
The first Christians weren’t being “doped” to live for Christ. And they obviously weren’t being duped. They knew that what they had come to believe was true and life-changing. They could not and did not deny that Jesus had transformed their lives and made them part of something bigger than their own interests, bigger even than the Roman Empire, bigger than time itself and the entire course of human history. They had become citizens of the Kingdom of God, and they were experiencing the transforming power of that reality in all the mundane, everyday details of their lives, all their relationships, roles, and responsibilities.
The result was a new way of life that filled them with hope, joy, and peace, led them to practice righteousness and goodness, and emboldened them to bear witness to their neighbors at every opportunity and by every means.
Paul was “giving them steroids” all right, but these were spiritual stimulants, not physical or bodily ones, and they had powerful effects in strengthening the souls of those first believers.
The primacy of the soul
The most important part of our text is the phrase, “strengthening the souls of the believers”. Consider: Paul and his companions, and all the Apostles, wanted to make sure their message would take, the communities they had started would stick, and the movement of the Gospel and Kingdom would grow. So what did they do? They didn’t encourage these believers to build permanent facilities, hire more staff, increase their giving, or add some new and proven programs for “discipleship”.
All they did was “strengthen the souls of the believers.” And that’s all it took. Strong souls made for courageous and loving lives, and this is how the first Christians turned their world rightside-up for Jesus.
The Christian movement grows from the inside-out, from the depths of the transformed soul into the daily words and works that fill up the time of our lives. We can try to become more confident and consistent in our Christian lives by all manner of outward correctives or adjustments. But real change – change that lasts and generates increasing power – begins within, in the soul of each believer. If we want to turn our world rightside-up, we won’t need more mega-churches, the latest slick (and expensive) training programs, bigger budgets, or better staff. We cannot grow the Church from the outside-in.
We’ll need believers with strong souls, souls strong on the spiritual steroids of grace and truth, souls that are growing and stretching out into the likeness of Jesus Christ, and directing the bodies they inhabit to restore their world for Jesus.
1. Why must we begin in the soul if we want to change the world?
2. What is the soul? How would you explain the nature and function of the soul to an unbelieving friend?
3. What resources – spiritual “steroids” – has the Lord given us for strengthening our souls?
Next steps – Preparation: Spend some time in prayer asking the Lord to show you the true condition of your soul. Where do you need to see growth and transformation?
T. M. Moore
Your soul in the Kingdom of God
Jesus has conveyed us into the Kingdom of God. It is in the context of seeking the Kingdom that we can grow strong souls. Our book, The Kingdom Turn, can help you understand and begin making yourself more at home in the Kingdom of God. Order your free copy by clicking here.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.