Paul without the Spirit

When recently reading through the book of Acts, a thought hit me: What would Acts look like if all instances of speaking the gospel and all instances of the power and leading of the Holy Spirit were removed? According to Acts 1:8, those are the two endeavors that were to form the central thrust of the disciples’ mission. So what would it have looked like if the disciples never actually proclaimed the message of Christ? And what would it have looked like if the Holy Spirit had not powerfully worked through those disciples?

With this thought in mind, I copied the full text of Acts into a document, and began crossing out every instance of proclamation (along with everything that directly resulted from such proclamation) and every instance of the power of the Holy Spirit at work.

The results were perhaps most evident in the Apostle Paul’s missionary journeys. If you remove gospel proclamation and the power of the Spirit from the accounts of Paul’s journeys, you end up with nothing more than a weird travel blog.

For instance, here is how the text of Paul’s first missionary journey (Acts 13-14) would read if you took out all instances of gospel proclamation (along with its results) and all instances of the work of the Spirit:

Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on Paul and Barnabas and sent them off.

They went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. They arrived at Salamis. And they had John to assist them. When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.

Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem, but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it.”

[But they left for Iconium, where] they entered together into the Jewish synagogue. They remained [there] a long time.

[Then they went to] Lystra, [where] there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. And Paul looked intently at him.

On the next day Paul went on with Barnabas to Derbe, [then] they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch. Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. [After] Perga, they went down to Attalia, and from there they sailed to Antioch. And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared [the one miracle] that God had done with them. And they remained no little time with the disciples.

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So what’s the point?

Note that without the proclamation of the gospel and the powerful working of the Spirit, Paul’s ministry yields no fruit. This should be a lesson for all of us. The working of the Spirit and the act of speaking the gospel are both central elements of the mission that has been entrusted to us (Acts 1:8). To fail to speak or follow the Spirit’s leading will inevitably result in a fruitless and failed mission.

Our mission does not primarily consist of digging wells, constructing houses, or clothing the poor, though these are good and needed endeavors. Rather, our mission primarily consists of boldly testifying to the gospel under the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). This should shape how we view and pursue mission work, both individually and collectively, lest our ministries be stripped of their fruitfulness as Paul’s is in the hypothetical account above.

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