The book of Acts ends rather abruptly in chapter 28, almost like a high-five that goes unnoticed, leaving the high-fiver hanging. A little awkward. Generally speaking I’m not happy with an unfinished story. I don’t like unanswered questions and mysteries that go unsolved. I’m the kind of person that will read the third book of a trilogy, even if I hate it, just to complete it. True story. I’ll keep the unused bag that matches the suitcase, just so I don’t break up the set. The ending of Acts has bothered me for years because it felt fractured, begging to have the remaining pieces of the story added. However, I saw something beautiful develop in chapter 28 this week that made me realize it was the perfect ending.
At the beginning of this study, we anticipated a few banner themes to emerge this year: evangelism, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, unity, persecution, hardship, and grace. Chapter 28 seems to wrap them up nicely into a picture of the compounding effect of God’s favor through each of these themes. God’s favor for the faithful is clearly demonstrated in this final chapter.
Luke says they were immediately welcomed onto the island of Malta where they landed after the shipwreck. The chief official for the island was kind and hospitable. Paul healed this man’s ailing father as well as many others on the island. They were showered with honors and were supplied with all their needs when they set sail for Rome after three months. They had several additional stops from there, and it was in Puteoli, The Forum and The Three Taverns on the outskirts of Rome, where believers came to meet Paul and offer their hospitality. As Paul was moving closer to Rome, it wouldn’t be shocking if he was slightly apprehensive, and Luke says these believers encouraged him.
When Paul saw them, he was encouraged and thanked God. (Acts 28:15b)
When Paul finally arrived in Rome he was given private lodging, lived at his own expense, had many visitors, and continued boldly preaching the Kingdom. No one tried to stop him. Paul is still a prisoner, yet the favor of God compounds in his life. If we can see God’s favor growing for Paul, can we see it in our own lives? What can we learn from this?
WHAT IS FAVOR?
As defined by Merriam Webster favor is a kind or helpful act that you do for someone. It’s gaining approval, support, or popularity. It’s maintaining a preference for a person or group over another. Bill Johnson, senior pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, CA, in an article entitled The Real Meaning of Favor says this,
While the Greek and Hebrew words translated favor in Scripture include these definitions, there is a deeper dimension to the Greek word for favor: charis. Almost everywhere in the New Testament, this word is translated ‘grace.’ Grace (and favor) is essentially a gift. (Johnson, Bill. The Real Meaning of Favor. charismamag.org, 2013)
Seeing the favor of God on Paul through the lens of grace puts a slightly different spin on this passage.
WHERE DOES FAVOR BEGIN?
Our first experience with the Father’s unmerited gift of grace occurs at the point of our salvation. His favor is poured upon us through his son’s shed blood, when we believe.
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Paul’s first experience with God’s favor was on the road to Damascus when he met Jesus. He certainly didn’t earn this favor because Jesus said to him in that moment, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4) But we see Paul do something. He responds. He humbles and surrenders himself. He releases his grip on his will and his life.
Who remembers the 20-year-old commercials for Nestea? These commercials famously depicted delighted consumers, drinking a glass of tea, and then freefalling backwards into a pool of water. The Nestea Plunge is exactly how I picture God’s grace when we humble ourselves and surrender to him. We freefall and become immersed in his favor. We Let Go and Let God. Interestingly it’s also pictured in immersion baptism.
HOW DOES FAVOR GROW?
As amazing and wonderful as his favor of salvation is, it doesn’t end there. Bill Johnson goes on to say,
“This unmerited favor includes not only being forgiven of sin but also receiving access to the very presence of God in the same way Jesus has access to Him.”(Johnson, Bill. The Real Meaning of Favor. charismamag.org, 2013)
So it begins with salvation and it then grows in his abiding presence. This is what you call a responsive relationship. When we abide and produce fruit from the Holy Spirit, that is the additional favor and grace.
In Luke 19:11 we find the Parable of the Ten Servants. The story goes like this: A nobleman goes on a journey to be crowned king in a far away land, and before he leaves he calls his servants together and splits ten pounds of silver between them. He instructs them to invest it while he’s away. When he returns, they provide him with an update. The first was invested and earned ten times the amount. The next was invested and earned five times the amount. To them both, the king responds positively and provides them with more.
“Well done!” the king exclaimed, “You are a good servant. You have been faithful with the little I entrusted to you, so you will be governor of ten cities as your reward.” (Luke 19:17)
The third says,
“Master, I hid your money and kept it safe. I was afraid because you are a hard man to deal with, taking what isn’t yours and harvesting crops you didn’t plant.” To which the king replied, “You wicked servant!…Your own words condemn you…Why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.” (Luke 19:20-23)
Each of us has been given a measure of favor and grace at the point of conversion. Like the parable, we can invest it or hide it. While we are positioned in his abiding presence, the Spirit will compel us to move, i.e. to make an investment. Each time we faithfully respond and follow, his favor grows.
What we see in Acts 28 is this cycle of growth. Paul has faithfully responded to the Spirit’s prompting for at least 20 years and this favor has grown. In Malta, God’s favor flows through Paul to the people on the island who are in a position to receive that grace. God’s grace and favor then flows through the people back to Paul in honor, hospitality, and supplies for the remainder of their trip. God’s grace and favor didn’t eliminate or prevent his unlawful imprisonment, but rather flowed through those around Paul, people who had received Paul’s investment, like the believers in Puteoli, The Forum, and The Three Taverns. The grace that flowed from God through Paul, touching the lives of the Roman soldiers, flowed back through them to Paul as the Roman government assigned him to private living quarters, allowing him to live peaceably.
WHERE IS MY FAVOR?
Each of us is smack dab in the middle of God’s grace. Do you have eyes to see it? Because you can’t respond to God’s gift if you don’t have eyes to see it and ears to hear Him. These too, eyes to see and ears to hear, are gifts that he wants to bestow. Simply ask.
I wouldn’t be surprised if there were the-glass-is-half-empty curmudgeons in the traveling party with Paul. There’s a curmudgeon almost everywhere. If this was indeed true, I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t fully see God’s gifts on this journey. They wouldn’t have seen the generosity of the Maltans, only a three-month delay. When they boarded another ship, fully supplied, they would have seen a small ship, fearing the supplies would never last. When they arrived on land in Puteoli, they wouldn’t have seen the blessing of hospitality from the locals, but only a dreaded voyage over land to Rome.
Do you feel like you’ve missed out on his favor? Do you look at others around you and think God favors them more? You are still smack dab in the middle of God’s favor. Respond. Bill Johnson also says in his article,
“While God loves everyone the same, not everyone has the same measure of favor. Yet everyone is positioned to increase in favor if each one of us effectively stewards what we have. In other words, when we seek His face with the favor we have, we increase in favor itself.” (Johnson, Bill. The Real Meaning of Favor. charismamag.org, 2013)
Sink deep into God’s grace, allowing the cycle of favor to spring into motion. Note: pursuing God’s favor isn’t the answer. Pursing God’s presence is. Engaging in a responsive relationship is what builds favor, grace, and deep meaning in your life. Most of us want our lives to count for something. We want to leave a legacy. Paul’s favor grew because he responded to the Holy Spirit and the legacy that remained is still working thousands of years later.
We stand in awe of the early church, amazed at their unity and resilient suffering, boldly sharing the gospel in the face of danger. How did they do it? We wonder. I wish we could have some of that power now, we say. The cycle of favor that was available to them is available now. Everything we’ve discussed this year in the book of Acts lies waiting in God’s favor/grace. Engage in a responsive relationship and watch it grow.