In our land of abundance it’s tempting to eat more than our bodies require and accumulate more possessions than we need. Keep buying new clothes and soon your closet will overflow. Keep acquiring more books and eventually you will run out of shelf space and feel like you live in a library. Keep buying tools and your garage will fill up. Keep indulging your urge to purchase the latest electronics and your home will be cluttered with gadgets and wires.
Businesses and non-profits can become bloated and top-heavy as well. Do you know any companies or ministries that seem to focus mainly on keeping the organizational wheels turning instead of pursuing their primary mission? It can happen to churches, too. Without courageous and purposeful leadership, congregations slip into maintenance mode, supporting expensive and time-consuming programs with questionable effectiveness.
Likewise, in our personal lives there are times we could gain by getting rid of something.
In first-century Ephesus the gospel of Christ impacted the whole city and the surrounding region. Culture was disrupted, miracles occurred, sins were confessed, “and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor” (Acts 19:17). God’s power defeated Satan’s strongholds, bringing spiritual freedom to many who had been deceived by the occult. The historian Luke records, “A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas” (v. 19). This verse illustrates how addition can happen by subtraction.
- Genuine repentance leads to a change of lifestyle. These new disciples recognized that sorcery was no longer compatible with their new-found faith in Christ, so they rid themselves of belongings that tied them to a dark past. They destroyed sorcery scrolls that gave the devil a foothold in their souls, making room instead for new dimensions of God’s grace.
- At some point faith in Christ must go public. These converts to Christianity could have disposed of their scrolls quietly and privately, but they decided to burn them in a public bonfire. Their open declaration of faith surely led to some interesting conversations with non-Christians who couldn’t help but notice the flames lighting the sky and the smoke wafting through the air in Ephesus. By boldly disavowing their previously held values, the believers gained new opportunities to share their faith.
- Spiritual freedom is a commodity money can’t buy. The burned scrolls were worth 50,000 drachmas. Isn’t it interesting that somebody bothered to calculate their value? In financial terms, destroying the scrolls represented a costly sacrifice, but I imagine the scroll-burners had no regrets. What they lost in economic value they gained in spiritual liberty. Doing the right thing is worth any price.
- God uses bold acts of faith to transform communities. In the days following the scroll bonfire, the church’s influence expanded throughout the surrounding region. Luke notes, “In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power” (v. 20).
Are there things you would be better off without? Could you give out of your abundance so that others will benefit? Does the Lord, the Master Gardener, want to prune away some unproductive branches from your life? Are there any dark and dangerous items you need to cut loose and let go?
David Faust serves as the Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
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