Reproducing Lilies

1 And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. 4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralysed or lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.  (Acts 8:1-8)
If any group of Christians in Church history has ever been entitled to hit the dirt and lie low for a while, then it was the band of scattered refugees who fled Jerusalem after the death of Stephen. The anonymous Christians who flee from persecution in Jerusalem at the start of Acts 8 escape with their lives, but leave behind their jobs, their homes and their livelihoods for the sake of the Gospel. None of us would have blamed them for lying low for a season as Christians while made their new homes in Judea, Samaria, Damascus and Antioch. But they didn’t. Acts 8:4 tells us that they evangelised and shared the Gospel wherever they went. In fact, the historian Kenneth Latourette demonstrates that “The chief agents in the expansion of Christianity appear not to have been those who made it a profession or made it a major part of their occupation, but men and women who carried on their livelihood in some purely secular manner and spoke of their faith to those they met in this natural fashion.”

Nor did the leaders of the Early Church abdicate this responsibility to church-members, like a World War One general issuing orders to his frontline troops from the comfort of his cosy command-centre. Luke is very clear in Acts 8:25 and 8:40 that the Christian leaders were just as active in sharing their faith wherever they went too. These early Christians understood something so startlingly obvious that we mustn’t forget it either.

I felt God remind me of this principle recently when I visited the Natural History Museum in London. Like most of London’s museums, it is full of interactive puzzles for children, and like most of London’s parents, I like to do the children’s puzzles for myself. Here’s the one that really spoke to me – let’s see if you can answer it: There are two lilies in five square miles of water. Each lily reproduces every day, so that on day two there are four lilies, on day three there are eight lilies, and so on. The lilies take four months to cover two and a half square miles of water – how many more days will it take them to cover the rest of the lake?

The answer, of course, is only one day. Even though it took the lilies four whole months to cover half of the water, since every lily is actively reproducing they will finish the job in only one more day. So long as every lily keeps on playing its part, their exponential growth-potential is limitless.

And so it was in the Early Church. The Christians deliberately scattered into every area of their local communities, so that the Christian writer Tertullian was able to boast that “We are but of yesterday, but we have filled every place among you – cities, islands, fortresses, towns, market-places, even the camps, tribes, companies, palace, senate, forum – we have left nothing to you but the temples of your gods … We are not Indian Brahmins or fakirs living in woods and exiling themselves from ordinary life … We go to your forum, your market, your baths, your shops, your workshops, your inns, your fairs, and the other places of trade.”

Once they had infiltrated themselves as reproducing lilies throughout the whole expanse of their communities, the Christians then gave themselves to personal evangelism, day in and day out, until they won their own little network of contacts to Christ. They were so successful that Celsus, one of the most vocal early opponents of Christianity, complained bitterly that “We see in private houses workers in wool and leather, laundry-workers and the most illiterate and bucolic yokels, who would not dare to say anything at all in front of their elders and more intelligent masters. But they get hold of the children privately, and any women who are as ignorant as themselves … ‘Come along with your playmates to the leather shop or the laundry and you will get the full story.’”

Luke reminds us in Acts 8:5-8 that there is still an important role for anointed public preachers and miracle-workers, but he will not have us attribute the success of the Early Church to a small group of platform-speaking apostles and deacons. General Patton’s battle-maxim was that “Generals and staff-officers don’t win wars. Soldiers win wars,” and the book of Acts tells us the same. The success of the Church can never depend on a few extraordinary leaders. It’s God’s army of ordinary, Gospel-sharing, reproducing lilies which together will conquer the world.

If you long to see the Kingdom of God come in London as it did in the book of Acts, then be a reproducing lily yourself. If you are a church member then don’t leave it to your leaders, and if you are a leader then don’t leave it to your church members. God may even want to scatter you to a new city or nation to be one of the first reproducing lilies in a new pond. Wherever God places us, Luke reminds us in the book of Acts that, regardless of geography, wherever ordinary Christians live as active witnesses for Christ, they will quickly reproduce themselves until God’s glory fills the whole earth.
1)   What is the ‘pond’ in which God has placed you?

2)   Are you a ‘reproducing lily’? How can you emerge from lockdown more focused than ever on sharing your faith with others?

3)  Re-reading today’s quotes from members of the Early Church, how do you think we need to become different as a church as we become a Post-Lockdown Church together?
Father God, I want to be a reproducing lily for you. Please help me not to leave it to others to share the Gospel with the people in my city. Help me to be active in sharing my faith with others so that they can come to faith too. Help me to play my own part in your great mission, for your sake and for your glory, Lord. Amen.
Today’s Everyday Devotions were brought to you by Phil Moore, who leads our team of whole-church elders.

If you have time, consider carrying on your conversation with God using one of our helpful Prayer Pathways.

Today’s Everyday Devotions have also inspired a devotional video that you can watch on our YouTube channel.