Have you watched the news lately? You probably walked away with a sense that the world was not the way it is supposed to be. The truth is, it’s not. The world desperately needs to be turned upside down. Of course, from the Christian’s perspective, turning the world upside down means turning the world right-side up.
The early Christians were accused of the serious charge of turning the world upside down in Acts 17:5-7:
But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”
If you know anything about the Roman world of the first century, you know that, like today, the world needed to be turned upside down. The Jewish leaders in Thessalonica meant their charge as an insult, but no doubt Paul and the brethren saw it as a compliment. They probably thought to themselves, “yes, we do want to turn the world upside down” and “yes, there is a king more powerful than Caesar and his name is Jesus.”
The question is, how did the early church get to this point? Or, more importantly for Christians today, how can we get to this point? What can we do, in America in 2022, to turn the world upside down when it desperately needs it?
We may be tempted to rely on political action, force, or some other worldly means to accomplish a shift in the cultural landscape, but how did the early Christians successfully turn the world upside down? The early church and the words of Jesus give us the blueprint we need for turning the world upside down. Here’s how we can do it.
Comforting the twelve before his departure, Jesus foresaw the difficulty awaiting them in the infancy of the church and made them a promise:
They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me… When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.John 16:2, 3, 13
As the apostles of the early church went throughout the world proclaiming the gospel and defending the cause of Christ to councils, synagogues, and governors, they were led by the Holy Spirit of God into all truth. They did not need to reach for the words to say or make sure to study their sermons on index cards before they got up to speak.
This promise that was made to the apostles was not made to the subsequent generations of Christians, so those who were not the apostles needed to be devoted to the apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:42). Such is why Timothy was given the apostolic charge to be diligent to present himself as “one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).
Unlike The apostles, Timothy had to put some elbow grease into making sure he was handling God’s word rightly. This was going to take some study. Later in the same epistle, Paul would remind the younger evangelist that the God-breathed word was the solution to the increasing moral corruption and unfaithfulness that would be present in the future (2 Tim. 3:12-17).
The early church turned the world upside down by preaching the word. There’s no doubt about that. But, before we can preach the word, we must know the word. The only way to know the word is to apply ourselves to learning it. We. Must put effort into knowing the word before we can hope to change the world.
Only the God-breathed scriptures are sufficient and powerful enough to change our culture! No amount of plausible arguments, sound syllogisms, or rhetorical talking points can accomplish what the word of God can. We must roll up our sleeves and know it for ourselves so we can share it with others.
In addition to studying diligently, we must love radically if we want to turn the world upside down. Our love must be “radical” because the world cannot be turned upside down if we act like the world. The love of Christ gets people’s attention, softens their hearts, and shows God’s intent for His creation, setting the world aright.
The marching orders of love in the early church were radical. Jesus commanded his followers to love their enemies, do good to those who hate them, bless and pray for those who curse them and abuse them, offer the other cheek to the one who slaps them in the face, give their tunic to the one who takes their cloak, give to every person who begs them, not demand their stolen goods back, treat others the way they want to be treated, lend money to those they know can’t pay them back, and be kind and merciful to those who are ungrateful and evil (Luke 6:27-36).
This type of love is so radical—so other-worldly—that those who put them in practice will not only stand out but change those they come in contact with.
In the book of Acts, the first Christian converts are described as loving like Jesus: “And all who believed were together and had all things common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44-45; see also Acts 4:33-35).
In the early church, needs were met, sacrifices were made, and people could see the difference. In a world full of hate, spite, cancel culture, and fear of others, God’s people turn the world upside down when they sacrifice for one another.
Another example of Christlike love is seen in Acts 16:27-28: “When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, ‘Do not harm yourself, for we are all here'” (Acts 16:27-28). Paul and Silas were imprisoned unjustly on trumped-up charges and God was breaking them out of jail with an earthquake (Acts 16:16-26).
This jailer was likely a ruthless and pagan Roman. He was at least supportive of Paul and Silas being beaten within an inch of their lives, and now he is about to kill himself because he knows the Roman penalty for prisoners escaping under your watch. But Paul loves his enemy and tells him to stop. To put his sword away, to spare his own life, and eventually preaches the gospel to him and his family (Acts 16:30-34).
The Roman jailer wasn’t a “good guy.” He was a cog in an oppressive machine. He was part of the side that was against the gospel. So what? “If you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same” (Luke 6:33).
Paul understood the love of Jesus, extended it to the jailer, and the world continued to be turned upside down one soul at a time. If we are going to change the world, the culture, our community, it will only be by loving as Jesus instructed.
This is where the rubber meets the road. All the study and love in the world accomplishes little if Jesus is not boldly proclaimed. This specifically is how the world was turned upside down by the early Christians.
The early church did not stay to themselves, they did not leave religion out of the public square, and they did not turn red with embarrassment at the prospect of telling somebody else about Jesus.
The world will only be turned upside down if there are more Christians. There will only be more Christians if Christians speak boldly about Jesus. Therefore, Christians must speak boldly about Jesus in order to turn the world upside down.
Jesus told his followers that they had good reason to be bold: “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!” (Luke 12:4-5).
When one fears God, they have no reason to fear anything or anybody else. The fear of men cannot keep us from boldly speaking about Jesus. It makes no sense. Men can’t do anything to us worth fearing.
Notice just how bold Christians were in the book of Acts:
- Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13)
- So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:18-20)
- at Damascus [Paul] had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord (Acts 9:27-28)
- And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly… (Acts 13:46)
- So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord… (Acts 14:3)
- He began to speak boldly in the synagogue… (Acts 18:26)
- And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly… (Acts 19:8)
Notice how the book of Acts ends:
He lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.Acts 28:30-31
The book ends with Paul boldly proclaiming the gospel. It is an odd and abrupt ending to the work of the early church. Acts 28 leaves one wondering, where is Acts 29? The answer is that we are supposed to be Acts 29. We are supposed to pick up where our brethren left off, being bold and unafraid to speak about Jesus no matter the consequences.
The early church suffered death, persecution, seizure of property, and more to spread the message of Jesus. If we are not willing to sacrifice comfort and endure social awkwardness and cultural exclusion, our grandkids might have to endure a lot more if they want to tell others about Jesus in their lifetime.
The culture is not going to grow more accepting of Christianity while we remain silent. It should be harder for us to not speak about Jesus than it is to speak about Jesus (Acts 4:20). God help us to have the boldness seen in the early church as we share Jesus with others!
The early church did more than know the word, love like Jesus, and speak boldly. The easy church was a praying church. Notice how often in the book of Acts the church is praying:
- All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer… (Acts 1:14)
- But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4)
- So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church (Acts 12:5)
- Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off (Acts 13:3)
- And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed (Acts 14:23)
- About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them (Acts 16:25)
The early church was able to turn the world upside down because they were devoted to prayer. All Christians must ask themselves when was the last time they prayed for their congregation, its work, its elders, and its missionaries? Every Christian should be involved in praying for an opportunity to boldly share Jesus with others and for a door to be opened for the word (Col. 4:2-6).
We should all be praying for our lost friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family members as well as our brothers and sisters who have fallen away from the Lord and gone by the wayside. We should be regularly praying for the boldness and courage to obey God no matter what in an increasingly godless culture.
We can try our hardest with all of our human might to turn the world upside down, but without divine aid it will never happen. The early church was a praying church. If we are going to change our culture, community, lives, and the souls around us, we will have to be as well. For things to change, we must pray.
Lastly, to turn the world upside down, Christians must endeavor to trust God completely. The early church was able to turn the world upside down because they didn’t waver. Even in the face of death, intense persecution, and seemingly impossible odds, the earliest Christians steadfastly trusted God.
When the earliest preachers of the church were ordered to stop preaching Jesus, their response was, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). They trusted God to take care of them when they obeyed him. The first martyr in the church, as he is being stoned to death, confidently believes that heaven is his reward and begs for his murderers to receive God’s mercy (Acts 7:59-60).
The early Christians had enough trust in God to endure difficulties and tribulations, knowing that there is no other way to enter the kingdom (Acts 14:22). The complete trust of the early Christians is summarized well by the apostle Paul on a wind-battered ship heading to Rome: “I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told” (Acts 27:25). We must have faith in God that it will be exactly as we have been told in his word, refusing to waver or compromise.
The world desperately needs to be turned upside down. How can we do it? The solution will not be found in hiding in a bunker armed to the nines. It’s not primarily about political action or some grandiose herculean effort to overturn 70 years of secularization in the next decade. The solution is found in the “simple” stuff.
If we are going to turn the world upside down, it will be by following the blueprint left for us in the book of Acts: studying, loving, speaking, praying, and trusting. Let us never mourn for the corruption of our culture while refusing to pray for it, share Jesus with it, radically love those who are in it, or trust God to change it.
We cannot change the world if we are like the world, and being unlike the world is going to be uncomfortable. Thankfully, God can strengthen us and bear us up to do the work he’s set before us.
Church, let’s get to work. The world needs to be turned upside down.