Today we will share some understanding from our recent study on Acts 14.
Acts chapter 14 talks about the story of Paul healing a man who was lame from birth in Lystra. Paul preached the Gospel in the city of Lystra and then Derbe. He won many converts in Derbe and then returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch (verse 21).
In verse 22 it says, “Strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God’. （ESV）
There are many different translations of this phrase “strengthening the souls of the disciples”. For example, the NIV translates it as “strengthening the disciples” and the New Living Translation translates it as “they strengthened the believers”. But the English Standard Version, New American Standard Bible and King James Bible all pointed out that they strengthen the “souls of the disciples.”
The English Standard version and others translate this phrase as strengthening the “souls” of the disciples. But some of our Bible study group members use the Chinese Union Version which translates it as “strengthening the hearts of the believers”.
The woman who led the Bible study this week asked a question “why does the Bible say strengthening the ‘soul’ here rather than the ‘spirit’?” This question has its legitimacy as we can learn from the famous verse in Ephesians 3:16:
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,” (NIV)
The “inner being” here often refers to the spiritual man inside of us or our spirit. This seems to be a pattern in Paul’s speaking. He often mentions the Lord will be present or strengthening our spirits. For example, 2 Timothy 4:22,
“The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you all.”
Galatians 6:18 also says,
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers, and sisters. Amen.” (NIV)
I am not sure if this question makes sense to you or not but it does make sense to some of our members in this Bible study. Some of them were saved in a church movement where they stressed the importance of exercising our human spirit strongly. This teaching stresses that once we pursue the growth in our inner spiritual life, other problems in our soul will be solved. Gradually this teaching becomes focused on the development of our spiritual man but neglects the issues in our soul. Whenever someone has troubles in their soul, someone in the church may ignore it by just considering this person has not fully reckoned his or her death in Jesus Christ.
But this verse says these Apostles strengthened the souls of the disciples which bothered this woman. So, she asked this question. Why does here stress the word “soul” instead of the word “spirit”? Why does the Bible just say “strengthening their spirits”? What are the significances to mention “souls” here?
We recognized a pattern in doing the Bible study the way we do. Often a question raised by a member, in the beginning, is the very question that the Holy Spirit wanted to answer us in that meeting. In other words, the Holy Spirit will often cause someone to ask a question. When we try to understand this question more, the Holy Spirit will release the answer gradually in the meeting and speak a Rhema Word of God to guide us, comfort us and strengthen us. I will explain this more in the following part of this study in the hope that you will understand what I am talking about.
This problem seems simple, but this is the timely words of the Holy Spirit, at least for the Christians who are studying the Bible together with us. Why did I say so? First of all, the Bible is incomparably rich. Every time when different people read the Bible, the things that may be read out are different. This doesn’t mean that everyone’s understanding is different, but rather it means that the illumination of the Holy Spirit is not the same every single time. There are so many scriptures in Acts 14 that may touch us, but this time, we are particularly moved by Acts 14:22.
The daily life of Christians on earth is actually a battle, and your battle is to fight against the unseen spiritual forces of evil. At the end of age, one of the greatest tactics of the enemy is to make the saints feel tired and exhausted. In English, it’s the term “worn out”. As the saying goes, it is to make you feel annoyed, or busy, and finally totally worn out. This is also the traditional military tactic or the delaying tactics mentioned in Chinese sayings. Using this tactic, evil spirits can keep Christians from accomplishing God’s calling.
The members who gathered in our Bible study have shared their respective experiences in this aspect. One woman mentioned that her child has been coughing for a lengthy period and this made her feel tired and troubled. Another woman, who is a doctor, said that she has a lot of patients every single day which made her feel exhausted.
Then she comes home from work and her child is whining which almost puts her over the edge emotionally. She would like to relax and just read social media updates but gets inundated with ads and spam making her more tired and depressed.
A man, who is a part-time translator, shared that the Holy Spirit reminded him through a strange dream that someone would swindle his money in business. In the end, a customer had defaulted on his payments which made him very upset. The Lord originally called him to learn management skills through business for future service in the ministry. However, because of the attack of the evil spirits, he became a little disheartened for a few days.
These seem to be small things in life, but they are actually not. Daniel 7:25 (NIV) says, “He will speak against the Most High and oppress his holy people and try to change the set times and the laws. The holy people will be delivered into his hands for a time, times and half a time.” The term ” oppress ” here is the “oppression ” of the holy people of the Most High; in English, it’s sometimes translated as “wear out”. Another translation of this sentence in English is “shall wear out the saints of The Most High”. You can see this translation in the English Standard Version and many other versions as well. This term “wear out” actually means torture. In other words, how does the Antichrist or the evil spirits oppress the saints today? You can’t do much after your enemies have worn you out. It’s just like playing basketball. You may be a good shooter, but your opponent has guarded you closely which keeps you from making a basket. Thus, naturally, your team loses the game.
You may know the Bible truths and also be very enthusiastic in serving God, but your daily experience in life has exhausted your soul, and through the influences of many negative emotions, thoughts, and wills, your life and service have been affected to a great extent. The man shared that he was supposed to serve the Lord in business. The Lord called him to learn business and management skills, but because the evil spirits provoked some people to disturb his business, it brought a lot of confusion to his soul. He said that he didn’t want to do anything for a while, because his soul was very disturbed, and he continuously thinks on how to solve this matter, which made his soul totally exhausted.
Returning to the verses in Acts 14, Paul is in a spiritual battle when he was preaching the gospel there. There are evil spirits fighting against them in the spiritual realm. In the physical world, some Jews and some Gentiles were also stirred up against the disciples. But Paul has a strong spirit and his soul is strengthened as well. He was stoned and people thought that he was dead but he got up again. Not every saint has a strong spirit and soul and had the experience of bodily resurrection as Paul did. When many disciples encounter the same spiritual warfare, their souls will be wounded. If this psychological trauma is not treated in time, it will eventually affect the spirit of the people and keep their spirits down.
We know that not only the physical pain will make our soul sink, but the pain in the spirit will also affect our soul. Although spiritual warfare is in the spiritual realm and we are wrestling with the invisible forces of evil, it will still affect our soul. The soul including the thoughts, emotions, and the will inside our soul are the battlefields of this spiritual warfare. I mentioned in the meeting that if you can change a person’s mind and how he/she thinks, then you can completely change the person. If you can change the collective thinking of a culture, then you can change the ethnicity as a whole. For example, if you can change the collective thinking of the Japanese and get rid of their tradition of ancestor worship, then you can change Japanese attitudes towards the gospel. Many people who have been to Japan to evangelize have mentioned that the Japanese worship their ancestors as God. This is one important aspect that prevents the Japanese from accepting the gospel.
If you can change the Chinese way of thinking, then you can change them as a whole. Every culture has its collective way of thinking, and many of these are used by the evil spirits so that they will not know Jesus Christ. It is the same in the US.
Paul said that spiritual warfare was to demolish these strongholds and bring down the high-walled fortress in our minds. If you can take these strongholds and high-walled fortresses captive, that’s the time that you can evangelize them. Paul is an apostle and apostles get their power and authority from the Lord. They can break free from the control of the evil spirits in a certain area by releasing people from this area to turn to Jesus Christ. But at the same time, Paul has also undergone a fierce resistance with the evil spirits.
One country is like this, and so is every individual. The strongholds and the high-walled fortress in our minds are used by the evil spirits to control us. The wife of the man I mentioned earlier said that one of the reasons why her husband was so distressed was because of the high-walled fortress and strongholds in his mind. Ever since he was a child, his father has never protected him. His family also came from the countryside and thus, he was bullied and became frustrated. He then developed a misconception that others are always bullying him due to his foolishness. It’s normal for us to encounter deception, but this brother actually suffers from “internal injury” or “internal trauma”. He needs inner healing. He thinks that he was deceived because of his stupidity. The more he thinks about it, the angrier he gets. Actually, others did not owe him a lot of money but the extent of damage to his heart or soul was a lot more.
In deliverance ministries and inner healing ministries, these are considered as wrong judgments of a situation which eventually caused people to have the wrong way of thinking. Over time, they become strongholds in the minds of people. These strongholds give the evil spirits a status to possess or influence us. We all know that Jesus Christ has defeated the devil through the work of the cross, but why are we still deceived and tortured by the demons and evil spirits today? The problem is because of sin, flesh or ungodly thoughts within us, which formed the strongholds, thus giving opportunities to the enemy.
The wife of this man said that when a child faces hurt in this world, he is often not mature enough to judge and distinguish the situation which leads him to develop wrong thinking. He thinks that the whole world will hurt him and even develops hatred towards the world. When people get hurt during their childhood, it is easy for them to develop this wrong way of thinking. For example, some unfortunate women who have encountered sexual harassment from men when they were young, will think that all men are bad people. These are the situations that often occur in inner healing and deliverance ministries. But are all men bad? No, but a young heart that has had a traumatic experience before, can cause them to develop erroneous thinking.
These are just a few examples. Everyone has some ungodly thoughts that are governed by the high-walled fortress in his/her mind or soul, and this is not in accordance with the teachings of the Bible and God’s will. But because this part of the soul has not been completely sanctified, Christ and the Holy Spirit have not fully taken power yet in this part of the soul; therefore this part of the soul will be wounded and used by the enemy. Therefore, it is not enough to just strengthen the disciples in the spirit and teach them spiritual knowledge and truths. We also need to be able to help the saints to see and demolish the ungodly thoughts, strongholds and high-walled fortresses within their minds. For disciples, if you can do this, then you can strengthen their souls; for unbelievers, if you can do this, then you can let them repent and eventually turn to God.
Aside from the strongholds and the high-walled fortress in our minds and souls that are used by the enemy, it is easy for our emotions/feelings to get hurt. The enemy’s attack is often clandestine in nature. He doesn’t necessarily have to sit at your bed at night to scare you (although this happens in a prophetic experience), he will use people around you to hurt your feelings which will cause many problems. For example, unforgiveness, after we are emotionally hurt, is the main strategy by which evil spirits attack us. This unforgiveness also becomes the main legal basis for evil spirits to live within us. Unforgiveness will slowly lead us to become stony-hearted and even develop a very stubborn will.
Some people say that the normal state of mind, emotions, and the will in our souls is to have: a sober mind, love what God loves and hate what God hates, and to surrender our will to God but take a determined stand against Satan. However, after the human soul is damaged, we are not sober-minded anymore about the things of God. We tend to forget to read the Bible, but when it comes to sinful or worldly things, we have a remarkable memory. Our emotions will also tend to hate what God loves and love what God hates; our will becomes stubborn and obstinate to God, but it will become vulnerable against Satan or the evil. These are the conditions after our soul has been damaged.
Our battle with the enemy is indeed a spiritual battle, but this doesn’t that we don’t need the participation of our souls, and we don’t to take care of our soul. The enemy often attacks our souls through various tricks, allowing our soul to be worn out. Therefore, the work of the apostles is definitely not only to talk about the high-level spiritual revelation, but also to be able to touch the problems in the human soul, to strengthen the souls of the people including the mind, emotions and will, and to break through the strongholds and high-walled fortresses that the evil spirits have built within us.
In the process of fighting with the enemy, our soul will be wounded, so we also need healing in our souls. Ignoring the healing of the soul will cause problems. One of the phenomena that I have observed in some churches is that they will regard everything as a cross to learn spiritual lessons. For the problems in the soul, it is often seen as “not fully dead” or “it’s in the flesh.” It’s more about teaching us to “turn to the spirit”, and even despise the soul, looking at “living from your soul” as a negative term. But my observation is that these do not solve the problem in the human soul. Although many Christians have been pursuing growth in their inner spiritual life throughout their lives, some of the internal problems (in the soul) still exist after being Christians for so many years. Many high-walled fortresses and strongholds have not been broken and eradicated. This, in turn, affects the extent to which they pursue inner life. Coupled with the physical pain experienced by many Christians, and the “scarred” internal injuries sustained by serving in the church for many years, the life and growth of our spirit is slowly lost.
On the contrary, in some churches, less emphasis is placed on the work of the cross, so there are seemingly more acts of the flesh and the soul than those churches that pursue an inner spiritual life. However, these churches pay attention to the healing of the body, inner healing and casting out demons. Many of the inner healings involve the healing of the soul. Actually, the churches that seek inner life and the churches who stress on inner healing and deliverance can complement each other. But unfortunately, each side has not fully seen the strengths of the other.
Finally, we end with the scripture in Isaiah, “Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will run, and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (New International Version, Isaiah 40:31). Our soul functions like a runway. Our spirit can fly, but when our spirit is not strong enough to be a helicopter, we often need the help of the soul to pick up speed like an airplane does on the runway before taking off. Therefore, it is vital for us to take care of the soul and strengthen our souls for our spiritual life and spiritual battle.
It’s a bit biased to think that just through spiritual practice or spiritual discipline, to read the Bible more and to have more meetings, it will naturally solve the problem of the soul. Although we admit that this is beneficial, it is definitely not automatic. The problem of not dealing with the soul properly and only focusing on a blind pursuit of spirituality can lead you to become a Pharisee, a religious Christian or a spiritual loony. Failure to properly deal with the problem of the soul will, in turn, affect the extent to which people pursue spirituality. The problem in the soul is an extremely complicated problem involving our misconceptions, false attitudes and emotional damage brought by the strongholds in our minds, cognitive distortion and stubborn will. We need to be careful in uncovering the mess of the evil spirits and driving them out so that our soul will be healed, cleansed, and strengthened. We don’t have time to share all of them here. We will just slowly unfold them in future articles.