Thursday, June 30, 2011

Missing One Ingredient

Acts 18:24-28

Paul had been accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila as far as Ephesus on his journey to Jerusalem. While he went on to Jerusalem, and then to visit the other churches, they remained in Ephesus, plying their trade as tent makers.

“And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus.” (Acts 18:24)

Because of resettlement programs and persecution as far back as the Assyrian occupation of Israel over six hundred years before, colonies of Jews had developed in many other countries and cities. Some of the Jews in these colonies were very devout Jews, regularly going to Jerusalem to worship and study. Apollos was from the colony in Alexandria, Egypt. He was a good public speaker, but he had also spent a great deal of effort learning what the scriptures taught. It appears that he was concerned about the deterioration of Jewish practices in the colonies.

“This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John.” (Acts 18:25)

John the Baptist had preached, between 20 and 25 years before that the Jews needed to repent of their sin and begin to truly worship God instead of just performing the rituals. He preached that they should be baptized as a sign of their repentance, and refused to baptize those who he suspected of merely putting on a show until they demonstrated a repentant heart.

One morning while my parents were away, I fixed biscuits and gravy for my siblings. The biscuits were hard as a rock. I forgot to put in the baking powder, and they didn’t raise. That missing ingredient completely changed the results.

While Apollos had been thoroughly taught in the Old Testament, and in John’s teachings and was very sincere in his belief, he knew little about Jesus or his teachings. He was carrying John’s message to the various colonies, but he was missing a very important ingredient.

“And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.” (Acts 18:26)

One of the things John had focused on was that the Messiah would be coming shortly and that the Jews following him were to prepare for Messiah’s coming. Unfortunately, whoever taught Apollos had not known or informed him of John’s announcing Jesus as the Messiah. Recognizing that Apollos was sincere, and sincerely trying to teach the people, but that he lacked some information, Aquila and Priscilla taught him the rest of what they had learned from Paul, so his message could be complete.

I had had music classes periodically throughout my schooling, but really didn’t understand how to use the things I knew. While I could count out timing to lead singing and get people to sing, I knew my singing was not good. A lady came to our church and offered to teach anyone who was interested a very simple method for playing the piano. I took the class, partly because I was hoping it would encourage others. She explained that she had always played by ear, and gone to college on a music scholarship. The longer she listened to the professors, the more confused she became, and almost dropped out as a result.

Finally she set down and began to experiment with what they were teaching her. In the process, she realized that the she had been doing what they were trying to say all along, but she was confused by their explanations. As a result, she realized that many times the problem many people had in learning music was that they were given a lot of relatively minor information and did not receive the most essential teachings. Her class focused on learning the essential information and putting it to practice then adding as skill developed. As I learned those basics, many of the more advanced things I had learned over the years suddenly became clear, and I learned very fast. Apollos probably had a some what similar experience, as Aquila and Priscilla filled in the gaps in his knowledge. It was immediately apparent that this was what he’d lacked.

Cornelius had been used by to Holy Spirit to draw many together to hear the Gospel even though he wasn’t save himself. Apollos was used of the Holy Spirit to prepare others to receive Christ. Neither was saved when they started. Many have made the mistake of assuming that people are saved because they bring others to the gospel failing to realize God can use both saved and unsaved people. Paul refers to this in I Corinthians 9:27, saying, “lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.” Both Cornelius and Apollos accepted Christ when they understood who he was.

“And when he was disposed to pass into Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him: who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace: For he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publicly, showing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ.” (Acts 18:27-28)

Because of her experience in college, the lady who taught me to play piano was able to show me the things I had not gotten and thus teach me more effectively. Because of Apollos’ experience, he was aware of things the Jews had not learned and was able to reach them more effectively than Paul was. Where they failed to receive Paul’s teaching, they readily understood and accepted Apollos’.

What if he’d refused to listen because Priscilla and Aquila had no special education or reputation? They were just ordinary Christians, working full time at a normal trade. As I study the book of Acts, I am constantly troubled by our modern substitution of education and position for spiritual leadership. As I Corinthians 1 tells us, God has not chosen those with great education or power to spread his gospel. While Paul and Apollos were highly educated, Peter and John were not according to Acts 4:13. “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.” I fear our faith is too often based on human wisdom rather than the power of God. In effect, we left out the baking powder, and the results aren’t very satisfactory.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Protected by God

Acts 18:12-23

After a year and a half of preaching freely without interference in Corinth and winning many of the Corinthians, as well as the former leader of the synagogue to Christ, Christianity was generally accepted by the Corinthians. Jews from other areas, however were not willing to let things alone, inciting a conflict.

“And when Gallio was the deputy of Achaia, the Jews made insurrection with one accord against Paul, and brought him to the judgment seat, Saying, This fellow persuadeth men to worship God contrary to the law. “ (Acts 18:12-13)

In an effort to make their attacks on Paul appear legitimate, the Jews filed suit against him with the Roman deputy, Gallio. The charge was that he convinced men to worship God in an illegal manner. Since Roman law permitted religious freedom, there was no Roman law about the subject. The Jews had adopted traditional interpretations of the law, commonly known as the Talmud, as being as binding as the actual commands, much as lawyers today use precedent. Like modern precedent, it often contradicted the original intent of the actual law.

“And when Paul was now about to open his mouth, Gallio said unto the Jews, If it were a matter of wrong or wicked lewdness, O ye Jews, reason would that I should bear with you: But if it be a question of words and names, and of your law, look ye to it; for I will be no judge of such matters. And he drave them from the judgment seat.” (Acts 18:14-16)

Gallio recognized that the charges were completely outside his authority as a Roman officer, and refused to take a legal position. To have taken a legal standing would have been like declaring the Catholic churcha s right and any other belief as wrong. As governor, he did not have the authority to do so. He threw them out.

“Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat. And Gallio cared for none of those things.” (Acts 18:17)

Crispus, the former chief ruler of the synagogue had become a Christian, and had been replaced by Sosthenes. The Greeks had seen the results of Paul’s teaching for a year and a half, and recognized that the problem was not a result of Paul’s teachings, but of the Jews’ determination to have control. They beat Sosthenes, because he was the leader of the Jews, as a warning that they were not going to put up with such disruptions in their city.
Modern police forces can use their best methods to prevent crime with little effect, but when the people get involved, crime decreases immediately. Gallio refused to intervene, probably because he figured the surest way of stopping the problem was by letting the people take care of it.

“And Paul after this tarried there yet a good while, and then took his leave of the brethren, and sailed thence into Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila; having shorn his head in Cenchrea: for he had a vow.” (Acts 18:18)

After staying in Corinth for a while longer, Paul took Priscilla nd Aquila with him to Syria. In Cenchrea, he took a Jewish vow and had his head shaved as a symbol of it. It is probable that some of Paul’s party stayed for a while in Corinth.

“And he came to Ephesus, and left them there: but he himself entered into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews. When they desired him to tarry longer time with them, he consented not; But bade them farewell, saying, I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem: but I will return again unto you, if God will. And he sailed from Ephesus. “ (Acts 18:19-21)

In Ephesus, Paul went into the synagogue and preached to the Jews, and was well received. They wanted him to stay longer, but due to his vow he was not free to spend the time. Instead he left Aquila and Priscilla and some of the others to help teach the Christians there. Ephesus was Timothy’s first pastorate, and the book of I Timothy was written to him to advise him in how to establish the church. It was probably written while Paul continued his journey to Jerusalem and visit the other churches. That the church was already there before Paul went is implied in II Timothy 4:12, when Paul said he had sent Tychicus to Ephesus.

“And when he had landed at Caesarea, and gone up, and saluted the church, he went down to Antioch.” (Acts 18:22)

Paul sailed on to Caesarea, and went to Jerusalem where he met with the church and the other apostles as well as fulfilling his vow. He then returned to Antioch where he and Barnabas had first been called and sent out. It was still a special place to him, even more than the church in Jerusalem.

“And after he had spent some time there, he departed, and went over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples.” (Acts 18:23)

After spending some time in Antioch, renewing old friendhips and encouraging the church, Paul revisited the churches he and Silas had started in Galatia and Phyrgia.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Year And A half In Corinth

Acts 18:5-11

Paul had left Silas and Timothy in Berea to ground the church while he went on to Athens. When he went on to Corinth, he apparently left word or sent a message telling them where to meet him. He had been in Corinth for a significant period of time, teaching in the synagogue, and laying a foundation for faith in Christ.

“And when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ.” (Acts 18:5)

After several weeks or perhaps months of laying a foundation for faith, showing from prophecy the requirements for the Messiah, Paul felt led to declare clearly that Jesus was the Messiah. They had not questioned the messianic teachings, but neither had they accepted Jesus as Messiah. Like many today they would listen and agree as long as no commitment was required. There has to be a point of commitment, as Luke 14:26-27 states. “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.”

“And when they opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles. And he departed thence, and entered into a certain man's house, named Justus, one that worshipped God, whose house joined hard to the synagogue.” (Acts 18:6-7)

When directly confronted with the necessity of accepting or rejecting Christ themselves, the Jews wouldn’t commit, trying to argue both sides and ultimately blaspheming God and Christ by implying that the things described might not be of God but of Satan. Having fulfilled his obligation to them by giving them the opportunity to believe, he would devote his efforts to reaching out to the Gentiles in the community. They first started holding church in Justus’ house, next door to the synagogue.

“And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized.” (Acts 18:8)

While most of the Jews in Corinth rejected Christ, the most dedicated to God accepted him, including the then leader of the synagogue, Crispus. Many of the Corinthian people also believed, following the Lord in baptism, after hearing God’s word.

“Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city. And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.” (Acts 18:9-11)

Though it was essentially a pagan city, God told Paul he had many people there. What a comfort to know that they had no need for concern in the city because God would protect them. It was only the Jews who had caused the persecution. For a year and a half, Paul was able to continue to preach freely in Corinth, with his entire team to help. It is one of the few times when we are given a time frame for starting a church.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Following The Spirit’s Leading

Acts 17:32-18:4

Thomas Edison, the great inventor, was viewed by intellectuals such as Nicolai Tesla, as just a second rate mechanic, even though his discoveries have proven far more useful than any of Tesla’s. The inventor of the microscope and discoverer of germs was largely ignored by scientists in his day because he was just a janitor. Like many others, the “intellectuals” of Athens dismissed developments among “non-intellectuals” such as the Jews as unimportant and thus ignored what the rest of the Roman empire was aware of. What Paul had to say about God and Christ was totally new to them.

“And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter. So Paul departed from among them.” (Acts 17:32-33)

In their focus on degrees and education, the Athenians had ignored the Jewish community. The idea that someone had been raised from the dead seemed utterly unbelievable to some, while others had their curiosity piqued. They were willing to hear more, even though they weren’t sure they believed it. Paul didn’t hang around or offer an extended invitation, trying to persuade them.

“Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.” (Acts 17:34)

In the crowd of probably several thousand if the records of other speeches are any indication, a small number believed. Only two are named. One of them, Dionysius, was a formal member of the teaching faculty. Another was a woman named Damaris. The Holy Spirit only touched a few because the ground was not prepared. Sometime after this, Paul left Athens for Corinth. Athens is one of the few cities where Paul reached a number of people without staying or leaving someone to build a church, even though he was not asked to leave. The Holy Spirit brought him there, but did not direct him to stay.

“After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth; And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them.” (Acts 18:1-2)

Constant uprisings by the Jews had led to fear of rebellion in other cities. In an effort to thwart rebellions and riots in Rome, Claudius Caesar (41-54AD) had expelled the Jews. Aquila and Priscilla were among those expelled and had just recently come to Corinth seeking a place to settle. In Corinth, Paul met them and developed a strong bond with them.

“And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought: for by their occupation they were tentmakers.” (Acts 18:3)

In Life Is A Series Of Presentations, Tony Jeary states that people tend to respond best to people they perceive as being similar to themselves. Similarities of dress, experience and financial situation make relationships more easily established. One reason my dad was so successful in reaching Navajos was his very similar background and circumstances. Because we did not have a lot of money, Navajos could see us as people like them, not as their superiors. Because of his experience with cattle and construction, they had common experiences and interests. A basis for understanding and trust was easily established.

As a tentmaker, Paul had a similar basis for developing a strong relationship with other skilled workmen, and especially with Aquila and Priscilla, who were also Jewish tentmakers. That Paul willingly worked alongside them in the trade further enhanced the relationship, as well as opening doors to reach other people. I still have people stop and talk to me because they remember working alongside my dad.

In our day, many who are involved in ministry consider themselves above physical labor. In I Corinthians 9, Paul describes himself as physically working and supporting himself in order to effectively present the gospel, even though they had a right to be supported in the ministry. In II Thessalonians 3:8-9, he stated, “Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us.” It is a totally different attitude than is common today.

“And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks.” (Acts 18:4)

Besides working everyday as a tent maker, Paul spent his sabbaths at the synagogue teaching both Jews and Greek proselytes about who Christ is. Preaching the gospel does not preclude physical work. The church at Jerusalem did not elect deacons to do the physical work until there were over eight thousand members.

We need to allow the Holy Spirit to lead in this area. He knows what the local people need as an example. One size doesn’t fit everyone. He has given the experiences and abilities you have to prepare you for what he has for you to do. Use them.

Friday, June 24, 2011

One Standard For All

Acts 17:26-31

“And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.” (Acts 17:26-28)

A common excuse we’ve heard over the years has been that that’s the white man’s God. Paul makes it clear that there is no difference between the races. All human beings have a common ancestry, both in Adam, and again in Noah. Blood from one race can be transfused from one race into another without any problems as a s result. God did not just create the Jews or whites, but all of humanity. He is God of all.

While it is easy to blame other races for one groups ascendancy or decline, God has maintained control at all times, limiting each groups power and domination. He has done so because he wants them to recognize him as God. He makes himself readily available to all who will serve him. Romans 1: 20 declares, “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:” All that is required to know about him is a willingness to look, and the very religions of mankind indicate the awareness of his existence.

Like almost every culture in the world, the Greeks considered themselves children of God. It only makes sense that if we are God’s children, and he provides everything we need, he must be superior to us, at least in some regards.

“Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device.” (Acts 17:29)

It ought to be fairly obvious that the God who made us cannot be something man carved out of stone or cast in metal, and such a figure could not adequately represent him. The use of such figures is a deliberate attempt to deny his authority, as Romans 1:21-23 states. “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.”

“And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31)

No one but Christ himself has ever lived up to the standard God had set, according to Romans 3:23. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” Before Christ came, there was no effective means of rectifying that sin. The old Testament law only provided for remembering prior sins and acknowledging them every year, as Hebrews 10:1-3 declares. “For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year.”

Because there was no way to correct their sin, even those who tried to seek the Lord could not meet God’s standard. As a result, God did not fully enforce his standard until a satisfactory means of recompense was available. Those who were repentant of their sin were held in what Jesus called “Abrahams Bosom” until the way of atonement was complete.

Once Jesus died on the cross, and sin had been atoned for it became necessary for man to deal with it while he was alive. Those in Abraham’s Bosom were given the opportunity to receive his sacrifice for their sins, because Jesus went and made it available to them according to I Peter 3:18-19. “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;”

Both those who died before Christ’s coming and those who died after will be judged by what they have done with Christ. As John 3:18 states, “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” There is no alternative.

That Jesus was literally raised from the dead is the best evidence that he has the power to raise us. If he could not raise himself, there would be no hope for us, and Christianity is a total waste of time, as Paul pointed out in I Corinthians 15:14-18. “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished."

Thursday, June 23, 2011

What God?

Acts 17:22-25

Mom was stunned after trying to teach her first Sunday School class on the reservation. She had made a comment that God expected a certain thing and one of the pupils asked, “which God?” When she said there was only one God, believing what she had been told, that Indians believed in a great spirit, the boy told her, “No, there are many gods.”

It didn’t take long to find out that there was as much difference between the tribes as there is between the Germans and the French. None of our local tribes ever lived in teepees or built canoes. Each tribe had their own language, and religion. Navajos never had a chief or ruling council until after the white men appointed one. The things we had been taught were white men’s ideas about what Indians did and thought, based on their observations of a few small groups and did not apply tot the majority.

Before Mom could teach Navajo kids what the Bible taught about other things, she had to establish who God was. This required both sides establishing as common understanding of who we meant when we said “God.” Until that common understanding is established, and statement about god will be distorted by the differences in understanding. The Navajo “gods” or “holy people” were merely predecessors or people from a previous culture who had learned to do certain things such as building fire, weaving or growing corn and passed it on to the Navajo people, earning great respect. The Navajo religion was primarily concerned with getting the spirits of these holy people to advise about daily problems, and prevent interference by evil spirits.

The idea of a God who could actually intervene on our behalf and make some thing happen differently was completely foreign to their beliefs. It took a great deal of explaining before the kids understood what Mom meant when she said “God,” but it was crucial to in order to teach them what the Bible says. I believe much of the religious confusion we still see on the reservation is a result of people not taking the time to make it clear what they meant, but just assume the people knew.

In Athens Paul found a city totally given to idolatry. The Jewish community was viewed as backwards, and their ideas and teachings were largely ignored. Because Paul’s teaching had attracted some curiosity, and they had no idea what he meant, they asked Paul to speak publicly. During the time Paul had been in Athens, apparently several weeks, he had learned quite a bit about what the Athenians believed. He uses that knowledge of their religious faith to introduce his beliefs.

“Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.” (Acts 17:22-23)

Because they believed different individual spirits influenced different diseases, and the way animals and plants grew and behaved, the Navajo religion required giving an offering to each spirit whose blessing might be needed to gain their favor that day. A ritual offering of corn pollen was offered every morning and evening as well as prayers for their favor.

The Athenians had a similar practice, but even more gods. Fearing they might accidentally leave out one, they had even developed and altar to the unknown one just in case. As Paul said, they were excessively religious. The philosophers had thought, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods:” and wanted to hear him incase they had missed some. Knowing their desire to properly worship all the Gods, Paul was able to use their interest to present the Gospel, describing the God they were wondering about. He would have been unable to do so, had he not spent the time among the people, and allowing the Holy Spirit to teach him. He carefully describes God to them.

“God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;” (Acts 17:24-25)

The God we serve doesn’t just influence some animal of germ or plant. He created the entire world. None of the temples to their many gods could possibly contain God, and nothing man can do will impress him. It is not necessary to bribe him to give us everyday things, because he has given everything we have including our very life already. There is nothing we can do for God that he couldn’t do better for himself.

The Holy Spirit has used Paul’s understanding of Athenian culture and religion to enable him to explain God’s existence, and power. It is a completely different approach than Paul or Peter used in any of the previous locations, because in every prior case, the foundation had been laid by Jewish teaching. In Athens, it had not. It is critical that we allow the Holy Spirit to guide in laying a proper foundation if the gospel is to be truly understood and accepted.

A Whole New Ballgame

Acts 17:15-21

Paul left Berea to relieve the persecution caused by the Thessalonian Jews who were stirring up strife. He left silas and Timothy behind to establish the church, while some of the Christians from the church escorted him. We know that Paul had a serious health problem, believed to be related to his vision, and it was apparently not considered safe for him to travel alone.

My dad had serious allergy problems, and from time to time his eyes would swell completely shut. During those times, Mom or one of us older kids would have to drive him around and read the Bible for him. What a blessing it must have been for Paul to have Luke accompany him during the periods when his health was bad, especially at a time when most forms of transportation made less than five miles per hour and any distance required days of travel. Athens was almost a two hundred mile journey.

“And they that conducted Paul brought him unto Athens: and receiving a commandment unto Silas and Timotheus for to come to him with all speed, they departed.” (Acts 17:15)

Arriving in Athens, Paul sent his escorts back with a request that Timothy and Silas come to meet him as soon as they could leave the church in Berea. They may have carried the second epistle to Timothy as well.

“Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry. Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.” (Acts 17:16-17)

The other cities Paul had visited all had a strong Jewish influence. The Jewish community in Athens had very little impact on the deeply entrenched Greek culture, and the city and was essentially pagan, with even the Jews ignoring it. Troubled by what he saw, Paul went into the synagogue and those who were seeking the Lord. People began to come to him to learn what he believed.

“Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.” (Acts 17:18)

While Greece was no longer the World power it had been, it was viewed as the center of intellectual and scientific development, much as Paris is viewed as the center of fashion and sophistication today. Just as designers find it advantageous to have a Paris connection, Philosophers found it beneficial to establish a group in Athens. Two of these groups, the Stoics and the Epicureans, were intrigued buy Paul’s teachings, since both had a strongly religious bias, and they had never heard of Jesus , and were only vaguely familiar with Jewish teachings.

“And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is? For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean. (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)” (Acts 17:19-21)

People who visit Paris go to see the art and fashion displays and shows, so they can impress others with their sophistication. People who went to Athens went to learn the newest theories and ideas, so they could impress others with their up to the minute knowledge. The trouble was that as Luke says, they didn’t apply the knowledge in a practical manner, just taking it in so they could impress people.

The Stoics believed the way to happiness was by strengthening he physical body and refusing physical pleasure. They would have been today’s fitness guru’s spending hours getting into shape and eating only what is deemed healthy. While it is true that we can greatly improve our lives by changing what we do, it will not make us happy, nor will it prepare us for death.

The Epicureans took the approach that there life is short and should be enjoyed as much as possible, since there was no eternity. They devoted their energies to tasting wines, sexual pleasure, fine food and entertainment. They “lived for the weekends” in today’s terminology. It is a common philosophy among many groups.

Because they were not familiar with what Paul was teaching, both Stoics and Epicureans wanted to learn more, but only as a curiosity. They deliberately invited Paul to speak at the Areopagus, so that they could learn what he was teaching.

The Holy Spirit was using their curiosity to open the door for Paul to teach the people of Athens about Christ. It was not a great publicity campaign or rally, but the Holy Spirit using individual discussions that attracted the attention of the philosophers.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What makes a Christian Great?

Acts 17:10-14

Jesus repeatedly instructed his disciples to simply move on if people rejected his word. Luke 10:10-12 sums it up. “But into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you not, go your ways out into the streets of the same, and say, Even the very dust of your city, which cleaveth on us, we do wipe off against you: notwithstanding be ye sure of this, that the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you. But I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable in that day for Sodom, than for that city.”

At Philippi, and in Thessalonica Paul and Silas, led by the spirit simply walked away as Jesus had commanded, when they were asked to leave. How many times do unspiritual people decide they’ll stay despite the opposition, thinking they‘ll prove their faith? Following God’s instructions always produces better results. The church in Thessalonica acted on the Holy Spirit’s direction.

“And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews.” (Acts 17:10)

In Berea was another community of Jews who had established a synagogue. It was an obvious place to look for people who were interested in God. As Paul and Silas quickly learned, the Berean Jews were less interested in preserving Jewish culture than the synagogue in Thessalonica, actually believing their religion.

“These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” (Acts 17:11)

Luke states that the Jews in Berea were greater or better than those in Thessalonica because they were not proud of their knowledge and thus would listen to other ideas. At the same time, they did not just blindly accept every new idea that came along, but researched and compared it with scripture to see if it was valid. Believing that God was the author and it is easy for man to distort the words, whether intentionally or not, they literally applied II Peter 1:20-21. "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”

Paul told Timothy that if we are going to be pleasing to God it will be necessary to study and be sure we are correctly interpreting the Word of God in II Timothy 2:15. “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Sadly, in our day, most people equate greatness with conformity to a system, rather than a desire to please God.

“Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.” (Acts 17:12)

Because of their intellectual honesty, many of the Berean Jews received Christ, as well as many of the Greek population, although the men were less receptive than the women, even as is often true today.

“But when the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was preached of Paul at Berea, they came thither also, and stirred up the people.” (Acts 17:13)

Eventually, word spread about Paul and Silas’ preaching in Berea, reaching Thessalonica. Desperate to maintain their culture, with no interest in the actual God they professed to believe in, the Jews from Thessalonica came down to eliminate any changes. They apparently used much the same tactics they’d used at home, creating unrest in the city.

“And then immediately the brethren sent away Paul to go as it were to the sea: but Silas and Timotheus abode there still.” (Acts 17:14)

The church sent Paul away, because he was the chief target. His leaving allowed the church there to continue without excessive opposition, and Timothy and Silas remained behind to strengthen or edify the church. It is probable that the book of II Timothy was written during the months that they remained in Berea, to help Timothy to develop his personal spiritual life so.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Preaching In Thessalonica

Acts 17:1-10

When they were asked to leave Philippi, Paul and Silas left behind a small church, trusting God to bring it to where it needed to go. They passed through a couple of large cities, but the next significant activity was in Thessalonica.

“Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.” (Acts 17:1-3)

In Philippi, there had been no synagogue, just a group meeting by the river for prayer. In Thessalonica there was a synagogue, and Paul went for three weeks, presenting the gospel to them. Sometimes we hesitate to talk to those of another religion, for fear of causing offense. The fact that they are involved implies that they have some sort of interest in God. Paul was able to target potential Christians, by speaking at the synagogue or prayer meetings. Those most interested in pleasing God would hear and consider his messages.

“And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few.” (Acts 17:4)

Many of the Jews were steeped in Jewish tradition and had no interest in anything more, but some listened and realized that what Paul was preaching was just the next step from where they were. The Greek proselytes were less steeped in tradition and more readily looked beyond it to the word of God. Many of the leading women were also more receptive, having less investment in the status quo, and seeing deficiencies most ignored.

“But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.” (Acts 15:5)

Unspiritual people focus on earthly things like money and prestige. They work to maintain or improve what they have because that is all they have. They naturally try to destroy anything that might lessen the value of what they have in any way they can. The Jews who didn’t believe looked for a the people who were already upset and looking for some excitement to cause trouble.

People who are not doing anything they see of particular value, and get no sense of accomplishment from what they are doing are easily convinced to get involved in things that sound exciting, without thinking about what they are doing. It is why teenagers and the unemployed are so easily involved in riots, political protests and gangs. People who wish to stir up trouble take advantage of their feelings of worthlessness to accomplish their goals, implying that it will in some way improve their state.

The people who have a sense of accomplishment do not want anything to destroy their sense of worth, and will do whatever tey can to protect it. If they can be convinced that it will go away if they do certain things, they will usually do them even if they do not think it is a good thing to do. That the approach works can be seen in the takeover of Germany by Hitler, the revolutions, the homosexual movement and many other examples. It worked in Thessalonica as well.

“And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; Whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus. And they troubled the people and the rulers of the city, when they heard these things.” (Acts 17:6-8)

Unfortunately, once people begin to run on emotion rather than facts and logic, the truth ceases to be important. Both Democrats and Republicans have an element who cannot logically discus what is taking place because they are so emotionally involved they will not accept the facts. They do not recognize any other possibility.

Though the charges were false, fear of losing their current wealth and acceptance in the Roman Empire caused people to ignore the truth and penalize the innocent. The real culprits were the Jewish leaders who stirred up the conflict.

“And when they had taken security of Jason, and of the other, they let them go.” (Acts 17:9)

Jason and the other man were required to post bond that they’d not cause any more trouble before they were released. To relieve the pressure, the church was led of the Spirit to send Paul and Silas to Berea.

“And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews.” (Acts 17:10)

While we don’t know how long Paul and Silas spent in Thessalonica, we know that the Jews had forced the church to separate from the synagogue and that it was strong enough to continue on it’s own. It is probable that they were there for several months. Somewhat later, the epistles of I and II Thessalonians were written to remind them of how they had received the gospel, encourage them to walk in the Spirit, and warn of false teachers and doctrines that were becoming popular. Paul and Silas leaving deprived their opponents of much of their excuses and allowed the church to grow.

Meekness Is Not Weakness

Acts 16:35-40

Mob actions are the result of allowing emotion to take over and almost always results in shame at the behavior when it is considered in the a right mind. It rejects all ordinary standards of behavior, destroying and harming others with no consideration, even by people who normally are very thoughtful of others. It is especially embarrassing to those who consider themselves fairly self controlled and logical.

“And when it was day, the magistrates sent the serjeants, saying, Let those men go. And the keeper of the prison told this saying to Paul, The magistrates have sent to let you go: now therefore depart, and go in peace.” (Acts 16:35)

The fortuneteller’s masters had orchestrated the crowd’s anger by accusing Paul and Silas of Teaching the people to do things which would bring the Roman army against them and destroying their culture, when their only real complaint was that the girl would no longer make them a lot of money.

When the leaders stopped to consider what had happened, they were embarrassed by what had happened, and sent the offricers to release Paul and Silas so there wouldn’t be any charges brought against them. They were aware that the entire episode was illegal.

“But Paul said unto them, They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison; and now do they thrust us out privily? nay verily; but let them come themselves and fetch us out.” (Acts 16:37)

When people have done wrong the sense of guilt causes them to try to hide it, just as Adam did in the Garden of Eden. Seemingly people think it’s okay if nobody sees it. The magistrates, who were responsible for maintaining law and order wanted to cover up what they had done and allowed to happen.

Filled with the Spirit, Paul would not allow them to conceal their sin. He demanded an acknowledgement that what had been done was wrong. This making people aware of their sin is a particular responsibility of the Holy Spirit’s, according to John 16:7-11. “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me; Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged."

Part of the fruit of the Spirit is meekness. That means only that we do not put the emphasis on ourselves, that we are not proud and self centered. It does not mean we ignore sin. We can stand for what is right without being aggressive. Too much so called “assertiveness” is just selfishness. Paul did demand they take responsibility. In John 15:22, Jesus said that until the wrong was pointed out, the guilty could ignore their guilt, but afterward, they had to deal with it. “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin.” By ignoring wrong doing, we tacitly approve it.

The church at Corinth were proud of their spirituality in overlooking the sin of the man who was committing adultery with his fathers wife. I Corinthians 5:2 stated they should have been ashamed instead. “And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.” In effect, they were approving the activity, and as I Corinthians 5:6 states, the sin will spread. “Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?” We can not condone sin and be filled with the Holy Spirit.

“And the serjeants told these words unto the magistrates: and they feared, when they heard that they were Romans. And they came and besought them, and brought them out, and desired them to depart out of the city.” (Acts 16:38-39)

When led by the Spirit, our approach will not be prideful, and thus, less confrontational, with the result that most people will recognize and acknowledge what has happened. As Proverbs 15:21 states, “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.” A quiet and meek spirit is the hallmark of a spirit filled person.

“And they went out of the prison, and entered into the house of Lydia: and when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed.” (Acts 16:40)

The meek and quiet spirit the Holy Spirit produce is demonstrated by Paul and Silas leaving the city when requested to do so. They could have used the illegal actions as an excuse to refuse, but they did not. They were concerned that the Christians know they were okay, but they did not force themselves on the city, simply leaving as the Lord commanded when people refuse to hear.

In the Epistle to the Philippians, Paul refers to some the adversaries they faced, and stresses the need for a Spiritual walk, describing the attitude which will result. We have no clear idea how long Paul spent in Philippi.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Philippian Jailer

Acts 16:22-34

In a mob situation, people simply do what everyone else does, not thinking or making conscious decisions, but simply responding to the emotions of the moment. They lose self control and do things they are ashamed of when they regain self control. It is exactly what happens when people are demonically possessed. The number of others involved encourages the individual to allow himself to yield as well. It should come as no surprise that Mob actions always produce evil results. Mob actions called for Jesus’ crucifixion, stoned Stephen, and forced Paul out of numerous cities. Here, it resulted in them being beaten and arrested.

“And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely: Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.” (Acts 16:22-24)

Under Roman law, a jailer who allowed a prisoner to escape could have the prisoners penalty imposed on him. The anger of the mob impressed the Jailer with the importance of keeping Paul and Silas securely. He placed them in maximum security, and clamped in stocks besides, to ensure there would be no escape, somewhat like Herod had done with Peter.

“And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed.” (Acts 16:25-26)

The other prisoners knew that Paul and Silas had been beaten and would be tried and probably executed if convicted. Most of the prisoners were undoubtedly depressed by their circumstances, and Paul and Silas’ joy were a welcome change, leading to an atmosphere of enjoyment as if they were sitting around a campfire instead of chained in prison. Nobody wanted to go to sleep and miss such a good time.

At midnight, the Lord sent an earthquake, which not only opened the prison doors, it also released the hand cuffs and leg irons or stocks. It was not a typical earthquake.

“And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here.” (Acts 16:27-28)

Can you imagine the jailers horror at being shook awake by an earthquake, only to discover that every door in the prison is open? To be assessed all of the penalties of all of the prisoners would be a horrible experience, both for himself and his family. If he killed himself, it might appear the prisoners had killed him and his family would be spared the shame of a trial.

Amazingly, the Holy Spirit kept every prisoner there. Logically, even those who had no fear for the future would have wanted to escape in case the building collapsed but no one tried. What a relief it must have been when Paul announced that no one had escaped and he didn’t need to kill himself. He was literally shaking as his body began to relax.

“Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:29-30)

The emotional stress of the moment had gotten his attention, and the miraculous events demonstrating God’s power convinced him of his need of a savior. He was ready and asked, “what must I do to be saved?” He was ready right then.

“And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.” (Acts 16:31-32)

Undoubtedly, his family had come to see if he needed help, and Paul and Silas made it clear that not only he, but his entire family would be saved if they believed. They then took the time to give the entire family a more complete understanding of who Jesus was and what God expected.

“And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.” (Acts 16:33-34)

When they were brought in, the jailer had not bothered to even supply water for them to wash the blood off, or to feed them. Once he received the Lord, the Holy Spirit changed his entire attitude. Immediately, he ministered to their wounds, then asked to be baptized as along with his family. His love had grown exponentially, resulting in his taking the unheard of step of taking them into his own home from the prison and feeding them as personal friends rather than as prisoners. If you’ve ever been around a new Christian you’ve seen the changes that result.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Distinguishing Between Holy and Profane

Acts 16:16-24

Because there was no synagogue in Philippi, the Jews met near the river for prayer, and Paul and his companions had begun meeting with them, and teaching them of Christ.

“And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying: The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which show unto us the way of salvation.” (Acts 16:16-17)

Most people think of demon possession as a person who is completely unable to control themselves. In modern society, it is referred to as insanity. Essentially, it a is the result of allowing something other than ones intellect to control ones thoughts. If a person finds that allowing their temper to run free gets their way, they tend to do so repeatedly. The more successful they are at getting what their way, the more they allow their temper to control them. Demonic spirits can then use the persons anger to influence and eventually control the person’s actions. Other emotions and drugs can be used in a similar way to effect possession.

Unfortunately, some demonic influence or possession takes more socially acceptable forms and is not recognized as such. While most people dismiss the Harry Potter books and movies as purely imaginary, a few are intrigued by them and seek to be able to do similar things. Many develop curiosity about how the effects can be done, and practice “magic tricks” for their own pleasure. A few, however, see such powers as a way to gain power or acceptance, and begin to focus on obtaining such power. The interest in the Wicca religion demonstrates the desire by some.

Satan has access to all the information all of humanity possesses. As a result, he can provide information that most are unaware of, making him appear to have unlimited knowledge. He can reveal facts about our past that no one else knows, and by presenting that information to his target, can get people to believe they have special powers. Dreams and trances are a common tool for presenting the information, but self hypnosis and other methods can also be used. Frequently, people are willing to pay for what they believe to be superior information, with the result that psychics, and palm readers are still common. Some give themselves totally to such satanic influence.

The girl in Philippi had yielded herself to such control. Seeing an opportunity to make a lot of money for themselves, some men had enslaved her and were charging people to get her predictions. Because of that Satanic knowledge, the girl recognized and began to call attention to Paul and his companions.

“And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour.” (Acts 16:18)

Unlike Elymas, the sorcerer in Acts 13, The damsel was not trying to prevent people from listening to Paul and his friends, and Paul did not immediately cast the demon out of her. He was aware of her demonic possession, however, and was troubled by her publicity, even though her claims were true. While many today would welcome such advertising, Paul recognized that each time she made her claims, she associated their teaching with her Satanic prophecies.

God described one of his most serious complaints against the priests in Israel in Ezekiel 22:26. “… they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they showed difference between the unclean and the clean…” The word profane just means worldly things. By associating herself with Paul‘s group, the girl was eliminating the distinction between her beliefs and theirs. Though it did not seem all that important initially, the Holy Spirit would not allow Paul to ignore what was happening. He ordered the demon out of her in the authority given by Jesus Christ. The demon could not resist Christ’s authority.

“And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers, And brought them to the magistrates, saying, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city, And teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans.” (Acts 16:19-21)

Her employers had no concern for the girl herself, and the fact that she was free from demonic control meant they wouldn’t make as much money any more. They reacted the way many today react when they lose their source of income, trying to hurt the cause of their loss. As I Timothy 6:10 declares, “For the love of money is the root of all evil…”, it resulted in deliberate lies and false accusations.

Had they told the truth, that the girl had been delivered from Satanic possession, and they would no longer make money, they would not have gotten sympathy. Instead, they accused them of destroying their customs and treason which was far more inflammatory.

“And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them. And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely: Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.” (Acts 16:21-24)

The false charges inflamed the mob and they acted accordingly, never checking to find out what had really happened. Satan constantly pushes for people to follow without thinking things through, because he knows that his agenda will not stand up to scrutiny.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Where the Holy Spirit Leads

Acts 16:11-15

Having clear indication of God’s will, Paul and his associates, Including Silas, Timothy, Luke, and perhaps others, proceeded to take the most direct route possible to get there, stopping at the seaports of Samothracia and Neapolis on the way to Philippi.

“Therefore loosing from Troas, we came with a straight course to Samothracia, and the next day to Neapolis; And from thence to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia, and a colony: and we were in that city abiding certain days.” (Acts 16:11-12)

Philippi was the largest city in that region, and had a large complement of Greek speaking people. Because it was strategically located, there was also a large Roman colony. Because of the famines and political upheaval in Judea, a number of Jews had settled there as well.

“And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither.” (Acts 16:13)

The Jewish contingent had not established a synagogue, but some of the women regularly met for prayer outside the city ay a particular place by the river. Since there was no synagogue, Paul and his associates went to the prayer meeting and spoke to the women who were there.

“And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.” (Acts 16:14-15)

We are never told whether Lydia was Jewish or not, because it isn’t relevant. We do know that she was a “seller of purple,” a dealer of dyes and cloth which only the very rich could afford. Her clientele would have been the elite of the area, and she would have probably had contacts in distant cities as well, since the mollusks that produced the dye were only available in a few areas.

She was present at the meeting by the river because she worshipped God herself, and when she heard Paul speak, the Holy Spirit caused her to listen and understand what was being said. As a result she believed, and shared with her entire household, resulting in the entire family being saved and baptized.

Like the Shunamite woman of II Kings 4, Lydia was concerned that Paul and his company had a good place to stay, and because she had room, she invited them to stay at her house, if they thought she was devoted to the Lord. She prevailed and convinced them to do so.

Once again we see the Holy Spirit producing love in the heart of Christians. In Acts 2 and 4, we saw in the care for other Christians by the Spirit filled believers. We saw it again in the Church at Antioch’s sending relief for the Christians in Judea. Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another,” in John 13:35. Like Cornelius, she also demonstrated a love for those around her, bringing he entire household to Christ. When the Holy Spirit is leading, the love flows naturally and does not need to be forced.

Years later, Paul and Timothy wrote to the church at Philippi to encourage them during a period when they could well have given up hope because of what they were hearing about Paul and the problems he was having.

As an interesting side note, Lydia was originally from the city of Thyatira. Years later, when the Lord instructed John to write to the seven churches in Asia in Revelation, the church at Thyatira was one of the churches addressed. It is likely that Lydia was influential in getting the church started.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Finding God’s Will

Acts 16:6-10

The first place to look in seeking God’s will is to start where one is. You are in this spot because God brought you here, even if it is not where he prefers you to be. Jonah deliberately ran from God, and God caused him to wind up in the fish’s belly to get him to pay attention. While it was not God’s first choice for him, it was where God wanted him. Only when he surrendered to God was he allowed to go where God wanted him to go. Serving God starts where you are.

God almost never calls anyone to ministry who is not already serving him. Paul, Barnabas, Titus, Timothy, and Silas were all serving God where they were before they were called to the mission field. Surrender to the Lord must come before surrender to missions or the pastorate. Only when they have demonstrated the necessary spiritual qualifications should they be encouraged to enter ministry. As Paul told Timothy, “Let these first be proved…” Though it was announced that he was called for a special purpose when he was saved, even Paul did not learn what he was called to do until he had established himself in his home area of Tarsus and the surrounding communities.

Once the church was established, with their own pastors and teachers, Paul moved to another area and started another, often leaving one of his associates to help the new pastor until the church was able to stand on it’s own feet. It was very logical to go to a nearby town, where they could quickly be consulted if something came up the new pastors and leaders did not know how to deal with. The church at Galatia was started as a result of such a logical move into nearby areas.

“Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia, After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not.” (Acts 16:6-7)

Paul usually left one of his interns to help the new pastors and to report any problems so they could deal with them before they got too serious. The book of Galatians was written to this church several years after Paul had started the church, because teachers came to Galatia just as they had to Antioch, teaching that it was essential to keep the law to keep one’s salvation, and a number of the people were buying it. While there is risk of the church turning away, it is essential that they be allowed to face that risk to grow.

When the Holy Spirit directed, Paul began to look for a new place of service. Asia Minor, with it’s huge population and proximity was a logical destination. The Holy Ghost forbid them to go there, at that time. Later Paul was able to establish churches there. Contrary to what some have taught, the need does not constitute a call.

When they couldn’t go to Asia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Holy Spirit wouldn’t allow them to. Not infrequently, people attempt to go to a field they cannot get into. It is often blamed on Satan, but the Holy Spirit is God and can get us in if he wants us there, “because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world,” according to I John 4:4. The Holy Spirit had a different place for them, as he soon revealed. All they had to do was wait, and continue preaching until he revealed it.

“And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them.” (Acts 16:8-10)

When the Holy Spirit was ready, he revealed where they were to go in a miraculous way, sending Paul a vision of a man begging for someone to come to Macedonia and help them. It was an area they hadn’t even considered, in southern Europe. When they went, they found that the hearts were already prepared to receive the word. One can only speculate that closer contact with Greek and Roman culture, and Jewish emigration made them ore receptive to Christian teaching.

Seeking God’s leadership, the vision seemed a sure indicator of where God wanted them to go. Sometimes, just waiting is the hardest part of finding God’s will.

Apparently it was at this point that Luke joined Paul’s company because for the first time he says that they gathered that the Lord had called “us” to preach the gospel to them. In verse 8, he still said “they” went to Troas, implying he was not with them. Throughout the rest of the book, he will frequently use the first person plural, making it clear he was with them, and is not just writing what he has heard from others. He thus clearly establishes the legitimacy of Paul’s apostleship.

Monday, June 13, 2011

All Things To All Men

Acts 16:1-5

After separating from Barnabas, Paul took Silas and began to visit the churches they had started. At Lystra or Derbe, a woman named Lois, and her daughter Eunice had been saved. Eunice’s son, Timothy, was just a child when Paul first went to Derbe.

“Then came he to Derbe and Lystra: and, behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timotheus, the son of a certain woman, which was a Jewess, and believed; but his father was a Greek: Which was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium.” (Acts 16:1-2)

When Paul returned to Derbe, Timothy was no longer a child and was earning considerable respect from the Christians even in the churches at Lystra and Iconium. He was obviously already active in ministry before he was called into the work.

“Him would Paul have to go forth with him; and took and circumcised him because of the Jews which were in those quarters: for they knew all that his father was a Greek.” (Acts 16:3)

Although his mother was Jewish, Timothy’s father was a Greek, and Timothy had never been circumcised. To the Jews this was even more offensive than being a gentile because it implied one disdained his Jewish heritage, preferring to be thought a gentile. To alleviate that antagonism, Paul had Timothy circumcised. It is an indication of the lengths Paul was willing to go in order to reach people. He describes it in I Corinthians 9:20-23. "And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.”

The Holy Spirit made Timothy willing to meet the Jewish requirements in order to witness to the Jews. What a contrast with David Brainerd’s constant demands that the Indian women wash his clothes and prepare his food in the manner he was used to or rhw modern missionaries who have to live in a mansion and have servants or “The people won’t respect you.” Love will make the discomfort and disrespect bearable, if it enables us to win people.

“And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem. And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily.” (Acts 16:4-5)

As Paul and Silas visited the churches they delivered the message the church at Jerusalem had sent to Antioch, that salvation was not dependent on keeping the Law, but on faith in Christ, as the Apostles and elders had concluded. This eliminated doubts of their salvation that false teachers were causing, and freed people to trust Christ freely. It resulted in new churches being established, and older ones growing.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Expanding Missions Outreach

Acts 15:35-41

“Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.” (Acts 15:35)

Paul and Barnabas had worked together for many years and and had every intention of continuing to do so. When the returned to Antioch, they were active in the ministry of that church, but it soon became apparent that while they could be quite beneficial, their presence was no longer necessary, as the church had other pastors and teachers and no longer required missionaries(evangelists) to thrive.

“And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do.” (Acts 15:36)

Having seen how easily false doctrine slipped into the churches at Antioch and Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas were aware of how easily the churches they had started could stray from the truth. Paul suggested they revisit each church and see how they were doing, strengthening them in any areas they might be weak.

“And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work.” (Acts 15:37)

Several years before, when they first were sent as missionaries, in Acts 13, John Mark had accompanied them as an assistant, but returned to Antioch shortly after they started. Remembering how he’d quit the first time, Paul didn’t want to take him along and have to send him back again. He probably was also concerned that Barnabas was letting family relationships influence him as Mark was Barnabas' nephew according to Colossians 4:10.

Barnabas, whose name means, “The son of consolation,” according to Acts 4:36, was just living up to his reputation. He was one of the Spirit filled Christians who gave his belongings to meet the needs of the church at Jerusalem. Later he was the one who the Holy Spirit used to introduce Paul to the apostles in Jerusalem. He was the one the church at Jerusalem sent to help the church in Antioch. While performing that duty, he went to Tarsus to bring Paul to help him, mentoring Paul at the same time. The Holy Spirit then led the church to send them both as missionaries. Now, seventeen years after he first trusted Paul, Barnabas felt led to do the same for John Mark as he’d done for Paul, in trusting him when others would not.

“And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches.” (Acts 15:39-41)

Even Spirit filled men sometimes succumb to pride or other sin, and Paul and Barnabas were no exceptions. Proverbs 13:10 states “Only by pride cometh contention:…” Because of their pride neither was willing to yield, and they split over the issue. Barnabas took Mark, forming a new missionary team, and sailed to Cyprus to visit the church there and embark on another expedition, mentoring Mark as they went.

Some have proclaimed that by not yielding to the Apostle Paul, Barnabas went against God and that is why he is not mentioned again in scripture. Using that logic, the fact that only Peter, the two James’, and John, of the original apostles are mentioned by name, or only Stephen and Philip of the seven deacons, we could equally well conclude all the others went away from God, but scripture does not support such a conclusion. Proverbs 13:10 concludes, “…but with the well advised is wisdom.” The Holy Spirit led Barnabas to take Mark and mentor him and years later Paul told Timothy, “…Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry.” While we do not know where Barnabas and Mark ministered, they apparently crossed paths with Paul from time to time.

Had the conflict not arisen, Paul and Barnabas would probably have taken Mark and departed, continuing to work together. Because of the split, two teams were formed, and Silas was taken along by Paul. The Holy Spirit used even a moment of spiritual weakness in Paul and Barnabas to accomplish his purpose. It would lead to others being taken into the ministry as well.
Years after the split between Paul and Barnabas, Paul also referred to Barnabas in I Corinthians 8 as an example for the church at Corinth, even though they had not been together when Paul started the church, implying that the conflict had been resolved and there had been communication and even collaboration between he and Barnabas.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Setting Spiritual Standards

Acts 15:22-34

God has given various offices in the church, as they were needed. All of the offices were to contribute to the work of the ministry in developing and teaching the Christians. The ultimate goal was unity in faith and knowledge of Christ until each person attained the same spiritual level according to Ephesians 4:11-13. “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:”

The Holy Spirit will always produce unity among people who are actively seeking God, even if some are not filled with the Spirit. Recognizing that the problem stemmed from people who’d come from their church, they addressed the problem by sending messengers to correct the false teaching. Their conclusion was not based on what they thought, but on what God had said and done.

“Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment: It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 15:22-26)

They acknowledged that the ones who had come had been in the church at Jerusalem, but that they had had no authorization to teach what they were teaching, that Christians had to keep the Old Testament law, and cause conflict. In fact, by such teaching they were effectively undermining their faith, making staying saved a result of man’s actions rather than of faith in Christ.

They wrote down their decision so it could be referred to without depending on people’s memories, but they sent representatives to verify that the letter was real. Counterfeit letters were a problem even then, according to II Thessalonians 2:2, and some of the counterfeits are now being passed off as valid. By naming the different representatives, they certified the authenticity of the letter. In the process, they are careful to acknowledge their recognition of Paul and Barnabas as being from God.

“We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.” (Acts 15:27-29)

They were very clear that their conclusion is the result of the Holy Spirit’s direction, as John 14:26 had promised. “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” He had taught them that salvation was available to the gentiles through his salvation of Cornelius’ friends in Caesarea, but he had also brought both that and the prophecies to James’ mind to show them the truth. Only as we allow the Holy spirit to make us understand and remember what God has said will our conclusions be Spiritual. I John 4:6 states, “We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.” A person who refuses to hear God’s word is not led of God, regardless of his title.

The Holy Spirit led them to the conclusion that they should not impose any more than the minimum standard required for maintaining a good testimony to those around them. This included avoiding any implication of idolatry, or practices that would offend those around them, and from sexual sin. Many to day want to impose far stricter standards, but the Holy spirit directed them to stop with only the minimum.

In I Corinthians 8-11, Paul addresses some of the standards people set. In chapter 11, he uses the example of wearing long hair and hats, which has often been a source of contention. As he explains, even though all the claims of the proponents of demanding women wear their hair long may be valid, “But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God,” In I Corinthians 11:16. Spirit led men and godly churches do not impose such standards.

“So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle: Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation. And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them.” (Acts 15:30-32)

Can you imagine the relief for the church at Antioch, to know that neither their salvation, nor their acceptance by other Christians as brethren depended on their maintaining some specific standards. They rejoiced because it was such a comfort. Judas and Silas were able to clear up doubts some had had because they knew what God said, themselves. Their teaching confirmed what Paul, Barnabas, and the other teachers in the church had taught, as well as encouraging everyone there.

“And after they had tarried there a space, they were let go in peace from the brethren unto the apostles. Notwithstanding it pleased Silas to abide there still.” (Acts 15:33-34)

When I first went to Fort Lewis College, I visited a church close by. The first Sunday, the pastor announced that he felt like he should preach about a particular subject, but since he’d announced that he’d be preaching about a different subject, that was what he’d be preaching about. I decided that if he wasn’t willing to give up his pans to obey God it wasn’t worth my going to church there. Spirit filled men will be flexible in their planning. The men from Jerusalem were not committed returning on a certain schedule, and in fact Silas felt led of God not to return at all. As we learn shortly, God had a different plan, and he was preparing to put it into action, although no one knew it at the time. God is not obligated to tell us his plans in advance, and frequently does not, wanting us to trust him.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Recognizing God’s Direction

Acts 15:12-21

Carnal people approach everything from a purely human standpoint. While they talk about spiritual power, the emphasis is on human effort. For example, if you’ve ever watched a PBS station very much, you’ve seen their telethons and fund raising efforts. They make no claims of depending on God or being led of God. How many times do “Christian” stations use identical tactics, but profess it is God’s doing? Politicians use music and movie stars to get people to come to rallies. How often do churches and evangelists do the same thing? If it doesn’t produce a large enough crowd or enough money, they fire the person in charge and use someone else. Did God mess up? Or was it just the person?

As a result of the focus on human effort, carnal people do not distinguish between human results and spiritual results. When Paul and Barnabas “declared all things that God had done with them,” in Acts 15:4, the carnal Christians heard only what Paul and Barnabas had done. Since it didn’t coincide with what they believed, it needed to be fixed. After Peter’s recitation, they realized there might be more involved.

“Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.” (Acts 15:12)

When they actually listened to Paul and Barnabas, It was obvious that God had in fact saved gentiles and filled them with the Spirit even though they did not keep the law. Clearly, God was satisfied, doing these miracles in them.

“And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name.” (Acts 15:13-14)

After the crowd had listened to Paul and Barnabas again and realized that it was God who’d done these things instead of just Paul and Barnabas, James recapped what Peter had said. He then summed up a number of prophecies including ones by Amos, Isaiah, and Malachi. It was not just one obscure prophet, or prophecy, but a major theme of prophecy. It is what God has said.

“And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.” (15:15-18)

God’s plan of salvation was made before creation. He didn’t have to keep changing the plan. Both covenant theology and dispensationalists imply God had to keep changing his plan because of man’s sin. God ordained Jesus to atone for man’s sin even before sin existed, according to I Peter 1:20. “Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.” The prophecies were statements of God’s intent.

If God knows what he wants, and he directs some one to do things a certain way, what right do we have to demand something different? As Romans 14:4 asks, “Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.” They don’t answer to us, but to God. James then advises them as to what the Holy Spirit would have them to do.

“Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.” (Acts 15:19-21)

First James advises that they not cause confusion by demanding that they keep the Law. He does recommend that they set certain guidelines for behavior because the Jews scattered around the world would be offended by certain behavior, and thus they’d lose their testimony to them. A genuine love for Christ ought to produce a love for our brethren that keeps us from doing things that they find offensive. I Corinthians 8:8-9 states, “But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse. But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.”

Eating meat that had not been properly drained of blood is not sin, and does not bring judgment, for example, but our decision could stand in someone else’s way. When we knowingly cause them to stumble, we have sinned against them. I Corinthians 8-11 and Romans 14-15 deal with this subject in depth.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What Does God Say?

Acts 15:5-11

In Galatians 2:4, Paul stated that a group of false brethren had caused them to have to go to Jerusalem to settle whether circumcision was required for salvation. They had had an impact on a sect of Christians who were former Pharisees, and accepted the idea themselves, clinging to their Jewish background. When Paul and Barnabas told what God had done among the Gentiles, one group insisted they were not preaching the whole word.

“But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.” (Acts 15:5)

While every Christian receives the Holy Spirit at salvation, they do not all allow him full control, choosing to retain control themselves. As a result they walk in the flesh rather than the Spirit as I Corinthians 3:3 states. “For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” Every conflict between Christians indicates an unspiritual state by one or both parties. Conflicts always result in sin according to James 2:16. “For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.” From what Galatians 2:3 says, the trigger which touched off the debate was the presence of Titus, a gentile who accompanied them to Jerusalem. He would later become a pastor and missionary himself.

Unspiritual people easily fall for unsound doctrine and follow false teachers. II Timothy 2:15 advises us that the way to be sure we are satisfactory to God is to study his word, making sure we understand it correctly. “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” These kinds of controversies indicate who is really studying the scriptures and who is just accepting whatever they are told according to I Corinthians 11:19. “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.”

The assertion that circumcision or keeping the Mosaic law is essential for Christians is still common today and still causes conflict. If it didn’t, it would indicate that there was no real concern for pleasing God. When people decide to just ignore false doctrine, they indicate they are not concerned about the truth. It raised serious debate in the church at Jerusalem.

“And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.” (Acts 15:6)

As long as they dealt solely with those who had been raised as Jews or Jewish proselytes, the Apostles had never had to consider the issue. It had never even occurred to them that it might matter, so they had not dealt with it. Now they had to consider what God actually said about the subject. There was a lot of arguing before Peter finally focused their attention on what God had indicated by his actions.

“And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.” (Acts 15:7)

God had specifically sent Peter to the gentiles in Caesarea, as described in Acts 10, and the church had recognized salvation was possible for the Gentiles. God had clearly saved them the same way he had the Jews, replicating the events that had occurred at Pentecost in Caesarea.

“And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.” (Acts 15:10)

By filling them with the Holy Spirit even though they had not lived up to the Jewish standard, God clearly indicated that it was not required. To demand that they do so was to imply that God didn’t have the right to accept anything other than their standard, implying they, not God, made the rules. It would be a direct challenge to God’s authority.

“Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” (Acts 15:10)

In the fifteen hundred years the Jews had had the Mosaic Law, they had found it a constant burden to maintain all the sacrifices and follow all the rules, and had not been able to fulfill it themselves. If God would still save them without having kept it, why would they want to place such a burden on others.

“But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.” (Acts 15:11)

In fact, the Jews were not saved because they kept the law either. Romans 3:20 tells us the only thing the Law accomplished was making them aware of their sin. “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” Even the old Testament saints were not saved by keeping the law. Just like for the Gentiles, salvation for Jews was by God’s gift, his grace, not by keeping the law. In fact, God had established the principle of salvation through faith more than four hundred years before the Law was given as Paul explains in Galatians 3, and the Law did not change it. Christ’s death on the cross made it possible for them to be saved the same as present day Christians, they just had to wait until he came.

One similar controversy today is over whether baptism is essential for salvation. In looking to the thief on the cross to prove that baptism is not required for salvation we apply the same logic Peter used here. As James makes clear in the next few verses, the logic is valid. To declare that the thief on the cross was saved a special way directly contradicts Paul’s teaching.

As Paul points out, he and the other apostles were in full agreement on every count, in Galatians 2:6, when he shared what he’d been teaching. Their only concern was to find out what God wanted. Myself, I have to agree with the apostles’ conclusion as to what Jesus meant. Only God’s opinion matters. Too often religious decisions are not based on what God wants, but on human logic.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Satanic Infiltration

Acts 15:1-4

“And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1)

The Jewish leaders had hated Jesus and the church because they feared his teaching would cause them to lose control. They had fostered racial prejudice for the same reason. While it is easy to condemn the Jews for it, every culture in the world has done the same thing, often using another groups prejudice as justification for their own. It’s using the focus against a common enemy to distract from internal conflict. Until something happens to force us to examine such behavior, people often accept it as right without question, and resist anything different.

It is far easier to take over an established organization than to grow one from the ground up. This is why so many successful Wall street companies experience takeovers. Somebody else has done all the hard work, and by taking over, one can reap the benefits without having to work at it. Often the ones who take over are only interested in gaining a quick profit and leave the company as an empty shell. They wouldn’t touch a company that wasn’t making a profit because there is nothing to steal.

When a church or group is small and struggling, only those who believe in what it stands for have much interest in being involved with it. As it grows, however, more and more people begin to see it as a way to attain their own goals. Some are like the man I worked for briefly, who joined High Street Baptist Church and recommended I do so because it was the largest church in town and membership was good for business. Others are more concerned with the power and prestige they could derive from a large group, or the money they could obtain if they had control.

As the church at Jerusalem had grown, and attempts to destroy it failed, some of the Jews who had initially opposed it began to consider taking it over instead. Like Judas, they joined the church because they thought they could benefit from membership, although they had no interest in Christ himself. Paul said they were “…false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:” in Galatians 2:4. Their goal was to obtain control.

When Peter went to Caesarea and preached at Cornelius’ house, they had confronted him about it as Acts 11:2-3 described. “And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him, Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them.” When it was conclusively demonstrated that Gentiles could be saved, they changed their tune slightly.

When they came to Antioch, they were no longer teaching that Gentiles could not be saved. They were teaching that they could be saved, but only if they converted to Judaism. This would still give Jewish leaders control of the church. The same basic doctrine is still promoted that one must join a particular organization in order to be saved, whether Catholic, or Mormon, or some other group.

“When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.” (Acts 15:2)

The Jewish Christians in Antioch probably accepted the teaching without question because it was what they’d been raised with and assumed it to be true, but the Gentiles were bothered by it. Paul and Barnabas, led by the Spirit, took a strong stand against it. Finally, the church sent trusted men to Antioch to consult with the Apostles about what was right. At the time, much of the New Testament had not been written, so the only was of being sure what Christ had taught was by talking to those who had been taught and appointed by him, the apostles. Once the scriptures were complete, the need for office of an apostle ceased, as did the need for prophecy to tell God’s day to day plan.

“And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren.” (Acts 15:3)

The church at Antioch sent them on to Jerusalem to make sure exactly what God had said. Afoot, it was a major journey, and they passed through Phenice and Samaria telling that the Gentiles had been saved. Philip had been instrumental in starting the Church in Samaria with people of mixed ancestry, many of whom had relatives that were not Jewish. Imagine the rejoicing to know that their relatives could be saved as well.

“And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them.” (Acts 15:4)

Once again we see the difference in attitude the Holy Spirit makes. They were talking about what God had done with them, rather than about what they had done. Unspiritual people will seldom detect the difference, and initially the results seem the same but ultimately, they are totally different.

Many times we get impatient that things change so slowly since reading acts, we get the feeling that these things happened much more rapidly than we experience them. In Galatians 2:1- 4, Paul gives us a better picture of the time frame. “Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also. And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain. But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:”

Fourteen years after meeting with Peter and James in Acts 9:27, and seventeen years after his salvation in Acts 9:6, Paul went to Jerusalem to meet the other Apostles who were still alive. People had gotten used to the church and there was no longer the fear of being a Christian we see in Acts 5:13. “And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them.” Unsaved people had no hesitation to join the church, even though they had not changed their beliefs. While there were still Spirit filled men in the leadership, an unspiritual group had began to be absorbed over the years.

Peter warned, “…there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction,” in II Peter 2:1. Every church and organization runs into this as time passes. As the original leaders step down, the false teachers attempt to gain control.