Watching others preach the gospel
Philippians 1: I’ve decided that I really don’t care about their motives.
The first one out there, traveling from city to city preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ was Paul. He’s already a living legend among the Christians. For over twenty years he’s been faithful through thick and thin, through good days and bad. Actually, he doesn’t label “good and bad” as most people do. Right now he’s in jail and you’d think he’d call that “bad.” Instead, he happily explains that his being locked up has resulted in a lot of good things. People who wouldn’t have heard the gospel otherwise have literally come to him asking him to tell them about Jesus. Others, who’ve been timid about their faith before have been inspired by his faithfulness and have stepped forward to tell others about the Lord. A few have mistakenly concluded that with Paul locked up there’s a leadership void and are trying to fill his shoes, preaching about the Lord in hopes of gaining a leadership foothold in the church. That last group causes the great Apostle to reflect a bit on what it’s all about. Obviously, he doesn’t want false teachers out there preaching a false gospel. However, these folks, he’s concluded, are on target with their preaching and are only off target with their ambitions. Paul’s conclusion is that that stuff doesn’t matter as long as the gospel’s being preached. I can’t help but be impressed by Paul’s mature, focused attitude here. He’s willing to give up his freedom and his reputation if it serves to advance the cause of Christ. I’m reminded today that the Lord can accomplish great things through a person who doesn’t necessarily need to get the credit for what’s done.
Take Away: We do our best, leaving the results in the hands of the Lord.
Who will I allow to teach me?
Galatians 4: They want to shut you out of the free world of God’s grace so that you will always depend on them.
The Christians at Galatia are good hearted people. In fact, before they were ever established in the faith they welcomed a traveling preacher who was too sick to continue. These good people took him in, loved him, nurtured him to health, and then received his message. Their relationship was a mutual one. They gave him what he needed and he, in turn, shared with them the best news of all time. Now, though, we see the dark side of their hospitality. Others have come, claiming a “new” twist on the gospel Paul preached to them. These same people have welcomed these teachers and are now allowing these teachers to influence their understanding of how to live the Christian life. In many cases, seen more today than then, good, serious, honest people can arrive at differing opinions on a variety of spiritual issues. However, as we see in this passage, there are some who are out there teaching for all the wrong reasons. They’ve found that Christians are, indeed, a welcoming, generous people. They’ve found that if they say the right things they can gain a following of gullible sheep that can be manipulated to serve their own needs. In Paul’s day those teachers are perverting the gospel to mix faith in Christ with adherence to the Old Testament rules and regulations. Today, some are preaching a gospel of materialism and God-manipulation. Sometimes such false teaching rises from an honest failure to understand. However, as it was in Paul’s day, there are teachers out there who will say whatever they have to say to get whatever it is they want to get from gullible people. Generally speaking, their goal is either money or power or both. Paul practically begs his readers to hold steady to the pure gospel of Christ. In our day with unprecedented media access we can pretty much pick and choose those who we will allow to influence our thinking about spiritual things. More than ever we need to focus on Jesus and his Gospel.
Take Away: Who are you allowing to influence your thinking about spiritual matters?
Acts 18: Paul had finally had it with them and gave it up as a bad job.
Paul spends a lot of time in Corinth, likely over two years. In the beginning he focuses his ministry on the Jews living there and has some success. However, others become more and more entrenched in their rejection of his message. At some point he decides there are more productive ways to minister in the Name of Jesus and ends up next door to the Jews’ meeting place at the home of Titius Justus. There Paul sets up shop for at least 18 months, preaching about Jesus and establishing a church in Corinth. After working primarily with the Jews Paul realizes that continuing to do so is not a profitable use of his time and energy. In his case, there’s a better place right next door. How often do we get so locked into a certain way and place that we continue to try to ride a horse that’s long dead? As the truism goes: “when the horse is dead it’s time to dismount.” Some churches are still trying to do things the way they were done in 1950 and they wonder why what worked so well then no longer packs any punch today. They blame others who aren’t on board for not being spiritual enough or yield to living in a defeated shadow of yesterday. Paul decides that continuing to do what he has been doing is no longer effective so he changes his approach, opening the way for a long and productive ministry. His message remains the same, but his method is upgraded. The mission is permanent but the method is fluid.
Take Away: We must not confuse the message with some transitory method.
Back at the beginning
Acts 11: As it sank in, they started praising God.
The event at the house of Cornelius sets the table for the next big thing from God. At first the Church in Jerusalem is skeptical. They’ve had trouble from the religious powerbase in Jerusalem before and if word spreads that these followers of Jesus are mixing it up with Gentiles there’s bound to be renewed opposition. However, when Peter tells what happened, especially how the Holy Spirit came to them even as he came to the 120 in the Upper Room those who have been critical of Peter can’t help but praise God. Their Messiah is, indeed, the Savior of the world! Such an eye opening and faith-expanding event has come just in time because even as the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem are beginning to grasp the enormity of what Jesus has accomplished things are happening hundreds of miles north of them in Antioch. The Gospel is being proclaimed and non-Jews are coming to Christ by the hundreds and maybe thousands. Because of what happened at one house in Caesarea and with just one Apostle, Peter, the Church in Jerusalem is ready to respond to the big thing happening in Antioch. From a micro point of view, the event at Cornelius’ house is pretty cool, but not that big a deal. However, God is doing something much bigger, preparing the way for the Good News to spread like wildfire throughout the Mediterranean region. It is fun to be part of the big deal, but it’s pretty neat to be there when the “big deal” was still a relatively “little deal.”
Take Away: What a blessing it is to be in on the ground floor of some great movement of God!
How not to win friends and influence people
Acts 7: And you continue, so bullheaded.
The ragged transition in righteous Stephen’s sermon feels so out of place. He’s been debating with the religious leaders, and winning, so they come up with a scheme to lie about him and get him arrested. The charge is that Stephen claims Jesus of Nazareth is going to destroy the Temple and toss out the customs of Moses. Stephen’s defense begins innocently enough. For some reason he decides to recount the history of their people, from Abraham on. Everything he says is plain vanilla, middle of the road facts that every Jew knows. After several minutes of this walk through history Stephen arrives at the story of the building of the Temple. Now those who have made the charge that Stephen says the Temple is going to be destroyed by Jesus sit up and take notice. When Stephen reminds them that their own Scriptures state that God doesn’t live in any building made by man they, I think, decide he’s about to say the Temple isn’t important at all. Although it isn’t recorded in this passage, I believe that people start shouting Stephen down. That’s when he drops out of his sermon and responds by calling them “bullheaded,” “traitors,” and “murderers.” His enemies don’t take kindly to being thus accused and the result is that the mob lives down to Stephen’s description of them as murderers. I know I’m not anything close to being worthy of making a judgment call on this good man who, even as he’s being murdered prays for those doing the horrible deed. Still, I can’t help but wonder if things might have turned out differently had Stephen responded differently. It seems to me that when he gets into a shouting match with his adversaries that his opportunity to make any case at all is lost. Again, I know I’m not in a position to judge here but I think Christians are almost always more effective in spreading the Good News of Jesus when they live servant-lives, humble and kind. After all, Jesus said that when we’re rejected we’re to shake the dust off our feet and meekly move on. That feels a lot different to me than telling people they’re bullheaded murderers.
Take Away: Likely the best way to influence people for Christ is to take on the role of a servant while avoiding calling them names!