Ephesus in an Uproar

Expect resistance when you tell the truth but don’t stop telling the truth.

Please read Acts 19:23-41 in your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) for these remarks.

Riot at Ephesus

Think for a moment about the biggest crowd you can remember being part of at a sporting facility.  For those of us in Sioux Falls, SD, that would likely be at Howard Wood Field.  Can you recall the noise, the jostling, the energy of 10,000 people crammed into those stands? The amphitheater in the ancient city of Ephesus held more than twice that many people.  That’s a crowd!

The most seating that has ever been available at Howard Wood was 16,500, when bleachers were borrowed from local colleges and moved there.  On August 5, 1960, the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings played the very first game in the history of the Vikings at Howard Wood Field.  A ticket to the game cost $5.50 unless you sat in the borrowed bleachers and paid $3.50.  The extra seating would prove to be entirely unnecessary as the attendance that day was under 5,000.  The promoters lost their shirts and the Vikings lost their game, but Sioux Falls will always be the weird beginning to a storied sports team.

This morning we will take a look at a page from the history of the ancient city of Ephesus.  It was a similar comedy of errors to the only attempt to bring NFL football to Sioux Falls.  The tale has a dark side, however, being a clear threat to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the people who held if forth as truth.

  1. Change is hard; greed is harder (vs. 23-27).

“THE WAY” (verse 23) is how Christians of that time referred to themselves.  It is not to be confused with a modern day cult “the Way International.”  Then as in our own time, the word WAY referred to a person’s daily choices that reflected the direction they were headed.  It might also be described as a life goal, mission, or number one priority.

The instigator of the riot was Demetrius, who made his living crafting and selling souvenirs!  You heard me right.  He made little replicas of the massive Temple to Artemis, goddess of wild plants and animals, hunting, chastity and childbirth.  The temple was the major tourist attraction in the city.  She was beloved so Demetrius and his fellows made A “GOOD INCOME” (verse 25) on his souvenirs.

So what’s the problem?  Look back at verse 20 where it is written, THE WORD OF THE LORD SPREAD WIDELY AND GREW IN POWER.  Demetrius apparently felt that Paul’s teaching was a threat.  One, Paul’s teaching had converted “LARGE NUMBERS OF PEOPLE.”  When you are growing, people are more likely to consider you a threat and more likely to oppose you.  In v. 26 he said “PRACTICALLY THE WHOLE PROVINCE OF ASIA” was listening to Paul’s teaching.  By his own words, Demetrius, a “hostile witness” gauged the influence of the Church in Asia.        In verse 27 he said that Artemis was “WORSHIPED THROUGHOUT THE PROVINCE OF ASIA,” corresponding to Paul’s area of influence.

He was concerned that not only would business suffer, but also that the temple and the goddess would be “DISCREDITED.” (27)  After all, if people are leaving the goddess to follow Paul’s God, then that implies Artemis is the lesser divinity.  His reference to the WORLD is no exaggeration; archaeologists have uncovered temples to Artemis all over the ancient Roman world.

Demetrius may be sincere in his concern for the temple and for the city, but it seems more likely he was concerned about his wallet.  I say this because if he was concerned about the city, he’d have followed legal procedures as the CITY CLERK suggested (38-39).  Starting a riot is the kind of thing done by a greedy person without a legal leg to stand on.

That’s why Demetrius sought to inflame passion against Paul by accusing him of some awful misdeeds.  He accused Paul of leading people astray (26), telling them scandalous things like “MAN-MADE GODS ARE NO GODS AT ALL.”  He vilified Paul for “discrediting” Artemis and robbing her of her divine majesty (27).

  1. The riot resulted in confusion (vs. 28-32).

Luke described it as A GREAT COMMOTION (23), an example of the understated way things are typically described in the Bible.  The Bible writers didn’t exaggerate; they didn’t need to.

We start with the reaction of the members of the guild of silversmiths to the charges Demetrius made.  They were FURIOUS and BEGAN SHOUTING about how great Artemis was until they wound the whole city into an UPROAR.

Another measure of the commotion is the actions of the mob in verses 29-30: they SIEZED GAIUS AND ARISTARCHUS, who must have been widely known as Paul’s associates.  Don’t suppose they were treated gently.

They RUSHED AS ONE MAN INTO THE THEATER, probably intent on making “examples” of these two men.  I remind you the theater in Ephesus seated 24,000 people.  It was undoubtedly the biggest venue in the city.  It was not used for dramas only, but also for civic events of all kinds.

This concerted rush in a single direction implies that the events were unfolding as planned.  What happened was a riot but it wasn’t spontaneous, at least at the beginning.  Ending up in the theater was strategic.  This is what we’d call a “publicity stunt.”

To his credit, Paul wanted to APPEAR BEFORE THE CROWD, either to talk them out of rash actions or offer himself in exchange for his companions (30-31).  This was not empty posturing; Paul had to be restrained by other followers of Jesus.  OFFICIALS OF THE PROVINCE also weighed in to convince Paul not to go.  This tells us not only that Paul had FRIENDS in high places, but also that the riot must have gone on for some time for all these people to get involved.

The result was CONFUSION and is almost comical.  People were shouting different things, just to make noise.  Some came to the riot late and didn’t know what it was all about, but they were ready to join a protest.  Who doesn’t like a good tar and feathering?

Pity poor Alexander, suddenly chosen to be “front man” for the local Jewish community (33-34).  Some of the people at the riot were Jews and they thought Alexander might get the mob to calm down.   (They were among the confused!)  Alexander was game, but his attempts to MAKE A DEFENSE of Paul, who was born a Jew, were merely shouted down by the crowd.  These Greeks weren’t going to let a Jew tell them how to run t city.

Though it may sound strange that people in a 24,000 seat amphitheater would take up a common shout and do so for TWO HOURS, it was actually fairly common in that culture.  They called these rhythmic chants, shouts, and noises acclamatio, from which we get our English word “acclaim.”

  1. A wise man quieted the riot (vs. 35-41).

Where Alexander failed, the unnamed CITY CLERK succeeded; he QUIETED THE CROWD and got them to listen for a time (35).  While the title CITY CLERK may sound a little nerdy, this man was the chief link between the Roman Empire and the city administrators.  He wielded great power.  This is why the people were willing to listen to him and why they heeded his words.

His wise arguments convinced the CROWD.  We can see four parts of his rhetoric.

First he appealed to their pride in a positive way (35-36).  He cited as UNDENIABLE FACTS that the temple in Ephesus was the greatest in the ancient world because the goddess herself flung the massive silver image in the middle of the temple to earth and the temple was built around it. This was, of course, a myth, not a fact, but the CITY CLERK used both savvy and mythology to remind the people that the city had nothing to prove.

He effectively said, “Demetrius and his guild are wrong; there is no danger to this temple.  It is divinely protected and too big to fail.”

Since the temple was in no danger, there was no need for all this noise (“BE QUIET”) or to do anything RASH.

Second, he asserted that Gaius and Aristarchus were not criminals (37).  These statements were true.  He said, “THEY HAVE NEITHER ROBBED TEMPLES NOR BLASPHEMED THE GODDESS.”  At that time, robbing temples and committing blasphemy were serious crimes, punishable by death or exile.  This was the truth: Paul’s associates had committed no crime against the temple or the city.  Instead, they were being used as scapegoats by the mob.

Third, the clerk insisted that the rule of law be followed, not rule by the mob (38-39).  Notice that he knew exactly who was responsible for all this trouble and called him out: “DEMETRIUS AND HIS FELLOW CRAFTSMEN.”  This was a subtle warning: should the ax of punishment fall, it would fall on Demetrius and his cronies.

His point was that there were legal and reasonable ways to settle a grievance fairly, ways that would produce good results.  I imagine he had sympathy with Demetrius’ concerns, especially the economic ones.  However, to his credit, this man stood up for justice.

Fourth, he warned there would be negative consequences if the rioters continued to make this COMMOTION (40).  In the Roman Empire, where riots occurred, imperial legions would not be far behind.

No one in local government wanted Rome to step in and put the city under military rule.  This very thing happened at least once in Roman history.  In 20 BC the city of Cyzicus allowed some Roman citizens to be put to death in a riot.  They lost their city government because of it.  This is no idle threat.  If the empire heard about the COMMOTION and called him to account for it, the clerk would have to say, “THERE IS NO REASON FOR IT.”

His wise arguments apparently persuaded the people; HE DISMISSED THE ASSEMBLY (41) and that’s all we hear about it.

Though this passage has some goofy elements to it, the dark truth behind it is this: Expect opposition to the truth.  We’d like to think being a follower of Jesus should be the end to our troubles.  We’d like to think being truthful will eventually be recognized, maybe applauded.

These thoughts do not come from the Bible.  Jesus Himself said, “IN THIS WORLD YOU WILL HAVE TROUBLE.  BUT TAKE HEART!  I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD.” (John 16:33)

Naturally we’d rather stand in the arena to enjoy the cheers of the crowd.  We’d rather not be Gaius or Aristarchus, who were stood before the jeering thousands of Ephesus.  We wouldn’t like to be Alexander and have to face the crowd that shouts us down.  Success will not spare us the opposition of sinful people; it will likely invite more.

So what is our hope?  Our hope is Jesus.  “I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD” is His promise and our hope.  Nothing in this world – neither its acclaim nor its opposition – should move our hope anywhere else.

 

RESOURCE:

Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Acts, Eckhard J. Schnabel

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Evil Spirits, Good Results

Please read Acts 19:13-20 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) for my own research.evil vs Jesus

Evil never creates; it only confuses and perverts the truth.  When it is conquered, the word prospers.

In our house lately we’ve been enjoying TV specials titled “Breaking the Magician’s Code: Magic’s Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed,” originally broadcast in the 90s.  (Yes, we’re behind in watching our TV programs.)  In each show, the “Masked Magician” performed magic tricks and then showed how the illusion was made.

This show was an example of “reality TV,” two words that don’t belong together in a sentence.  Part of the gag is that this magician was masked to protect his identity from vengeful fellow magicians.  In the last of the specials, he removed the mask to reveal himself to be Val Valentino, a man who’d been a stage magician all his adult life.

This is an example of magic being simply deception and illusion.  Whether for fun or profit, to entertain or deceive, there have always been people who used the hand to trick the eye and the person.

In our passage today, we read about some con artists who attempted to incorporate the name of Jesus into their act.  They were as surprised as anyone when a genuine evil spirit exposed them as false.

God used this extraordinary event to reach the people of Ephesus and Asia Minor in a very unique way.  It’s not only a great story, but an event that reveals several things we need to learn and practice.

  1. Sceva’s sons learned the hard way. (13-16)

We learn that they were just name-droppers (13-14).  Before we go there, let’s take a brief look at “Jewish Mysticism.”  As many cultures do, Jewish people have myths and superstitions.  These have varying degrees of relatedness to Scripture.

In Paul’s day, some Jews made a living going from town to town performing magical services based on these superstitions.  (I suspect you’d have to be ITINERANT just to stay ahead of being found out!)  The Ephesians were especially superstitious.  For example, they believed if you knew the name of a spirit you could control it.  To, as the text says, EVOKE THE NAME refers to an incantation or magic formula using “power names” to make spells effective.  Though this may sound strange or our ears, there is some NT mention of this activity:

-Jesus referred to Jewish exorcists sent out by the Pharisees in Luke 11:19 (Matthew 12:27).

– In Luke 10 He sent out 72 of His disciples to cast out demons & do other kinds of ministry.

– In Acts 16:18, Paul cast a demon out of a woman in Philippi while invoking the name of Jesus.

What’s happening in our passage is some of these people heard the name of Jesus had been powerfully used by Paul (the healings in vs. 11+12), so they gave it a try.  They didn’t possess the faith that made the miracles possible, but that didn’t stop them from trying.

The text tells us all we need to know about Sceva and sons.  The name “Sceva” is neither Hebrew nor Greek; it is a misspelled Latin word that meant “left-handed” or “a good omen.”  If their father was a JEWISH CHIEF PRIEST they would be members of one of the families from whom the Romans chose to be the Jews’ chief priests.  (The Romans had politicized the office, making it no longer hereditary.  Their theory was that shuffling the high priest job would keep any one man from becoming too influential.)  The combination of a claimed Jewish nobility and a Latinate name is unlikely to have been genuine; it implies these were con men.  They probably weren’t really related!

The seven sons of Sceva failed spectacularly: ONE DAY, an evil spirit exposed their falsehood (15-16).  Evil beings that exist as spiritual beings are also called demons.  The Bible attests to the existence of these beings.  No one can deny the reality of demons and claim to believe everything else the Bible teaches.

THE EVIL SPIRIT spoke through its human host and verified the identities of Jesus and Paul but didn’t have any idea who these frauds were; “WHO ARE YOU?” it asked.  The power, then, was not in the names of Jesus and Paul.  The power to cast out demons came from Jesus’ identity as God the Son and His delegating authority to Paul as His servant.

It exposed them as frauds.  Adding injury to insult, the seven suffered public humiliation and a whuppin’.  Though outnumbered seven to one, the demon-possessed man OVERPOWERED the sons of Sceva and sent them running out of the house, embarrassed and injured.  This can hardly be accounted for by normal means, so a supernatural force is implied.  The demon gave the possessed man unusual physical strength and/or overwhelming savagery.

  1. As a result, the word grew in influence & power. (17-20)

As you would expect, news of an incident like this got around very quickly = THIS BECAME KNOWN TO THE JEWS AND GREEKS LIVING IN EPHESUS.  THEY WERE ALL SIEZED WITH FEAR = It was taken very seriously.  Our text list four effects.

The first effect is that this cured the “magic-using community” of name-dropping (17).  Instead, THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS WAS HELD IN HIGH HONOR.  People respected the name of Jesus, no longer attempting to use it merely as a “magic word.”  (Too bad that didn’t happen for Mr. Al Akazam!)  People realized that the NAME OF THE LORD JESUS held power, but it was neither the kind of power they could manipulate, nor the kind to be trifled with!  The phrase HELD IN HIGH HONOR means “glorified.”  This implies worship of Jesus by people who converted to the Christian faith; as befits verse eighteen.

The second effect: confession of EVIL DEEDS (18).  The new converts confessed to having committed EVIL DEEDS.  Our text describes conversions in general terms in verse eighteen while verse nineteen offers an example of a specific act of repentance that put a value on the depth of their repentance.

The third effect was their voluntary decision to burn “magic” scrolls  that had great material value but were spiritually worthless (19).  The Lord does not require a set procedure for repentance.  That’s a good thing, as we are saved by GRACE, not by GOOD WORKS.  We are not operating under a legal system that requires specific actions to qualify as “true repentance.”  It is also good because it shows the collection and burning of these SCROLLS was spontaneous and voluntary, which makes the act a more effective demonstration of repentance.

The actions of the converts in verse nineteen set a good example for us to follow when repenting.  Repentance is turning our back on our sin and turning our face to God.  We regret and reject our sins to seek God instead.  Getting rid of the things that tempt us to return to sin and/or things that represent affections for worldly things is a good idea, and it accomplishes three things:

– First, it removes a source of temptation.  Jesus spoke of removing one’s right eye or hand if they cause you to sin (Matthew 5:27-30).  This is a graphic way of describing a grave degree of sacrifice in order to gain separation from temptations.

– Second, when a person makes voluntary sacrifices like this, it says a lot about the depth of their commitment to Jesus.

– Third, making it public makes you accountable to everyone who sees what you are doing and will be watching in the future to see you don’t fall into that sin again.

Luke estimated the value of the destroyed texts to be 50,000 drachmas, or the wealth accumulated by a year’s work (no days off) of 137 men.  This was a sacrifice!

The long-term effect was that the word prospered (20).  People travelling out of Ephesus carried along the account of the demoniac beating the tar out of seven con artists and other testimonies to the POWER of the WORD OF THE LORD.  That’s how it SPREAD WIDELY.

As the number of new converts continued to grow and their faith deepened, the WORD also GREW IN POWER.  This also means there were more events of this type.

Evil never creates; it only confuses and perverts the truth.  When it is conquered, the word prospers.

It’s a fact that things aren’t always as they appear.  Consider what happened when two magicians went into a bakery.

One of the magicians palmed 3 donuts with one hand and put them in his pocket without anyone noticing. He whispered to his companion, “Do you see how masterful I am? I make donuts disappear at will!”

“Not bad,” the second magician said.  “I can do you one better.”  He went to the baker and asked if he wanted to see a magic trick.

The curious owner answered, “Of course!” The second magician asked him for a donut then ate it. He asked him for another one, and ate it as well. When asked for a third donut, the owner was reluctant to give it up.  “So what’s the magic trick?” he said with suspicion; “I gave you 2 donuts already!”

“Just one more,” he replied.  After eating the third donut, the magician pointed to his companion and said, “Now check his pockets.”

Our Bible passage this morning gives us a memorable example of how God turned what was intended for deception into a victory for His Church.  When we live as the people of faith we are supposed to be, God works in us and with us to turn all things into good.

While we may not do the miraculous things done in Ephesus, God will use our faith and service to draw people to salvation.  It starts with our decision to be entirely faithful, willing to trust Him in this promise.

 

RESOURCES:

More Hard Sayings of the New Testament, Peter H. Davids.

Illustrated Davis Dictionary of the Bible.

The Communicator’s Commentary, Lloyd J. Ogilive.

Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold

Arguments and Miracles

Please read Acts 19:8-12 in your Bible of choice.  I chose the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

Using a variety of approaches – from arguments to miracles – we must share the Gospel of salvation.

Even though a majority of Americans claim to believe God exists and claim to be “spiritual,” the numbers of those who believe in supernatural things like heaven, hell, and miracles have been in decline.  This is an illogical position to take, but accurately reflects the belief that religion is self-made.  It is illogical to believe in God and yet maintain the idea that His actions in this world are always along ordinary, natural lines.

Ask somebody if they believe in miracles and you will get an answer along these lines.

– An intellectual response: “No, I only believe in things I can perceive with my five senses.  As miracles claim to violate the laws of nature, I don’t believe in them.  I believe in science.”

– An emotional response: “I totally believe in miracles and they happen every day.  Just being alive is a miracle!”

Neither of those persons believes in miracles. I want to encourage a biblical response instead: “The Bible says that God did things outside the so-called ‘laws’ of nature.  These things happened to give glory to God and to give people more reason to believe.”

We will continue our study of the ancient church in the city of Ephesus by looking at how God used ordinary teaching and extraordinary miracles to get the Gospel of Jesus to Asia Minor.  What we can learn from this passage is that we must rely on God to use us and a variety of means to get the Word out to Sioux Falls.  The Word of God will change lives and renew our fellowship!  God has not limited this experience to ancient Ephesus: it can be true in our place and time as well.

  1. Paul argued with the obstinate.

Paul’s typical strategy was to begin in the local synagogue (8+9).  Paul was the “Apostle to the Gentiles,” but he still chose to reach out to the Jewish community in each city where he founded churches (see Romans 1:16; 2:9-10).  We’re told several things about Paul’s ministry in the synagogue.

– He spoke BOLDLY, “freely” or “openly.”  Paul was there to give them the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

– He argued PERSUASIVELY.  Paul was not a people-pleaser: he worked toward convincing the listener to repent.

– Paul’s subject matter was THE KINGDOM OF GOD, announcing – as Jesus did – that the KOG was “at hand” (see Matthew 4:17).

– This lasted THREE MONTHS.  Lasting that long indicates some level of acceptance at the beginning, but not much patience.

The synagogue time came to an end when the “religious people” in the synagogue opposed Paul.  This was not a mild kind of opposition.  The text explains; SOME BECAME OBSTINATE.  That word literally meant “hardened.”  The fault for their refusal to believe did not lie with God or with Paul; it was all on them.

So THEY REFUSED TO BELIEVE.  They would not accept the reality that the Kingdom of God had come; that Jesus was the Messiah.  And worse, they PUBLICLY MALIGNED THE WAY.  In Acts, those who opposed the Church invented slanderous lies and used them in an attempt to stir up public opinion against the disciples of Jesus.  This name for the Church – THE WAY – sounds unfamiliar to most of us.  It was a name once used to refer to the followers of Jesus, possibly based on John 14:6, where Jesus proclaimed Himself to be “THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE.”

Meeting opposition, Paul changed venues and continued bringing the word (9-10).  Instead of the synagogue, he used the LECTURE HALL of TYRANNUS.  The Greek word for LECTURE HALL meant “school,” a refuge of sorts for philosophers to address one another and crowds of interested listeners.  We’ve no other biblical info on TYRANNUS, but evidence has been found proving he lived in Ephesus at that time.

Verse ten mentions both Jews and Greeks heard the word, so we can assume the LECTURE HALL proved to be a more public forum than the SYNAGOGUE had been.  What the enemies of the Church intended to be a roadblock instead paved the way for greater exposure.

Luke is careful to assure the reader that Paul TOOK THE DISCIPLES WITH HIM.  It is reasonable to assume this group included both Jewish and Gentile converts; the people who had accepted Paul’s teaching as true.

He held DAILY DISCUSSIONS.  One of the things that marked first century churches was their DAILY meetings.  They also enjoyed unrivaled success in bringing people to Jesus.  A coincidence?

The Greek word for DISCUSSIONS is the basis for our word “dialogue.”  However, this Gk word included both lecture and conversation-based teaching methods.  The means of teaching isn’t nearly as important as the object of teaching: God Himself.

Paul used the LECTURE HALL for TWO YEARS (10).  One indication of “success” at that location was both Jews & Greeks HEARD THE WORD.  Nowhere is the number of converts mentioned.  This implies “Success” can be measured in faithfulness, leaving fruitfulness up to God (as in 1 Corinthians 3:5-8).

Another indication of success in verse ten is that the ministry at Ephesus facilitated the spread of the WORD OF THE LORD all over Asia Minor, reaching both Jews and Greeks.  Having a two and a half-year stay and reaching an entire region was a great success!

  1. God used Paul to do miraculous healings.

The line of agency could not be clearer than Luke drew it in verse eleven: GOD DID EXTRAORDINARY MIRACLES THROUGH PAUL.  When these miracles were accomplished, they might’ve been misunderstood as having been powered by Paul or by special magical items.  These miracles consisted of healing from illness and deliverance from demons.  The people of Ephesus were superstitious and might have misunderstood Paul as being a magician.  Luke made it clear that God healed and delivered those people: Paul was merely the man through which the miracles happened.

To counter this, ordinary items were endowed with healing power.  The only thing different was that had come into contact with Paul.  They were not specially-made magic items; there was nothing special about the item itself.  The point here is that the real power came from God.

The word for HANDKERCHIEF is borrowed from Latin and refers to a cloth used to wipe perspiration from a laborer’s brow.  The word for APRONS is also Latin and refers to protective cloths worn by workers and also scraps of cloth used as rags.  The power was not resident in the cloth, nor did it come from Paul; all of it was means God used to display His power.

There are parallels elsewhere in the writings of Luke; in Luke 6:18-19, Jesus healed people without touching them at all.  In Acts 5:12, 15-16, people were healed when Peter’s shadow fell on them.  In the Bible, supernatural healings happened in just about every way you can imagine, with very few of the accounts agreeing in the details.  The emphasis is never on how the healing occurred, but on who did the healing; God was the One who did the healing.

One of God’s purposes in the Spiritual Gift of Miracles is to validate the ministry of someone claiming to speak in His name.  While Luke doesn’t use this account to prove that point, there’s no doubt that reports of miraculous healings created additional interest in a magic-obsessed community and gave Paul’s message added authenticity.

The result expressed in verses ten and twenty was that the WORD OF THE LORD – the history and teachings of Jesus – became more widely known, more widely accepted, and grew in the power of influence.

Using a variety of approaches – from arguments to miracles – we must share the Gospel of salvation.

One reason people might be reluctant to believe in miracles is they don’t want to be deceived.  Since the word was invented, claims of miracles and particularly miraculous healings have been used to trick people.  Take this story from Jokes4us.com, for example:

A Rabbi and a Priest get into a car accident and it’s a bad one. Both cars are totally demolished, but, amazingly, neither of the clerics is hurt. After they crawl out of their cars, the rabbi sees the priest’s collar and says, “So you’re a priest. I’m a rabbi. Just look at our cars. There’s nothing left, but we are unhurt. This must be a sign from God. God must have meant that we should meet and be friends and live together in peace the rest of our days.”

The Priest replies, “I agree with you completely. This must be a sign from God.”

The Rabbi continues, “And look at this. Here’s another miracle. My car is completely demolished but this bottle of wine didn’t break. Surely God wants us to drink this wine and celebrate our good fortune.”

Then he hands the bottle to the priest. The priest agrees, takes a few big swigs, and hands the bottle back to the rabbi. The rabbi takes the bottle, immediately puts the cap on, and hands it back to the priest.

The Priest asks, “Aren’t you having any?”

“No… I’ll wait for the police.”

http://www.jokes4us.com/religiousjokes/carcrashmiraclejoke.html

Paul made it his aim to declare the truth as persuasively as possible, but without manipulating either the Gospel or the people hearing it.  He did not want anyone’s response to the truth to be based on human salesmanship or anything less powerful than the Holy Spirit.

That should be our desire as well.  We need to adopt Paul’s motto in 1CT 9:22 = I HAVE BECOME ALL THINGS TO ALL MEN SO THAT BY ALL POSSIBLE MEANS I MIGHT SAVE SOME.  May we have that heartfelt desire to tell others about Jesus and may we act upon it with the same integrity.

RESOURCES:

O         Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary on Acts, J.

Bradley Chance.

O         Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New

            Testament: Acts, Eckhard J. Schnabel

Eating Salad at the Steak Buffet

buffetPlease read Acts 19:1-7 in your Bible.  For myself, I used the NIV (1984) to research these remarks.

Don’t settle for a lesser portion; sweat your comfort zone and allow God to do immeasurably more.

Here we find the beginning of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus.  He left his home town of Antioch, crossed Asia Minor, encouraging the churches along the way.  This was what we call “Paul’s Third Missionary Journey.”  Some time previous to this, Paul had briefly visited the city and left two of his associates, Aquila and Priscilla there, to continue the work he started (18:19).  In 18:21 he vowed to return if that was God’s will.  While Paul was away from Ephesus, Aquila and Priscilla had an encounter with Apollos, a man who KNEW ONLY THE BAPTISM OF JOHN (18:26).  This was a similar encounter, but we have no evidence Apollos was connected with this group.

Paul operated on the Jeremiah 29:7 principle; seek the welfare of the city and your own welfare will follow.  Ephesus was a city that knew a lot of material prosperity, so the “welfare” sought here was of a spiritual nature.  We’ve already noted it was a gateway city, merging land and sea trade routes.  It was also the city where the local Roman governor of Asia held court.  One example of the wealth of Ephesus is the 25,000 seat theater that also hosted the Pan-Ionian Games, a version of the Olympics.

The people of Ephesus were notorious for their superstition, idolatry, and worldly philosophy.  The use of magic items and oaths was particularly widespread.

The route Paul took from Antioch to Ephesus (v. 1) was not the standard trade route along the coast, but went through the middle of the region.  Though the text does not state this, but the choice of route implies that Paul was in a hurry to get back to Ephesus.

Upon arriving, Paul was introduced to twelve DISCIPLES.  Unfortunately, their discipleship only got as far as the baptism of John.  They had no knowledge of Jesus Christ, as demonstrated in the fact that they knew nothing about the Holy Spirit.

God put them in the path of the Apostle Paul.  He knew something was amiss and he knew just the right questions to ask to identify the problem of their incomplete faith.

  1. The problem: an incomplete faith.

Luke identifies the people Paul encountered as DISCIPLES (1).  Luke normally used the word DISCIPLES to refer to Christians unless some qualifier is added (i.e., “disciples of John” in LKE 5:33; 7:18.)  He also informs us at the end of the passage that there was ABOUT TWELVE MEN IN ALL.  Some take the number twelve to be symbolic of the 12 tribes of Israel, a hint that these men were Jewish.  That may be, but Luke never seems to be shy about identifying Jews as such, especially when they are being antagonistic to the Church.

You can have a pretty active discussion of whether these men were Christians or not.  The good news is, the narrative doesn’t depend on a definitive answer.  The point is that their faith – however far it went – was not complete; Paul helped them to find complete faith.  They are ready symbols of all of us who haven’t quite understood or haven’t yet really committed ourselves to Jesus

We’re not told how they met or why Paul asked if they’d received the Holy Spirit when they believed (2).  Happily, the “how” of this event is not what’s important; otherwise we’d have been given more information.  What is important is upon meeting these DISCIPLES, Paul knew immediately there was something wrong.

He needed more information, so he asked, “DID YOU RECEIVE THE HOLY SPIRIT WHEN YOU BELIEVED?”  The fact that Paul had to ask implies that these twelve men “talked the talk,” but didn’t “walk the walk.”  There was something lacking in their spirit/character/testimony.

That “something” was the Gifts of the Spirit and the Fruits of the Spirit, which God gives to His followers as proof of their faith (Ephesians 1:13-14).  When these supernatural abilities and character qualities are found in a person, they prove to ourselves and to others that we are in Christ.  It was the absence of these things to which Paul was reacting.

The twelve answered Paul in innocent ignorance: “NO, WE HAVE NOT EVEN HEARD THAT THERE IS A HOLY SPIRIT,” (2).  In verse three we find out they had been baptized by John, but he hadn’t taught them everything.  John the Baptist did speak about the Holy Spirit (see LKE 3:16), but only in relation to the Messiah.

To be fair, that was not his role: JTB’s job was to announce the Messiah’s coming.  His ministry was prepatory.  When the Messiah came, his work was over.  John said himself in relation to the messiah, “I must decrease, He must increase,” (John 3:30).  That is what happened; shortly after Jesus began His ministry John was imprisoned and then beheaded for his opposition to the king’s having married his brother’s wife.  While the Gospels portray John the Baptist as living a rather solitary life in the Judean wilderness (Matthew 3:1-6), he also had disciples of his own (Matthew 9:14; 14:12; Luke 5:33; 10:41; John 3:25).

Paul taught them the whole truth (3-4).  To do this, Paul needed to ask a second question, going back a bit further; “THEN WHAT BAPTISM DID YOU RECEIVE?”  (He clearly assumes they had some baptism?)

They replied that they had been baptized by John the Baptist.  We can presume that after their baptism, these men left the region of Judea and were not at hand to see Jesus’ baptism by John or any other part of the ministry, death & resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As Paul explained to them, John the Baptist’s baptism was good for its situation, but his ministry was supplanted by Jesus’ ministry.  John’s baptism was for REPENTANCE from sins (Matthew 3:6).  It was not, as we are used to it, for conversion to a new faith or membership in a church/synagogue/group.  The Bible does not tell us the words John the Baptist used when he baptized someone, but we can safely assume he did not baptize INTO THE NAME OF JESUS when these 12 guys were there, as this was something Paul’s group did for them.

  1. The solution: be obedient and go all the way with God.

These DISCIPLES responded in obedience and received a new baptism (5). Their new baptism was better because it was IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS. This is not a matter of using the right words; it’s deeper than that.  To do anything IN THE NAME of JESUS is to do it in His spirit, following His teaching, honoring His name, exercising His power, under His authority, and at His direction.

In the history of the Church, people have got wound up about which words you say when you baptize people.  To me, they missed the point.  The point is about genuinely being in Jesus Christ in all the ways I just mentioned.  Anything else is just not real.

These 12 DISCIPLES can represent people who are sincere and yet are not fully in Christ.  They made a good response to the truth they’ve known, but they don’t know the whole truth.  This fact would cause insecurity if not for the Gifts and Fruits of the Spirit being objective evidence.  The presence of the Holy Spirit gives us assurance that we are truly saved or brings accusation if the Spirit is absent.

Their baptism was needed and was important.  However, it was not by their baptism, but by Paul LAYING his HANDS on them that the twelve received the Holy Spirit, as indicated by the Spiritual Gifts of Speaking in Tongues and Prophesy.  In Acts, these are the first and second most frequent Gifts that accompany salvation.

The Laying on of Hands is a frequently mentioned ritual act with different uses; in every case, it was to be taken seriously (1 Timothy 5:22; Hebrews 6:2).  Biblical uses of this ritualistic gesture include:

– Consecrating offerings (Leviticus 1:4; 3:2; 4:15; 16:21) or items (Numbers 8:10 27:18; Deuteronomy 34:9).

– Miraculous healing (Mark 6:5; 7:31-36; 16:18; Luke 4:40; 13:13; 28:8).

– Granting blessings (Genesis 48:14; Matthew 19:15; Mark 10:16).

– Granting authority, power, or installing officers (i.e., ordination; Acts 6:6; 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6).

Prayer is sometimes given in conjunction with laying on of hands, but is not considered a single activity.

The Gift of Speaking in Tongues is the miraculous use of a language the speaker does not normally possess (ex., Acts 2, 10, + 19).  The NT recognizes two ways in which this Gift is exercised: publicly & privately.

– Publicly: when it occurs in worship, a second Spiritual Gift, Interpretation of Tongues, must be exercised to translate the utterance or the speaker is required to stop speaking.

– Privately, it can be used without a translator because it is an offering to God in prayer.  In this case, it expresses the heart of the worshiper without using any familiar language.

Especially in worship and other public contexts, Paul vastly preferred readily known speech to unknown speech (see 1 Corinthians 14:19).

The Gift of Prophesy likewise comes in two forms; foretelling and forth-telling (ex., Acts 19 and possibly ch. 8).

– Foretelling is miraculous communication of new things that are going to happen, given in advance of their occurring; communicating what God WILL do. The test here is whether they come true or not.

– Forth-telling builds on what God has already revealed but applies it with authority to a specific situation; communicating what God wants people to do.

A mistake some people make in applying this passage (and similar ones) is to say this one unique situation is supposed to be everyone’s experience: they apply it too broadly and too specifically.  By “too broadly” I mean that they don’t recognize the difference between descriptive and prescriptive. Without complicating matters, there are two types of Bible passages and they need to be interpreted differently.

– Descriptive passages narrate historical events.  In addition to the information they contain, narratives can be used to set examples to be followed or avoided.  Just because something happened once or twice in the Bible, it doesn’t by itself mean it should always happen that way.  The narratives do not fit a consistent pattern, except to say that the exceptions are the rule.

– Prescriptive passages that teach truths and give instructions.  God is communicating truth that prescribes righteous behavior and true hearts.  They can be used by literal application of the words expression truth propositionally.

By “too specifically” I mean that Tongues and Prophecy are only two of about 20 Spiritual Gifts.  (As an alternative example, in Galatians 3:5 Paul wrote that working MIRACLES accompanied the Spirit’s coming to that church, not Prophecy or Tongues.)  All Spiritual Gifts are signs of real faith.  Along with the Fruits of the Spirit, they are ways that a real faith works out through our skin into words and deeds we can observe in daily living.

Let me explain the title of this message.  One strategy for getting a reduced cost lunch is to invite your vegetarian friends to the steak house.  “Eating Salad at the Steak Buffet” means you split the ticket evenly.  In that case, the steak-eater literally eats the lunch of the salad-eaters!

I’m teasing my vegan and vegetarian friend a bit.  But seriously, it makes no sense to settle for a little portion of what God offers us.  As we learned last week from Ephesians 1, God’s GRACE is RICH and He lavishes it on us generously.  Why settle for less?

One reason people settle for less of God or even nothing at all is that we somehow know that life will not be the same after we say “yes” to God.  We are not willing to puncture our comfort zone and thereby say “no” to God.  Even if it’s a polite “No thank you,” saying “no” to God is wrong.

However we explain a decision to settle for less, we must take courage and receive all God offers.  We must not settle for a faith tamed by science, secular culture, or selfishness.  To enjoy the view we must brave the heights.  Let’s have an adventure of faith by releasing the weights that hold us down: THEREFORE, SINCE WE ARE SURROUNDED BY SUCH A GREAT CLOUD OF WITNESSES, LET US THROW OFF EVRYTHING THAT HINDERS AND THE SIN THAT SO EASILY ENTANGLES, AND LET US RUN WITH PERSEVERANCE THE RACE MARKED OUT FOR US (Hebrews 12:1).

Don’t settle for a lesser portion; sweat your comfort zone and allow God to do immeasurably more.

 

RESOURCES:

O         Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary on Acts, J. Bradley Chance.

O         More Hard Sayings of the New Testament, Peter H. Davids.

O         Illustrated Davis Dictionary of the Bible.

O         The Communicator’s Commentary, Lloyd J. Ogilive.

False-hearted or True-hearted?

 

Get and keep the kind of heart God has for you.

Do you remember the flap caused a couple months ago when President Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway used the term “alternative facts?”  No?  Most of the rest of us have forgotten about that tempest in a teapot, but let me remind you briefly what happened.

While appearing on Meet the Press on January 22, 2017, Ms. Conway defended White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s exaggerations of the attendance at the inauguration, Conway stated that Spicer was giving “alternative facts”.  The media, still red-faced at Trump’s election victory, went ballistic.  One of the chief critics of Ms. Conway was former CBS Dan Rather, who you will recall was fired for making up his own set of “alternative facts” about George Bush.  More than a little hypocrisy?

One amusing side note: Rather compared “alternative facts” to the word “newspeak,” created as another name for “propaganda” by writer George Orwell in his book “1984.”  Three days later sales of “1984” had increased 9,500%, making it the number-one seller on Amazon.com.

What may surprise you is the phrase “alternative facts” is similar to a phrase used in Trump’s 1987 book, Trump: The Art of the Deal. There “truthful hyperbole” was defined as “an innocent form of exaggeration—and… a very effective form of promotion.” The book claimed “people want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular.” The ghostwriter, Tony Schwartz, said he coined that phrase and claimed that Trump “loved it.”

I’m not here to praise or put down anyone except those who have the hypocrisy to pretend to be offended at somebody else’s lies when they tolerate their own or their favored politician’s.  That’s adding a lie to a lie.

I could joke about politicians and lying, but it’s too easy and distracts us from the point.  People can and do lie.  It should not be tolerated, but it seems pretty inevitable, given human nature and the current ethical condition of our culture.

The worst lies are the ones we tell ourselves.  They can set us up with a false security, insensitivity to the truth that can blind us to our need for healing.  Lies that lodge in the human heart are the hardest to dislodge.

BUT – the truth and only the whole truth – will set us free.  The One who is never deceived by the most sincere-sounding, heart-held lies is God.  Hebrews 4:12 says that His word exposes the inner-most parts of a human being, we cannot lie to Him.

We need to stop lying to ourselves and approach God with complete honesty and complete dependence on Him.  Only in the truth can we be saved.  We obey Him by holding the truth in our hearts as our highest priority.

  1. No one can please God with a False Heart (Jeremiah 17:9-10).

Context = God gave Jeremiah messages to His people while they were held captive in Babylon.  These messages explained their punishment and promised them restoration.  Bringing these messages cost Jeremiah a great deal personally.  Chapters 16+17 develop Jeremiah’s unhappiness.

Comment = We can be deceived, but God cannot.  We can deceive ourselves and be deceived by others.  Jeremiah was not deterred from telling the truth by his depressed feelings and thoughts.

THE HEART IS DECEITFUL.  In 17:1, he wrote that the sins of Judah were engraved on THE TABLETS OF THEIR HEARTS.  The word “heart” is used more than 50 times in Jeremiah.  This word picture shows, as he does again in verse 20, that the guilty people of God could not escape the truth; their hearts betrayed their guilt.  The word translated as DECEITFUL can also mean “tortuous” or “crooked.”  We complicate matters to suit us, to obscure the truth.  The people of Judah, for example, turned 10 Commandments into 650+ laws, complicating matters so thoroughly that the average person didn’t bother trying to keep the Law.

In our culture, we see the “heart” as the place of emotions while the “head” is the seat of reason.  In biblical culture, both of these inner aspects of human life are assumed to reside in the HEART.

ABOVE ALL THINGS.  Since the HEART is the origin of actions, the source of our attitudes and decisions, it can be rightly said to be the most evil thing.  (Exception: Satan?)  God wants us to know and feel how desperately wicked is the HEART that keeps God out.  People are increasingly rejecting the doctrine of hell because they are willfully ignoring how the human heart is DECEITFUL ABOVE ALL THINGS.

BEYOND CURE.  The word here is “sick,” so it is rightly translated as BEYOND CURE.  “Deathly ill” or “mortally wounded” might be a good English equivalent.

All of this to say this: a fundamental part of our faith is the problem of sin.  Sin is universal: every human heart is stricken with it; the only exception is Jesus.  Sin is BEYOND our ability to CURE it.  We cannot be good enough to merit a relationship with God or to solve our problem.  We need God to save us; that’s where Jesus Christ comes in.  Without first admitting personal ownership of the problem of sin, we cannot be saved.  We never get over ourselves.

WHO CAN UNDERSTAND IT?  No one but God knows the depths to which any heart can sink into sin or rise to righteousness.  To obtain what understanding we can grasp, we need two things indicated in this passage:

This verse conveys an essential truth about human nature.  We are prone to self-deception.  We need people close enough to us to help us see things that are invisible to us because of our self-deception.

There is a legitimate need for “emotional intelligence;” knowledge of emotions & their effect on us.  The more we know about people in general, the better chance we have of knowing ourselves.

Now, we go from anthropology to theology proper, stating no one can deceive God.  God sees beneath the surface.

I THE LORD SEARCH THE HEART.  The situation is desperate but not hopeless.  God is our hope.  He knows every human heart and judges in perfect justice.  For what is He searching?  For every evidence of faith.  For true commitment to Him.

AND EXAMINE THE MIND.  This word has also been translated as “bowels” or “kidneys.”  It refers to the inner person without being literal or scientific about the organs involved.  It can also be translated as “hidden depths,” the parts of a person that cannot be directly observed, only indirectly through their actions.  These “hidden depths” are not hidden to God.  As the writer of HBS wrote; “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”  (Hebrews 4:13)

God rewards each person according to what He sees them doing.  Two phrases develop this.

REWARD EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO THEIR CONDUCT.  CONDUCT and DEEDS are the external manifestations of our internal priorities.  This is not to say that attitudes have no moral relevance, but is in line with biblical teaching that a person’s deeds are reflections of their nature.

ACCORDING TO WHAT THEIR DEEDS DESERVE restates the truth to indicate emphasis.  These verses are a warning to everyone who falsely claims faith in God and a promise to everyone who truly serves him.

  1. God is pleased with hearts that are entirely true to Him (Acts 11:19-24).

Context = Barnabas is an example of someone with a true heart for God.

Comment = God blessed the ministries of Barnabas and the early church for their true hearts.

God blessed the church in Antioch (19-22).  Antioch was near a large and ornate garden in which a temple to Daphne was located.  This was a center for culture and vice and became a byword for immorality.  In light of this history, it’s a work of God that this city became important to Christianity.  It was here followers of Jesus were first called “Christians;” it was the birthplace of missions to non-Jewish peoples (Acts 13:2), and the place where the Apostle Paul got his start in ministry (Galatians 2:11-13).  As verse 19 explains, Antioch was one of the places to which Christians fled when the persecution of the Church in Jerusalem got too hot.  In Acts 11:21, God’s blessing of the church is revealed by two expressions: THE HAND OF THE LORD WAS WITH THEM and A GREAT NUMBER OF PEOPLE BELIEVED AND TURNED TO THE LORD.

But the Mother Church in Jerusalem still held influence over the new churches.  When they heard that non-Jews had come to believe in Jesus too, the leaders decided to send Barnabas to check it out (22).

It’s hard to over-emphasize the historic importance of these events.  The first Christians considered their faith to be the fulfillment of Judaism.  Including non-Jews in the Church was not something they’d planned. The book of Acts records the Church’s difficult adjustment to this revolutionary concept.

Barnabas called on the believers to be true-hearted to the Lord (23).  Acts 4:36-37 mentions Barnabas as a particularly generous believer who sold his land and donated the proceeds to the Church.  “Barnabas” is a nickname that meant “Son of Encouragement.”  Acts 9:27 shows Barnabas standing with Paul when others doubted the sincerity of his conversion to Christianity.

After looking the situation over, Barnabas decided the outreach to non-Jews was a godly thing and was happy to see God at work.  Note the only instruction Barnabas gave them: TO REMAIN TRUE TO THE LORD WITH ALL THEIR HEARTS.  TRUE in this case refers to loyalty and honesty.   We can’t fool the Lord anyway, so we must be honest with Him and with ourselves.

God blessed the ministry of Barnabas (24).  Barnabas was praised as A GOOD MAN, FULL OF THE HOLY SPIRIT AND FAITH.  The church in Antioch would later commission Barnabas and Paul to go start new churches, reaching out to non-Jewish peoples (Acts 12:25-13:3).  His own ministry in Antioch resulted in several people being saved: A GREAT NUMBER OF PEOPLE WERE BROUGHT TO THE LORD.  Both Barnabas and the church in Antioch were important to the Lord’s work because their hearts were wholly and truthfully devoted to the Lord.

There’s an old joke which goes, “Today my parents read the new book I am writing.  They said the main character was not likeable.  It was an autobiography.”

While that is a little amusing, it’s a little uncomfortable too.  Sometimes we worry that people would reject us if they really knew us.  That becomes a reason to keep them at arm’s length, hide our inner self away and put on a false front.

The comedian Groucho Marx said, “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”
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The good news is, God has given us the truth in His word and His Son.  We don’t have to guess or make it up ourselves.  He has given us our church family to help us live with true hearts.  Let’s not make this more complicated by being false in any way.  A heart for God is only a true heart.

E.Q.

(Note to the reader: This is the first time in my almost-three decades of preaching that I’ve had a convergence of what I’ve preached on and a secular source.  In the morning paper the very next day I read an op-ed piece by G. Jeffrey MacDonald, writing for USA Today, that said essentially the same thing I was saying in the sermon below.  Of course this validates neither my message nor MacDonald’s article, but is, at least, a happy agreement between myself and Mr. MacDonald that forgetting one’s emotions is perilous, even ludicrous advice.  We are far better served to be sensitive to our feelings and make decisions based on this information as part of our set of data.  Unfortunately the Stoics and Evangelicals have insisted on the opposite.)

Please read Proverbs 4:20-27.

Message: Emotions are part of the Image of God, an aspect of our inner life that we ignore at our own peril.

It is believed that the most secure place in the world is said to be the United States Reserve at Fort Knox.  Fort Knox is located close to Louisville, Ky. and is home to much of the nation’s gold reserve. Let me share with you how this reserve is protected.

Our nations gold reserve is housed in a two story building constructed of granite, steel, and concrete. It is 105 ft by 121 ft, and is 42 ft above ground level. Within this building is a two level steel and concrete vault that is divided into compartments. The vault door weighs more than 20 tons. No one person is entrusted with the combination. Various members of the staff must dial separate combinations known only to them. The vault casing is constructed of steel plates, steel I-beams and steel cylinders laced with hoop bands, and encased in concrete. The outer wall of the depository is constructed of granite lined with concrete. Construction materials used on the bldg included 16,500 cubic feet of granite, 4,200 cubic yards of concrete, 750 tons of reinforcing steel and 670 tons of structural steel.

At each corner of the structure on the outside, but connected with it, are four guard boxes. Sentry boxes. Sentry boxes, similar to the guard boxes at the corners of the Depository, are located at the entrance gate. A driveway encircles the building and a steel fence marks the boundaries of the site.             The building is equipped with the most modern security devices. The nearby Army Post provides additional protection. The Depository is equipped with its own emergency power plant, water system and other facilities.

There is another place which needs to be well guarded. We need to make certain of its security because it is the most important place in the world. That place is our heart ! Why is the heart so important? Why does it need to be guarded with such diligence?  That’s what we’ll find out today.

(Quoted from a sermon entitled “Guarding Our Hearts” by Mike Turner, retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/guarding-our-hearts-mike-turner-sermon-on-lordship-of-christ-66178.asp  on 5/15/15.)

Context: Near the end of a lengthy teaching on the supreme worth of wisdom, the writer identifies one particularly important aspect of wisdom: guarding the source of our inner life.

Comment:

  1. What is the “heart?”

The HEART is the center of one’s inner life.

As a pre-scientific culture, the writers of Proverbs and did not share our understanding of the internal organs.  For example, the word “brain” is not used at all in the Bible.  I don’t know what they thought it was for.  The word heart is found 963 times in the Bible.  Just as the organs are typically unseen – lying beneath the surface just as thoughts and feelings do – it was believed that the inner life was conducted in the organs.  Also, Bible writers had a holistic view of personhood, so the thoughts and feelings together found their origin in the organs.  The differentiation between head (reason) and heart (emotion) came centuries later.  So the word HEART is the way modern translations render the biblical word for the focus of a person’s inner life.

The HEART can be either soft or hard.  Hard-heartedness is condemned as a vice.  It is stubbornness, resistance to God, and an unloving attitude toward one’s neighbor.  Soft-heartedness is commended as a virtue.  It is characterized as graciousness, being receptive to God, and compassionate to one’s neighbor.

God alone knows every person’s heart.  Oftentimes, we don’t know our own hearts, living in a willful ignorance that is manifest in our disobedience of God.  God works to change our hearts.

  1. How is the heart the WELLSPRING OF LIFE?

It is our point of connection to God, the life-giver.  It is the overlap of physical and spiritual.  The spiritual side of life is the MOST real side.  It is the WELLSPRING OF LIFE because it is our point of connection with God.

We mistakenly place a greater value on the physical and pragmatic aspects of life.  Physical things are only temporary; spiritual things are eternal.  They are also limited in space.  God is a spirit and He is the most real thing that can be known.  The outer life is generally superficial; the inner life is generally more profound and permanent.

The HEART is the means by which we perceive and participate in spiritual life.  It is partly understood by our physical senses and developed by our knowledge.  However, it is also sensed by intuition, measured by emotion, and defined by imagination.  We need both material and non-material information to truly appreciate our inner life.

The heart is the WELLSPRING OF LIFE because it helps us appreciate things that are not necessary for survival, but make life better, more joyous.  Sometimes we take a simplistic approach and devalue things that are abstract, emotional, subjective, or otherwise difficult to “get a handle on.”  But when Jesus said, “Man does not live on bread alone,” He affirmed that life is more than surviving and that attention needs to be paid to the spiritual side of life too.

The heart is the WELLSPRING OF LIFE because it is the motivator of our attitudes and actions.  It’s hard to argue for love, joy, and grace when duty, order, and obligation are so much easier and offer greater control over others.  However, the Bible makes clear that love is the highest and best and most godly motive.  It’s easier and quicker to motivate others with physical treats and threats, but more lasting and profound motivations are the ones that appeal to the emotional and spiritual parts of who we are.

Therefore it’s worth the extra work to achieve a change of heart than it is to change someone’s actions instead.   It’s like the old proverb of teaching a man to fish: “If you change a person’s actions, you’ve changed him for today.  If God changes a person’s heart, he’s changed for life.

  1. How are we to GUARD our heart?

Guard your heart by keeping your heart simple.  “Simple” is not simplistic or ignorant.  It means “undivided,” or “honest,” or “WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get).”  A person’s heart becomes complicated by dishonesty, discontentment, unresolved emotional situations and by being manipulated by others.  A person’s heart becomes simplified by honesty, contentment, standing firm in the truth and testing the spirits to avoid manipulation, and by resolving emotion-laden situations.

Guard your heart by keeping your motives pure.  “Integrity” is the cultural buzzword for the biblical word “purity.” Integrity is an honesty of character that is found in a person whose claims and actions match.  But purity aims higher still; it is found in a person whose actions match God’s standard.  We don’t dumb down or reduce God’s standards in order to make it easier to comply.  The Church has been guilty of that far too often in recent generations.  Instead, we study the Bible to learn God’s standards.  We have the Holy Spirit to empower us to keep those standards.  We have forgiveness when we fail.  It’s a system designed for our success.  Failure is on us.

We maintain God’s gracious purity by resisting temptation.  Temptation is unavoidable;  giving into it is inexcusable, but fortunately, God’s grace restores us perfectly.  Temptation is resistible; God has promised we will never be tempted beyond our power to say no and walk away from it.

We resist temptation by doing t following:

– Replace worldly priorities with godly ones (see Matthew 6:3).

– Seek the “door of escape” promised in 1 Corinthains 10:13.

Keep your focus on Jesus.  Make it your ambition to do what Jesus would do: reproduce His character in you.  Read a portion of the Gospels every day.  Look t/t clouds; be mindful of Jesus’ 2nd Coming.

Claim the promise of God’s word: in Philippians 4:7 it is written, AND THE PEACE OF GOD, WHICH TRANSCENDS ALL UNDERSTANDING, WILL GUARD YOUR HEARTS AND MINDS IN CHRIST JESUS.

Perhaps you’ve been wondering about the term “E.Q.” in the title of this message.  If so, it would be fair to ask where you’ve been for the last 20 years.  In 1994 Daniel Goleman published a book that popularized the notion of “E.Q.” or “Emotional Quotient,” as a measure of a person’s knowledge and capability to understand and make use of one’s emotional states.  His best-selling book was Emotional Intelligence, and while it did not present new research into understand human emotional nature, it presented the subject in a way that made it useful to the broader spectrum of people in our culture.  In the two decades since its publication, the concepts Goleman presented in Emotional Intelligence have become part of our language.

Here’s how Goleman defined the titular term as “self-control, zeal and persistence, and the ability to motivate oneself.”  (Goleman, p. xxii.)  This is a field of study that proposes to do what the writer of Proverbs urged the wise person to do.  (This is yet another example of the keen insight into human nature we can glean from a study of the Bible.  God’s Word is as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago!)

John Chrysostom, the “golden-throated” preacher and archbishop of Constantinople (349-407 A.D.) wrote, “Find the door of your heart, you will discover it is the door of the kingdom of God.”  (Quoted from Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Peter Scazzero, p. 80.)  Chrysostom wrote truthfully, for God has been revealed in the Bible as an emotional being.  Scazzero provides us with some examples of God’s emotional states on pages 70-71.

– Delight or at least satisfaction in Genesis 1:25, 31.

– Grief in Genesis 6:6.

– Jealousy in Exodus 20:5.

– Pain in Isaiah 42:14.

– Anger in Jeremiah 30:24.

– His love is explained everywhere in the Bible, but look at Jeremiah 31:3 as an example.

– Compassion in Hosea 11:8.

– Sorrow in Matthew 36:37-38.

– Distress in Mark 3:5.

– Joy in Luke 10:21.

These divine emotions are NOT found in Scripture because the authors are trying to anthropomorphize God.  They are writing under God’s inspiration to explain to us that part of God’s nature – and, by way of the Image of God (see Genesis 1:26) – our nature too.  Therefore, an important but neglected aspect of discipleship is learning how to live within our emotions.  We can receive divine guidance through our feelings.  In these and many ways, we ignore our hearts in violation of God’s revealed will and at our own peril.

Friend, why continue to suffer from your own heart?  Why be merely reactive, blown back and forth by the winds of emotional change?  Why not begin today to learn and master your emotions?  It is God’s will for your life as a disciple.

Goleman, Daniel, Emotional Intelligence: Why it can Matter more than IQ, Bantam Dell, New York, NY, 2006.

Scazzero, Peter, Emotionally Mature Spirituality, Integrity, Franklin, TN, 2006.

Your are a Pontifex

INTRODUCTION

          The title of this message is “You are a Pontifex.”  I want to be clear – I have not just insulted you.  Pontifex is the Latin word for priest; it literally means “bridge-builder.”  Priests were seen as living bridges between God and humanity.  The Bible makes it clear that we are all bridge builders; this calling is not reserved for a set of religious specialists. Every disciple is supposed to be a means of drawing people to God.

Every Christian would agree with what I’ve just said.  Where we’d disagree is how we accomplish this bridge-building task.  For the last 60 years, the church in America has been told that you build bridges by being “relevant.”

Too many people have assumed that ambiguous term means that we gain a hearing in the minds of unsaved folk by looking and sounding just like them.  If the church wants to be relevant, it must borrow from the culture.

Today’s American culture is oriented toward youth, is urban, evolutionary (assumes the future is brighter), emphasizes tolerance on social issues, and is infatuated with technology.  Contrast that with traditional churches that are oriented toward senior citizens, rural, historical, emphasizes biblical morality and has little desire for the latest tech whiz-bangs.  It’s no wonder church folk feel increasingly alienated in their own communities.

The dominant church growth philosophy is “Go young or die.”  You wouldn’t believe how often I hear people acting and speaking out of the assumption that the only churches that will survive are those who direct their whole ministry at youth and young adults.  It seems that no price is too high, that you can’t go too far in this drive to be relevant. There are at least two problems with this philosophy;

One, it you become just like culture, you become invisible.  If there’s no difference between the Church and the other places people hang out, why bother with the Church?

Two, this pursuit of relevance has been an occasion for watering down the Gospel.  For example, only sinners need a Savior.  Because “tolerance” is the one absolute virtue in our culture and it means “I won’t confront you about your sin if you don’t confront me about mine,” we’re told to ignore or sugar-coat the part about people being guilty of sin.  Let me ask you, if the worst thing you’re guilty of is “making maladaptive lifestyle choices,” then why would Jesus have to die for YOU?!

Today I’m going to advocate for a different approach to relevance.  I want to use Paul’s preaching in ancient Athens as an example of a confrontational approach to culture. I may be like Don Quixote, but I believe that relevance is best achieved by being counter-cultural.  We may gain more enemies than friends, but I think what’s most important is whether or not we’re staying true to God’s word and all of God’s word, not just the parts that are easy and are approved by our so-called post-Christian culture.

Here’s the Eternal Truth we can observe in today’s passage = When culture collides with the truth, we must build bridges to allow people to cross over.  This must be done without compromising the truth.

Step One = Compare the cultures to find points at which to anchor the two ends of the bridge (16-23).

  1. 16 reveals Paul’s reaction to the city of Athens; HE WAS GREATLY DISTRESSED TO SEE THE CITY WAS FULL OF IDOLS.
  2. 17 details Paul’s solution to the problem; he REASONED with the residents of the city. He went to the synagogue to meet the Jews and Gentile converts. He went to the marketplace to meet with everyone else.

PRINCIPLE #1 = Paul went where the people were; he met them on their turf, but on his terms.

          In v. 19 he took advantage of the opportunity presented him to take the discussion to the next level; THEY BROUGHT HIM TO A MEETING OF THE AREOPAGUS. The Aeropagus was a courtyard situated on a hill NW of the marketplace in Athens. It had historically been a place where court was held in session, but by Paul’s time was more of an educational, religious, and cultural center. This opportunity didn’t suddenly fall out of the sky; it came as a result of the discussions Paul had already been having in the synagogue & marketplace.

PRINCIPLE #2 = We don’t JUST wait on the Lord to provide unexpected opportunities; we create opportunities by faithful service and being proactive.

          In vs. 22-23, Paul compared the Christian faith and the Athenian culture and pointed out one thing held in common and one thing that was different. The point of commonality; Church culture and Athenian culture were both based on Theism: the belief that a god/gods exist.

Even though he was emphasizing something important held in common, based on his choice of words, we know Paul’s approach was confrontative. VERY RELIGIOUS is a 19-letter word in the Greek! It is better translated as “superstitious.” It is actually an insult, a word that the Romans and Greeks – who could b religious snobs – liked to throw at Jews and Christians. Paul used one of their fancy words against them.  Tongue in cheek?  Irony or sarcasm?

Paul also pointed out one difference: The God unknown to them was known to the Church. Pointing out their ALTAR TO AN UNKNOWN GOD gave a visual representation of a vital difference. The God that was still unknown to them had revealed Himself to the Jews and Christians. Paul offered this as an example of their “over-religious” behavior, their superstitions.  The Athenians were so diligent about religion that they sought to cover their assets by erecting an altar to any god they might’ve otherwise missed.

PRINCIPLE #3 = We become relevant by finding points of comparison, not by compromising.

Step Two = Build the bridge by revealing the truth (23-31).

          In verse 23 Paul asserted that God can be known; He’s revealed Himself: WHAT YOU WORSHIP AS UNKNOWN I PROCLAIM TO YOU. God has revealed Himself in many ways.

  • Generally – in nature.
  • Morally – in the human conscience.
  • Spiritually – in the circumstances of life, dreams, visions, all arranged by the Holy Spirit.
  • Objectively – in the Bible.
  • Personally – in Jesus’ life & teachings

But Greek philosophers defined God as an impersonal, unknowable force.

Greek religion had developed many gods.

Verses 24-25 point out another contrast; that God is the Sustainer of life; we depend on Him, not the other way around. God made the world and He lives in all of it, not just in temples.  He doesn’t depend on us.

In Greek religion, the gods had to be placated with offerings, worship, and temple-building. Their very existence depended on receiving worship.

Greek philosophers saw a moral distinction between the physical and spiritual. Their notion of god had nothing to do with the physical universe as physical matter was inherently evil.

Contrary to those notions, as vs. 26-27 show, God rules over all creation and yet is personally involved in it at every level, every moment. Paul told them about God’s involvement:

  • He is Creator: [God] MADE EVERY NATION OF MEN.
  • He is Sovereign: AND HE DETERMINED THE TIMES SET FOR THEM AND THE EXACT PLACES WHERE THEY SHOULD LIVE.
  • He is Savior: HE DID THIS SO MEN WOULD SEEK HIM & FIND HIM, THO HE’S NOT FAR FROM US.

Greek philosophy stated that as a force, god is known only in the after-life. In Greek religion, the gods couldn’t be counted on to act consistently or for our betterment.

PRINCIPLE #4 = You can’t tell the truth if you don’t know the truth.

          God is the Father of all humanity (vs. 28-29); we are not illegitimate children; life is not random. Human beings have their origin & outcome in God.  He made us in His image. Therefore, manmade idols must never be the objects of worship. In a nod to popular culture, Paul turned quoted one of their own poets. In Greek religion, the gods were created in the image of man; mythical, exalted versions of us.

Verses 30-31 reveal that God is not capricious; He judges justly. Connecting their altar to an unknown god with idolatry, Paul gave the Athenians a warning; God used to overlook their kind of idolatry because it was based on ignorance, but now all people must repent. Repentance is the only way to avoid judgment; we can’t ignore God’s justice foreve. To be perfectly fair, God has revealed His standard for judgment in the perfect life Jesus lived in this world.

Greek philosophers saw history as an endless cycle of repetitive events; death was the only escape.  What you did in this life didn’t matter. In Greek religion, the gods gave their permission or commanded sinful behaviors.

PRINCIPLE #5 = We must be assertive, but never aggressive or obnoxious as we present the truth.

Step Three = Be prepared for a variety of reactions (18, 32-34).

          Rejection, even persecution are possible reactions to the truth. Some people will argue with you – or worse. In verse 18, the professional philosophers called Paul a BABBLER and accused him of pushing FOREIGN GODS.

In verse 32, some people SNEERED at Paul.  When a person’s view is based on pride in their big brains, this is a typical reaction.  They have no honest debate, so the resort to ridicule to try to discredit the truth. There’s hope for those who will engage in honest debate, because they will hear the truth.  However, the reaction described in these verses is nothing like honest debate.

A second kind of reaction is also described in v. 32: a mixed one. These people were open-minded, but not ready to commit. “WE WANT TO HEAR YOU AGAIN,” they said. Similarly, our task is to present the truth, not to press for conversion.  Only God saves people and He waits patiently; we should do exactly the same.

The third and most desirable reaction is found in v. 34: Acceptance (repentance and conversion). It is written; A FEW MEN BECAME FOLLOWERS OF PAUL AND BELIEVED. They accepted t truth and were saved. Luke names some of the new converts, founders of the church in Athens.  Note that one of them was a public official.

PRINCIPLE #6 = We don’t judge our faithfulness on the type or amount of response, but on our degree of faithfulness to the truth.

CONCLUSION

          A sixth-grader stood up in class and gave this politically correct report on the origins of the Thanksgiving holiday:

“The pilgrims came here seeking freedom of you know what.

“When they landed, they gave thanks to you know who.

“Because of them, we can worship each Sunday, you know where.”

(The Joyful Noiseletter, November 2007, p. 2.)

What makes that joke both sad and funny is how likely it is to be true.  You may have read about the public school somewhere that decided, to combat the evil of gender bias, they would stop referring to their students as boys and girls and call them all “purple penguins” instead.

Let’s be honest.  Nobody respects a fake.  Nobody respects foolish denial of who you are in order to fit in.  Whenever a church is guilty of trying so hard to blend in that they hide or dilute the truth, they have failed to be the church.  They have lost their potential hearing by attaining perfect camouflage.  When you can’t see the border between the church and the world, the church has ceased to exist.

So – be loving.  Be positive.  Be respectful and patient.  But balance each of those virtues with being honest.  This world will one day be destroyed with fire and pretending it is not so will not fire-proof a single individual.

We need to emphasize our distinctiveness, we need to maintain the boundaries of our biblical identity.  There are parts of church life that are only cultural, not biblical, and they can be reevaluated.  But the center of who we are must be maintained without compromise and without apology.