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Posts tagged ‘Jesus Christ’

Issues – Government

 Partake - Issues

Government

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G’day and welcome to Partake Issues! Today we are going to talk about government! At the time of producing this, we are in the final stages of the run up to a General Election, where people will be voting for their political representatives. After al the votes are counted there will be a government elected! This of course, is not unique to the UK! All people all over the world live under some from of leadership or government. That government may be democratically elected, a monarchy or even an oppressive dictatorship. Whatever kind of government we find ourselves with, we have one! If there was not a government in place, as hard as it is to imagine, total chaos would reign and people would just do whatever pleases them, regardless of consequences and regardless of other people. Therefore, regardless of whatever government we live under, what does the Bible say should be our reaction and attitude to the government. By government, I mean all levels of government and authority – from local authority to federal government. But first of all, lets look at what the Bible has to say about the function of human government, before going on to look at our responsibility to Government and our community.

The Function of Human Government

Paul writing in Romans 13 “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour.”

Here Paul indicates that there are at least three functions of a human government: protection, punishment and promotion.

Protection: From the moment Adam sinned, it was plainly obvious that human civilizations would need some form of restraint and law, in order to protect their citizens – form themselves and others. We see this clearly in Acts 21, where the Roman soldiers step in to save Paul from being killed by other people in Jerusalem.

Punishment: Paul stipulates that duly appointed government officials and servants are to be considered as servants of God (even if they don’t believe in God!)

Promotion: Human government, as thought by Paul, was to promote the broad-spectrum welfare of all the community and not just select groups, where its laws are in effect.

Christian Response to Human Government

Paul in 1 Timothy 2v1-3 writes: “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour,

The Apostle Peter goes further when writing in 1 Peter 2v13-17 “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honour the king.

From these passages of Scripture we see that it is clearly impossible to be simultaneously a solid Christian and a poor citizen. As Christians we have responsibilities to our government.

Firstly we have a responsibility to recognize and acknowledge that God ordains the Government. We see that from Paul’s writing in Romans 13 and Paul was writing when the Emperor Nero was in power and systematically persecuting and torturing Christians! We also see this thinking in the passage from 1 Peter. There is no authority except as given by God. Even to the most sadistic, dictatorial or atheist governments – they have power only because God has allowed them. So we are to obey our government! But it is not to be slavish obedience regardless of what laws are decreed! No! The exception to this is where obedience to the Government would require the Christian to actively or passively disobey God. For we read in Acts 4v18-20 that the believer is to live in obedience to God rather than man.

Secondly, as much as we probably hate to, we are commanded to pay taxes to the government! For by doing so, the government can set about ensuring, for example, that the weaker and more vulnerable sections of the community are cared for and protected!

Thirdly, and quite possibly, most importantly, Christians are to pray for their leaders, governments and those in authority! Both Peter and Paul command and recommend it! To pray for them is to love them and it is also a way for God to shine into the lives of people. One of the things we are to pray for, is that the government governs righteously, honourably, honestly and with integrity.

The Christian, as a citizen, is free to be law-abiding, conscious that they are under submission to Almighty God. It also means giving respect to all members of society from the lowest to the highest! As Christians, we are to submit ourselves to our Government and be living lives worthy of the Gospel of Christ. This may indeed win some for God, win the recognition of their government as well as influencing Government policy and law. Whatever government you find yourself under, pray for your leaders even if you thoroughly disagree with some or all of their actions. They are in power, only because our God has allowed them. They will answer to Him one day for what they have done with the power given to them by God alone. God is in control, and He is on the ultimate throne and is the definitive power!

Community Responsibility

But just as we have responsibility to our Government, we also have a responsibility for those in our community – both local and global. We are also to work for social justice and be involved in social action – that’s part of our loving of other people. The oppression and persecution of people is to be anathema to us as Christians, just as it is to our God! Where a minority is maltreated and discriminated we should be at the forefront of demanding justice for all! We are to be promoting civil rights and using all aspects of the law to do so. We are to be working to ensure the poorest members of our community, both local and global, are cared for and the oppressed freed!

In your country, this could mean peaceful demonstrations and interacting with your political representatives! Look at some of the great reformers or social activists of the past: Wilberforce helping to abolish slavery; or Martin Luther King Jr. at the forefront of ending segregation and racism. May each one of us, on both a local and international scale, play some small part in ending prejudice, suffering, racism, poverty, bigotry, abuse, oppression and other injustices. As John Stott once said: “The reason for our acceptance of social responsibility… is simple uncomplicated compassion. Love has no need to justify itself. It merely expresses itself in service wherever it sees need.” As Jesus of Nazareth once said: “Love God and love other people.”

For more to think about, please do ask your self the following questions, writing them down if you can, and see how you respond or react to them. Then why not share your answers with your spouse or a close friend, so that you can pray over any issues together.

Q1. In what way can I influence and encourage my government to promote justice, free the oppressed and take care of the poor?

Q2. How can I help my government authorities to protect, punish and promote?

Q3. When was the last time I actively prayed for those in authority over me, whether Christian or secular?

Thank you.

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Issues – Standing Alone

Issues Facing Christians Today

Standing Alone

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Jesus speaking and from the Gospel of John 15v18-21 If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you. They will do all this to you because of me, for they have rejected the One who sent me.

As Christian Disciples, those who proclaim that they follow Jesus Christ as the Son of God, we have a new identity. What are we to do with it? The Bible is very clear that we are to stay faithful to Jesus Christ, particularly when it is difficult! It means staying faithful to Jesus and His will, regardless of opposition and alternatives. By doing this we are standing alone and being faithful to Him. Satan brings pressure to bear on Christians to reduce their standards and commitment. Christian Disciples undergo challenges from those that either don’t like or understand us. We are constantly tempted to do wrong things or we are tempted not to do right things. Either way, we are tempted to sin against our God. So we are to be separate from sin but not separated from a sinful society. This is what Jesus meant when He said we are to be “In the world but not of the world” (John 17:15-19). The key to standing alone is to have constant identification with Jesus Christ in lifestyle and words. It is to have a permanent reminder that we serve a faithful God and that Jesus Christ is to be our Master. When we sin, either actively or passively, it is because we have some form of memory loss about who we are, if we call ourselves a follower or disciple of Jesus Christ, the one and only Son of God.

Hindrances to standing alone

As we live the Christian life, as Christian Disciples we will face hindrances to identifying with Jesus. Here are three major areas that as Christian Disciples, we all undergo.

Firstly there is an inborn fear of what others will think – fear of being different and being laughed at.

Then there is the fear of losing friends. To have the right friends however, a person must be willing to have enemies. Jesus made friends on the basis of who would accept Him and His message. We may be excluded from the company of those who reject Jesus (Luke 6:26).

Another one is the desire to be like those in the world. In Psalm 73 David envied the success of the godless, until he realized their destiny was disaster; and that he had God and needed nothing else. Always taking what is best is no sacrifice.

How to stand alone

So if they are some of the hindrances, what are some of the keys in battling these hindrances? As Christian Disciples we have to remember God’s way of life is superior. It is a life filled with abundance according to Jesus in John 10:10! Then we realise that acting as light & salt in the world, you are co-operating with God and He is being glorified according to Peter in 1 Peter 4:12-14). Remember; if you give people no reason to ask about the hope and faith you have in Jesus, they probably won’t ask! Jesus said in His final words before His ascension in Matthew 28:18-20, that we are to expect persecution for being his Disciples. If that’s how we identify with our lifestyle how do we identify verbally with Jesus?

How to verbally identify with Christ

Never apologize for what you know and believe to be a superior way of life. However, that does not mean to be smug and arrogant about it because we are commanded to walk humbly and meekly. Then just be natural about it. As a college principle told me a long time ago and I still remember the words “Let your spiritual life be natural and your natural life be spiritual.”

One way to do this is to project the idea that you are not your own boss – Jesus is your Lord and let him take both the strain and glory. Remember that those who reject you also reject Jesus.

Making right decisions in questionable areas

Imagine you are in a situation and you have to make a correct decision in a questionable area. What do you do? Why not ask yourself questions and tell yourself statements such as:

  • Does it bring glory to God? (1 Corinthians10:31)
  • Can I thank God for this activity – could Jesus accompany me?
  • Does it build Christian character? (1 Corinthians10:23)
  • Will it cause another Christian to sin/stumble? (1 Corinthians8:9-13)
  • It should not control me habitually (1 Corinthians6.12)
  • If in doubt, throw it out. (Romans14:22-23)
  • Ask other people for advice. It is important what other people think.
  • Abstain from all appearances of evil (1 Thessalonians5:22)
  • Rely on the Holy Spirit to help you! Ask for His help and guidance!

Ask yourself the following questions, writing them down if you can, and see how you respond or react to them. Then why not share your answers with your spouse or a close friend, so that you can pray over any issues together. For more to do and think about please do read for yourself, John17:15-19.

Q1 – Have I given every area of my life to Christ in order to be faithful to Him?

Q2 – Am I prepared to be holy and obedient to God in all circumstances?

Q3 – Am I willing to sacrifice my desires for God’s Will, so that I can clearly be seen identifying myself with Jesus in lifestyle and in words?

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Issues – Times of Trouble

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Times of Trouble

G’day and welcome to Partake Issues! Today we are going to talk about times of trouble. Paul writing in 2 Corinthians 4v16- 18 “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

I wonder if sometimes you feel just like giving up, throwing it all away and just be buried by whatever is burdening you. I guess, almost everyone has felt like that at one time or another. Maybe its because you are undergoing troubles or suffering – physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually. Whatever it is, as a Christian you are to persevere. We persevere, because we are not alone in our troubles. Also, if we think about it, in the light of eternity, the time of endurance through these troubles, is but the blink of an eye! Wow!

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Persevere!

How are you and I to respond to suffering and other troubles? Naturally, we either treat them too flippantly or far too seriously. The response that God wants His followers to have is to be exercised by it. When we undergo any suffering or trouble, we are to commit it to God, endure it and understand that He is faithful and that it will eventuate in His glory and for our own good (Romans 8v28; 1 Peter 4v18). We are to be joyful when enduring suffering (James 1v2). Now I admit, that that can be pretty hard to do, but we are not left alone. The Holy Spirit indwells us if we are His followers and as one of His names suggests, as the Comforter, He provides comfort during the difficult times. So, just as He perseveres, so are we!

Perseverance in relation to God and His work is the continuous operation of the Holy Spirit in your life as a believer. It is a work of divine grace that is begun in your heart, which is continued and brought to completion.

As a Christian, you will never perish, and nobody or nothing can snatch them out of His hand (John 10v27-29). You have eternal life and you will not be condemned, passed from death to life (John 5v24). God, who began a good work in you, will carry it on to completion (Philippians 1v6). You are shielded by God’s power (1 Peter 1v15). Nothing can separate you from God/Christ’s love (Romans 8v38-39).

God’s whole purpose for you is to transform you into the image of Jesus Christ. His purpose for you is to make you holy. This is where perseverance for you as a Christian comes in. He may well, as we have seen, use some form of temporal suffering in order to achieve it, but in the light of eternity, it will not be for long!

You are to keep your eyes focussed on Jesus Christ, carry your cross daily and be willing to obey Him. You are to run the race with eyes fixed ahead, forgetting what is past and not looking back at what in the past had entangled us. And yes it is hard to forget, but with the help of the Holy Spirit, it is possible! As a Christian, persevere in your relationship with God. Obey Him and follow Him. Ask questions humbly of Him and expect Him to answer, particularly if you don’t understand something. Persevere in your prayers, your relationships with God and with other people. God will persevere with you, turning you gradually into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. God will not abandon you, but you are free to abandon Him. If you did abandon Him, He would still continue to call you back to Himself. So if He perseveres, so must we! But why do we persevere?

Character

Character results from persevering! As a Christian you are to be transformed and developed, working on improving your service and being transformed in the image of Jesus Christ. That is God’s ultimate purpose for you! But in order to do that, we need to find out what needs to be developed! These characteristics will help you to measure how much the Holy Spirit has been free to develop your character.

1. Persistence & EndurancePersistence & endurance is developing staying power, to hold courageously under fire. In other words – bulldog tenacity. Things like criticism, circumstances, opposition & problems can stop you cold, if you allow them.. The problem is that we sometimes think the Christian life is a sprint race. When in fact it is a marathon, where a second wind of the long hard grind is necessary. What is it that stops you? The size of a person is determined by what it takes to stop him or her. Winners are people who have formed the habit of doing things that failures hate to do. Don’t let anything stop you!

2. Resistance – This is not resistance to ideas but resistance to opposition. Criticism is the occupational hazard for leaders (1 Peter 2v20-24). Discouragement is a cancer of the Spirit. Be resistant to discouragement and hyper-criticism. Let the Holy Spirit encourage you!

3. ServanthoodMatthew 20v26-28 “Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.” The first shall be last and the last shall be first. Priority is be given to service. An essential part of developing character, is serving.If Jesus, as King, could be a humble servant, in that He came to earth as a member of His own creation, then you and I can also be identified as humble servants..

4.Consistent Example – Modelling is the greatest unconscious form of learning what we know. As Paul writes in Philippians 3v17 – 4v9 “Follow me as I follow Christ”. Whether you like it or not, people are following you, but are you following Christ closely? Those who are following and watching you, do not do what you tell them to do, but do what you do!

5. Self-mastery – You need to be unencumbered by the things that weigh you down. This is the danger of an affluent society. (Hebrews 12:1-2) “Travel light”. You need to decide what is good and what is evil. The real decision is between that which is good, that which is better and which is better or best. Choose the best!!

6. Virile Private Life – Two things to keep in balance are involvement & isolation. You cannot do enough for others if you are constantly in the company of others. You also need time alone but not as a complete hermit!

7. Confidence – The number one problem in our culture today, is a lack of confidence. Paul said in Philippians 4v13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. For you as Christian Disciple, self-confidence is Christ-confidence – this is not egotism. Say to your self “I can’t lose. I can only make mistakes”. Confidence is spawned by the ability to say no. The New Testament is the doctrine of moderation in all things. You don’t have to do everything you are capable of achieving.

8. Teachability – You are to be teachable because you have an unlimited ceiling of being taught. A key part of your being a Christian Disciple is a willingness to be taught by other people, even if you are in a teaching role!

9. Positive Attitude – A danger in becoming negative, is that a root of bitterness sets up. The greatest therapy is that of thanksgiving & prayer. God says you can do it. Satan says you can’t do it.

10. Your capacity to believe God – What is there in your life that you are trusting in God for that He alone can do? (2 Corinthians 4v7) In your life, Jesus is to have the supremacy and glory over all things!

Whatever you are going through – persevere and develop character. Allow yourself to be transformed daily by God the Holy Spirit into the image of God the Son in obedience to the will of God the Father.

For more to think about please do ask your self the following questions, writing them down if you can, and see how you respond or react to them. Then why not share your answers with your spouse or a close friend, so that you can pray over any issues together.

Q1. After reading 2 Timothy 2v11-13, what motivates me to endure and persevere?

Q2. After reading Philippians 3v17, how can I follow Jesus Christ more closely?

Q3. After reading 2 Corinthians 4:7, what is there in my life that where I show trust in God for that which He alone can do?

Thank you.

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Issues – Worship

 Partake - Issues

Worship

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G’day and welcome to Partake Issues! I often here people say their church has the best worship and that other church worship services are inferior! Or I hear that a person has moved churches, because the experience is different and better there! What are we to think as Christians in the twenty first century about biblical worship?

The Psalmist writes in Psalm 105v1-6: “Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done. Sing to him; yes, sing his praises. Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds. Exult in his holy name; rejoice, you who worship the Lord. Search for the Lord and for his strength; continually seek him. Remember the wonders he has performed, his miracles, and the rulings he has given, you children of his servant Abraham, you descendants of Jacob, his chosen ones.”

Today there are many different churches using different worship styles to worship the one True and Living God! We can even think of different churches in the New Testament worshipping differently, such as the church of Philippi church being more liturgical and ordered, while the church of Corinth is more free and less controlled! As His followers and His worshippers, we are required to worship God and to worship Him publicly and with others! There is a meaning of worship, whereby our very life is to be a spiritual act of worship according to Paul in Romans 12. Paul meant that every aspect of our life is to be an act of worship, where our life is to be for the majesty and honour of God! However, the definition of worship I want to talk about today is about public acts of worship, such as in a church or chapel service. Where worshipping is to give respect, honour and glory to God! When this is done in reverence, in truth and in submission to the Lord Jesus Christ, then the Christian Disciple continues to mature and grow spiritually. Let us look at the what, why and how of Biblical worship!

What is worship?

Worship is, by way of act, attitude, or thought, a way of giving supreme honour and reverence to God! As Christian Disciples, God Almighty alone is worthy of our reverence, submission and worship. There are many other things that are worshipped and thus are ‘gods’, with a small ‘g’. Money, careers, possessions, other people are 21st century examples of things which are worshipped by humans. Thus the threat of materialism is a huge danger to Christian Disciples, because the worship of material possessions takes the supreme place of worship to God, and some Christian Disciples have been duped by it! But the Bible clearly states that God alone is to be worshipped. For God is to carry the worshipping Christian Disciple, and not the Christian Disciple to carry the god.

Why worship?

Perhaps the greatest reason that we worship is because God commands it! The 10 Commandments (Exodus 21v1-3) insist that God alone is worshipped, adored and paid homage to! As humans we are made in His image and as Christian Disciples, He owns us because we claim Jesus to be our Lord and Master! So it is right and just that we give worship to this God who paid the penalty for sin, so that we may be His children, and wants us to call Him Father! As Christian Disciples, we discover an inner personal satisfaction when God is worshipped and adored, both for the present and in the future (Romans 12v2; Col 3v24)!

Another reason to give worship is that God deserves our worship! All of God’s attributes demand that we revere and worship Him! His holiness, goodness, love, mercy and providence are but a beginning as to why He, and He alone, is worthy of our worship. It is by His grace, and through His grace alone, that we worship Him!

How are we to worship?

In some church services, a general confession of sin comes at the start. This is because before engaging in exultant praise, Christian Disciples should approach with penitence and examine their inner selves just as Isaiah did in Isaiah 6. We also gather in expectation of meeting God and that He will receive the worship!

Worship services should consist of more than just singing songs. The church is 2000 years old and in that time a lot of resources can be found to help people worship, apart from singing songs! There are items like responsive prayers and psalms, whereby prayers and psalms are spoken between the congregation to each other and to the leader! There are times of silence, or times of spoken liturgy where truths of God are both spoken and heard. Saying the Apostles Creed or Nicene Creed help build the body in affirming their belief in an awesome God worthy of worship! Times of worship should be more diverse than just singing songs and should express the cultural and personality diversity of the people worshipping! Remember, Jesus and certainly the early church participated in services which would certainly have contained liturgy, Scripture reading and songs!

Other core parts of some worship services are the Holy Communion and Baptism! These were fundamental in churches in the New Testament period and are just as important today! Holy Communion is where we as Christian Disciples remember Jesus’ death for our sin, acceptance of His death for us, and our dependence on Him for our spiritual life. Baptism is where Christian Disciples identify with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The third element of worship is the reading and preaching of the Bible! This where God’s word is read in public! This is where God’s Word is preached so as to that God’s word can be applied to the hearer’s lives! Sermons can be the pinnacle of a worship service as God’s revealed word is expounded, talked about and explained! Yet, sadly, for a lot of people its not considered worship! It most certainly is!

The whole of a church worship service should be where the spiritually comfortable are discomforted and those spiritually uncomfortable are comforted! From 1 Corinthians 14v25, worship should be where non-Christians present can proclaim, “God is really among you”. So often our church worship services are flat, feeble and weak spiritually. At one extreme in churches, we have worship services that are flippant and no consideration to make worship an awe-inspiring time of devotion to an awesome God! At the other extreme, we have worship services where everybody looks like they have been sucking on lemons and where grace is obviously lacking. Somewhere in between, is where public worship should be. In the broad spectrum of being neither trivialized nor grace-less, is where our church worship services should be! Sometimes we need to worship, even if we don’t feel like it and pray for God to help us worship Him. Over all this, is 1 Corinthians 14v26, which plainly states: “Everything that is done must be useful to all and build them up in the Lord”. Public worship is for the encouragement of the gathered worshipping group of believers and not for the individual worshipper.

The modern construct of only worshipping when its enjoyable or because the experience feels right is not a biblical construct. When you find yourself in a worship service with others, as long as what is being said and sung is biblical, keep worshipping. Even if the style or method is not to your own personal taste! Just because the church down the road from you worships in a different style to you, doesn’t make their worship in valid! We have a God worthy of all types of worship! Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit by trying to validate your own style over a different style, by saying your church worships better than any other! The Holy Spirit works in different places in different ways! Stop limiting the Holy Spirit! Through the energy and power of the Holy Spirit, any and all acts of church worship are done in reverence, in truth and in submission to the Lord Jesus Christ. Done regardless of our own personal taste, enjoyment level or experience. Main thing is to worship in Spirit and in truth, and that is surely to be a cause of joy, regardless of worship style! Let us use the diversity of worship styles to worship the One True Living God!

For more to think about please do read 1 Corinthians 14v26-39. Ask yourself the following questions, writing them down if you can, and see how you respond or react to them. Then why not share your answers with your spouse or a close friend, so that you can pray over any issues together.

Q1. When I attend worship services, is it for the encouragement of others or just for myself?

Q2. What are my favourite elements of worship and how should I react to those elements I don’t like?

Q3. Does my life of following Jesus Christ, match the words I sing and words I speak in church worship services?

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8. Church Begins – Forward in Unity

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8. Church Begins – Forward in Unity

Acts 15:13-35

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James, the brother of Jesus and writer of the epistle of James, was not an apostle. He delivered the coup-de-grace to the Judaism argument with a direct appeal to the Word of God. God had already spoken on the matter! Quoting Amos 9v11-12, James reminded them that the prophet had declared that ‘David’s fallen tent‘ was be restored and that this would involve the in gathering of all the Gentiles who bear the Lord’s name’ (Acts 15v16-18). This is fulfilled, James says, in all that Peter had described (Acts 15:14). The church of Jesus Christ was all along intended to encompass both Jew and Gentile and, one by one without discrimination, they are brought to the same faith by the same Lord. The gospel is for all nations. This, James showed, was ‘the mind of God”, in the Scripture’.

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7. Church Begins – Problems Arise

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7. Church Begins – Problems Arise

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Acts 15:1-4 “Some men came down from Judea and taught the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised after the custom of Moses, you can’t be saved.” Therefore when Paul and Barnabas had no small discord and discussion with them, they appointed Paul and Barnabas, and some others of them, to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about this question. They, being sent on their way by the assembly, passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles. They caused great joy to all the brothers. When they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the assembly and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all things that God had done with them.

At its beginning, the apostolic church was one church under the unitary leadership of the apostles. It had an expanding eldership, often called presbyters, bishops or overseers.’ From earliest days, the church had a simple but well-defined order. Elders and deacons were set apart to their particular tasks, as we saw earlier in Acts 6. Members were received upon profession of faith and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper were administered. Discipline was exercised, in which members who had fallen into sin and remained unrepentant were excluded from the church. The church was never individualistic: that is to say, people did not suddenly decide to ‘join’ or ‘leave’ the church, as is too often the case in modern churches. The church was a corporate entity, in which pastoral oversight and spiritual authority were exercised by the leadership. A leadership raised up by the Lord and set apart according to a church policy mediated by the divinely inspired guidance of the apostles. This did not mean that there was neither controversy nor the threat of disunity. From the beginning, problems arose which needed to be resolved with pastoral, spiritual and judicial authority.

It is therefore no surprise to find, early on in Church history, a question arising about the nature of membership in the church and to see the matter being dealt with through the collective leadership of the church, the apostles and elders, who met together in a deliberative assembly (Acts 15v6).

The problem arose because some men from Judea came to Antioch and promoted the view that circumcision, according to the law of Moses, was necessary for salvation. ‘They were opposed by Paul and Barnabas. The church must have been seriously upset by the dispute. There was no final resolution and so help was sought from the church in Jerusalem, still at this point the heartland of the Christian church, from which the problem had come in the first place. Paul, Barnabas and some other believers were reputed to take the case to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem.

It is impressive to see the orderliness and seemingly good spirit in which they sought to deal with the dispute. This is reflected in the way the news of the conversion of Gentiles was received along their path. The church was one church, united in a glorious obsession with the gospel and the conviction that there is one truth by which the people of God are to be guided and ordered in one, undivided body. Every theological and practical controversy potentially threatens the unity of the church. In this case, the issue was fundamental to the meaning and application of the gospel itself. The intense conservatism of some of the Christian Jews was expressed in an insistence that certain regulations of the Old Testament law be required of non-Jewish converts as prerequisites for their recognition as members of the church of Jesus Christ. This is, of course, the so-called ‘Judaizing controversy’, which, notwithstanding the action of the Jerusalem Council, continued to dog the progress of the apostolic church and was to be he target of Paul’s epistle to the Galatians. The heart of the matter is the tendency to add to the Word of God in defining who is, or is not, a Christian and thus expand the scope of what makes for a credible profession of faith to take in all sorts of unbiblical rules and requirements. The ‘Judaizing’ Christians in Antioch did not want to add some new man-made tradition of innovation, but desired to keep certain elements which had been God’s will for the Old Testament church.

How could that which was good and holy until Jesus came again, become an improper imposition afterwards? The answer had already been given explicitly and also implicitly in the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon Samaritan and Gentile believers (Acts 8v7; Acts 10v45-48). The maintenance of an Old Testament regulation (in this case, circumcision), when it had been replaced by a distinctively New Testament ordinance (baptism), was equivalent to imposing a man-made tradition even though God had originally given it to his people. Why? Because God had made it clear, through the teaching of Jesus and the apostles, that baptism was to be the ordinance of incorporation with his people for the whole New Testament era, until its culmination in the Second Coming of Christ (Matt. 28v19; Acts 2v38). The transition period of the first-generation church of the apostles, however, made sensitive and difficult matter with which to deal. Jewish Christians still attended services in the synagogues and observed the ceremonies at the temple (see Acts 21v26 for an instance of the involving the apostle Paul). Only with the destruction of the Temple in AD70 would the ceremonial aspects of the Old pattern for godliness decisively recede from the practice of church.

On arriving at Jerusalem, the delegates from Antioch were welcomed by ‘the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them’, This gathering evidently consisted of the leadership (apostles and elders) and many of the membership, including those convened were putting forward the requirement that Gentiles ‘must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses’ (Acts 15v5-6). This was the context for discussion of the issue.

The Jerusalem Council, as it has been named, was a group of ordained elders together with the apostles, The significance of this council, beyond the immediate decision which was made, lies in the fact that the apostles did not make the decision for the church, as could well have been expected of men of their unique position and gifts, but participated, for the purposes of this decision, as elders with the other elders, albeit as the ‘first among equals’, It is for this reason that the Jerusalem Council is the great prototype of ‘synods and councils’, whether congregational or Presbyterian, ever since. Having convened for that purpose, the apostles and elders’ engaged in a deliberative discussion of the issue referred to them by the church in Antioch, namely, whether the Judaistic proposition that circumcision and a commitment to keeping Mosaic law were to be required of Gentiles (Acts 15v7). There was free debate and no papering over differences. The apostles let the elders speak before they joined in, thus showing the way for the future, when their uniquely revelatory gifts would be gone,

Furthermore, it is clear, from what is said later, that their goal was to know the mind of the Holy Spirit in the matter (Acts 15v28). The Jerusalem Council is a reminder to the church of Jesus Christ to go back to God’s way of seeking the mind of the Spirit on the issues confronting the doctrinal purity and the practical peace of the body of Christ – namely, by God-appointed elders in deliberative assemblies. The way the discussion unfolded in Jerusalem is the most vivid recommendation for God’s way to solve the church’s challenges,

Peter arose after much discussion, and proceeded to demolish the Judaistic viewpoint with arguments drawn from his own experience of ministry to Gentiles. He first described the conversion of the Gentiles as the work of God (Acts 15v 7-9). It had been God, not himself, who had determined that, through his lips the Gentiles might hear the message of the gospel and believe. It was certain that God had accepted them, because He had given the Holy Spirit to them, just as He had to Jewish believers; and this was proved by the Gentile Christians’ faith, which was no different from their own (Acts 15v9). He then rebuked those Jewish Christians who would insist on human works – in this instance, circumcision and the law – as necessary for salvation (Acts 15v10). They should have known better! Their fathers could not bear the ‘yoke’ of the law. It could not save them. They could not keep it. To suggest that this same yoke is necessary to being recognised as a true believer in Christ was, in effect, to deny their own profession of Christ as their Saviour! Worse still, it was to trying to test God – that is, to challenge God’s ability to save lost people by grace through faith in Christ alone!

To make any action, however righteous in itself, an instrument of the justification of a sinner before God, when God has made it plain by precept and actual experience that it is by grace alone through saving faith in Jesus Christ, is to contradict the very essence of the gospel! Faith is in a category all of its own. Faith is not a ‘work’. It is, to be sure, the act of the human heart casting itself upon the Lord, but it is pre-eminently the gift of God as Paul later says so that no one can boast (Ephesians. 2v9). Rising to a glorious crescendo, Peter declared emphatically the very heart of the gospel (Acts 15v11). Salvation is by grace alone, both for Jews and Gentiles. Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11v30). There is no place for the yoke of a law, which could only condemn us!

The two missionaries, whose labours had largely occasioned the controversy, supported Peter with testimony to the miracles attending the ministry to the Gentiles. These showed that God was working among them, as he had among the Jews. Then, as we shall discover next time, James speaks and the church goes forward in unity! Thank you.

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6. Church Begins – Paul is sent

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6. Church Begins – Paul is sent

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Acts 9:10-31 “Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

He said, “Behold, it’s me, Lord.”

9:11 The Lord said to him, “Arise, and go to the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judah for one named Saul, a man of Tarsus. For behold, he is praying, 9:12 and in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in, and laying his hands on him, that he might receive his sight.”

9:13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he did to your saints at Jerusalem. 9:14 Here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.”

9:15 But the Lord said to him, “Go your way, for he is my chosen vessel to bear my name before the nations and kings, and the children of Israel. 9:16 For I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name’s sake.”

9:17 Ananias departed, and entered into the house. Laying his hands on him, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord, who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me, that you may receive your sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 9:18 Immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he received his sight. He arose and was baptized. 9:19 He took food and was strengthened. Saul stayed several days with the disciples who were at Damascus. 9:20 Immediately in the synagogues he proclaimed the Christ, that he is the Son of God. 9:21 All who heard him were amazed, and said, “Isn’t this he who in Jerusalem made havoc of those who called on this name? And he had come here intending to bring them bound before the chief priests!”

9:22 But Saul increased more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived at Damascus, proving that this is the Christ. 9:23 When many days were fulfilled, the Jews conspired together to kill him, 9:24 but their plot became known to Saul. They watched the gates both day and night that they might kill him, 9:25 but his disciples took him by night, and let him down through the wall, lowering him in a basket. 9:26 When Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join himself to the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.9:27 But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared to them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. 9:28 He was with them entering into Jerusalem, 9:29 preaching boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus. He spoke and disputed against the Hellenists, but they were seeking to kill him. 9:30 When the brothers knew it, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him off to Tarsus. 9:31 So the assemblies throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace, and were built up. They were multiplied, walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.”

Transformed

From the conversion of Paul, we go to the consequences of his conversion. The first consequence we maybe aware of is that he changed his name: changed from Saul of Tarsus to Paul of Tarsus – we read that in Acts 13!  Paul’s conversion was a total transformation. His attitudes, character & relationships with God, fellow believers and the unbelieving world were utterly transformed. A changed life is the uultimate proof, that conversion is real and the Holy Spirit is working. Now that through Jesus and his cross, Paul had been put right with God, Paul, as with all believers, enjoyed direct access to the Father, as the Spirit witnessed with his spirit that he was the Father’s child (Romans 8:16). Perhaps his prayers were for forgiveness of sins of self-righteousness & cruel persecution of Jesus & the church. And no doubt they contained worship. The mouth that breathed murderous threats against Jesus like a roaring lion, was now breathing prayers & praises to God like bleating lamb. Paul’s life was changed from self-righteousness to righteousness through Jesus. The evidence of this was a change in the way he lived his life.

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