And they listened to him until this word

Then He said to me, ‘Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles.’ ” And they listened to him until this word, and then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live!” (Acts 22:21-22).

The apostle Paul was defending himself in front of an angry Jewish mob in Jerusalem. Some had falsely accused him of taking Gentiles into the temple. If there was any word I would not have said in front of this angry Jewish mob, it would have been “Gentiles.” Especially in a sentence that claimed the Messiah Jesus had sent Paul to the Gentiles, whom the Jews considered as dogs. But the Holy Spirit in His eternal wisdom guided Paul to say these words, and you can see the reaction of the crowd. At this word, they shut down. No more listening, it’s time to kill Paul (Acts 22:23).

The problem here was not Paul’s choice of words or his timing or his presentation, it was the heart of the people hearing the message.

It brings up a point or two for consideration about listening.

How well do I listen?

Are there times when someone at work, school or home is trying to talk to me and they say “the wrong thing” or say it in “the wrong way” and I just shut down and refuse to hear anything else they say?

Would you and I be characterized as someone who truly lets someone freely talk to us without freaking out, overreacting and shutting down?

Paul said the “wrong word” to these Jews and it was over. They were not going to listen to another word. They were so mad they wanted him dead. Now you may not want someone dead, but you may kill a relationship because you refuse to listen. Think about it.

Nicodemus was one Jew who understood this principle, even though he was outnumbered in the Jewish council.

Nicodemus (he who came to Jesus by night, being one of them) said to them, “Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?” (John 7:50-51)

Have you experienced these things? Are there people in your life that you cannot talk freely to because of how you know they will react? We don’t like that quality in others, understandably, but we don’t want to have that same characteristic. We as God’s men want to be the kind of men who will let others freely talk without shutting down, making quick judgments, or walking away, or over-talking, etc.

He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him (Proverbs 18:13)

It would help us to do more praying before and during conversations to ask the Lord to open our ears and muzzle our mouths.

Let Them Measure the Pattern

“According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it” (Exodus 25:9).

Moses was commanded by God to make the tabernacle according to the “pattern,” God’s pattern (See also Exodus 25:40; Numbers 8:4; Acts 7:44). Everything God told Moses to do had a specific point, because God was looking forward to Christ and His church. The Hebrew writer taught that the things of the Mosaic law, tabernacle, sacrifices and priesthood served as a “copy and a shadow” of the heavenly things (Hebrews 8:5).

This same expectation of building after the pattern was placed upon King David as he began all the preparations for the temple which his son Solomon would build.

“All this,” said David, “the LORD made me understand in writing by His hand upon me, all the details of this pattern” (1 Chronicles 28:19).

In contrast to the obedience of Moses and David in following God’s pattern, there was a king years later named Ahaz who disobeyed God by seeking another pattern. He traveled to Damascus, and met with the King of Assyria. He came back with a pattern for a different altar and had it built (2 Kings 16:10).

During the days of Ezekiel the prophet, God’s people were in complete defiance of His laws, and because of it God punished Judah through the kingdom of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and Solomon’s temple and took thousands of the people of Judah into captivity. God looked forward, though, to the days of their return and the days of the Messiah. Through Ezekiel, God called His people back to the “pattern.” If they would examine the words of God which contained that pattern, they would hopefully be ashamed of their sins and turn back to God (Ezekiel 43:10).

Let Them Measure the Pattern

“Son of man, describe the temple to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and let them measure the pattern” (Ezekiel 43:10).

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul served as a pattern for us in many ways:

  • In his salvation (1 Timothy 1:16). The longsuffering and grace extended by Jesus to Paul serves as a pattern for all who will believe in Jesus Christ.
  • Through his life and character (Philippians 3:17; 4:9). Men like Titus and Timothy were also to serve as a pattern in their behavior (1 Timothy 4:12; Titus 2:7).
  • The doctrine and sound words he taught (2 Timothy 1:13). These were to be taken by men like Timothy and taught to others so that the pattern of sound doctrine would be repeated for generations to come (2 Timothy 2:2; 1 Corinthians 4:17).

God has a pattern that He wants us to follow. How we are saved. The way we behave and talk. Our worship to God. It is important for us to examine the Word and to find that pattern of sound words and follow it. As men and leaders in homes and churches, we are to have the courage and love for Christ to lead others in following God’s pattern, which first and foremost comes by living the pattern ourselves.

Until Christ is formed in you

My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you–
(Galatians 4:19).

What was Paul’s labor? His intention and purpose was to work with the Galatian brethren until Christ was formed within them. That means this is a process. This implies growth. It carries with it the idea that one who becomes a Christian has not “arrived.” We never come to a point where we can tell ourselves, “I don’t need to grow anymore.”

As Christian men, we need to understand this concept for ourselves, and we need to understand this for those we are teaching. Growth is a process. Remember most of all that God is directly involved in this transformation.

He Who Began a Good work

Look also at the next two passages and see the same principles taught and repeated by Paul.

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

In the passage from 1 Thessalonians, Paul’s desire and prayer is that God would “sanctify you entirely…spirit and soul and body.” God is cleansing us and transforming us so that we look like Jesus. This is a “good work,” as Philippians 1:6 says, and God will perfect it. He doesn’t start a work and then walk away from it. Until the day of Christ Jesus…again the idea that this is a process, and it takes time. God is loving and longsuffering with us as we grow into the image of Christ.

This is not to say that God doesn’t accept us until the full transformation process is completed. We don’t want to have the false idea that only when we are flawless that God will accept us. John reminds us that as we walk in the light the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7). That gives us the security and grace we need – a healthy environment for real growth.

Keep this in mind today, becoming like Jesus is a process. Be patient with yourself. God is. Be patient with others. God is.

But whatever gain I had

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:7-11).

What have you gained? If you were to put a value on all the things you have gained, what would its value be?

According to Paul, it is all rubbish compared to the one most important thing…gaining Christ. If anyone could brag on what he had “gained” in the flesh, it would be Paul. He had quite the religious resume, and I would imagine that with his connections to religious leadership, he was probably well-to-do financially.

But the value he placed on it all was rubbish. I personally like the King James Version on this one because the word is translated “dung.” Perfect. That’s what it all comes down to, and that is the same conclusion wise old King Solomon reached in the book of Ecclesiastes. It is like those antique roadshows where someone thinks they have an incredible treasure, and the expert tells them that its fake and only worth ten bucks.

But whatever gain I had

To Paul it was all about Jesus. Take a look back at the text for today and for your personal study, look at these few verses and meditate upon how much Paul valued what Christ had to offer. This passage is saturated with it. Wring it out and see what Paul had learned to value in his life.

I would then consider taking time today to look around your office and your house, and take a red marker and write “rubbish” on everything. Start with that annoying c0-worker who talks too much. No, please don’t do that. Seriously though, my diploma, compared to Christ, is rubbish. Your resume, compared to Christ, is rubbish. What I have accomplished spiritually in my life, is dung compared to Christ.  Your status in the company and your retirement fund, is dung compared to Christ.

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.

Let’s put all of this in perspective today, men. If you have Christ in your life, you have everything. Without Christ, what do you have?

So far as it depends on you

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord (Romans 12:17-19).

Acts 16 is Luke’s account of Paul and Silas preaching the gospel in Philippi. Paul and Silas were falsely accused, unjustly beaten and unlawfully imprisoned. Through the events of that night in prison, the Philippian jailer obeyed the gospel along with his household. What we are going to focus on, though, is what happened the next day.

After Paul is released from prison, an interesting encounter occurs (Acts 16:35-40).

“Now when the day came, the chief magistrates sent their policemen saying, ‘Release those men.’ And the Jailer reported these words to Paul, saying ‘the chief magistrates have sent to release you. Therefore come out now and go in peace.”

The Jailer, a brand new Christian is overjoyed that the men who have taught him how to be saved are to be released and set free. In becoming a Christian, it is interesting to note, the jailer still remained a jailer and Paul and Silas, while honored by him, were still considered prisoners. Paul, the great evangelist and proclaimer of the gospel, and apostle sent by God in Christ did not overflow with excitement when he heard for their request to come out:

“But Paul said to them, ‘they have beaten us in public without trial, men who are Romans, and have thrown us into prison; and now are sending us away secretly? No indeed! But let them come themselves and bring us out.’ The policemen reported these words to the chief magistrates. They (the magistrates) were afraid when they heard they were Romans, and they came and appealed to them, and when they appealed to them, and when they had brought them out, they kept begging them to leave the city. They went out of the city and entered the house of Lydia, and when they say the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.”

So far as it depends on you…

Paul and Silas give us a look in to Christianity that popular culture may not agree with:

  • The apostle held those men who had punished himself and Silas without trial accountable.
  • Paul and Silas, being identified as Romans were entitled to a public hearing. Because that hearing had been denied the magistrates themselves could suffer penalties (including death).
  • He demanded the magistrates admit they were wrong.
  • When the Magistrates did so, Paul let it go.

Christians, at times feel they cannot or should not seek the authorities in this land. This is not the example given to us in scripture. However, it should also be noted, Paul did not take it to the point of death or even excessive humiliation. He did not demand the right to beat the magistrates for having him beaten. Instead, while holding to authority, he himself used restraint.

This was an example given to the Jailer and one we should consider as well. In seeking justice, are we trying to do what is right, or do we become vindictive and hold ourselves to the standards and teachings of the world and Satan?  Paul gives a deeper example of what Romans 12:18-19 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, but leave room for the wrath of God …” Paul certainly practiced what he preached. “As long as it depends on you …” We must strive for peace and use the tools God has given us appropriately. The rest will always be up to God.

They refreshed my spirit

For they refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men.
(1 Corinthians 16:18)

Her name was Irene. She was an elderly sister in Columbus, Ohio who struggled with a host of physical ailments. It literally brought tears to her eyes to sit in the pews for a worship service because of the pain she was enduring. In her later years, I remember her hobbling through the doors of the church building, pulling an oxygen cart behind her.

What amazed me and put “oxygen” in my spiritual lungs was to see what she did when she entered the building. She came in smiling. Irene greeted everyone, especially any visitors. Holding her oxygen cart with one hand and shaking visitors’ hands with her other hand.

Her life was for Jesus and for others. She had the joy of the Lord in the midst of her pain and suffering. Her focus was not on her suffering but on how to encourage others.

Thanks, dear sweet Irene. See you in heaven.

Men, I write this to encourage you to look around in your congregations on Sunday and find someone like Irene and give them a hug. Go visit them next week and sit down with them and be refreshed in your spirit. Be thankful for those who teach us by their example the simple truths of humility, thankfulness and love.

They refreshed my spirit

Some were persuaded and some disbelieved

Last night, I went with a few other Christians to hear a preacher present a great lesson on “Can We All Understand the Bible Alike?” One of the passages he referenced in his sermon was Acts 28, which is an account of Paul arriving in Rome. Please take time to read the passage below and notice why some did not receive Paul’s message. You can see that it had nothing to do with God’s word or it being impossible to understand.

“But we desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.” When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.

And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved. And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet: “‘Go to this people, and say, “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.” For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen” (Acts 28:22-28).

Some were persuaded and some disbelieved

What did Paul do? He expounded, he testified and tried to convince them about what the Scriptures said. The message of Jesus was clearly and reasonably presented to the crowd that day.

Take note that some were convinced, but others disbelieved. They did not agree “among themselves.” There was religious division among them. So, what was the problem? Was Paul’s teaching too hard to understand? No, Paul quoted Isaiah in saying they had “closed” their eyes and that their hearts had grown dull. It had nothing to do with the message. The problem was their eyes, ears and hearts.

Lord, please open our hearts, our ears and our eyes to see Your word just as it is. Please remove any pre-conceived notions, traditions and men’s opinions from our hearts. May we simply listen to Your truth with an honest mind. Amen.

He considered me faithful

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service… (1 Timothy 1:12).

Last night, our congregation heard a great short talk from 1 Timothy 1:12 which focused on Paul’s thankfulness to God for being able to serve. Paul was thankful not only to serve God, but also to serve others. Thank you, Nathan, for that lesson!

As I was thinking about that wonderful concept last night, I began thinking of another thing from verse 12. God considered Paul faithful. If you know nothing about his previous life, then this statement is not all that impressive. However, when you read further, you see Paul describe his previous way of living in comparison to God’s abundant mercy.

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.  (1 Timothy 1:12-17)

He considered me faithful

Paul’s former life is self-described as blasphemous and violently aggressive in persecuting God’s people. How on earth could God consider such a one to be “faithful” after living a life like that? Yet, God did this very thing. In another passage, Paul gave glory to God’s mercy that his opinion was considered “trustworthy” by God (1 Cor. 7:25).

Would we consider Paul to be “faithful” after knowing his attitude and behavior toward God and His people? Would we even want to hear anything Paul had to say? How can we look past the fact that Paul did every thing in his power to hurt Christians (Acts 26:9-11)? He “breathed out threats and murder” towards them (Acts 9:1)!

You see, Jesus demonstrates through Paul an example of His abundant mercy. This is God’s pattern on display for all time. God is merciful…abundantly merciful. Through the blood of Jesus Christ, anyone can be forgiven who comes to the cross. No matter what you or I have done, we can through God’s mercy be counted faithful. That guy at work whom we think would be the last person in the world to become a Christian…well, remember Paul.

“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15).

The Power of Being Properly Provoked

“Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols.  So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present.” Acts 17:16-17

As we read and hear about the violence and hatred and evil around us it is easy to despair and begin to believe that we have no impact in our communities.  If you’re like me, you can get overwhelmed with the ungodliness around you and not even know where to start.  When that happens, I find myself returning to Acts 17 to consider Paul’s approach.

Athens in Paul’s day was a lot like the United States in 2016.  It was considered the cultural and intellectual center of Greece.  Athens was a city of art and entertainment and allowed for just about any expression of thought or religious ideas.  One of the popular philosophies of the day was to seek pleasure and avoid pain for that is the meaning of life.  Sound familiar?  We can learn a lot by considering how Paul approached this city.  Let’s start at the end and work our way back.

 

  1. The Results Belong to God

Acts 17:32-34, “…some began to sneer, but others said, ‘We shall hear you again concerning this’…But some men joined him and believed”.  What do you think Paul’s success rate was in preaching the gospel?  What percentage of people who heard his message actually responded and became disciples of Jesus?  I would suggest that the percentage is pretty low.  Far more people heard his message and rejected it than obeyed it.  Why would he keep preaching with limited success and so much failure?  Because his job was to SOW THE SEED, not produce the harvest.  Our job is no different.  Let’s not fail to get started because we’re afraid to fail.  God owns the results.

 

  1. Those Who Happened to Be Present

I’m guilty of it, aren’t you?  We have looked at someone and, often subconsciously, determined they would not be open to the gospel or an invitation to a Bible study.  Paul made no such pre-determinations.  He spoke to anyone who would listen.  Additionally, Paul was where the people were.  He spent his time in the synagogue and in the marketplace because that is where the people were.  It is so easy to turn our churches and our families into little castles and dig motes around them to keep the world out.  We fill our lives and our schedules with Christians and avoid any meaningful relationships with someone outside the church.  And when we are forced to interact with “outsiders” because of some school activity, we are more concerned with what they are doing “wrong” than developing a relationship and teaching them about Jesus.  Our churches and our homes should be less like castles and more like locker rooms, locker rooms where we game plan and prepare ourselves to impact our communities for Christ.

 

  1. Exchanging Thoughts, Mingling Thought with Thought

Verse 17 says that “he was reasoning” with them.  The transliteration of the Greek is dielegeto which literally means “through, from one side to the other” and “speak to a conclusion”.  The idea is that Paul was having a dialogue.  He was exchanging thoughts, mingling ideas, in order to bring them to a conclusion about God and Jesus the Christ.  He wasn’t beating them down.  He wasn’t calling them names.  He wasn’t spitefully arguing with them.  He wasn’t belittling them or projecting self-righteous superiority.  He didn’t post obnoxious, sarcastic, and unkind “truth” on Facebook.  A wise friend of mine once said, “Truth has nothing to fear in the spotlight of careful inspection,” so let’s take a step back and try and have a conversation.

 

  1. His Spirit Was Provoked

The word provoked is paroksyno which comes from two words literally meaning “to come along side” and “a sharp edge”.  The idea is to come up and cut.  It is to stir up emotions, to get upset, to get angry.  What made Paul angry?  The city was full of idols.  How did Paul express his anger?  He went out to where the people were and reasoned with anyone and everyone who would listen.  When Paul looked at Athens he wasn’t overcome by the beauty and the art.  He didn’t immerse himself in the entertainment and marvel at the progressive mindset of the people.  He didn’t see a city full of disgusting sinners that needed to burn in hell.  Paul looked at Athens and he saw people created in the image of the Holy and Mighty God.  He looked at children of God who had abandoned their purpose and defiled themselves in worshiping worthless, powerless, meaningless junk.  He saw people who had “exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man…” (Romans 1:23)  In other words, Paul saw exactly what God saw when He looked at the people of Athens.  Paul realized that God had once looked at him the same way and still showed him mercy and grace.  In looking at the people like God looked at the people, Paul was stirred up and acted with grace, just like his Father.

When we start to despair about the chaos in the world around us we can react in a number of different ways.  We can put up walls and dig motes to keep the world out, hoping to protect ourselves and the ones we love.  We can get angry and shout and scream at the sinful lifestyles of those around us, even trying to pass laws to legislate morality.  We can even try to blend in to the culture so we don’t draw too much attention to ourselves.  Or we can look at the world the way God does, get stirred up, and make the most of every opportunity by teaching the truth in love and showing others the same mercy and grace that God has shown to us.  And when we get stirred up and speak up, some will sneer, some will say “later” and some will join and believe.

What Controls Us?

For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

This word “controls” is a fascinating word in how it is used in the New Testament. It means to hold together, or to press. Look at how this word is used:

  • When the multitudes were “crowding” and pressing in on Jesus (Luke 8:45).
  • As Jesus was under arrest and being “held” in custody (Luke 22:63).
  • The Jews who stoned Stephen ran at him as they “pressed” their hands to their ears (Acts 7:57).
  • Jesus was “distressed” about His coming crucifixion, and He used this word to describe His state of mind (Luke 12:5).
  • Paul was “hard pressed” between two points, using this word (Philippians 1:23).
  • The Roman armies, according to Jesus, were going to surround Jerusalem and “hem” them in on every side to destroy them (Luke 19:43).
What controls us?

What if anger, worry, lust or greed holds us in custody? I believe all reading this know what that looks like, because we have all lived it.

What if Christ’s love is that which controls us? What if we allow Christ’s love to press upon us and hold us together?

You see, the apostle Paul experienced both ways of living. He as a young man was in that crowd that “pressed” their hands to their ears, stopping themselves from hearing the truth of Stephen from the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:57). But now, Paul’s motivation is fully arrested and compelled by the love of Christ demonstrated at the cross.

Take a look at the very first verse in the article, 2 Cor. 5:14-15. Paul made a conclusion that since Christ died for all, we who died with Him are to no longer live for ourselves. We are compelled and it is pressed upon us to live for Him who died and rose again for us.

Today, please meditate and pray about this concept. May the love of Christ at the cross be the true driving force and motivation in all that we say and do.