Several Sermons here.  The latest are at the beginning.

September 17, 2017

 

Title: The Measure of Success

Text: Acts 8:26-40

 

26 Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert. 27 So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28 was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.”

30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 The place in the Scripture which he read was this:

“He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent,

            So He opened not His mouth 33 In His humiliation His justice was taken away,

            And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth.”

34 So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. 36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?”

37 Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.”

And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.

 

We all want to be successful.  Of course, success is measured in many different ways.  A person who is successful financially might have a personal life that’s a mess.  A person who is dealing with serious and terminal physical illnesses might be perfectly at peace because their spiritual life is fully at rest with God.  The CEO of a fortune 500, multi-billion dollar company might spend all their time off in loneliness because there is no one who cares about them just for who there are.  Can we even define success?

I grew up on a neighborhood full of kids.  As a child, there was always somebody to play with.  A block and a half from us were two brothers, Steve and Dean.  We went to school together, played together and probably got in trouble together.

In early high school, Steve and Dean moved away and I lost track of them.  The only thing I heard during that time was that Dean was diving off the Buck House Bridge into the river and he dove in too shallow a spot and broke his neck.  He became a quadriplegic.

Then, unexpectedly, after I was a pastor, Steve called and after some reminiscing, asked if I would officiate at his wedding.  I was happy to do so.  Dean was his best man.  After the wedding, I got to talking with Dean.  Through his accident he had come to Christ and was very much in love with Jesus.  I asked him, “Dean, how is your brother really?”  Dean replied, “Well, he doesn’t know the Lord so I guess he’s not doing all that well.”

Dean’s reply will stick with me for the rest of my life.  How do we measure success?  Success is defined by having a relationship with God.  Our relationship with God includes faithfulness, love and service.  Service comes through obedience to the call of God in our lives.  Our bank accounts can be at any level, our social calendar can be filled with events, our houses can be in order but if we are not obediently serving God we cannot call our lives a complete success.

Remember this, successful service to God isn’t measured in results but in obedience.

But sometimes it doesn’t play itself out like we might hope it would.  Sometimes evidence of success cannot be seen.  Sometimes only the hand of God measures success.

This account from the life of Philip might fall under the category of, “Lord, are you sure you got that right?”

Philip began his evangelistic ministry because he was running for his life.  Acts 8 begins,

“…Saul was consenting to [Stephen’s] death.

At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. … As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.

Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them.”

As Philip flees the persecution of Saul, he finds himself in the city of Samaria.  In his time there he witnessed the power of God changing people’s lives.  He is preaching the message of salvation, people are believing and being baptized and when it was apparent that the work was going forward the two apostles came down for the filling of the Holy Spirit.  God was at work.  Philip was in the center of a glorious work of God.  Verses 6-8 declare:

“…the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.  For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed.  And there was great joy in that city.”

That’s the kind of Christian service a person wants to be in.  People were getting saved, Satan was being beaten back and God was shining forth.  I’m sure Philip was reveling in his “successful” service to God.

But remember, successful service to God isn’t measured in results but in obedience.

Then things changed.  Luke records,

“Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, ‘Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ This is desert.”

God instructed Philip to leave a growing ministry and go to a desert road.  The angel said, “…go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.”  Philip goes from a populated city to a desolate desert road.  He doesn’t even go to another city, he travels to some road out in the middle of nowhere.

Philip begins in Jerusalem.  Because of persecution he leaves and goes to Samaria.  In Samaria he has fantastic evangelistic success.  People are turning to God and lives are being changed.  In the midst of that an angel tells him to go to the desert on some road between Jerusalem and Gaza.  He’s not even going to a city, but to some unknown spot on a desolate desert road.   On that road he finds one guy, an Ethiopian.  Philip uses the prophet Isaiah’s writings to lead this guy to Christ.  As soon as he is baptized God takes Philip to Azotus.  From Azotus Philip  works his way back to Caesarea, preaching as he goes.  He never returns to the vibrant ministry in Samaria.

A commentator, Howard Marshal, writes: “The story is set in motion by an angelic command to Philip which took him away from the scene of successful evangelism and led him to a place which must have seemed wholly inappropriate for further Christian work.”  [Marshall, I. Howard. Tyndale NT Commentaries: Acts. W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.: Grand Rapids. p. 161.]

But remember, successful service to God isn’t measured in results but in obedience.

When Philip arrives at the desert road he comes upon a man.  This man is described as “…a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship….”

This is a very high political official in Ethiopia.  He had control over all the riches of Candace the queen.  As Philip approaches this man’s chariot he realizes he is reading from the book of Isaiah.  And coincidence of coincidences he is reading about Jesus and His death.

Philip is instructed by the Spirit to catch up to the man’s chariot and when he does, he asks this man if he understands what he is reading.  The Ethiopian responds, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”  Philip jumps up into the chariot and through that Scripture presents Christ to him.  Verse 35 records. “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.”

The man is convinced of the truth, receives Christ and is immediately baptized.

There is a lot in this account in the book of Acts, we could take it in several different directions.  But the one truth that relates to our purpose today is that successful service to God isn’t measured in results but in obedience.

Was Philip successful while in Jerusalem?  Yes, because he was where God wanted him to be.  Was Philip successful when he was in Samaria preaching to people and seeing many come to Christ and overcome their many demons?  Yes, but he wasn’t successful because people were coming to Christ, he was successful because he was doing what God told him to do…results are secondary.

Remember, successful service to God isn’t measured in results but in obedience.

Philip was just as successful on the desolate desert road to Gaza where one man happened to show up.  He was successful because he was in the place God told him to be.  Success is not measured in results but in obedience to God.

It can be hard when we hear of people having large ministries and lots of programs.  It can be hard when their success seems to shine more than yours.  It is tempting to think that what you do is not as vital or as important as the person’s down the street.

But for the wife or husband whose spouse has yet to come to Christ, your most important ministry is with her/him.  For the Mom/Dad who is trying to raise their children to know Jesus, your success is found in obeying God with them.

Success is not measured in results but in obedience.

Like I said, we could talk about several different things here.  Philip catching up to the chariot, Philip understanding the scripture the man was reading.  The fact that the man was in the prophecy of Isaiah that presented Jesus. The fact that this was a very powerful Ethiopian official who would have great impact in his home.  We could discuss the strange incident that right after the man was baptized “…the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away….”  Or why God never took him back to Samaria.  But all that’s for another day.  Today notice Philip’s obedience.  He shows his faith not by grandiose spiritual events but by his obedience to the call of God.

Are you in the place of God’s service?  Are you being obedient to the call of God.

A land owner had two sons.  He asked both sons to go work in the vineyards.  The one son said, “yes” but the never went.  The other son said, “no” but then changed his mind and went.  Which one made the father happy?  The one who went.

God is not asking you to end childhood hunger.  God is not asking you to usher in world peace.  God is not asking you to present the Gospel to 10,000 people.  God is asking you to be obedient.  To bring glory to God we just need to obey the voice of our God.

We talk about the purpose of the church being to glorify God.  And we have introduced functions that lead to glorifying God.  We evangelize, teach, serve and other things.  But maybe the greatest and most important function of the church is to obey.

We glorify God by obeying Him in what we do, say and think.

 

 

*END*

 

September 10, 2017

Title: Simon: Sorcerer or Believer?

Text: Acts 8:4-25

 

4 “Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. 5 Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. 6 And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. 7 For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. 8 And there was great joy in that city.

9 But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great, 10 to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the great power of God.” 11 And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time. 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. 13 Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done.

14 Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, 15 who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

18 And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

20 But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! 21 You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. 22 Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.”

24 Then Simon answered and said, “Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me.”

25 So when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.

 

This wonderful passage has challenged my brain this week.  My understanding of the position of Simon the sorcerer wasn’t completely clear from what I read in the Bible.  So, to clear things up I opened some books to read the thoughts of learned men and women.  After a day of reading many opinions of these learned men and women I was more confounded than before I began.

The commentators are all over the map in their discussion of the account of Simon Magus.  Some say he absolutely positively was a believer who made a mistake while others say he absolutely positively was not a believer but merely played a part, pretending to follow Christ.  There were plenty of opinions that landed somewhere in between the two extremes.

Then of course there are my favorite ones, the ones that use so many Greek and Hebrew words and words that I do not know that I get tired of looking up definitions and they go on for so long I finally quit reading them.  I mean, come on, why use 100 words to explain a hard passage when you can use 10,000 words and make half of them foreign words.

I did gain a lot of insight from my reading but in this case the commentators made it as hard as possible.

Initially the question for me was, “Was Simon truly a believer?”  Acts 8:13 records “…Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.”   The words used in this verse are identical as those of the previous verse that describe the belief of others in Samaria and we do not question their salvation.  If we jump ahead a bit we see that it’s the same formula used to describe the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch, and we do not question his conversion.

From the statement in 8:13 it appears that Simon made a genuine commitment to Christ.  So then, and here’s the follow-up question, “If he was a believer, what was the purpose of Peter’s comments in verses 20-23?”  Many believe that the words of Peter tilt very strongly to the opinion that Simon was not a believer.

Walk with me through the story.

From the language Luke uses in Acts 8:13 it seems clear that Simon was a believer.  The way it’s stated is the way conversions are stated in many instances of a person’s salvation.

But in Acts 8:20-23 Peter unleashes a rebuke that might have peeled paint off the wall…had there been paint on the wall.

Simon saw believers receiving the Holy Spirit when Peter laid his hands on them.  Simon wanted to have that power so he offered Peter and John money if they would give him that power also.  This is where Peter’s rebuke comes in.

Peter first tells him that you cannot buy this gift. He says, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money!” (vs. 20)  The gifts of the Spirit, in this case the laying on of hands for the receiving of the Holy Spirit, cannot be finagled out of God.  They cannot be bought, earned or bartered for.  God gives the gifts as He sees fit and as they fit into the body of Christ.

I Corinthians 12:11 says, But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.”  The Holy Spirit distributes the gifts, we accept.

Peter goes on to say to Simon that this is not his work.  He says, “You have neither part not portion in this matter….” (vs. 21)  I am of the persuasion that Peter is not talking about salvation at this point.  What he is referring to is the imparting of the Holy Spirit.

As the Gospel spread out from Jerusalem, it began to grow in non-Israelite circles.  In this case it’s the Samartans, in Acts 10 it’s the Gentiles.  In each case, Peter is there representing both the presence of God and a connection to the Church in Jerusalem.  What is happening here, Acts 8 and the laying on of hands that they might receive the Holy Spirit, was only for the Apostles.  Simon was asking for a gift that he was not allowed to have.  Therefore Peter says, “You have no part of this gift or ministry.  It is only for the Apostles.”

The end of 8:21 and all of 22 are simply Peter pointing out that Simon was committing a sin.  Peter says,

21your heart is not right in the sight of God. 22 Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you.”

Simon’s request for the power to impart the Holy Spirit seems to come from his desire for glory and prestige.  His pride and arrogance rear its ugly head and he reverts back to how he worked before his salvation.

Look back at verse 9.  Simon practiced sorcery…and astonished the people…claiming that he was someone great.”  He accepted the accolade “…This man is the great power of God.”  The fact that the people “…heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries” was a real ego booster.  Up until his conversion Simon has always bought what he wanted.

I see Simon’s request to purchase the power of the Apostles simply him reverting back to his old ways.

As I thought about this request of Simon an old adage came to mind.  The cliché goes “Old habits die hard.”  Simon had operated under the influence of pride and prestige for so long that it was hard to change.

It can be the same way with us.  We develop a way of living and just because the Holy Spirit enters into our lives doesn’t mean that those habits will immediately change.  Romans tells us to be transformed by the renewing of our mind.  There is a process of change that takes place as our mind gradually but continually begins to think like Christ.  Some habits may change quickly; others may die hard, lingering and occasionally surfacing.  They are harder to let go.

Two good friends of mine, a husband and wife, had smoked for a long time.  They began smoking when it was healthy and cool to smoke.  Eventually, after decades of smoking, they figured it was time to quit.  The wife quit cold turkey.  She put down the pack one day and never picked it up again.  He decided maybe he should quit also.  His wife said to him, “You haven’t got the guts to quit.”  To which he took one look at her, dropped his pack into the wood stove and never smoked again.

Another friend of mine really wanted to quit.  He would quit for awhile then the stress of being the manager of a large home improvement store would get to him and he would begin again.  He would quit again and his “friends” at work would blow smoke at him or offer him a cigarette and he would succumb.  I’m not sure if he ever quit.

The point is some habits are hard to overcome.  And it varies from person to person.  Some can let go of bad habits quickly whereas others fight tooth and nail and still the habit lingers.

We need to be thankful that our eternity in heaven does not hinge on our own purity but on the purity of Christ.

For Simon it was pride that was his besetting habit.  It was the desire to be venerated by others and when he saw the seeming power of Peter and John he reverted back to an old temptation.  His pride rose within him and he gave in to it.

At that point Peter rebukes him, Simon asks for prayer and the matter ends there.  Verses 24 & 25 say,

24 Then Simon answered and said, “Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me.”

25 So when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.

Luke considers the matter closed and moves on.  Simon makes a mistake, Peter somewhat brutally straightens him out, Simon repents and continues to grow in faith.  As near as I can figure this Simon is never mentioned in the Bible again.

Oh there are a lot of stories that arise out of this man’s experience.  In my reading I found several accounts in extra-biblical writings of the continued heresies of Simon but some were contradictory and none could be proven.  Concerning Simon one writer says,

“The account in the Acts of the Apostles is the sole authoritative report that we have about him. The statements of the writers of the second century concerning him are largely legendary, and it is difficult or rather impossible to extract from them any historical fact.”

At the end of Acts 8, the last time we hear about Simon in the Bible, he has repented and is trying to mature in faith.  He caved and gave into the temptation for a brief moment but that did not negate his faith.

Temptation will come your way and, as James tells us, it comes from the lustful desires within us. He writes:

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.” James 1:13-14

We sin because we give in to a sinful nature that constantly fights against holiness.  Temptation is the manifestation of evil desires we have allowed into our lives.  The Holy Spirit is dealing with those temptations but we have to fight them.  Recognize wrong within us and give in to the Holy Spirit’s power to eradicate those desires.

Which brings us back to Acts 8:23.  Peter says to Simon:

“For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.”

This is the phrase that cause some to say that Simon never was truly saved.  But I see it differently.

Simon’s past contained a lot of experimentation with evil and wickedness.  There’s a good chance that his sorcery involved calling on demons and the spirit world.  One person writes:

“Sorcery, which is strongly condemned by God (Dt. 18:9-13), was common in the ancient world, and, while some acts and demonstrations were no more than illusions of the mind, others were empowered by Satan in an attempt to discredit the power of God (Mt. 24:24; 2 Thess. 2:9).  It appears Simon was the latter, as Luke states that he had amazed the Samaritans ‘for a long time with his sorcery’ (Acts 8:11), some even declaring that he was ‘the great Power of God’ (Acts 8:10), a messianic title.

That kind of evil has a way of getting ahold of a person.  The spirit world is real and dangerous.  Paul warns “…we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Eph. 2:12

Simon had a lot of renewing to do.  He had to overcome a lot of evil activity in his past.  When Peter says, “…you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity” he is describing where Simon had come from and what he had to fight against, not where he was going.  Simon had a demonic past, but the Holy Spirit would conquer it.

God can conquer your past.  There is no evil, no action, no wicked commitments that God cannot overcome.  The prophet Isaiah says: “Behold, the LORD’S hand is not shortened, That it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, That it cannot hear.” Isa. 59:1

God can beat the daylights out of your past and make you holy.  But it might take some work.

When Jesus returned from the mountain after His transfiguration the disciples were trying to cast a demon out of a young man.  They were unable to do so and when they asked why they had so much trouble Jesus responds, “…because of you unbelief….However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” Mt. 17:21

Sometimes our sin clings to us and it’s a fight to get rid of it.

How desperately do we want to be holy unto the Lord?  Do you want it so much so that we will do the hard work of purification?   Do we want holiness so bad that we will be careful what we put into our mind and heart?

Holiness begins by barricading the gate and not allowing any evil or questionable thing in.  Porn, immorality, violence, selfishness, lying, idolatry, hatred, uncontrolled anger are all things that begin in our lusts and then manifest themselves as we go out and get them.  We have to stop evil from entering and we stop it by closing the door.

Like Simon, sometimes we open the door to evil.  God can drive it out but we have to want it driven out.  Prayer and fasting may be the only way it will happen.

Don’t be weak, don’t be controlled by the sinful nature.  In the power of the Holy Spirit drive evil away then bar the door so it cannot reenter.

 

 

*** *** ***

EXCURSUS

GraceNotes – no. 70 by Dr. Charlie Bing

Was Simon the Sorcerer Saved? Acts 8:17-24

17 Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! 21 You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. 22 Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.” 24 Then Simon answered and said, “Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me.”

Can an individual recently saved from an occultic background commit a serious sin? Or would that horrendous blunder prove he was never really saved? The case in point is Simon Magus (magus is Latin for sorcerer) of whom the text says, “Then Simon himself also believed” (v. 13), along with the other Samaritans who heard Philip preach the gospel. But later, when the apostles Peter and John arrive and bestow the Holy Spirit on the new believers, Simon tries to purchase this apostolic power (and so the origination of the word simony, which means to purchase influence or power in the church). Peter’s reaction is swift and his words severe, cursing Simon and telling him to repent. Many have wondered, what is going on here?

Insight from the narrative

Bible authors, like Luke who wrote Acts, did not write stories randomly, but as part of a larger narrative. It is always necessary to note the nature and flow of events.

Acts chapter 8 relates the transition of the gospel message from Jerusalem to Samaria. It comments on a good believer who was martyred, Stephen (v. 2), and a bad unbeliever who persecuted the church, Saul (v. 3), who later believes (Acts chapter 9). After the story about Simon, the end of chapter 8 relates the story of an Ethiopian eunuch who believes Philip’s preaching of Christ (vv. 26-40). The stories show that the reach of the gospel is comprehensive; it saves those who are hardened (Saul) as well as those who are open (Ethiopian). These stories also seem to emphasize the various effects that the gospel has on these different people. One accepts martyrdom (Stephen), one becomes an apostle (Saul/Paul), one tries to personally benefit (Simon), and one goes on his way rejoicing in his salvation (Ethiopian). If Simon is not saved, he would be the exception in the narrative.

The evidence that Simon was not saved

Some believe that Simon does not show enough change of life if he was saved. Many have trouble accepting that a true believer would try to buy the apostles’ unique power to bestow the Holy Spirit. They also think Peter’s words are fit only for an unbeliever:

  • He curses Simon indicating he will perish (v. 20).
  • He says Simon does not have any part in “this matter” (v. 21).
  • He says Simon’s heart is not right with God (v. 21).
  • He tells Simon to repent of his wickedness to be forgiven (v. 22).
  • He says Simon is poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity (v. 23).

The evidence that Simon was saved

On the other hand, many think there is abundant evidence that Simon was a true believer.

Luke’s words. Writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Luke says that the Samaritans believed and were baptized (v. 12), that Simon “also believed” and was baptized (v. 13), and that the Ethiopian Eunuch believed and was baptized (v. 37-38). It would be arbitrary to deny Luke’s affirmation of Simon’s salvation while accepting his affirmation of the others’ salvation. We would also assume that Philip was convinced that they had all believed and been saved before he baptized them (see v. 37).

Peter’s words. It is important to observe that Peter never says anything about Simon not believing or Simon rejecting Christ. He indicates that Simon will perish with his money (this should not be considered a prophecy, but a provisional rebuke). It would be odd for Peter to consign money to eternal hell if this is what he is referring to. The word “perish” (from apoleia) sometimes refers specifically to eternal destruction in hell, but it has the general meaning of ruin or waste (see Mark 14:4/Mt. 26:8; Acts 26:16; 2 Pet. 3:16) and is used at least once in reference to a saved person (1 Cor. 8:11). Certainly, Simon’s misguided request shows such a perverted view of the apostolic position and the gift of the Holy Spirit that it would lead to his ruin or waste in this life. What Peter seems to be reacting to is Simon’s sin of avarice born of jealousy for the unique apostolic power of bestowing the Holy Spirit (v. 20). Thus when Peter says, “You have neither part nor portion in this matter” (v. 21), the most obvious matter at hand is Simon’s illegitimate desire for this apostolic privilege, not salvation. Then Peter says that Simon’s heart is not right with God (v. 21), which would be an odd way to describe an unbeliever. He tells Simon to repent of a specific sin, “of this your wickedness,” and find God’s forgiveness (Acts 8:22) again, an odd way to address an unbeliever who is condemned by sinfulness, not any one sin. Peter’s take on Simon’s problem is not that he is dead in sin or separated from God, but that he is “poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity,” both obvious references to his covetousness and avarice (Acts 8:23). Believers can succumb to bitterness and sin (Eph. 4:32; Heb. 12:15). Peter himself denied Christ as a new believer and later denied the gospel of grace by his actions (Lk. 22:54-62; Gal. 2:11-14).

Simon’s words. After hearing Peter’s rebuke, Simon responds by asking the apostles to pray for him so that none of Peter’s words would become reality. That is how the encounter ends. Simon does not ask for salvation, but repents of the specific sin that Peter addressed (“this your wickedness,” v. 22). This describes the response of a believer rather than someone who is initially believing in Christ for salvation.

Conclusion

After reviewing the testimonies of Luke, Peter, and Simon, the evidence seems to support the fact that Simon had believed in Jesus Christ like the other Samaritans, was saved and baptized like them, but then sinned greatly. He was in danger of experiencing God’s temporal curse for his specific sin of trying to purchase an apostolic power. His need was not to get saved, but to repent of that sin. He needed to see how he was terribly wrong and reject the error of his ways, which he seems to do. Christians can sin grievously, perhaps more so if they are new converts. But the grace that saves unbelievers freely, will also forgive believers abundantly.

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*END*

 

 

September 3, 2017

Title: Pointing Out Bad Behavior

Text: Acts 6:8 & 7:60

 

We exist to glorify God.  One of our functions is to declare truth, to reveal lies and expose liars.  In that process we will run afoul of those who hold differing opinions.  We will make some enemies.

But we are called to expose lies.  How do we do that?  How can we confront people concerning their sin?  How do we release the Holy Spirit to do His work?

First we develop a God centered foundation.

In Acts 7 Stephen lays down an amazing outline of Israel’s progression.

He takes us from when Abraham left his homeland and headed to what would eventually become Canaan.  He talks about how Joseph saved Israel from starvation.  He walks us through the Egyptian captivity and their ultimate deliverance.  He shows how Moses was destined to help guide them from slavery to freedom.

He tells how they rebelled at Sinai and worshiped the golden calf.  He says they had the Tabernacle in the wilderness and though God would not let David build the Temple his son, Solomon, did build a house for God.

And as I read this I wondered if I could give as concise a history of the Bible.  Could I go back and give an overview of God’s working from Creation to the birth of Jesus?  Just how well do I know my Bible timeline.

But we need to notice that the history Stephen gives isn’t so much a history of Israel as it is a record of God’s working in Israel’s history.  We repeatedly hear phrases like:

“The God of glory appeared,”                        “And God gave him no inheritance in it,”

“But God spoke in this way”                           “Then [God] gave him the covenant of circumcision”

“But God was with him and delivered him”   “God would deliver them by his hand”

“At this time Moses was born, and was well pleasing to God”    “Then the LORD said to him”

“an Angel of the Lord appeared to him”        “Then God turned and gave them up”

Stephen had an understanding that the reason Israel existed was because God was with them.  They were no greater or better or stronger than any other nation.  They existed because God was their God.

Folks we are not alive today because we’re so great or so smart of so strong.  We’re here today because God is holding on.  Whether a person believes in Him or not, the history of the world and the history of America is the history of God working.

We develop a God centered foundation because all that is, all that exists, all that continues is so and does so because God is at work.  If for some reason God chooses to let go, there will be no more life.

Paul writes: 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” Col. 1:15-17

The word “consist” means, “To stand together; to be in a fixed or permanent state.”

Let me throw out a few dates:

April 8, 2024

October 2, 2024

March 29, 2025

September 21, 2025

February 17, 2026

August 12, 2026

February 06, 2027

Anybody want to guess what those dates are?  Those are dates of the next solar eclipses.  Some are partial, some are total, some can be seen in different areas, but they are all solar eclipses.  How do we know the dates of all solar eclipses for the next 50 years and more?  Because God designed order into the universe and that order remains and will remain until God lets go.

Some years ago there was a car commercial. Maybe you remember it.[SHOW COMMERCIAL] A little boy was all dressed up like Darth Vader and he is trying to control things.  He tries to use the Force to make the exercise bike work and the dog get up, and the washer/dryer work and his sister’s doll do something.  Nothing happens.  He sits in the kitchen dejectedly when he hears his dad pull up in the car.  He runs out and points his hands at the car and suddenly it starts.

He jumps back in surprise, the Force as finally worked.  Then the commercial shows his dad, in the kitchen with the remote start.

We think we’re in such control.  We believe we’re the masters of our own universe.  We think chance makes an eclipse happen regularly.  We believe we’re successful because we’re controlling things.

But in reality God is holding the button.  Everything works because God is making everything work.

The first thing Stephen does to this sanctimonious Sanhedrin staring steadfastly at him is to remind them that God is in control of Israel’s history and of all things.  The first step in confronting bad actions and bad behavior is to know and reveal that God is in control of all things.

Now if Stephen had stopped there all would be well.  If Stephen had just stopped talking that would have probably been the end of it.  But no…he continues.  He has taken the first step of developing a God centered foundation.  Now he takes the second step.

He points out unrighteousness.

He says:

51You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, 53 who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.” Acts 7

With that the anger of the council begins to boil over and they blow their cork.

Several things are taking place here.

First, their guilt becomes unbearable.  Verse 54 says, “When they heard these things they were cut to the heart….”  The listeners knew Stephen was right and they came under great conviction.  They were confronted with their wrong and it smote them to the core of their being.  At this point they should have confessed and become followers of Christ.  Their second reaction shows that’s not what happened.

Their second reaction is to fly into a blind rage.  They gnash their teeth, they scream in a loud voice and they plug their ears.  Their conviction of wrong turned into uncontrollable fury.  They drag Stephen out, cast him out of the city and stone him to death.

The world we live in will not respond well to being told they are violating God’s law.  Whether white supremacists, or the LGBT community or pro-abortionists or evolutionists, their reaction is often the same.  The truth that God is in control, that God’s word is the final word or that they are not obeying the God they will answer to causes them to become unhinged.  They will attack and destroy and because they have numbers on their side their voice is often the only one heard.

Sometimes it will not end well for the outspoken Christian.  But we speak up.  In doing so God is glorified.

Notice what Stephen says as they are about to drag him out of the city and kill him.  He says, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”

Stephen’s last act is to see the glory of God.  Stephen is described, along with others, in Hebrews 11: 38.  I’ll pick it up in 11:35:

35 …Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. 36 Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—38 of whom the world was not worthy.” Hebrews 11

Ungodly society is not worthy of the presence of God’s saints.

Today we celebrate Jesus’ act of glorifying God.  Today we remember Jesus’ death in obedience to His Father.  As we participate in communion remember Jesus sacrifice to the glory of God is the precursor to a sacrifice we might make to glorify God.

 

*END*

 

August 27, 2017

Title: Building the Church

Text: Acts 6:1-7

 

1 Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. 2 Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. 3 Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; 4 but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, 6 whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.

7 Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.

 

The setting of the Church at this point is rapid growth.  This section begins, “…in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying….”  The group of people committing their lives to Christ was growing by leaps and bounds. As a result of the preaching of Peter at Pentecost 3,000 were added.  We know that at the healing of the lame man 5,000 men became followers of Christ.  There is some question as to whether or not the 5,000 is a composite of all the Church or a new bunch of souls added, but either way the Church was growing.  It was an exciting time for the Church.

Sometimes I get stuck on numbers.  I would love to see 250 people sitting the pews this morning.  I wish one of our problems today was there weren’t enough seats for everyone to fit into the sanctuary.  I wish we had to open that sliding curtain for the overflow crowds.

But I am also very satisfied with those of you who come.  I try not to concern myself with those who skip as much as I am excited with you, those who come every Sunday.  You I can count on.

We have good worship, we have a heart for one another and I know that although God is here, each of you brings God with you.  I have grown to look forward to seeing each and every one of you each week.

So here’s my thought on this.  The purpose of the church is to glorify God.  There is no greater purpose and no other purpose.

But the church has many functions, each function designed to glorify God.  One of those functions is evangelism.  Through sharing the Gospel and telling others about Jesus’ love we bring glory to God.  In this area of evangelism my prayer is 10% growth.  I pray that every year we will see 10% evangelism growth.  Since our membership is 89 people I pray that we would see 8.9 people come to the Lord this year through our witness and sharing.  If those 8.9 people make this church their home…great.  If not…we’ll worship together in heaven.  But one of the functions of the church is evangelism, to grow through leading others the Christ.

The church in Jerusalem was growing and there were a few problems caused by that growth.  One of those is recorded in verse 1.  Luke writes:

1 Now in those days…there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.”

The Hellenists, or Grecians as some translations put it, were Jews by birth but they did not live in Israel and so probably did not speak Aramaic.  This group complained to the 12 that their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food.

In the early days of the church the community of believers looked to each other for support and provision.  Those who could supplied the needs of those who could not.  In a culture where a widow with no children had little hope of survival, the church became their lifeline.

Though most do not believe the church was purposely neglecting any of the widows, there seemed to be a problem with the distribution system.  The reality is that as the Church grew the 12 could not do everything, it was time for…yes it happened in the Bible…it happened in the early days of the Church…it was time for…a committee.  Yes, committees were part of the fabric of the early church.

Peter says, It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. 3 Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; 4 but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

A second function of the church found in this section is service.  The 12 were given to the function of evangelism, which brought glory to God.  Now the 7 were given to the function of service which also brought glory to God.

The two groups, the 12 and the 7, were both doing the same thing.  They were fulfilling the purpose of the church, which is glorifying God.  Both groups doing different functions, both building the Church and both glorifying God.

And look at the qualifications for these 7.

First they had to have a “good reputation.”  They had to be people who did not live under a cloud of suspicion.  And, part of their “good reputation” was that they had to be able to recount their own conversion experience.  Basically, what caused you to look to Jesus, what steps led you to accept Jesus as Savior and what have you done since that moment to strengthen your faith?

Look back at Acts 4:13.  Speaking of the religious leaders Luke writes:

“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.” NKJV

If someone spends time with you, gets to know you, watches you, converses with you…can they tell you have spent time with Jesus?  Can your friends tell by the way you talk and the way you live that you are a follower of Jesus?

Peter and John were not educated, articulate men.  They weren’t dumb, but they were fishermen, not Hebrew studies professors.  Yet they showed the confidence of someone who knew intensely and believed deeply the truths they were clearly stating.

When your family or friends talk with you will they say, “She’s been to church again.” Or “He’s been reading his Bible again.”  Or will they say, “Yep, he’s been in the bar again.” Or “Yep, she’s been hanging with the bikers for awhile.”

This good report, this good reputation wasn’t just “yea, he’s a nice guy” or “she’s a sweetheart of a girl.”  The good reputation was “man, she really knows her God” or “he really has a knowledge of God.”

The function of service in the church isn’t about finding nice people, it’s about finding people who are 100% committed to God and demonstrate that commitment.

“Wow, that girl, that boy, that man, that woman has been with Jesus.”  The greatest compliment you could ever receive.

And these 7 needed to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  The criteria was, “…seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom…

These men were servants of the living God.  Their purpose was to bring glory to God.  They could not do that unless they were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.

Wait, wait wait….  Wasn’t their job to be sure that all the widows got an adequate supply of food?  No!, their job, their purpose, was to glorify God which they did by serving and their service took the form of caring for the widows.

Look at the screen.

To glorify God through serving the widows by supplying them with food…takes the filling of the Holy Spirit.  This is spiritual service, spiritual service directed to the glory of God.

And it takes wisdom.  The verse says, “…men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom….”  The had to be men who could collect the food, determine who needed the food and devise a way to distribute the food.  This is where a person’s talents came into play.  This is where we would ask the person if they are an administrator and if they are organized.  Can you set up a distribution system?

You think keeping food fresh today is tough, imagine then.  No refrigerated trucks, no internet to set up deliveries and the donkey we had to pull the cart just ate the last fig.  It was the last qualification mentioned, but these men had to be able to run an efficient system of distribution.

This is where you would look at their education and their experience.  Have they successfully led a food distribution program before?  Do they understand the logistics of handing out food to people who need it?

One of the tricky parts of my job as a pastor is determining to whom to give help.  Occasionally people will call for help with gas, or power bills or rent payments.  There are different reasons people request help.  Now my skeptical side says they are all scams designed to bilk money from the church so as to continue a lazy lifestyle.  My compassionate side says everybody needs help just give them a signed blank check and pay for everything they are asking for.  Somewhere there’s a happy medium between disbelieving miserliness and emptying the bank account.  To find that balance it takes wisdom.

This a great passage on the practical outworking of faith.  We all want to glorify God, that’s our sole purpose.  We all have a different function to accomplish.  In this passage the 12 were gifted evangelists/preachers and the 7 were gifted servers, that is the function each was called to.  And the forms they used were different.  The 12 used preaching, Acts 2:14; and miracles, Acts 3:6, and boldness Acts 4:13; the 7 used administrative abilities and wisdom, Acts 6:5; but all of them had to be confident in their faith and filled with the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, we come down to us.  First, we need to develop a passion for bringing glory to God.  Everything we do is to honor the God that saves humanity.  We have to be careful of serving out of a sense of need.  For one thing there are so many needs it will wear us out.  And second, if our only motivation is need, we will soon tire of filling the needs of often thankless people.

Our purpose, the reason we are here is to bring glory to God.

From there we find where God needs us to work.  What is our function in the Church?  What is your function in the church?

  • Some function through directly teaching the word of God.
  • Some function as servants.
  • Some function as teachers.
  • Some function as administrators.
  • Some just sit and criticize what everybody else is doing. (Ok, that’s not a ministry but some people have really perfected that one.)

Then once we realize what function God wants us to do (and there could be many and it can change according to the need) but once we realize what function God wants us to do we then decide what form that will take.

Will we function through the form of preaching or teaching or painting or mowing the lawn or leading others or doing games in AWANA or…or…or.  The forms are endless.  And the forms come and go based on need and effectiveness.

God needs you.  This church needs you.  Where can and where will you serve?  We know our purpose.  What function is God calling you to do?  What form will you use to accomplish that function?

This week sit down with a piece of paper and write down what you are doing in the church.   See what function God has called you to do, see what forms you can exercise so that that function is accomplished and in doing so God is glorified.

 

*END*

 

August 20, 2017

Title: Afraid of God?

Text: Acts 5:1-11

 

In China there is a cluster of four mountains.  They are Huashan, Taishan, Hengshan and Songshan.  The highest of the five is Mt. Hua, or Hua Shan, topping out at 7,087 feet.

Hua Shan, the highest of the peaks, attracts tourists from around the world.  Tourists who reach the summit are rewarded with panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. The famous Yellow River wanders far below and everything seems small.

There is a hiking trail on Mount Hua that leads to a tea house that sits at the top of the mountain.  The hiking trail, known as “the Plank Path,” attracts hikers who want something a little more daring than a stroll in the park.

It takes great courage to reach the tea house along with some caves and ancient temples.  The climb is a very challenging hike that includes sheer cliffs and a substantial elevation gain of more than 5,000 feet.  Climbers scale several steep cliffs with only a linked chain for support.

Initially only inhabited by monks and nuns, the mountain has had religious significance since somewhere around 2 BC.  Through the centuries a network of trails, if you want to call them that, have been put up in order to allow brave climbers the experience of the thrill of the mountain.  The dangerous and precipitous trails allow pilgrims to climb their way to any of the five peaks.

It’s a tortuous 9 mile path that leads to the summit.  The most dangerous place is called ‘Changkong Zhandao.’  This stretch consists of a wooden plank path along a vertical cliff.  The stretch is about 13 feet long and about one foot wide.  Though the path has been reinforced and security cables have been installed it is nonetheless dangerous, even deadly.  Parts of the climb are steep, be sure to watch your step.  The locals have put in stairs, but in some places they are little more than iron bars anchored into the stone.  The trails have names like “Thousand-Foot Precipice” and “Hundred-Foot Crevice” and “Black Dragon Ridge.”

From the summit the rewards are spectacular.  The dramatic scenery is impressive…if you make it.  Statistics are hard to come by but some estimate that yearly about 100 people fall to their deaths.

It’s a dangerous trek.  One misstep to the right or left will end in disaster.

So why do I bring this up?  Well the topic we are going to look at today is a precarious one.  As we traverse this account in the book of Acts one misstep could take us down a road to an extreme none of us want.  I am going to attempt to measure my words very carefully.  I want to present a clear, honest picture of God as revealed in this passage.  I ask that you listen carefully and with thoughtfulness.  Do not jump to conclusions and consider the whole of God’s Word when we come to a conclusion.

The account is recorded in Acts 5:1-11

1 But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. 2 And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? 4 While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”

5 Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. 6 And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him.

7 Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?”

She said, “Yes, for so much.”

9 Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband. 11 So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.

This story recorded in Acts 5 is a story of sin and judgment.  The basic story is not hard to understand.  A married couple, Ananias and Sapphira, sell a piece of land.  They decide to give a certain amount to the Apostles for the care of those unfortunate.  One of the functions of the church at the time was to care for widows, the sick and others.  People were being honored for their donations of money and as is sometimes the case there were some who sought glory for themselves.  Ananias & Sapphira were some of those.

So they sell a piece of land and decide to give a portion of the sale to the Apostles. The section says,

1 But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. 2 And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”

They agree together to say that they are giving all the money from the sale to the Apostles.  They know it’s only part of the sale but they lie to Peter and say it’s the full amount.

Now there was no requirement for them to give the full amount.  Peter says in verse 4, While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control?”  The couple could give as little or as much of the sale they wanted to give.  There were no requirements laid on them.  But they chose to lie and the lie is against the Holy Spirit, not against the church.

The consequences were swift and harsh.  The account records, 5 Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last.”  The same is said of his wife.  When Sapphira comes a little later she carries on with the lie.  Peter asks if they sold the land for a the amount give, she says yes and Peter mentions testing the Holy Spirit and then it says that Sapphira, “…immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband.”

For Ananias & Sapphira judgment was swift and deadly.  They violated the sacredness of the Holy Spirit and it turned out to be the last thing they did.

Now, lest we see this as a one time incident, let’s look at a couple more passages.

Acts 13:4-12 – Paul and Barnabas were on the island to Paphos.  On the island was a governor or proconsul named Sergius Paulus.  Luke calls him an intelligent man.  This Sergius Paulus called for Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God.  But a sorcerer named Elymas tried to stop them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.  And so Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at this sorcerer and said,

“O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord?  And now, indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time.” 

Luke records that immediately a dark mist fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand.

And in 1 Corinthians 5 Paul records;

“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife!  And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you.  For I indeed…have already judged him who has so done this deed.  In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”

“Deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved.”  That’s a powerful statement of judgment.

1 Corinthians 11 records that there are some who are sick and have even died because they treat the event of communion with contempt and disrespect.

Having said all that, here’s the point: In an age of unending grace we aren’t afraid of God anymore.  There is no fear of violating the holiness of our all-powerful God.  We ignore assembling together to worship.  We live our lives as if God didn’t know what we do and say or at the very least doesn’t care.  We’re just not afraid of God; but we should be.  He has removed people in the past there is no reason He does not do it today.

Here’s where this message gets a bit risky.  If we lean too far to one side we might begin to live in constant fear of God.  We will walk around cringing at every moment for fear that God is about to punish us.  We will begin to carry out our Christian life based on constant fear of being punished.  Instead of looking for His love and kindness we live our lives just trying to avoid His anger.

But if we lean to far to the other side, that we should never be afraid of God, the danger is that we will begin to play fast and loose with His commands.  Our language will become vulgar and crass.  We will cease to completely honor the name of God.  What we allow to go into our mind will become more and more worldly.  We will begin to live as if there are no real guidelines.  Ecclesiastes 8:11 says, “Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.”

Neither of those extremes is appropriate.

I believe with all my heart that we do not have to be afraid of God.  He is not a big man in the heavens carrying a big stick just waiting to crack us over the head every time we move.  God is love, God is patience, God is gentle and kind.  He is not mean or callous.  1 John 4 records:

17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.

God seeks to lead us through love and compassion.  When Jesus was on earth He was characterized by love and kindness.

But while I believe that we do not need to be afraid of God, I also believe He will not allow His holiness to be attacked forever.  God is righteous and holy and to violate that is not something He will take lightly.  The third commandment deals with God’s name and character.  If we take His name in vain, if we diminish His character in any way we will be punished.  The third command is the only command that has punishment attached to it.

“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.”

There is also some evidence that God may punish us if we stand in the way of others coming to Christ.  There is the example of Elymas in Acts 13 and when Jesus says, “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.” Mk. 9:42 it appears to mean more than just physical stumbling.  God is interested in the spiritual well-being of children and adults.

And so we walk this tightrope.  I do not need to be afraid of God because the love of God casts out fear.  But at the same time I do need to be afraid of violating His holiness or dragging His name and character through the mud.  He is God and He loves us more than anything.  He is God and will not be trifled with.

Sometimes a tightrope walker will carry a balancing pole.  She does that because the heavy weight of the balancing pole allows the walker to exert torque by simply rotating the pole slightly one way or the other.  This gives her greater balance and minimizes the effects of a sudden gust of wind or some other influences that may throw off her balance.

In this issue we can be easily turned to one extreme or another.  Let the full Word of God be our “balancing pole” to give us the right balance.

Walk in love, for that is what God wants.  Walk in holiness for that is what God expects.

 

*END*