Ark of the Covenant

I.      Introduction

Our lesson today studies the Ark of the Covenant, so I would like to back up a long, long way in scripture.  I’m never sure how far I should go back to provide the right historical context, and it seems like every time I study this I want to go all the way back to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning.”  But I suppose I don’t have to rewind that far back every time.  So where do I start in a study of the Ark of the Covenant?

Click here: Raider of the Lost Ark

II.      History of the Ark

Ok, so let’s turn to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning…” I’m just kidding.  We’ll start the famous crossing of the Red Sea, after Moses has led the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt, and heads for Mt. Sinai.  Three months after crossing the sea, the people of Israel are camped at the bottom of Mt, Sanai, and Moses goes up into the mountains where God etches the Ten Commandments on stone tablets for Moses to bring to the Israel people.

Exodus 24 says that God Himself engraved the stone tablets with His own finger, verse 12,

The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.”

The Lord God promises to dwell among the people, and the Ten Commandments are to be stored in the Ark.

So make yourself an Ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out.  This is how you are to build it: The Ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high.  Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around.  Put a door in the side of the Ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish.

Sorry, that’s the wrong Ark.  That was Noah’s Ark in Genesis 6, let me try again from Exodus 25, where we first read about the Ark, and God’s precise description of it to Moses:

“Have them make an Ark of acacia wood—two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high.  Overlay it with pure gold, both inside and out, and make a gold molding around it.  Cast four gold rings for it and fasten them to its four feet, with two rings on one side and two rings on the other.  Then make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold.  Insert the poles into the rings on the sides of the Ark to carry it.  The poles are to remain in the rings of this Ark; they are not to be removed.  Then put in the Ark the tablets of the covenant law, which I will give you.

“Make an atonement cover of pure gold—two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide.  And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover.  Make one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; make the cherubim of one piece with the cover, at the two ends.  The cherubim are to have their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim are to face each other, looking toward the cover.  Place the cover on top of the Ark and put in the Ark the tablets of the covenant law that I will give you.  There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the Ark of the Covenant law, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.

Here is what it looks like:


Click here: Raider of the Lost Ark

Actually, this is a pretty good representation of the Ark of the Covenant, and many parts of this movie got it right.  Let’s take a look –

Some were exaggerations, like Brody saying it “leveled mountains.”  That’s probably a reference to Joshua at the Battle of Jericho.  Blowing horns and carrying the Ark, the Israelites circled the city, and the walls of Jericho came tumbling down.  And remember the scene where Indiana tells Miriam, “Don’t Look!”?  The Ark was considered holy and dangerous, and only those specified by the Lord could touch it or look in it, and then only after they had been purified.  Coming into direct contact with the holiness of God was instant death.  In Leviticus 10, Nadav and Avihu, sons of Aaron, brought a foreign flame to offer a sacrifice in the Tabernacle, they were devoured by flames from the Lord.  In 2 Samuel 6 while moving the Ark, the oxen stumbled.  A Levite named Uzzah steadied the Ark, and Uzzah was struck dead instantly.

The Ten Commandments were placed inside and sealed with the cover.  The Ark was then placed inside the Holy of Holies inside the tabernacle and later the Temple of Jerusalem, and when the Levitical priest made his annual sacrifice for the people of Israel, he shed the blood of an innocent, unblemished lamb and sprinkled it on the top of the Ark, which call the Mercy Seat.  The shekinah of God rested on this holy seat.  This was the most important piece of furniture in the Tabernacle.  It is where God sat when He dwelled among His people.


The location of the Ark today is unknown.  Centuries later, when the Babylonians sacked Israel, led by Nebuchadnezzar, they hauled off a great deal of religious artifacts from the Temple and made detailed lists of what was taken, but the Ark was not listed among them items.  One of the final kings, Josiah, may have buried it beneath the temple mount, beneath the Holy of Holies, and sealed it in stone.  One Jewish archaeologist, Leen Ritmeyer, has identified a section of bedrock below the Temple Mount cut out in the dimensions of the Ark.  It is unlikely any excavation will ever be allowed by either Muslims or Israelis.


III.      The Ark is Taken

So it is within this history that we examine a time where the Israelites, in battle with the Philistines, gain a new understanding of the power and holiness of God.  Approximately 300 years after the battle of Jericho, in 1 Samuel 4, the Israelites went to battle against the Philistines.  The Philistines are mentioned as far back as the days of Abraham in Genesis 21, and they’re mentioned in the books of Samuel over 150 times.  These were originally a seafaring people from the Aegen Sea who sought to control the land we know as Palestine.  The word Palestine is derived from Philistine, and this conflict over territory continues to this day.


Scripture says that at this battle, 4000 Israeli soldiers were killed.

The Israelis must have been perplexed.  Wasn’t this land given to them by the Lord?  Then why were the idol-worshipping Philistines defeating them?  When the remaining Israeli soldiers returned to camp, the Israeli elders conclude that the reason Israel lost is because they didn’t carry the Ark of the Covenant into battle like they did at Jericho.  If the elders had read their scripture, though, they would have read in Deuteronomy 28:25 and Leviticus 26:39 that their defeat was not caused by the Ark, or the lack of the Ark, but by their disobedience to the Lord.

So instead of searching their hearts and confessing their sins first, they decided to imitate Moses and Joshua and take the Ark into battle before them.  Rather than seek the will of the Lord, the people of Israel attempted to use the Lord to fight their battle.  In 1 Samuel 4 the people of Israel brought the Ark out of the Tabernacle and let out a mighty roar, so loud the ground shook.  The Philistines were afraid, look at verses 6-8 –

Hearing the uproar, the Philistines asked, “What’s all this shouting in the Hebrew camp?”

When they learned that the Ark of the Lord had come into the camp, the Philistines were afraid. “A god has come into the camp,” they said. “Oh no! Nothing like this has happened before.  We’re doomed! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness.

The battle began, but the battle did not end as expected.  The Israelites were slaughtered, this time 30,000 Israeli soldiers died, and the Ark of God was captured by the Philistines.  Israel was crushed, and the Philistines rejoiced.  The spiritual leader of Israel, Eli, mentor of Samuel, was so distraught by the capture of the Ark that he falls out of his chair and breaks his neck and dies.

These are dark times indeed for Israel.  It appears to the Israelites that God has been taken hostage by the Philistines.  They’ve lost their battle, their soldiers, their land, their spiritual leader, and worst of all, they’ve lost the Ark of the Covenant.  But we will see in today’s lesson that there is far more at play here.  God is not an idol.  God does not need for men to carry Him about.  God is the One who carries Israel.  They have forgotten who their God is.  In fact, the terms of their covenant with God was that God would sit on the mercy seat when the people were obedient and submitted to God’s will.

The Philistines took the captured Ark with them to Ashdod, one of 5 major cities the Philistines controlled.  In Ashdod, the Philistines worshipped their god Dagon, and they take the captured Ark of the Covenant and lay it prostrate into Dagon’s temple in a position of submission.  Rejoicing, no doubt that the God of Israel has been captured and forced to bow before Dagon.  But the next morning, they were astonished to see the roles reversed.

1 Samuel 5:1-3,

After the Philistines had captured the Ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod.  Then they carried the Ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon.  When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the Ark of the Lord! They took Dagon and put him back in his place.

They put their god Dagon back in his place.  Dagon is an idol that does have to be carried by man.  The next morning is even worse – not only is Dagon back on the floor in submission, but his hands and head had been broken off, with only the body remaining.


Is Dagon in the hands of an angry God?  Dagon is prostrated before the Ark of God, but Ark of the Covenant is not a god.  It is not an idol like Dagon.  The Ark is a symbol of God’s presence among His people.  It has great symbolic value, but it is not an idol.  Dagan, the man-made God, has to be picked up, glued back together, sent to the shop for repairs.

Verse 6 says the Lord’s hand was heavy against the Philistines and brought affliction and tumors.  The people of Ashdod want nothing more to do with this captured Ark, so they send it to the next Philistine city, Gath.  In Gath, immediately the same tumors and afflictions affected all the people.  So the people of Gath decide to send it to a 3rd Philistine city, Ekron.  And the people of Ekron see the Ark arriving and they cry out, “They brought the God of Israel to kill us!  Send it away!”

I find it incredible how the Philistines don’t get it.  Earlier before battle, they heard the Israeli roar so loud the earth shook, and the Philistines were afraid of the God who brought the plagues upon Egypt.  Now, their idol God Dagon is hacked to pieces and lies prostrate before the Ark.  And the Philistines are dying of some sort of plague with tumors as long as they keep the Ark.  Their man-made god is powerless against the Almighty, but they still choose to worship their idol.

Send it back.  Send it back, they say.  With the presence of the one true living God in their midst, they want to send it away.  It is too hot to handle.  Send it away.

IV.      The Ark is Returned

For seven months, the Philistines hold on to the Ark and are plagued with tumors.  They know they have to get rid of it.  At first, it was a political problem as they passed it from one city to another, but now it’s a religious problem.  The want to return the Ark to Israel, but they don’t want offend Israel’s angry God.

1 Samuel 6:1-3,

When the Ark of the Lord had been in Philistine territory seven months, the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, “What shall we do with the Ark of the Lord? Tell us how we should send it back to its place.”

They answered, “If you return the Ark of the god of Israel, do not send it back to him without a gift; by all means send a guilt offering to him. Then you will be healed, and you will know why his hand has not been lifted from you.”

The Philistine priests come up with a guilt offering, a really weird one.  They make five gold tumors.  Yes, tumors, modeled after the tumors that afflicted their bodies.  They make 5 gold tumors, and also make 5 gold rats for carrying this plague.  Look how well the Philistine priests understand the Jehovah God in verse 4-6 –

The Philistines asked, “What guilt offering should we send to him?”

They replied, “Five gold tumors and five gold rats, according to the number of the Philistine rulers, because the same plague has struck both you and your rulers.  Make models of the tumors and of the rats that are destroying the country, and give glory to Israel’s god. Perhaps he will lift his hand from you and your gods and your land.  Why do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh did? When Israel’s god dealt harshly with them, did they not send the Israelites out so they could go on their way?

Again, it’s interesting that they know the power of God but they refuse to worship Him.  Instead, they continue to worship their idol Dagan who, as I understand it, doesn’t have any hands anymore.  Or a head.

They Philistine priests devise a plan in verse 7 to see if the Ark is really the source of their problems, and if the Lord will be appeased if the Ark is returned.

“Now then, get a new cart ready, with two cows that have calved and have never been yoked. Hitch the cows to the cart, but take their calves away and pen them up.  Take the Ark of the Lord and put it on the cart, and in a chest beside it put the gold objects you are sending back to him as a guilt offering. Send it on its way, but keep watching it.  If it goes up to its own territory, toward Beth Shemesh, then the Lord has brought this great disaster on us. But if it does not, then we will know that it was not his hand that struck us but that it happened to us by chance.”

So they take 2 cows that have never been yoked, pen up their calves, and load the Ark on the cart.  Their thinking is that the natural inclination of the cows is to return to their young, but if the Lord is in control, He will guide the calves back to the Israelites.

Which is exactly what happened; the cows didn’t even look to the right or the left.  The Philistines followed the cows and the Ark to the end of the town of Beth Shemesh where the Israelites were harvesting their wheat.


A big cry of joy from the Israelites when they see the Ark being returned on the cart of two cows.  So excited they were, they took the Ark down, chopped up the cart for firewood, and sacrificed the cows as a burnt offering.  The Israelites of Beth Shemesh lined up to look inside the Ark – some manuscripts say 70, others say 50,070.   Was the Lord pleased?  God responded by striking the Israelites dead.

The Israelites were ecstatic to have the Ark returned; now they are shocked that the Lord God would strike down so many worshipping Israelites.  The Israelites cry out, “Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this Holy God?”

Israel, in its exuberance, did not follow the law, and the punishment is death.  The book of Numbers, chapter 4, specifically says that those that look inside at the holy things inside the arc will die.  And the burnt offering of cows?  Leviticus 1:10 says that all burnt offerings shall be male.  In their exuberance, the Israelites disobeyed and were killed.

  V.      Conclusion

So what can we learn from today’s lesson?  We begin with Israel’s first battle with the Philistines, which Israel loses 4000 men and is defeated.  The priests of Israel are Eli’s sons at this time are corrupt and practicing evil.  1 Samuel 2:17 says the sin of the young priests was very great in the Lord’s sight.  And the Israelites decide to take their lucky rabbit’s foot, the Ark, into battle, for the Lord is undefeated.  Instead, their defeat is far, far greater, and 30,000 die and the Ark is taken.

When the Ark is returned, the Israelites celebrate the return of their lucky rabbit’s foot.  They celebrate the return but disobey the Lord’s instructions, and even more Israelites die.

As for the Philistines, they know about the power of the Lord and the plagues against Egypt.  After capturing it, they too mistake the Ark for the Lord God of Israel.  They try to place the Ark in a position of submission to another pagan idol god, not understanding that it’s not the Ark that has the power, but the Lord God Himself.

Before coming to Christ, at some point in our lives, we are like the Philistines.  We see the power of God all around us, we understand He is in control.  But we hold on to our pride, our lives of greed and gluttony, because seeing the power of God is not the same as following and trusting the power of God.  We think God, like the Ark, is too hot to handle, and we just want to move the Ark along to the next person or town.  We want to keep worshipping at the feet of the world, our reality tv, our social media, our idol god Dagon.  It’s comfortable, and our idol expects nothing from us except to occasionally glue him back together when he breaks.

In Mark chapter 5 we see the response of people who are uncomfortable with the power of God in their midst.  Jesus arrives by boat in Garasenes and a deranged man comes running out of the tombs at him.  The deranged man had been terrifying the local town, and chains and irons couldn’t hold him.  Jesus commands the demons to leave the man and go into a herd of pigs, and the man is able to sit there in his right mind and have a conversation with Jesus.  How do the people who witness this react?  They ask Jesus to leave.  The power of God is just too great to have in their midst.  They’d rather live among the demons.


But sometime during our walk in the spirit, we become more like the Israelites.  But maybe we don’t fully understand what living by faith is all about.  We believe that we just have to give up smoking and drinking and start going to church more often, and our lives will be blessed.  We hold up our church attendance like the Ark in front of us and go into battle, like somehow our church attendance is a lucky rabbits foot.

Our God is not a god to be carried in front of us to win our earthly battles.  God is not a lucky rabbit’s foot.  If we expect nothing will ever go wrong when we hold out our crosses or rosaries or holy water in front of us, then we do not understand the battle or what God is doing with us.  God is less concerned about the challenge than He is with our response to that challenge.  Our battle has already been won for us by our Savior, Jesus Christ.

God doesn’t live in an Ark to be used for our personal gain.  God lives inside of us so that we may be used by Him.  We are the Ark of the New Covenant.  On our own, we have no power, but with the power of the Holy Spirit living inside us, the faith of a mustard seed will crumble mountains.


To God be the glory.



  I.      Introduction

The last time I taught, we studied who the Holy Spirit is and His perfect timing at appearing at Pentecost 50 days after the Passover Lamb was slain.  And we studied how, at the moment of our trust in Jesus, that He is the Son of God who laid down His life as a payment for our sins, that we become new creatures, temples of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.

And Chris and Theresa and I have always said that we welcome your questions, we should all be like the noble Bereans and check the Word of God to see if what we are teaching is true.  As teachers, we should be prepared to explain our teaching, even if we have to say, “Let me study that and get back to you.”

Well, immediately after that lesson, Jilda came up and asked me one of those questions.  And I was stumped, so I resolved to study the question so I more clearly understood the Word of God.  That understanding also led itself on today’s lesson, so I’m going to back up to Jilda’s question and share my journey with you.  So, bearing in mind that the Holy Spirit comes to live within us at the moment of our trust and belief, let’s look ahead briefly to Acts chapter 8.

I don’t mind looking ahead to Acts chapter 8 because in May I’ll be teaching from this same chapter.  I might just simply teach this same lesson again.  If you’re getting older, like me, you won’t remember that I already taught this.

II.      The Holy Spirit in Samaria

Acts 8:14-17 –

When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria.  When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

So, Jilda’s question was, “I thought you said the Holy Spirit indwells us at the moment of our belief?  So why wasn’t the Holy Spirit indwelling already in these people when they believed?”

That’s a good question, and I was stumped.  In my quest to understand the answer, I was directed toward a biblical research article entitled, “The Transition Problem in Acts” by Roy L. Aldrich of the Dallas Theological Seminary.  The key to understanding Jilda’s question is first understanding Dispensational Theology, that while God never changes, our relationship with God has changed several times.  Some of these dispensations, or distinct periods, are very easy to understand.  We talked about how in the Old Testament the Holy Spirit came upon men briefly and for a specific purpose, but in the New Testament, Christ died for us and we are considered pure and holy and now the Holy Spirit dwells within us, He doesn’t just come upon us and leave when the mission is fulfilled.  These are two distinct Dispensations out of 7 Total Dispensations, and we are living in the 6th Dispensation, the Dispensation of Grace, or the Church Age.  The Millennial Kingdom after the return of Christ is the 7th and final dispensation.


The Book of Acts is unique in that it is a transitional book between the 5th Dispensation, the Dispensation of Law that the Israelites had lived in for 1500 years, and the 6th Dispensation of the Church Age we live in today.  Certain things are recorded in Acts that only happened once as part of this transition, like the Ascension of Christ into Heaven.  Make sense?

So this question about why these people had been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus but had not yet received the Holy Spirit can be answered by recognizing that Peter and John were in Samaria, and up to this point, the people of Jerusalem and the people of Samaria hated each other.  While they believed the same God, Samaria had their own temple.  For the Church Age, God desires a Church in unity, and it would do for the people of Samaria to have their own traditions separate from the new converted Jews of Israel.  The indwelling of the Holy Spirit for the Samarians began with unity with the new Christians in Jerusalem.

I know of no other example of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling being delayed in the Church Age except for the Samarians in Acts chapter 8.

It was a good question, and it actually helped me a lot with today’s lesson on Acts chapters 4 & 5, and let’s read today’s scripture.

III.      Tithe, or Die

Now, remember in this transitions to the beginning of the Church Age, Acts describes the birth of the church and identifies many desirable attributes of the church.  Let’s start at the end of Acts 4:32 and continue to Acts 5:5 –

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.  With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property.  With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?  Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold?  And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?  What made you think of doing such a thing?  You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened.  Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.

About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.  Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”

“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”

Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”

At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband.  Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

One possible lesson from this verse is that we should tithe, or die.  Or another way to look at this is a transitional verse, unique to the first century church at that time, and see how we may apply it to our lives today.


So what’s happened here?  Let’s look at the early church, described so beautifully in our Acts 4 verses.  The believers were one in heart and mind, and they shared everything.  This is a biblical approach to the church – we are not to lay up treasure on earth, but instead store up treasures in heaven.  We are to love God with all our heart mind and strength, and love our neighbors as ourselves.  It’s our recognition that the gifts and blessings, whatever they are, are given to us by God for His purposes, and as Christians our purpose is to see God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

I dare say that this first church was unique.  The Holy Spirit has enabled speaking in tongues and the understanding of those tongues, the Holy Spirit had blown through this church with a rushing wind and fire and power.  At one prayer meeting, the Holy Spirit shook the meeting room.  Peter was so filled with the Holy Spirit that thousands who had heard of Jesus gathered outside the church and hoped Peter’s shadow would fall on them so they would be healed.  It says in Acts 5:16,

Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed.

Every person Peter touched was healed.  Every.  Person.  I dare say none of us have ever belonged to a church like that.

And Ananias and his wife Sophia… er,  Sofaria… Sopapilla… what was her name?  Oh yes, Sapphira.  Ananias and Sapphira wanted to be part of a church like this.  And everybody else was selling their possessions and their land and their houses and Bananas and Sopapilla wanted to be among them.

Were they required to sell everything?   No.  Peter says right here in the scripture, “after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?”  Ananias wasn’t required to sell anything at all.

It reminds me of a story I heard when I was a kid, about a man that was confronted by a robber with a gun.  The robber pointed the gun at the man and said, “Your money or your life.”  And the man replied, “Why, my life, of course.  I’ll need my money for my old age.”

One of the reasons this first church was so generous with each other was that they lived with an expectation that Jesus would return, not just someday, but within their lifetimes, based on scripture like Matthew 14:28,

“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

That’s not what Jesus meant, and Mark 9:1 quotes Jesus in a way that clarifies what Jesus meant –

And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”


Jesus was referring to the Day of Pentecost when Jesus’ kingdom came with power.

And so the first church lived expectantly that Jesus would return quickly.  And if we knew that Jesus would return tomorrow, what use are any material possessions?  The first church was already ready for Jesus’ Second Coming, and placed their faith that all their needs would be met.

All except Ananias and Sapphira.  They were still laying up treasure on earth, just in case.  But they also wanted to be part of the fellowship of this incredible church, so they donated some of it, and kept the rest for themselves.  And there is nothing wrong with that, except they wanted to appear as though they had given up everything.

And Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, could see right through their lies and into their hypocrisy.  They were lying so they would look good.  They wanted to be counted with everybody else as completely generous with everything, but they also wanted to keep some for themselves.

So why did they have to die?  Remember how powerful the Holy Spirt was in this church.  Ananias and Sapphira were there for the miracles, they had experienced God’s power and seen and felt God’s holy presence residing in Peter and the church.  People should be reverent when in the presence of God, but Ananias and Sapphira casually lied to the Holy Spirit to make themselves look good.

IV.      Your Money or Your Life

Look, God doesn’t need your stuff.  Whatever you’re holding back, God will still accomplish His plan even if you don’t have a garage sale and donate all the money.  I dare say God can create more stuff if He needs to.

But what He desires is for us to have a heart for Him.  And that means trusting in Jesus for our needs and being honest with the Lord of Creation that can see into our hearts.  God doesn’t want us to give Him lip service and say we love Him.  He will look into our hearts and see for Himself if we love Him.

This is harder than it sounds.  We all want to look good in front of others, so we say and do things to please people instead of the Lord.  But our outward appearance is of no interest to our Lord.

The prophet Samuel was looking for somebody to replace Saul as the King of Israel and he came to Jesse’s family.  Samuel looked at Jesse’s oldest son, Eliab.  Eliab was apparently tall and strong and handsome, for when Samuel looked at him, Samuel said, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”  1 Samuel 16:7,

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Samuel then went through all the sons of Jesse before he found David, the youngest, the one who slew Goliath, the one after God’s own heart.

The Lord looks at the heart.  People look at our fruit.  Our challenge as Christians who are being sanctified by the Holy Spirit is for us to be the same on the inside and the outside.  We want to be Christians on the inside because a heart for the Lord pleases our Creator, and we want to be Christians on the outside, not to please men, but to be able to do the Lord’s will effectively.

  V.      Math Quiz

Let’s have a math quiz. Everybody get out a sheet of paper and a number two pencil.

What is the definition of a fractional number?  A fraction consists of a numerator and a denominator.  The denominator, the bottom part, tells us how many parts the whole is divided, and the top part, the numerator, tells us how many parts we have.  A fraction is part of a whole.


And integer is a whole number.  It is complete.  It’s not a fraction like ¾ and it’s not a decimal like 3.14.  It is complete.

The word “integrity” comes from the Latin “integer.”  “In-“ meaning “not,” and “tangere” (like “tangent”) meaning “to touch”.  Literally, it means “untouched,” but figuratively it means “Untainted, upright.”


God wants us to be an integer, full of integrity.  Whole, upright, untouched, untainted.  The same all the way through.  The same on the inside as we are on the outside.  He wants us to be people of integrity.  To say what we believe, and to believe what we say.

We can’t do this on our own.  It’s a supernatural conversion from our old self to our new lives in Christ.  Christ living in us, through us, and the world sees Christ in our words and actions.  A complete, whole person of integrity that believes and demonstrates His love of the Lord through words and actions.  It’s not the words and actions themselves that God desires, but they are outward expressions of the heart we have toward him.

Integrity is the opposite of hypocrisy.  Hypocrisy is saying you believe or feel one thing, but then do something else.  You are two different people; you do not practice what you preach.  Integrity is being one person.  You are the same person on the outside as you are on the inside.  When we are a hypocrite, we are not being honest with God.  We’re not even being honest with ourselves.

Last week when Theresa spoke about the change in Peter’s character, I started thinking about Peter’s conversion into a man of integrity.   When Jesus was teaching, Peter was like, “heck yeah, I’m one of Jesus’ guys.  Me and Him, we’re close.”  And then after the arrest of Jesus, Peter was like, “Man, I don’t know the man.”  Peter denied Jesus three times.  Peter was so afraid of being seen as a Jesus-freak that he cursed in front of a servant girl to prove he didn’t know Jesus.

But after the death of Jesus on the cross and Jesus’ resurrection, Peter changed.  He proclaimed Christ boldly, he was filled with the Holy Spirit, he became the rock upon which Jesus built His church.  When Rome burned in 64 AD and Nero fiddled, Nero blamed the Christians and arrested the most visible, most vocal, most dedicated Christian he could find – Peter. Peter was crucified by the Romans, proclaiming the glory of Christ all the way to his death.  Peter was crucified upside down, claiming he was unworthy to die in the same manner as our Savior.  Peter died as a man of integrity, the same inside as he was on the outside.


We can sometimes give up the long term benefits of integrity for the short term benefits of appearances, but it rarely ends up well.  Ananias and Sapphira tried to maintain appearances by lying to the Holy Spirit, and it didn’t end up well for them.  It’s interesting to note that Ananias and Sapphira were believers and their salvation is secure, though their bodies are a little worse for wear after failing their integrity test.  But when we focus on what God wants instead of our own desires, our integrity brings us a closer relationship with God our Heavenly Father.


VI.      Conclusion

We struggle with integrity, we forget that the struggle is not ours, but we surrender to the Holy Spirit working within us.  Our sinful selves war with our new eternal selves, and we are called to die to ourselves and let Christ live within.  Only then can we be whole, and integer.  We cannot do this on our own.

King David, after his affair with Bathsheba, was confronted by the prophet Nathan, and David was grieved when he realized what he had done.  What he had done before men was selfish and prideful, but it wasn’t against man that David sinned.  All sins are against the Lord who sees our innermost beings.  David cried out to the Lord in Psalm 51:1-7 –

Be gracious to me, God,
according to Your faithful love;
according to Your abundant compassion,
blot out my rebellion.
Wash away my guilt
and cleanse me from my sin.

For I am conscious of my rebellion,
and my sin is always before me.
Against You—You alone—I have sinned
and done this evil in Your sight.

So You are right when You pass sentence;
You are blameless when You judge.
Indeed, I was guilty when I was born;
I was sinful when my mother conceived me.

Surely You desire integrity in the inner self,
and You teach me wisdom deep within.
Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

Only through accepting the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the punishment for our trespasses can we be cleaned, whiter than snow, a child of God with the integrity our Lord desires within us.

To God be the glory.


The Power of the Holy Spirit

I.      Introduction

Today we’re going to study Acts chapter 2, so open your bibles to John chapter 16.

II.      Jesus promises the Holy Spirit

Jesus is teaching and comforting His disciples in the hours before His crucifixion.  He’s letting them know His hour has come where the Son of Man will be sacrificed, and the disciples are understandably upset.  But Jesus tells them that it must be this way.  Let’s start with John 16:6-15,

Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things.  But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.  When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.  But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.  He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.  All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

I wanted to back up to this chapter of John to remind us that Jesus is fulfilling a holy purpose.  Jesus will become our sin and be crucified on a cross as punishment.  The disciples were upset about the upcoming death of Jesus, but Jesus tells them that there is reason to be joyous.

And then, there is this statement in John 16:6-7 –

Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things.  But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 

The NIV uses the word “advocate,” NASB uses “helper.”  King James uses “comforter,” not the kind from Bed Bath and Beyond of course.  The original Greek word is “parakletos,” and the literal meaning is somebody who is called to your side to give help.  Somebody who pleads your case before a judge, for example.  But that definition is too limited, because a “parakletos” is also a helper, an assistant, and a comforter.


Jesus is talking about the arrival of the Holy Spirit, and John 16:6 was one of those verses that would raise a question in my mind.  Jesus says He has to go away first or the parakletos won’t come to us.

III.      Who is the Holy Spirit?

What exactly is this Holy Spirit?  Why won’t He come unless Jesus goes away?  Well, let’s go back to the beginning.  And by the beginning, I mean the beginning, Genesis 1:1-2 –

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

The Holy Spirit was an integral part of creation, part of God’s plan for this world.  It reminds me of John 1:1-3 that says,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

At creation, the Trinity – God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit – were present.  The Holy Spirit is present throughout the Old Testament, and is usually described as “coming upon” people such as Joshua and David and even Saul.  And in the book of Judges, the Holy Spirit “came upon” various judges to deliver Israel from her oppressors.  The Holy Spirit is described as coming upon people to perform certain tasks, and then the Holy Spirit would depart.

I think we have to understand our condition as children of Adam before we can understand God’s plan for the Holy Spirit.  See, in the Old Testament up to the crucifixion of Jesus, man was unclean.  Priests would make atonement for the themselves and then they could be clean enough to present sacrifices for the people, but these sacrifices were temporary and had to be repeated.  Priests had to purify themselves every time before entering the temple; the people had to be purified every year.  We are infused with sin, or as Jesus says in John 8:44, we belong to our father, the devil, and we want to carry out our father’s desires.


But Jesus changed everything.  When He died on that cross, he carried our sins away as far as the east is from the west.


Remember in the Old Testament, David’s adulterous relationship with Bathsheba?  Once the prophet Nathan convicted David of his evil ways, David cried out to the Lord in Psalm 51, and acknowledges that David has been sinful from birth, but he knows God has had a plan for him even before that while David was still in his mother’s womb and says in Psalm 51:10,

Create in me a pure heart, O God,

and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

I think this sheds some light on Jesus’ statement earlier in John 16:6-7 – don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten that our lesson today is in Acts 2, but I’ll get there.  Let’s go back to Jesus’ statement,

Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things.  But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 

Before the death of Jesus, we are unclean and in need of purification.  If we accept Jesus as our sacrifice, we become clean forever and the Holy Spirit indwells in us.  1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says,

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

So Jesus had to die as our sacrifice before we are considered clean before God and our bodies purified for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  And that’s exactly who we are, temples for the dwelling of the Holy Spirit.  And none of this would be possible without the sacrifice of Jesus.  It’s a true cause for celebration.

IV.      The Holy Spirit arrives at Pentecost

Speaking of celebrations, let’s now turn to Leviticus 23 for some reason that I hope will become clear to both you and me in this study of Acts.  In Leviticus 23 are the mitzvots regarding festivals.  Remember the 613 mitzvots?  Maybe one day we’ll study how Jesus fulfilled these requirements, but we’re going to run out of time if I don’t eventually start talking about the book of Acts.  Starting in Leviticus 23:4, the festival called Passover is described, where the unblemished lamb is offered to the Lord as a sacrifice to commemorate how the Lord brought the Jews out of Egypt.  You may recall in the book of Exodus how the blood of the unblemished lamb was painted above the doors of the faithful Jews, so when the angel of the Lord came to Egypt to slay the first born males of every house, he would “pass over” the faithful Jews.


And we know that Jesus fulfilled this requirement once and for all, becoming our unblemished lamb, a perfect sacrifice that was pleasing to the Lord.  At the end of the week before Passover, Jesus came to Jerusalem, was crucified, buried, and raised again to life, hallelujah.

After Passover, though, what happens?  Leviticus 23:15 describes the next festival, the Festival of Weeks:

From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks.  Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord.  From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of two-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of firstfruits to the Lord.  Present with this bread seven male lambs, each a year old and without defect, one young bull and two rams. They will be a burnt offering to the Lord, together with their grain offerings and drink offerings—a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord.  Then sacrifice one male goat for a sin offering and two lambs, each a year old, for a fellowship offering.  The priest is to wave the two lambs before the Lord as a wave offering, together with the bread of the firstfruits. They are a sacred offering to the Lord for the priest.  On that same day you are to proclaim a sacred assembly and do no regular work. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live.


This Festival is called the Festival of Weeks by the Jews, or in Hebrew, is called “Shavuot.”  So, after the Passover lamb, count off seven weeks plus 1 days, or 50 days, and offer sacrifices for our sins and for fellowship.  In Greek, the word for “fifty” is “pentekonta.”  We are going to abbreviate this in English as “Pentecost.”


The disciples of Jesus were faithful Jews, and they were full of joy after the Passover Lamb because they had met the resurrected Jesus and knew then that He was truly the Messiah with power over death.  And in Acts 1, last week Theresa taught about the first 40 days after Jesus.  Here is Acts 1:3-5:

After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.  On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.

And now finally we get to today’s scripture in Acts 2:1-4 –

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.  They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Fifty days after Pentecost, faithful Jews are supposed to make a sin offering and a fellowship offering, and do no regular work.  We are supposed to fellowship, accept Jesus as our sin offering, and rest on the Sabbath.  Pentecost is the birthday of the church when the gift of the Holy Spirit was given to us and who even today resides in us as Holy Temples for His presence.

The disciples were the first to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in tongues, and every person listening heard their own language being spoken.  In utter amazement, the people listening were amazed at the miracle they were witnessing –

Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

Ok, so not everyone was amazed.  Even today, there are plenty of skeptics about Christian behavior.  But Peter goes on, beginning in verse 17, to give his first sermon as a Christian that the pouring out of the Holy Spirit was a fulfillment of the prophecy by Joel.  And during this first church service, Peter concluded with, in verses 38-39 –

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

On the birthday of the church, those that did not think the disciples drunk, became believers in Christ and 3000 were baptized that day.  All due to the power of the Holy Spirit.

  V.      What is the Holy Spirit?

So who or what is this gift of the Holy Spirit that lives inside all believers during the Church Age?  Is the Holy Spirit a ghost?  Is the Holy Spirit sort of like The Force in Star Wars?


This has absolutely nothing to do with the Holy Spirit.  If you had to classify the Force, it’s a New Age Pantheism that more or less believes that God didn’t create the universe, but that God is the universe.   Belief in the Force, pantheism is.

The Holy Spirit isn’t a ghost; the Holy Spirit isn’t a mystical pantheistic force.  The Holy Spirit is an integral part of the Trinity.  The Holy Spirit is a person, and in Genesis 1:26, God says,

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image.”

This “us” is the Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We are made in the image of the Holy Spirit.  He looks like us.  And the Holy Spirit has purpose in our lives, and I’m going to outline 4 broad missions of the Holy Spirit –

a.  Regeneration

Regeneration.  Rebirth.  A new beginning.  Just like in Genesis 1 where the Holy Spirit is present and hovering over the waters during creation, when we accept the sacrifice of Jesus as atonement for our sins, the Holy Spirit makes in us a new creation.  Our old self is dead; behold, our new self will live in Him for eternity.  We are born again.  In the Old Testament, in the book of Ezekiel, the word of God came to Ezekiel and told him that the people of Jerusalem would be scattered, but a remnant would remain faithful, and in those faithful, Ezekiel 11:19 says,

I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.

The Holy Spirit was responsible for regeneration and rebirth from the beginning.  This information was available to the Pharisees in Jesus day, but they did not understand.  Jesus tells the Pharisee Nicodemus in John 3:3-10,

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.  You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?”

b.  Indwelling

Indwelling.  Being filled with the Spirit.  There is a major difference between the Holy Spirit’s role in the Old and the New Testaments.  In believers today, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is permanent.  1 Corinthians 3:16 tells us,

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?

And Ephesians 1:13-14 tells us this is a permanent indwelling, a guarantee of salvation –

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

In the Old Testament, indwelling was selective and temporary. The Spirit “came upon” prophets and people such as Joshua and David for a specific reason and a specific time.

We are blessed by this indwelling because the Holy Spirit is right here when we need Him to intercede for us, even when we don’t know what we need.  Look at Romans 8:26-27 –

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

The Holy Spirit is more than our conscience; the Holy Spirit guides us, helps us, gives us moral direction by directing us to obey God’s will.  When you are troubled or confused or in conflict, ask God to search your heart like David did in Psalm 139:23, “Search me, O God, and know my heart!”  The same Psalm in verse 7 asks,

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

The Holy Spirit also guides us.  Look at John 16:13-14 –

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth; if what you hear conflicts with the Word of God, then you’re not hearing the Spirit, you’re hearing something else.  And notice that Jesus says the Holy Spirit will bring glory to Him.  The primary purpose of the Holy Spirit is to bring glory to Jesus Christ.  Turn to John 15:26-27 –

“When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.”

The purpose of the Holy Spirit is to tell people about Jesus Christ and how they can have a relationship with God.  God, Spirit, Jesus.

c.   Restraint & Encouragement

Restraint.  The Holy Spirit restrains us from sin.  In Genesis 6:3 before the Flood,

Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

It seems to imply the Holy Spirit is withdrawn when men are unrepentant and the Lord gives them over to their sin.  This theme is repeated in Romans 1:24 when God gives unrepentant men over to their sinful desires, and in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-8 when men are given over to lawlessness at the end of days before the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Sometimes instead of restraining us, the Holy Spirit is compelling us.  Later in our study of Acts we will get to Acts 8, and in verse 29,

The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

Don’t confuse this with our sinful urges that tell us when we *want* to do something.  But when we are compelled because we *ought* to do something, very often that is an encouragement from the Holy Spirit.

d.  Empowerment

Empowerment.  A fourth aspect of the Spirit’s work in the Old Testament is the granting of ability for service.  For instance, in Exodus 31:1-5, Bezalel is given a gift to make artwork for the tabernacle:

Then the Lord said to Moses,  “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.

VI.      Fruits of the Spirit

For us in the church, we are empowered with both gifts and the fruit of the Holy Spirit.  The fruit of the spirit is easy to find – they’re all listed in a single verse, Galations 5:22-23 –

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

This fruit of the spirit are, like fruit from a garden, beautiful evidence to all that the Holy Spirit is working in our lives.  When we exhibit these qualities, we know that Holy Spirit’s sanctification of us is in progress.

We stumble when we try to do these things under our own power.  Let’s take for instance, kindness.  If I attempt on my own power to be kind, I can get frustrated when my kindness is not recognized.  I may think, well, they just don’t appreciate me, why should I do all these kind things for them?  And I may realize that with this attitude, I am long forbearing, I am not joyful, I am not gently, I am not faithful.

But when we grow and realize that we belong to Christ Jesus and He has a purpose, it will bring me joy to be used by the Holy Spirit to be kind to someone.  My joy is in the Lord, not my own efforts.  I find whether they are appreciative or not doesn’t matter, for I know that it pleases the Lord to be faithful and gentle.  And I know that whatever rewards await for me at the Bema seat, the Judgement Seat of Christ, it is simply an added benefit to the gift of salvation that has been given to me.  The difference between trying to be kind under my own power and being powered by the Holy Spirit to be kind is immeasurable.  They’re not even the same thing.

Notice also that it is not “fruits” (plural) but “fruit” (singular).  The fruit of the spirit embodies all of these characteristics and is available to all believers.   One cannot pick and choose, saying I have the fruit of gentleness but not the fruit of self-control.  It is one fruit with all 9 attributes, all bound by agape love summed up beautifully in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 –

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

It is our joy, our pleasure, our command to serve one another in agape love.

VII.      Gifts of the Spirit

Gifts of the Holy Spirit are harder to list.  Partly because they’re scattered over several verses, and partly because they overlap.  Also, there is some debate about whether all the gifts are still available to us, or whether some of them were reserved just for the first apostles.  Paul wrote much about these gifts, but let’s use 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 to summarize –

There are different kinds of gifts. But they are all given to believers by the same Spirit.  There are different ways to serve. But they all come from the same Lord.  There are different ways the Spirit works. But the same God is working in all these ways and in all people.   The Holy Spirit is given to each of us in a special way. That is for the good of all.

Here’s a summary of the various gifts listed in the New Testament; there are a lot of overlaps and similarities, but generally either 7 gifts or 9 gifts are accepted.


It’s highly unlikely you have each and every one of these gifts in abundance.  On the other hand, it’s equally unlikely you are missing one of the gifts completely.  These gifts are given to each of us in a unique way specifically to enable us to help one another.  It may or may not be the same as your skills at your job.  But the number of gifts given to the individual members of the church just happened to be the exact same number of needs in the body of Christ.There is no “most important” gift.  Each gift enables us to serve one another.  Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27.  Let’s take one verse out of context and see what it means –

If the whole body were an ear, how could it smell?

They say the bible is unintelligible to those who claim to be wise.  Let’s look at the surrounding verses and see if it makes more sense.

There is one body, but it has many parts. But all its many parts make up one body. It is the same with Christ.  We were all baptized by one Holy Spirit. And so we are formed into one body. It didn’t matter whether we were Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free people. We were all given the same Spirit to drink.  So the body is not made up of just one part. It has many parts.

Suppose the foot says, “I am not a hand. So I don’t belong to the body.” By saying this, it cannot stop being part of the body.  And suppose the ear says, “I am not an eye. So I don’t belong to the body.” By saying this, it cannot stop being part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, how could it hear? If the whole body were an ear, how could it smell?  God has placed each part in the body just as he wanted it to be.  If all the parts were the same, how could there be a body?  As it is, there are many parts. But there is only one body.

The eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”  In fact, it is just the opposite. The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are the ones we can’t do without.  The parts that we think are less important we treat with special honor. The private parts aren’t shown. But they are treated with special care.  The parts that can be shown don’t need special care. But God has put together all the parts of the body. And he has given more honor to the parts that didn’t have any.  In that way, the parts of the body will not take sides. All of them will take care of one another.  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is honored, every part shares in its joy.

You are the body of Christ. Each one of you is a part of it.

Each one of us is powered by a gift, freely given by the Holy Spirit.  You have a spiritual gift, and God wants you to use it for the benefit of the body of Christ.  What is your gift?  Do you feel an urge to live a simple lifestyle so you can devote more time and money to God’s service?  Do you express your love for God by singing?  Do you have compassion for the problems of others?  Do you like to make gifts that will remind them of Jesus?  Do you find joy in speaking uplifting words to others?  Does studying the bible bring you peace and joy?  When you pray, does it seem as though the Holy Spirit steps in and helps you pray?

VIII.      Conclusion

Whatever your gift is – and you have at least one – you can thank the Holy Spirit for His gift in your life.  The Holy Spirit who has been a part of creation, is central to our “born-again” spiritual life, empowers us to serve one another in love.  What a joyful realization that God loves us so much that He provide a sacrifice so that we are righteous before Him and our bodies become temples of the Holy Spirit, working in our lives and the lives of those around us.

To God be the glory.

Walking Together

Pittsburgh Steelers logo
Image via Wikipedia

Let’s talk football. Today’s the big day, Superbowl 43, Pittsburgh Steelers versus Arizona Cardinals. Pittsburgh is going for their 6th Championship ring, and they are a football dynasty. Arizona Cardinals last won an NFL title in 1947 and hold the record for the longest drought without a title.

There are great reasons to root for both teams. For instance, Diane is rooting for Pittsburgh because it’s her home town. My mother is going to root for the Cardinals because their uniforms match her fingernail polish. Both excellent reasons.

But there is something bigger going on behind the scenes this year. Kurt Warner, the quarterback of the Cardinals, is a Christian evangelical who gives thanks to God in nearly every interview. Before his NFL career, he was bagging groceries, and now he holds weekly bible study sessions with as many as 20 of his teammates. Kurt says, “You just have to embrace it, whatever God does in your life and wherever He puts you.”

Troy Polamalu, safety for Pittsburgh, is an Eastern Orthodox Christian, savage on the field but gentle in person. This week, Troy said, “I feel like faith is the foundation of everything I do on and off the field,” he said this week in Tampa. “It determines how you live your life when you love God.”

And the faith of the Steeler’s coach, Mike Tomlin, is the cohesion that holds the team together. Here’s a snippet from an article from

The cohesion of a football team is the direct reflection of its head coach. The 2008 Steelers are the ultimate model of individuals coming together as one. It is said that truly great people take more than their share of the blame and less than their share of the credit. Through Tomlin’s leadership, you can hear that mantra ringing from each and every player. Not only do Steelers’ players not snipe at each other and look to blame, they genuinely love each other and defend each other. The camaraderie on the 2008 team was as good as it gets. Stan Savran, popular Pittsburgh media personality, has been around the team for more than 30 years. Heading into the AFC Championship Game, Savran could feel the unity. “There’s something very special going on in that locker room,” said Savran. “You can feel it.”

Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can attest first-hand about Savran’s intuition. “We have a special group. We call ourselves ‘The Band of Brothers.’ The offense picks the defense up. The defense picks the offense up. Special teams picks us all up. We say that nothing can come between us. We’re a real close group. We really feel that way. We want to go out and play for each other.”

LaMarr Woodley, a young player in just his second year, is experiencing something that he’s never experienced before. “I never imagined feeling this way about teammates,” revealed Woodley. “We’re not playing for ourselves. We’re playing for the team. There are no individuals in that locker room. It’s really hard to explain, but it is very real and very special.”

And how does Mike Tomlin hold the Steelers together? He puts into practice what he’s learned as a Christian. This week in Tampa, Tomlinson explained his faith in Jesus Christ this way: “First and foremost, I want people to know who I am and what the most important thing is in my life, my relationship with Jesus Christ. I want to lead with a servant’s heart. Football is what we do; faith is who we are all the time.”

For further reading on Mike Tomlin’s faith, follow the link.

• What role do you believe unity has played in the success of the Steelers?
• How important do you think it is for us as Christians to be unified?
• How does unity affect our effectiveness as Christians to non-believers? To believers?

Does God want us to work as a team? Of course He does. The bible says that we are made in His image, and He is a relational God we can know. The love God shows to us, we are to model by loving our neighbors as ourselves. This is the message behind Paul’s conclusion to the church at Thessalonica at the end of 1 Thessalonians, so let’s turn there now. Here’s a scripture for today, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28 –

Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

Brothers, pray for us. Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

When I first read this conclusion, it reminded me of all those final instructions Grandma gave after a visit to her house. “Goodbye! Be safe! Eat well! Study hard! Wear clean clothes! Look both ways before crossing the street!” And she’d still be calling out all these instructions, even after the car window was rolled up and we were headed down the street and couldn’t hear her. There is much more to these last instructions, though; Paul is telling the Thessalonians how they are to live together as a church of believers.

There are no indications the church at Thessalonica was divided at this time; Paul’s just encouraging and teaching them to be in harmony with each other. In the first sentence, Paul calls them “brothers.” Paul uses this word 27 times in the letters to the Thessalonians; as Christians, we are all adopted children of God, and Paul saw the local church as his family.

I. Family Leadership

No family is perfect; each and every one of us know the dysfunction in our own families. We’re all imperfect and a little dysfunctional, but it is our love for our family that helps us overcome our dysfunctions. And so it is with our local church.

In each local family, we have a leader; without leadership, the family falls apart. God’s structure for the family is for the husband to be the head of the family and sacrifice himself for the good of the family. The wife is to stand next to him and make sure he sacrifices himself. I mean, she encourages him and supports him in love and cooperation. And the children are to obey their parents. This is God’s structure, and the family becomes dysfunctional when we don’t respect that structure.

And so it is with the church. Even though Galatians 3:28 says, “we are all one in Christ Jesus,” Ephesians 4:11-13 tells us that God has given each member of the church unique spiritual gifts –

was he [Christ] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

So some people are given gifts to pastor and teach the church so that the church as a whole may be raised up in maturity and prepare God’s people for service. That is God’s purpose for the church, and God’s purpose for the spiritual leaders of the church.
Paul’s letter, though, is not addressed to the leaders; it’s addressed to the brothers and sisters of Christ. What responsibilities do we have as brothers and sisters in Christ toward those in leadership?

a. Accept them.

People in church leadership are doing their best to utilize the gifts God gave them. Church leaders are not dictators, they are example to follow and have been given spiritual authority from the Lord. As they follow the Lord, so we, too, must follow them.

b. Appreciate them.

Verse 12 says, “respect those who work hard among you.” Spiritual leadership is both a great responsibility and a difficult task, whether one is serving as a pastor, deacon, director, or other spiritual leader like teacher, mission leader, social director, or His Honor, Royal Guardian of the Lunch Ministry. Encouragements are few, battles are many, and leadership is always under attack by Satan. As brothers and sisters, we should pray for our leaders, encourage our leaders, and appreciate our leaders, and serve joyfully with them. There is nothing wrong with honoring faithful servants as long as it is God who gets the glory.

c. Love them.

Paul chooses his words carefully, verse 12 says that our spiritual leaders are our brothers and are “among us,” but they are also leaders “over us in the Lord.” This can easily strain relationships as leaders are called to speak the truth in love. For a pastor to be “among us” and be “over us” at the same time requires the power of the Holy Spirit to be effective. If our ministry leaders are just our good friends, their authority to be over us and lead God’s will is weakened. On the other hand, if our ministry leaders are too authoritative, we view them as a dictator. Our leaders have to practice fellowship and authority at the same time and it requires careful balance.

d. Obey them.

Hebrews 13:17 says,

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Spiritual leaders are not always right in everything they do. They’re human and often fail. David, a king and a man after God’s own heart made serious errors in pride, adultery, and murder. Peter denied Christ 3 times and is almost a study unto himself on how to say and do goofy things while in the ministry of Christ. But wise leaders know this; they are jars of clay, prone to cracking, and they seek Christian counsel in their decisions. As leaders, they are God’s servant, and when they call us to obey God’s word, then we must give them willingly our cheerful obedience unless it is obvious they are strayed from God’s message.

If we do these four things for our leadership – accept, appreciate, love, and obey them, then we win the Church super bowl. Paul tells us that the fruit of this cheerful following is that we will be at peace among ourselves. If there’s no peace and harmony, it’s almost always because of selfishness and sin on the part of the leaders or the followers or both. This leads to dissension and division. James 4:1-3 says

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

Which do we want as a church? Peace and harmony, or strife and quarrels? It’s clear that only through submission to those appointed as our leaders will we enjoy peace in the family. But we cannot put the burden of peace and harmony squarely on our leaders, so Paul also talks about how we should get along with each other.

II. Family Relationships

In many churches, people expect the church to provide for them. The laymen give their tithes, the church provides the services. But church leaders can’t do everything, and then the people grumble, the leadership weakens, and the church becomes ineffective.

But that’s not God’s plan for the church. The people of the church are supposed to do the work of the ministry. The purpose of the leadership is to equip the people to do the ministry according to Ephesians 4:12 which we just read a moment ago. Instead of blaming the church for the weakness we see, we are to step up and serve. Titus 2 tells us that the older members of the church are to instruct the younger members. As brothers and sisters, we help our brothers and sisters. We don’t have to wait for the leadership to tell us to help.

Some of our brothers and sisters are… special. Paul tells us specifically in verse 14 about three family members that need our help –

a. The unruly. The NIV calls these the idle, but the word means “careless” or “out of line.” The word was usually applied to a soldier who couldn’t march in line. Anybody in here want to admit to marching to the beat of a different drummer? We’re all unique individuals with special gifts, but there are some rules we have to follow if we are to be a cohesive church. We conduct this class according to certain rules, church starts at a certain time, we volunteer to fill specific roles. Otherwise there is chaos. As parents, we love to see our children grow and express individuality, but if that individuality leads to rebellion against our standards, it causes us grief. Individuality is good, rebellion is chaos.

b. The feebleminded, which the NIV calls the timid. The literal translation means “little-souled.” These are the quitters, the criticizers, the pessimists. Paul calls us to encourage them and comfort them and help them grow into bigger souls.

c. The weak. Paul isn’t talking about the physically weak, he’s talking about the spiritual health of the church. Paul means those that are weak in the faith of the Lord. As Christians, we tend to think of the spiritually weak as new believers or those in danger of falling away, but Paul’s actually referring to those people that do not understand their freedom in Christ. New believers in Paul’s time were still also trying to fulfill Jewish law, and they were full of condemnation for those that ate meat on holy days, did work on the Sabbath, and so on. The spiritually weak among us may think they’re strong, but if we criticize or condemn another brother or sister, *we* are the spiritually weak. To be strong is to learn how to be encouraging instead of judgmental.

Ministering to the unruly, the timid, the criticizers and spiritually weak isn’t easy, especially if we don’t realize when *we* are the unruly and spiritually weak. Paul tells us to keep three things in mind when we are ministering to our brother or sister –

1. Be patient. Be patient with whom? Everyone. Patience is a difficult thing to learn, especially when dealing with others. Everybody grows in faith at a different speed, and God speaks to us all individually in His perfect timing. Romans 15:5-6, “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

2. Watch our motives. Paul elaborates on this in Romans 12:17-17, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.”

3. Be kind. Paul tells us to be kind to each other and to everyone else. While the bible is useful for teaching, rebuking and training in righteousness, too often we wish we had a really heavy bible so we could beat our unruly brothers over the head with it. Criticism and complaining never yields the fruit Jesus expects from us; instead, use kindness and encouragement. Kindness and encouragement is very effective at motivating others to grow.

III. Family Worship

Worshiping the Lord in church gives glory to God, and it’s what we are called to do as brothers and sisters. We must start with worship, otherwise ministry becomes stressful, teaching becomes dry, and relationships aren’t fruitful. All of our activities as a church must begin with worship and praise. I bet Paul had instruction for us in worship, too. Let’s run through verses 16-28; Paul gives us a bunch of instruction in rapid-fire –

a. Be joyful always. God wants a joyful family, not one of dissension or criticizing or irritation. Each family member should contribute to the joy of all. Worship in joy. Then, when we give, give cheerfully. When we serve, serve with joy. Nehemiah 8:10 says, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”

b. Pray continually. Being a mature member of Christ means being in constant conversation with God. I don’t mean we are to be constantly mumbling prayers, but that in our thoughts and actions we stay in touch with God to see if what we say and do pleases him. We are called to “pray without ceasing.”

c. Give thanks in all circumstances. Thanks and praise must be an integral part of the family of God. Ephesians 5:19-20 says “speak… to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Study alone is insufficient; application of God’s word begins with praise and thanksgiving to Almighty God.

d. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire. Many things can extinguish the Spirit’s fire. Complacency, legalism, criticism, discouragement. But God is at work, halleluiah.

e. Don’t despise prophecies. In 1 Corinthians 14:3, Paul says the purpose of prophecy is to strengthen, encourage, and comfort the church. One way to quench the Holy Spirit’s fire is to look down on the work others are doing. I know occasionally I criticize the “name it and claim it” preaching I hear from other pastors, but the Holy Spirit is at work, even when the message is incomplete. It’s one thing to correct and rebuke, but despising the message is going too far.

f. Test everything, hold on to the good. The “nam
e it and claim it” messages may be incomplete, but they still contain some truth. How do we know what is truth? We test it, compare it to the rest of scripture, and keep that part of the message that is true. The Christian life involves hearing a lot of spiritual messages, and we must learn to keep the message that is authentic and discard errors and falsehood. The only way to learn how to do that is to read God’s word and learn it.

g. Avoid every kind of evil. We’ve heard the instruction to be in the world, but not of the world. Temptation abounds. When we recognize it, we should avoid even the appearance of evil.

h. Rely on God. Whew. Grandma’s almost finished. We’ve just read a whole lot of instruction to our family of believers about how to treat our leadership and how to treat each other. Fortunately, we don’t have to do it alone. Paul reminds us that God Himself, the God of Peace, is at work in us. If we are in prayer without ceasing, Jesus is faithful and the Holy Spirit will give us the strength to be the brother and sister of Christ that encourages and builds up one another.

Sixteen short verses; a lifetime of instruction to practice if we are to be a model family of believers. There is a purpose to all these instructions; Jesus will return, and we are to be ready. “May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Word of God is at work in our lives; let us continue to build the fire of the Holy Spirit in each and every one of us until the coming of our Lord and Savior.

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Walking in Christ

What is your philosophy of life, and what does it say about you? I found a collection of quotes about life; here’s a small sample –

  • Erma Bombeck: “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.'”
  • Henry David Thoreau: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
  • Richard Bach: “Here is the test to find whether your mission on earth is finished. If you’re alive, it isn’t.”
  • Ashleigh Brilliant: “My life has a superb cast but I can’t figure out the plot.”
  • Dennis Wholey: “Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are good is like expecting the bull not to charge because you are a vegetarian.”
  • Unknown: “Life is a whim of several billion cells to be you for a while.”
  • Cary Grant: “My formula for living is quite simple. I get up in the morning and I go to bed at night. In between, I occupy myself as best I can.”
  • Mark Twain: “Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.”
  • Unknown: “Life is an endless struggle full of frustrations and challenges, but eventually you find a hair stylist you like.”

Some philosophies of life are awe-inspiring. Others are depressing. Philosophies of “live it up” or “just getting by” or “what’s in it for me” tell us a lot about the person who believes them. Would it surprise you to know that Christ has a philosophy for us? Jesus Christ wants us to walk the Christian walk.

A walk implies a starting place. It also implies a destination. In between, there is a journey. Depending on the road traveled, the journey is bumpy or smooth, uphill or downhill, paved or muddy. Some people say they need to find themselves, as if going on such a walk, they’ll eventually find a path that leads back to them. But that doesn’t work; I’ve discovered that no matter where I go, there I am. I am the walk.

Paul talks a lot about the Christian walk. In Ephesians 4:1, “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” Ephesians 4:17, “walk not as other Gentiles walk.” Ephesians 5:2, “walk in love,” and Ephesians 5:8, “walk as children of light.”

Walking suggests progress, that on the journey we do not stay in one place. The new Christian begins his new life with a single step of faith. But that step of faith leads to a walk in faith. 2 Corinthians 5:7 says “for we walk by faith, not by sight.” We mature along a path; Hebrews 6:1 says we are to press on to maturity, and Philippians 3:13-16 says we are to press on toward the goal to win the prize in Christ Jesus. And because Satan has put traps and detours along the way, 1 John 1:5-7 tells us to walk in the light as He is in the light.

Jesus says that narrow is the road that leads to life. On the left side of the Christian walk is liberalism. A Christian will say, “I have accepted Jesus as my Savior, and I’m free in Christ. Doesn’t God want me to be happy?”

• What’s wrong with Christian liberalism? What is wrong with living to please yourself? How widespread is this attitude among Christians?

At the root of liberalism is often selfishness; we are trying to please people or trying to please ourselves more than God. But if the left side of the path is a ditch of liberalism, there is a ditch on the right side, too. The right side is the ditch of legalism. Christians get wrapped in the rules of being a Christian. We get wrapped up in finding rules in the bible, define rules for our lives, refine the rules, and judge others by the rules we’ve discovered. The problem with legalism side of the path is that we mistakenly think that by applying and living rules that we can earn our way to heaven by doing good deeds. We forget that salvation is a gift that we cannot earn on our own.

In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul describes how to walk this Christian walk. The first step for the new Christian was a step of faith; the first part of the journey is to walk in holiness.

I. Walk in Holiness (verse 1-8)

Let’s read 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.

1. To please God (verse 1)

Everybody lives to please somebody. Many live to please themselves. Eat, drink, be happy. That’s great advice if you’re on vacation. But in terms of lifestyle, Christians should not spend their life in selfish pleasure. Romans 15:1 says,

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.

We can see one goal is to please others. Instead of criticizing the weak for their failing, a solid Christian will bear with their failings and try to help instead.

But we must also be careful when pleasing others. It’s possible to please others and dishonor God at the same time. Paul says in Galatians 1:10,

Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Paul opens 1 Thessalonians 4 that the Christian walk consists of living to please God. Jesus Himself says in John 8:29, “I always do what pleases [God].”

Pleasing God is a lot more than simply doing God’s will. If you are obedient but have a bad attitude, that displeases God. Remember the story of Jonah? After obeying the Lord, Jonah sat outside the city, angry with everybody, including God. God blessed His Word, but could not bless Jonah with an attitude like that.

Children should please their father. We should please our Lord. How do we know what pleases God? By listening to Him, living with Him, reading His Word, and fellowshipping in worship and in service. When we understand God’s heart, we’re better able to please Him with our obedience.

2. To obey God (verses 4:2-3)

Obeying God with the right attitude pleases God; verse 3 spells out part of God’s will for us. It is God’s will that we should be sanctified. Where the NIV says, “It is God’s will,” it doesn’t do the word justice. The Greek word for will is “thel?ma” and it’s a military term that means “command.” It’s God’s command that we should be sanctified. What is sanctification?

In the Greek, “sanctification” is the same word as “holiness”. “Hagios” means a separation. What are we separated from? In the theology of original sin, we are separated from God by sin. Becoming a believer, becoming “saved”, is a first step in faith that Jesus is Lord. Sanctification is the lifelong purification process that separates us from worldly sin. It’s the path we’re walking. It is a practical, progressive holiness in our lives as we manifest Christ and the Holy Spirit, becoming less of the world and more of Him. When we are perfectly sanctified, we will be perfectly holy. When does that happen? Well, not in this lifetime. The sanctification journey is complete when we stand before the Living God, blameless in His sight because we’ve accepted the sacrifice of Jesus. Previously, we were part of this world and separated from God. God wants us to separate ourselves from the sin of the world and be part of Him.

Some Christians are saved, put one foot on the path to salvation and never take another step. Some Christians select certain rules regarding study, prayer, service, church attendance, whatever, and stop in the middle of the path. But God’s will for us in this life is that we should be sanctified, continually examining ourselves and separating ourselves from worldly sin. It’s a continuous journey. It is us saying to God, “Yes, I place my life in your hands, mold me according to Your will.” It’s an active process; we cannot simply wish to be sanctified. That isn’t going to happen. We have to actively seek God’s full measure take control of our mind and body, soul and spirit. Living in a way that pleases God is not optional; it’s a command, it’s a moral necessity, and it’s an obligation.

Paul selects a specific worldly sin to warn against; sexual immorality does not please God. God created sex and He and He alone sets the rules for how sex is enjoyed. In the beginning, when God created Adam and Eve, God established marriage as a sacred covenant between one man and one woman. God created sex for reproduction and God created sex for the pleasure of marriage partners. Hebrews 13:4 says,

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.

God sets very strict rules about sex, not to steal joy from people, but for protecting them so that they may not lose their joy. Here’s some disturbing statistics:

  • 30% to 60% of all married individuals in the US will engage in infidelity at some point in their marriage. That sounds high, but when you consider that half of all marriages end in divorce and that as relationships fall apart, people are more likely to stray, some researchers believe even more individuals may engage in adultery.
  • Infidelity is increasing, especially among people under 30, because of greater opportunity and multiple partners before marriage.
  • Men used to cheat more than women, but with more women financially independent, infidelity among married women has nearly caught up to men.
  • Emotional infidelity rates are even higher. No physical contact takes place, but emotional infidelity occurs through the internet, email, and chat rooms.

Where can infidelity start?
What are excuses for infidelity?
What are the resulting damages from infidelity?
What are the best ways to protect against infidelity?

Sexual immorality is a great stumbling block on the walk of sanctification; that’s why God warns us so many times, and Paul specifically tells us here that the proper application of sex is between a married man and woman, and no amount of Hollywood glorification of casual sex or adultery and no amount of Massachusetts or California court rulings about homosexual marriage and no amount of societal acceptance of premarital sex, adultery, or living together will change one iota of God’s Word about sex.

3. To glorify God (verses 4-5)

God’s message is more than rules consisting of “don’t do this” and “don’t do that.” It’s a positive message; live our lives in a way that glorifies God. When we were gentiles, we lived heathen lives because we did not know God. As saved Christians, our lives are more than selfish pleasures; we are members of the body of Christ and are supposed to live lives separate or sanctified from gentiles. “Be in the world, but not of the world.” Most bible interpretations say “control his body” but the literal translation is “possess his vessel.” That can also possibly mean to possess or to live with his own wife since the same word is used in 1 Peter 3:7, calling the wife the “weaker vessel.” Regardless, the principle that God gives us additional talents if we are faithful holds true here. We are to be able to control our own bodies, our mouth, our thoughts, our actions, in a way that honors God. If we cannot be spiritual leaders over ourselves, men cannot be expected to be effective leaders over their household, and 1 Timothy 3 requires men to be leaders of themselves and over their own homes before they are entrusted as leaders within the church. True self-control means willing ourselves to obey God. Either we control our bodies, or our bodies control us. Either we control our thoughts, or our thoughts control us. Self-control is a habit of holy obedience which is perfected and strengthened over time.

4. To escape the judgment of God (verses 6-8)

God hates sin and will judge it accordingly. The Lord will punish men for failure to control themselves, and God must also deal with His own children when they sin. Colossians 3:23-25 says to Christians,

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism.

I heard a story about a church member who criticized a pastor for preaching against sin in the lives of Christians. Christians are forgiven, so sin in the life of a believer is different than sin in the life of the unsaved. The pastor replied, “Yes, it is different; it’s worse.”

We are forgiven, of course; that is why Christ died for us. That’s not an excuse to disobey the Lord. Being saved is not a “get out of jail free” card. Remember the story of David we just studied? When David confessed his sins of adultery and murder, God of course forgave him, but could not change the consequences of that sin. It’s the same for us today; God’s Word against sin is to protect us from ourselves and the consequences of our sin. 2 Peter 2:19 tells us that every “man is a slave to whatever has mastered him” and we are all mastered by something. In our walk with Christ, our goal is to be master by Him alone. That’s why Paul reminds Christians here in 1 Thessalonians 4:7 that God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Those who reject God’s Word also reject God.

Any comments about Walking in Holiness? Are there any sins that Christians don’t have to worry about because they’re saved?

II. Walk in Harmony (verse 9-10)

Let’s read 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10 –

Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more.

Paul transitions from holiness, our separateness, to brotherly love. Just like God’s holiness should motivate us toward sanctification and removing sin from our lives, so too, God’s love for us should motivate us to love one another. A Christian should love one another.

In the Greek language, there are 4 basic words for love. “Eros” is physical or sensual love. Our modern culture elevates this form of love above all others, but this type of physical love, unless it is within the boundaries of marriage, is sinful. “Storge” (stor-gay) is family love, the type parents have for their children. And there’s agape love which we often study in bible study, the love mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13, the love of patience and kindness, the love that isn’t rude and is not easily angered. It is a self-sacrificing love. Agape love is doing something that is in someone else’s best interest, regardless of whether it’s in your own best interest.

Paul’s talking about the fourth kind of love, “philia,” affectionate love, the type of love between close friends and between married couples. Christians belong to the same family. We have the same father, and we are all brothers and sisters. Paul calls us to be affectionate with one another, and then he calls us to do so even more.

God teaches us to love one another more and more, to be affectionate and loving, by placing us in circumstances that force us to practice this. Anybody in here ever had a serious disagreement with another Christian brother or sister? Somebody else in this church? Perhaps in this class? Perhaps at home? I’ve heard wonderful stories from my Christian brothers and sisters about difficulties they once had with another Christian, but by practicing philia love, affectionate love, they overcame their difficulties. In many cases, they are very close friends today because they practiced this love. There is no point in the Christian life where we can ever feel we have completed the Christian walk, we can never sit back comfortably and decide we have grown enough and no further sanctification is needed. All believers need to keep growing in love.

Any comments about Walking in Harmony? Do we always get along with each other? Is there somebody you don’t get along with?

III. Walk in Honesty (verses 11-12)

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

I like the King James translation better than the NIV because instead of “win the respect of outsiders”, the King James says “that ye may walk honestly toward them that are without.” Paul tells us we are to live an honest life, one without hypocrisy. If we say we believe something, let our actions show it. Show that we truly believe it. We’ve heard the saying from St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the gospel always. If necessary, use words.” If you want to be a poor example for Christ, tell people you’re a Christian but lead a mean-spirited, unloving life.

Christians have the obligation to love one another, both philia love and agape love, but also to be good testimonies to the rest of the world. Paul says be ambitious about leading a quiet life, but being ambitious seems at odds with being quiet. Paul is talking about the quietness and gentleness of spirit, having an inner peace that trusts in Christ. Paul reminds Christians that while we are waiting on the Second Coming of Christ, we are not to be idle. The walk of life, the walk of sanctification, is not a moving sidewalk that carries us toward a destination. We must each and individually do our own walk with Christ. You’ve heard the phrase that idle hands are the devil’s workshop. Idle people are selfish, depending on others for their upkeep. Idle people have time to interfere in the lives of others and getting into trouble. Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 3:11 “We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies.” Believers who are about the Lord’s business have little time or desire to meddle in the affairs of others.

Some believe that to work the earth is a curse. That’s a misunderstanding of Genesis. Adam had work to do in the Garden of Eden while still in Paradise. It is the ground that is cursed which makes us toil and sweat. And working enables us to be givers, not takers. If we want to be able to give to those in need, it is better if we are not in need ourselves.

So the exemplary Christian life should be an example, not a hindrance to others. We should live a life of honesty and integrity. The word “integrity” comes from the word “integer” which means “one.” We are to be one person, the same inside as we are outside, the same in public as we are in private.

Any comments about Walking in Honesty? What happens when a Christian’s words and actions toward their family or toward their Christian brothers is not completely honest with what they say they believe? Do you think we are better Christians in public or in private?

Unsaved people should be able to see our quiet walk in Christ towards our sanctification. They should be able to see how we live holy lives of sexual purity, how we live harmonious lives of brotherly love with our Christian brothers and sisters, and how we live honest lives of diligent work and not meddling idly in the lives of others. Living in a way that pleases God, pure and sanctified in obedience and brotherly love is the whole purpose of our walk with Christ.

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We Are the Message

Candle of Loreto
Image by Loci Lenar via Flickr

I’ve discovered the secret to time travel, and have successfully traveled into the future. I’m still doing it – at the rate of 1 second per second. I can’t seem to go any faster or slower.

It amazes me that Thanksgiving has been over for more than a week, and Christmas will be here and gone in a blink. I’m sure time moved slower when I was a kid. The time between December 24 and December 25 was at least a week.

Our Christian life changes over time. The Christian faith we had last year and the year before that should sanctify over time and draw us closer to the Lord. How many remember the day that you gave your life to Christ?

Most of us will fall into one of two groups. For some of us, including me, we gave our life to Christ as an adult. Christ changed our lives abruptly and we became new creatures in Him. Others became Christians as a child or a teenager; lifestyles changed little. I should have been in that last group; I was exposed to Jesus at a very young age and never turned my back to Him. But repentance requires more than that – I also never turned my face toward Him. I did my own thing, not His.

So now my time travel is limited to retrospection. What decisions, good and bad, have I made, and how they steered my life. Only one decision steered my afterlife. A young pastor noticed something – I was coming to church every week, but there was no fruit of my faith. Attendance every week is not fruit, it’s fertilizer that helps us grow.

I can look back with thankfulness for that pastor that devoted a couple of hours a week to me, making sure my faith was laid on a biblical foundation. And I can look back over the last 10 years and thank the Lord for His work in my life. Today, we’re going to look at 1 Thessalonians 1, new believers in Christ, who became wonderful example of Christians.

Paul was on his second missionary journey at this time, during the time in Acts 16-21. Around the year 51, Paul and Silas left Antioch, picked up Timothy in the town of Lystra, through Philippi. Paul and Silas are thrown in prison for their prison but freed by an earthquake. They travel to Thessalonica where Paul teaches in the synagogue for three weeks. The Jews stirred up trouble and then at night, Paul and Silas slipped away to Berea and began teaching in the synagogue there. The Jews from Thessalonica followed Paul to Berea and stirred up trouble. Paul leaves from Corinth and meets Pricilla and Aquila. Over the next 2 years while in Corinth, Paul writes two letters to the Thessalonians to encourage those he had to leave because of persecution.

So that’s our situation; Paul is in Corinth, encouraging new believers in Thessalonica. From the two letters Paul sent, we know a lot about Paul’s feelings. For one thing, he’ saddened he’s unable to return to Thessalonica, and later, Paul would send Timothy back to them to minister to them. Timothy later returned and brought a letter back to Paul.

The letter Timothy brought back concerned Paul. The persecution in Thessalonica had not ended, and the early church there needed encouragement to stand firm. Also, the enemies of the truth were spreading lies about Paul, claiming that Paul was only traveling to make money and build up his reputation. The enemies also claimed that Paul had stirred up the trouble and then fled, leaving the early converts duped into facing the consequences alone. Paul’s letters defended his actions and his integrity, encouraged the new church, preached against paganism that was creeping back into Thessalonica. He also taught them on several topics, including their reputation outside of the church, to love each other, to work diligently, and discussed the end times when Jesus returns, and then teaches them about the fundamentals of Christian living.

There. We finished 1st and 2nd Thessalonians 2 months early. Any questions? Actually, for such a short chapter, there’s a lot of information here. Let’s go a little deeper. 1 Thessalonians 1:1-4 –

Paul, Silas and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you.

We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you,

Paul expresses thanksgiving to the Thessalonians for the gospel in their lives and gives thanks to God. There are 10 verses in 1 Thessalonians 1, and Paul mentions God 7 times. Have you ever had anybody thank you for your faith? Do you give thanks to others for their faith? This is worthy of reflection when you consider the work of Jesus in your life.

Paul addresses this letter to the church of Thessalonica; the Greek word used is “ekklesia” and means a gathering of people called for a purpose. So Paul is letting the Thessalonians they have a purpose and that God has called them. Every church is called for a purpose, and every church has both a physical address and a spiritual address. Physically, the church was located in Thessalonica. Spiritually, the church was located in God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Those last four words, “our Lord Jesus Christ,” are beautiful together. “Our” reminds us that we have a uniquely personal relationship with God. “Lord” shows He is the ruler of our lives and our submission to His authority. “Jesus” reflects that God became one of us and reflects His humanity. “Christ” is our savior, the Messiah, fulfilling the prophecies that He came to save us for all eternity. “Our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul encourages the church by letting them know he prays for them daily, giving thanks to God. Because of their faith, their work was evident. Because of their love, their labor was evident. And because of their hope, the early Thessalonian church was able to endure the persecution. This is why Paul gives thanks – these are new believers, yet their faith and their love, their hope and endurance was evident. Paul will tell us in a moment why all these are important.

Verse 4 tells the Christian brothers that they are loved and chosen by God. The credit for the existence of the Thessalonica church, and our church, too, belongs entirely to God, not to us. I think as believers in Christ we often take our salvation for granted, as though because we chose to become baptized that we have done a great thing in ensuring our eternal life. But our salvation is not something we earn by our choice, is it? Our salvation is a gift, and God chooses us first. While we make a decision to follow Christ, it is God who first calls us while we are still sinners. We do nothing to deserve salvation. That’s why Paul opens his letter with “grace and peace to you.” Grace is a uniquely Christian concept that God has shown us favor, even though we have done nothing to deserve it. On the contrary, we deserve judgment. But because of God’s grace, we have peace. God has called us and our salvation is secure in Him.

The Thessalonians were new believers, and Paul gave thanks for them. Not only that, it appears Paul had a daily prayer list that included praying for these new believers. This calling of new believers by God is the purpose He has set for us. Paul gave thanks because he could see the “work of faith”, the “labor of love,” the “endurance inspired by hope” in their lives. If somebody examined our lives, will they see the same? What evidence of our faith and love will others find if they examine our lives?
Many people hear the good news yet still refuse to accept Christ. The Holy Spirit does the work of convicting and converting, and Paul encourages the Thessalonians to respond to the Holy Spirit in their lives in 1 Thessalonians 1:5-6 –

because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.

The gospel Paul preached follows a specific order. First, the gospel comes to us with words. Faith is useless without knowing why we have faith. Then comes power, the ability to do something. When people hear and accept the good news, lives change. Then Paul mentions the Holy Spirit, God’s gift of Himself to every believer. When the Word of God and the Spirit of God meet in the life of a believer, there is joy and assurance that he or she has freedom from the bondage of sin and is now a child of God.

Notice how Paul encourages the Thessalonians to be imitators of the Lord, but also of himself. We are to be like Christ in our growth as Christians. Paul often asks people of faith to imitate him. In first Corinthians 11:1, he says, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” Ask yourself if you are a good imitator of Christ. Do you have the confidence of Paul? Can you imitate his transparency? If you don’t, why not? Can we be confident that our lives are so Christ-like that we would ask somebody to imitate us? What keeps us from this sort of confidence?

This is an important question because if we are not good imitators of Christ, then we are poor witnesses on His behalf. A good imitator of Christ is a good witness for Christ. We know Paul was a good witness, both by words and by action. The Thessalonians, in turn, became good witnesses despite persecution. They understood that their faith in Jesus Christ might mean temporary suffering but eternal joy. Instead of being embarrassed or hiding their faith, the Thessalonians instead welcomed the message with the joy from the Holy Spirit.

It’s just as important today to be joyful for the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives as it was for the Thessalonians. Just like the Thessalonians, we can worship every week with our church, read the scriptures, thank the Lord for the gifts in our lives, and pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit so we make good decisions. As a result of their faith, the Thessalonians became influential in spreading Christianity. Look at verses 7-10 –

And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

Do you see the cycle of evangelism? First, Paul shared his faith by both word and action to the Thessalonians. The Thessalonians imitated Paul, and then shared their faith by both words and actions. The Thessalonians became an example of joyful Christian living to the Macedonians in northern Greece. The Macedonians, in turn, influenced new believers at least 200 miles away in Achaia in the southern part of Greece. Paul says their reputation has become known everywhere.

Paul called the Thessalonians to be like Christ, and offered his own life as an example to them. The Thessalonians, in turn, were an example to the Macedonians. And so on through the centuries, until you, too, heard the word of God and saw it modeled in someone else. The word Paul used for “example” literally translated meant the mark left by a hammer when making a coin. *Stamp*. You have an original that made an imprint, and now you have another just like it. In John 20:25, Thomas says he that unless he sees the imprint of the nails in the hands of Jesus, he would not believe. The word John uses for “imprint” is the same word Paul uses for example. *Stamp* We are to be just like Jesus. Jesus tells us (Matthew 5:48) that we are to be perfect, just as our heavenly Father is perfect. Like a coin made from a hammer, we are to bear the imprint of Christ.

The lifestyle of the Thessalonians provide an example to us today. Verse 9 and 10 summarize the lifestyle of a truly effective Christian in 5 points –

1. Repentence. They turned to God from idols. A saved life, a life in Christ, always begins with a deliberate decision to answer God’s call. A Christian turns from the negative and to the positive. This is repentance. Repentance is a deliberate change to turn from sinful ways and to face the living God. The Thessalonians turned from their lives of idol worship and to a life of faith.

2. Serving. They have a new master. Before, they were slaves to their sin. Slaves to power, to money, to self, to pleasure. Now they are willing slaves to Christ. The Thessalonians serve the living and true God.

3. Goal. They have a new hope. The Thessalonians wait for His Son to come from Heaven. When will this day be? We don’t know. Jesus says it will come like a thief in the night, and we won’t know until it is here. But we are to live every day, every hour, as though Jesus was coming today. If Jesus returned today, are you ready? Paul ends every chapter of 1st Thessalonians with a reference to the Second Coming of Jesus.

4. Foundation. They have a firm foundation. The Thessalonians were secure in their faith that Jesus was raised from the dead, that He was resurrected in accordance with thousands of years of prophecy. Jesus conquered sin, He conquered death for us. The gospel is the good news that we have eternal life with Him, and He really does have that power.

5. And finally, the fear of God. The Thessalonians were well aware of their sin, and that perfect judgment on sinful humanity before an all-powerful God means that by all rights the wrath of God should be poured out on us. God hates sin. The only reason God does not turn his righteous anger against us is because of his love for us. Only Jesus can rescue us. For that we are thankful and saved from His wrath.

Paul tells the Thessalonians that their lives are showing the cycle of evangelism that Christ calls us to live. First, everything begins with Christ, our perfect example. Second, Paul and missionaries such as Silas and Timothy imitated the behavior of Christ and spread the gospel. Third, the Thessalonians modeled their lives after Paul. Fourth, the new Christians throughout Macedonia followed the example of the Thessalonians.

Where are you in this cycle? What about your reputation? You’ve accepted Christ, and you live in a circle of influence. By your words and by your actions, you influence your spouse, your kids or your parents, your brothers and sisters, your friends and coworkers. If your reputation got back to you, what would it say about you?

Here’s a questionnaire on the last 3 verses of 1 Thessalonians 1. I want you to think about these questions. Wherever you are in your walk with Christ, you should be able to answer these questions to yourself. If you have an answer to these questions you’d like to share, I’d love to hear it. After all, everybody in this class is an example to me and if you tell me your answer, I can imitate you.

1. The evidence this week that I “serve the living and true God” is:

2. I demonstrate to myself that I “wait for His Son from heaven” by:

3. People can tell I believe God “raised Jesus from the dead” because:

4. Someone I know that needs to be rescued “from the coming wrath” is:

We are God’s message. God’s Word tells us who He is, but it is by our words and actions that others come to know Him. Everybody in here has a story of somebody that shared their love of God. We have all been evangelized. But we cannot keep this Good News to ourselves. The cycle is only complete when the evangelized becomes the evangelist. We do this through thanksgiving, through prayer, through encouragement. Like the Thessalonians, we demonstrate our works of faith, our labor of love, and our steadfastness of hope. We look back with thankfulness that the Holy Spirit and the gospel’s power changed our lives.

Are you waiting confidently for Christ’s return? Are you living a life that is a testimony to God’s grace and miraculous transformation of your life? Is your life “the message”?

Let’s offer thanks and praise that it is.

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Facing Questions

Fred took us through Acts 15 last week; we’re going to cover from the latter part of Acts 15 through Acts 18 today, Paul’s second missionary journey. In Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas have spread the gospel of Christ among many churches. Now, they want to revisit those same churches and see how the new churches are doing. Barnabas and Mark sailed for Cyprus; Paul chose Silas and headed up the coast.

Paul’s Second Missionary Journey
map from

1 Syrian Antioch Acts 15:36-40, Paul and Silas (and Luke)
2,3,4 Syria , Cilicia , Derbe Acts 15:41 , 16:1
5 Lystra Acts 16:1-5, Joined by Timothy
6,7 Phyrgia , Galatia Acts 16:6, Holy Spirit prevents them from preaching in Asia
8 Mysia Acts 16:7, Holy Spirit prevents them from entering Bithynia
9 Troas Acts 16:8-10, Paul’s vision to go to Macedonia
10,11 Island of Samothrace , Neapolis Acts 16:11
12 Philippi Acts 16:12-40, Lydia baptized. Conflict over girl with spirit of clairvoyance, beaten and imprisoned. Singing hymns and midnight . Earthquake opens prison doors; Paul stays and converts jailer. Released because Paul was a Roman citizen, asked to leave Philippi
13,14 Amphipolis, Apollonia Acts 17:1
15 Thessalonica Acts 17:1-9, Convert large numbers, infuriates Jews
16 Berea Acts 17:10-14, Bereans accept gospel, but Jews from Thessalonica followed and caused trouble. Silas and Timothy remain in Berea .
17 Athens Acts 17:15 -34, Bereans accompany Paul to Athens , return with instructions to Silas and Timothy to rejoin Paul as soon as possible. While Paul waits, he addresses the philosophers of Athens .
18 Corinth Acts 18:1-17, Made tents with Aquila and Priscilla. Paul preached to Jews who abused him, so Paul shook his fists and decides to preach to gentiles. Paul stays at the house of Titius Justus for 18 months. Silas and Timothy catch up to Paul. The Lord encourages Paul to continue to preach. Jews band together to attack Paul, but the governor Gallio refuses to judge.
19 Cenchrea Acts 18:18 , Sails for Syria , accompanied by Aquila and Priscilla. Cuts hair short because of a solemn vow.
20 Ephesus Acts 18:19 -21, 24, Paul leaves Aquila and Priscilla to debate Jews in synagogue. Jews ask Paul to say, and Paul says "if it is God’s will" (eventually returning during 3 rd missionary journey). Priscilla and Aquila train Apollos who goes to Achaia.
21,22 Caesarea , Jerusalem Acts 18:22, Paul pays respects to church at Jerusalem
23 Antioch Acts 18:22 -26, travels regions of Phyrgia and Galatia

Paul and Silas travel through Syria and Cilicia and strengthened the churches, then to Derbe and Lystra. There Paul met Timothy who was held in high regard by the brothers, so Paul takes Timothy, too. They pass along words from the apostles and elders from the Council at Jersalem.

Then to Phyrgia and Galatia, but the Holy Spirit prevents them from entering Asia. Then down to Mysia and tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus prevents them. I thought this odd that the Holy Spirit would stop them, but God had a bigger plan and knew where He wanted them. The missionaries head down to Troas, and Paul has a vision of a Macedonian man saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” So they sail from Traos to the island of Samothrace, and then to Neapolis and then to Phillipi.

There is lot of activity in Philippi. First, there is the conversion of Lydia who opens her home to the missionaries. Then there is a slave girl with a spirit of fortune-telling. Paul commands the spirit to come out of her, and the merchants who own her are furious because they can’t make money off of her anymore. They drag Paul and Silas to the marketplace where the magistrates order them stripped and beaten. They’re flogged and thrown into prison. Talk about a bad day. But instead of whining and complaining, the scripture says Paul and Silas up to midnight praying and singing hymns to God. And then an earthquake shakes the jail and all the doors fly open; the jailer wakes up and is about to kill himself because he was responsible for security, but Paul stops him saying, “Stop! We’re still here!” And then the jailer asks to be saved, too. Great example of the joy in Christ in all circumstances and how God can use your joy to reach others.

And in the morning, the magistrates find out they’ve beaten a Roman citizen and become alarmed and escort them very nicely to the edge of town. Paul and Silas and Timothy (and Luke, since he’s the historian documenting all of this) go to Amphipolis, Apollonia, and then Thessalonica.

At Thessalonica, Paul and Silas go to the synagogue as usual and convert large numbers of people, and this infuriates many of the Jews who round up some bad characters from the marketplace, form a mob and start a riot. They try to grab Paul and Silas, but the brothers help them escape that night to Berea.

In Berea, they got a better welcome, and there’s another great lesson here. It says in Acts 17:11, “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Paul was a well-known apostle who had seen the risen Christ himself and proclaimed the gospel all over the world. And the Bereans received this message eagerly – and still examined the scriptures every day to see if Paul was telling the truth. Don’t take the word of some televangelist or some preacher. Don’t just read the words of Mac Lucado or Rick Warren of “Purpose Driven Life” and think you can understand God’s direction for you and your life. Don’t take Ed Young’s word. And for sure don’t take my word even though I’m standing right here in front of you. Examine the scriptures for yourself daily to see if what you’re being taught is true. 2 Timothy 4:3 says, ” For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

What that means is that people will preach what we want to hear. If we want a prosperity gospel, we will find somebody to preach a prosperity gospel. If we want to hear the end times are coming, we will find somebody to tell us the exact time and date. If we want somebody to tell us that sexual immorality, adultery, lying cheating and stealing is ok, we can find somebody to teach us that. But that is only the word of men telling us what we want to hear. What does God say? There’s only one way to find out, and that’s by examining the scriptures ourselves to see if what we are being told is true.

Paul’s time in Berea was cut short; the angry Jews from Thessalonica followed him and stirred up the crowds in Berea, so Paul departs for Athens and leaves Silas and Timothy behind. In Athens, Paul addresses the philosophers of Athens (we’ll come back to this in a bit) and waits for Silas and Timothy to rejoin him. After a while, Paul heads down to Corinth, meets Aquila and Priscilla and preaches to the Jews, but the Jews abuse him and Paul gets discouraged. Silas and Timothy catch up to Paul, and then Paul has a vision from the Lord, and encouragement to keep on preaching.

Then Paul sails for Syria with Aquila and Priscilla, stopping at Cenchrea and cuts his hair short to fulfill a solemn vow. Paul preaches at Ephesus while Aquila and Priscilla train Apollos, then Paul heads to Caesarea and the church at Jerusalem, then back to Antioch where Paul travels the region of Phyrgia and Galatia. Whew. Paul was a busy, busy man.

I want to return to Paul’s discussion with the Athenians in Acts 17. The city of Athens dated back to 3000 B.C., and had once been the home of Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle, but that was 400 years before Paul. The city’s prominence had faded since then, and it was now a town of about 10,000 people, primarily pagans and intellectuals and philosophers. Athens still remained famous as an intellectual and artistic center.

Starting in verse 16, Paul is walking around Athens. If you and I were walking around Athens, we’d be impressed with the magnificent architecture and the fabulous artwork, but Paul is distressed. The impressive buildings were dedicated to various gods and goddesses. Some historical accounts indicate there were more statues of idols than there were people in Athens. Paul is distressed by the paganism of Athens because it is an offense to the one true God for He had forbidden idolatry. Paul sees highly educated but spiritually lost people, ignorant of the one true God. Paul turns his inner turmoil into positive action. We should ask ourselves if we are good students of Paul. Do the lost people around us spur us into action? Do we shun the unbelievers, or do we seek an opportunity to share the gospel?

In verse 17, we can see Paul’s heart at work –

“So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.”

Paul is reaching out to three types of people. First, the Jews in the synagogue, who Paul preached to throughout his journeys. He also preached to “those who worshiped God,” gentiles who worshipped God but did not know of the good news of Christ. And then he also preached to anybody else who happened to be there; pagans, philosophers, academics. Paul reasoned with them; this was the beginning of apologetics, which is not apologizing for your faith as I once thought it was. Apologetics is an argument for natural theology based on God’s self-revelation.

Two groups of philosophers began to argue with Paul in verse 18. The Epicurean philosophers followed the teachings of Epicurus, who taught that everything came from eternal, material atoms. They did not believe in life after death; they believed that when you died, humans returned to material atoms. The soul was considered part of the body that also died. The Epicureans also believed that gods existed, but the gods were far removed and unconcerned about humans. Because life was temporal, people should seek to be free from pain and anxiety, and instead seek pleasure through intellectualism. The Epicureans were deists, practical materialists, and they did their grocery shopping at Rice.

The Epicureans, to me, sounded like atheists of today. If there is no god, and no afterlife, then there’s no reason to serve or sacrifice. Get as much as you can out of this life.

The other group, the Stoic philosophers, believed in gods and divine providence, and that people should use one’s ability to reason to lift themselves up and be harmonious with nature. The god principle, or divine spark, was present in all things, and when we die, there is a great disturbance in the force. They were pantheists, and there is god in everything.

Stoics today are like the “all paths lead to heaven” philosophy. We’re all right in our own way. We define our own truth, and your truth may be different than my truth.

And of course the Epicureans and Stoics misunderstand Paul and call him names. They call him a babbler and seem to think Paul was just trying to add Jesus to the other gods they already worshipped. “Babbler” may also be translated “pseudo-intellectual,” but the word here literally is “seed-picker,” an image of a bird hopping around eating whatever seeds fall on the ground. They were accusing Paul of picking up scraps of philosophy and repackaging it as a new but worthless philosophy.

So in verse 19, the philosophers invited Paul to the Areopagus, which was either a philosophical court for an informal public lecture, or it may have been a place dedicated to Mars, the god of war. Either way, to the Epicureans and philosophers, they were expecting just another entertaining idea to debate.

A. Find Common Ground

Paul is the model apologetic; he’s getting ready to share the good news of Christ to an unbelieving and skeptical world. He begins by trying to find common ground. He debates, not berates. Sharing the gospel should be done in love, kindness and compassion. Yelling or belittling makes us poor examples of the love of Christ and renders us ineffective. Verse 22 –

“Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.”

That may sound derogatory to us. “Ah, I can see you are very religious.” But it’s far more likely that Paul was being complimentary here. He shows respect for the intellectualism of the philosophers and congratulates them for they already know. He acknowledges that these are very smart people.

[Why is it important to find common ground?]
[Why are confrontational methods ineffective?]

Also note what Paul does not do – he doesn’t start by reciting Jewish history. When Paul preached in the synagogues, he preached about fulfilled prophecy to know about the messiah. Jewish history meant nothing to these philosophers, so instead, Paul searches for a frame of reference they can understand.

Verse 23 –

For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

Again, this sounds derogatory, accusing these people of not even knowing what they worship, but Paul is still seeking common intellectual ground. The people of Athens had shrines to every god, the shrines that had so distressed Paul. The Athenian philosophers were either polytheistic (worshipping many gods) or pantheistic (believed all nature was god). When disaster strikes, the people of Athens might believe they had been worshipping the wrong god, so they’d worship a different god and build another shrine. After many trials and errors, they’d finally cover all their bases by building an altar to an unknown god, whoever that might be.

Paul points out to these intellectuals that they already inherently recognize that the other gods they have built shrines to are deficient. They know inherently that there is something else out there. And Paul gets ready to show them that the unknown god they worship with stone could indeed become known personally to them.

B. Correct errant views of God

Then Paul tells them who God is and who God is not. Verse 24-25 –

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.

[Why is it important to correct perceptions of God?]
[What are some false perceptions of God?]
[Why is Christianity unique?]
[Why is insisting on the uniqueness of Christianity important?]
[Why is this offensive to some people?]

Paul’s witness is effective because he’s well-equipped. Passion alone is not sufficient, we must have knowledge. We must know about the bible, what it means, why it is true, and how to apply it. That doesn’t mean we keep silent until we feel we are ready; how could we ever be completely ready? How in heaven can we possibly know all there is to know about God? We are only called to share what we know. We are called to seek Him and to help others seek Him. But the more we know, the more effective we can be for the Lord by answering questions and arguments more effectively.

The unknown god that the Athenians worshipped was indeed a knowable God. God does not live in shrines built by humans, even spectacular Greek wonders like the Acropolis. God cannot be shrunk into a box. How could a box built by man contain a god? It makes no sense. A god that requires things from mortals or can be built by mortals is not a god at all. God himself is the source of all life and breath and all things. This statement would appeal to the Epicureans who believed in gods that were above all things human. And “all life and breath” would appeal to the Stoics who were trying to align themselves with some cosmic purpose. The idols that the Athenians worshipped were believed to control the sea, or the weather, or war, or agriculture, but the one true God is the Creator of all things.

So Paul begins with common ground and then exposes the flaws in their worship. Their man-made idols are inherently deficient. How could an all-powerful God need anything from humans? Paul’s message tells them –
– who God is
– who God isn’t
– why God is unique.

C. Nurture our need to know God

Then verse 26-27 –

From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.

Paul then discusses more claims about our common heritage in Adam. The proud Greeks might have been offended; they might have believed they were intellectually or racially superior to the barbarians living around them. Both historically at appointed times and geographically at exact place, God has a plan for us. It’s not the plans or ingenuity of humans that determine the rise and fall of nations, but God’s plan. God does this so that people will try to find purpose in their lives and therefore seek God. The Athenians were using intellectual and logical groping in the dark to find the unknown god they seek.

God is not far removed and distant; the Greeks believed their gods were secluded and distant and unapproachable, but the one true God is knowable and not far from each and every one of us. God is not an idol. God is not one of many gods. God is not just some philosophical idea. God is alive, God is personal, God is truth.

And as his creation, we are born wanting to know God. This, too, would appeal to the Greeks who wanted to know everything. Verse 28 –

‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

These words had greater meaning to the Greeks – the phrase “for in him we live and move and have our being” came from the Greek philosopher Epimenides, and “we are his offspring” came from the Greek poet Aratus and Cleanthes. These poets were referring to Zues, but for Paul, the reference was to the one true God.

Paul used many words like “seek,” “find,” “grope,” “not far,” “in him,” “we are his.” These would have been understood that for those seeking the truth, the truth could be found. God wants us to seek him and find Him. Paul corrects the false Greek teaching that God was unknowable, God lived in man-made temples, God was not involved. These are all false. Instead, the nature of God is knowable; Romans 1:20 says,

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

How does God reveal His character to you?

Now Acts 17:29-30 –

Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.

Paul provides some insight into the nature of God. People are not made of gold or silver or stone. Since we are his offspring, neither is God made of gold or silver or stone. In fact, people who worship an idol made by human hands have it exactly backwards. God made people; therefore, people cannot make God. Therefore any understanding of God that we create is false; we must not seek God in what we create, but in what He creates. Anything else is idolatry.

D. Judgment and Resurrection

Paul’s message also contains a warning that God’s desire for people to seek Him is not an idle request. It’s a command. Seek God, repent. Turn from idolatry, turn to God. They had overlooked God in the past, but it was nothing compared to overlooking Christ in the present. Why? Verse 31 –

For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.

The Greeks had no real concept of judgment. They lived, they died. Most of them preferred to worship many gods, depending on their needs. And although it appeared their gods became angry from time to time, there was no accountability.

Paul presented a different picture, that our lives have intrinsic worth to our Creator, and we are judged with God’s perfect justice. Daniel 7:13-14 –

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

God’s perfect judgment for eternity is coming. Once we hear the word, we no longer have an excuse for our ignorance. How awful to fail the test of righteousness before the living God! People need to know that they are being judged, and forgiveness is found in Christ and no place else.

This concept of judgment would be offensive to the Greeks, but Paul did not hold back the truth. While Paul might adapt his approach to sharing the gospel, he never varied the message of the gospel. Faith in Jesus alone will save us.

Is this concept of judgment still offensive today? Why?

E. Expect a variety of responses

Verse 32-34 –

When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

The message of the resurrection of Christ ended Paul’s speech. Some of the intellectuals sneered and ridiculed Paul. Some outright laughed. Some were polite but dismissive, “we want to hear from you again.” But that’s ok. Because a few, a very few, became believers. And that’s ok. It’s our duty as the messenger to present the message. Paul showed us how to do it, and he did it expertly. And yet, an apostle of Christ got a mixed reaction. Sneering, some still searching, some believing. He did this by relating to them, nurturing them, and proclaiming the death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. That’s all we’re asked to do. The fruit is God’s responsibility.

So don’t hesitate to share what you know, and don’t worry that some will not believe you. Don’t expect a unanimous, positive response. Just tell the good news and plant the seed and let God do the rest.

[ In your opinion, what is the most troubling belief you have encountered about Christianity? ]
[ What reason can you give for your personal faith in Jesus? ]

In our culture, many people view Christianity as just another religion. Even some believers have accepted the false belief that all religions lead to the same place. But God wants us to acknowledge the unique gospel of Christ and to understand it more fully so that we can share it more effectively.