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Lessons From The Conversions Of The Samaritans And John’s Disciples — Jon Mitchell, Editor (Editorial: May/June, 2019)

Seven men “of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” were set before the apostles by the assembly of Jesus’ disciples in Jerusalem. Out of the thousands of followers in the holy city, these seven were set apart to be put over the “duty” of “serving tables,” making sure that no Hellenistic widows “were being neglected in the daily distribution” of food. After prayer, the apostles “laid their hands on them” (Acts 6:1-6). Considered by many today to be during this infancy stage of the church the prototypes for the deacons who would later come, these seven men were instrumental in helping keep peace in the first church of Christ in the history of Christianity as it faced its first internal problem on scriptural record.

Two of these seven men were Stephen and Philip. Stephen would immediately be cited by Luke as the first disciple outside of the apostles who “was doing great wonders and signs among the people” (v. 8). By the end of chapter 7, he would meet a violent end at the hands of the enemies of Christ for his preaching of the gospel, including a man named Saul of Tarsus who held his murderer’s coats and went on to “ravage” the church, dragging male and female followers of Christ from their homes and throwing them into prison (Acts 8:3). Stephen’s martyrdom prompted “a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (v. 2). And yet…the gospel was not silenced. The disciples fleeing persecution still “went about preaching the word” (v. 4). Philip was among them.

He “went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ” (v. 5). His preaching received great attention from the Samaritan crowds as they heard him “and saw the signs that he did,” such as the exorcism of unclean spirits and the healing of the paralyzed and lame (v. 7).

Luke then informs us of Simon, a known magician in that area whom the people likened to the power of God and had a great following due to amazing the crowds with his magic (vs. 9-11). Yet in spite of his former fame, the Samaritans “believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” and “were baptized, both men and women” (v. 12). Simon himself believed and was baptized, afterwards continuing on with Philip and being amazed as he saw “signs and great miracles performed” (v. 13).

When the apostles in Jerusalem “heard that Samaria had received the word of God,” Peter and John made the journey there and “prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit” (vs. 14-15). The reason they did this as stated by Luke was this: “For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (v. 16). As they had done with Philip, Stephen, and the rest of the seven earlier in chapter 6, these two apostles “laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit” (v. 17). This prompted Simon the magician, upon observing that “the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands,” to offer them money with the plea, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit” (vs. 18-19). This prompted Peter to rebuke him for thinking he “could obtain the gift of God with money” (v. 20). He indicted Simon’s heart as not being “right before God,” and urged him to repent and pray that God would possibly forgive the intent of his heart (vs. 21-23). Simon in turned asked Peter to pray for him (v. 24).

There are several points worthy of note in Luke’s account of the Samaritans’ conversions. Perhaps most relevant to the Christian is Peter’s directive to Simon to repent and pray that God would forgive him of his sin (v. 22). Simon’s earlier conversion was spoken of as genuine (v. 13). Thus, we learn that a saved soul can in fact still sin in such a way as to be in danger of condemnation (cf. 1 John 1:8, 10; Heb. 10:26-31). Yet, we also learn that God’s forgiveness is still readily available to the Christian who sins if they continually repent and pray for forgiveness (v. 22; cf. 1 John 1:7-9; 2 Cor. 7:9-11).

The Samaritans’ conversions also teach us something important about miraculous gifts given by the Holy Spirit. The apostles had made the trip to Samaria after hearing of the Samaritans’ baptisms for the specific purpose of praying for them and laying their hands on them in order for them to receive the Spirit (vs. 14-17). Simon himself saw that “the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands” (vs. 18-19). This is significant because it teaches us how some early Christians were given miraculous spiritual gifts.

I call your attention back to Stephen, Philip, and the rest of the seven chosen from the Jerusalem church to be over the feeding of the widows (Acts 6:1-6). In order to be chosen for this work, they had to have already been “full of the Spirit” (vs. 3, 5a). This had occurred when they had been baptized for the forgiveness of their sins (Acts 2:38), a promise made to all whom God would call through the gospel (Acts 2:39; 5:32; cf. 2 Thess. 2:14). Yet notice that there is no mention of them — or anyone else other than the apostles — performing any miracles until after the apostles had laid their hands upon them (v. 6). Only then do we read of disciples other than the apostles performing miracles, particularly Stephen (v. 8) and Philip (Acts 8:6-7). The rest of the New Testament teaches this also (cf. Acts 19:6; Rom. 1:11; 2 Tim. 1:6). Interestingly, the description of the Spirit “falling” upon people as is mentioned in the case of the Samaritans (8:16) is used in Scripture only in reference to people receiving miraculous power (10:44-46; 11:15; cf. 2:1-4). Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that while the Samaritans upon their baptism had received “the gift of the Holy Spirit” promised in Acts 2:38-39, the Spirit had not yet “fallen” upon them resulting in giving them miraculous gifts and would not do so until the apostles had laid their hands upon them (Acts 8:14-17).

This is relevant to answering the question of whether miracles take place today. Paul had prophesied that the miraculous spiritual gifts he had described to Corinth (1 Cor. 12:1-11) would cease “when that which is perfect has come” (1 Cor. 13:8-10). “Perfect” (teleios) refers to that which is complete or mature and is used elsewhere to refer to the New Testament (Rom. 12:2; Jas. 1:25). Historically, within a few years of the New Testament’s completion all of the apostles, as well as all those on whom they laid their hands and gave miraculous spiritual gifts, were deceased. Thus, no human being has been given miraculous power from God today. Such has been the case for almost two thousand years.

One final lesson of importance can be learned from the Samaritans’ conversion, but to fully grasp it would do us good to first examine another conversion in Acts: that of John’s twelve disciples (Acts 19:1-7). By this time Saul of Tarsus had been converted to Christianity and had become the apostle Paul. During his missionary travels, he found some disciple in Ephesus (v. 1). These disciples informed Paul that they had not heard of the Holy Spirit (v. 2), prompting him to ask about their baptism (v. 3; cf. Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:38). They informed him that they had been baptized “into John’s baptism” (v. 3). Apparently they, like Apollos during this same time period (Acts 18:25), were only familiar with the baptism of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ. And just as Aquila and Priscilla had taken Apollos aside and “explained to him the way of God more accurately” concerning baptism (Acts 18:26), Paul likewise taught them the difference between John’s baptism and baptism in the name of Jesus before baptizing them in Jesus’ name and bestowing upon them miraculous spiritual gifts through the laying on of his hands (19:4-6).

There is much this episode can teach us about baptism (literally immersion in the Greek). For one, there were similarities and yet also distinct differences between John’s immersion and the immersion in the name of Christ commanded after Christ’s resurrection (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38). Both baptisms were correlated with repentance (Acts 19:4; Mark 1:4; Acts 2:38). Both baptisms were for forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4; Acts 2:38). Both baptisms were done in water (John 3:23; Acts 8:36-39). Yet John’s immersion was commanded by him during the time before Christ died, whereas the immersion in the name of Christ is baptism “into His death” (Rom. 6:3), thus making John’s baptism not able to meet that spiritual goal since it was commanded before Christ died.

This brings to mind the fact that immersion in Jesus’ name — the “one baptism” of Ephesians 4:5 — is done for more reasons than just the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16). Remember, John’s baptism was also for forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4), yet Paul still considered it lacking and thus “re-baptized” those twelve men. Since many ask the often legitimate question of “Should I be baptized again?”, it would be good to review all the purposes given in scripture for baptism in Jesus’ name.

In addition to forgiveness of sins, the purpose of baptism in Jesus’ name (Acts 2:38) is to bring one into the possession of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. A study of the Greek terminology used in Matthew 28:19 shows this to be the literal meaning of the phrase “in the name of” used in that passage. Obtaining salvation is another purpose of the one baptism (Mark 16:16; 1 Pet. 3:21), one synonymous with forgiveness. Being born again, “of water and the Spirit,” is another purpose of the one baptism in Jesus’ name (John 3:3-5; cf. Acts 2:38; Tit. 3:5).   Participating in the spiritual circumcision as a sign one is part of God’s chosen people in the new covenant is another purpose of the one baptism (Col. 2:11-13; cf. Rom. 2:28-29; James 1:1; Gal. 6:16).

Alluded to earlier, being baptized into Christ and thus into His death via burial in baptism to rise to a new life, causing one to be “clothed” with Christ, is another purpose of the one baptism (Rom. 6:3-5; Gal. 3:27). Further examination must be given to what it means to be baptized “into Christ” because it gives us the next scriptural purpose of baptism, which is to be baptized into His body (1 Cor. 12:13). The church is called Christ’s body which fills Him (Eph. 1:22-23). Paul goes on to refer to that body as “one body” (Eph. 4:4) before identifying it again as the church of which Jesus is the Savior (Eph. 5:23). Thus, to be baptized “into Christ” means to be baptized “into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13)…Christ’s body, His church which fills Him, of which there is only one.

This brings us back to the Samaritans’ baptism as we read that they had first believed the “good news about the kingdom of God” before being baptized (Acts 8:12).   God’s kingdom was prophesied to come during the lifetimes of Jesus’ disciples (Dan. 2:44; Mk. 9:1). When asked about the kingdom, Christ pointed towards the establishment of His church on Pentecost (Acts 1:6-8; 2:1-47). After Pentecost, it was always spoken of as presently existing, with Christians as its inhabitants (Col. 1:13; 1 Thess. 2:12; Rev. 1:6, 9). Thus, Christ’s church — His body, the “one body” (Eph. 4:4; 1 Cor. 12:13) — is the kingdom of God. To be baptized into Christ is to be baptized into His body, His one church, His kingdom.

Paul’s conversion of the twelve disciples of John teaches us much about baptism in Jesus’ name. The Samaritans’ conversion also teaches us about the one baptism, as well as miraculous spiritual gifts and God’s directives on how Christians who sin can still be forgiven. It is my prayer that our study of these conversions, as well as this issue’s study of the conversions in Acts overall, has strengthened your faith and encouraged you to bring the gospel to others.

— Jon

Paul’s Converts At Athens And Corinth — Chase Green

The cities of Athens and Corinth are located on opposite ends of a small isthmus in Southern Greece. Together, they made up two of Greece’s most important commercial centers. Thus, Paul’s missionary activities in these two cities were an important stepping stone in spreading Christianity to Greece and beyond.

When Paul arrived at Athens, he found the city wholly consumed with idolatry (Acts 17:16). This must have been disconcerting, for he had just come from Berea where those noble people had readily received the Word and searched the Scriptures daily to see if they were being taught the truth (v. 11). Athens, on the other hand, would be much more difficult to influence.

Of import in verse 17 is that Paul “disputed” in the synagogue with the Jews and other devout idolaters, and daily in the marketplace. There are those among us today who claim that we must avoid confrontation at all costs, even at the expense of truth. This cannot be true because we read repeatedly in the Bible about the importance of contending for the Truth (Jude 3; Acts 9:29; Neh. 13:11, 17, 25). There is a difference between the sinful, prideful contentions (e.g., 1 Cor. 1:11) and proper contention for the sake of truth.

Thus, Paul made it a point to confront Athens’ idolatry. Paul also had to deal with the vain philosophies of men. Those of the hedonistic Epicurean and philomathic Stoic faiths confronted Paul with implied intent to humiliate him (v. 18). To their credit, though, these groups were genuinely curious about hearing “some new thing,” Christianity (vs. 19-21). Thus, Paul seized the opportunity to preach Christ.

From the middle of Mars Hill, a craggy prominence also known as the Areopagus, Paul addressed the crowd: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious (or “superstitious,” KJV); for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you” (vs. 22-23).

Of course, their understanding of the unknown God and Paul’s understanding quite differed. These men were, to their credit, highly aware of the need to worship someone, but instead of worshipping the one true God and Him alone, they worshipped anything and everything – so much so that they wanted to make sure that they didn’t accidentally leave someone out! Paul took this opportunity to point out to them that they had, in fact, left Someone out.

Paul made an interesting comment in verse 23 about this Someone “whom you ignorantly worship” (KJV). The reader does not need to confuse this “worship” of sorts with worship done in spirit and truth, the acceptable worship that we read about in John 4:24. Rather, Paul is saying that, by their altar to an unknown God, they had inadvertently acknowledged the existence of the one true God even though they didn’t know Him personally.

Then in verses 24-25, Paul gave a resounding condemnation of idolatry when he said, “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things…” In other words, the one true God is not a physical being made with men’s hands, like the idols to which the Athenians were accustomed. No, the God by whom we all are made (v. 28) is not “gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising” (v. 29).

In verse 30, the extent to which God overlooked some things is admittedly not understood by this author. Yet one does not have to understand this perfectly to know that now God “commands all men everywhere to repent.” Why? “Because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (v. 31).

As Paul’s sermon concluded, some of these philosophers utterly dismissed Paul, mocking him because of his teaching about the resurrection (v. 32). Thankfully, however, there were others who said, “We will hear you again on this matter.” Verse 34 tells us that “some men joined him and believed.” Although baptism and the other steps in conversion are not mentioned, when taken in conjunction with the rest of the book of Acts (and the rest of the New Testament for that matter), it is implied here that “believed” is a metonymy for the entire conversion process. There is simply too much New Testament evidence for the necessity of repentance, confession, and baptism to conclude otherwise.

Moving on from Athens, Paul next visited Corinth (Acts 18:1). It is here that Paul was introduced to the Jewish converts Aquila and Priscilla, who like Paul were tent makers by trade (vs. 2-3). We learn in 1 Corinthians 16:19 that there was a congregation that met in their house. Paul referred to them as his “fellow workers in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 16:3).  Evidently, Aquila and Priscilla were very knowledgeable in the Word, for they helped to explain to Apollos “the way of God more accurately” (v. 26).

In Acts 18:4, we learn that Paul reasoned with and persuaded both Jews and Greeks. This is the job of every gospel preacher. Paul would later write: “Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:11). In preaching, the stakes are high, and thus we must not take it lightly.

In verses 5-6, we find that sometimes a preacher must no longer waste his time preaching to an audience who has made up their mind to reject the truth. Paul shook his raiment, reminiscent of what Christ had told the apostles to do in Matthew 10:14. Paul would not be responsible for the fate of this rebellious group. They had judged themselves “unworthy of everlasting life” (cf. Acts 13:46). Thus, Paul would turn his attention to the Gentiles.

From there, Paul lodged in the home of a man named Justus, who lived adjacent to the synagogue (v. 7). Justus was a worshipper of God, possibly already a Christian (it is difficult to tell with the information provided). In Justus’ house, Paul met a man named Crispus, who was chief ruler of the synagogue (v. 8). This man, along with his whole household, believed on the Lord. Again, the word “believed” here is indicative of the entire process of conversion, but this time we have a more in-depth description of what that entailed: “Many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed, and were baptized.

These good and honest hearts heard Paul’s preaching, responded to it by believing what he had to say, and were baptized for the remission of their sins. This is, perhaps, the best passage in the Bible for showing the progression that takes place in one’s obedience to the gospel. Sometimes, as it seems to be the case here, people hear a sermon or two and then respond in obedient faith. Other times, however, a person may hear sermons for years before finally obeying the gospel. This is where we must remember to “exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2), praying that the Lord will give such individuals enough time to obey. We must remember that we cannot force obedience on anyone, as much as we wish we could.

In verses 9 and following we find that Paul would experience some difficulties at Corinth, but the Lord was with him. The Lord reminded Paul that He had many people in this city. Paul spent a year and a half there in Corinth (v. 11), building up the congregation with the Word of God. Even when a violent Jewish insurrection occurred, Paul was kept safe (v. 12). Although the Jews tried to get Paul in trouble with Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia, Gallio would have none of it. It ended up being the Jewish leader, Sosthenes, who was punished (vs. 12-17). This goes to show that the Lord indeed was with Paul, just as He had promised the other apostles in Matthew 28:20. Paul then dwelt in Corinth for a little longer, before departing into Syria (v. 18).

When examining the conversions at both Athens and Corinth, it becomes apparent that there are many different reactions to preaching. Some respond favorably in obedience to the gospel, while others are indifferent, or mock the preacher, or even threaten him. Gospel preachers must remember that this will always be the case. The gospel is polarizing. The Word is sharp, discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12). Thus, we must expect these various reactions, remembering that the Lord will be with us, just as He was with Paul in Athens, Corinth, and beyond.

Chase is a 2017 graduate of the Memphis School of Preaching and preaches in West Monroe, LA, alongside his wife and children.

A Shipwrecked Faith — Curtis Kimbrell

Our faith is one of the most cherished assets which we possess.  Yet there are many times in our lives when our faith is stronger than at other times.  When I am truly honest with myself and do some real “soul searching,” I may ask myself, “How can I really make myself more faithful?”  Or I may ask myself, “What can I do as a Christian to improve my faith and make it stronger?”

To answer these questions, I could easily revert to the well-known verse:  “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of God” (2 Ti. 2:15).  I may think of improving my prayer life as is stated by Paul to the Thessalonians:  “Pray without ceasing.  Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Th. 5:17-18).  When we take our Christianity seriously and it becomes more than just showing up at the church building on Sundays and Wednesday nights, it will greatly impact our lives and the lives of others.

But what do we do when something happens that threatens every thread of our faith?  When an event takes place in our lives that challenges us to even dare to ask God, “Why me?”  What if another person or Christian hurts us so badly that we feel like we are falling into a bottomless pit of hopelessness and despair?

Let’s briefly consider God’s servant Paul as we examine just one of his many hardships and how he dealt with it and overcame all odds with God’s help.  In the latter part of the book of Acts, we find that Paul was literally shipwrecked while sailing to Rome (27:13-44).  He was a prisoner sailing alongside many other prisoners and the ship’s crew when a wind known as the Northeaster hit them so badly that they eventually had to give into it (vs. 13-15).  They couldn’t fight what was coming at them.

In our lives, things are find at certain times…but sooner or later something beyond our control comes our way and there is absolutely nothing we can do.  Part of us says, “Give up!”  Another part tells us that God has a plan and we just need to hang in there a little longer.

Paul and his shipmates tried with difficulty to secure the boat.  They even threw over cargo in an effort to desperately save themselves (vs. 16-19).  In like manner, we try various ways to stay afloat through the storms that occur in our own lives.  It’s often difficult, even when others are there trying to help us.  Again, this goes back to the question:  How strong is my faith in the fact that God really will take care of me?

The others on Paul’s ship abandoned all hope (v. 20).  Each of us knows that we have felt like this in some way or another in our own lives.  No matter your age or experiences, it’s easy to think that giving up is the easiest and perhaps even the only way to handle things.  We forget that God’s timing and our timing do not always coincide.

While everyone was feeling hopeless on the ship and things were at their most critical, Paul began to encourage them.  He even told them that no life would be lost (vs. 21-24).  Do we encourage others when we feel hopeless?  Paul’s faith was at a stronger level than the others’ and he was reassured by the Angel of the Lord.  God’s Word reassures us that things will be okay in the darkest of times (Ro. 8:28).  Yet, so often we neglect to read it.

Paul had been told that he must stand before Caesar (v. 24).  God was not done with him, and he knew it.  He still had much work to do and a purpose to fulfill.  So as he continued to encourage these men, he told them to “take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told” (v. 25).  Yet, notice that he also gave them a warning that the journey wasn’t going to be easy because they would have to run the ship aground (v. 26).  The crew knew this would not be pleasant at all.  That’s why they were so fearful (vs. 29-30).  Yet, Paul cared enough to exhort them to not give up.  He told them to eat for strength, that “not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you,” and still managed to give thanks throughout all that was going on!  (vs. 33-35)

When we go through the worst times of our lives, do we have Christian friends who support us regardless of the cost or hardship?  Do we have that kind of support from our brothers and sisters even if we are fearful?  Are we ourselves willing to offer this needed support to others during their dark times?  It makes a world of difference in the outcome of our faith!

Paul gave the crew enough confidence to trust in God enough to throw the remaining food overboard (v. 38).  After that, they had to run the ship aground just as Paul had told them.  All 276 lives were spared thanks to Paul (vs. 39-44).  The apostle was leading and directing…but God was in control.  So many times control of the situation was out of the crews’ hands, but they continued to believe in God’s Word, spoken through Paul.

I truly believe there are times when we all feel that our faith is shipwrecked.  It could be a situation out of our control, a problem with another Christian, sickness, depression, or a host of other things which come up in this life.  If it becomes such an issue that we “quit church,” our faith was misplaced.  It was placed more in people than in God.

All of us need to read Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 11:25-28.  Being shipwrecked was only one of the vast amounts of hardships which this man endured for Christ, His church, and ultimately for God.  Since we do not endure anything close to these types of events, it should make our faith easier to sustain.  Our faith is something which no one can take away from us.  We are the ones who decide to grow spiritually, stay spiritually idle where we are, or fade away.  Our faith should describe who we are, how we live, and every aspect of our lives.  Don’t get me wrong.  We all fail.  Sometimes we fall flat on our faces in our spiritual walk.  This is where our faith is tested.  It helps us overcome, repent, and then lean on God’s grace and mercy to continue walking down the narrow path.

Friends, I do not even feel worthy to write these words to you.  Because of two loving brothers that encouraged me to do so, it has helped to edify me and build my own faith.  I hope and pray this has been helpful and encouraging to you, and that it will get you even more motivated about wanting to grow in your own personal faith.  God bless you all!

curtisk29374@yahoo.com

 

 

The God Of All Comfort — David R. Pharr

“Euroclydon” is what the King James Version calls it. Others have named it “Euraquilo” or “Northeaster.” They were caught for over two weeks in an unrelenting Mediterranean storm. Hurricane like winds moving from every direction made it impossible to guide the ship. Every effort was made to keep from sinking. Valuable cargo was jettisoned. Even the rigging of the ship was thrown away. Day after day there was neither sun nor stars and in the darkness all hope of survival was gone. Only one man on board had absolute confidence in their survival. It was a prison ship and Paul was himself a prisoner, but when all the rest were giving up in despair, he stood before them to declare that he had been given assurance from God. The angel of the Lord promised that not a single one of the two hundred seventy six on board was going to be lost. “Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer, for I believe God (Acts 27:25, emphasis added).

Troubles Come

Storms come into every life. Most the time most people enjoy living. There are some whose lives have come to such pain and despondency that they dread living and crave dying. For most, however, life is a cherished thing. Solomon observed that it “is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor” (Eccl. 5:18). The best life is in living as a Christian. “For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it” (I Pet. 3:10f). Yet, even into the happiest and most faithful life troubles come. Regardless of what has been up to now, if we continue for long, there may be troubles more dreadful than we might ever have imagined. David spoke of going “through the valley of the shadow of death.” He meant not just the time of dying, but also anything that brings suffering and sorrow. Job had enjoyed a wonderful life, but then “the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me” (Job 3:25f). This is not to borrow trouble or to dread the future, but to remind that, like David, we need a Shepherd to lead us into whatever dark valleys we are forced to go.

Suffering is a primary theme of 2 Corinthians. The book opens with the need for comfort. All of humanity has its tribulations. For members of the church in Corinth there were things they would have to endure because they were followers of Christ. When trouble comes even unbelievers might wonder, “Why is this happening to me?” A Christian might ask, “Why do bad things happen to faithful Christians?” By recalling the things he had himself suffered, Paul could assure them of his sympathy and that they are not the only ones who have had to endure adversity. “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves . . .” (2 Cor.1:8f).

One needs only to review his history to know that Paul understood suffering–hardship, exhaustion, beatings, imprisonment, near drowning, being robbed, double crossed, suffering hunger, anxiety, etc. (2 Cor. 11:3-29). The one thing that sustained him through it all can be summed up in the three word affirmation he declared in the midst of that tempest called Euroclydon: “I believe God.”

The God of All Comfort

To the Corinthians, therefore (and to us), he would write that the God he believed in is “the God of all comfort.”

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation”(2 Cor. 1:37).

Ten times in five verses (37) we find the words “comfort,” “comforts,” and “consolation.” God comforted Paul. Paul comforted them. What consolation he could give to others was only because of the comfort God had given to him.

God is the God of all comfort because He “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20). No trouble we ever have should allow us to doubt the power of God to help. “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, The Creator of the ends of the earth, Neither faints nor is weary” (Isa. 40:28).

God is the God of all comfort because His love and mercy are immeasurable. “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us” (Eph. 2:4). Such love “passes knowledge” (Eph. 3:18f), and no one can keep us from embracing it. The story is told of a farmer who had a weathervane with the words, “God is love.” A skeptic, noting the changing wind directions, asked, “Does that mean God’s love is fickle?” “No,” the farmer said, “It means that no matter which way the wind blows, God is always love.” That’s what Paul knew in the midst of that tempest.

God is the God of all comfort because He knows what we cannot know. We can never know for sure the outcome of any life experience–good or bad (Jas. 4:15). Paul assured the Philippians that bad things can turn out for good. “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel . . .” (Phil. 1:12).

God is the God of all comfort because we can always trust His promises. Scripture provides us with “exceeding great and precious promises” (2 Pet. 1:4). We can have hope because of the “patience and comfort of the Scriptures” (Rom. 15:4). The supreme promise is eternal life (Tit. 1:2), but many of God’s promises pertain to our welfare in this life. In times of great distress it may sometimes seem more likely that God will keep His promise of heaven than that he will help us through the sufferings of the present. Let it be deeply remembered, however, that “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things” (Rom. 8:33). The point is that God had promised His Son. If ever we might imagine that God might fail to keep His promise, surely it might have been the promise to let His Son die. If in His faithfulness and grace He kept that promise, how could it be imagined He would ever go back on His word?

God is the God of all comfort because He has a wonderful family made up of brothers and sisters in Christ. David once complained to God: “For there is no one who acknowledges me, Refuge has failed me; No one cares for my soul” (Psa. 142:4). In our troubles we may feel very alone, that no one understands. Human imperfections too often keep us from caring for one another as we should. In fact, one who feels neglected should remember that they have sometimes been neglectful themselves. Still, we have family willing to “bear one another’s burdens,” “to weep with those who weep” (Gal. 6:2; Rom. 12:15).

God is the God of all comfort because nothing can overcome the love and understanding Christ has for us. Trouble and suffering are the common lot of mankind, yet each burden seems peculiar to the one to whom it is happening. An old spiritual laments, “Nobody knows the trouble I see . . . “ and then continues, “Nobody knows but Jesus.” This is the assurance of Hebrews 4:15. “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Can anyone list all the bad things that might happen? How about Paul’s list in Romans 8–tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword, death, lie, angels, principalities, powers, things present, things to come, height, depth? All of these, he says, “neither any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the Love of Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:35ff).

“Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer, for I believe God.”

drpharr@msn.com

 

Unity and the Christian — Eric Diaz

It has been suggested that you can bind the tails of two cats together and they will be united. While they would be joined together, there wouldn’t be unity. Likewise, there are indeed hundreds of religions and church affiliations today but God has always desired there be unity among His people.

The idea of spiritual unity presents us with the goal of being united or joined together as a whole so there are no divisions among us (1 Corinthians 1:10). Not only does God desire that Christians be united in doctrine but also in matters of judgment and in our daily work within the church. We know from reading Ephesians 4:1-6 that unity is expected because there is only one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God and Father of all. If we are not one with God, we are not united with Him nor with our brethren.

Let us explore a number of ways in which we can be united and how we can contribute to this unification:

Speak The Same Thing

God desires of His children to be of the same mind when it pertains to what we believe. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth because it was reported to him that there were contentions and division within the congregation. Paul sent Timothy to remind the Corinthians to imitate Paul as he taught the same thing everywhere in every church (1 Cor. 4:17). He also encouraged them to imitate him as he imitated Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). It is by the authority of Jesus and the standard of His word that they should have been united.

It is no different for us today. We must be perfectly joined together as brethren in order to be pleasing to God. If we cannot agree on sound doctrinal matters then we cannot be united. There are many passages that encourage us to speak soundly in our teachings and passages that warn of those who do not (1 Cor. 1:10; Titus 2:1-15; 1 Tim. 1:3-11; 1 Tim. 6:3-5; Gal. 1:6-10; Rom. 16:17-18).

Imagine if I had a stick, passed it around a crowded room, and asked everyone to tell me exactly how long they thought it was. You might hear twenty different answers based on each individual’s perception of length. It isn’t until a ruler is introduced that all in the room can be united in their agreement of its length. The same principle can be applied to what we believe and why we believe it. Unity isn’t based upon each individual’s perception of truth but by the spiritual standard that is the Bible.

God’s Word has been recorded in a way that makes it possible for us to understand it. Paul prayed without ceasing for the brethren in Colosse that they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. By being filled with His will they would continue to grow together spiritually, being partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light (Col. 1:9-14). In order to remain in the light one must fight the good fight and keep the faith (2 Tim. 4:6-8). By walking steadfastly in the light we have fellowship with God and with fellow faithful Christians, and the blood of Jesus Christ continues to cleanse us of our sins (1 John 1). May we never break a bond of fellowship that is in perfect harmony for the sake of our own desires.

Why Judge Your Brother?

An important facet regarding relationships with our brethren is not to bind our own convictions on others. There are some subjects that are matters of opinion and those who are strong must be patient with their weaker brethren. Likewise if you happen to be the weaker brother you would expect those who are more mature in the faith to be longsuffering. When we speak about matters of judgment we are talking about morally neutral topics according to the Bible but which still may affect a Christian’s conscience. In Romans 14 we read of the example that one believes he may eat all things while another eats only vegetables. If they do not judge or despise one another they will both stand because God is able to make them stand.

The type of language used describing scruples is very different than that used in matters of doctrine or salvation. In Romans 14 we read of such language: “Let each be fully convinced in his own mind,” along with, “Who are you to judge another’s servant? But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother?” In verse 13 it closes out with this statement: “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.” If we are aware of a certain weaker brother’s faith we must walk in love. We are to consider our brethren and the possibility of giving up something that is not sinful of itself in order to preserve unity.

Another example of how to handle a matter of judgment can be found in 1 Corinthians 8. Concerning meat that had been sacrificed to idols, some would have violated their own conscience by eating it. There wasn’t anything inherently good or evil about eating the meat. Yet by eating the meat a more mature Christian would have sinned against the weaker brother by wounding his conscience. The attitude of Paul in this situation sums up how we are to walk in love: “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble” (1 Cor. 8:13).

We Be Brethren

When it comes to unity between brethren I think of what Abram said to Lot: “Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren” (Gen. 13:8). I especially like the KJV rendering “…for we be brethren.” Even though they parted ways soon after this, they remained brethren and Abraham would later rescue and intercede for Lot and his family. Sometimes we forget that as children of God, we are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. If we stick together we will be glorified together (Rom. 8:16-17).

Another Old Testament passage that can be applied to unity is Amos 3:3: “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” This makes me think of a three-legged race, where two people are united at the ankles and must work together to move forward. If you have ever seen or participated in one of these races you will inevitably see some awkwardly stumbling, some falling down and sometimes one will fall and the other will try to keep going. Unless there is agreement and cooperation between brethren some will walk disorderly, some will stumble and some will fall. Yet, the words of the psalmist still ring true: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)

Bringing these thoughts to the New Testament, we can turn to 1 Corinthians 12 and read of the diverse members within the one body of Christ needing to be united. We are taught the importance of each individual, the necessity of the weaker members and how God composed and views the body. In verse 25 we read again that there should be no divisions within the body but all should have the same care for one another. There is no doubt that problems will arise. Yet the more time we spend with brethren in the word, the easier it will be to avoid or solve our problems. We will be united in our common faith. If one does stumble the rest will be there to encourage, to pray and to build him up on our most holy faith (Jude 1:20). While those who do fall away will feel the godly sorrow necessary to repent and return to the light. It is a wonderful thing to be unified with brethren of like precious faith by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.

The Work of the Church

There are a number of scriptures that come to mind concerning how we can properly prepare ourselves to be united in the work of the church. The very first is 2 Timothy 2:15: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” I’m also reminded of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 which teaches us that the word of our living God is able to equip us for every good work. The Bible contains all that we need when it comes to being united in our work. In order for us to all be of the same mind and judgment we must be diligent in study, accurately handling the word of truth.

We must be knit together in such a way that our love for God will naturally lead to an unquenchable thirst and hunger for righteousness. Yet we must also grow together. One cannot remain on a milk-only diet while others feast upon the meat of the word. Ignorance of the scriptures can leave an individual vulnerable and we know how wolves and lions target the weak, sick and defenseless of a group. If those within the body, with Christ as the head, wear the necessary armor we will be able to stand together against the wiles of the devil (Eph. 5:23; 6:10-20).

If we can be truly united as God intended, the church will grow day by day both spiritually and numerically. We would have strong bonds and consideration for one another, stirring up love and good works. If we can be united with our brethren, in our doctrine and in matters of judgment there will be more time to carry out the work of the church. Without having to address constant dissension, discord and contention there will be more opportunities to study, to teach, to evangelize, to share the soul-saving gospel of Jesus Christ. If we can be united God will be pleased with us. We will be avoiding division and embracing unity (1 Cor. 1:10).

ericmigueldiaz@gmail.com

The Challenge To Teach The Truth – Dave Wood

The Proverbs writer once challenged young men to, “Buy the truth and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding” (Prov. 23:23).

One might wonder why Solomon needed to challenge any young Israelite to appreciate the truth.  Is it possible that Israel suffered from the very issues that plague Christians today?  Namely, there will be times when the truth is not popular and you will be pressured to “sell” it.  Paul would instruct his “child in the faith” to “preach the Word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2).

Marshall Keeble explained that preaching the word, as used in this verse was “…preaching when they want to hear it and preaching when they don’t.”

Solomon’s challenge is still pertinent to preachers today: “Buy the truth and sell it not…”

There is considerable pressure for a preacher to just use pleasing words and not disrupt the status quo.  A preacher, however, is a proclaimer of God’s Word.  With that thought in mind a preacher ought always to let God have His say in every lesson and sermon given.  Let us consider this challenge issued by God’s inspiration.

“Buying the truth.”  What should this mean for the preacher, especially the preacher who is involved in a new work?  Naturally with a new work there can be great pressure on the preacher and his family.  This man has many new faces and names to learn and alongside those faces there are personalities for this preacher to understand.  There exists a desire in every man to be accepted and appreciated.  To meet these pressures, a man might think to soften his Sunday morning sermon or to skip certain verses in a Bible class.

But we are to buy the truth, which gives the idea of making an investment.  When it comes to truth (i.e., God’s word, the Bible, the gospel) no expense is too high.  “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in so doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” (1 Tim. 4:16).

Men, in order to “take heed…unto the doctrine” you must know the doctrine.  You must know the truth!  Because you cannot proclaim what you do not know, the challenge is to invest time in studying God’s Word.  “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).

Timothy was challenged to study, to give diligence to the truth of God’s Word.  There is a sense of urgency in Paul’s admonition.  Do not put off knowing God’s will, do not put off doing God’s will, and do not put off teaching God’s will!

“Buying the truth” also means that you might, at times, be at odds with people.  In Romans 1:18 Paul described some people as holding down the truth by their unrighteous behavior.  When mankind shrugs off the truth of God’s word they certainly do not appreciate a reminder of God’s counsel.  It becomes offensive to such a darkened heart.  Those at Galatia had listened to false teaching and Paul reminded them again of the truth.  “For do I now persuade men, or God?  Or do I seek to please men?  For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10).

If there is a choice to make between pleasing God or men, make sure to please God.  It is difficult to know which way the winds of men are blowing.  What is popular one day has perished tomorrow, but truth is always right.  The preacher’s challenge is to buy the truth.

Solomon’s warning is two-fold.  It is not enough to make an investment in the truth, but never, ever sell it.  In other words, the challenge given is to not be a sell-out.  Balak, the king of the Moabites, had a problem.  The Israelites were coming.  Balak had heard about a man who lived a long way from the Moabites, in Mesopotamia.  Balaam was a man whose talents were for hire.  do you remember this man?  Balaam had a reputation for blessing people or cursing people.  His reputation was such that representatives in Moab would make the journey to Mesopotamia to secure the services of Balaam.  Balaam had a great opportunity to stand firmly with the Lord and he wasted it.  Both 2 Peter 2:15 and Jude 11 mention Balaam and how he sold the truth for financial gain.  This man had a price.  Do you?  Do not sell the truth, no matter what!

A preacher sells the truth when he fails to teach all of God’s commands.  Paul confidently declared to the Ephesian elders, “For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

When Paul declared the whole counsel of God, was there anything that he left out?  What would happen if Paul felt fear of being rejected and shunned?  Preachers have put a price tag on godly counsel by refusing to preach on Matthew 19:9 where Jesus stated there is only one reason which a person can seek a divorce and be remarried without living in adultery.  Preachers put a price tag on the truth when they add to God’s word by teaching that the inclusion of mechanical musical instruments in worship is acceptable to God.  This is not God’s counsel because there is no authority for it anywhere in the New Testament.  Preachers put a price tag on the truth when they bind their own scruples on others.  There are those who feel it is wrong to eat “in the church,” so they wrest and twist the scriptures to their satisfaction.  Either way, whether a preacher is taking away from the counsel of God or adding to the counsel of God, he has auctioned off the truth.

There are members of the church who will attempt to persuade preachers to teach and preach their own way.  There is only one thing that will save souls and that is the pure, unadulterated gospel of God.  Consider Paul’s thesis statement for the book of Romans:  “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16).

To hear some preachers teach, it is obvious that they think their abilities are the power to salvation, because in their lessons they make more references to their personal stories than to scripture.

There is one path that is always right, there is one message that is always true, and it is found in the Bible, not in the minds of men.  “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (1 Pet. 1:23).

The challenge stands to everyone in the Lord’s body, whether preacher, teacher, elder, or deacon: buy the truth, and sell it not.  Now what will you do?

Broad Street Church of Christ, Statesville, NC

First Stop: Homosexuality. Next Stop: Pedophilia – Spencer Strickland

The lengths to which society and government have gone in order to force acceptance of certain sinful behaviors is nothing short of appalling.  As of this year, 9 states in the United States have legalized same-sex marriage (Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Washington).  Additionally, it is legal in the nation’s capital for two members of the same gender to marry.  Those who know what the Bible truly says about homosexuality sigh in disgust at such abandonment of basic moral principles.  Both Old and New Testaments condemn the practice of homosexuality (in spite of the efforts by some to suggest otherwise).  Sodom and Gomorrha’s sin of homosexuality was at the heart of God’s reason for destroying them.  As one recalls the incident at Sodom with Lot and the two angels who appeared as men (Gen. 19:1-3), the men of Sodom asked Lot, “Where are the men which came in to thee this night?  Bring them out unto us, that we may know them” (Gen. 19:5).  The Hebrew word for “know” is the same word used in Gen. 4:1:  “And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord.”  Thus, it is obvious what went on in Sodom and it is clear that God destroyed Sodom because of their wickedness (Gen. 19:24-25).  One might say the divine commentary on this event is found in Jude 7:  “Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities around them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire [emphasis mine, SS].”  A few passages in the Old Testament describe homosexuality as an “abomination” (Lev. 18:22; 20:13) which credible and reliable Hebrew lexicons define as “a disgusting thing.”  Finally, Paul’s discussion of women changing “the natural use into that which is against nature” along with “the men, leaving the natural use of the woman” and consequently lusting after one another is a clear condemnation of homosexuality (Rom. 1:26-27).

Faithful gospel preachers have striven to inform folks of the sin of homosexuality based upon God’s Word.  In addition to informing folks about this sin, there is a warning preachers sometimes attach to it.  Namely, if homosexuality is viewed as “normal” and same-sex marriage is accepted, then what is to stop society from embracing other perversions of God’s definition of marriage?  Now that homosexuality is being embraced by government and society, efforts are being made to suggest that pedophilia might be viewed as normal and acceptable behavior.  Pedophilia is defined as “sexual desire in an adult for a child” (“pedophilia”).  According to a recent article published in the British newspaper The Guardian, “There is a growing conviction, notably in Canada, that paedophilia [alternate spelling of the term, SS] should probably be classified as a distinct sexual orientation, like heterosexuality or homosexuality” (Henley).  In this article, Sarah Goode who is both an author of two studies on pedophilia and a university lecturer is quoted as saying, “There are a lot of people […] who say: we outlawed homosexuality, and we were wrong.  Perhaps we’re wrong about paedophilia” (ibid).  This article underscores the fact that when sin is tolerated and accepted on any level, it opens the door for any and all toleration of sin.  Returning to the first chapter of Romans, where he wrote of the condemnation of homosexuality, Paul went on to give a laundry list of other sins that Gentiles were openly practicing like fornication, covetousness, maliciousness and murder – just to name a few (Rom. 1:29-31).  The final verse of that chapter says of these Gentiles: “Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them” (Romans 1:32).  How is it that anyone could “take pleasure” in folks practicing these sins?  How could American society and government take pleasure in championing the cause of same-sex marriage?  How could anyone ever take pleasure in viewing pedophilia as “normal”?  The answer is found in Romans 1:28 – “they did not like to retain God in their knowledge.”

The legalization of same-sex marriage and the acceptance of homosexuality as normal behavior is a clear step towards an all out rejection of God and His will.  If the entire country legalizes same-sex marriage, it is only a matter of time before such perverted behavior as pedophilia is accepted as indicted by the article cited.  Once this behavior is accepted, what is next?  For instance, what will stop such perversions as bestiality (sexual desire of humans towards animals) from being viewed as normal behavior and just another “sexual orientation”?  Long ago, Isaiah proclaimed, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isa. 5:20).  In essence, government and society are “calling evil good and good evil” by accepting and legalizing these ungodly behaviors.  It is important, then, that Christians stand against these behaviors and stand up for the Word of God (Jude 3).  It is important that preachers inform congregations of the wickedness that continues to be promoted in society and government.  It is important that Christians insist that the home be defined as God defines it and to teach others that definition (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:4-5; Eph. 5:31).  Finally, it is important that every child of God beseech the Heavenly Father for help in stemming the tide of gross immorality practiced, endorsed, and legalized in this country.