Posts Tagged ‘Paul’

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Deliberately Declaring a Dependent Gospel: Acts 17 and Evangelism…

May 9, 2013

I have written before about the urban witness in light of Acts 17 (read here) recently I was blessed to spend some time at a missions conference at Hunter Street Baptist church in Birmingham, AL.  I was there to discuss church planting and the motivation for witnessing to those around us.  Below is my exposition of the text of Acts 17:26-28.

Upper_East_Side_of_Manhattan_New_York

As I have spent the past two years processing a call to plant a church in New York City and as we now prepare to commence that work on site, there has been one text that has impacted my vision of more than any other.  With every visit to the city, nights spent there, days engaged there, the truth contained in the text has been confirmed over and over again.

When I first began to go to the city, I was overwhelmed by its size and complexity.  So many people, so little space.  It is easy to view this concentration as somehow incidental, some random function of economics and sociology.  Yet through the lens of Scripture and in light of our knowledge of God, the reality of the city’s purpose becomes clear.

In Acts 17, Paul is talking to the men of Athens at the Areopagus.  They have surrounded themselves with idols to every god known to man, but they have reserved one space empty for the ‘unknown god’ and it is in the name of this god that Paul begins to speak.  He begins at the beginning, a very good place to start; he explains that they are not unknown to this unknown God.  This God has in fact created them, and all the people of mankind.  He has determined the time and the place that they all live.  He has done this so that they might seek after Him and find Him.  For whether they realize it of not, it is in Him that we “live, move and have our being.”  This is no manmade golden God, it is the God of the universe that made man.  God now commands all men to repent.  And Paul explains the gospel of Christ’s resurrection.  Some received his words, some rejected it outright, some walked away in contemplation.

Deliberate

This is one of those key passages of scripture where God lifts the veil, if only for a moment, and exposes the unfathomable counsel of His will.  When we look at cities and we consider their existence and construction, and we dwell on the fact that for the first time in human history more people are living in urban areas than in any other time in human history; we can not deny the hand of God is at work.  God determines the time that each and every person exists and He draws the boundaries of their dwelling places.  This kind of deliberate action on His part should amaze us, and it should inform our lives and our mission.  We do not serve a random God.  He is deliberate.  This should spur us to be deliberate and intentional.  God has not called us to wander, He has called us to Go.  When Jesus charged His disciples, He did so with geographic intentionality.  They were not to randomly scatter across the globe, rather they were to go to Jerusalem, then Judea and Samaria, then the utter-most parts of the earth.  In Acts, we see His overwhelming orchestration in the collection of disciples in Jerusalem, and then their dispersal to almost every city in the Mediterranean.  Paul was sent, city by city, to proclaim the gospel to the souls God had providentially gathered together in cities across the Roman empire.  We have to recognize our place in this paradigm.  God has called us and placed us with the same meticulous intent, and for the same glorious purpose.

Declaring

God has brought people together and concentrated them in cities for a purpose, so that those who do not know Him, might find Him.  How does this happen?  How do these people find God?  The irony in this text is that the Athenian men, listening to Paul, were unaware of just how close God was to them at that moment.  He was there in His omnipresence to be sure, but He was also present in the Word Paul proclaimed to them.  God was as close as the spoken word is to the ear.  As Paul, indwelled by the very Spirit of God proclaimed the Word,  the Word who was with God and was God and is God was very much present.  The lost that God has gathered together find Him when we share and proclaim His Word.  He has His sheep in every city, they hear His voice and they follow Him.  This should fill us with awe and wonder.  Not only are we the vehicles of God’s divine pursuit of the lost, but we get to bring God close to those around us when we share and proclaim His Word.  What a privilege.

Dependence

Paul proclaimed a particular message to these men.  He informed them that this ‘unknown’ God is the reason these men exist.  He made all of mankind and mankind is totally dependent upon Him for their lives and for their salvation.  Their response should not be one of ignorance, but of repentance.  The call to repentance is a call to proclaim your total dependance upon God.  God alone can provide salvation from judgement; and when we repent we acknowledge that our sins are great but we recognize that our God is greater.

Response

Cities are not accidental, they are the deliberate act of a loving God.  God has a divine intention in bringing men and women into close proximity with one another, so that they might seek after Him and find Him.  As believers, we must recognize our role in His plan.  When we love those around us, when we share His Word, when we display our dependance on Him, we are in fact bringing God within reach of those in need.  The question is not whether God is present in your city; the question is do your lost neighbors, co-workers and family members see His presence in your life?  For “how can they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him they have not heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

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Evangelical Engagement in Evil Times…

October 4, 2012

We live in an evil era. There is no doubt about this. One cursory look across the landscape of culture and media confirms that world lies under the domain of the evil one. In fact, it could be argued that from Jesus’ very ascension into heaven Christians have been living in what Paul would describe as “the last days.” With this in mind, how do christians engage this evil culture? Every four years this question becomes even more pertinent as Christians begin to navigate the unique and glorious responsibility of voting. God has given American Christians the opportunity to have a voice in their leadership and indeed in almost every level of governance. This was an opportunity denied Christians in the times of Paul, Constantine, Charlemagne and George III. But, with dawn of the American experiment came an unprecedented chance; Christians could now guide and participate in their government, in addition to praying for it. Ever since there has been a palpable tension in the heart of the conscientious Christian about which path is better: the political road of civic involvement, or the Kingdom road of spiritual reliance. Which path leads to the most effective engagement in repsone to these evil last days.

It should not surprise us that the Bible speaks to this issue with razor sharp clarity and concision. While there are many texts which speak to both governors and the governed, few texts provide evangelicals with the kind of roadmap we find in 2 TImothy 3:1-4:5 (See below quoted in length)

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.
You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
(2 Timothy 3-4:1-5 ESV)

There is much that one can draw from this text, so much that it far exceeds the reasonable length of a blog post. However, there some key elements worth drawing out and some conclusions worth making.

Key Elements:

I. Paul does not sugarcoat the existence of Evil. The first 9 verses of chapter 3 are devoted exclusively to the topic of evil’s existence in Paul’s day, with an eye toward its acceleration in the last days to come. This provides us with valuable encouragement. We take no small measure of comfort in knowing that the “good ole days” were not really that good. Evil has always stood in opposition to God and His people, and will until Christ’s return.

II. Paul accurately describes evil in realistic and relevant terms. Paul looks out onto his world and forward to our own with explicit realism. The times Paul describes are marked by people who will be “lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self control etc.” Does this sound at all familiar or reflective of our own time? We also must be conscientious enough to accurately define evil in our own time.

III. Paul stresses the primacy of the Word of God. Paul encourages Timothy (the evangelical engager) to root his hope in the all sufficient Word of God, which is “breathed out by God, profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness.” The only way this first-century evangelical was going to be equipped to engage his fallen culture with every good work was if he continued in what he learned from the sacred writings, the Scriptures.

IV. Paul delivers the method of engagement. Finally Paul instructs our early evangelical as to the manner in which he must engage this fallen culture; “preach the Word.” Paul could have said many things here; he could have said run for local magistrate, he could have suggested that Timothy lead a sit-in at the local basilica, but he did not. Paul’s advice, or rather his command to Timothy is to “preach the Word in season and out of season.” “To reprove” (with the Word), “to rebuke” (with the Word), “to exhort” (with the Word) and to do all this with patience.

What can we conclude from the above elements? Some would say that Paul was merely instructing a pastor on how to be a pastor. That this text has little to do the the lay christian. “After all,” one might say, “1-2 TImothy are pastoral epistles.” Leaving aside the fact that such a designation as “pastoral epistle” did not exist in Paul’s day, I would argue that his instruction is for all believers. As Christians, we are called to engage the culture, to be salt and light. And I think that we have reached an era when “people no longer listen to sound teaching.” Post-modernity has robbed our generation of ability to argue philosophical positions effectively on a broad scale. Once we as a culture were robbed of the definitions of right and wrong, sound teaching became nearly impossible to define, let alone engage in. The only hope we have is in the explicit unapologetic proclamation of God’s Word.

I am not arguing for a second fundamentalist retreat into the hills of cultural isolation. On the contrary, I am arguing that we must follow Paul’s model in this passage. We must recognize evil’s existence in our culture, we must be adept enough to realistically define it, we must root ourselves in God’s sufficient Word, and then we must engage the culture through the proclamation of that Word. This must be done in our churches, our homes, in our offices, at our jobs, in our neighborhoods, and even in the public square.

Vote, yes. Campaign, if you must. Advocate for life, absolutely. But above all preach unceasingly the glory of the Kingdom that here and is to come; it is the only hope we have in theses “last days.” We must all “do the work of an evangelist.”

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Believer or Not, that is the Question…

June 22, 2011

I have struggled for several years with the meaning of Romans 7:15-25.  When Paul speaks of doing what he does not want to do, and not doing what he desires, what is he talking about?  Is he describing his own experience as a believer, desiring to do what is good but hindered by sin?  Or is he speaking of  an unbeliever, who is aware of the law but unable to fulfill it?

Below are my thoughts on the passage and one perspective that I agree with at this point in my life and ministry.  This view may change over time.  May God guard me from heresy.

There are of course two perspectives, one which argues that Paul could not be talking of Himself, or of a fellow believer, as numerous times throughout his writings he states that sin has been put to death in us, Gal 2:20 we have been crucified in Christ, that we no longer live but Christ lives in us.  How can that verse be reconciled with the notion that somehow a believer can be divided against himself, the flesh willing one course and the mind another.

The other perspective views this as a pastoral confession of Paul’s own weakness, that his spirit is willing but his flesh is weak, so to speak.  He knows what he should do, but because his flesh is fallen, and ‘of Adam’, then he often misses the mark and does what he hates.

Both perspectives miss the point of the passage, it would be really convenient, especially when talking to brothers and sisters in Christ, to use this passage to give comfort and say that ‘Paul too, often times struggled and fell short, doing what he hated, and not doing what he loved’.  But if we look at the passage in context it is clearly not about Paul, or a believer.  The passage is centered within the defense of God’s law against antinomianism and redeeming the law’s rightful function in the history of man.

So let’s look at the passage.  Both Martyn Lloyd-Jones and NT Wright advocate that the whole of Romans 7 serves as exposition on Romans 6:14 “for sin will have no dominion over you since you are not under the law but under grace.”

7:1-6 drawing an analogy between the binding nature of the torah and the binding nature of marriage.  Just like the marriage covenant is broken through the death of one party, so too the legal covenant binding us to Adam’s sin is broken by sins death through grace and we are free to ‘marry another.’  However, simply because the law is no longer binding does not make it irrelevant.

7:7-14 Paul describes the substance and function of the law.  It is not sin, as it comes from God and shed light on our iniquity (7); It has been corrupted by sin, and provides great opportunity for sin to occur (8); when the law came it brought with it standards which could not be met and death followed (9)

[NT Wright has a great illustration here, think of Moses arriving with the ten commandments on Mt. Sinai, when the commandments arrive and are given to Israel, the law finds Israel in a state of rebellion and Moses breaks the tablets on the ground symbolically indicating that the covenant the law represented has already been broken, death follows immediately after as those in rebellion were visited by a plague Exodus 32:35.  Israel was alive prior to the law, but when the law arrived, their sin was revealed, and death was their punishment]

7:10-13 So the law, while good, lacks the power to provide life, it only brings opportunity for sin, and death as a result of failure to keep it, nevertheless it is holy, righteous and good.

Now 7:15 and following.  Paul is writing as a believer, reflecting on the state of an unbeliever grappling with sin.  This unbeliever has received the law, and is aware of its demands.  Although it is an extremely attractive option to argue here that Paul is talking about his personal struggle as a believer with sinful flesh, it is really impossible to reconcile that with the scenario he is describing.

The unbeliever’s desire is to follow the law; but as he is in bondage to sin, as he is descended from Adam (5:14); he is unable to do what he desires (7:15).  He agrees that the law is good and should be desired, but sin reigns in him (16).  His talk is good, but his walk is inadequate. (17)  Sin is his master, and so as he is in bondage to sin.  He does what his master dictates and the law then convicts him and death is the result(18).

7:19-24 describe the horrid realization that there is no relief for this man whose mind is set on the law; no matter what his mind desires, sin reigns in his mortal body controlling his actions and imprisoning his being.  He is wretched and forever at war with himself.  He will ultimately meet the fate of all those under the law, striving but never hitting the mark, and paying the price of failure, in death.

The source of common misconception about this passage, in viewing it as a confession of a troubled believer, is rooted in our own misconception of the freedom we have in Christ.   This freedom is outlined in 8:1-13.  We as Christians must come to realize that we have been set free from the law, and its bondage to sin and consequences of condemnation (2).  Christ does what the law weakened by the flesh could not do, He enables us to fulfill the demands of the law, in that He satisfied those demands for us through His sufficient sacrifice (4).  The law no longer condemns us rather Christ, through His atonement, condemns sin in our flesh.

When we are converted, we receive the Spirit of life.  The Spirit reorients our mind, and we should cease to have a “fleshly” mindset (5).  For a mind of flesh, sees only the law and can not see passed it.  There is no room in the law for forgiveness or grace, so the fleshly mind denies these things and is bound up in legalism and condemnation.  Unbelievers are those who are ‘according to the flesh’ (8:5) and like the man in 7:15-25 they are unable to follow God’s Law and they cannot please God (8:8).

As believers, we have the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead, so we are not ‘in the flesh’ we have a different mindset (8:9)  We set our mind on things of the Spirit; Christ’s work for us, God’s grace, our freedom from the law of sin and death.

We continue to sin and as a result we experience conviction.  But conviction brought by the Spirit is different than conviction brought by the law.  The law convicts to condemn, the Spirit convicts to correct.  So we struggle with sin putting to death the deeds of the body, helped in our weakness by the Spirit (8:13,26); knowing that we are not righteous because of that struggle.  Our righteousness comes from Christ who died, was raised, and who stands at the right hand of the Father interceding for us (8:34).

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Apprehending απολοgetics…

October 20, 2010

The Word of God is fundamental to apologetics, the chief instrument of intellectual warfare within the battle of worldviews. And a Christian worldview, if it is anything, must be rooted in and must spring from the fathomless depths of the Scriptures.

The word serves as both the backdrop and the means of every salvation experience. Beneath every proclamation of God’s special revelation in Scripture lies the Word, implanted and incorruptible; that when received by a humble heart is the means God uses to bring one to a saving knowledge of Him. (I Peter 1:22-25)

It is false to create a distinction and to separate apologetics from evangelism. For to what end does one engage in apologetics if not to inject into a dark heart and mind of a sinner, the light and knowledge of the Gospel in Christ. God is in no need of theological or philosophical defense or justification. Christ does not charge us with the defense of His glory through apologetics, but rather charges us to proclaim His glory wielding the “Sword of the Spirit which is the word of God”, so that His elect may ultimately hear to believe and believe to confess.

Rightly seen, apologetics serves the church by engaging the various beliefs, behaviors and objections of the lost with the Gospel of Christ. Our weak tools of rhetoric and argument must be met with His sufficient Grace in order to experience His power made perfect in our weakness.

With this in mind, here is the first post of this series: Theological Inception… Waging War Within a Hostile Mind. What is intellectually and spiritually occurring when we witness with individuals and share the Gospel with lost souls.

The second post is Vehicles in God’s Pursuit… the necessity of persistence. How God uses those He loves to hound the souls of those whom He will have.

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The New Testament, Old Tools…

August 23, 2010

As we strive to study and understand the Bible we have been given, it can often seem difficult to know where to turn for resources. ntgateway.com is an excellent website for introductory/advanced New Testament study.  The site’s description is as follows: ” The New Testament Gateway, the award winning web directory of internet resources on the New Testament. Browse or search annotated links on everything connected with the academic study of the New Testament and Christian Origins.”

ntgateway is a product of the Department of Religion at Duke University under the auspices of Associate Professor of Religion Dr. Mark Goodacre.  It contains various commentary resources, greek lexical aids, scholarly articles and catagorized resources on canonical, apocryphal, and historical resources concerning the New Testament.

Important to note is that this site is not explicitly or implicitly evangelical, but attempts to provide an academic resource for those who wish to study the New Testament and its history.  It is also important to remember that while there are some articles and points of view on this site that may make conservative minds a little wary, scholarship regardless of its source or bent can be useful for instruction.  As in all things exercise discernment and first and foremost cling to the Word, the measure of all arguments.

The NTGateway.com

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Two is the Loneliest Number

May 2, 2010

Ephesians 2:113:13

How soon we forget.  God has so wisely designed our bodies, each part performs a function, each part is necessary.  His body of the church has likewise been designed with a care and function which ultimately, if guided properly serves to give Him Glory.  Paul’s ministry to Ephesus brought God glory and brings us valuable and necessary encouragement and instruction.  Once we enter the body we must not forget the means by which we entered.  Paul repeatedly, in this passage calls the Ephesians and by extension each of us to remember.  Remember that one time “you were gentiles” (11); remember that one time you were “separated from Christ”(12).  In true Pauline fashion though, he follows these reminders of separation and alienation with his famous “but now.”  Now we the gentiles have been brought near through Christ, and have been joined into one new man literally, “in the place of two.”(15)  This unity of body is marked by three characteristics.

The first is peace.  Once God has joined us both Jew and gentile together into one body through the cross, the hostilities which marked their separation should cease.  This peace was preached to those who were far off and to those who were near; strangers and sojourners alike.  Now all are granted access through the Spirit into God’s household.

The second characteristic is worship.  This far-flung group is being gathered and joined for a function.  The new believers will add to the foundation of a structure begun by the apostles and prophets of which Christ Jesus is the cornerstone.  Peter uses this metaphor to great effect in his first epistle in chapter two; that we are in fact living stones, being built up, a royal priesthood, a chosen race.  Here Paul proclaims that this structure is a Holy Temple, and all those in Christ are built into this structure which will serve as “a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”(2:22)

The third characteristic is action.  Jesus’ gospel, “the mystery” made known to Paul by revelation, must be proclaimed to all, both Jews and Gentiles.  So Paul models the message that there has been a plan, a mystery hidden for ages that man must now be made aware.  God revealed that mystery in Christ and it is by God’s grace that Paul and all of us in Jesus, can preach the unsearchable riches of Christ.

Recognizing that these characteristics are part of God’s eternal plan, should encourage us to both seize hold of the promises God places before us; and take heart when misfortune falls on us as it did Paul.  For though he suffered for the Ephesians the message and hope of Christ pressed on; the structure continued to grow; for increase of our faith and for God’s glory.