jump to navigation

Before the Sanhedrin November 30, 2016

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

Here are my thoughts on Acts 22:30-23:11.

Summary: In this passage, Paul appeared before the Sanhedrin. He declared that he had a good conscience before God – sparking a dispute with the high priest, Ananias. That dispute led Paul to conclude that he would not receive a fair hearing before the Sanhedrin; thus, he fomented a kerfuffle between the Pharisees and the Sadducees by declaring his belief in the resurrection of the dead. The intensity of that kerfuffle led the commander of the Roman troops in Jerusalem to bring Paul back to the barracks. Later, the Lord appeared to Paul in a vision – declaring that he would eventually preach the Gospel message in Rome.

Thoughts: In verse 5 of chapter 23, we see that Paul feigned ignorance regarding the identity of the high priest. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

Should we obey a ruler even if he exercises tyranny? If someone who does his job badly is still to be respected, was Paul wrong to rob the high priest of his honor? But there is a difference between civil magistrates and church leaders. When worldly or civil rule is mismanaged, the Lord still wants people to remain subject to the rulers. But when spiritual government is degenerate, believers are set free from obeying…

Thankfully, I have never attended a church where the leadership could be characterized as “degenerate.” Sadly, scandal-ridden churches do exist, and their congregants often suffer due to the “degenerate” actions of their leaders. Now this raises the question as to what constitutes “degenerate” behavior on the part of a church leader. I believe that certain actions fit that description, including:

  • sexual immorality
  • drunkenness
  • gambling.

Other actions, though, are subject to debate in this regard, including:

  • advocating a church building project with significant financial risks
  • excluding certain parts of the Bible when selecting sermon topics.

In any event, we should continue to pray for our spiritual leaders – asking God to grant them wisdom and humility as they shepherd their respective flocks.

In verse 11 of chapter 23, we see that God appeared to Paul in a vision concerning his impending trip to Rome. Calvin offers some insights on this point:

The Lord did not promise to set him free; he did not even say that Paul would have a happy end. He only said that his troubles would continue for a long time. But from this we see how very important it is to be confident that the Lord is looking after us in our troubles, even if he does not immediately reach out to help us.

This is an important point, especially in light of the prosperity gospel and its impact on the American church. As believers, we must be mindful of the fact that God does not promise earthly comforts for His disciples. In fact, one can use Scripture to argue that the earthly existence of a believer necessarily involves some level of suffering. While this point can be rather discouraging, we would do well to ponder these questions:

  • What is our reward in heaven?
  • How does our knowledge of this heavenly reward equip us to live victoriously in a broken, suffering world?

Paul the Roman Citizen November 20, 2016

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

Here are my thoughts on Acts 22:22-29.

Summary: In this passage, those who had clamored for the death of Paul before his speech renewed their calls for him to be executed – forcing the commander of the Roman troops in Jerusalem to bring him into the barracks. The Roman commander blundered, though, by ordering that Paul be flogged and interrogated to determine the cause of the uproar. In particular, Paul was a Roman citizen; thus, flogging him would have been a capital offense. The Roman commander and his centurion were apprised of this fact; thus, they did not flog him.

Thoughts: This passage spurred me to ponder the sovereignty of God – as He ordered events before the birth of Paul so that he would be a natural-born Roman citizen. In particular, He caused the following events:

  • Paul’s Greek father met and married his Jewish mother
  • Paul’s parents settled in Tarsus in Cilicia, where he was born.

Clearly Paul’s Roman citizenship protected him from great harm on several occasions, including his encounter with the Philippian authorities and his interaction with the Roman commander in this passage. Indeed, God ordained his Roman citizenship to enable him to travel to Rome – where he would preach the Gospel message and fulfill his role in His sovereign plan.

Paul Speaks to the Crowd November 16, 2016

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

Here are my thoughts on Acts 21:37-22:21.

Summary: In this passage, the commander of the Roman troops in Jerusalem allowed Paul to address those who clamored for his death. Paul then asserted the following points:

  • before his conversion experience, he displayed unparalleled zeal for the Mosaic law by persecuting Christians
  • Jesus of Nazareth – through His disciple, Ananias – divinely commissioned him as His witness
  • in particular, Jesus divinely commissioned him as His witness to the Gentiles.

Thoughts: In verses 37 and 38 of chapter 21, we see that the commander of the Roman troops in Jerusalem initially regarded Paul as an Egyptian rebel. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

Paul offered to defend his cause, which all God’s servants must do. We must try to let people know our integrity, so that no discredit comes to the name of God because of us. But when the commander asked whether Paul was the Egyptian who had incited a rebellion, we see that however well Christ’s ministers behave, they cannot escape the slander of the world. We must note this so that we may accustom ourselves to reproaches and be prepared to be blamed.

One of the recurring themes in this book concerns the mistreatment of Paul by the governing authorities. In this case, perhaps the Roman commander assumed that since a large crowd clamored for Paul’s death, he had to be guilty of some crime. This spurred me to consider the following point: believers who were born and raised in First World countries – where one is innocent before proven guilty – may find it difficult to relate to Paul’s plight. This should also spur believers in First World countries to continue to pray that God would – in His timing – remove injustice from this world.

In verses 6-10 of chapter 22, Paul recounted his encounter with God the Son on the road to Damascus. This spurred me to consider the following points:

  • Christians have no doubts regarding the veracity of Paul’s conversion experience
  • Christians have many doubts regarding the veracity of Joseph Smith’s divine encounters – especially those instances where the angel Moroni allegedly appeared to him
  • it is possible that many Jews view Paul’s conversion experience in the same way that Christians view Joseph Smith’s divine encounters.

Perhaps we, as Christians, would do well to consider why we accept Paul’s account of his conversion experience while we reject Joseph Smith’s accounts of the angel Moroni. What is the body of evidence that supports each account? Are these accounts analogous? Delving into these questions will increase our confidence in our faith and enable us to be better witnesses to Mormons.

In verses 17-21 of chapter 22, God overcame Paul’s reluctance to serve as His witness to the Gentiles. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 17:

…for he began to deal with his ministry, showing that he did not leave the Jews of his own accord, as if he had deprived them of his services out of malice, but rather was drawn to the Gentiles against his expectation and intention. He had come to Jerusalem purposely to share with his own nation the grace that had been given to him. But the Lord cut off his hope of doing any good there and drove him away.

Perhaps Paul viewed the statement of Ananias in verse 15 of chapter 22 as a license from God to preach the Gospel message to the Jews (and the Gentiles). In any event, these verses hint at the depth of Paul’s love for his people and his earnest desire that they receive the free gift of salvation (which is described more fully in Romans 9-11). Paul must have agonized over the fact that his people consistently rejected his message of life and hope. It is probable that he offered frequent – and fervent – prayers to God that He would remove the stumbling blocks in their hearts. I wonder if the anguish in his heart concerning his people persisted even while God achieved great success through Him among the Gentiles.

Paul Arrested November 11, 2016

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

Here are my thoughts on Acts 21:27-36.

Summary: In this passage, Paul went to the temple – where he was seized by several Jews from the province of Asia. They solicited the assistance of the populace in their attempt to lynch him, asserting that he was guilty of:

  • blasphemy
  • desecrating the temple.

A large crowd gathered, dragging him out of the temple and beating him. Their efforts were checked, though, by the arrival of the Roman commander and his soldiers. They bound Paul and brought him toward the barracks in order to interrogate him.

Thoughts: Here, we see that the Jews leveled serious charges against Paul. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 30:

Here, we see how irresponsible the common people were, treating Paul like a condemned man even before they heard him. It is not surprising the city was aroused over a religious matter, but this was perverse zeal and insane rashness. In this corrupt nature people willingly defend a bad cause, when many exhortations would hardly get them to do what is right.

It is disappointing, though not surprising, that the Jews attempted to kill Paul before he had the chance to defend himself. Evidently they were resolute in viewing him as a blasphemer who had to be put to death. I wonder if they were aware of his discussion with James and the elders in the previous passage regarding purification rites; if so, did they assume that he was being disingenuous when he went to the temple? In any event, I hope that they eventually realized the error of their ways and repented of their sins.

Paul’s Arrival at Jerusalem November 6, 2016

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
Tags: , , , ,
1 comment so far

Here are my thoughts on Acts 21:17-26.

Summary: In this passage, Paul and his companions arrived at Jerusalem; the local church greeted them warmly. Later, Paul delivered a report of his missionary endeavors among the Gentiles to James and the elders of the local church. They then implored him to display his respect for the Mosaic law by joining four believers – who had taken a religious vow – in their purification rites. That would constitute a conciliatory action on his part toward the Jews and the Jewish believers. Paul then acceded to their request.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Paul acceded to the request of James and the elders in Jerusalem that he display his respect for the Mosaic law. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 26:

His courtesy is most praiseworthy, in that he not only humbled himself for the sake of the ignorant, but also deferred to those who foolishly and groundlessly suspected him. He might well have expostulated with them because they had been so ready to believe reports damaging to his reputation. By abstaining, he showed great patience; by being so careful to win their favor, he was remarkably moderate.

This passage spurred me to consider other “gray areas” within Christianity and the degree to which one can compromise on those points. Here are some “gray areas” where I (personally) could be somewhat flexible:

  • whether women should be allowed to serve as pastors and/or elders
  • the Presbyterian practice of baptizing infants
  • (on a related note) the practice of baptism via sprinkling
  • how often one should observe Communion.

Here are some other “gray areas” where I (personally) could not compromise, though:

  • whether professing homosexuals should be allowed to serve as pastors and/or elders
  • whether the church should tolerate recreational marijuana use
  • whether it is proper to attend an interfaith service.

Admittedly these are controversial points, and I should not presume to speak for other believers in this regard. Hopefully, though, believers can agree that it is most important to help others see the truth of the Gospel message. We need wisdom from God in order to put that desire into practice.

On to Jerusalem November 4, 2016

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

Here are my thoughts on Acts 21:1-16.

Summary: In this passage, Paul and his companions sailed from Miletus to Tyre. There, they stayed with a group of believers who entreated Paul to abandon his plans to visit Jerusalem. They then sailed to Caesarea, where they met a prophet named Agabus; he warned Paul that the Jews in Jerusalem would arrest him and hand him over to the Romans. That warning spurred Paul’s companions to entreat him to abandon his plans to visit Jerusalem – yet he was resolute, stating that his plans were in accordance with God’s will.

Thoughts: Here, we see that several believers tried to dissuade Paul from visiting Jerusalem. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary:

Because they did not all have the same revelation, it is not surprising their opinions differed. Since these holy men knew that much depended on the life or death of one man, they did not want him to be in unnecessary danger. And this is praiseworthy, for they wanted to provide for the safety of the church by restraining Paul.

I anticipate meeting Agabus, the believers in Tyre and Paul’s companions in the next life. At that time I hope to learn more about their thoughts and emotions during this passage. Were they entirely ignorant of the fact that God would be glorified through his visit to Jerusalem? Did the Holy Spirit only reveal part of His will concerning Paul to them? Did they consider restraining Paul – by force, if necessary – to prevent him from visiting Jerusalem? When did they comprehend the scope of God’s purposes concerning Paul?

We also see that Paul was resolute in his plans to visit Jerusalem. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary:

On the other hand, Paul’s perseverance was all the more praiseworthy when he continued so inflexibly in the calling of God. He knew what great trouble he would suffer from his bonds, but because he knew God’s will, and because this was his only rule in making up his mind, he took no notice of anything else. We must be so subject to God’s will that no advantage or reason may shift us from simple obedience to him.

I also anticipate meeting Paul in the next life. At that time I hope to learn more about his thoughts and emotions during this passage. If the Holy Spirit only revealed part of His will concerning his journey to the other believers, did Paul entreat God to grant them more wisdom? Did he fully comprehend the misfortunes that would befall him in Jerusalem? Did the Holy Spirit inform him that his visit to Jerusalem would enable him to preach the Gospel message in Rome? Did he consider the fact that his journey to Jerusalem mirrored – to some extent – the final journey of His Lord to Jerusalem as He anticipated His death and resurrection?

Paul’s Farewell to the Ephesian Elders November 1, 2016

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

Here are my thoughts on Acts 20:13-38.

Summary: In this passage, Paul and his companions sailed from Troas to Miletus, where they met the elders from the church in Ephesus. Paul then gave a valedictory to those elders, where he:

  • reminded them of his integrity during his stay in Ephesus
  • declared that his singular focus lay in fulfilling his apostolic calling
  • exhorted them to fulfill their calling regarding the church in Ephesus.

He departed from Miletus after praying with them.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Paul reminded the Ephesian elders of his integrity to bolster his presentation of the Gospel message. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 18:

This is the right way to censure people and to gain authority for teaching, when the teacher prescribes nothing that he has not done himself…He did, indeed, extol his labor, patience, courage, and other virtues, but not to win praise from his listeners; it was so his exhortation would stick in their minds. He also had another aim, that his integrity might afterwards reinforce his teaching.

After I read this passage, I mulled over my past experiences as a Sunday School teacher and a youth counselor. While I believe that God bore fruit through me in those capacities, I sense that He could have achieved even greater things through me had I not been struggling with several serious sins at that time. In particular, I believe that those hidden struggles hampered my ability to communicate with those whom God had placed under my care. Thus, my recollections of those experiences are tinged with regret. Somehow, though, I am confident that God will grant me additional opportunities to be a blessing to others. Consequently, I must redouble my efforts to battle my inherent sinfulness and maintain my trust in God as the One who will complete His good work in me.

We also see that Paul exhorted the Ephesian elders to be faithful overseers of their church. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 28:

Surely there is nothing that ought to be more effective in motivating pastors to do their duty joyfully than considering that the price of the blood of Christ is committed to them. It follows that unless they take pains with the church, they will be responsible for lost souls and also will be guilty of sacrilege because they have profaned the holy blood of God’s Son and have, as far as they can, made useless the redemption he procured.

After I read this passage, I recalled the occasion when I delivered a sermon as a guest speaker at a church. The pastor at that church commended my message and mentioned that I should consider a ministerial career. At that time, the thought of serving as a pastor was rather appealing, especially since I enjoyed public speaking. As time has passed, though, I have grown in my understanding of that ministry. In particular, I have observed the difficulties that pastors experience in terms of building relationships with their congregations. A pastor’s personality may not be compatible with that of a sizable fraction of their congregation, hampering their effectiveness in terms of leading those believers closer to God. Also, many pastors agonize over the fact that they cannot control the process of sanctification. Perhaps those of us who happen to be lay members of churches should redouble our efforts to demonstrate our appreciation of our pastors.