Tag Archives: Paul

Three types of believers – and how to interact with them

 

The apostle Paul was intimately familiar with “church folk.”

As he traveled from city to city, planting churches and discipling believers, he undoubtedly met and became acquainted with the 1st-Century equivalents of our modern-day church people types. The young believer, so full of zeal and evangelistic passion, jumping at the chance to serve in a community outreach event. The young married couple, with one toddler and one infant, trying to keep the oldest quiet and teaching him to be respectful while the Word is being taught. The older, mature believer that others seek out for their wisdom on issues of everyday life. Maybe you can connect these descriptions to real people you interact with each Sunday at your own local gathering of Christ’s global “ekklesia.”

In 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul gives instruction for relating to and dealing with a few specific types of “church folk.”

He begins with interactions with their church leaders. In 5:12-13 he says: “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.”

I want to target verse 14 today because we can all benefit from it in our churches. It reads, “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.”

As I look at this verse I see some really interesting things. First, there are three types of people Paul mentions. Second, Paul specifies a certain way we should interact which each type of people. Third, patience must rule when dealing with each type of person.

The first group is made up of believers who are idle. The Greek word translated idle here in the ESV is translated “unruly” in the NASB, and it means someone who is disorderly or out of rank. In Greek society, it was used to describe someone who didn’t show up to work. Paul says we should “admonish” these people. This Greek word means to warn or exhort. I get the sense that it may be a stronger word, one that would encourage us to be a little tough on them and get them into line.

The second group is made up of the fainthearted. This Greek word is only used once in the Bible, and that is right here, but it comes from two other words that mean “little” or “small” and “breath” or “soul”. Paul says to encourage them, either by admonition or consolation.

The last group Paul mentions is the weak, which is translated elsewhere as infirm, feeble, or without strength. Paul says we are to “help” them, which can mean pay heed to them, aid them, or care for them.

It is interesting to think about why he commands one type of response for one group and not another. It would make no sense to admonish or warn those who are fainthearted, because that would probably cause them to recede further into their shells. He also does not say to encourage the idle or unruly person, because they do not need someone to console them. They need someone to straighten them out and maybe show a little tough love to get them back in line.

The blanket that must cover our interaction with each type of person is patience. Sometimes, dealing with folks in a patient way takes a lot of intentionality. But patience is extraordinarily beneficial for both us and them. It helps us maintain self-control, and not lose our tempers. It benefits the other person because it shows them we want to be Christ-like in our interactions with them, and give them the benefit of the doubt.

At the end of the day, we have to remember we have all been in these categories during different phases of our lives. Consider who in your life has reached out to you in one of these appropriate ways over the course of your relationship with Christ.

The Power of Christ in Conversion

 

1But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” Acts 9:1-2

The above account from the book of Acts details the murderous actions of a man named Saul against 1st Century Christians, known as followers of the Way (likely derived from Jesus’ statement in John 14:6). The author of Acts, Luke, writes that Saul was “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord”. We need only be reminded of Luke’s account a couple chapters earlier of the stoning of Stephen where we were first introduced to this man named Saul, 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.” Acts 7:58

At the beginning of the next chapter we read more insight into the intentions of this man named Saul against the church of Jesus Christ, 1And Saul approved of his [Stephen’s] execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” Acts 8:1-3

Let’s look again at verse 3, “Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” Certainly we can picture this scene and it’s not a pretty one. It’s unlikely that dragging men and women off to prison is meant to convey a peaceful tone. It seems appropriate to assume there was a struggle; perhaps the people crying out for mercy to God and their captors; children seeing their father beaten and perhaps their mother being dragged out of her home by her hair all at the hands of a man named Saul. Though unwritten in the biblical account, it doesn’t seem inconsistent to imagine the details of the horrific events. Would it be too different than what is happening in the Middle East to Christians today? It seems safe to say that similarities would likely abound and it’s brutal portrait. The vacuous term “hate crime” would have been fitting to describe the actions of Saul against the Christians, for he genuinely hated them and the Man they represented. This is the background of Saul and the landscape of Jerusalem at the time we enter into our passage from Acts 9.

With that in mind, notice what we read next,

Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” Acts 9:3-6

Saul was on his way to Damascus, likely to continue ravaging and persecuting Christians when he is interrupted on the road by a blinding light and a voice from heaven saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” What courage and hope this offers believers who are being persecuted today. Our Lord is neither blind nor ignorant of the actions of wicked men who would savagely beat, kill, discredit, shame, ostracize, etc. those who are followers of His. He is fully sovereign over these events and intimately aware of the details, even to the counting the number of hairs on the head of the persecuted. As it relates to Saul, He knows the brutal persecution that has come at his hands and our Lord confronts him with the question why are you persecuting Me? Again, the comfort that believers can take in knowing that the temporary suffering that we endure in this world is felt by our Lord. He takes it as personal persecution. The evil actions of men against Christians are nothing less than evil actions against the Lord Jesus Christ.

Given the level of brutal persecution that Saul has inflicted upon the early church, one might expect that his day of reckoning has arrived. Finally the cries for justice would be met by the sovereign and just right hand of the Lord God Almighty, right? Thankfully, God’s idea of justice and our idea of justice are rarely equivalent. Instead of pouring out vengeance upon Saul for his vile actions against Christ’s church he tells Saul to “rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do”.

Saul’s companions then lead the blind man into the city where he waits for three days, neither eating nor drinking. As we read through the section of the passage we find our Lord’s plan continuing to unveil by involving a man named Ananias,

And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”

This same Saul who just days earlier was brutally ravaging men and women who were followers of Christ is now left humbled and broken at the mercy of God and we read of him praying, waiting on the Lord; quite a turn of events in just a short time period. Saul’s reputation was not limited to just the Christians in Jerusalem whom he had accosted; Ananias is in Damascus and is fully aware of the wake of carnage that Saul has left behind, so much so that he offers objection to the command of our Lord, 13But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” For Ananias, to approach Saul meant sure death. His objection, as though our Lord was ignorant to the deeds of Saul, was out of self-preservation. How patient and kind is our Lord in dealing gently with the fearful Ananias and offering him words of encouragement about His plan, 15But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

Now wait a second. Is this justice for those who have been brutally ravaged, ripped from their families and homes, even murdered at the hands of this man Saul? Doesn’t he deserve to pay for his crimes against humanity? We like to hear verse 16, “For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” because it sounds like a just retribution for the crimes of atrocity that Saul has committed. But when we read of verse 15, “But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” we’d prefer to object. The objection is not limited to the world, whose eyes are blinded to reality of redemption and reconciliation in Christ, but also from professing Christians who too often fail to realize the power of conversion, the meaning of spiritual life from the dead, and the working of grace at the merciful hand of God in their own lives. Obviously this is a general statement and certainly not the sentiment of all believers, but if we are honest with ourselves typically our first cry is one for justice against the sinner not mercy.

Concluding our account of Saul’s conversion we read of Ananias’ commissioning of him, 17So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; 19 and taking food, he was strengthened.” Acts 9:17-19

Continuing on with Paul’s immediate response to his conversion:

“For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. 20 And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21 And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ. 23 When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, 25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.” Acts 9:19-25

Saul, called Paul in Acts 13:9, immediately responded to his conversion by proclaiming the name of Christ and affirming His deity as the Son of God. The very actions and statements that he once condemned as blasphemous and sought to ravage the church of Christ as a result of, he was now affirming himself. In fact, his proclamation of Christ led to his own persecution and plots of death (vs. 23). The power of Christ in the conversion of Paul turned him from one vehemently opposed to the message of the Gospel, one who ravaged the church, was complicit in the murder of Christians, and dragged men and women from their homes into prisons, into arguably the boldest witness for the Gospel that the world has ever known.

When we read of this within the context of Acts, we understand that this man named Saul has a conversion experience like no other on the Road to Damascus. We know how mightily Saul/Paul was used by the Lord in spreading His name and establishing His church. However, we disconnect this passage from our own real world experiences and fail to see the power of conversion in the lives of sinners today. Those who may have been murderers like Paul, or child abusers, or sex offenders, or the worst that society has to offer who have been miraculously converted to Christ through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit; raised from death unto life; and useful for the Master’s good work (2 Timothy 2:21). Paul was that guy. He readily admits his sin in his letter to young Timothy, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am foremost” 1 Timothy 1:15 and openly confesses the person that he was in persecuting the church Acts 22:3-5; Philippians 3:6. But he is intimately aware of the power of Christ in his life in converting him from wretched, murderous sinner to a glorious saint. Romans 1:16; Philippians 3:8-11

Amazing Grace!

Let us not fail to understand the power of Christ in the conversion of sinners. Let us not be guilty of snubbing our noses at the mass murderer serving a life sentence who has been turned to Christ and now leads a Bible study in prison proclaiming the Gospel to the worst of society. Let us not fail to recognize the power of God’s grace in the lives of others. Last of all, let us not fail to recognize that God did not save us because we were good or not as bad as others. We too were dead in trespasses and sins, guilty of blasphemy and rebellion against a holy God and guilty of violating His holy standard. But God…who had mercy on us (Ephesians 2:4)…so too can have mercy on whomever He wills (Romans 9:18), even those whom society deems as a lost cause or too bad, and such were some of you (1 Corinthians 6:11). This is the power of Christ in conversion.

Soli Deo Gloria!

 

 

 

 

 

Image Credit: La conversion de Saint Paul by Luca Giordano (1690), Museum of Fine Arts of Nancy.

On Heavenly Visions: The proper response

If you either grew up in the 70’s or 80’s or haven’t been living in a bubble the last few years, then you’ve likely heard (or read) about someone having a vision of heaven.  In the last couple of years, it’s been a hot market for Christian book publishers even gaining national media attention in some cases (see the Burpo’s story).  Just a generic Amazon search will reveal the masses of book titles about near-death experiences where visions of heaven were revealed or dreams (some out of body experiences some not?) about seeing Jesus, along with family relatives, and some that rival tales similar to alien abduction.  On the surface, it would seem these books have a positive intent, perhaps to encourage or convince people that heaven is in fact a real place and accounts of seeing it along with seeing Jesus could do nothing but confirm that right?  Defenders of these titles will quickly jump to the Apostle Paul’s recount of his heavenly vision in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 and say “See! There’s biblical support for such encounters!”  But there is a myriad of problems with this argument not the least of which is that the Apostle did not boast of his vision, referring to himself in the 3rd person, and he did not build an argument for either the existence of heaven or the existence of Jesus based on what he saw.  Likewise, Paul’s experience cannot be normalized as a proof for what people may experience today.  If that were true, then we all should rush to the Damascus Road in hopes to have an encounter with the risen Lord.

A second approach to defending the stories detailed in books like Heaven is for real, 90 Minutes in Heaven, To Heaven and Back, et.al. is that some will say these are their stories and how can someone else say they are untrue.  It’s therefore their word against their detractors and what’s the harm if it encourages readers, right?  Well, it actually is a big problem, because the Word of God is sufficient.  Through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, the Bible is sufficient for coming to an understanding of the existence  of heaven and more importantly the existence of God and His Son Jesus Christ.  God has provided exactly all that we need to know regarding heaven and that revelation is closed and confined to His Word.

These books (I’m somewhat generalizing here because I have not read them all) lack several important, biblical evidences that serve as proofs of a genuine experience.  If we return briefly to the Apostle Paul’s experience, we see 3 key elements that we’ve already touched briefly on: 1) He did not boast, nor did he want himself thought highly of 2) He provided no details on what he saw 3) Just to ensure humility, God sent a thorn for his flesh.  The modern accounts of heavenly experiences are detailed, they are marketed and sold, they are publicized through media interviews and reports, and I know of none who were given a “thorn in the flesh” by God as an instrument of humility.  Surely, these authors and visionaries are not more humble than the Apostle Paul.  Why then would he need humbled and not them?

To the next point, and the chief reason I chose to write this post, the biblical authors who had first hand visions of heaven, angelic beings, and God Himself, all have a common response that none of the modern authors have, and it alone is a tell for their accuracy.  Let’s look at Ezekiel 1:26-28 as we read of the prophet’s response to his heavenly vision:

26 And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. 27 And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. 28 Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around.

Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.”

Note the response from Ezekiel after taking in the majesty of the heavenly vision which culminated in seeing the pre-incarnate Christ: “And when I saw it, I fell on my face” Ezekiel was so awe-struck by his encounter with the holiness of God that out of fear and reverence he fell to his face.  Some may disagree, but it seems this was hardly a voluntary response by Ezekiel.  Look at what happens next in chapter 2:1-2, 1And he said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.” And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.”  Ezekiel was commanded by the pre-incarnate Christ to stand, yet he was unable.  The Holy Spirit literally had to set him on his feet.  Such is the response of those who have had a genuine vision of heavenly things, let alone the Lord God Almighty.

Ezekiel’s response is not isolated.  The Apostle John had a similar vision and response as recorded in Revelation upon seeing the risen Savior, 17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”  Revelation 1:17-18 John’s response was remarkably similar to Ezekiel’s and this is not coincidental.  This is the immediate response by those who see Christ, namely to worship.  And not just trivial worship, but on your face “as though dead.”  In other words, a complete and total collapse before the glory and holiness of God.  Additionally, John records a second response for us, this time in regards to an angelic being, “Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Revelation 19:10  John was so overcome by the created beings in the presence of God that his response was to fall down and worship them (though as we see he mistakenly worshipped the angel), not hold hands and skip through gates of pearl down streets of gold.

Can men have dreams of heaven?  Certainly, but the image they conjure is not a divine revelation, but more like a human depiction of what they may think the divine holds.  Books and stories about visions of heaven and sights of God outside of His Word are fanciful.  They may entertain, but they do little to describe the majesty of heaven.  If godly men whom God used to record His divine revelation lack the human words to describe the images they saw, how can it be that a 4 year old can? (Note how often Ezekiel uses comparative language in Ch. 1)  As we’ve seen, the Apostle Paul provided a pattern of humility for those who have seen visions.  But as we saw with Ezekiel and John, those who speak and write about what they’ve allegedly seen lack the proper response to seeing visions of heavenly things, namely the posture of worship, prostrate before the holiness of God.  God has declared in His holy Word that “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.” Philippians 2:10-11  If the mere mention of His name generates that response, why should we expect the sight of Him to be any less?

See Also:

http://www.challies.com/book-reviews/heaven-is-for-real

http://www.challies.com/book-reviews/book-review-90-minutes-in-heaven