Tag Archives: The Church

Sermon — 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8, Sexuality and Sanctification

1 Jul

1 Thessalonians 4:3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.


This section is most obviously about sexuality and the call of God on the lives of His people for holiness. But in back of this direct teaching is the person of God. God, the Lord, the Holy Spirit are mentioned over and over in these verses. Real Christianity is always God-centered. There is no area of life which is not touched by the Person and Presence of God. There is no area in the life of a Christian that is not to be subject to the Lordship of Christ.

In our text today, we hear the call of God for our sanctification, or holiness. This holiness in our passage is particularly connected to our sexual morality. Several weeks ago we looked at the Song of Solomon and talked about the need for a joyful Christian sexual ethic. Today is kind of the flip side of that coin. We will not find lasting joy in sexuality if we walk in sexual immorality. Holiness was the picture the Old Testament temple provided. It was a reflection of God’s presence and purity. Holiness was required. Cleansings and washings were prescribed, sacrifices were made. Purity was paramount. God’s nature has not changed but the Temple was just a picture of the new covenant reality that through Jesus’ death on the cross God has purified His people from their sin, counting the perfect life and the atoning death of Jesus in the place of all who trust Him. The dwelling place of God is no longer to be thought of as a building. The church building today is not the house of God. We are the house of God. We are God’s temple, believer by believer joined together to be God’s dwelling place. And as purity was a top priority in the Old Covenant so should it be in the New Covenant. What we have by virtue of our position in Christ God intends to work into our lives by practice, so that we grow in holiness, becoming what we are, a people purified by God through the dying and rising of His perfect Son Jesus. It is a sad reality that many professing Christians understand grace as being distinct from holiness. Nothing could be further from the truth. The idea that one can be saved by grace without a care for holiness is an absolutely false view of grace that is damning many people to hell. Sometimes in our eagerness to avoid teaching salvation by works, at other times in our eagerness to console ourselves about family members who made a profession of faith but have lived fruitless lives, we have separated salvation and sanctification. But the Bible gives us no place at all to do this. Our memory verse from June makes this clear, Colossians 2:6,7, “Therefore as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.” We were saved by faith and we now walk by faith. And if we don’t walk in faith, if we live as a lifestyle in darkness rather than light, we show that we are not saved. This is a big part of what 1 John is about that some of us men are studying on Saturday mornings.

So this is a sobering message today. We need to be careful about comforting ourselves about our family members if there has been no evident spiritual fruit in their lives. This is not a denial of salvation by grace or of our security as a believer, it is just an acknowledgement of what the Bible teaches everywhere, namely that those whom God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ. Holiness is not an add-on to the Christian life for the really serious Christians, it is the reality of life for those who truly belong to God. Those whom God saves He will sanctify. Sanctification is where we begin in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4, verse 3 . . .

 The WHAT of Holiness: ABSTAIN from Sexual Immorality (4:3).

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality;

To be sanctified is the opposite of being impure. The word ‘sanctification’ means to be set apart, to be godly. Because I belong to God through Christ I should reflect the family likeness. I always perk up when I see a Bible passage say, “This is the will of God.” When something is made explicit as the will God, I really want to take notice. Here the will of God explicitly stated is that we as believers is our sanctification and that this holiness is shown as we abstain from sexual immorality. The complete avoidance of sexual thought and action centered outside the marriage covenant is in view here and in many other places in the New Testament. In every list of sinful vices I can think of in the New Testament the issue of sexual immorality is mentioned, and it usually leads off the list. Paul makes an argument in 1 Corinthians 6 that sexual immorality is especially damaging as it is a sin against one’s own body. Jesus’ teaching on marriage, that it is to be a lifelong bond of union except in highly unusual circumstances and Paul’s teaching that marriage is a picture of the relationship between Christ and the Church, all raise the stakes as to the significance of sexual sin. So sexuality is not the only issue of holiness we need to think about but it is a major one. Thus we are not wrong as Christians to speak about this issue in the church and hold out a biblical view of sexuality to the world. We are not obsessed with these things, we are just trying to be faithful to the focus the Bible gives them.

Sexuality is a watershed issue in our day, a dividing line between being faithful to the truth of God and being unfaithful. This is one of those issues that in the days to come will divide families and churches. It is already happening and it will only pick up steam in the next few years. At the core, the issue is this: where does my view of life come from? If your view of the life is shaped by the Bible, then you will hold to the view that sexuality is only properly expressed in the context of one man, one woman marriage and that other expressions or thoughts outside that boundary are sinful and put one under the judgment of God. If on the other hand your view of life is shaped by culture, then in today’s world you will hold the view that sexuality is properly expressed through the exercise of personal freedom. In other words, anything goes as long as I like it. As the old cliché goes, “What I feel makes it real, what I like makes it right.” So there is no limit, no boundary, except that which is put on me by society legally or culturally. The focus of the worldly view is self-gratification, the focus of the Christian view is God-glorification. Where is your view of sexuality coming from? If your view is being shaped by culture you will live an immoral lifestyle, you will not avoid sexual immorality. But if your view is grounded in Scripture, seeing sex as a good gift to be enjoyed within its boundaries, you can pursue holiness and honor God with your life. It is a watershed issue.

And it was a watershed issue in Paul’s day for the Thessalonians. This church was living in a pagan culture that coupled sexual activity with the worship of the gods. Many of the Thessalonian believers had come out of this background of casual sexual self-gratification. So don’t think this call to sexual purity was easy for the Thessalonians but difficult for us. The Thessalonians didn’t have an internet, but they did have all kinds of public sexual degradation. Sexual purity has never been easy. But we make it much more difficult on ourselves when we try to walk in two worlds, when we try to have a Christian exterior while inside we are being shaped by culture and our own sinful desires.

This is not a matter of Christian liberty. We are to abstain from sexual immorality. There is no wiggle room. This is not a matter of debate. Lustful thinking or acting outside of marriage between a man and a woman is sin and puts us under God’s judgement. This is the will of God. Have we forgotten the words of Jesus, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God?” Could it be that if there is spiritual coldness in you: a lack of interest in church, a coldness to your prayer life, an emptiness to your Bible reading, weakness in your service for the Lord, a spirit of despondency, is it possible that these things are not the fault of other church members or your past experiences or your pastors or deacons? Is it possible that you are not seeing God because you are not pure in heart? Is it possible that your sexual sin is the thing that is most holding you back from a joyful walk with God? Does this sexual sin even call into question whether you have even ever really trusted in Christ? The stakes are high. As high as seeing God.

How do we abstain from sexual immorality? Look at verses 4 and 5 . . .

  The HOW of Holiness: Self-Control through the POWER of God (4:4,5).

 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 

The first principle of sexual purity given in this passage is the principle of self-control. There is some dispute about what is said here. Some of your translations may speak of controlling the body and others may speak of taking a wife. The wording could point in either direction. Whether one controls his sexual passions through godly discipline or through taking a wife or husband rather than burning with passion, we see concrete ways in which we seek to turn away from sexual immorality. For some, marriage may prove a great help in the battle against sexual immorality. It is not true that marriage ends the battle with sexual immorality because we still have sinful tendencies and we are still surrounded by a world of immorality, but marriage can help. At the same time, self-control cannot be ignored. We need to remember when we talk about self-control that for the Christian it is Spirit-empowered. Galatians 5 tells us that self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. I am heartened that Paul teaches us that sinful sexual impulses can be controlled. We do not have to be like little boats tossed by the big waves of a sinful world. Paul doesn’t give us the specifics of how to win this battle consistently, but he does say God has given us the power to do so.  For me, it means God gives me the power to say “no” to watching something sinful on tv. God empowers me to not let my mind wander into lustful thoughts. But a part of God’s provision for me may just be the wisdom of not having cable movie channels or having filters on my internet or memorizing Scripture as a way to fight the unbelief that leads to lust. You probably have a different battle than me but you have the same Holy Spirit if you are trusting in Jesus. Trust Him to give you the power and wisdom to take the steps in your life to be holy and honorable rather than impure and degrading.

The end of verse 5 is a critical aspect of this passage. We are to live self-controlled lives, not like the Gentiles WHO DO NOT KNOW GOD. You see, this life of sexual obsession and sexual sin is a sure mark of a person that does not know God. Knowing God is essential to sexual purity. Sex is not about us it is about God. As Paul says in Titus 2, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us to say no to ungodliness and worldly desires and to be upright and self-controlled in this present evil age.”

Understand me. Sexual purity is only sustained by God. It is not rules, it is not simple self-discipline. As Paul says in Romans 6, we must yield our lives over to the Lord, Romans 6:13: “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God … and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.”

And again, in Romans 6:19, Paul writes: “You used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.”

Look at verse 6 . . .

 The WHY of Holiness — A WARNING to the Unrepentant (4:6).

that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.

Some think Paul is changing the subject here, telling us that one should be honest in their business dealings. But the context doesn’t bear this out but seems to stay on this theme of sexual sin. Certainly adultery is the wronging of another, as you have relations with the spouse of another. But the actual person with whom you engage in immorality is also wronged through your sin. Even a person you think about in a sinful way is diminished in your eyes as you have made them an object of your desire rather than seeing them as a brother or sister in Christ.

The proof that the stakes are high is shown here in the threat of God’s judgment. Hebrews 13:4 says much the same thing, “Marriage should be honored by all and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the sexually immoral and the adulterous.”

The seriousness of this verse is also seen in the way Paul calls the Lord an avenger. There is a sense in which sexual immorality and sexual betrayal of others is fundamentally abhorrent to God.

The seriousness of this verse is also seen in the way Paul highlights the fact that he has had this talk with the Thessalonians before. It is true that the people in Thessalonica came out of a very immoral background, but this is also true of many of us. Some here lived in the passions of their flesh for years before they were saved. We may all need to revisit this sober warning of judgment from time to time. But this is not the whole story. Take a look at verses 7 and 8 . . .

God’s WORK for Our Purity and Our Response (4:7,8).

 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

There is a warning of judgment here which it is wise for us to heed. But there is also a word here about God’s calling for us. As the passage started stating God’s will that we abstain from sexual immorality so the passage ends with God’s call to holiness. God’s call is holiness. Impurity short circuits not only the vitality of our relationship with God but also derails the working out of God’s purposes in our lives. How many ministers in recent years with great gifting have been brought down through sexual immorality? I mentioned a couple of weeks ago three prominent Southern Baptist leaders who had been involved in immorality. Since I gave that message, three more professors and state convention workers in the SBC have resigned because of immorality. It is a tragedy. We must not play around at the edges of this. It applies to all of us, every church member, every pastor and deacon. Notice here that Paul says God has called US to purity, he includes himself in his statement. He is accountable too. It is possible and even likely that these men who have fallen, if repentant, are true believers. But oh how tragic the consequences of their sin. We are not under condemnation through faith in Christ, but there is a principle of sowing and reaping that Pastor Terry talked about a couple of weeks ago.

God calls us. He draws us. He saves us. But He does all of this to bring us into holiness. And He did this to draw us close to Himself. Notice, if you reject these instructions you reject not just the instructions but God who gave His Holy Spirit to you. Sexual immorality is a form of blasphemy. It is a form of idol worship and no man can serve two masters.

This verse is so important for our world today. To reject these instructions is to reject God. If someone has an issue with the idea that sexuality is only rightly bounded within one man, one woman marriage, their argument is not with me, it is with God.

If you look at these instructions and feel it is impossible, let me give you three grounds of hope: 1) Jesus was totally pleasing to God and totally fulfilled in His life on earth and never had sexual relations. Sex is not like air and water, regardless of what our culture says. 2) God has given you His Holy Spirit to empower you for this life. 3) Our year verse, Luke 18:27 – what is impossible with man is possible with God.

I want to conclude this morning in a detailed way. What does it look like for us today to abstain from sexual immorality as an important part of our growth in grace, our sanctification?

First, we must reject as a matter of principle all forms of sexual immorality. We must say no to ungodliness. We must draw a line in the sand and define what is right and what is wrong from a biblical point of view.

Having carefully thought through these things, I can say without hesitation that the following principles should be characteristic of a Christian when it comes to sexuality. I haven’t seen every principle possible, but I believe I can biblically justify each of the things I am about to say. . .

When it comes to sexuality, a Christian is characterized as one who . . .

Rejects lust and affirms married love.

Rejects adultery and affirms faithfulness in marriage.

Rejects pornography and affirms a joyful sexual ethic in marriage.

Rejects living together without being married and affirms the biblical obedience of marriage.

Rejects sleeping together apart from marriage and any other sexual relations outside of marriage and affirms the beauty of sex itself within marriage.

Rejects fantasizing or setting our thoughts on people to whom we are not married and affirms the cultivation of a healthy marital relationship of mind, body and soul.

Rejects homosexuality in all of its forms and affirms heterosexual marriage as God’s pathway of obedience.

In the absence of marriage a faithful Christian affirms celibacy as God’s pathway of obedience.

Rejects the idea that our identity is tied up in our gender and affirms that our identity is found in Christ.

Rejects the notion that gender is self-constructed and affirms the truth that God’s design is two genders: male and female, made in His image.

Rejects the idea that life is about self-gratification and affirms that life is about God-glorification.

Rejects dating or marrying unbelievers and affirms the value of marriage between believers as God’s pattern of obedience for Christians.

Rejects divorce (with few exceptions) and affirms the permanence of marriage.

Rejects a spouse seeking sexual fulfillment outside of marriage when sexual fulfillment in marriage is not happening.

Rejects spouses withholding sexual activity in a prolonged way with one another except for an agreed upon time and affirms the joy of sexual activity as a blessing and a guard for our hearts.

Rejects flirting, immodest dress, crude jokes, cat-calls, all forms of sexual harassment, all sexual abuse and affirms the beauty and worth of married love.

Rejects all forms of media that stir sinful desires in the heart and affirms setting our minds on things above.

I truly believe that these things I have just mentioned are clear and biblical standards for our holiness when it comes to sexuality. These things are not matters of Christian liberty, they are truths that flow from God’s Word and His standards for purity. They are things that cannot be lived apart from the Holy Spirit’s power. There will never be complete obedience to these things this side of glory. But there should be substantial alignment with these things if we belong to Christ. These are the kinds of people we should be as followers of Jesus.

What if I am falling short in one or more of these areas? Let me suggest three things: 1) Repent. Turn away from these sin areas immediately and embrace the truth. Don’t live under God’s judgement. Draw near to God. Know that through faith in Christ you have forgiveness and His righteousness is counted on your behalf. 2) Take steps to get help/make changes. Talk to a friend. Confess to another brother or sister. Bring your life into the light. Sin thrives in darkness. Get counsel from a wise believer. Make physical changes to draw healthy boundaries. 3) Understand that God’s grace is greater than your guilt. If you have a marriage that split up, if you committed adultery, if you have yielded your heart to every manner of lustful thought in times past, know that you can be forgiven and restored and that through faith in Christ you are acceptable in God’s presence. Finally, may all of us exercise patience and kindness toward others in the spirit of Galatians 6:1. If this message is really taken seriously there will be much confession and change as a result. If someone comes to you wanting you to walk with them through change, be gentle with them. Treat them kindly, don’t be harsh with them.

If you need to repent today, you are safe here. You will be received and understood and prayed for and helped. Let’s get our lives into the light. Let me hear from you if you are defeated in this area. If you are a woman I will connect you with a trusted woman. Don’t fail to bring your struggles into the light.

Finally, understand that what we said earlier is true: this is a watershed issue. If you disagree with the biblical pattern for sexuality, I urge you once again to consider that your argument is not with me but with God and that He is all-wise. He really does know better than we what is right and good and true. There may be others here for whom this may be the start of a long battle. For still others this may be a critical step in a long-term victory. Understand that some hearing this message will insult me, if not publicly then privately. Understand that if you believe these things and live them you will be looked at, even by some in the church, as odd and intolerant. In the minds of some people you will be categorized with all the worst hate groups in our society. In your seeking to walk with Jesus you may be the most loving and kind person but if you say the wrong thing in the wrong way in our world, you will be hated and vilified. And I want to say to you, and to myself, take heart! Blessed are you! You’re just walking the path of the prophets and the path of the Savior.

Jesus is better than sexual immorality. Trust Him today to do His work of sanctification as you walk with Him.





Mark Vroegop at Southeastern Seminary

13 Oct

On the first weekend of October I had the joy of attending the 9Marks at Southeastern Conference on the topic of discipleship. Mark Vroegop’s, a pastor in Indianapolis, message on patience was one of the better ones I have heard. I wanted to share it here with you.

New Sermons from the Titus Series Now Online

20 Jan

In recent weeks I have been preaching through Titus in a series called, “The Living Church.” The first three messages are now online at http://www.westhickory.org. Hope they will be a blessing to someone.

A Good Word from Matt Chandler’s New Book

10 Oct

Matt Chandler, well-known pastor of the Village Church near Dallas, Texas, has written a new book with Eric Geiger and Josh Patterson called Creature of the Word: The Jesus-Centered Church. I am about 50 pages in and I have enjoyed it so far. Here is a sample from page 42:

“Worship gatherings are not always spectacular, but they are always supernatural. And if a church works for or looks for the spectacular, she may miss the supernatural. If a person enters a gathering to be wowed with something impressive, with a style that fits him just right, with an order of service and song selection designed just the right way, that person may miss the supernatural presence of God. Worship is supernatural whenever people come hungry to respond, reacy and receive from God for who He is and what He has done. A church worshipping as a Creature of the Word doesn’t show up to perform or be entertained; she comes desperate and needy, thirsty for grace, receiving from the Lord and the body of Christ, and then gratefully receiving what she needs as she offers her praise — the only proper response to the God who saves us.”

The Internet and the Law of Love

14 Aug

I believe most people would agree that the internet is a tool which may be used well and which may be used for destructive purposes. There are all sorts of horrible things online, from videos to articles to pictures, all of which can serve to darken our hearts. There are also great resources online, things that can help us grow spiritually and move forward in our life with God.

Where this gets insidious is when the purported “God resources” become places that darken our hearts. I am not talking about places where false teaching abounds. I am not talking about websites for cults or for health-wealth and prosperity teachers. I am talking about supposed evangelical websites which make it their aim to systematically deconstruct and, in some cases destroy, fellow Christians. I find most of the time the writers at these sites are involved in what Jeff Noblitt calls “extra biblical excess.” They are taking issues the Bible has not fully defined and which the Bible does not view as central and have made them both clearly defined and central to the gospel. Now I know that in the evangelical world there is much foolishness out there to criticize. And I know that sometimes power plays and big egos are barely concealed beneath spiritual cliches. And yes, there is a need to contend for and defend the truth. But people sure get obsessed with these sorts of things. So much energy is expended in these things. And so much hatred for fellow believers is expressed. I can hardly read the comment sections of many blogs and Christian websites because they are so full of vitriol from one professing believer to another. We are more concerned with winning an argument than with walking in the Spirit. And even when we win we lose every time when we win by stepping on the necks of fellow believers.

I think one of the problems is that we are too quick to label anyone who disagrees with us as a false teacher who doesn’t believe the gospel. Sometimes this is undoubtedly true but often it is not. More than likely we are not dealing with a false teacher, but with someone who trusts in Jesus, but has reached a different conclusion than we have on some issues. We are too quick to jump from, “he believes differently on issue x” or “she has a different methodology than I do” to “he or she must not believe the gospel.”

And maybe we don’t trust the sovereignty of God. I know we want to earnestly contend for the truth, but can we at least acknowledge that God uses a variety of means to accomplish His purposes in the world? And can we not at least acknowledge that God used John Calvin and John Wesley, in spite of their theological differences? And can we not acknowledge that though truth is a reality, God uses us in spite of our inability to understand truth perfectly?

I am not against anyone contending for the truth but I am against anyone contending for the truth in a way that cuts against the way of love. I know sometimes sharp language must be employed in the cause of love. But the kind of vindictive language I see in the blog world is not Pauline sarcasm, it is simply snarky, callous and out of line. A good case can be made for strong language in the defense of truth. But there is no place in our lives for this kind of online disdain toward our brothers and sisters in Christ, for we are to be marked by our love for one another, even in cyberspace.

A Critically Important 9Marks Journal

24 Jul

The latest issue of the 9Marks e-journal presents one of the most pressing issues facing the local church: the place of mercy ministries in the life of the local church. There is a tendency in the church today to pit the teaching ministry of the church against mercy and missions ministries. At its worst, it can become a kind of division between the “thinkers” and the “doers.” When this kind of division happens in a church or in the mind of an individual believer, a few key fundamentals have been misunderstood. The 9Marks journal addresses these misunderstandings and helps us have a specific idea of how to carry out mercy ministries in the church without sacrificing the vital role of the church for teaching and discipleship.

9Marks is an organization which traces its origin to the ministry of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist church in Washington, DC. 9Marks is concerned with the development of healthy churches, churches that let biblical truth, rather than tradition or new trends, shape their ministries. I am thankful for the work that Southern Baptists, from a variety of theological perspectives, are doing to help the local church fulfill God’s mission.

Here is the link for the ejournal . . .


March 11 Sunday Morning Sermon: A Transformed Church

15 Mar

Acts 9:26-31
A Transformed Church

Last week we looked at the marks of a transformed life. Paul had been changed when God saved him. He could not be silent about Jesus. The change in him was readily apparent. He was growing spiritually. And while he faced opposition because of his faith, ultimately, he was in God’s hands.
    In the passage we’re going to look at today, the focus shifts from Paul to a broader view of the church in and around Jerusalem. Just as last week we saw some of the characteristics of a transformed life, today we will see some characteristics of a transformed church. To see these characteristics clearly, I want to begin with a brief exposition of the text and then turn to the application of the passage to our lives today.

Acts 9:26  And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.
    The book of Galatians tells us that Paul came to Jerusalem three years after his conversion. But time does not heal all wounds. Three years is a long time, but the Christians in Jerusalem remember the Paul that once ravaged the church there. So they are all afraid of him. They don’t trust him. They’re just not sure that such a change could happen in the life of one who had been so set against them. But then Barnabus comes on the scene.  

Acts 9:27  But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.
    We first met Barnabas in chapter 4, verse 36, when he gave some of his property to the church in Jerusalem. Barnabus is the son of encouragement and here, after hearing about Paul’s conversion, Barnabus takes Paul and brings him to the apostles, to the leaders of the Jerusalem church. Barnabus stands with Paul and Barnabus stands up for Paul. Barnabus puts his own reputation on the line because he hears and sees the fruit of the Spirit in Paul’s life. So he goes to the apostles and he declares to them both the story of Paul’s conversion and his track record of bold preaching of Jesus.  
    Aren’t you thankful that Paul had these great advocates early in his Christian life? He had Ananias right after his conversion, one who could receive him and be with him in those early days. And he had Barnabus to stand up for him before the suspicious Jerusalem church. And really all along through his ministry, Paul had others who stood shoulder to shoulder with him. Paul is the one we remember, because he was such a tireless minister and such an eloquent writer. But we need to remember that Paul had Barnabus and Paul had Silas and Timothy and Mark and Luke and Epaphroditus and Aristarchus and on and on and on. Paul was not a lone ranger. He had brothers and sisters who ministered with him faithfully. So we see that the work of ministry is a shared work.

Acts 9:28  So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. 29  And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him. 30  And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
    Barnabus was respected by the apostles and so the apostles received Paul and having been received, Paul did what Paul does, he went out and began to minister among the church in Jerusalem. It seems he was preaching to believers and unbelievers, and as usual, he was preaching boldly.
    Paul put his special attention on the Hellenists. These were Jews from Greek-speaking lands. They were not Jews who had been born and raised in Israel, but they or their family had come from another land to settle in Jerusalem. The Hellenists were the same group who had killed Stephen. He had preached to them and they had rejected him. Now with Paul coming on the scene, they must have felt like Stephen had come back from the dead. And their response to Paul was the same as it had been toward Stephen. They wanted to kill him. But this time, in the providence of God, Paul is preserved. So last week he was a basket case for Jesus, let down in a basket through a window in a wall to escape Damascus. Now the brothers take Paul away to Caesarea and sent him off to his birthplace, Tarsus in Cilicia.
    When Stephen had been killed, a massive persecution had broken out against the church in Jerusalem. So for their own protection as well as his, the brothers in Jerusalem get Paul out of town before he gets killed. Galatians chapter 1 tells us that Paul was only in Jerusalem for about 15 days. So it didn’t take Paul long to get under the skin of the Hellenistic
Jews.  So Paul goes back to Tarsus. And he will stay there for about 8 years. Paul will not be mentioned again until Acts chapter 11, when Barnabus goes to Tarsus to look for him and bring him to the church in Antioch, where the two of them will be commissioned for a missionary journey to the Gentiles. Now when Paul got to Tarsus, what do you think he did? A little R & R? Maybe, but I doubt it.  
     Actually, I think we can learn from the Bible what Paul was doing. In Acts 15, there was a controversy among the Christians from a Jewish background about how the new Gentile Christians should regard the Jewish law. A council was formed to discuss this and a letter sent to the all the churches to instruct them on how to live as Gentile Christians. Now what’s interesting about this is that when we see what churches receive this letter, we find in Acts 15:23, It says, “The apostles and elders and brethren send greetings, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and in Syria and Cilicia.” Now we can know from elsewhere in Acts how churches were founded in Antioch and Syria, but how about Cilicia? Well, the city of Tarsus is in the region called Cilicia. So what I think was happening here is that in these 8 years Paul is going throughout Cilicia preaching the gospel and founding churches. Paul will not be stopped by opposition in Jerusalem. He goes right on preaching the gospel. So in the providence of God Paul being moved out of the picture in Jerusalem was a good thing for the gospel. The gospel would spread further in Cilicia and the peace that came to the church in Jerusalem would produce a good environment for growth there as well. This is what we will see in verse 31 . . .

Acts 9:31  So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.
    The church had peace all throughout Israel. I love how it is the church in Judea and Galilee and Samaria is united in its peace. For the Jews, there were great prejudices between these regions, but the gospel is breaking down these barriers. The church was being built up. It was being edified. The signs of this edification was an increasing fear of the Lord and an increasing comfort of the Holy Spirit. They were seeing God’s greatness and goodness. At the beginning of the passage they were fearing Paul, but in the end of the passage they were fearing God. And the church multiplied. God blessed this church which was being edified by multiplying it.

    Now I want to take a few minutes to think about a few applications from this passage.
    First, we should stand up for and encourage other believers in the church. This doesn’t mean we stand up for foolishness. If a person is outright sinning in unrepentance, we shouldn’t defend them, we should love them by urging them to repent and be restored to God and to their fellow believers. But we won’t know where a person is coming from unless we are willing to listen to them. As Barnabus listened to Paul’s story, so I want to encourage you to listen to each other. You can encourage each other by reminding each other of the promises of God. You can encourage each other by resisting gossip. When the conversation turns to somebody in the church, don’t participate in that, unless it is to defend that person from a heart of love. The main problem with a gossip is that they feel so bad about themselves that they’ve got to talk about somebody else to make themselves feel better. Don’t participate in that. Let your life be a source of light, not darkness. Be for people. Why should we be like this? Because to be like this is to be like Jesus. 1John 2:1  My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 1 John 3:16 tells us that as Jesus laid down his life for us we should lay down our lives for our brothers. Assume the best, not the worst. You may get burned, that’s always the risk. There would come times in Paul’s own ministry when he would get burned by co-workers who made shipwreck of their faith. But it is better to have tried to love a person than to have not loved at all.
    And this flows into a second area of application from the account of Paul and Barnabus. We need each other. The Christian life is not to be lived as a Lone Ranger. What would have become of Paul’s ministry if no one had stood with him? He prospered because of fellow believers who encouraged him. This is one of the blessings of church membership. We publicly declare that we are joining ourselves to a group of fellow believers for the sake of mutual encouragement in the gospel. In membership, we are making a commitment to one another. We are making a commitment to be encouraged and to be an encourager. We are making a commitment that says, “If my life gets off the rails, I am committed to this body, so I can expect loving and faithful help to get back on track.”
    I urge everyone to join themselves to a local church, because the Christian life is not to be lived alone. All over our country there are young men and women who don’t go to church but live off of internet sermons. There are older people who mow their grass every week but can’t find the energy to be a part of a local church. And they think they’re OK because they watch Charles Stanley every Sunday. There are others who can never find a satisfactory church. So because they are dissatisfied with what they have seen in churches, or the hurt they have felt, they just drop out. And I want to say to you that what all these people are doing is making themselves sitting ducks for sin because they are disconnected from the body of Christ. And when you get disconnected from the body you very quickly get disconnected from the head.  There’s no perfect church, but I know for a fact that there is a group of strongly committed Christians right in this building this morning with whom you can adequately grow. This is a place where some of your family members will grow if they will come. And there are other churches where you can grow as well. I just see in this passage so clearly the need we have for our fellow believers and I see elsewhere in the Bible that the primary context for this fellowship of believers is the local church.
    As we think about the applications that flow from Paul’s commitment to the proclaiming the gospel and the opposition he faced in verses 28-30, several things come to mind.
    First, the fact that the gospel is offensive is re-affirmed in this passage. We must come to terms with the fact that to many people the message of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone is not good news. They hate it. So we’ve got to bear this in mind as we live in this world.
    Second, Paul’s deliverance from this situation is a contrast to Stephen staying and facing death. It shows us that there is a time to stay and face persecution and a time to flee. This same theme is apparent in Jesus’ life. Many times in His ministry Jesus escapes the threat of death but eventually Jesus went to the cross. For Jesus it was all about His sense of God’s timing for His death on the cross. There are times when the early church faces persecution and times when the church flees. This is all in God’s hands. We should be careful not to condemn those who stay or those who flee.
    Along with this idea though is a general thought about transitions. When we are moved into a new situation, whether we chose it or not, we should go on in faithfulness to God. Paul seems to have gone right on preaching after he left Jerusalem. What could have been a traumatic and fear-inspiring event in provided for him a change of scenery but not a change of purpose. There are many people in this room who have faced transitions in the last couple of years. Maybe you have taken on a new job. God’s call is for you to do good work in your new position but most of all it is to be faithful to Him in the workplace. Maybe some have become mothers for and you have been able to stay home with your children. Your calling is the same as it has always been, to go on in faithfulness to God. That may look different than it did when you were in the workplace, but your purpose is still the same. Some may have been going through the hard transition of aging and coming to terms with the fact that you can’t do everything that you once did. What you are called to do now is to go on in faithfulness to God, so think about how you can serve God in the new situation you are in. So our theme should be like what Paul wrote about in 1 Corinthians chapter 10, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink or WHATEVER YOU DO, do all to the glory of God.”
    Finally, I think there are many valuable truths to consider in verse 31. First, we can’t ignore the way the early church was breaking down barriers between the Jews throughout Israel and the Samaritans. This barrier-breaking will continue to increase throughout the book of Acts. We need to consider this and not let cultural or racial barriers get in our way. Are you willing and ready to reach out to and welcome people of different racial backgrounds or different economic realities into our fellowship?
    Second, we see that real multiplication comes when there is real edification. This is the pattern for true church growth. Build the believers in the church and the church will grow as God prospers it. Every situation is different, but I truly believe that if we will fix our minds on edification, God will take care of the multiplication, because people who are being edified, or built up in the faith, will want to reach out, will want to share with others, and will be a light to those with whom they relate day by day. This is why we emphasize the teaching and preaching of God’s Word and give small group opportunities for our members. Are you involved in anything besides Sunday morning worship? If not, you may be selling yourself short in the area of spiritual growth. And if what we have said is true about edification leading to multiplication, you may be selling your church family short too. I urge you therefore to come back tonight at 6. We will be studying Romans 1:16-17. These verses are so rich and powerful. I truly believe you will be built up if you will come.
    Finally, this passage teaches us that the fruit of edification is increasing fear of God and increasing comfort of the Holy Spirit. Those truths we teach our children, that God is great and that God is good, become real to us when we are being built up in the faith. Are you growing? Are you seeing God more clearly than you were a year ago? Do you know Him better than you did 5 years ago? Better than you did 20 or 30 years ago? Is the Holy Spirit a comfort to you, or are you afraid of His work? We need to look carefully at our hearts to see if we are moving in a direction like that of the church in Acts.

Hard-Hitting Article on the Charismatic Movement

1 Nov

In honor of Reformation Day yesterday, J. Lee Grady wrote an outstanding article listing many needed reforms in the charismatic movement.  If these issues were addressed, much of the public damage of this movement could be alleviated.  It is good to see a constructive critique of a tradition from within that tradition.  I think a level of credibility comes with such a critique.  Food for thought . . .  1.  Could you write a similar article about the church in which you are involved?  What reforms are needed there?  2.  Are there any theological underpinnings in the charismatic movements which make these reforms, even if all implemented, still insufficient to bring about true spiritual renewal in the movement?  3.  Are there theological underpinnings in other movements (Young, Restless, Reformed or Seeker-Sensitive, for example) which hinder renewal in those movements.  Feel free to respond to any of these questions in the comments section.  But above all, read the article.  It is thought-provoking.  Here is the link . . .


The Worship Service

31 Oct

One of the members of our church, a man named Noel, recently wrote the following sentence regarding a biblical perspective on corporate worship . . .

“Concerning worship, certainly anything prescribed and prohibited by the Scriptures should surely be adhered to vigorously and joyfully, but those things which are not delineated should be weighed thoughtfully and practiced according to the Spirit’s leading and with sincerity of heart apart from faddish novelty and rote tradition, focused on God and not man.”

There is much to commend in this sentence.  First, there is a focus on obeying the Scriptures.  I wonder how often we as Pastors and Worship Leaders and church members really think about how our actions in worship reflect or deny what the Bible teaches us about our worship gatherings?  Have we really looked to the Bible to see what kinds of things should be evident in our worship services?  Or do we just do what we’ve always done or do we just try out some new trends to try to be relevant to our culture?  So the first phrase in this sentence is all-important, we must seek to root corporate worship in biblical truth.

Many professing Christians live every day without much reference to or regard for biblical truth.  There may be a few foundational truths they claim make a difference to them, but biblical truth influences them far less than many other things.  I believe the same thing can happen when we gather together to worship.  Our sense of how things should be takes precedence over what the Bible really teaches.  This can flow in the direction of tradition.  We go for an hour and not a minute more.  We only use an organ and piano, keep those drums and guitars away.  Or it can flow in the direction of being trendy.  We have a great band and we show movie clips from the latest blockbusters and you can get up any time and go to the back for a donut as you listen to the conversation led by the pastor sitting on a stool over there.

I think there is a way through the fog.  I would outline it this way.

1.  Find those things in the Bible which God clearly commands us to do and implement them into the worship service.

2.  Identify the elements of your worship service which are not in the Bible.  Are any of them prohibited by the Bible?  If so, cease these practices.  Are any of these elements not helping the church toward the biblical goals of worship: glorifying God and encouraging the saints?  If so, these elements should be adjusted or eliminated.  Are any of these elements neither prohibited or unhelpful?  They may be retained but never exalted above the clear biblical commands of Scripture.  In other words, when using hymnbooks becomes more important than considering the lyrical content of the songs we sing, we’re in trouble.

3.  Remember one of Martin Luther’s favorite phrases: Semper Reformanda (always reforming).  Like the healthy individual Christian, the healthy church is always in the process of reforming those areas of life which are not in accord with biblical principles.  Be patient if your church doesn’t measure up in every way to the biblical principles you are discovering.  Tradition may be too important at the moment, but that can change.  Slavery to trends may make you feel like you’re church is stuck in 1985, as you have one more Back to the Future sermon series, but this too can change.  If churches will seek God’s calling for worship and push, through careful study, to obedience, real and lasting change can come.

4.  Most important of all, remember that outward forms can be perfectly in line with biblical teaching and still our worship can be abhorrent to God.  I like to think of the Sunday worship service as the exclamation point on a week lived to God’s glory.  The Old Testament prophets emphasized over and over that rightly ordered worship was a stench in God’s nostrils if those who gathered for worship were not worshiping from a heart of real devotion to God and seeking to live holy lives before God in every day life.  So let us individually guard our hearts and live before God in such a way that we are seeking to glorify him on Sunday morning and on Tuesday night and on Saturday afternoon and every moment of our lives.

5.  Finally, approach your church worship service as an observant worshiper, but not as a critic.  There should be no Roger Eberts in the church.  No one should go out on Sunday morning saying, “that service was 4 out of 4 stars!”  Draw near to worship, not to pick apart the music or listen for the place or places where the pastor messes up in the sermon.  Too many people come to church attuned to hear what they don’t like instead of coming to celebrate what is good.

There is so much to think about when we consider the worship services.  I’d love to hear your thoughts below in the comments.


The Gospel and Pat Robertson

15 Sep

Russell Moore has written an outstanding article on Pat Robertson’s latest off the wall statement.  It is well worth reading not simply as a critique of Robertson, but much more for the insights this situation brings to our thinking about the church and the gospel.


%d bloggers like this: