Sunday, August 14, 2005

Paul: Peace Maker or Rabble Rouser?

Today I had the opportunity to preach in the Sunday Morning Service at my church. I praise God for the privledge of sharing His Word with His people, but I must admit I forgot how exhausting preaching can be. From the long studying beforehand to the fleshly apprehension throughout the process, preaching for me is definetly a refining experience. So seeing as how my mind has now flatlined, instead of attempting to write something novel and/or witty I will just copy and paste a portion of my sermons notes. This will also give you the opportunity to check on me and see if I am spouting any heresies from the pulpit or not.

Acts 21:15-36

The Importance of Unity

Even though Paul was a controversial figure in the early church, the Jewish church in Jerusalem received Paul, a former murderer of Jewish Christians, with open arms. In addition even though a major emphasis of Paul’s ministry was that Jewish ritual did not bring salvation to anyone, he had no qualms about participating in a purification ritual for traditional purposes. We know from Acts chapter 15 that the Jerusalem church knew that you are not saved by observing Jewish ritual so Paul was not confusing any Jewish believers by going to the temple. Paul himself came to Jerusalem to present offerings (24:17). From this we see that to observe customs is not wrong as long as those customs do not violate scripture and the motivation for participating in them is not to earn merit in the sight of God or man.

Paul was able to maintain unity within the church between the Gentile and Jewish believers without doctrinal compromise. Disrupting unity over central doctrinal issues is valid. There are hills to die on. For example: The authority of Scripture; The Divinity of Christ; How we receive salvation and eternal life…things like these. These are the things that we as a church need to be corporately discovering and defining. Everyone in this church must know what the non-negotiables are and why they are non-negotiable. Charles Spurgeon once said:

"To remain divided is sinful! Did not our Lord pray, that they may be one, even as we are one"? (John 17:22). A chorus of ecumenical voices keep harping the unity tune. What they are saying is, "Christians of all doctrinal shades and beliefs must come together in one visible organization, regardless... Unite, unite!" Such teaching is false, reckless and dangerous. Truth alone must determine our alignments. Truth comes before unity. Unity without truth is hazardous. Our Lord's prayer in John 17 must be read in its full context. Look at verse 17: "Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth." Only those sanctified through the Word can be one in Christ. To teach otherwise is to betray the Gospel.

Charles H. Spurgeon, The Essence of Separation, quoted in The Berean Call, July, 1992, p. 4.

A.W. Tozer put’s it perhaps more eloquently in this way:

Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers [meeting] together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become 'unity' conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.

A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God.

So we must not make compromises with the Gospel. Otherwise it is not the Good News. There is nothing good about a false Gospel.

However, there are areas in which dividing are not valid. These are matters of personal preferences and comfort and tradition. These are the areas where self-sacrificial compromises must be made for the unity of the church. Possibly, but not necessarily areas like music preference, church building programs, …anything that cannot be clearly argued from the Scriptures. Unity in the Body of Christ is of extreme importance. We, the church, are what the world sees of Jesus. As the bride of Christ we must do everything in our power to promote both doctrinal purity and loving unity. This is a tough battle but one that God has given us all the resources to wage and win. (1 Cor 1:10; II Cor 13:11; Eph. 4:3; Ph 1:27; I Pet 3:8).

Bottom Line: God’s Glory

Throughout this whole narrative, Paul seems to have no other motive than to be used to bring glory to God. There is no evidence of a well thought out plan or program. Paul operated only by the prompting of the Spirit (Acts 20:22-23). If Agabus said he would be bound, so be it. If the Jerusalem elders wanted Him to promote the unity of the church by very publicly going to the temple, the center of Jewish zeal, he would. If God wanted him to have his brains bludgeoned out of him by an unruly mob of his own countrymen, praise God! We see no agenda in Paul other than to do the will of God. We are not told that Paul made any effort to resist when he was being torn to shreds. Yet when God used the Romans to save him, Paul realized that God still had work for him to do and he got right to it. We may not face the exact circumstances that Paul did, yet as sons and daughters of Christ we have the same purpose. The eyes of our heart and head must be fixed on Christ. Our personal preferences must die with our sin. We must be consumed with a passion for His glory.

Paul believed in and knew a God that was so beautiful, amazing and powerful that Paul had no hesitation laying down his own personal preferences and even his own life in order to worship his God. Do you know that God? Do we as a church know that God? If our church is going to be restored and renewed, if it is going to be a thriving, God-honoring, and united family, we MUST unite around a corporate pursuit of growing deeper in our knowledge of who God is and who He has made us to be (the non-negotiables) And this knowledge will produce in us a love for Him and for others that will overpower our personal, A-Biblical preferences and overflow out of our hearts into our relationships with others in the church, both Spanish and English, into our ministries, and even outside of the walls of this church into the streets. And this deep intellectual, relational, and experiental knowledge of God will also give us a courage to live out that love so powerfully that nothing in this world, natural or supernatural can stop it. This is the essence Christian unity.

By His grace, for His glory,

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