by Roger McCay
10 May 2020
Sermon passage: Acts 14:19-20
Link to Audio Version
“Of mankind we may say in general they are fickle, hypocritical, and greedy of gain.” So affirmed Niccolo Machiavelli.
What an apt statement to the circumstances in Acts 14. One minute, as we see in the passage before this one, the people see the miracle of healing Paul and Barnabas brought to the lame man and proclaim Paul and Barnabas as gods, the next the people are trying to kill them. Fickle…
They wanted the gain of the miracles, but they wanted the miracles on their terms as being according to the gods they believed in—not the one true living God, much less the calling he puts on one’s life. So they evinced a sense of pious worship, but they were willing to do it only on their terms – greediness and hypocrisy at its best.
Things haven’t changed. Christians, faithful to the Lord’s calling, are blown to and fro in storm of the fickleness of the world. Yet we are called to ride the storm secure on the solid foundation of Jesus. We face a culture – mankind in rebellion against the Creator – that wants the benefits of the Kingdom of God, but does not want the commitment to Jesus as Lord. So, it is fickle and tries to take what it likes and purges what it doesn’t like.
Perhaps you have heard of “servant leadership.” In secular circles it has become popular and is used as a business model, having been defined as …
“both a leadership philosophy and set of leadership practices. Traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid.” By comparison, the servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.
Servant leadership is seen as a very effective business model … a paradigm of smart leadership. At a seminar I attended on it, for example, the speaker spent a bit of time lauding the founder of Southwest Airlines, who practices servant leadership simply for how effective it is in business.
The speaker mentioned the concept’s foundations going back to the teachings of Jesus. However, it was plain to me that when it comes to the business model, its origins are irrelevant. It is what works that counts.
Well, we Christians know the concept of servant leadership goes back to Jesus. He modeled it, as it was an aspect of his character…, and I could preach a whole series of sermons on just that, but hear what he said in Mark 10:41-45:
41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus is clearly talking about being a servant leader and following his example. Yet, a concept with its roots in the Lord’s teaching and example has been taken and broken down to a pragmatic business model and praised for its effectiveness towards the bottom line. While, on the surface, this might sound good, when Christ is stripped from it, it loses its substance. Rather than an act of righteousness, servant leadership then becomes, an act of selfishness.
As for us, we Christians are to actually follow the Lord’s example and teaching of servant leadership. Yet, the reason is not success driven, at least, how the world understands success. The reason is to show love for one’s neighbor out of selflessness and obedience to Christ. Indeed, the Kingdom benefits of faithfulness, when it comes to self-denial, are profoundly greater than any pragmatic worldly success could ever be, for pragmatic worldly success is just a shadow.
The world wants the benefits of the Kingdom, but they don’t want Christ. As such, the world will always be unstable; its foundation is on shifting sands.
Today, where truth is considered relative this is especially true. Only when the truth that is Jesus Christ becomes one’s foundation can stability ever be found. Otherwise, along with the world we will just be blown this way and that, living for everything but the Truth—the very basis of creation and redemption.
Without a solid foundation on the truth of the Word of God, fickleness and following after whatever seems best at that particular point and time (according to whichever group a person subscribes—among countless groups) … whatever is in vogue at that particular point and time becomes perceived as what is right. The variations of what is considered truth become endless. And, never mind that the group thought something completely different was right just ten minutes before! As long as everyone respects everyone else’s particular stance towards the truth, everyone will get along fine (which has become a mantra for some). But be damned to the person who says there is only one truth, and anything other than that is a lie and a delusion.
It takes no stretch of the imagination to see this phenomenon in America today…
When the world acts consistent with its nature, don’t be surprised. It is interesting how “spirituality” can even garner respect – as long as it remains your personal spiritual journey (as it has been called). However, as soon as it becomes evident that your lifestyle is actually consistent with that of a disciple of Jesus Christ, and you follow the commands of Jesus, and you insist that He is the only way—they will turn on you. The very people who pride themselves in how tolerant they are will quickly become intolerant towards you. Hypocritical fickleness.
Be aware that this will happen. Be ready to recognize what it is. Truly, as Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:12,
“…all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…”
And rejoice that the Lord has seen to bless you when it happens! What a great privilege it is when you can suffer on behalf of the Lord!
Such suffering even comes with a promise from Jesus Christ himself! In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:10-12, Jesus said…
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Yet, when one’s life shifts along with the shifting sands and the blowing winds of the world, the world will not see a reason to bother with you. Such is not the way of Christ; such is not the way of a disciple of Christ. Despite the instability of the world, we are called to be faithful to the Lord Jesus, and only there do we find ourselves on solid ground.
Take a look at v. 20, which occurs after Paul is left for dead.
20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.
It is interesting the contrast in this situation and the situation with Herod we saw in chapter 12. Where Herod accepted the people’s praises, calling him a god (“the voice of a god, and not of a man,” they said) … where Herod did not give God the glory, he was struck dead by an angel of the Lord for accepting such praises.
Here we have Paul, proclaimed by the people as a god; and he vigorously denied their claims. The people then tried to kill him, but they failed because the Lord kept him alive.
God had a purpose for Paul. Paul was faithful in following his calling according to that purpose. While much later he would die because of his faithfulness to Jesus, God’s purpose in him was not complete.
In this passage, I particularly enjoy how the disciples gathered around him first. It was only then that he got up. Outside the gates of Lystra, as Paul climbed back to his feet, he was encouraged and supported by his brothers and sisters in Christ—the body of Christ, whose head is Christ. Seeing the look of concern, of love and hope in their eyes, Paul went right on back into the city!
I love that! Paul headed right back into a place where they just tried to kill him. What audacity! What admirable boldness! Rather than get up and run away, considering himself to be lucky to be alive, Paul marched right back into the city confident in the Lord, fully supported by the body of Christ.
Note, too, that these believers, who gathered around Paul and encouraged him, were all new believers. This church was brand-new, and these folks were just figuring things out. Yet, with Paul and Barnabas’ teaching, and the Spirit’s empowering, they were already being effective for Christ’s Kingdom.
The Spirit of God was working powerfully among them, boldly unifying them against the pagan ways of Lystra under the truth of his Word … the Gospel. Even in the midst of violent opposition, they were already experiencing the blessings of the Lord in the unity and love of the body. Indeed, the opposition probably was just a means the Lord used to build them up and strengthen their bonds of fellowship (Eph. 4:11-16).
Getting back to his feet; seeing these fledgling Christians gathered all around him; Paul was likely very much in awe at this work of God, in them. Thus, through the power of the Spirit, he was reinvigorated.
I pray that we could be so bold for Christ. And I know that together, as the body of Christ, we can be. God has given us one-another to help support one-another. He has given us his Spirit to empower us against anything that might come against us. As the winds of the world buffets us and seek to blow us off the rock that is Jesus Christ we stand together and support one another in the very power of God.
Even so, sometimes the world can really knock us for a loop. The enemy is tenacious and creative in his attacks.
In the US, I’m not aware of anyone having stones thrown on him or her to the point that they die because of their testimony for Christ, but our culture is quickly getting more and more hostile towards those who would stand firm. Examples abound, and I listed quite a few of them a few weeks ago when we were looking at Acts 13:13-52, so I won’t go into all of that now. But, I will say that it seems to me that the enemy and his minions are trying to gain ground during this whole coronavirus thing—of course they are … no surprise there. It’s all very complicated, of course.
Most of us have been trying to be good citizens, showing love for one another according to the Lord’s Word, obeying social distancing demands of the government. and so forth. Yet, we should pause and consider how easy it was to shut down almost every church in America. We should pause when pastors are arrested, fined, and the congregations shamed and ridiculed because they insist on holding church services in order to worship the Lord. We should be concerned when people put nails in the driveways of churches to damage their tires when people try to congregate. We should be alarmed when we see elected officials mandate taking names and personal info on people who attend church services so that they might be tracked by the government.
Now, here in our sleepy town, we’ve managed to avoid most of these things. We’ve worked around the fear, and we’ve continued to worship, although in a different way, as I elaborated upon last week. However, we need to consider the implications of these things happening at the national level, and we need to be very alert for the enemy and his minions’ efforts to capitalize upon all this in order to try to hurt us, even here in the heart of the Bible belt, as we move forward.
For that matter, as we move forward, keep in mind Daniel, who, in Daniel 1, refused the food of the King (against the wisdom of the world), in order to remain faithful to the Lord—to be later blessed by the Lord for his faithfulness. Also who, as we read in our OT passage today in Daniel 6, continued to pray to the Lord just as he always had done, expressly against the orders of the king, orders designed by scheming politicians to target Daniel, as a faithful worshipper of the Lord.
As a result, Daniel had to suffer the lion’s den for his faithfulness, although he was perfectly safe with the lions, protected by the Lord. Afterwards, he was greatly blessed, while those who sought to hurt him were destroyed, but he had to face the lions first.
Chew on that one for a bit, my friends, as we consider our way forward, in Christ.
Now, if you’ve been a faithful Christian for a while, you know that trying to live for Christ is hard on any given day. It is hard, because it is a narrow path of self-denial and cross-carrying that we walk, as we follow Jesus (Mark 8:34).
And then, your lifestyle can get you tagged as an intolerant narrow-minded Jesus freak, or some such. You may remember the example of the label of “bigot” I used a few weeks ago. Such labeling can result in some painful social repercussions, maybe even some issues at work, among other things. All in all, though, that’s just relatively minor stuff … frustrating, even inconvenient, but minor when compared to stoning.
What happens, though, when they take it to the next level? … when trying to faithfully follow the Lord gets you labeled as a “menace to society” by the Lord’s enemies? They are very good at tossing labels around to shut down discourse and poison the minds of the people. Such has the potential to move the situation from name-calling to physical action against us.
Jesus said following him would be hard. No-one is trying to literally stone us like they did Paul – at least in America – yet. The situation is different in other parts of the world, though – people’s lives are literally at stake. Remember to pray for them.
As we move forward, we need to keep Jesus’ words, given to those who would follow him, in mind:
35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:35-38)
Whether we face stoning or what have you, brothers and sisters, Paul, in his encouragement to the Church in Philippi, encourages us with these words:
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. (Phil. 2:12-16)
Christ gave us his Spirit to help us; to come alongside of us; to work in us to be faithful; and to make us more and more like Christ, for God’s glory and his pleasure. We live for Christ in the midst of opposition – a fickle, twisted generation. Yet, we are the light in the world, with the only hope for the world … Jesus Christ the Lord. And don’t forget that it is a “we.” We are the light of the world, together. We must stand together as Christ’s people, united together against whatever scheme the enemy sends our way.
Ride the Storm
Stand firm in the truth of God’s Word, whatever that might look like in these strange times, my friends. Support one another, when the world buffets each of us, as we live faithfully as disciples of Christ. And be bold for Christ. Because we all live in a world that shifts this way and that blowing in the wind, as disciples of Christ we must ride the storm standing firm in God’s will on the solid rock of truth.