Posts tagged ‘Paul’

Collections For The Saints

It was a desperate time in Jerusalem. Poverty roamed the land, not caring about its next victims. The young church in Jerusalem was not exempted from this suffering. Word of their plight had reached their brothers and sisters in the churches of Rome, Macedonia, Achaia (Romans 15:26), Galatia and Corinth (1 Corinthians 16) whose loving response was to seek the advice of the apostle Paul as to how they could help their fellow believers in Jerusalem. Paul is led by the Holy Spirit to gather funds from the churches and send it to relieve the saints in the Jerusalem congregation. Paul responds to this specific collection to a question that had been posed by the church at Corinth.

Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me. (1 Corinthians 16:1-4 ESV)

By beginning the paragraph with “now concerning”, Paul is referring to a question that had been posed to him in writing prior to this letter, just as he had done in chapter 7 verse 1. What we have here is an example of many congregations of saints pooling their resources to help others within the Body of Christ in a time of need. The motivation here is clear — love. This was a true “love gift”, unlike what is talked about by television evangelists. In Romans 15:26, Paul uses the word “koinonia” which has unfortunately been rendered as “contribution” in some translations, because they all saw this as an expression of fellowship with other suffering believers. What Paul had described earlier in chapter 12 was indeed the case.

that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Corinthians 12:25, 26 ESV)

This event also serves as a biblical example for some things, but not for others. Here’s what I mean by that!
Example number 1 – from the way Paul speaks of the first day of the week, it is obvious that this was the day on which they were already meeting. Paul does not write that they should start meeting on the first day of every week. He is, in effect, saying that they should collect this money when they have their regular meetings. Paul even mentions that this was what the churches of Galatia were doing, so this is not the day that only the Corinthian church gathered together.
Non-example number 1 – That being said, this is also not an example of something — the ongoing method of supporting the local church. Think about this for a second. Why would Paul have told them to take up a collection on the first day of every week if they were already taking up collections on the first day of the week? If this were some sort of binding example, why didn’t Paul insert the phrase “from now on, on the first day of every week”? One must be careful not to take a biblical example and stretch it beyond its original intended application.
The fact is, there is no prescribed method for how the funds for the local church are to be collected, or how often that is to happen! Does that mean it is wrong to take a collection on Sunday? Certainly not! With a lack of divine instruction on methods or frequency of collections, each congregation of saints is free to do was is wise and expedient for their particular situation. Want to pass the plate? Fine. Want to just have a box in the corner where saints can drop in offerings on their own? Go ahead. The error lies in taking and example of a special collection designed for a specific need with logistical planning and make it binding on every collection in every church for all time when teaching about the ongoing support for the church. Doing so is a mishandling of scripture and “going beyond what is written”. Of course we do not want to swing the pendulum too far and change what is written, like baptism by sprinkling, or communion with cake and ice cream. That being said,what we have in the New Testament on this matter is liberty to decide locally the most appropriate method for supporting the local work. Whether that is a collection plate, a box in the back, or giving online, give with a smile and not under compulsion (i.e. tithing).

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7 ESV)

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The Role of Fear in Conversion

For many years preachers of the Gospel had a reputation for “hellfire and brimstone sermons” designed to scare people into salvation. While that kind of preaching is more rare these days (perhaps too rare?), one wonders if fear should not still play a role in conversion. We would all like to think we respond to Jesus Christ solely out of love for Him, but even then there is an element of eternal self preservation involved. Let’s take a look at what role, if any, fear should play in conversion.

My thesis here is that yes, fear should play a role, at least initially, in conversion. For it is only when a sinner sees his helplessly position before the Judge of the Universe that he or she is moved to ask in utter despair, “what must I do to be saved?” That moment is called conviction, and it can only be brought about by a sinner accurately seeing the inevitable doom that awaits him unless someone can do something to save him. And I would even say that without conviction of sin and the realization of helplessness before God, the Gospel will not be the “good news” of salvation through the atonement by the blood of Christ that it is supposed to be. This all sounds good, but are there scriptural examples that will bear this out? Glad you asked!

For our first example, lets look at the Jews gathered for the feast of Pentecost in 33 AD. Near the end of Peter’s discourse, the text says this:

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37 NKJV)

This “cut to the heart” is way more than feeling bad about what had happened, as if it had all been a big misunderstanding. They had been looking forward to the coming of Messiah for thousands of years, and when He came, they had murdered Him. Just a minute before, Peter had applied an Old Testament passage to Jesus and said, “Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” ’ (v.35) This was not a picture of a king with an ottoman in from of his padded chair. This was a picture of someone with their foot on the neck of their enemy! It would have hit them suddenly and piercingly that unless they did something, the wrath of God was going to be upon them. It was this conviction of guilt and fear of judgment that prompted the question “men and brethren, what shall we do?” So while fear was not the basis for the entire process, it did play a vital role in getting them to a place where they could view salvation as good news indeed!

Well that was great, but are there other examples beside just this one? You are asking great questions! Yes, lets now turn to Acts 9 and look at the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Back in chapter 8, we are introduced to Saul in this way:

As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. (Acts 8:3)

And chapter 9 starts off with a further window into Saul’s mission in life.

Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest (Acts 9:1).

This is a man who has made it his mission to eradicate these disciples of Jesus from the face of the earth. He is utterly consumed with what he views as a righteous zeal for God. Then everything changes on the road to Damascus when he has an encounter with Jesus.

Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” (Acts 9:4, 5)

Suddenly Saul is confronted with the truth about who he has really been persecuting via prison and murder. This had to be a frightening experience that shook him to his very core. And that’s what it needed to be in order to convict Saul of his sin and bring him to an accurate realization of his true spiritual condition. The narrative describes his initial response as:

So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” (Acts 9:6a)

Once again, a sudden revelation of impending judgment and his utter inability to save himself brought about the needed question of, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”.

Well we want to confirm everything in the mouth if two or three witnesses, so lets look at one more – the Philippian jailer in Acts 16.
Here we have a man whose very life depended on how well he did his job. Any prisoners that escaped took his life with them. He is there one evening while his two newest prisoners are doing what everyone would do in the innermost depths of a filthy Roman jail – singing praises to God! And not only the jailer, but the other prisoners were listening, too. Then two miracles happen! There is an earthquake that loosens everyone’s chains and opens all of the doors, and also no prisoners left the building in spite of their newfound freedom! It is dark (about midnight) so the jailer decides to save himself torture and the execution of him and his family by drawing his sword to take his own life. His thought may have been that there would be less shame for his family if it looked like he had died trying to prevent the escape. Suddenly Paul cries out to stop him!

But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.” Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. (Acts 16:28, 29).

Again we see someone trembling and asking the correct question! The jailer knew that this was nothing short of a miracle, and wanted this God that not only had the power to deliver His servants, but gave them enough joy that they would be singing praises at midnight in utter darkness and filth.

And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:30, 31)

There is true benefit in telling the lost about the reality of their predicament outside of the saving work of Christ that has provided a way of escape. We exclude this part of the message at our (and their) peril. Does that mean that every time you preach with conviction of sin in mind and people are “cut to the heart” that they will all be converted to Christ? No, some will still not surrender to the Lordship of Jesus. In Acts 7:54, they were cut to the heart and gnashed their teeth at Stephen, and later killed him. But nevertheless, that does not excuse skipping it either. They may repent, or they may kill you, but that doesn’t excuse changing the message!

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The Jailhouse Rock

How would I react if faced with genuine persecution? I know how I hope I would react, but do any of us really know unless we are placed into that situation? I want to take a look at two men who experienced just that. Take a look over at Acts 16.
“The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods. When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.” (Acts 16:22-24 NASB)
Here we have Paul and Silas in ancient Philippi. They were God’s men, doing God’s work in God’s way. And the result? They are beaten with rods and shackled inside the deepest, darkest cell in the prison. What’s more, as a Roman citizen, Paul’s incarceration was illegal since he had not been tried! To add injury to insult, they were beaten with rods and received “many blows” to their bodies.

This punishment was particularly brutal. Rods were not designed to break bones, they were designed to bruise bones. From what I have heard and read, a bruised bone is excruciatingly painful and slow to heal. And with their fresh set of painful injuries, they were fastened down with metal stocks in complete darkness. So of course Paul and Silas had the reaction anyone would have in a situation like this. They began singing and praising God!

“But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them;” (Acts 16:25 NASB)
Notice what time it was. Midnight! They had not been singing for a few minutes or seconds. They had been at it for an extended time, probably hours! And their music was not just affecting them, but the other prisoners as well. At a time like that, perhaps the words of Jesus were flooding their minds, as the recalled Him saying, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11, 12 NASB) So that is exactly what they did! And look at the effect their obedience had!
“and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped.”(Acts 16:26, 27 NASB)
The first jailhouse rock and roll broke out and there was a great earthquake. But the effect was not exclusively for Paul and Silas. Their bold and joyous praises to God caused the other prisoners who had been listening to be set free, too! And later in the next few verses, it led to the salvation of the very man who had chosen the day before to send them to the armpit of the prison!
If Paul had asserted his rights as a Roman citizen, the jailer and his family might never have been saved.

What lessons can we glean from this account?
1. Doing God’s will, at the right time, in the right place, and in the right way does not mean we will never suffer.
2. The suffering and persecution we go through is nothing compared to the value of a soul!
3. The presence of pain is not the absence of God!
4. If you are surrounded by darkness, you can be a light.
4. Our obedience in the face of adversity will not only deliver us, but can be used by God to set others free, too!
5. Never underestimate the lengths God will go to in order to give someone a chance to hear the Gospel and see it lived out in you!
6. Next time you are singing praises to God, remember that there may be someone who can hear you that needs what we’ve got in Christ Jesus!

So don’t hold back. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad!

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