Life in the Spirit

19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil. [1]

For many years in my Christian walk I heard verse 22 used to admonish Christians to avoid going into places that might be misunderstood by people in the form of compromising our Christian faith. For example if I were to walk into a bar with a friend to have a conversation with him, the admonishment would be “you need to abstain from the appearance of evil for your testimony’s sake.” In other words, unbelievers might misunderstand my intentions and thereby think that I had taken to getting drunk and that would not have been a good thing to have on my record in the court of public opinion. If we were to take that logic to its uttermost conclusion then neither should a Christian attend a sporting event in a stadium where beer is sold.

Unfortunately all of this buffoonery happens when we take a scripture out of context and use it to speak about our own opinions. Paul the Apostle in this text was concerned about the misuse of spiritual gifts and wanted to caution the Thessalonians from throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Apparently there was much misuse of the gifts of the Holy Spirit such as weird prophetic utterances that it was causing the Thessalonian Christians to be tempted to just ditch all the utterances if weirdness was going to show up when the gifts were used. Paul admonishes them, “Don’t do that, because you will be quenching the Holy Spirit and thus not allowing the Holy Spirit free reign in your midst.” Instead, Paul tells them to test all the gifts, to see if they are Biblical or not, hold onto the good and ditch the weirdness. It certainly had nothing to do with avoiding the chariot races because your Christianity might be compromised.

This Scripture of course is very applicable to the church today. There have been a lot of weird things happen in Christian circles under the guise of the working of the Holy Spirit that really should be tested and ultimately ditched. But by all means, we should remember to keep the good as we ditch the bad. Who knows what we might miss if we throw the baby out with the bath water?

A good example of this is the true story of a dear lady who tired of her pastor preaching against Santa Clause every Christmas season. Finally, she had enough and stood up in the morning worship service and announced in a loud voice, “Thus saith the Lord, ‘lay off Santa Clause. He’s a good man doing a good work for the children,’” and promptly sat down. Truth be known, both the lady’s message and the pastor’s message haranguing Santa Clause instead of preaching from the Bible, should have been ditched according to Paul’s admonition.

So in our churches, let’s take Paul’s admonition seriously and use our spiritual gifts in the church, examine spiritual gifts in the church. Throw out the weirdness and cling to the good. In doing so, we will certainly not be quenching the Holy Spirit. Also, in sticking to how this Scripture might be properly applied, we may actually do some good, going as salt and light into areas of darkness to talk to a friend about eternal life, even if it ends up being a bar.

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (1 Th 5:19–22). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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Take My Life and Let it Be

12 Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.
Signs and wonders, people falling over dead, the gospel being preached and people possibly being healed by the shadow of Peter. What an amalgam of events! This paragraph is actually an introduction by Luke to the next major event, which is the Apostle’s appearance before the Sanhedrin. Luke, however, packs quite a few things in this short paragraph.
The main thing we are putting forth today is the fact that some people dared not join the church, but at the same time, the church had earned the admiration of “the people.” One has to wonder about these polar opposite reactions. In view of the preceding event that caused great fear to come upon the both the church and all the outsiders, plus the fact that it was an act of total hypocrisy toward God that caused the deaths of two people, one might wonder if “the rest” who dared not join them were hypocrites themselves, who weren’t too anxious to be found out like Ananias and Saphirra had been.
The interesting thing that I find in all this is the fact that this event that caused awe and wonder among everybody did not hinder people from being converted to Christ. In fact Luke tells us that multitudes of people became Christians. Why do you suppose that was? I believe from the context of the story that it had everything to do with God showing himself to be real. People saw that God really was showing up among these Christians and it apparently earned the Christians an audience with many unbelievers.
In our day and age, I believe people who are non-Christians are still looking for the real deal. Strangely enough, unbelievers know when somebody who is supposed to represent Christianity is not representing as they should. Unbelievers know when a Christian is acting hypocritically and also when a Christian is the real deal.
This should be a challenge to us who call ourselves Christians to live our life in such a way that the unbelievers around us will see that we live our lives in a truthful, non-hypocritical fashion. When we do, the world will notice and give us an audience so we can share the gospel with them. Someone once said, “You might be the only Bible that some people read.” I think that is important to reflect on as we continue through this week. We close with the words to the old hymn: Take my Life and Let it Be”
Take my life and let it be
Consecrated Lord to Thee
Take my moments and my days
Let them flow in ceaseless praise
Let them flow in ceaseless praise

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Purity is Important

5 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” 5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. 6 The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.
7 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” 9 But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.

Last time we covered the first part of this text, determining that God knows when you are lying to him and will not let you stand in the way of the proclamation of his gospel. Today we are looking at the last part of this story in verses 6-11. Sapphira’s story ends with the same epitaph as that of her husband. “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.” The repetition is not by chance: it is the whole point of the story.

The church is a holy body, the realm of the Spirit. By the power of this spiritual presence in its midst, the young community worked miracles, witnessed fearlessly, and was blessed with incredible growth. The Holy Spirit was the power behind its unity, and its unity was the power behind its witness. But just as with God there is both justice and mercy, so with his Spirit there is also an underside to his blessing. There is his judgment. Ananias and Sapphira experienced this judgment. The Spirit is not to be taken lightly. As the Spirit of God he must always be viewed with fear in the best sense of that word (phobos), reverent awe and respect. It might be noted that this is the first time the word “church” (ekklēsia) occurs in Acts, which denotes the people of God gathered as a religious community.
I don’t think that it is by accident that it occurs in the context of this story. The church can only thrive as the people of God if it lives within the total trust of all its members. Where there is that unity of trust, that oneness of heart and mind, the church flourishes in the power of the Spirit. Where there is duplicity and distrust, its witness fails.
I remember a good pastor friend of mine who used to say, “If you speak to God about power, he’ll speak to you about purity.” This does not mean that power automatically comes from Christian perfectionism, but rather, the most important thing in our lives is not power, but purity. May that be our emphasis in our relationship with the Lord.

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God is Listening

5 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” 5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it.  (Acts 5:1-5)
As a pastor, I sometime hear people mention that they would like to see more of the gifts of the spirit operating in the body of Christ. However, I have to wonder if the gift of discernment that showed up through Peter on this particular day in the church, would show up in our gatherings, how much would we embrace it or even recognize it as such?
God through his Holy Spirit saw fit to include this passage for our benefit today. So what does this passage mean for us and how might we apply it? Well, to start off, we must contextualize all the goings on of the church up to this point.
If you have been following the devotionals or the book of Acts up to this point, you quickly realize that God was showing up everywhere with signs and wonders accompanied by the proclamation of the gospel and subsequently, thousands getting saved. All this left in its wake a strong community of believers who had only been made bolder and stronger and more unified in their efforts to reach the lost and care for the new community. Notice that last part; reach the lost and care for the new community.
We also must understand that God jealously watches over his work that he does and guards it strongly. This is what is happening in our passage. The church was moving and acting in the power of the Holy Spirit, God is showing up with signs and wonders, the Gospel is being proclaimed, the lost are being found and the community is caring for one another. Into this scene steps Ananias and his wife Sapphira, with the audacity to act as if God doesn’t even exist by putting back something for themselves under the guise of having given all. God wouldn’t put up with it. Through the gift of discernment, Peter reveals the thing of their deceit and lying to the Holy Spirit and Ananias fell over dead. No wonder great fear came upon all who heard of it.
If we are looking for an example of this today, you might be hard pressed to find an occurrence exactly like this. However one truth that can be taken from this for us today is this: God knows when you are lying to him and will not let you stand in the way of the proclamation of his gospel. This is a truth that should be a litmus test for the things we say, the things we do and the reasons we do them. May the Lord help us and have mercy on us.

 

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Earnestly Contending for the Faith

24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. [1]

I think one of the things that Christians most often confuse in their Christian walk is the difference between justification and sanctification.  Justification is the act by which God through the work of his Son, Jesus Christ imputes his righteousness to us, his sinful creation and thereby gives us complete right standing before him, perfect, and as our text today indicates we are blameless, though we don’t earn it or deserve it.  Sanctification on the other hand is the process God uses in conforming us into his image on a daily basis.

As Jude writes to Christians in this brief letter in the New Testament he is urging the Christians to earnestly contend for the faith.  This beautiful doxology in verses 24 and 25 of Jude indicates the position of justification from which we are to contend.  In his letter, Jude is warning against those who had gained admission into the church and were perverting the grace of God and even denying Jesus as Lord and Christ (v. 4).  Jude is urging the Christians as they fight against what is going on to continue in godliness and love toward these people, sometimes reasoning with them and in other cases “snatching them out of the fire.” (23)

There is a wonderful thing that happens to us as Christians, especially when we are able to distinguish between justification and sanctification.  As we earnestly contend for the faith in the midst of some who pervert the faith, it is imperative that we always contend or fight from the position of justification we enjoy because of what Christ has done for us.  All the while, there is a process going on in your life and mine (sanctification) of God conforming us into his image on a daily basis.

My encouragement today is for us to continue to earnestly contend for the faith in Christ that allows us to be kept from stumbling and be presented blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy.  As we do so, let us embrace the process God has us in as we are continually transformed more and more into his image.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Jud 24–25). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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How Pleasant

Behold, how good and pleasant it is

when brothers dwell in unity!

   It is like the precious oil on the head,

running down on the beard,

on the beard of Aaron,

running down on the collar of his robes!

   It is like the dew of Hermon,

which falls on the mountains of Zion!

For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,

life forevermore. [1]

Theologian VanGemeren tells us, “The psalmist pronounces a blessing on those who “live together in unity.” During the pilgrimages, the Jews enjoyed an ecumenical experience on their way toward and in Jerusalem. The pilgrims came from many different walks of life, regions, and tribes, as they gathered for one purpose: the worship of the Lord in Jerusalem. Their unity was in conformity with the regulations for the three annual feasts (Exod 23:14–17; Lev 23:4–22, 33–43; Num 28:16–31; 29:12–39; Deut 16:1–17). During the feasts the Jews celebrated their common heritage: redemption from Egypt and their encampment.”[2]

As we have been examining the unity enjoyed by the New Testament church, we can’t help but notice some similarities which apply to us today.  Just as in our Psalm, the pilgrims came from different walks of life, regions, and tribes, so too the church enjoyed such unity and blessing because now the gathered assembly, although at the time was mostly Jewish converts, would carry the gospel message out from their place of worship to the far flung corners of the world, encompassing people from every walk of life.  The early church wouldn’t be satisfied until all were reached.  Out of their unity and efforts of the common life would arise, that which is pictured in the book of Revelation of every tribe, nation and tongue worshipping around God’s throne.

With so many denominations around the world today, some would say such unity is no longer possible, but I would disagree.  It’s not one denomination or movement that is necessary for such unity to occur.  After all the church in the Middle Ages, although one denomination was such a mess that it desperately needed renewal and reform.  Unity has more to do with the attitude in each believer’s heart.  Our problem seems to be that we don’t recognize the need for recognizing the things true believers have in common, irrespective of which denomination they may come from.  The Psalmist and the New Testament and most of all, God still call for such unity of heart today.  How pleasant and good that is!


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ps 133:1–3). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] VanGemeren, W. A. (1991). Psalms. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 815). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

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Acting out of Grace

32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. (Acts 4:32-37)

 

Before moving on to a different text concerning the unity of the early church, I feel it necessary to emphasize something. If you turn back to Acts chapter 1 and read about the time before the beginning moments of the church, you discover that the indication of one mind and one accord being there from the very beginning.  However, it is important to not get the cart before the horse and assume that the being of one heart and soul was something the believers were striving for until at last they attained the ultimate goal of having all things in common.  The next verse doesn’t allow for that and in fact the whole of scripture does not allow for that.  The words “and great grace was upon them all” is the phrase that gives the real meaning to the believer’s actions

 

There was a chorus that became popular several decades ago entitled, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus.”  Whatever you may think of that song, the idea behind the lyric was that when our focus is upon Christ, there is a natural phenomenon which occurs in the believer’s life.  That which occurs is a loosening from the temporal things of this earth.  We become more focused upon the things in life that really matter from a spiritual point of view.

 

The point of this text is simply this: When great grace is upon us, it will cause us to do sacrificial acts of service for the kingdom of God without it seeming as a sacrifice at all.  I think it is safe to say that as Christians, we have all at one time or another experienced something very similar to story in our text.  Not one has to persuade you to act or make you feel guilty if you don’t act.  You simply act in giving or going or doing or speaking to someone because great grace is upon you.  You act out of the grace given to you.  I call this grace, “the great equalizer.”  It’s why people answer the call of God into ministry.  It’s why people answer the call to foreign mission service.  It’s why people donate hours of their time helping others.  Therefore, we do not hold the act of these believers having all things in common as the ultimate goal in Christianity, but rather hold the grace of God in high esteem in our lives and act out of that.  When we do that, we find ourselves doing things with the right motives and when that happens, our whole surrounding world benefits.  Let’s act out of God’s grace today.

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