Friday, September 21, 2012

Evidently Evident Evidence: Acts 11

Take a moment. Now, read the rest of the post :)

Take another moment and think about a time when you did something that you thought was just great. Maybe you were away from home or your normal friends or your typical coworkers and a great opportunity dropped in front of you.

You took it.

Then on the way back, you spent the whole trip thinking of how great it was and how much you wanted to tell the story.

You walked in, the first words you met were “How in the world could you have done that?”

Feel the deflation? If you’ve been through that circumstance, you know the feeling. Here you thought that you had done well but the response is devastating. Someone has either taken issue with all that you did or perhaps just one little detail is under assault, but either way you feel laid low instead of lifted up.

Now, take a look at Acts 11 (link). Well, go back to Acts 10 first (my blog post about is at this link) if you need the context. Peter has gone from the Jewish world into the Gentile world and shared the Gospel. He has got to be excited to see the Word of God go into a place with less opposition than the fledgling faith was facing among the Jewish faith.

Then he goes back to Jerusalem. While the text of Acts is certainly compressed in its relation of events and happenings, the reading feels like Peter walks in the door and rather than hearing “How was the road?” or even “Did you blow out a sandal?” he instead hears “What in the world are you thinking, eating with Gentiles?”

He demonstrates wisdom in his response, though: in an orderly fashion he explains how God showed him the truth. The truth that the Gospel is not bound by circumcision or uncircumcision, not bound by ethnic background or prior religious views. Instead, the Gospel is bound only by the Grace of God.

Peter then goes to discuss the evidence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the new Gentile-heritage believers. The conclusion from the old-line body of believers? “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to live.” (Acts 11:18)

It was a big step for the church, and it is from this step that the church goes forward. The remainder of the chapter shows the establishment of the church at Antioch which becomes the center of the Christian mission. Christian mission because it is here that the disciples are first called Christians, mission because it is from here that intentional efforts to make disciples where there were none go forth.

What if it had been different? What if there had been no evidence from the lives of the Gentiles that showed they were saved by the same God and indwelt by the same Spirit that had come upon the Apostles at Pentecost?

Fortunately it was not the case—the evidence was there. Just as then, now the evidence of our faith should be evident. How so?

1. Faith should be evident in our attitudes toward others. This was not quite the case of the old-line believers at first, but they came around. Our attitude should be one that welcomes hearts that have been granted repentance to life. Prior divisions should be meaningless to us.

2. Faith should be evident by the obvious work of the Spirit of God. In Acts, this was the move of the Spirit to empower speaking in tongues. My conviction is that this was how God authenticated salvation for this group and others in Acts because it met the normative experience from Acts 2, Pentecost, that the Apostles had. Their experience, though, was Spirit-birthed out of practical necessity: people needed to hear the Gospel in diverse languages, so it was empowered.

Today, I would argue that this is not the definite evidence of the Spirit in believers. I think you should check Galatians 5:22-23 for the definite evidence of the Spirit. However, in the speed-growth that was those first years, time was critical, and it is hard to see patience in a week. Unless it’s a really bad week.

3. Faith should be evident by our recognition of the Word of God. For us, this is in the Bible. For Peter, it was the vision and the sheet. God speaks clearly through Scripture today, and our faith should be evident in our recognition of Scripture as God’s Word.

4. Faith should be evident in our repentance from all things not Christ. Note the response: not “Ok, the Gentiles believe.” The response: “The Gentiles can repent, too!” Repentance from sin is the first act of a heart regenerated by Christ. In truth, being born again, having faith, and repenting are so muddled together that they are the crucial ingredients of a new Christian. You cannot truly have one without the other—just as there are three keys to bread: flour, salt, and water (yeast helps, too, but not always) and you don’t have bread until you’ve got them all.

5. Faith should be evident by its spread. The last portions of the chapter set this up: faith does not stay in one place. It is shared with a vibrancy and joy that makes a difference in the world around those who have it. Both in spiritual need and physical—note the presence of Agabus, the prediction of the famine, and the plan to provide for the needs of fellow believers.

In challenging our thoughts:

Does our faith shape the way we see people?

Does our faith shape the way we see events?

Does our faith shape the way we see our future?

If not, why not?

If so, how so?

Today’s Nerd Note:

Prophets then: Agabus makes his first appearance in this chapter, and then he shows up again near the end of Acts. He prophesies of a famine that will affect the ‘whole world.’ Luke notes that this happened, and it happened during the reign of Claudius.

A few notes: first we see that Agabus the Prophet was accurate in his prediction. He does not get it partly right. Second we see that he was precise. There is no vagueness like “perhaps, there might maybe be….”

Prophecy in Scripture may have parts that are unclear, but little (if any) is truly ‘vague’ and none of it is inaccurate.

All of prophecy in Scripture is seen evidence in Agabus in this: prophecy is sent to stir actions of obedience. Here, the church that had means gathered funds to aid the brethren that were in need. Note on brethren: take that to mean all fellow believers, not just men-folk; don’t take it to mean every last person affected by the famine.

So, prophecy is precise, accurate, and requires actions of obedience. Anything that claims to be prophecy but is not all three is probably not prophecy. It may be good preaching, but inspired prophecy? Not there.

An additional aside: throughout Scripture, meeting the needs of the poor is a theme. That theme includes these restrictions: typically it is the poor within the community of faith, not all the poor everywhere; it is the poor that are unable to provide for themselves though they have tried; it is the poor that are poor due to life circumstances not due to personal sin. To claim that the Bible teaches that those with means should have their means taken by threat of force (which is what taxation is, really) to care for those the agent of force (government) deems fit is nonsense.

We should care for the poor. Our hearts should drive us to meet needs and meet needs in an appropriate manner. Those with more ought to see their blessing as the opportunity to give more. Some do: read The Generosity Factor by Ken Blanchard. Yet Christian life originates from the heart, not from outside force.

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