Tuesday, October 23, 2012

These aren’t the gods you’re looking for: Acts 14

There are times to beat around the bush, give fluffy intros, or tell a quick illustrative humor. Then there are times to come straight to the point.

Today is a straight to the point day. Acts 14 (link) is our next passage going through the whole Bible. We pick up Paul and Barnabas on their missionary endeavors, and find them in Lystra. Through Paul, God heals a man there who had been lame since birth. The witnesses determine that Paul and Barnabas must be “the gods” come down in human form to visit humanity.

Paul and Barnabas then have to put a stop to the people’s attempt to worship the two of them as gods. They are aghast that the people would ascribe to them any of the worship and honor due to God alone.

Without further ado, here are the critical points for us:

1. Worship belongs to God alone. There is no one, nor any being, that deserves any fragment of the worship that God receives.

2. If you are in leadership, there is a consistent pull for people to ascribe to you a respect that goes too far. And it’s incredibly easy to allow it. AND YOU MUST NOT DO SO. While making disciples includes helping people grow in their discernment, as a leader it is your responsibility to not walk into this trap. It’s not set by people, but it is real.

3. If you are someone who considers yourself more a follower than a leader, that is not always a bad thing. However, it is necessary that you learn to not take the worship and honor due God and give it to someone else.

Why does it matter so much?

First of all, it matters because as God’s people we should be concerned about truth. Anything that attempts to deprive God violates the truth. That, on its own, should be adequate.

Second, though, it matters because of human nature. People are born with a sin nature: we are born with a habit of sin, whether we like to admit that or not. Now, how that sinful nature shakes out is a matter of debate and how God counts guilt is also a place of discussion, but the truth remains that people, especially full-grown adult people, have a tendency to do the wrong thing.

That means that when one person acquires more and more power, their capacity to do wrong increases. If you take the power, you increase your temptations. And then bad things happen. Leadership includes putting forth the effort to keep a check on your own weaknesses, your own temptations so as not to put yourself in the midst of a crisis.

Unfortunately, too often we have failed in this regard. It behooves us to push back against that in ourselves. Too push back away from amassing worship that is misguided. It often starts with the best of intentions, but those good intentions then turn into dangerous situations.

Neither can we try and take those mistaken views and use them even for a temporary advantage. Paul and Barnabas could have been sly here and said “Yes, we’re Hermes and Zeus, and we want you to know that Jesus is the way!” Yet we cannot accomplish good ends with wicked means.

In all, we must be very cautious about how we handle leadership within the Christian world. I would argue that we must also be so in the world-at-large. Deifying leaders serves no valid purpose—even doing so just a little.

Today’s Nerd Note: I wonder what we can infer about Paul and Barnabas from the crowds assignment of “Hermes” to Paul and “Zeus” to Barnabas. Certainly we see Luke recount that Paul was doing the talking, and so he was assumed to be the messenger.

However, is there more? Perhaps a bit about relative ages, that Barnabas seemed the older, wiser one?

We cannot go too far, as it is inferring from a brief mention. Yet it does allow the mind to wander.

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