When we get going, the opposition is more than just a little ordinary.
The fundamental nature of Christianity is that it is a seeking religion. While we see God as holy, righteous, loving, merciful, and just; mankind as fallen and needing a Saviour; the Earth as our stewardship; and all fellow believers as equal before God Almighty, the right view of our religious behavior is to be seeking.
First of all, seeking God. Why? Not because He hasn’t already found us but because He has. That sounds odd, but it’s an accurate depiction of much of Biblical religion: man seeks more about God after God has sought out man. Start with Eden—God comes looking for Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 and then Cain and Abel seek God through sacrifice in Genesis 4. John puts it more bluntly: “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19). We act in response to God’s actions.
Second, we seek our fellow believers. My own denomination has an emphasis on starting churches, but it’s one I find slightly misdirected. Truly maturing disciples of Jesus willfully and cheerfully seek other believers to have fellowship with on a regular basis. Admittedly that can be hard, and this is where a church planting effort belongs, in trying to facilitate meeting that need. Yet if you find you have no desire to be around people who share your faith in Christ, something is not right.
Finally, though, we seek unbelievers. Some religions exclude unbelievers. Some isolate from unbelievers. Some execute or intimidate unbelievers (and there are terrible periods in Christian history that we have done such).
Christianity, as demonstrated in the New Testament, takes no such viewpoint. Rather, we see in Acts 13 (link) exactly what Christianity does: with the support of a home base of believers, willing Christians go forth among unbelievers to seek those who would join with our faith. Coercion is never upheld or suggested as a model for evangelism. In fact, coercion and evangelism are functional antonyms: how can one be forced to accept what is good news? If you deem it good, then will you not accept it rather than be forced to acknowledge it? Few Americans, if any, were forced to acknowledge V-J Day in 1945, but many members of the Japanese Imperial Army had difficulty: defeat was not good news for them.
What we do see, though, in this chapter is this: there are times when the power of God comes into the situation and that may seem coercive. The storyline of this chapter gives us Paul and Barnabas talking with Sergius Paulus, proconsul in Paphos. Except that while these two are talking about the One True God, there’s a man named Elymas who is trying to argue the other direction. Elymas is a magician—and probably not quite just the “rabbit-in-the-hat” kind of magician. More of a “Why yes, Sauron, I’d love to use one of those nine nifty rings you have there” kind of magician.
He is working to oppose Paul’s efforts. And Paul:
1. Files a complaint with Roman Civil Liberties Union?
2. Writes a scathing letter to the editor?
3. Forms a counter-protest group and wears a snippy button?
4. Posts his angst with old religion on Face-Scroll for all to see?
5. Prays for God to deal with it, and reports the results to Elymas?
If you read your chapter, you know it’s number 5. God strikes Elymas with blindness for a time. Paul carries on the mission, going forward after persuading Sergius Paulus of the truth about Jesus.
What do we learn?
That God is concerned that the truth be proclaimed and that His people go out and seek those who will come. That God is not only capable but willing to work in prevention and protection of the message of the Gospel. That sometimes God works in ways that are not quite what we would expect.
And that we should focus on proclamation and prayer, and leave the protection and provision to be divinely guided. He is capable of handling those actions—and our goal is not to survive in the first place. It is to walk with Christ.
Today’s Nerd Note: Take a look at Paul’s sermon in this chapter. It is preached to a primarily Jewish audience, and as such focuses on their history and how God worked their history toward the redemption in Christ that Paul preached.
Now, think forward: certainly the history that we find in the Old Testament is relevant to our preaching and proclamation in these days, but what else should we consider on point? There are two ways to see both Peter and Paul’s sermons in the book of Acts. One is that they only used Scripture, and so should we.
The other is that they used Scripture, certainly, but that they also used what was the history of their own people is relevant. We should therefore consider using what we know of our own history and the history of the audience in teaching and preaching. Not introduce historical debate, such as whether or not there was a conspiracy/cover-up over the Kennedy assassination (there was), but the fairly clear facts: Pearl Harbor, The Space Shuttle, The Civil War, Civil Rights, and various things that definitely happen. Then there’s locally: the drought of 1980 or the floods of 08 are important.
This idea calls us to not only know Scripture but know people. It also calls us to apply our understanding not only to what happened in the long past, but in our own past.