James 5:1-6 Run from the love of Riches

Tonight, I have the honor of preaching at Red Oak Church in Andrews, NC Red Oak Church

The passage is James 5:1-6 in continuing Red Oak’s study through James. These notes are intended for Red Oak and anyone who listens to the recording of the sermon so that they can follow along.

Thank you guys for having me!

James 5:1-6

Run from the Love of Riches!

Context

James has been called “the proverbs of the New Testament”.

James reminds Christians how to live.

James is a practical outworking of saving faith in Jesus.

James is full of “faith that works”.

Personally, James is refreshing because I am growing more and more weary of a subculture that accumulates more and more knowledge with very little output, and James calls that subculture to repentance through action, first, recognizing that faith/the accumulation of more spiritual food without works is dead. Second, James calls us repentance by calling on God’s people to act.

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine  and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, an it fell, and great was the fall of it.” Matthew 7:24-27

Many a faith has been shipwrecked not because of hearing the words of the Lord but by not doing the words of the Lord.

The answer to the question of how to grow in faith is not second, third and fourth bible studies to learn more but the practice of what we already know becoming practice thus turning theory into rock hard experiential fact as we experience the Lord being faithful just like we learned in bible study that he would be.

A tested faith is a faith more precious than gold (1 Peter 1:6-7). An untested faith that continues to pile up untested information may result in an epic crash and burn.

James forces us to act on what we have come to believe to be true. 

What truth does our passage today hold up that we must obey?

Our Passage Today: James 5:1-6

Run From the Love of Riches!

James 5:1-6 takes a “fire hammer” to the love of riches.

“Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord. I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed! ’ How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart, who think to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, even as their fathers forgot my name for Baal? Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the Lord. Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who steal my words from one another. Behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who use their tongues and declare, ‘declares the Lord. ’ Behold, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, declares the Lord, and who tell them and lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or charge them. So they do not profit this people at all, declares the Lord.” – Jeremiah 23:23-32

James has just finished challenging the notion that the more affluent folks (particularly those alluded to already in 1:9-11 and 2:5-7) should presume to go and set up a business and make a profit when they don’t even know what tomorrow may bring (see 4:13-17).

Note: James is not rebuking good planning.

James is addressing some folks in the mix of the people of God who are not believers and have made riches their god and have ran over the people of God and caused those folk’s financial demise.

James’ message here “…is aimed at his wealthy, non-believing countrymen (Remember, James is a Jew and this book’s primary audience is the Christian Jewish population that is dispersed 1:1 among the nations. Much apostolic work began in synagogues and the mixing of followers of Jesus and adherents to Judaism was common until the Christians were persecuted and expelled.) who were exploiting the poor, many of whom were in the church (see 5:4, and if they were not in the church why is he addressing them in his letter to the church?). Specifically, James’ targets were wealthy farmers who owned large tracts of land and were squeezing everyone and everything for profit…James’ message is also meant to steel his people (the church) against such folly.” In other words, James wants the church to not be lured into the love of riches.

So, the message is aimed at unbelieving Jews mixed in the church who have taken advantage of believing Jews in the church.

The message must also be aimed at wealthier Christians who may make distinctions in the fellowship around poverty and riches (see 2:5-7 regarding the poor man either being made to sit at a rich man’s feet or stand while they give the rich man a seat).

The message is also aimed at Christians in general to keep them from making riches their god and thus evidencing they are truly not regenerate, alive, saved, transformed.

So, there are none who can escape the “fire hammer” of the word regarding the love of riches.

What do we see in James 5:1-6 and what does it mean?

What does James command and warn about?

1. James Commands Those Who Love Riches to Come and “Weep” and “Howl” at the Terror of Judgement Coming on Them 5:1

Verse 1 is a command.

This is a command to come and literally shriek and howl in anticipation of the misery of judgment coming for those who love riches.

“Howl” is an onomatopoeia. Saying the word “howl” the way it’s pronounced is to be like the actual sound of one “howling” in terror at the judgment coming.

Not pleasant.

James invites the guilty to come and peak into the devastation of hell for those who love riches over God and experience the awfulness of it.

We can’t see this as anything other than a warning and an opportunity to repent before they meet the King in eternity or taste his vengeance for their sin in this life.

Romans 12:19-21 “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

God can and will bring vengeance on those who have harmed his people. 

2. Do not hoard because it’s an indicator who / what you worship 5:2-3

The whole idea here is that they have take up, through sinful activity (see v. 4), more than they need and it’s rotting and wasting to their condemnation.

What is the difference between “hoarding” and “saving”?

One hoards what they treasure to an overabundance. It’s a heart issue and its an amount issue. Because it’s a heart issue it leads to an overabundance issue.

One saves what can be a useful tool for greater ends in the future and only what is needed because it’s a tool not a treasure.

A “hoarder” values what is hoarded. The “hoarded” is the end.

A “saver” values the end for which what is “saved” can achieve.

These guys have not saved. They have hoarded and done so at the expense of God’s people.

3. The Lord hears the cries of his people who have been defrauded 5:4 

The language of verse 4 reminds us of the blood of Abel crying out from the ground against Cain and the cries of the Lord’s people in Egypt being heard by the Lord in such a way that he responds to rescue his people.

The intentional withholding of what is due through deception is a grievous evil that took root in the heart of one who loved riches more than truth.

4. Beware of self-indulgence that feeds sin 5:5

The one’s who love riches have indulged at the expense of the poor.

The reference to the “day of slaughter” has connection to verse 6 in which the person’s defrauded are left without any sustainable way of caring for themselves and thus will die.

This, James calls the “day of slaughter”.

It is in this day that those who love riches have made their “bank”. They have profited at the expense of God’s people who happen to be economically impoverished.

5. Do Not “Murder” 5:6

James is referring here to “judicial murder”. This is where one takes away the means of another making a living.

“He is not speaking of literal murder, for the Greek term translated ‘condemned’ indicates that the courts are involved. Nor does he mean that the righteous were executed. He is probably thinking of lawsuits in which the rich took away the wages or land of the poor. Left without adequate resources, the poor Christians starved or, weakened by poor food, died of diseases.”

The land owning “gentry” controlled the courts, and therefore the poor man could not “resist”, as James says at the end of verse 6.

Basically, do not leave image bearing people without the dignified opportunity to work and reap from their labor for survival and thriving while you/others/institutions make bank or advance personal cause.

To force someone into a place where they can’t provide for themselves is, according to the text of Scripture, murder. 

What do we do with this? What application do we make?

1. Be resolved to love God not riches. Be resolved to save not hoard. 

We have to take a deep and honest look at our motivations and ends.

 

Jesus was clear on this subject.

Luke 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops? ’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be? ’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.

Luke 12:22-34

And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens:they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Matthew 6:19-24

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

Mark 4:19

“…but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.”

2. Never advance ourselves, our businesses, or our ministries at the cost of people. 

3. Money is not evil and having lots of it is not sin (Abraham, Job, Josiah, Philemon, Joseph of Arimathea and Lydia), but we must resist money as our end rather than a means to God’s ends. 

This is hard. 

Mark 10:23-27 (10:17-22 sets up 10:23-27 with the rich young man who went away sad because he loved his riches more than Jesus.)

“And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

4. Beware of a desire to gain riches, even if the desire is noble on the front end.

1 Timothy 6:9-10

“But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”

5. We must have discernment to know our times and speak prophetically to systems that advance on the poverty of image bearing men, women and children as James did.

Matthew 16:1-4

“And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red. ’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening. ’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.”

6. Read: “When Helping Hurts” – Corbett and Fikkert and “The Poverty of Nations” – Grudem

Learn about sustainable, Christian endeavors to build sustainable prosperity among those who need it.

7. We have to begin to make sense out of Leviticus 19:9-10, Leviticus 23:22, Deuteronomy 24:19-22.

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner:I am the Lord your God.”

“And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner:I am the Lord your God.”

“When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this.”

8. Pray for discernment on how to personally and corporately obey the Word.

9. Trust in the Lord to be gracious and help us to repent if we need to and to be gracious to keep us from the love of riches in the first place and rest in the powerful justifying work of the cross. 

Acts 8:1-25 Kingdom Advance to New Frontiers

Acts 8:1-25
Kingdom Advance to New Frontiers

NOTE: SUNDAY POSTS ARE INTENDED TO BE USED ALONG WITH THE SERMON. IF YOU MISSED THE SERVICE, YOU CAN FOLLOW THE NOTES AS YOU LISTEN ALONG JUST LIKE YOU WERE THERE. http://www.threeriversc.org/#/sermon-audio

Remember, the testimonies of the Lord are a treasure to us. They teach us what to expect and how to proceed.

Acts is loaded with the testimonies of the Lord’s work to advance his kingdom.

As we are engaged in the work of the kingdom, let’s keep looking to the text to inform our work and expectations!

Acts 1:8 is our framework for Acts as a narrative but also for Jesus’ plan for his church in these early years.

Jesus will be worshiped among all nations. The framework of Acts is based on the Lord’s words about the “how to” of the mission Jesus gave them.

“You will be my witnesses…”

Jesus didn’t tell them exactly, with minute details in Acts 1:8, how the “how to” would come about, but he did tell them what to expect before his death, burial and resurrection.

So, the methods of the kingdom were no surprise.

The Spirit was going to use difficulty and challenges to advance the kingdom to new frontiers, use normal Spirit empowered folks, confront spiritual strongholds and break fallen cultural barriers that cannot exist in the kingdom (outline of the sermon!).

In order to lead us into our first observation, listen to what Bob Roberts says about persecution / opposition:
“When we experience persecution (or at least opposition), God accomplishes three important goals in our lives: 1. The difficulty clarifies our beliefs, passions, and loyalties. We can stop and ask ourselves, ‘What do I really believe about God, about my purpose in life, and about the people who are harassing me? Do I really believe Jesus died on the cross for Muslims, gays, inner-city black men, immigrants, and any others who might easily be written off? Do I believe Jesus loves them as much as he loves me? Do I believe it enough to die for Jesus, to suffer for him, or at least to be inconvenienced for him? 2. Opposition purifies our hearts by burning off the impurities of selfishness, pride, and irrational fear. Heartache has a way of cutting through the surface layers of our lives to expose our true desires. Do we really want God and his kingdom more than anything in the world…?” 3. Struggles can propel multiplication in a congregation, as hearts are opened for people who were formerly outside their comfort zones…”

So, what do we see in our text today?

Observations: What do we see/What does it mean?
1. Persecution is a mobilizing instrument in God’s providential hands to export the kingdom rule of Jesus to new frontiers 8:1-4

Persecution is nothing more and nothing less than God’s kingdom and God’s people clashing with Satan’s people and Satan’s petty kingdom.

The hard thing is that due to the fall we are having to invade enemy held territory.

What do we do with this?
1. Believe that the course of history is in the hands of King Jesus.
Revelation 1:4-5 “Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.”

2. Believe that Jesus delights in saving the hardest of the hard, like Saul, who he will transform into Paul. This will lead to you loving and serving those who are enemies and praying for your enemies just like Jesus said to do.

3. Believe that God can use hardship to mobilize his people to multiply and make disciples.

4. Don’t wait for difficulty to preach he gospel wherever you are.

5. Embrace hardship as a grace filled opportunity to know and grow in the Lord not as an anomaly that is to be gotten through to greater blessing. The hardship is a blessing.

Philippians 1:10 “…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

6. Know that the church may be entering a time of difficulty in the west.
http://www.nationalreview.com/article/436380/religious-liberty-threatened-california-new-law-gender-identity

We may be facing times when to uphold what we believe are biblical standards will cost us something.

7. We have to learn how to operate in the public square without compromising the Scriptures.
– This will require backbone, courage, resolve, conviction, winsomeness, kindness, gentleness, love of enemies.

2. Philip, a normal guy, goes to the outcasts (Samaritans) and the power of the kingdom is put on display in his ministry as evidence of Jesus’ kingdom rule 8:5-8, 12

1. Philip is a normal guy not a ministry professional.

2. The persecution made opportunity for Philip to engage Samaritans.

3. Philip preached, people saw powerful signs, they listened, they believed and followed Jesus in baptism.

What do we do with this?

1. Believe the kingdom does not need superheroes. The gospel of the kingdom is powerful.

2. Know all of us have access to the powerful gospel of the kingdom and filling of the powerful Holy Spirit.

3. Realize that signs and wonders are not the point. Rather, signs and wonders are by-products of the kingdom taking enemy held territory.

4. All of us are vehicles for supernatural kingdom work. Don’t look for the flashy, just engage your domain, make disciples and have eyes that see and ears that hear to see the miraculous.

3. Fake conversions really happen and must be dealt with prophetically as Satan fights against Jesus’ kingdom rule 8:9-13, 18-24

The kingdom is taking enemy held territory and that comes with spiritual battles.

Bob tells a story about a pastor in India in “Lessons from the East”:
“Very often, when we hold a gospel meeting, a demon possessed person comes to the front of our meeting and dances. This is a direct challenge to God’s authority in front of all people. We have to drive off the evil spirit immediately. Unless people realize the power of the Holy Spirit, they will not understand that our God is more powerful than the evil spirits.”

As we make disciples we can expect some that are not real and some that challenge the authority of God, bible, the church and simply refuse to obey God.

The section on Simon is introduced with a “But”. This indicates a departure from the other joyous converts in the city.

Simon practiced magic.

Simon said that he was someone who was great.

Simon had a following.

Simon was thought of as powerful and even thought of as the power of God that was great.

Simon not only had a following but he had power over people. The people paid attention to him.

People hear about the rule of Jesus (Philip preached about the good news of the kingdom of God and Jesus’ powerful name v. 12) and they believed and were baptized.

Simon sees that his crowd and power are gone.

He has a competitor in Philip. He better try and keep up with the new act in town.

So, Simon “believes” and is “baptized” along with everyone else.

Jesus was used as a vehicle for keeping power, so why not follow this majority trend and hold on to as much power as one possibly can?

(Simon is presented here as a magician. And he is. I’m convinced that much of our “magic” in the post-Christian south is the lie that we and our ends are more vital than God and his kingdom and we use the gospel to sooth our consciences and give us a fake assurance we won’t go to hell so that we can feel good about doing what we want and then running to the church to make it all better when all falls apart.)

Simon then tries to buy the ability to manipulate the Holy Spirit.

Simon misunderstands, because he is not a follower of Jesus.

He thinks the power to “summon” the Spirit lies within the apostles.

He doesn’t know that the Spirit moves as he wills (John 3) and that the Spirit is giving evidence to the apostles of his inclusion of the Samaritans into the kingdom and their equal status with Jews.

Simon just wants the power.

The apostles have to rebuke him quite harshly. Simon was in bitterness, probably for losing his magic business and crowd and he was bound up in sin (v. 23).

Simon gives his motives away when he requests they pray that nothing terrible happen to him rather than repenting (v. 24).

What do we do with this?

1. We are going to have to deal with people who are into Jesus for what they can get out of Jesus rather than the surrender of themselves, their agenda and everything to Jesus.

2. We are going to have to discern the difference between people who use Jesus for power and those who truly follow Jesus and be careful to keep ourselves in a position to speak prophetically to them.

This situation sounds much like our political landscape. Being a Christian is a good instrument in the hands of people wanting to gain, maintain or expand power.

The apostles saw through Simon’s antics and rebuked his sin.

Many today practice “Simony” (playing for power and influence for selfish gain) and “Christian” leaders follow “Simon” rather than prophetically rebuking the “Simony” practices of “Simons”.

4. The gospel of the kingdom makes peace between former enemies and is witnessed to by Jews laying hands on Samaritans and the Spirit being given to display the equality of Samaritans and Jews in the kingdom 8:14-17, 25

The Spirit is not channeled by the apostles laying on of hands. The Spirit is given through the laying on of hands.

The apostles learn that the Samaritans had not received the Spirit. So, they lay hand on them, as is custom to do when praying for someone, and through human touch (which no good Jew would do to a Samaritan) the Spirit is given.

This is key!

It’s not a prescription for a second work of the Spirit, this Samaritan Pentecost. It is evidence given to the apostles that the Kingdom makes two formerly separate people into one new people.

The gospel of the kingdom makes peace between former enemies…
Ephesians 2:11-22
“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

Acts 10:44-48 Makes it clear
“While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.”

What do we do with this?

1. The gospel of the kingdom is to go to all nations not just our own and we must expect this and make provision for this.

2. Recognize that distinctions within the kingdom are sin and we must not make them.

3. Anticipate and prepare for integration of those God brings into his kingdom who are not like us on the outside.

5. Worship
Acts 8:8 “So there was much joy in that city.”

The gospel of the kingdom saves. Saved people are people liberated from death. That comes with much joy.

Worship, whether from the depths of despair or the mountain tops of elation, is produced form a joy that we have been rescued from the domain of darkness and death and transferred to the kingdom of the Son.

So, worship is the only joyous and fitting response for citizens of the kingdom.

Acts 6:8-7:60 Kingdom Advance Through Wisdom, Prophetic Words and Dying Well

Acts 6:8-7:60

Kingdom Advance Through Wisdom, Prophetic Words and Dying Well

NOTE: SUNDAY POSTS ARE INTENDED TO BE USED ALONG WITH THE SERMON. IF YOU MISSED THE SERVICE, YOU CAN FOLLOW THE NOTES AS YOU LISTEN ALONG JUST LIKE YOU WERE THERE. http://www.threeriversc.org/#/sermon-audio

Remember, Acts 1:8 is our framework.

We will be Jesus’ witnesses from the home base to the end of the earth.

The Spirit has navigated the church through receiving the empowering Spirit,

-an influx of 3,000 new followers of Jesus that had to be discipled,

-healing lame beggars,

-questioning about one’s motives and intentions in healing,

-sharing their resources,

-an internal and intentional threat to unity through deception,

-signs and wonders, imprisonment, supernatural escape, beating, a little civil disobedience

-and the drawing of distinctions with an intentional response to preserve unity.

Now, the kingdom will encounter it’s worst violence in the narrative as a Spirit filled and wise servant of the church named Stephen will perform signs and wonders and preach the gospel and refute the push back through the work of the Spirit to give him wisdom and power and prophetic application and dying well.

Stephen is going to show us how to live well, speak prophetically on point, and die well.

Observation 1: What do we see/what does it mean?

Stephen lived well in service and in kingdom power 6:8-15

1. Stephen was a servant appointed to bring about unity, thus well thought of by others 6:1-7

2. Stephen was full of grace and power 6:8

3. Stephen was doing “great wonders and signs” 6:8

Signs and wonders accompanied the preaching of the gospel in Acts. Luke does not have to tell us Stephen was preaching the gospel. That is what he’d been tasked to do.

Signs and wonders came because the Spirit was bearing witness to the gospel of the kingdom.

4. Stephen was opposed by the spiritual powers that be 6:9

Synagogue of the Freedmen: “Members of a Jewish synagogue in Jerusalem (Acts 6:9), descended from Jews who had been captured and taken to Rome by the general Pompey (106–48 b.c.), then later released. Pompey found that the Jews adhered so strictly to their religious and national customs that they were worthless as slaves. Not all the freedmen returned to Jerusalem; some stayed in Rome. In the time of the Roman writer Pliny, a freedman was described as a “mean commoner.” The freedmen derived their name from a Latin term for one manumitted, or the son of such a former slave.”

5. Stephen, under the influence of the Spirit, was not beatable 6:10

6. Stephen was treated like Jesus 6:11-14

Their treatment of Stephen parallels the way the Jewish leaders treated Jesus. First, they hired false witnesses to testify against him. Then, they stirred up the people who accused him of attacking the Law of Moses and the temple (the land is part of the accusation since the temple sits on the land and Stephen addresses that first). Finally, after listening to his witness, they executed him (see Matt. 26:59–62; John 2:19–22).

7. The Lord bears witness to what Stephen was about to do in giving him a “shining face” like Moses as he is about to uncover their idolatry of the land, the law of Moses and the temple.

It was not even necessary for Stephen to speak in order to give witness, for the very glow on his face told everybody that he was a servant of God. Certainly the members of the Sanhedrin would recall Moses’ shining face (Ex. 34:29–30). It was as though God was saying, “This man is not against Moses! He is like Moses—he is My faithful servant!”

What do we do with this?

1. Strive to be a follower of Jesus who is worthy of appointment to service, ready, available, gracious and powerful in the Spirit.

Powerful ministry starts with humble service.

No “ministry leader” worth their salt ever started in leadership but started under authority and learned to serve first.

2. Preach the gospel every opportunity you have.

3. Expect opposition and expect to be treated like Jesus.

Expectation is an application. There are things Jesus taught us to expect. He taught us to expect him to answer prayer offered in his name (in concert with his mission and reputation, expect faith in Jesus to be powerful to even move what some think immovable)

4. Expect the Lord’s empowerment of kingdom labor.

Observation 2: What do we see/what does it mean?

Stephen speaks prophetically to Jewish idols and rebukes their unbelief before the kingdom expands to the Samaritans and the Gentiles of the world 7:1-60

Stephen’s powerful testimony would be the climax of the church’s witness to the Jews. Then the message would go out to the Samaritans and then to the Gentiles.

TO KEEP IN MIND: Judaism as the relationship between God and his people predated the temple, the law and even the land of Israel; all of these were expressions of Judaism rather than its core.

THE PEOPLE’S PROBLEM IS THAT THEY GRABBED ONTO THE EXPRESSION IN THAT SEASON OF THE MISSION AS THE CORE AND SERVED THE EXPRESSION RATHER THAN THE GOD WHO GAVE THEM THE EXPRESSION AND SEASON.

IDOLS ARE GOOD THINGS THAT WE TURN INTO GOD THINGS AND PUT FLESH TO AND THAT MAKES THEM BAD THINGS.

1. Idol 1: The Land 7:1-36

The land was to be a launching point for the mission to the nations with evidence of God’s mercy and grace for all to see (Genesis 12:1-3).

The land became something to hoard rather than something to supply mission and invite others to come and see.

God’s greatest works happened outside of the land (see the Exodus).

2. Idol 2: The Law of Moses 7:37-43

The law as to be a teacher to lead folks to the one like Moses (Jesus) who would teach them all of God’s truth (Galatians 3:24ff).

The law became something to control people rather than reveal a Savior/King who would reveal God’s glory to us.

3. Idol 3: The Temple 7:44-50

The temple was to be a “come and see” landmark for the nations (see the Queen of Sheba) to know the Lord.

2 Chronicles 6:32-33, Solomon’s prayer of dedication for the temple: “Likewise, when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for the sake of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm, when he comes and prays toward this house, hear from heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name.”

4. The Rebuke 7:51-53

This transition in thought would probably flunk most public speaking classes. It’s a bit rough and seemingly unwarranted.

“Stephen had become a bit strident, but rightfully so. Similarly, in a later era George Whitefield preached to a New England church three evenings in a row on ‘You must be born again.’ the message was so vigorous that the elders finally came to him and asked, ‘Mr. Whitefield, why do you keep preaching, ‘You must be born again’?’ Whitefield responded, ‘Because you must be born again!’ Stephen wanted to get his message across: You have sinned – you need a Savior.

Transitions be darned. Idols needed uncovering and they needed to repent.

What do we do with this?

1. Know your culture well enough to speak prophetically to it!

Part of the prophet’s job is to rebuke knowledge contrary to God.

See Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Micaiah (1 Kings 22).

2. Speak boldly for the sake of the King and his Kingdom.

What are some of our idols?

1. Children

Children are arrows to extend the mission (Psalm 127:3-4) not objects of over done affection that become dulled, weak and can no longer be launched.

In order to sharpen to a point and edge there has to be friction. Rough edges have to be ground off and done so carefully but skillfully and intentionally. 

Likewise our children have to be trained to be sharp and pointed arrows that are made so with skillful, careful and intentional strokes. 

Comfort, lack of discipline, improper rescue, lack of concern for others first makes sticks for warming ourselves by a fire and making “smores” not implements for advancing the kingdom.

2. Community without the Kingdom

We like being together with like-minded people (like-minded in similar idol worship). We don’t like being on mission, in covenant with, and accountable to a group who are submitted to Jesus, his church and his global mission of being worshiped by all peoples.

3. Super informed faith with no actions

Faith without works.

Classroom orthodoxy field heresy (these condemn practitioners but do nothing to test their learning).

Many bible studies zero bible practices (this is like the person who watches football and has never practiced football…talkshow guys).

Observation 3: What do we see/what does it mean?

 Stephen dies well v. 54-60

1. The leadership did not receive the prophetic word with repentant hearts.

2. They were enraged (literally “cut to the heart” but not in a good way).

3. “Being full of the Holy Spirit”

“huparcho pleres” Two words to make one idea, a participle and an adjective, describing in one one word Stephen’s existence, “FULL”.

Stephen was not filled with the Spirit. He was full when he got there!

4. The Spirit revealed a heavenly scene, perhaps to make the hardship about to be entered a bit more appealing.

5. Jesus stands in honor of the death of his prophet/servant.

Psalm 116:15 “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”

6. They kill him.

7. Saul witnesses Stephen’s death but not before he heard the prophetic words that would have great effect later on.

What do we do with this?

1. Don’t always expect that everyone will receive prophetic words.

2. Live life full of the Spirit. Don’t only go after fullness when stuff is going in the toilet.

3. Know that Jesus honors the sacrifice of his people.

4. Know your suffering for the kingdom is not wasted. It can have great effect on those who witness us suffer well. (See Saul who becomes Paul)

Worship 

Psalm 147:1 “Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.”

A Few Thoughts On Our Current Events

With all that is circulating around our world, our country and our communities in the recent days, months and past year its hard not to notice the unending commentary in 140 characters on Twitter or the famous Facebook “not gonna read the rant on Facebook post because it’s too long for my Facebook purposes this should be a blog” post.

I like Twitter. I don’t like FB so much. Facebook is useful for keeping up with people and occasionally I’ll get sucked into something, but I try to stay above much of the fray. Confession, my FB posts come from connection to my Twitter. Rarely do I actually post something on “the Facebook”.

I have chosen to keep quiet about the shooting, LGBT issues, bathroom issues, Islam etc. because it’s easier to do more harm than good with careless statements and it’s easy to say culturally acceptable and yet dumb things like “prayers to…”, like prayers to anyone other than God are effective (not to mention the Christian necessity to make sure prayers are to God through the mediation of Jesus Christ by the power of the Spirit). But that’s another post for another day.

It’s easy to find oneself caught in the place of feeling the need to say something but not wanting to be dumb. Hey, I’m not one to fail to say hard things, and I’m always open to critique and correcting myself if wrong. But I can only do that with people who are of my faith and worldview. If I inject something careless into the world of information that affects my ability to speak into the lives of those outside of my faith then I’ve failed really badly and I can’t undo what I’ve done.

First, dear Christian, don’t cut off your ability to witness to the gospel by the power of God because of stupid social media posts that really are minimally effective anyway. Really, who reads my posts beyond a few? It may just be my narcissistic desire to be heard and feel important. Do I want to cut off my ability to witness to the gospel for narcissistic ends? No. I don’t. So, it’s better to appear wise in silence than to remove all doubt by opening my mouth.

Second, it’s wise to remember the winsomeness of Jesus when he dealt with folks who were sinners and the fire and prophetic awesomeness he brought when dealing with the spiritually “in”. I noticed posts going around that “Christians” were re-posting where some pastor on the Hannity show “destroyed” Islam and the Imam who was also on the show as he ranted against Islam etc. There is no doubt huge distinctions between Christians and Muslims and we both are not right. But ranting on and seeking to “destroy” the other for whom Jesus died is not quite the way. Maybe have a quiet meal with the Imam at a place of his choice and talk about our differences and share the gospel and trust the Spirit to do the work Jesus said he would do.

I’d say that kind of ranting should be reserved for the fool who calls the name Jesus and rejects Jesus by his actions (see Stephen in Acts 7 as he tore down the sacred cows of Judaism of land, law and temple).

Third, remember that evangelism is ongoing with with Muslims, people from the LGBT community and other segments of the population and somethings are just not helpful. Default to being wronged in public if necessary for the sake of the salvation of others. Why not rather be wronged than created havoc and turn people away before they actually get to hear the message that needs to do the offending. The gospel will offend plenty without us having to offend unnecessarily on the front end. I have people I am working with and have worked with in these camps and I desperately want them to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus and want to see them transformed by the gospel and what a shame it would be to cut that off through useless banter that has no good end. I have friends from all over the spectrum and all over the world who follow me on social media and I have had to learn and am still learning how to not loose gospel opportunity through social media folly. It can happen and does far too often. That’s a shame.

Fourth, don’t forget that our political seasons should be a reminder to us who belong to the Kingdom of God that we don’t have any representative who truly represents the Kingdom of God and the system, although the finest in the world (my biased opinion), is not the Kingdom and will never be the the Kingdom and the future of the church does not hinge on who becomes president. Who becomes president may be an indicator of our judgment or God’s grace, but the church won’t loose, the Kingdom will advance and people will be won to faith in Christ. The Kingdom does not hinge on temporary political movements. See Stephen Neill’s “The History of Christian Missions”. Nothing will stop the Kingdom of God. So, don’t build your reputation on your voting preferences. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness. True, we are given a political system that God has ordained for us to have at this point in time (Romans 13), and it is broken (Genesis 3), and we have to do the best with what we have (vote 1 of 2 or write in a candidate or sit it out or whatever), but our future in the Kingdom is not tied to our future as a nation. The church is doing fine in other less free places and she will continue to do fine here. As a matter of fact, less freedom, more difficulty and decrease in nominalism in the faith will show us who is really in and who is fake (See Hebrews 10). That’s not so bad. Is Jesus really worth it? We’ll find out who thinks so.

Fifth, don’t be afraid to call out what are the inconsistencies in everyone’s position including media, Christian, Muslim, LGBT, etc. Good public debate demands that we recognize the issues in play and how they are presented and the bias and folly with which many are presented. But do this with honor and respect (1 Peter 3:15-17) so that we can’t be accused of wrong among those who need to be saved and escape the snare of the evil one. Also, do this in person. It’s more honoring, we are less likely to be misunderstood and evangelism opportunities abound in person when we are willing to meet with and discuss what is right with others who think differently. This takes humility, skill, wisdom and the Holy Spirit’s great help. Try it out. We’ll find better unity among Christians, more dialogue about Jesus with others outside the faith and may just find Jesus to be at work in ways that make our faith increase.

Here are some worthy reads that express winsomeness and some black and white observations of the chaos swirling around.

Just be, as the Lord said, “shrewd as a serpent and innocent as a dove.”

Dr. Russell Moore

Douglas Wilson

 

Acts 6:1-7 Kingdom Advance Through Intentional Unity

Acts 6:1-7

Kingdom Advance Through Intentional Unity

NOTE: SUNDAY POSTS ARE INTENDED TO BE USED ALONG WITH THE SERMON. YOU CAN FOLLOW THE NOTES AS YOU LISTEN ALONG JUST LIKE YOU WERE THERE. http://www.threeriversc.org/#/sermon-audio

The narrative of Acts is the historical account of the advance of the gospel of the kingdom from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria and to the ends of the earth.

Acts tells us the story of how the Spirit fuels the advance of the rule of Jesus over people and nations.

So much of Acts is descriptive of what the Spirit did and gives us “testimonies” that are worthy of imitation and they teach us what to expect as well as provide us opportunity to worship the Lord for his marvelous ways of loving his people and advancing the work through our work to the nations.

Our passage today, Acts 6:1-7, is less about the establishment of an office of the church (deacon ministry) and more about how the church encountered challenge associated with growth and how the Spirit moved in power to build unity and keep the work advancing.

Some may disagree that this passage is not about the establishment of “deacons”. There is room for that. But we can’t disagree that this passage’s primary thrust is how the church dealt with a serious challenge to unity and how unity was preserved and the results of a unified church in advancing the kingdom of Jesus.

This passage is about intentionally preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3).

So, let’s look at how the church met a threat to unity with some intentionality. 

Observation 1: What do we see/What does it mean?

1. Growth Can Increase Complaining 6:1

The kingdom of God is increasing in spite of the persecution that has come on it.

The disciples response to the persecution has brought about the increase in the number of disciples.

An increase in saints with still ingrained sinful tendencies does not mean a decrease in sin.

Rather an increase in saints with ingrained sinful tendencies means an increase in sinful behavior and opportunity.

The Word “complaint” is a a word that means “murmur” or “grumble against”. This word carries the idea of an undercurrent or undercover talking.

1. Growth can increase murmuring.

Situations where growth happens often provide opportunity for grumblers or malcontents to murmur.

2. How one handles growth is vital. (Vision/Values that create the culture will expel grumbling)

What do we do with this?

1. Expect any growth to create opportunities for complaint.

Complaining against people.

Complaining against vision.

Complaining because some people are just complainers.

2. Expect to handle complaint appropriately as the church did in Acts 6:1-7

I don’t think this passage is prescribing any methodology. Rather this passage is describing how the whole church responded in grace to a real challenge to it’s unity. 

3. Don’t allow complaining to advance. Kill it.

Complaining has nothing to do with truth. Rather most complaining has something to do with “druthers” or opinions or selfish desires.

If there is a real issue, Scripture gives us either outright instructions on handling sin and principles on handling other non-sin issues. 

Observation 2: What do we see/What does it mean?

2. The Problem in Acts 6:1-7 was Legitimate but the Complaining was Not Legitimate 6:1

The Hellenist widows are being overlooked while the Hebrew widows are not in the daily distribution of food.

This is an instance where a minority is being looked over in favor of the majority.

Hellenists were Greek speaking Jews who were looked down on because they had been “Greekified” by Alexander’s process of making a unified world for him to rule over. The Greek world was thought superior.

Hebrews were those who rejected the “Greekified” culture for a distinctly “Hebrew” culture.

Hebrews in this instance were considered by some the “more spiritually right” while the Hellenists were thought less of.

We don’t know how widows were being cared for.

What we can know from the text is that they are being given food and someone is giving it out or delivering it. We just don’t know how the ministry was happening.

It is more than likely not a willful sin issue of intentional neglect.

Regardless of the situation, there was a potential issue that could rip apart unity in the fellowship because rather than ask a good question and make the need known they began to “complain” / “murmur” / “grumble against” in the dark. 

A legitimate problem was not addressed properly by the people and that turned into complaining. 

What do we do with this?

1. It is everyone’s job to obey Jesus not just the “leadership”.

2. Matthew 18:15-20 gives us an individual framework for dealing with sin. (Not trying to read this onto the text, just as a matter of dealing with instances where sin is evident and needing to be dealt with by the individual)

Observation 3: What do we see/What does it mean?

3. Unity Destroying Issues Like Drawing Distinctions in the Fellowship Required a Response that Addressed the Entire Church and Divides Responsibilities for Effectiveness 6:2-6

1. When the “leadership” were made aware of the situation that led to the sin of grumbling, they acted swiftly and decisively.

2. Exodus 18:13-23 is the historical framework for dividing responsibilities.

3. It was necessary that the apostles devote themselves to preaching and prayer not serving tables.

“The word “serve” is the common Greek term for service, diakonia. Unfortunately many modern commentators, looking for guidelines for the later office of deacon (cf. Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8–10, 12–13) have used this text to help define that ministry task. However, these are not “deacons”; they are lay ministers/preachers. Only eisegesis can find deacons in Acts 6.”

“This is not a disparaging word about serving, but the beginning of the sensed need for a division of responsibilities among the people of God. These were not offices, but delegated functions. Gospel proclamation must take priority over some needed ministries. The Apostles were uniquely called and qualified for their task. Nothing should take away from that task.”

4. The church was commanded to “pick” seven ministry leaders who had a good reputation, were full of the Holy Spirit and were full of wisdom and they would be appointed oversee the distribution of food to widows.

The word “pick” is in the imperative and it means to examine closely and select.

The “seven” is perhaps from the number seven begin considered “perfect” or “complete” due to the seven days of creation (Genesis 1; Psalm 104).

Numbers 18 gives some historical framework to developing a secondary tier of leadership to help oversee necessary functions.

These chosen leaders are tasked with making sure all widows are taken care of equally and the situation is resolved.

Notice the love here. They selected an all “Hellenistic” crew to address the challenge. Since the “Hellenists” were being overlooked, the mixed fellowship pick an all “Hellenist” crew to fix it. 

That’s showing the one’s slighted that we care more about right and the kingdom culture than we care about our “world cultural heritage”. 

What do we do with this?

1. Let’s all act swiftly and decisively for unity if something threatens our unity.

Jesus’ instruction on living in unity and loving each other is not just for the pastors to manage. It’s instruction to all of us.

We believe in the priesthood of the believer. Therefore, we all have a responsibility to act biblically when unity is challenged.

(This passage is not prescribing that every time something happens that the pastors call a whole church meeting and have the people appoint a task force. This passage is showing us how the apostles engaged the entire church to combat something attacking the unity of the community of the kingdom.)

2. Know that unintentional “slights” will happen in the fellowship some small and some large. Growth will cause this as it’s easy for people to be slighted and easy to fall into cultural tendencies because its our default setting.

2a. Don’t let slights turn into scraps. Ask good questions with a sincere heart to the appropriate person and handle each other in love.

3. Sin against each other will happen in the fellowship. Missing a problem will happen in the fellowship.

3a. Expect people to mess up. There are no perfect people here.

4. How we handle sin and slights will determine whether we intentionally preserve unity and peace or invite division and hostility. 

Matthew 18:15-20 is if we see sin or have been sinned against not if we have a different opinion or way of doing something. It is not an invitation to assault people with one’s opinion every time that opinion or practice is different. People are far to married to non-truth issues than ever before since I’ve been alive. 

If you go speak to a person overtime they look like they have gas and you are offended (hyperbole) you will created in them a wounded heart, suspicious mind and you are then acting in selfishness not in love because is all a bout your peace of mind not theirs. The kingdom is not about you. 

An understanding and generous heart with some teflon skin (don’t take everything personal) and zipped lips (just keep some things to yourself) for differences in conscience and opinion will lead to peace and love. 

5. Ephesians 5:15-21; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-24

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” – Ephesians 5:15-21

“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:12-24

Personal Illustration: One time early on in the life of our church when Gabriel was 2 and John Mark was just born it was hard. I was working multiple jobs. Jennifer was raising two boys and managing apartments to supplement income. John Mark was a premature little fella with some lung issues and Gabe was struggling in the nursery due to some lack of oversight issues that eventually helped us to grow into what is now Radical Kids.

So I’m doing the work of Sunday mornings and my wife is tasked with having a kid scared to go to nursery and a kid with RSV issues from being pre-mature.

Rather than help, someone spoke to another person about my wife and kids being a distraction. and sent that person to ask us to do something about it.

That person would never reveal themselves although we are quite sure we know who it was, therefore rendering any proper dealing with the issue not possible because the person who was sent would be betraying a confidence. That left us suspicious, hurt and that led to tension and bitterness.

Our life situation was not a sin issue, but a life station challenge and no one willing to help. Just some willing to criticize and “complain”.

It has taken 12 years to work through that and get more healthy than we were. All over a non-sin issue.

5. Unity requires intentionality in obeying Jesus, applying wisdom to any and every situation and loving the other as they need to be loved (Matthew 7:12) not as we determine they need to be loved, and that requires effort, knowing each other and deference and submission to each other out of reverence to Christ.

Observation 4: What do we see/What does it mean?

4. The Kingdom Advances 6:7

1. The word of God increased.

2. The disciples multiplied.

3. Priests became obedient to the faith.

What do we do with this?

1. Unity is a key ingredient in the advance of the gospel.

John 13:35 “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

2. Unity will require intentionality.

3. As the Lord gives increase we will need to call you to action and you will need to put forward men and women to do ministry tasks.

4. Pastors, your task is the word and prayer. Disciple men.

Worship

One of the most unifying activities we an engage in is worshiping the Lord in song.

Psalm 147:1 “Praise the LORD! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.”