C.S. Lewis

Clive Staples Lewis “Jack”

 

Early in his Christian life, C.S. Lewis (CSL) struggled with the idea that God demands our praise and commands us to give Him glory. However, he soon realized that this “stumbling block” was due to his misconception of God and a misunderstanding of what praise really is. He writes in his book, Reflections on the Psalms,

 

“The most obvious fact about praise—whether of God or anything—strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless …shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game – praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious, minds, praised most, while the cranks, misfits, and malcontents praised least…Except where intolerably adverse circumstances interfere, praise almost seems to be inner health made audible.…I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?” The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about. My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what we indeed can’t help doing, about everything else we value.

 

I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed… If it were possible for a created soul fully… to “appreciate”, that is to love and delight in, the worthiest object of all, and simultaneously at every moment to give this delight perfect expression, then that soul would be in supreme beatitude… The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever”. But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.”

 

While God as our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer certainly deserves our praise, isn’t it amazing again to realize His lovingkindness towards us, as in commanding us to give Him praise, He is offering us the supreme in joy and fullness of life. It makes you want to shout out loud and share the goodness of God with others.

 

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. Isaiah 61:10.[1]

 

This is where we end up with CSL, or as he preferred to be called, Jack.

 

How did this CSL come to be and what are a few truths we can learn from his life?

 

Childhood

 

Born in Belfast, Ireland November 29, 1898.

 

Died November 22, 1963 (same day as JFK was assassinated).

 

Son of Albert James and Florence Augusta Lewis.

 

Brother of Warren Hamilton Lewis (Warnie).

 

WWI Veteran. Wounded in action. Would lose his buddy, Paddy Moore, to combat and would take on the care of Paddy’s mother and sister after the war until Mrs. Moore’s death (she would make fun of his conversation to Christianity when it happened and he still patiently cared for her and loved her as his own mother).

 

Fellow of Magdalen College at Oxford where he tutored English Language and Literature from 1925-1954.

 

Chair of Medieval Literature at Cambridge 1954 until his death.

 

At the age of 4, young Clive Staples Lewis went to his mother and demanded that the family call him “Jacksie”. So the name “Jack” stuck and those who knew him called him “Jack”.

 

He was baptized into the Church of Ireland (which is part of the Anglican Church) at St. Mark’s by his grandfather, who was vicar of the church, on January 29, 1899.

 

The Church Makes Minimal Impact

CSL makes it clear that the Christian teachings he was exposed to as a child at St. Mark’s had little impact on him.[2]

 

“I was taught the usual things and made to say my prayers and in due time taken to church. I naturally accepted what I was told but I cannot remember feeling much interest in it.”[3]

 

CSL lost his mother early as a child to cancer and his father’s faith had little impact on him.

 

This is perhaps due to their (that is Albert and CSL) approaches being vastly different. Albert’s defense of the faith consisted of the “charm of the tradition” and the “verbal beauty of the bible and the prayer book.

 

At the age of 14 CSL talks about becoming an “effective believer”. What he means by that is that he began to seriously pray and read his bible and made attempts to obey his conscience.

 

Don’t let that confuse you. This was an external effort to live with external integrity the things he was told should be done.

 

One of CSL’s traits is that he had to do in habit what he was supposed to be. CSL was radically “consistent”. He sought to do what we said he believed.

 

So he did the practices of Christianity, and they made him better morally, but he would soon abandon this effort. He was not a Christian, and he would tell you that he was not a Christian.

 

Losing his mother to cancer when he was 9 (you see this in Digory Kirk in The Magician’s Nephew when his mom is sick and gets healed by a magic apple from Narnia as opposed to CSL watching his mother die) and a strained relationship with his father was hard and, no doubt, contributed to his hardening spirit.

 

“Lewis explains that when he was 9, he approached God, or rather his idea of God, with neither love, nor awe, nor fear. At this time he did not view God as Savior or even as Judge but merely as a sort of Magician, an entity who, if requested in the proper way – something CSL tried very hard to do – would grant whatever was requested of him. The young CSL expected this genie-like Magician, after having granted the petitioner’s wish, to then go back into his bottle until needed again, allowing life to go on as usual”.[4]

 

So, we are not surprised that at the age of 16 CSL was confirmed at St. Mark’s church and took his first communion although being an atheist and in a state of total disbelief.[5]

 

How did this happen?

Speaking of his systematic religious education he would later say as a Christian, “…Remember how much religious education has exactly the opposite effect to that which was intended” (p. 16).

 

Two reasons for this statement:

First, the boarding school system was, in my words, the law of the jungle.

(Early British Missionaries sent their kids away to boarding schools. As early as the 1960’s, children were being mistreated in missionary boarding schools ex. New Tribe’s Missions)

 

You can see his thoughts on this in the Chronicles when Jill and Eustace are bemoaning the awful social place they find themselves in at school right before entering into Narnia.

 

CSL was often mistreated by either the headmaster (his first school was ran by a madman, for reas) or students in this so called “Christian religious education” mistreated him. There are other passages where CSL bemoans the state of education in the Chronicles. Often he bemoans their ability to teach people the ability to think. Rather they opt for rules and laws.

 

Second, CSL likely is referencing the fact that much of his religious education had little to do with “metaphysics” (the branch of philosophy that deals with the first principles of things, including abstract concepts such as being, knowing, substance, cause, identity, time, and space.). Metaphysics is quite important to Christianity and much of his religious education was on “how to act Christianly” not “what is ultimately true” that will then determine how one needs to act.

 

Being told how he was to feel actually hindered his ability to uniquely feel.

 

He would later write an essay about how he came to first write the “Chronicles of Narnia” and in that essay titled, Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to be Said, “I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralyzed much of my own religion in childhood. Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or about the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation to feel can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did harm. The whole subject was associated with lowered voices, almost as it if were something medical (this reminded him of the hushed conversations he had to try to hear about his mother when she was dying and which is mentions Digory Kirk had to try and make out). But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday School associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency.”[6]

 

In other words, the dressings put on the faith by extra-biblical requirements and cultural trappings could hinder the potency of the faith.

 

CSL was exposed to the gospel as a child, but it was presented in a way that did not communicate its true power, its real potency, and so paralyzed his religious development for a long time.[7]

 

As stated, by the time CSL is 16 he has become an atheist.

 

Much of this can be attributed to his 1) schooling (parents would often send boys to boarding school), some of which was awful for him from the 2) harsh treatment administered by leaders and some from 3) his inability to fit in athletically and some of it from 4) the unsatisfactory nature of the intellectual stimulus and the powerlessness of the hushed, stain-glassed “ought” nature of what he grew up with.

 

CSL was an avid reader. He read everything he could get his hands on.

 

Much of education by this time history, and therefore many of the books he read, had been molded around a naturalistic worldview. Much of this reading without the ability to be taught how to think would, perhaps, contribute to the development of his worldview.

 

This is not an admonition to not read. Rather, read and learn how to evaluate properly.

 

This atmosphere, this culture, shaped the young atheist.

 

You can find what CSL was like in the Chronicles in characters like Edmund, Trumpkin the dwarf (Prince Caspian) and Eustace Scrub.
We see Edmund’s arrogant and haughty spirit toward the faith filled Lucy who speaks of other worlds as one of the ways CSL reveals who is was prior to meeting Jesus.

 

We see Trumpkin’s refusal to believe in Lions and Emperors across the sea as CSL’s skepticism.

 

We see Eustace’ insistence on facts and statistics and unbelief in his cousin’s talk of other another world as CSL’s belief of where truth was found (not outside of himself but from within and in only what can be observed).

 

There are many others, but these are but a few of the examples of how CSL deals with various modes of unbelief in the Chronicles.

 

How did CSL Come to Faith in Jesus? Process of regeneration and the role of “Joy”.

From age 16 in 1914 until 1925, CSL would seek his fame as a philosopher and literature professor and do so with an arrogant bent against people of faith.

 

It would be, however, people of faith and the writings of people of faith that would be some of his greatest influence.

 

From 1925-1931 there would be a process of awakening.

 

He says, “You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady and unrelenting approach of Him home I so earnestly desired not to meet”.[8]

 

CSL would speak of God’s pursuit of him in the language of a chess player who was being out played by a master chess player.

 

He would write about God closing in on “checkmate”.

 

What brought this almost 6-year process on?

  1. Providential circumstances

With his initial degree in philosophy, CSL went back to get another degree in English because there were no positions open in the academic world for philosophy. But with many opportunities in English and literature, Lewis decided to go after another degree. His father agreed and allowed him to continue school at his expense.

 

His degree in philosophy enabled him to be the sharp thinker he was.

 

His degree in English shaped him into the writer he became.

 

“Had there been an immediate opening in philosophy, Jack would never have gone into English and might never have written his fictional works such as The Screwtape Letters and The Chronicles of Narnia. But had he gone into English first, he would have lacked the training that enabled him to write such apologetic works such as Miracles, The Problem of Pain, and Mere Christianity”.[9]

 

  1. Intelligent Christians like Nevill Coghill and JRR Tolkien.

While getting his degree in Philosophy, CSL became friends with men more sharp than him like Nevill Coghill who could not only hold his own but sharpen and challenge even the most avowed atheist in the classroom and also happened to be a thoroughgoing supernaturalist and a Christian.

 

CSL would become friends with JRR Tolkien, who would become one of the “Inklings” (a writing club that birthed and helped edit TLOTR and the Chronicles as well as other works; this group included Tolkien, Lewis, Owen Barfield and Charles Williams) as well as a fellow WWI veteran. Tolkien was a Christian and quite the apologist as well.

 

These Christian men would stay up late discussing philosophy and other disciplines while doing so through their lens of the faith with their atheist friend CSL.

 

Tolkien and Coghill were experts in their field and used their expertise to affect CSL while sincerely being friends.

 

These men were domain engagers before we had heard of the language of domain engagement.

 

  1. Christian authors George MacDonald, GK Chesterton and George Herbert. (Not George Bernard Shaw, HG Wells and John Stuart Mill, who all shared his naturalistic worldview)

 

Lewis commented that as he read for his enjoyment and his work that even the books had turned against him!

 

He was referring to the Christian authors he loved to read.

 

“George MacDonald had done more to me than any other writer; of course it was a pity he had that bee in his bonnet about Christianity. He was good in spite of it. Chesterton had more sense than all the other moderns put together; bating, of course, his Christianity. Johnson was one of the few authors whom I felt I could trust utterly; curiously enough, he had the same kink. Spenser and Milton by a strange coincidence had it too…But the most alarming of all was George Herbert. Here was a man who seemed to me to excel all the authors I had ever read in conveying the very quality of life as we actually live it from moment to moment; but the wretched fellow, instead of doing it all directly, insisted on mediating it through what I would still have called ‘the Christian mythology’”[10]

 

These Christian authors writing and dialoguing in the public square had a profound impact on CSL.

 

  1. Joy

The central story to Lewis’ life is about nothing else than the pursuit of “Joy”.

 

Joy is described as a special kind of longing that he had felt since childhood for something he could not quite put his finger on.

 

The concept of “Joy” in his writings is a bit mysterious. It’s hard to gather what he exactly means, and that could be an entire work of its own.

 

“Before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again. In this longing/desire there is a deep bliss that can also be colored by a feeling of sadness or sorrow, but the kind of sadness that we want.”[11]

 

One of my favorite attempts Lewis makes to articulate what he means by “Joy” is in The Problem of Pain: “You may have noticed that the books you really desire are bound together by a secret thread. You know very well what is the common quality that makes you love them, though you cannot put it into words…You have stood before some landscape, which seems to embody what you have been looking for all your life…Even in your hobbies, has there not always been some secret attraction…, the smell of cut wood in the workshop or the clap-clap of water against the boat’s side?…That something which you were born desiring, and which beneath the flux of other desires and in all the momentary silences between the louder passions, night and day, year by year from childhood to old age, you are looking for, watching for, listening for.”[12]

 

Lewis comes to describe this longing that haunted him and disturbed him as a longing for heaven (the fully established kingdom of God), our true home. No wonder he/we only get glimpses; we are beset with the curse and evil entities that do not want to us experience a longing for the kingdom (See The Screwtape Letters).

 

This thing he called “Joy”, and he always capitalized “Joy”, was fleeting and seldom experienced. Crazy how they captivated him like they did.

 

God was moving in on “checkmate”.

 

He tells of a few instances where he experienced “Joy”.

 

One was in a toy garden he made from a “biscuit tin” (cracker tin).

 

Another was in the “longing” he felt for the mountains north of their home when a child and the desire to go there. He would say that those mountains taught him “longing”.

 

Another was a book called The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin by Beatrix Potter. Potter would also write The Tales of Peter Rabbit.

 

It would be “Joy” that was long missing and a desire for “Joy” that would be key in turning the tide.

 

These Christian authors, these stimulating conversations and the circumstances would be more satisfactory than his own worldview.

 

The “Master chess player, his great “Adversary” was making his move to transform this atheist.

 

CSL would also refer to God as a master “Fisherman” that was able to close in on his prey.

 

How did God put CSL in checkmate?

 

CSL traces his faith journey like this: “On the intellectual side my own progress had been from ‘popular realism’ to Philosophical Idealism; from Idealism to Pantheism; from Pantheism to Theism; and from Theism to Christianity.”[13]

 

Another and simpler way to look at the process the Lord Jesus took CSL through is to talk about his move from naturalism to supernaturalism and from there to theism and from there to Christianity.

 

We can’t unpack this process. It’s too technical and would be a biography sermon in itself.

 

One component of the shift is worth mentioning.

Owen Barfield helped to demolish what they called “chronological snobbery”. This is the belief that newer is better and thus right.

 

Lewis would lament later that in naturalism one is never taught to ask if something is true. Naturalism simply wants to know if it is out of date and what is new, and obviously, better (naturalism leading to evolutionary thinking). His Christian friends would continue to challenge his conclusions based on truth not on if it was up to date.

 

CSL would capture “chronological snobbery” in the first letter Screwtape pens to young Wormwood in The Screwtape Letters. What one must do to their patient is to keep them from wondering if something is true or false but whether or not it is up to date.

 

This process of God closing in order to put CSL in check would take 6 years, and on a September motorcycle ride to a zoo with Warnie (CSL in the side car) the process would be complete. By the time they arrived, he had made the leap from theist to belief in Jesus as the Son of God.

 

CS Lewis as a Christian

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.[14]

 

This is one of my favorite quotes from CSL because it captures his finding “Joy” and where that desire is fulfilled.

 

Some would say CSL was one of the 10 most influential people of the 20th Century. I would agree.

 

Psalm 19

Psalm 19 was his favorite Scripture passage.

 

This Psalm leaves us understanding that God’s voice is going out through created order, and no doubt CSL heard that call of general revelation through created order, experienced it as “Joy”/longing, and it would be one of the key ways the “Master Chess Player” brought CSL to himself.

 

Giving most of his earnings away

Because of his convictions that were shaped by the Scriptures, CSL would give away the majority of his royalties from his books.

 

He would care for the poor.

 

He fought for animal rights.

 

CSL was engaged in domains before we started calling them domains!

 

Caring for Mrs. Moore

CSL would care for Mrs. Moore, Paddy’s mom, until her death and do so at his expense.

 

Remember, Paddy, was one of CSL’ friends from WWI that was killed. He had promised he would take care of her.

 

He would write later about how when one is following Jesus that the household can handle lots of challenges but when one prepares to attend church it upsets the whole order of things.

 

HOW TRUE!

 

He was writing in particular about how Mrs. Moore would complain about his faith and how his leaving for church made it hard on her since she would be alone.

 

He would love her and care for her just like his own mother, however.

 

Writing/Inklings

The Oxfor Inklings met for 15 years (1934-1949).

 

This crew of CSL, JRR Tolkien, Owen Barfield and Charles Williams, would meet and read aloud their works, give feedback, change and publish their works.

 

Such works as TLOTR from Tolkien would come from these meetings. The Chronicles of Narnia would also be tossed back and forth in these meetings.

 

In the 1940’s CSL would publish 17 books. One, in particular, would be a collection of writings he would read on the radio that would later make up Mere Christianity.

 

During this time and before in the late 1930’s these broadcasts would come on after Winston Churchill spoke to the nation during the bombings of London.

 

CSL’ voice of calm and comfort from a Christian worldview was such that there is one report that even in pubs the bartenders would have everyone get quiet because “this bloke is worth listening to.”

 

One, among many reasons, people (even non-Christians) love CSL regarding his apologetic works is this:

“When I began, Christianity came before the great mass of my unbelieving fellow-countrymen either in the highly emotional form offered by revivalists or in the unintelligible language of highly cultured clergymen. Most men were reached by neither. My task was therefore simply that of a translator – one turning Christian doctrine, or what he believed to be such, into the vernacular, into language that unscholarly people would attend to and could understand.”[15]

 

CSL would be criticized by the “professional theologians” for his simplified language and simple explanations of complex doctrines.

 

He would reply, “What methods, and with what success, does he employ when he is trying to convert the great mass of storekeepers, lawyers, realtors, morticians, policemen and artisans who surround him in his own city? One thing at least is sure. If the real theologians hand tackled this laborious work of translation about a hundred years ago, when they began to lose touch with the people (for whom Christ died), there would have been no place for me.”[16]

 

Chronicles

From 1950-1956 CSL would write The Chronicles of Narnia.

 

He had already begun to understand that through fiction, one could steal past objections to doctrines and a lack of care for doctrines and could teach understanding of those doctrines through story.

 

CSL provided an account for how he came to write The Chronicles of Narnia:

“One thing I am sure of. All my seven Narnian books, and my three science fiction books, began with seeing pictures in my head. At first, they were not a story, just pictures. The Lion all began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. The picture had been in my mind since I was about sixteen. Then one day when I was about forty, I said to myself: ‘Let’s try to make a story about it.’ At first I had very little idea how the story would go. But then suddenly Aslan came bounding into it. I think I had been having a good many dreams of lions about that time. Apart from that, I don’t know where the Lion came from or why He came. But once He was there He pulled the whole story together, and soon He pulled the six other Narnian stories in after Him.”[17]

 

CSL was adamant that the Chronicles were NOT allegory. They are supposals. Not everything in the Chronicles represents something in our world. He would say, “Let us suppose that there were a land like Narnia and that the Son of God, as He became a Man in our world, became a Lion there, and then imagine what would happen.”[18]

 

The Chronicles are so nuanced that I can’t even begin to draw connections for you. You just have to read them.

 

My favorite, The Horse and His Boy, is so loaded that I can hardly say the title without getting the slightest bit emotional.

 

But that is what he wanted. CSL believed that if the book could only be enjoyed by an adult it was not a good book.

 

When Shasta finally calls out to that Lion that had been stalking him along the journey, “Who are you?” and gets the reply, “One who has waited long for you to speak”.

 

Shasta talks about how he is the unluckiest boy in the world to have been met by so many lions. Aslan replies, “I do not call you unfortunate…There was only one Lion…I was the Lion.”

 

The Horse and His Boy highlights the providence of God for those who have had or are having hard times.

 

Spiritual Truths in the Chronicles

  1. Evil rarely appears as evil but usually comes disguised as something else.

 

  1. Help often comes in an unanticipated form – in a manner so strange that it may look like help only when looking back on it.

 

  1. Real community is made up of different types of individuals with different gifts and abilities.

 

  1. Celebration, joy and merriment are central to life, not elements reserved only for holidays and vacations.

 

  1. The self-centered life is not glamorous, fun, or exciting but leads to death and destruction.

 

  1. The virtuous life is an adventure – but one that will involve hardship – and the only path leading to genuine happiness and true fulfillment.

 

  1. God is holy!

Throughout the Chronicles CSL works to mediate/reduce the coziness that some Christians may feel toward God. He has Mr. Beaver describe Aslan to the children: “Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”[19]

 

After the children actually meet Aslan, the narrator comments, “People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time.”[20]

 

We don’t high five God, although we come near and are dearly loved. We bow with white knuckled, joyful fear that he can extinguish us but loves us. We need to hold those things in their proper tension. That’s a small and incomplete introduction to God’s holiness.

 

One Final Little Bit of Fun

CSL received a letter from a mother in the States named Mrs. Krieg. She had written to him in concern that her son loved Aslan more than Jesus. His response really says something about his intention in creating the character of the Great Lion:

“Laurence can’t really love Aslan more than Jesus, even if he feels that’s what he is doing. For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving him more than he ever did before.”[21]

 

Applications

  1. Don’t take for granted the experiences of youth with your children. They are being spiritually shaped for the kingdom or contrary to the kingdom.

 

  1. Expose your children to the supernatural kingdom, a kingdom worth longing for. Learn to cultivate “holy longing”.

2.1. Do this by reading Matthew 13 to them and talking about the ways Jesus illustrated the Kingdom.

 

2.2. Be careful with the administration of entertainment and “amusement” (a – not/no; muse – to think; Thus to not think).

 

Overdone entertainment can begin to replace feelings of longing for transcendent things with cravings for dead things.

 

A people besieged by entertainment will have a hard time feeling the longing for “Joy” or the other world of the kingdom calling to us through deep and other worldly or kingdom desires.

 

2.3 Encourage them to read and play, particularly imaginary play. That’s proven healthy and a way to cultivate the soul for the reality of the kingdom that is already and not yet.

 

  1. Read your children stories that create longing for another world. Don’t let them be overly infatuated with this present cursed order of things.

3.1. Read your children The Chronicles of Narnia.

3.2. Read the Jesus Story Book Bible to your children.

3.3. Read the bible to them.

 

  1. Avoid cold and meaningless traditionalism (not meaningful and transcendent traditions).

4.1. Cultivate traditions that point to the eternal and supernatural kingdom. (Make sure Christmas is all about Jesus and his rule with no mixed messages…observe how CSL portrays Father Christmas in The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe; Study Easter and the resurrection and the hope that we too will rise again like Jesus did…make it fun…get creative…)

 

  1. Don’t stop reading children’s stories and good mythology.

CSL believed that good reading was reading that would captivate a child’s imagination and attention.

 

Good, solid, virtuous stories carry us away to another world that helps to cultivate longing in the soul and that longing, for the Christian, is a good instrument to keep us longing for the kingdom.

 

  1. Surround yourself with people who will help you be better and will graciously help you grow.

 

  1. Include people outside of the faith in your small groups and be their friend. You may have the next great author that you are mentoring.

 

  1. Pick a CSL book and read it together in your RL groups. There are some challenges in his theology that need some unpacking, but what he got right, he got so right that we can work past his hiccups.

 

  1. Don’t be fooled into believing that good and deep spiritual reading has to be technical and difficult and not fun.

 

[1] C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms. (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1958), pp. 93–97

 

[2] Devin Brown, A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C.S. Lewis, 14.

[3] C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1956), 21.

[4] Devin Brown, A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C.S. Lewis, 40.

[5] Devin Brown, A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C.S. Lewis, 15.

[6] Devin Brown, A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C.S. Lewis, 12.

[7] Devin Brown, A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C.S. Lewis, 17.

[8] C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1956), 111.

[9] Devin Brown, A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C.S. Lewis, 116-117.

[10] Devin Brown, A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C.S. Lewis, 114.

[11] C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1956), 16.

[12] C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2001), 130.

[13] C.S. Lewis, The Pilgrim’s Regress (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 200.

[14] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: MacMillan Pub., 1952), book 3, chapter 10.

[15] Devin Brown, A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C.S. Lewis, 180.

[16] Devin Brown, A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C.S. Lewis, 181.

[17] Devin Brown, A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C.S. Lewis, 192.

[18] Devin Brown, A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C.S. Lewis, 195.

[19] C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1983), 80.

[20] C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1983), 126.

[21] Devin Brown, A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C.S. Lewis, 198.

Acts 16:11-40 Planting the Church at Philippi

Acts 16:11-40

Planting the Church at Philippi

 

We talk about planting churches. Really, that is not quite right. We plant churches in that we evaluate gifting, desire, engage process, plan and execute. But in reality, Jesus said he would build his church.

 

So, whatever we do in church planting is really our realizing what Jesus is doing as we seek to obey him. As we make disciples through going, baptizing, and teaching Jesus is building his church. We are simply releasing on earth what Jesus has released in heaven. (This does not defy good processes and plans. This truth is what makes good processes and plans succeed.)

 

One realization had this week in studying our passage, and it’s one I fear that has not been made as much of as it should have been, is that God is leading the advance of the gospel in every way.

 

Our text will bear this out.

 

I would like to lead into our study this morning with a lengthy quote from one of my favorite books of all time called, “Let the Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions.”

 

In response to Albert Einstein’s skeptical approach to the church and preachers, Charles Misner, commented that Einstein had witness the amazingness of the universe and its grandeur and the one’s claiming to speak on behalf of this God seemingly lacked any real passion, fear, awe for that God.

 

Piper, in the chapter titled “The Supremacy of God in Missions Through Worship” responds by talking about how we distract from the grandeur and majesty of God when we get caught up in trying to serve him rather than marvel at him. Losing awe by getting caught up serving God rather than worshiping him is a deadly trap. We obey and join him in his work. We don’t add to that work something he can’t bring. We are not co-equal work partners. That’s what I mean when I say “get caught up in serving God rather than worshiping God.”

 

Listen to Piper’s remedy:

“Scientists know that light travels at the speed of 5.87 trillion miles a year. They also know that the galaxy of which our solar system is a part is about 100,00 light years in diameter – about 587,000 trillion miles. It is one of about a million such galaxies in the optical range of our most powerful telescopes. It has been estimated that in our galaxy there are more than 200 billion stars. The sun is one of them, a modest star burning at about 6,000 degrees centigrade on the surface and traveling in orbit at 135 miles per second, which means it will take about 250 million years to complete a revolution around the galaxy. Scientist know these things and are awed by them. And they say, “If there is a personal God, as the Christians say, who spoke this universe into being, then there is a certain respect and reverence and wonder and dread that would have to come through when we talk about him and when we worship him.”

 

We who believe the Bible know this even better than the scientists because we have heard something even more amazing: Isaiah 40:25-26 (ESV) “To whom then will you compare me,

that I should be like him? says the Holy One. 26 Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.”

 

Every one of the billions of stars in the universe is there by God’s specific appointment. He knows their number. And most astonishing of all, he knows them by name. They do his bidding as his personal agents. When we feel the weight of this grandeur in the heavens, we have only touched the hem of his garment. “Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him!” (Job 26:14). That is why we cry, “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!” (Ps. 57:5). God is the absolute reality that everyone in the universe must come to terms with. Everything depends utterly on his will. All other realities compare to him like a rain drop compares to the ocean or like an anthill compares to Mount Everest. To ignore him or belittle him is unintelligible and suicidal folly. How shall one ever be the emissary of this great God who has not trembled before him with joyful wonder?”[1]

 

What I hope we take away from this text today is not another strategy but a wonder and awe at the God who knows stars by name, calls them to do his bidding and loves us and directs our steps in triumphal procession for his glory and our joy.

 

Let’s take a look, with that in mind, at Acts 16:11-40.

 

What do we see? What does it mean?

Jesus, King of all, leads the work 16:11-12

The one who created the universe and knows each star by name, is leading his ambassadors!

 

  1. This same trip in chapter 20:6 is going to take them 5 days. Here they make the trip is 2 days. Why? “We made a direct voyage” is a nautical term that means they sailed straight. Why? They had the winds at their back.

 

God had clearly opened their door for them to go to Europe to the region of Macedonia, and he even provided a friendly wind to get them there.

 

What do we do with this?

  1. When God opens doors, he makes ways and means. You don’t have to push. You just have to obey. Therefore, look for divine ways and means.

 

  1. Be in awe at how he leads us. Be absolutely taken by how Master and King Jesus leads.

 

  1. Stop to worship and give thanks in public.

 

Jesus takes the gospel of the kingdom to a new continent: Philippi 16:11-12

The gospel breaks into a completely new territory that will set the stage for the next 2,000 years of history that will shape western civilization. That’s kind of big.

 

  1. Jesus sent them to the region, Macedonia, which would lead to the kingdom invading Europe.

 

  1. Paul and his team, once led to the region Jesus wanted them in, chose Philippi perhaps because of its strategic purpose as a city.

 

“Philippi was a Roman colony, which meant that it was a “Rome away from Rome.” The emperor organized “colonies” by ordering Roman citizens, especially retired military people, to live in selected places so there would be strong pro-Roman cities in these strategic areas. Though living on foreign soil, the citizens were expected to be loyal to Rome, to obey the laws of Rome, and to give honor to the Roman emperor. In return, they were given certain political privileges, not the least of which was exemption from taxes. This was their reward for leaving their homes in Italy and relocating elsewhere.”[2]

 

  1. Divinely opened doors preceded strategy.

 

What do we do with this?

  1. Look for opened doors of service before devising strategic ways to open doors yourself.

Jesus’ strategy is better than the one we can devise.

 

Be patient. Pray for direction.

 

  1. Once Jesus opens doors, by all means, think on how to maximize your work.

Strategy is not first, but strategy is important and we can and should work at making ourselves and the work more effective.

 

Illustration: TRC was originally going to be planted in Cartersville at an area called “Hamilton Crossing”. It’s where Jeff and Lindsey Williams live. However, the Lord shut all doors for Cartersville. The Lord opened up doors for Rome. Once he did that it was then our task to be wise and strategic about how to go forward where the Lord made a way.

 

Jesus even leads the evangelism and makes it effective: Lydia 16:13-15

  1. The team targets an area where those religiously motivated would gather. v. 13

 

  1. The team “spoke” to those who were gathered. v. 13

 

  1. The Lord opens Lydia’s heart to pay attention. (Active voice because it’s an action attributed to the Lord not Lydia) v. 14

 

Open – to make open; to cause to see what was not seen.

Heart – in the bible, the seat of emotions, will, desire…

Pay attention – literally “to” “have”. To pay attention. Nautically, to hold a ship in a direction.

 

  1. The opening of the heart and paying attention is Lydia’s salvation. v. 14

 

  1. Lydia’s whole cohort is saved. v. 15

A great portion of salvations in the bible are communal not individual. Even the individual ones are affirmed in and even are processed in community not alone.

 

  1. Lydia and her group is baptized, therefore, going public with their faith in Jesus. v. 15

 

  1. Lydia begins Christian fellowship in community immediately upon salvation. v. 15

Lydia is the one hosting this church plant.

 

What do we do with this?

  1. Be constantly on mission as led of the Spirit, looking for those who have religious leanings who need to know the gospel and be offered an opportunity to repent and believe.

 

  1. Be constantly the Lord’s instrument every moment (Hudson Taylor’s spiritual secret).

Enter every scenario with the intent to hear and obey the Lord right then and there.

 

  1. Trust Holy Spirit to regenerate. You can’t make anyone believe.

 

  1. You have to learn to recognize when the Lord opens someone’s heart to understand.

They will usually ask sincere questions.

They will usually have a sense of “life” that emanates from them. The “lights come on.”

They will actually ask “what do I need to do?”

 

  1. Help people go public with their faith in Jesus immediately. Discipleship begins instantly. Disciples begin telling their story immediately.

 

  1. Be in community and be ready to fold new disciples into community. Community was one of the first acts Lydia did as a follower of Jesus.

 

  1. Women, some of you would make good church planters! Lydia is a business woman with obvious organizational gifts and influence. Some of you are likewise gifted.

 

Jesus delivers those held captive by the enemy as the kingdom takes new territory 16:16-18

  1. Demonizing is real and the team encounters a demon oppressed girl that is being taken advantage of for financial gain. v. 16

 

  1. Even the demon can’t help but be overwhelmed by the kingdom as it proclaims the truth through this girl. v. 17

 

  1. This constant “truth telling” by the demon is also annoying. v. 18

 

  1. Paul takes authority over this demon and commands it to leave, and it has to obey. v. 18

Matthew 10:1; 28:18

Mark 6:7

Luke 9:1

 

What do we do with this?

  1. Believe spiritual warfare is real and expect spiritual confrontation.

 

  1. Learn to recognize spiritual warfare in context.

John 8:44 – Satan is the father of lies. It’s his native language. Is the atmosphere charged by lies explicit or implicit?

2 Corinthians 11:14 – Satan disguises as an angel of light (context of false teachers). Are the thoughts and ideas being believed and taught biblical or cultural? (Colossians 2:8)

2 Corinthians 2:11 – Satan seeks to outwit us (context of forgiving a repentant person and not contributing to excessive grief).

 

  1. Lean on those who have the gift of discerning spirits (1 Corinthians 12:10). This comes inside of community as we live in the kingdom together at deeper levels other than RL groups but is the result of community forged through RL groups.

 

  1. Take authority over the demonic.

Recognize it.

Confront it.

Command it.

Stay alert.

 

When persecution happens, know that Jesus is still leading 16:19-24

  1. Satan does not go quietly. His human minions who have been taking advantage of a girl’s demonization have lost their income and all hell breaks loose. v. 19

 

  1. These slave owners make false accusations and incite the beating of and false imprisonment of Roman citizens. v. 20-21

 

What do we do with this?

  1. Expect the enemy to hit back with unjust circumstances and false accusations.

 

  1. Take Job to heart! God can allow bad things through evil people and still make those bad things done by evil people work for your good and his glory.

 

“Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust him for his grace. Behind a frowning providence, he hides a smiling face.” – William Cowper

 

“He is not poor nor much enticed who loses everything but Christ. It won’t be long before the rod becomes the tender kiss of God.” – John Piper

 

“Pain insists on being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”[3]

 

Jesus uses prison to grow the church and set the record straight 16:25-40

  1. Paul and Silas respond to the injustice and false imprisonment with a prayer meeting and hymn sing. v. 25

 

  1. God is able to deliver his people from the circumstances they find themselves in. v. 26

Notice Paul and Silas don’t take the loosened bonds as an opportunity to escape the legal process. Rather, they remain and trust the Lord to use their integrity to do what he would see fit.

 

  1. God is able to save our captors/persecutors/enemies and make them our family in the faith. v. 27-34

 

  1. God sets the record straight using the laws of the Roman Empire to defend his ambassadors. v. 35-39

 

  1. Paul and Silas get one last meeting with the church. v. 40

 

What do we do with this?

  1. Don’t dismiss out of hand difficult circumstances as worship/ministry opportunities.

 

  1. We don’t have to break laws or escape to the shadows to have effective ministry. In fact, working “in the light” rather than “under cover” puts the gospel in the public square where it belongs.

 

  1. Expect God to save the hardest of the hard.

 

  1. Trust God to work out our situations as we submit to authority, pray, worship, and serve.

 

Worship

Psalm 100

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!

2 Serve the LORD with gladness!

Come into his presence with singing!

3 Know that the LORD, he is God!

It is he who made us, and we are his;

we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,

and his courts with praise!

Give thanks to him; bless his name!

5 For the LORD is good;

his steadfast love endures forever,

and his faithfulness to all generations.

 

[1] John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad!: The Supremacy of God in Missions, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993), 37-38.

[2] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 467.

[3] C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2001), 83.

Acts 15:36-16:10 The Second Missionary Journey: On Purpose, Messy and Spirit-Led

Acts 15:36-16:10

The Second Missionary Journey: On Purpose, Messy and Spirit-Led

 

As we study Acts, one of the most glorious applications that can be overlooked is an intent of the larger narrative itself due to getting caught up in the little narratives that make up the whole. We can miss the forest for the trees.

 

One of the great purposes of Acts is that we see Father, Son and Spirit leading his church well.

 

Everything that happens in our text today is a work of God leading his people well.

 

What may look like difficulty is truly a difficulty, but it’s one Jesus brought about to lead and train his people.

 

We can take that directly to ourselves today and realize that Jesus is leading us. Jesus will not fail us.

 

We will encounter difficulty and we will mess up, but Jesus will never fail, and if we will hear and obey we will see the great and glorious King at work in and around and through us.

 

Let’s turn to our text today and see what the Lord has for us.

 

What do we see? What does it mean?

Occasion of the second missionary journey 15:36, 41; 16:4-5

Checkup – “see how they are”

Strengthen – “strengthening the churches” … “strengthened in the faith”

Growth – “so the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.”

 

  1. Paul and Barnabas feel a “fatherly” affection for the gospel work they had done, and that led to them wanting to checkup, build up and grow the work.

 

  1. Paul (must assume Barnabas too, although not mentioned specifically after verse 39) strengthens the churches in the faith.

 

This means they taught these churches about Jesus and the implications of following Jesus!

 

See Galatians (Jesus alone), Ephesians (In Christ and Jesus rules the heavelies), Philippians (The humility of Jesus and imitating that example), Colossians (The supremacy of Jesus), 1 & 2 Timothy (Implications of the Scriptures and the kingdom on overseeing the church), Titus (same as 1 & 2 Timothy), 1 & 2 Corinthians (How to repent and follow the superior wisdom of Jesus as opposed to sin)

 

  1. The result of checking up and strengthening the churches is growth!

Being strong in doctrine and practice will lead to growth!!

 

Great Commission ministry is messy 15:37-40

Here we see Paul and Barnabas separate over a strategic difference in ministry. This is not evil and it is not wrong.

 

It’s clear from Colossians 4:10, 2 Timothy 4:11 and Philemon 23-24 that Barnabas, Paul and Timothy worked together for the same goals for the same kingdom although not always together as mission team teammates.

 

“Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him)…” – Colossians 4:10

 

“Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.” – 2 Timothy 4:11

 

“Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.” Philemon 23-24

 

  1. Paul and Barnabas have a “sharp” disagreement. This means it was not a sweat and calm discussion. It was intense and driven by two different giftings/personalities.

 

  1. Paul is an apostolic/visionary/start up/let the others make it run kind of guy.

 

  1. Barnabas is called an apostle in Acts 14:14 but in the “witness to the gospel as one sent” kind of way not the “start things up from the beginning, find and develop giftings” kind of way. Barnabas is an encourager.Acts 4:36-37 “Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
  1. The different wirings of the ministry leaders led them to go separate ways in this particular ministry endeavor.

 

Mentoring leaders in ministry 16:1-3

Paul comes to where he was stoned and left for dead and is introduced to a young disciple who is spoken well of by the church.

 

It is impossible to know for sure, but it is quite possible that Paul’s example of ministry and suffering has been a model off of which young Timothy has based his work.

 

Timothy is fruit from Paul’s suffering for the gospel.

 

Paul takes Timothy and has him circumcised. Why?

 

“Another helper of Paul’s who joined the work at this time was Timothy. Of mixed race, he was for some reason not circumcised as an infant. But the Jews reckon Jewishness through the mother’s line rather than the father’s, so Timothy became circumcised in order not to seem a Jew who had rejected God’s covenant. If his parentage had been reversed, Timothy would not have been regarded as a Jew and things might well have been different. Circumcision itself was a matter of indifference to Paul, as long as Gentiles were not being told that their salvation depended upon it (see Gal. 5:6; 6:15). The agreement reached in Jerusalem was not an easy one, and a dispute could easily have arisen again. Saying that Gentiles did not need to become Jews was one thing, but if Paul was seen to be teaching that Jews shouldn’t act like Jews either, there would have been trouble (see below on 21:20–25, where it is clear that despite such precautions, many Jews believed that Paul was against the law, even for Jews). As it was, the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.”[1]

 

  1. It was important that Paul and Timothy uphold the gospel and put no stumbling block in anyone’s way.

 

  1. Paul’s life and teaching were leading Timothy, and Timothy comes along with Paul and Silas and he learns. He will become an elder at Ephesus!

 

Holy Spirit led ministry 16:6-10

Paul had plans but Jesus had THE plan.

 

Paul’s frustration in not being able to enter certain regions was not due to demonic activity, but due to Jesus frustrating his way.

 

Jesus revealed his plan in a vision / dream in the night and he rightly concluded that the frustration they had encountered was Jesus leading them to the right place of work.

 

What do we do with this?

  1. We have to strive to do a better job of checking up on our global work that is established and continuing to sow into it with labor and anything needed by our people on the ground.

 

  1. In everything we do, sound biblical teaching is vital to the health of kingdom work.

 

  1. We must strive to practice the implications of our sound biblical teaching.

 

  1. We have to be ok with not working with some people because they have a different ministry model. This is not evil. This is actually wisdom at work to leverage Holy Spirit gifting for ministry effectiveness and to maintain long-term relationships.

 

  1. It’s vital to mentor and raise up the next generation of leaders wherever God gives us ministry.

 

  1. It’s vital to be gospel centered and culturally aware at the same time.

 

  1. We must find the balance between obeying what is written and waiting on Jesus to open opportunity to lead our obedience rather than us smashing down walls on our own.

 

  1. We must not be too quick to place ministry hindrance on Satan. It may be Jesus leading us in “triumphal procession”.

 

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.”

 

[1] Conrad Gempf, “Acts,” in New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, ed. D. A. Carson et al., 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 1090.

Acts 15:1-35 Jesus Continues to Build and Unify His Multi-Ethnic Church

Acts 15:1-35

Jesus Continues to Build and Unify His Multi-Ethnic Church

 

The plan from the beginning is that all the families of the earth would blessed by being reconciled back to the Father (Genesis 12:1-3). Families being the clans, tribes, peoples, nations, divided at Babel one chapter back in Genesis 11.

 

God started with Abraham and from Abraham the gospel was to infect all nations.

 

Israel did not get that mission fully accomplished. They did disciple some people into the faith, however. But let’s not think that the mission had failed. God was working his plan.

 

Jesus was advancing history on his terms through his appointed people in his appointed way until he would come on the ultimate rescue mission to eradicate sin and firmly plant the cornerstone of his kingdom.

 

The failure of Israel was that they took the law and made it the means of salvation rather than the expression of their salvation. The indicative comes before the imperative! “I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have…” Exodus 20:2ff.

 

The law was never the vehicle of salvation. It was the expression of their separation from the nations who did not know the Lord. It was to draw people in NOT keep them out.

 

Galatians 3:24 reminds us that the law was the guardian, or school master until Jesus came and secured justification and adoption by faith.

 

Remember, Jesus has been including the “outsider” since the beginning (don’t forget Abraham was an outsider until God saved him from his pagan roots, opened his eyes, and made him his own).

 

Therefore, early on in Acts we have seen the Gentiles included and God testifying to their inclusion by giving them the same Holy Spirit he gave the disciples at Pentecost.

 

But the inclusion of the “outsider” has come to a head in Acts 15 when some loyal to the law as an addition to faith are teaching that circumcision must be practiced by the Gentiles in order for them to be saved.

 

These people are continuing to use the law as a means of being saved rather than an expression of their salvation for any who would enjoy to do so.

 

This issue would become so troubling that Paul would pen the book of Galatians to deal with this exact issue in these Gentile churches later on.

 

Dealing with false teaching was/is vital because lies are potent and can quickly infect a people.

 

How do the leaders address this issue and lead the church to doctrinal truth and preserve the unity of Jesus’ multiethnic church?

 

What do we see? What does it mean?

The Situation: Some men have begun to teach Jesus plus circumcision is how people are saved 15:1-5

The first missionary journey has just completed and Antioch has received the news of its success.

 

A group of cultural evangelists have attacked the purity of the gospel. 15:1

And the next thing we read in the story is that a group of Jewish believers have come to Antioch to “toss some cold water over into their warm shower” of these fired up Gentile disciple makers by telling them that this is all no good unless they all get circumcised according to the “Law of Moses”.

 

“The modern reader can only appreciate with difficulty how compelling the argument unless you are circumcised according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved would have been to the early Jewish Christians. Centuries of reading the NT writers’ solutions have blunted the sharpness of this question for us. These were people who believed that the God of the Scriptures (there was of course no ‘New Testament’ yet) was the same God who sent Jesus. Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, the answer to Jewish questions, the fulfilment of the Jewish law and prophets, sent by the same God who sent those laws and prophets. How could a person claim to accept Jesus and the Father who sent him, while refusing to listen to the other things that God had said and asked? It must have appeared, even to those Jewish Christians who were prepared to see ‘even the Gentiles’ (10:45; 11:18) become part of the chosen people, that they should do so completely and become Jews before thinking they could become fulfilled, believing Jews. Even Paul writing to the Romans some while after this controversy writes about the Gentiles as ‘honorary Jews’, grafted into Judaism (Rom. 11:17–21). Yet, the tide was clearly changing, for when Paul and Barnabas told people on their travels how the Gentiles had been converted, this news made all the brothers very glad, which seems a healthier attitude than Peter faced in 11:1–3.”[1]

 

This is a tough situation.

 

As stated in our introduction, much of Judaism had taken what was to be an expression (not the expression) of their salvation to be the means of their salvation.

 

They have taken a cultural manifestation of God’s presence and made it a requirement for entrance into the kingdom of God. They would say that a person must not only believe what we believe but must become a Jew culturally as well.

 

Paul and Barnabas dispute this claim. 15:2

Paul, a Pharisee, and Barnabas, a Levite, have been making disciples among Gentiles and have properly understood the intent of the Law. Therefore, they put up a good and proper fight and decide to head to Jerusalem to deal with this problem.

 

“Dissension” – Take a stand. To stand.

“Debate” – Exchange of words. To argue a point.

 

Paul and Barnabas continue to tell the story of the gentile’s salvation on the way to Jerusalem, and it produces great joy. 15:3

Testimony in Scripture is vital.

 

Isaiah, in Isaiah 8:20, call the people back to the “teaching and the testimony”.

 

The Psalms talk about the Lord’s “testimonies” are a delight.

 

Eyewitness accounts of God’s activity have huge significance.

 

After being welcomed by the church, apostles and elders, the group of Pharisees state their case. 15:4-5

One of the very first false teachings begins to arise out of adding something to Jesus’ work, and it’s the religious elite that does it.

 

Side Note: Much heresy comes from elite education. Excessive thinking leads to a failure to exercise faith. James tells us that the poor are rich in faith.

 

Don’t misunderstand. This is not an excuse to reject proper education. It is a warning that learning does not lead to faith. Learning can lead one away from the truth if that learning is not properly baptized in a Christo-centric worldview that is fully submitted to the authority of Scripture.

 

Peter’s Response: Faith alone! 15:6-11

The apostles and elders gather to consider the situation. 15:6

 

Peter recounts how God determined that the gentiles should hear the gospel and have a chance to believe. 15:7

Peter reminds them about Cornelius in chapter 10 and how the Lord sent him to preach the gospel to these non-Jews.

 

The evidence that the Gentile are included in the faith is the Holy Spirit being given to them not their cultural distinctives. 15:8-9

“…having cleansed their hearts by faith.”

 

Peter responds by calling the laws lived for salvation a “yoke” that their fathers or themselves could not bear. 15:10

 

Peter states that Jew and Gentile alike are saved by the grace of Jesus! 15:11

 

What Peter is effectively saying here is that Jews and Gentiles are saved by faith in Jesus without any help from the law!

 

This is huge, and the reason is that salvation by faith in Jesus alone redefines the law for those who believe they are more saved or more spiritual for keeping the law.

 

Rather than seeing the law as a teacher to lead them to Christ, they saw it as their salvation.

 

Peter reminds them that the law does not save.

 

Barnabas’ and Paul’s Response: Gentiles are saved without keeping the law! 15:12

The fact that the assembly falls silent is an indicator that the Spirit was at work massaging this glorious gospel truth deep into the souls of his people.

 

Barnabas and Paul give a report of how the Lord has been working among the Gentiles without circumcision. 15:12

 

James’ Response: Based on the Scriptures and the testimony of those who are working among the Gentiles, which agrees with the Scriptures, we will not burden them with the law! 15:13-21

James appeals to the Scriptures and the testimony that agrees with the Scriptures as evidence that there should be no stumbling block for the Gentiles who come to Jesus.

 

Question: So, why then does James give three items that Gentiles should abstain from if they don’t need to keep the law to be saved?

 

Answer: Although there is nothing to add to Jesus to be saved, there is no such thing as unfettered freedom to offend others with our freedom!

 

Galatians 5:13-15 “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.”

 

James tells them that they are to abstain from:

  1. Thing polluted by idols.
  2. Sexual immorality.
  3. From animals strangled and blood as they choose food from the market or food they process themselves.

 

Why?

 

There are Jews in every city and Moses is read there every Sabbath. 15:21

What does that mean?

 

It means that there is one body that is diverse with Jew and Gentile. Therefore, don’t let their freedom from the law be a stumbling block for those who still have the law and are bound in their consciences to remain culturally Jewish.

 

Let the Jews act like Jews and don’t tell them to stop or inject doubt into their conscience moved practice.

 

Let the Gentile act like Gentiles and don’t tell then to stop or inject doubt into their conscience moved practicd.

 

Be unified!

 

Romans 14:13-19

“Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”

 

The Whole Church’s Response: Unity and encouragement 15:22-29

At some point, the elders and apostles brought the church together to deliver their verdict and there was unity and a desire to send a delegation of the fellowship to witness to the leadership’s decision. 15:22

 

It was clear that the Holy Spirit was at work in the unity being brought about, so it seemed good to the Spirit and the church to encourage the Gentiles. 15:28

 

Abstaining from the three requests would be “doing well” not saved! 15:29

 

The church was brought to unity by the Spirit as they related the work and compared it to the Scriptures and they wanted to make sure the Gentiles knew that whoever came and relayed the troubling words to them were not sent by them.

 

Antioch’s Response: Rejoicing and encouragement 15:30-35

Antioch rejoiced at the relief and unity between the churches.

 

What do we do with this?

  1. We must read the Old Testament law correctly not as cultural prescription but as a school master to reveal sin, lead us to Jesus, show us the gospel, reveal to us the glory of God and delight our heart with the testimonies of God’s people who went before us.

 

All Scripture predicts, prepares for, reflects and results from Christ’s person and work.

 

Predicts…lets us know Jesus is coming and what we can expect.

Prepares for…cultivates our desire of the King through dead ends (awful leaders) and bridges (good leaders who still fail and also die)

Reflects…Exodus 20:2 as the basis for salvation by grace through faith and laws as manifestation of the inward change not as means of salvation.

Results from…David, the people and good kings broke the law constantly and were pardoned by grace through faith (Matthew 12:1-8 shows us Jesus quoting Hosea 6:1-8 to defend David in 1 Samuel 21:1-6 breaking the law and it being nothing because David was acting in faith).

 

  1. We must not elevate cultural laws to spiritual laws.

Jesus plus anything ruins everything!

 

Elevating cultural rules to spiritual necessities will “tribalize” the church and kill work of the gospel.

 

  1. We must be willing to have biblical dissension and debate over things that threaten the gospel, the authority of Scripture and nearly 2,000 years of orthodox Christian practice.

 

There are some things worth fighting for.

 

  1. We must not make non-biblical requirement of others.

How one dresses.

Musical preferences.

Food.

Drink.

Worship style preferences.

 

  1. We are to gladly restrict our freedoms for the sake of others.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23

“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”

 

  1. We are to value the kingdom over our tribe.

Jesus taught us to pray for his kingdom to come.

 

We are to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.

 

Try this: study the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7), read it daily for one month, repent when you fail at any point, give grace to others trying to live it out, repeat.

 

If we are seeking the kingdom we will be more concerned about our city than we are about our church!

 

If we are more concerned about our city than our church, Jesus will build his church with new citizens added to his kingdom as it is manifest in our church.

 

If we receive what Jesus gives us and focus on simply living out Matthew 5-7 (and there is much more in the Scriptures we can live out) we will be in unity and diverse and taste the rule of Jesus’ kingdom over us.

 

  1. 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.”

 

[1] Conrad Gempf, “Acts,” in New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, ed. D. A. Carson et al., 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 1088–1089.