Holy Stubbornness

“Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles.” (Acts 14:1-4)

The preaching of the gospel will always accomplish its intended purpose. Soemtimes the fields are slow to yield anything. We need to keep at it and trust the Lord for the growth. But sometimes the results are seen immediately, as in Acts 14 where a great number of Jews and Gentiles came to faith in Christ after the apostles proclaimed the gospel to them in Iconium. How exciting when this happens!

But along with this immediate burst of growth came an immediate response from the enemy. Spiritual warfare in the shape of stirring up strife and the poisoning of minds is said to have been the tactic used here. This probably means that lies and jealous striving were used to incite the Gentiles against the new Christians. It’s interesting that the non-believing Jews who would normally have nothing to do with Gentiles were now willing to feign concern for the Gentiles so long as they could accomplish their desire of persecution.

What I want to point out is what verse 3 says, “so they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord.” The “they” of verse three refers to the apostles Paul and Barnabas (13:50). In response to the attack against the new church in Iconium, the apostles did what any mother would do when her baby is attacked—they stayed longer to defend and care for her.

This “holy stubbornness” is a response of love and courage. Paul and Barnabas weren’t willing to proclaim the gospel, see people receive Christ, and then move on. The goal wasn’t to impress their buddies with evangelistic growth statistics. Their goal was to make disciples of Christ, and that meant that they needed to stay as long as necessary in order to ensure that their brothers and sisters in Iconium were protected from the wolves there.

Accompanying the apostles’ stay was the presence of God who gave to them bold speech that was empowered by Christ. It was Christ working through the apostles who bore witness to the word of His grace. This along with signs and wonders that accompanied the powerful Word confirmed the gospel and these messengers as being from God. This would go a long way to both strengthen the Church and warn the enemy.

Sometimes we think of evangelism in rosy, romantic terms that ignores what it really is—an incursion behind enemy lines to snatch away from the devil those who once were his, but now belong to Christ. And the enemy will not stand by idly and allow this to happen. We can expect him to fight back.

And this is where holy stubbornness is needed. Since we belong to Christ, we do not need to fear the enemy. Christ is for us, so who can be against us? But that truth does not remove the reality of spiritual attack, hardship, and persecution. We might feel the heat of warfare increase as the battle rages in our community and all around us.

Be encouraged. The devil doesn’t mess with the sleepers. He doesn’t want to rouse a church that is deep in apathy. But once you begin raiding the smoldering sticks from his fires, he will rage and seek to stop you. This might come as discouragement, personal attacks, division, distraction, or many other of his numerous schemes. Don’t give up! Don’t stop making disciples. Don’t become distracted. Don’t move on.

Dig in. Be stubborn. Refuse to relent. God is with us. We have the victory!

Preaching for a Verdict

An important concept that cannot be ignored in sermon preparation is the fact that the sermon needs to have a purpose–a reason for existing. A meandering monologue that seems to wander to and fro can be muddy, disorganized, frustrating, and unprofitable to the listener.

Each of the biblical writers had a reason for why they wrote their biblical texts, so too the biblical expositor needs to have a purpose as well. He must enter into his sermon preparation with a clear understanding of what he is expecting his hearer to do when he has finished explaining, illustrating, and applying the biblical text.

Whether it is to glorify God, come to repentance, understand a theological concept more clearly, obey a command, or some other purpose, the sermon needs to have a clear purpose.

Can you imagine what it was like for the Israelites to wander in the wilderness for forty years? If you’ve ever sat in a sermon with no point, then you may have felt like an Israelite for 45 minutes, and it probably felt like you were suffering for over an hour!

One way to help yourself not be “that guy” is to think about your sermon as an apologetic argument. You are seeking to prove to your listener your main premise. Not every sermon will benefit from this idea, but there are some sermon texts that will be particularly suited for this concept. I have made a graphic to help explain the idea:

If you think about your sermon like an inverted funnel, with the premise to be proven in your introduction, each successive point will develop and build up to the conclusion. The conclusion should leave your hearer with the strong evidence that your premise is true. You want them to understand that they should either accept your biblical premise or they must deny the clear teaching of Scripture.

A simple example of this type of sermon outline is:

  • Premise: Jesus Christ is the Son of God
  • Point/Proof 1: His virgin birth prophesied
  • Point/Proof 2: His sinless life practiced
  • Point/Proof 3: His resurrection proven
  • Conclusion: Therefore, you must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ

In this form of sermon organization, the conclusion is what you are seeking as your verdict. You state it, prove it, and then call your hearer to act. And this action may be simply a change of thinking as much as it could be a change of behavior.

This does not mean that your hearer will necessarily respond as you expect–heart change is the work of the Holy Spirit. But by organizing your message in this way you will make your expectations clear and prove your premise. Hopefully your making it irrefutable from Scripture.

The sinful heart may still reject the truth, but you will have accomplished your goal as an expositor to deliver the message faithfully and compellingly.

On Vacation

Hi everyone,

I’m going to be away for a few days to unplug and get some rest. Until then, I won’t be posting. -Richard

“I believe in…” the Nicene Creed and Christmas

The idea of ‘belief’ is tossed around a lot at Christmas time. In this spirit, I thought I’d throw out the Nicene Creed (325 A.D.) as a starting point for what separates Christianity from other world religions and many cults of Christianity. Although not sufficient to address all issues of faith and doctrine, the Nicene Creed is beautiful for its high Christology. This Christmas morn, may our hearts be steeped in the richness of these truths. Merry Christmas!

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe one holy catholic* and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

*catholic refers to the universal church, not Roman Catholicism.

Pastor Like Paul, part 4

Paul

“You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness,”–2 Timothy‬ ‭3:10‬ ‭ESV‬‬

The Christian faith depends upon not only faithful discipleship, but on faithful disciples who continue in the pattern they have received. In their last three posts in this series we looked at 4 ways we need to follow ( or strive to be) a godly Christian leader:

  1. Follow the Same Doctrine
  2. Follow the Same Conduct
  3. Follow the Same Purpose
  4. Follow the Same Faithfulness

You can read part 1 here,  part 2 here and part 3 here.

5. Follow with the Same Patience

The KJV uses the word “longsuffering” here, which I always like. Makrothumiarefers to the patient enduring of pain or unhappiness. Literally, this is longsuffering!If we are an impatient society, which we are, then we don’t really practice longsuffering very well most of the time.

Why was Paul patient?

Because the Lord had always been patient with him! “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:15–16, ESV)

To whom should we be patient?

Not the false teachers of vv. 1-9! Look at v. 5. It says, “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.” (2 Timothy 3:5, ESV, emphasis mine).

Also look at what Paul wrote in Titus 3:10-11, “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” (Titus 3:10–11, ESV)

We are to be patient with one another, and most notably with immature Christians. “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:2, ESV)

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14, ESV)

There is a repeated refrain you hear throughout the Old Testament—Israel is a “stiff-necked” people (Ex 32:9; 33:3, 5, 9). The people are “stubborn” (Deut 9:6, 13). They are “rebellious” (Deut 31:27). The best example this is in Isaiah 48:4, where the Lord said, “Because I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead brass,” (Isaiah 48:4, ESV)! Wow!

The Lord is longsuffering with his people! We are all too often guilty of being stiff-necked, stubborn and rebellious. But I want you to think about this. The steadfast love of the Lord is never ceasing! That phrase “steadfast love” occurs 393 times in the ESV translation, with the majority in the book of Psalms. The steadfast love of the Lord is made most evident in his longsuffering with us. That is why it was sung by Israel, because God’s people know how much we deserve wrath, and yet we receive his patience and love instead!

Paul had learned this about the Lord, and so should we. How would Paul address that troubled church that was so mired in its sin and broken in disunity? How would he speak to them and about them? In 1Corinthians 1:10, Paul begins, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” (1 Corinthians 1:10, ESV). He appeals to them! He calls them “brothers!”

And when Paul wrote to his friend about a runaway slave, we find a similar patience in his words. In Philemon 8-9, Paul wrote, “Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus—” (Philemon 8–9, ESV)

O how we need to learn longsuffering with God’s people! What faith we will need! If you need to grow in you patience with people, then you will need this last characteristic of a godly leader—love. We will look at this in the next post.