Friday, January 23, 2009

Acts 26:18, 20b - content of discipling

Paul has recounted his conversion story several times in the book of Acts. In the version in chapter 26, he makes especial mention of what his Christ-given mandate was:
  1. to open the eyes of the Gentiles so that they might turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, in order that they might receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who would be sanctified by faith in Christ
  2. to declare to the Gentiles that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds consistent with their repentance.

In other words, he was called to reveal and help Gentiles recognise sin so that they might turn to God in repentance, seeking his forgiveness, bearing the fruit of repentance as they were sanctified by faith in Christ.

This is instructive for my evangelism. Often, I am too afraid to deal with sin. I only ask my contact to turn to God. But turn from what? Even indifference to God is sin but I don't let them recognise it as such because I don't talk about it as such. So they either don't know or don't care. Could it be that when a person is confronted with sin in his life, he will never choose to remain in it by rejecting the divine grace of salvation - and so John Calvin, rather than Josef Arminius, is right about irresistible grace?

My evangelism has also been to target at intellectual integrity rather than moral uprightness. I myself became a Christian because it made intellectual sense to believe that Christ is the Saviour of the world but I guess, I never really felt I needed to be saved from my sins; I was just awed by Christ's reality. No wonder I struggled with sin through so much of my supposedly Christian life. People tell me it's a process of sanctification but I was never really sure why it had to be so acute. I guess because my conversion was not particularly dramatic that this full appreciation that repentance from sin is at the root of Christian conversion had come and grown very, very slowly in my life. I am very slow to see the ugliness of my own sinfulness in all its starkness that I should want to flee from it, beg to be rid of it, and cry to be freed from it.

My prayer is that even as I am realising the centrality of the gospel in the preaching ministry my life should be marked more and more by the growing fruit of repentance, to demonstrate a Christ-ward transformation, to the glory of the grace of God. I want to be complete. Perhaps this is where the missing part had been all this time.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Acts 20:18-35 - Paul's ministry testimony

In Paul's farewell speech to the Ephesian church elders, he said twice that "I did not shrink from declaring to you" the gospel and the whole counsel of God. His experience in Ephesus as recorded in Acts 19 suggests that he faced opposition to his ministry from time to time, culminating in the great commotion that was instigated by Demetrius the silversmith. Under all that threat, his purpose for ministry and life remained clear and unflinching. He said, "I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God" (v.24).

Wrapping up his work among them, he said, "I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified" (v.32). The Christian is sustained by God and his word.

I am encouraged by his testimony. Will I be faithful in and not shrink from preaching the gospel and teaching the whole counsel of God? Will I consider my life as nothing except the fuel and vehicle and instrument for testifying to the gospel of the grace of God? Help me, Lord, to stand firm.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Acts so far - the content of preaching

The disciples were clear about one thing when it came to preaching or teaching or sharing about the faith: the Word of God must be the mainstay of their proclamation. Specifically, it was the Word of God about the Word of God himself: Jesus Christ (vv. 4:2, 12, 33; 5:42; 8:5, 12, 35;9:20, 22; 10:42-43; 11:14 (implied), 20; 13:26 (implied), 38; 14:7, 21). They proclaimed boldly (vv. 4:13, 31; 9:27, 28) and would not be constrained by injunctions to stop preaching.

A few lessons for preachers:
  1. Our sermons must be Christological if it is to be apostolic. This means that we must relate the text of Scripture to Christ and his grace of salvation.
  2. The Word of God must govern the content of our sermon, not only in its substance but also in its parameters. This means that we must treat fairly and deal honestly with the text of Scripture to be expounded, whether preaching systematically or topically. If not, the sermon is only a pep talk and not a life-giving message. A pep talk may energise for a season but it offers no hope for the long haul.
  3. We should not need to apologise for the Word of God if it creates offence for we are only its ambassador, not its originator. At the same time, we should not have to bend the Word of God to suit the ears of the hearers. We offer the Word of God freely - nobody should presume that because he pays the piper, he has the prerogative to call the tune. We own no such and deny all such loyalty, obligation or debt.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Acts 10:42-43 - what to SAY when sharing the gospel

When you read the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 or its equivalents in Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47; John 20:21; and Acts 1:8, do you ever wonder what it is exactly that God wants us to SAY when we share the gospel? Fret no more: the answer is in Acts 10:42-43:

"And he ordered us to preach to the people and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins." (NASB)

This sums up what Peter said in Acts 2:22-36 on Pentecost Day; in 3:13-26 in the temple near the Beautiful gate; in 4:10-12 and in 5:30-32 to the Jewish religious leaders in council; explains what the scattered Christians preached in Acts 8:4 and what Philip said in Acts 8:5 in Samaria, in 8:35 to the Ethiopian eunuch, and in 8:40 in Azotus and other cities en route to Caesarea; and what Saul preached in Acts 9:22, 28. Indeed as Paul later wrote: "For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord.." (2 Corinthians 4:5) - what exactly did he mean? Acts 10:42-43 gives the answer.

Indeed, if in our conversation with non-Christians, we do not talk about the work of salvation that Jesus has wrought for us, we are not sharing/preaching/telling the gospel. We must not become too concerned with the mechanics of how to "get" a non-Christian to "accept" Christ. All that is not part of the gospel but merely a means to help the non-Christian engage with what he hears. In Acts 10, Peter had not even gone to issue an invitation or challenge before the Holy Spirit fell upon his Gentile listeners and brought them to faith.

Acts 10:42 also makes clear that sharing the gospel is an imperatival activity. It has been commanded of Christians by God himself and hence a duty that we must not neglect. May the Lord help me to be faithful in proclaiming his good news.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Matthew 10 - The disciples' mission

Jesus sent his twelve disciples out on a mission. They were entrusted with two duties. First, they were to proclaim that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. Second, they were to cast out demons and heal every disease and affliction. In the rest of the chapter, Jesus taught his disciples what to do if and when they were opposed. It seems that Jesus anticipated opposition not so much to the acts of healing but to the proclamation:
  • the disciples could encounter people who would "not...listen to your words," v.14
  • the disciples would be "dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles," v.18

Three times, Jesus instructed the disciples to quell their fears:

  • "When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say," v.19
  • "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master...So have no fear of them," vv.24-26
  • "Fear not, therefore...So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven," vv.21-23.

Jesus said that he came not to bring peace to the earth but a sword. A house would be divided because of him. Clearly, it is not his healing that would divide a house but his call to loyalty and submission to his lordship - proclamation. He issues the following challenge:

"Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" vv. 37-39.

It is proclamation that will get Christ's disciples into trouble more than anything. In the same way, it will be my preaching ministry that would carry the greatest risk of offence than anything that I can do in church. A few lessons:

  1. The offence must be wholly in the message and not me. This calls for careful exegesis, contextualisation and application (v.7)
  2. Once convinced that I have done my homework properly, I must harbour no fear or doubt about offending anyone (v.14-15).
  3. I must not and will not deny Christ and his word (vv.31-33).
  4. His truth must matter more than my life (v.28).
  5. I must entrust myself into the protection of God (v.39).

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Ezra 7 - the man and his renown

In this chapter, Ezra was introduced for the first time in the Bible:
  • a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses, v.6;
  • the priest, the scribe, a man learned in matters of the commandments of the LORD and his statutes for Israel, v.11;
  • the priest, the scribe of the Law of the God of heaven, vv.12, 21.
Ezra also went to Jerusalem for he "had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel," v.10.
It seems unlikely that Ezra could have written these ascriptions about himself (quaere, what does this question do for the authorship of the book of Ezra?) so Ezra must have truly earned the reputation that even the king of Persia wrote about.
How might I aspire to be like him, not in order to be praised by people, but to be accountable as a Bible student?