Acts 13 – Parenthetical Gospel


Acts chapter 13 begins with the sanctioning of Paul and Barnabas to their first missionary trip. After an eye-opening (all puns intended) description of the belief of a wise man after the blinding of a magician, Paul and Barnabas find themselves at a synagogue in Pisidia  Antioch (v 14). After the reading of the OT, the leaders of the synagogue asked Paul to deliver a message, and herein lies the subject of today’s post, where we will see 3 contrasts – of audience, of message, and of response. I pray that it would be a great reminder of where we, the gentile church, stand in the dispensations of God’s grace.

Two Audiences

Paul addresses his first audience as consisting of two people in the second half of verse 16: “men of Israel”, and “you who fear God”. The latter phrase is repeated in verse 26 and is clarified in verse 43 as proselytes, or gentile converts to Judaism (those who “arrived” at Judaism, and feared God). These were the two groups of people you might expect to see in a 1st century synagogue, sons of Abraham, and those outside the heritage of Abraham who converted to the form of Judaism present at the time.

Paul’s second address is to a wider group of the city of Antioch in Pisidia on the following sabbath. Verse 44 tells us that “nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of the Lord”. This second audience was decidedly gentile. For if there was a Jew or Proselyte on the sabbath, they were in the synagogue. However, the synagogue must have been adjacent to a large city assembly area, for verse 45 tells us the Jews observed the crowds gathering for Paul’s second message. Because they were contradicting the things Paul preached (v 45), it seems to me that the gathering caused the synagogue to release early and join the gathering to interact; so far as to not only interfere with the message, but also become the subject of it. But more on that in a minute.

Two Messages

Back to the first sabbath, God inspires the author of the Acts to record the longer of the two messages of Acts 13. Instead of diving deep here, I offer the following 3 sections for the reader to glean from Paul’s message to the synagogue.

  1. Christ is the fulfillment of Israel’s desires and anticipations of the millennial kingdom (v 17-25). In this first section, Paul highlights and recounts moments in Jewish history that point to their desire for the Messiah, and specifically, the kingdom promised to their forefathers. The desire for the promised land (v 17-19) and the desire for the rule of the righteous mediator (v  20-22) are highlights of the yearnings of Israel for the promised kingdom. This was the very kingdom the apostles anxiously expected from the resurrected Jesus in Acts 1:6, the very kingdom earnestly offered the Jews when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, the very Kingdom rejected by His people demanding His crucifixion, exclaiming they have no king but Caeser. Jesus was to be the King if the Jews would have accepted the offer. He was the One begotten of God who was sent to sit on the throne forever as promised by God to David in 2 Samuel 7. And He was sent to Israel [first] according to v 23, which is an important point I hope to show.
  2. Next, in verses 26 through 37, we see Paul recount Christ’s rejection, death, burial, and resurrection. For my own purposes here, I draw attention to verses 32 and following, where Paul says that the good news about what happened in Jerusalem was a fulfillment of the promises, specifically, to the fathers (v 32), the ancestors of the Jews he was speaking to. The fulfillment of these promises specifically that God would a) raise up His Begotten and b) resurrect Him from the dead. Specifically, note the explanation of the Psalm that can’t apply to David, for David died, and his flesh suffered decay. The Holy One, then, is a prophecy of the resurrection of Christ, whose flesh certainly did not decay. These acts God accomplished as fulfillment to promises He made to the nation of Israel.
  3. Lastly, the application of the message in verses 38 through 41, that “forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you”, and that through Christ, freedom from all things, including those not accomplishable through the Mosaic Law. In short, Paul’s argument to the synagogue was to have faith in Christ because He is the fulfillment of the promises they heard about every Sunday reading the OT.

The second message was much briefer, though likely contained much of the same gospel content as the prior message, but it wasn’t recorded here. The second message was simply recorded as a fulfillment of Isaiah 49:6 that salvation had come to the Gentiles through the nation of Israel. Which was certainly true in the context of the gospel, that the very sin-bearer who bore the wrath of God in the gentile’s stead was a Jew. However, Paul meant it differently in this context, as a result of the response of the Jews to the gospel message.

Two Responses

In verse 42, the scripture says that the first audience begged to hear more of Paul’s preaching. After the synagogue let out, verse 43 says that many of the Jews and the Jewish converts followed Paul. As to whether this was true Christian conversion, I lean towards the fact that Paul and Barnabas encourage them to “continue in the grace of God”, which means they had to have begun in the grace of God. I am confident, however, that this group that followed Paul and Barnabas are not the same group of Jews who dissented in the second message. There may have been overlap of individuals, however I see no authorial intent to draw such a conclusion. So, some believed and followed Paul, however there were some who did not receive the gospel, and detested the fact that Paul and Barnabas preached it to the Gentiles.

As to the nature of the response of the rest of these Jews, first, it’s interesting to note that Paul vehemently preached that under the new covenant, there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile (see last post on Galatians 2-3). It seems to me that a Jew who grows jealous of the preaching of Christ to the Gentiles understands not the true gospel, for there is indeed no distinction; we are all justified by faith. Second, Paul explicitly says that the Jews present in Antioch repudiated the message, and thus judged themselves unworthy of it. And because of that, Paul says, it was necessary to turn and preach to the Gentiles, in so doing, fulfilling Isaiah 49:6. It is Israel’s unbelief that allowed for the direct preaching of the Messianic gospel to the Gentiles.

And in verse 48, we see the response of the Gentile crowds to this Messianic gospel. The scripture says they rejoiced and glorified the word of the Lord. And many believed (as many as the Father had appointed). What’s more is that the word was spread throughout the whole region, which tells me that true Christian converts came from Paul’s second message in Acts 13, for they went and preached the same gospel they heard from Paul. And lastly, it is sad to note, that the Jews, after witnessing this message and conversion of Gentiles, sought to persecute Paul, a capstone proclamation of their hardened hearts to the message of Christ.

Conclusion

There are two conclusions I desire to draw from this passage and hope the reader find application thereof. First, think rightly of the age of the church. Many would have you believe that the Gentile Christian church and the promises of the new covenant supersede Israel and the promises of the various OT covenants. However, as Paul preached to the Gentiles here in Acts 13, it is because of the unbelief of Israel that Gentiles received access to the gospel. It is this parenthesis in the overarching plot of Israel and her Messiah in which we, the Gentile believers, find ourselves at presebt. At a future time appointed by God, He will call His church to Him, and thereafter, call Israel back to Himself, fulfilling His promises to them to establish a never ending Kingdom (2 Samuel 7).

However, (and secondly) this is not to mean that we as Christians adopt some self-loathing or pity out of inferiority to the Jews. This was the same false attitude of inferiority the Jews responded with in Acts 13. Rather, it is right thinking about the promises of God that lead to our rejoicing and giving Glory to Him. If God’s promises to Israel were eliminated in their rejection of Christ (as some would say) and replaced by a better covenant, then we serve an unfaithful God. Instead, the right reaction is to glorify His name for sovereignly electing us to be sons. As verse 48 says, only those who were elected by God believed the gospel. Which is still true today, if you are a believer in Christ, you are only so because He sovereignly called you and elected you, and providential lyrics worked out history to provide the gospel message to you, a Gentile.

 

Reflections on Galatians 2-3


Galatians 3 opens with a very serious accusation – “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you…” It is important to establish why such strong words before understanding the rest of chapter 3. Towards the end of chapter 2, Paul is recounting his experience rebuking Peter at Antioch for he feared the “party of the circumcision” (v. 12) and was not “straightforward about the truth of the gospel” (v. 14). It seems that Peter had originally been eating meals with the Gentiles at Antioch  which resulted in the violation of Jewish dietary laws. This act of Peters’ was a significant picture of the unity of the church. However, there was a gradual reduction of this occurrence due to the presence (and likely scrutiny) of the party of the circumcision. Paul says Peter even went so far as to “withdraw and hold himself aloof”. So Paul rebukes Peter, for his actions do not line up with right understanding –  there there is no favoritism with God for Jewish Christians or Gentile Christians. All Christians were justified by faith in Christ –  no need for other distinctions like racial heritage. Paul retells the rebuke in verses 14b-20. Some highlights of the rebuke:

1) Man is not justified by the works of the law (v. 16)

2) Man is justified through faith in Christ Jesus (v. 16)

3) Justification by faith does not promote the believer to sin, lest Christ, the spotless lamb, be made a promoter of sin (v. 17)

4) If a Christian returns to the law, i.e. tries to justify himself by the works of the law, all he does is prove himself to be a transgressor (v. 18)! For there are none that are righteous (Cf Romans 3), and the function of the law is to identify the need of justification, not to actually do the justifying.

5) The Christian has died and has been resurrected with Christ – died to the law for it demanded such a punishment for those who broke it, and resurrected to live for God freely by faith (v. 19-20).

6) Paul lastly points out that if the law is the source of justification then Christ’s death was unnecessary (v. 21)

Back in Chapter 3, it seems, then, that Paul so shockingly confronts the Galatians is because they too have returned to the law. And so Paul continues to defend the doctrine of Justification by faith in Chapter 3.

First, by a series of piercing questions, Paul reminds the Galatians about why they ought to act in faith and not by trying to please God by conforming to the Mosaic Law.

  1. 3:1 – Did the gospel message you first hear preach the works of the law or faith in the work of Christ? This reckons back to the prior verse in chapter 2 where Paul says that Christ’s death was needless if we are to be justified by the law. Paul is trying to remind them of the gospel they first heard.
  2. 3:2 – Did the Spirit come upon you by the law or by faith? Paul then asks whether at the point of conversion, after hearing the gospel, did the Galatians receive the gift of the Spirit from the work of the law or by faith in Christ?
  3. 3:3 – Does sanctification come by works of the law? If the answer to the second question is by faith (hint: it is) then how can one be perfected (made complete, sanctified) by the works of the law? If the law can’t justify you then it certainly can’t sanctify you.
  4.  3:4 –  Did you suffer in vain? This question was aimed at juxtaposing their current understanding with their former. If they were to believe now that they are justified (and sanctified) by the law, then their previous position was an error (i.e. justification by faith). What more helpless a situation is there than to recognize one has been persecuted for a belief they no longer hold? Such would have been the case if the first century church was to walk away from faith and to the law.
  5. 3:5 Did the miracles performed in your presence come about via works of the law or by faith? Paul recalls the Galatians to the miracles they saw performed by divine power also did not come about through adherence to the Mosaic Law, but rather through faith.

Five rhetorical questions that all point to the correct understanding of the Christian life – we hear the gospel of justification by faith, we are converted through faith, and we live our Christian lives through faith.

Personally, I felt so encouraged by Chapter 3 verse 3 when reading today – “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Recently, I have been struggling to reconcile my sin with my faith in Christ. I think this passage enlightens me to what my erroneous thinking has been. It seems that I, like the Judaizers that misled the Galatian church, am trying to add works to my faith to find favor with God. But by doing that I am not only discrediting the finished work of Christ, but I am also reaping what I sow by returning to the law, as it were. Like 2:18 says, when I abandon faith and try to please God by doing good things, I merely find myself to be a sinner, for all the law can do is show me that I am not good enough to please God. The only response then is to return to my former state of thinking – that I can only be right with God because one Man was right with God. Jesus of Nazarene, the only begotten of God, though no sin was in Him found, was unjustly murdered for crimes He did not commit. His righteousness is applied to my account, and my sins are blotted out only because of the faith that God has given me, and nothing else. Only when that thought gets ingrained in my thick head will I truly grow in Christ.My prayer is that I would grow in this area – ceasing to try to please God with my actions and instead praising Christ who pleased God on my behalf with His actions!

Let me know what you think!

 

-Robert Tingle

 

I am second….


This is in reference to a video ministry with a bunch of celebrities, called “I am second”

I have to say, after sampling a few videos, I  don’t agree with the premise nor the execution. And here’s why:

In the ‘about us’ section on their site:

“I am Second is a movement meant to inspire people of all kinds to live for God and for others. Actors. Athletes. Musicians. Business leaders. Drug addicts. Your next-door neighbor. People like you.”

I like the idea of giving solid testimony, because it is an excellent way to share the gospel. But it’s unfortunate because they don’t do either. However, solid testimony is not dependent on how miraculous a story is and how famous the person is. That’s the premise they seem to be operating on. Sure, it’s a good story, but that’s all it is; a story. It’s not a testimony of the changing power of the Holy Spirit once someone is saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ. There is no gospel message in these videos (as far as I have seen).

They seem to be sharing the “God had a plan for your life” gospel. But let me tell you, that’s not good news. In fact that’s bad news, because according to Jesus in Luke 9:23, being a follower of Christ meant you had to “take up your cross” to follow Him. The cross is probably the most vile and detestable instruments of suffering and death of all time. Jesus is guaranteeing that the life of faith is not easy, in fact He is guaranteeing suffering. The GOOD NEWS is that when we die, despite our countless attempts to rebel and separate ourselves from God, he has chosen to rectify our sins by the perfect sacrifice of the spotless lamb, Jesus Christ. And this is only accomplished by grace through faith in Him who paid it all for us. THAT is the gospel. Don’t let anyone take that wonderful news away from you, by giving you a cheap knock-off in saying that “God has a plan for your life”.

Side Note: As I was writing this, I was listening to Lecrae’s “I am second” video. His is the only one I have seen preach the gospel. So not all is lost. But when you preach the gospel to yourselves and others, don’t rob yourself/them of hearing the greatest news you/they could ever hear.

-Robert Tingle

Proper Hermeneutics


For this post, I am going to give you a link to an article that I think is an excellent outline of proper bible interpretation. I was searching the internet for ammo to use in my own article, but I realized that this man (Dan Phillips) wrote pretty much everything I wanted to say. So enjoy it, and all credit goes to him for the article.

Good Read:

http://www.bibchr.com/sobr.html

Let me know what you think!

-Robert Tingle

2 Corinthians 12:7-10


2 Corinthians 12:7-10 :

7 Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! 8 Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. 9 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

As I was reading this yesterday, I couldn’t stop reading it because of how encouraging it was to me. A little interpretive work first, then I will bring it home.

At first glance, verses 7 and 8 might seem hard to understand, but I think the key is in understanding Paul’s specific call to ministry. And for that, we must look at Acts chapter 9. Verses 15-16:

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; 16 for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.”

God is speaking to Ananias in this verse, and He is calling Ananias to lay his hands on (formerly named) Saul. Ananias wonders why, for Saul was an avid persecutor of the church. But God tells Ananias exactly why He was calling Saul to be saved and to be a minister of the gospel. Paul is a “chosen instrument” of God, a very special worker in the early church because he was to boldly preach the gospel before the Gentiles, the kings, and the sons of Israel. Then God says “for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.”

Paul’s calling was special in that he was called to a life of intense suffering and affliction. So, I think in 2 Corinthians 12, Paul is explaining exactly why he was to suffer so much, “to keep me from exalting myself!”.

So then, what was the comforting words that God gave in return, instead of removing the suffering? “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness”. Because of this truth, Paul will gladly boast in his weakness, so that the power of Christ would dwell in him. And on top of that, he is now content in all types of suffering for Christ’s sake. Why? Because when he is weak, then he is strong. Not that there is an inherent strength in suffering, but that he receives a surpassing strength, that is the power of Christ.

 

So what do we take from this? I think this is the lesson Paul learned in Phil 4:11 of contentedness. God will use whatever means necessary to sanctify the believer, but it is for our good! (Romans 8).

Personal example: my recent run-ins with health issues (seizures). Many times I have prayed that God would remove this suffering away from me. But I must realize that God’s grace is sufficient for me, and that the power of Christ is perfected in my weakness. And since God’s grace is sufficient for me, I will not grumble or complain over momentary light affliction, but instead will boast in my weakness so that the power of Christ may dwell in me! Therefore I can be content in suffering, weaknesses, insults, distresses, persecutions, and difficulties for the sake of Christ! Because through my weaknesses, Christ power is made perfect! Not that I have earned merit of anything on my own, but that Christ saved a wretch like me, o wretched man that I am! Praise the Lord for His everlasting love and grace.

Let me know what you think!

-Robert Tingle

 

The case for membership


Membership has the propensity to be a very heated topic in discussion, mainly because “Thou shalt become a member” is not the 11th commandment. That argument is the main objection I hear, so I will answer that first, then give my case.

Inferences, as defined by webster’s online dictionary, are conclusions or opinions that are formed because of known facts or evidence. We can INFER from scripture that some form of membership is necessary, despite a lack of the outright statement.

For example, we can look at the doctrine of the trinity. The word “trinity” is never found in the bible, but we can infer from known evidences in the bible that the God of this universe is triune. We know from scripture that the following are true:

1)There is only ONE God (Deut. 6:4, 2 Sam. 7:22, 1 Cor. 8:4, among many others…)

2)The Father is God(1 Cor 8:6, Phil 2:11, Col. 1:3, etc.)

3)The Son is God(John 8:58, John 20:28, Heb. 1:8, etc.)

4)The Holy Spirit is God(Acts 5:3-4, Acts 4:31, Titus 3:5. etc.)

5)The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are SEPARATE and DISTINCT persons(Matt. 3:16-17, 2 Cor. 13:14, John 14:16-17, etc.)

Therefore, the ONE GOD is THREE SEPARATE persons, a.k.a. the trinity.

I say that to say this, inferential theology is OK.

So, the case for membership:

We can INFER it from scripture. The ideas are mostly taken from the Matthew 18 description of church discipline, and the times in the new testament where pastors and elders are called to shepherd the flock (which is said in several different ways).

Matthew 18: The account of church discipline. This set of steps necessarily presumes that the numbers of the church are accounted for. The reason why I say that is the story Jesus tells in verses 12-15 (context right before church discipline passage) implies an account of members, namely sheep. Verses 12-15:

12 “What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? 13 If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. 14 So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.”

The comparison of the pastor and his church to the shepherd and his flock are key. The shepherd will go after the one sheep of his flock because it’s part of the flock. If the shepherd sees a random sheep off in the distance, he is not compelled to go after it, because it isn’t part of the flock.

1 Peter 5:1-3 also employs the shepherd analogy:

1 Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.

The principle remains the same. The elders are to lead the church, because God has called them to minister to “those allotted” to them.

It’s truly common sense. In today’s society, churches have a lot of people showing up on Sunday mornings. But how does a group of elders know who they are to shepherd? Is it the people who invariably attend Sunday mornings or midweek fellowships? Or the homeless guy who walks in during service to grab a drink of water?

Sure, we are all called to make disciples of the world, but elders of the church can only biblically exercise authority over those of their flock. The only way passages like Hebrews 13:17 and those aforementioned can be fulfilled if the leaders of the church know who is part of the church. A church can’t exercise discipline over someone who shows up once or twice a year.

I’m under firm conviction that it is not enough to be a regular attender, even if you are participating in service, fellowship and other things regularly.

Let me know what you think!

-Robert Tingle