A Journey Thru Acts 22: Blaspheming The Culture 2 (6:8-15)…
We continue in this second post to build on the first post–please click HERE–where we are digging into Acts 6:8-15 to learn about the social/cultural opposition that the early Christians faced from the world, and thus the opposition that we Christians today should expect from the cultures around us:
8 Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power,
performed great wonders and signs among the people.
9 Opposition arose, however,
from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—
Jews of Cyrene & Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia & Asia—
who began to argue with Stephen.
10 But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.
11 Then they secretly persuaded some men to say,
We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”
12 So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law.
They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin.
13 They produced false witnesses, who testified,
“This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law.
14 For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth
will destroy this place & change the customs Moses handed down to us.”
15 All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen,
and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.”
The early Christians got in trouble for defying Caesar’s decrees
& declaring Jesus the only King (Acts 17:6-8).
This caused social trouble & turmoil. Same today.
The Lord Jesus & the New Testament make a distinction
between His people & the rest of the world many times–here are just a few:
Matthew 6:25-34:“Don’t worry, you of little faith.
[Our worry is directly connected to our faith, or lack thereof, in the Lord Jesus.
Oh how we all need His help here–like the apostles, may we cry out to Him,
‘Lord, increase our faith!’ (Luke 17:5)]
So do not worry, saying,
‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’
32For the pagans run after all these things
[caught up in the current/flow of the world & its desires, keeping up with Joneses’,
making earthly needs more important than eternal needs, etc.
The Lord Jesus is making a distinction here
between those who are not His people and those who are.],
and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.
33But [you, Christians] seek first his kingdom & his righteousness
[seek Who God is (character) & what He does (actions/how He rules);
that is even more important than what we eat/drink/wear–
“humans shall not live on bread alone but on every word
that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4)],
and all these things will be given to you as well…”
Luke 22:24-29: “A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.
26 But you are not to be like that.
[Again, a distinction between the world and
those reborn into God’s family thru repentance & faith in the Lord Jesus Christ;
we should think, believe, and act differently!]
Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.
28 You are those who have stood by me in my trials.
[At one time or another the Lord Jesus made EVERYONE angry, both Pharisee and peasant, sometimes with His actions but mostly with His teaching! He wasn’t crucified for healing the sick or feeding thousands of people but for declaring that He is God the Son, One with the Father, and that He is the only way to get to heaven! His teaching angered people, and His disciples stood by Him by standing apart from the values/beliefs of the world [popular culture]; ultimately they were willing to be condemned with Christ rather than celebrated by the world!]29
And I confer on you a kingdom…”
[not just a cloud with harps & grapes but a kingdom,
where the Lord Jesus, not us, is King, & where we are the joyful & submissive subjects.
Not only are our beliefs & actions to be different from the world,
but the Kingdom we are apart of & subjects in is different from the world–
this world is not our home]
We see this distinction elsewhere in the New Testament:
Romans 12:2: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world
[sinful beliefs/attitudes/values/ways of looking at things/actions]
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
[We USED to conform, match up with, keep up with, agree with
the sinful values, beliefs, trends, and lifestyles of the world…
but no longer.
We are to now conform, match up with, keep up with, agree with
and grow up in Christ Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Word of God.]
1 John 2:17: “The world and its desires pass away,
[the sinful beliefs & actions of this world will eventually be flushed away by the Lord Jesus’ good & holy & righteous Judgment;
by grace alone thru faith alone in Christ alone,
may we not be flushed away along with it…]
but whoever does the will of God will live forever.”
James 1:27: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure & faultless is this: to look after orphans & widows in their distress & to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
[Most people today would love to support the first half of this verse–caring for widows & orphans. And rightly so! Doing this is important to the LORD! But the second part of the verse is JUST as important to Him–being in the world but not of the world, being in the world & humbly but boldly proclaiming the Gospel to everyone but not becoming like the world as we do it!
Oh how we enjoy breathing deeply from the exhaust/tailpipe of the beliefs/values of the world; it should make us sick but it often doesn’t…we want more of it. No wonder so many Christians are drowsy & lightheaded & confused & exhausted.
- Like the oxygen masks that drop down from above on planes in an emergency,
we are to breathe deeply from the Truth of God’s Word & God’s Holy Spirit–given from above!–every moment; only then are we able to truly serve & love non-Christians and share with them the Good News of Christ as the cabin pressure drops and the airplane plummets to the ground.]
John 15:18-22: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.
[We must remember that the world hates Jesus Christ. Oh they love the caricature/false idol/culturally-approved jesus who is simply a genie in a bottle to make their dreams come true or the mascot of cultural Christianity that entertains us in between the innings of our lives as we chase our dreams. That jesus is acceptable, but that is not the real Jesus Christ of Scripture.
The Lord Jesus didn’t say here that only the Pharisees hated Him–Christ said the world hated Him because He shows all of us that we are not awesome but are awful in our sinfulness & in desperate need not only of Him to be our Savior but also for Him to be our King–we cannot and should not and must not be in charge of ourselves.
With the wave of His righteousness & holiness & Sovereign right to rule the universe, He destroys the meticulously constructed sandcastles of our pride, self-esteem and so-called independence & commands everyone to repent of sin, receive Him as Savior and follow Him as King. Our sinfulness rages against His declaration of our dependence on Him…]
19 If you belonged to the world
[beliefs & actions that get many likes on FB!],
it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world,
but I have chosen you out of the world
[out of the sinful beliefs/values/ways of looking at life].
That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching
[obedience that comes from faith! Doctrine! Holiness!],
they will obey yours also.
21 They will treat you this way because of my name,
[Sin doesn’t truly hate us; it hates Christ Jesus in us.]
for they do not know the one who sent me. 22 If I had not come & spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.”
[The Lord Jesus lovingly but clearly points out the sinfulness & guilt & debt of every human before the LORD, & we run from this like a thief runs from the police]
We ARE different from non-Christians, loved ones—not because we’re more valuable than them but because the Lord Jesus is more valuable to us–because of what He has done for us thru the cross & empty tomb—and we must believe/act differently from non-Christians—not SHOULD; MUST. If we do, opposition will arise. That is the opposition Stephen & the early Christians faced in Acts 6 &the opposition that many Christians face today as we mature…
But if we’re honest, in the United States we often DON’T face that opposition?
Not because the U.S. is a “Christian nation”—yes the U.S. has many local churches, but that doesn’t mean they are all Christian, that they all preach the Gospel. If I were to preach this sermon in many local churches I’d be run out of town.
The Gospel is offensive both to all non-Christians & MANY church-attenders. And so we don’t often face opposition here the way the early church did because we often aren’t believing, living out, & proclaiming the True Gospel. Ears are tickled, backs scratched, smiles given, but hearts aren’t convicted of sin, self-esteem isn’t humbled, knees don’t tremble in the presence of the LORD—people meet jesus the safe mascot of cultural Christianity, not the Lord Jesus Christ the Sovereign Master & King of all.
We are to be DIFFERENT from the value system, lifestyles of the world—our values, beliefs & actions shouldn’t line up w/what is popular/”trending” in the culture! We should sound like a sharp/flat note to the drumbeat of the world & vice versa. But instead of standing out we tend to blend in—dancing in step to the same tune…& we think it’s a good thing, we often think it’s a way to help non-Christians come to church.
- Ever tried singing a song while listening to another loud song? You mess up both the words & the melody of the song you try to sing. The world plays its song loudly, loved ones, & we try to listen to it AND sing the song of Christ—thus we mess up both His Word & His commands (beliefs & actions). We wind up singing the world’s tune…we kind of like it’s catchy beat and self-affirming lyrics anyways…
It is difficult in some ways to tell a Christian from a non-Christian today—we don’t want the opposition that Stephen & the early Church faced, that many Christians around the world face today—we want to “go along to get along,” “when in Rome, do as the Romans do,” “just relax & go with the flow,” “what’s the big deal [with this activity or that belief–lighten up, we tell other Christians]!?” Those are the bedrock values of many church-attenders, whether we realize it or not.
In the Old Testament it was called “syncretism”–a blending of some Biblical Truth/practices w/the idols/sinful beliefs/way of life of non-Jewish cultures around Israel. This was called blasphemy—an utter denial of the LORD & the faith. Now we call it being “relevant.”
Two main ways that we blend in with the world:
- Watering down what we believe (doctrine/beliefs/Truth)
- Watering down how we live (actions/choices/lifestyle)
1 Timothy 4:16: Watch your life & doctrine closely. Persevere in them,
[it will take perseverance from the LORD to continue to believe all of His Word from Genesis to Revelation–socially, relationally, financially, etc., it will cost a higher & higher price for us to remain faithful to the True Gospel, to resist watering it down so that it appeals to the tastebuds of others.
because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
Supposed to carefully watch both doctrine & actions—we watch neither.
Here’s an example of watering down doctrine:
John 3:16-21: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
[We often stop there. So many people know that verse! GREAT verse!
But how many people know verses 17-21? GREAT verses too!]
17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but to save the world thru him.
[Ok—we still “approve” of verse 17. But look at what happens in verses 18-21…]
18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.
[Christ doesn’t say our deeds are imperfect, basically good or in need of minor improvement–He says our deeds are evil. That is the state of humanity apart from surrender to Christ Jesus.]
20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
[Oh my friends, do you see how these verses
are unacceptable/offensive to the world?
So what have many local churches done
to stay “relevant” & speak to the modern world?
Cut out everything except John 3:16.
But even THAT verse, when looked at closely, is offensive to our sinful pride:
- shall not perish? What, like HELL? Judgment from God?
Hogwash—offensive. Take that out.
- One & only Son? What, like the only way to eternal life?
Ridiculous—out of date. Scratch that.
- For GOD so loved the world? Who is God? What is He/She/It? What, like in control? Ruler? Old fashioned—irrelevant. Take that out too.
So what are we left with from the original passage? “Loved the world.”
Seems ok, but grammatically incorrect, bit of a mouthful.
How about, just, “love”?
YES! Everyone can agree on that! Nevermind what that means or how do we do it & what does it look like or what happens when my definition of love t-bones another’s definition of love in the intersections of life—just figure that out on your own!
Love. All you really need. That will save us all…
But a generic sentiment of “love” is not the Gospel,
so it can’t save anyone.]
Oh my friends, perhaps some of you are thinking right now, “Here we go again—m.j. loves beating this dead-horse of culture/the world to a pulp. Goodness. So heavy. Just make me smile & let me get to lunch…”
My friends, I only bring this up when God brings it up in His Word. The beauty of preaching thru books of the Bible beginning to end & verse-by-verse is that it helps limit a pastor preaching the same topic over&over: we preach what the text proclaims. But God DOES repeat Himself on certain themes thru the Bible because we need to hear it over & over.
Secondly, I bring all this up because a pastor’s role—&the elders of a local church—is not just to encourage & teach, it is also to warn & protect—both are loving! I bring this up because, by the grace of God, I care about all of us, I am concerned that we watch out for the wolves dressed up in sheep’s clothing. If I didn’t care, if this were just a job for me to punch in & out & collect a paycheck, I wouldn’t point out these things, I would only say what makes you happy in the short-run, I wouldn’t bring up what can make us holy in the long-run.
When Christ & the New Testament talks over & over again about watching out for wolves in sheep’s clothing who want to lead the sheep astray, He isn’t mainly talking about people who physically enter a local church&punch people in the face. ALL of us would put a stop to that!
But physically punching a person in the face isn’t the only way to hurt a person—it isn’t even the most painful/devastating way to hurt a person. False ideas, teaching lies & pretending they are Truth, watering down the Gospel, twisting the Bible thru an emphasis of only parts of it, THAT leads to more pain/destruction in the long run. THAT can cause a local church to grow fast & big, but like steroids it kills the local church in the long-run. So we are to watch out for the false ideas/beliefs/attitudes/values of the world—THOSE will devour us more completely than a few punches to the face…
1 Timothy 4:16: “16Watch your life & doctrine closely.
Persevere in them, because if you do,
you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
False beliefs are so dangerous—they not only affect one’s earthly life, but they affect one’s eternal life as well (only the Truth can set us free).
And that is why I bring all this up, my friends…I want you to leave the local church building joyful in the Lord Jesus each week, but oftentimes I need to preach what will not make us happy in the short-run but can make us holy in the long-run…the joy of the LORD in the long-run makes the short-term pseudo “happiness” of the world seem like pain in comparison…
James 4:4: You adulterous people,
[this includes ME!]
don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity [hatred] against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
Of course we are to love & serve non-Christians,
especially in regards to gently/boldly sharing the Gospel with them!
But we aren’t to become LIKE them as we love them…we are to be thermostats that change our environments, not thermometers that are changed by our environments…
New life in Christ isn’t an update on your old program–old beliefs & actions–
but a completely new operating system.
Reborn/alive you is incompatible with the old/dead you.
If you have never repented & cried out to the Lord Jesus to be your Savior & King & if the LORD is showing you that you are in the full flow & current of “the world” & in agreement with its sinful beliefs, values & actions, there is hope!
You cannot get out of the current alone–don’t try to climb out with good deeds or best intentions or new year’s resolutions!
But the Lord Jesus holds out the Righteous Branch of Himself, His death on the cross & His return to life to get you out of that river, to pay your debt to God the Father & make you new & set you free! All as a gift! Repent & believe & receive Christ!
- Just as some rivers are dammed—the flow is stopped—so eventually the river of the world will be damned—the flow will be stopped forever—by the Lord Jesus Christ! You don’t have to be part of His good & perfect & loving Judgment! There is hope in Christ, dearly loved non-Christian—NO ONE who calls on the Lord will be put to shame, but rather your shame will be covered by His grace & Truth, ALL who call on the name of the Lord will be saved…
In Christ alone by faith alone through grace alone,
we no longer go with the flow of the outside world—beliefs & actions—
but we have the Holy Spirit’s Living Water—Truth/holiness—flow in us,
welling up in us to eternal life (John 7:37-39)!
The waterfall of the world flows swiftly down to eternal judgment,
but the waterfall of Christ flows certainly up to eternal life–
He carries His people to heaven by His own power & grace & Truth!
If you have repented & cried out to the Lord Jesus to be your Savior & King & the LORD is showing you that you have drifted over into the full flow & current of “the world” & in agreement with its sinful beliefs, values & actions, if He is showing you that you are longing for the inner-tube and beach ball that you used to enjoy, if you are dipping your toes casually into those raging rapids, there is hope!
Like the prodigal son who came to his senses in the pig-pen, regretted & repented of feeding on the slop of the world, & turned & started walking back to his father, you can do the same! God will run to meet you & throw the robe of Christ’s righteousness over your sin-burned shoulders! Neither you NOR I deserve to be His child but He will CELEBRATE when we repent of our sinful beliefs & actions—the ways we agree with the world—& return to Him! It’s not too late to do the right thing, loved ones—return to Him & run with freedom & leap in the path of His commands, His Truth, leap like a deer on the heights of His salvation, don’t crawl & stagger in the depths of sin! Be holy because He is holy, no matter what opposition arises…