Saturday, June 2, 2012

BECOMING ALL THINGS TO ALL MEN FOR THE SAKE OF CHRIST


Acts 21-22
What radical changes have you made in your life that shows that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ? What decisions have you made that have drastically changed your submission to Christ as your Lord? Paul very graphically expresses how he had surrendered all his rights of an apostle for the sake of Christ. He said,
“For though I am free to all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law … to those outside the law … to the weak … so that I might win them to Christ. 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.” (1Cor. 9:19-23)
Is this written for all of us to follow or is it written for us to know how great an apostle Paul was? I am sure that this is written for us so that we may become competent in conviction and in practice so that we may be wise for salvation; and that we may be thoroughly equipped for the good work. We are expected to follow Apostle Paul as He follows Christ. Now if this is true then we have a few questions to answer that would build us in becoming all things to all people, that by all means we might save some. Amen? Are you saying Amen – that you and me, may be willing to become all things to all people for their eternal salvation?
In this passage we see Paul who is now counting days prior to Pentecost – six weeks had passed since he left Philippi. From Caesarea he would have to travel sixty-five miles to Jerusalem. May we try to chart the way Paul spent the time between Passover and Pentecost:
First week                                          Left Philippi after Easter
                                                                Travel to Troas (20:6) for five days
Second week                                     Spend seven days in Troas (20:6)          
Third Week                                       Travel to Miletus (20:13-16) for four days
Fourth week                                     Travel from Miletus to Tyre (21:1-3) for seven days
Fifth week                                          Spend seven days in Tyre (21:4)
Sixth week                                         Travel to Ptolemais (21:7) for one day
                                                                Spend one day in Ptolemais (21:7)
                                                                Travel Caesarea (21:8) for one day
Seventh week                                   Spend several days in Caesarea (21:10, 15)
                                                                Travel to Jerusalem (21:15) for two or three days
Arrive in Jerusalem (21:17)
Net Testament Commentary, Acts, Simon J. Kistemaker
What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus?
Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Mat 16:24-25 ESV.
Being a disciple of Christ is indeed a life of victory although it involves constant warfare with sin and the flesh. It therefore requires courage to face suffering (21:1-16), to be gracious (21:17-26); and to speak out for Jesus (21:27-22:21). For these you need three essentials to make us become all things to all men, in order to win them to Christ:

1.     You need the courage to face suffering (21:1-16)

Paul was a man who said about his own life that to live was for Christ and to die was gain. While in Ephesus he was all the more eager to preach the gospel even when there was the unruly crowd. He did not count his life worthy of him. But thankfully his disciples and friendly Asiarchs made everything possible to make sure that he did not enter the theatre to address the crowd that was unruly, and so managed to rescue Paul from physical injury (19:30-31). But he later in Miletus told the Ephesian elders that, “I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.” (Act 20:22-23)
In Caesarea the situation is different because Paul knew that the Holy Spirit was compelling him to travel to Jerusalem (19:21; 20:22). He saw every manifestation of the Spirit on this point as a confirmation of the mandate to demonstrate in Jerusalem the unity of Christ’s expanding church. Although the Holy Spirit had the same message for Paul both in Tyre and Caesarea, Paul responded in Caesarea that by their weeping they were breaking his heart. It was not that he was obstinate, although that is the way it appeared, he was being obedient to the Holy Spirit.
What was going on in the mind of Paul?
"What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." (V.13)
He accepted the message of the Holy Spirit to Him and to others and did not in any way consider it contradictory. These brethren were concerned for him and so they warned him as the danger that awaited him.
Many of us have remained unable to impact the people that we live with simply because our main goal in life is self-preservation. Paul counted his life worthy nothing, if only he may finish the race and complete the work that the Lord Jesus had given him – the task of testifying the gospel of the grace of God (20:24). This does not mean that he did not value the life that God gave him. John Calvin puts it quiet well – he was not gripped by a blind love of living so as to lose sight of the reasons for living. Brethren and friends, fellow disciples of Christ, let us bear in mind that this life is not an end in itself. We are supposed to put the Biblical value of our lives and this is when our satisfaction is found in doing the will of God. And this is not only applied to those in vocational ministry but to everyone who is a believer in Christ, so that his words to the church in Corinth would make sense to all of us, For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2Cor 4:11)

a)      You have to always be ready to die (V.13)

A number of times in this passage and in the ones preceding and following it, shows that Paul was ready to suffer all afflictions, even death for the sake of Christ Jesus. He knew that imprisonments and afflictions awaited him in every city as the Spirit of God revealed to him. He had been forewarned by the Lord when He chose him to be His chosen instrument to carry His name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. The Lord said that He would show him how much he must suffer for the sake of the Name of Christ. (Act 9:15-16)
Therefore, when the Holy Spirit revealed to the disciples in Troas that Paul was going to face suffering in Jerusalem, they urged him not to go there just life the Ephesian elders it was an emotional farewell (v.4). The same warning was dramatically repeated in Caesarea in the house of Phillip the evangelist by Agabus who had come from Judea (vv.10-12).
But Paul refused to have them break his heart because he said For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem ..."(v.13)
Very honestly who is among us who can repeat these words like Paul with a clear conscience? Are we under the same master? What are you willing to give for Christ? If you were required to sacrifice your only son like Abraham, would you do it, or you will rationalize it and disobey? If the Lord required you to sacrifice your career for Him would you do it? And how much has the God paid for your salvation?
What is the value of your soul? Mark 8:36, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” for many of us we have put our family matters number one. But most of us it is the careers which come first and so all we do, think and dream is how to make our careers shine brighter. For far more others it is the desire to be rich. There is a place for that, but the most important thing is to value your soul in terms of how eternity minded you are. If you would be willing to die for the Lord Jesus Christ then you have valued your soul to worthy more than the whole world.

b)      You have to do all for the sake Christ (V.13)

Calvin again in his commentary for Acts says that it is only those who will freely lay down their lives as a testimony for the truth that will ever be properly disposed to live for the Lord. My question this morning is, is your life – as marked by your heart, thoughts, desires, plans and conduct, properly disposed to live for the Lord? Are you willing to lose your life to your ego in order to gain Christ? Because this is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?
Jesus is worthy of our self-sacrificial discipleship because of who He is – the eternal Son of God, our Creator and the Saviour of sinners. He is worthy of our devotion for what He has done – dying for sinners. He was obedient to the point of death even death on a cross. He bore the penalty of sin, he bore the wrath of God and merited eternal life for sinners. He is worthy of all our service because He forever lives to intercede for us as our Great High-priest and he is coming for us to be with Him forever.
Paul was willing to die for the Name of the Lord Jesus. For who else are we worthy to die – for our children or for our God? For yourself or for the Saviour of your soul? For money or for salvation? For the inheritance in this world or for the inheritance incorruptible, that which does not fade away reserved in heaven for us who believe? Paul was determined to go to Jerusalem for only one reason – for the sake of Christ. He wanted to go and testify to the Jews of the salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ whom they had killed. He was ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.

c)      You must totally submit to the will of God

Paul was a man arrested by the will of God to do His will. He was living do the will of God. But is it easy to know the will of God especially when like Paul we know the mandate given us by God and then there came conflicting messages in Troas and Caesarea? If you have the Spirit of God, and we know that if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ he does not belong to Him (Rom. 8:9), if you have the Holy Spirit then He will help you to discern the will of God from His written word and providences. Paul had heard the Word of God of going through much suffering so when he heard these other messages, He took them as not as a hindrance for Him from going to Jerusalem but as a warning to Him to prepare him for what was ahead. The Holy Spirit never contradicts Himself and this is the attitude we are to always adopt when reading the Bible. there are times when we are unable to reconcile some passages but even then never look at it as the a problem in the Bible but rather it is a problem in you for your lack of understanding – so you pray that the Spirit of God may illuminate your mind.

2.     You need the courage to be gracious (21:17-26)

a)      Graciousness is a result of heartfelt thankfulness to God

Paul’s graciousness in the manner of dealing with people is very clearly seen here. Although he could not be persuaded by anyone to abandon the Jerusalem visit because he wanted to obey God rather than fear men, upon his arrival in Jerusalem we see a very gracious Paul.  They were received very gladly by the apostles and the elders. This provided an opportunity to relate all the things that God was doing among the Gentiles through his ministry. This prompted them to express their gratefulness to God. He did not ascribe the success of his ministry to strategy or his abilities or his position – it was the things that God had done that he related (v.19)
Many would have regarded Paul’s ministry a failure because of all the problems that he had faced. Listen to what he said, Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one--I am talking like a madman--with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. (2Cor. 11:23-28)
Paul remained a servant of Christ and a better one for the Lord made His grace sufficient for him. If we are going to serve the Lord, then all success and the glory that comes with it is to go to the Lord. Never say it is because of your money, or ability or planning or anything else coming from within yourself – all glory must go to the Lord.

b)      Graciousness flows from the ability to absolve criticism

But as soon as he completed his report, the apostles and elders in Jerusalem glorified God. These are transparent and open people and so they told Paul of the reports that have been coming to them in what Paul has been teaching – that all the Jews among the Gentiles should abandon the law and their customs, like they should not be circumcised. Is this what Paul taught? Yes and no.
Christianity has always been struggling to reconcile the law and grace. And if you walk around most of the preaching that you will hear is that which presents salvation of works. It is true that by the works of the law no man is justified because we are saved by grace alone apart from the law. This is what Paul taught the Jews:
“We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. (Gal 2:15-16)
But no! Paul did not present it in the manner they put. Remember that this was meant to knock him down and his ministry by his opponents. This was an opportunity for him to show them that they were wrong and so when a suggestion to show that he still followed the Jewish customs (that were not opposed to the truths of the gospel) he took the opportunity. He heeded the advice of these brethren because they believed in Paul and Paul trusted them. Remember they had thrashed their doctrinal differences in Acts 15 and so they were in mutual consensus.
As much as we do not enjoy being criticized, especially when we think that we do not have to, we are to be willing to bear all criticism for the sake of Christ. If we are not going to bear the all reproach for Christ then we deny Him who saved us. We will be criticized, reproached and insulted for the name of Christ. Many times these insults might come from our colleagues at work, or our own parent, our relatives and friends. Sometimes it is other professed believers who give the Lord lip-service but for us we are to run the course set for us with perseverance and confidence without turning by the right or by the left. Let us entrust ourselves to the will of the Lord and be only eager to do His will.

c)      Graciousness is for those who pursue reconciliation

The following day, very promptly, Paul took the purification rite and was shaved along with those who were under a vow for seven days so that all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law (v24).
We are to pursue reconciliation and peace with all men. We are to do everything possible to pursue peace with all men. Many times it might not be possible but we have to become peacemakers for us to be sons of God. But there are times when we have to swallow our own pride if not God humbles us. This provides an opportunity to grow in humility so as to be better servants of the Lord. We have been given the ministry of reconciliation and therefore we are to do it with zeal not counting our lives precious to ourselves.
We are to pursue this reconciliation by becoming what we do not want to be. Of course the last thing you want is to tell your boss that he needs Christ. Yes, you don’t want your colleagues dubbing you a zealot. But the Lord on the other hand is very clear that if you want to be His disciple then you must put down your self-will and be willing to do His will. You have to be what Christ wants you to be … you have to follow Him on His terms – not on yours. 

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