Applying Acts 13


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. . . .

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

When Charles Dickens began his famous novel “A Tale of Two Cities”, he was comparing London and Paris. It’s interesting, though, that his words so appropriately describe two politicians found in the pages of the New Testament. Both were rulers. Both sought to hear the Word of God. Both responded to the Word when they heard it from Paul. And they both teach us lessons as we share the same Scriptures.

THE RESPONSE MAY BE ACCEPTANCE

Acts 13:6, 7, 12 –  When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. . .Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.

Sergius Paulus was the governor of Cyprus when Saul (later renamed Paul) and Barnabas began their first missionary journey. Paphos was the capital of the island and the novelty of Paul’s message reached the ears of Sergius. This passage says he sought to hear the Word of God, which Saul was happy to deliver.

The encouraging lesson here is that there are times that God’s Word will penetrate the hearts of leaders and this is a result for which we should all pray. Dickens’ “epoch of belief” was realized here in first-century Cyprus.

THE RESPONSE MAY BE ALARM

Acts 24:24, 25   After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.” 

Felix (procurator of Judea) and Drusilla didn’t have the purest of relationships. She was married to someone else when she started seeing Felix, then Felix abducted Drusilla to take her as a wife, even though she wasn’t divorced or a widow.

With these two as his audience, what topics does Paul cover from Scripture? Was it time for some soft acceptance of this couple’s strange marriage – who was Paul to judge if they were right or wrong? No – Paul spoke to them about being righteous and having self-control and that everyone will give an account to God at the end of their lives when there will be judgment. Felix responded to this teaching with unbelief and fear.

There will be times when people will respond to the Bible like Felix, running from God. Even anger toward hearing the Word is a form of showing fear – fear of facing what has been heard and being accountable for sin. Prepare to lose popularity with some people when you tell them the truth from God’s Word.

IMPLICATIONS FOR US

The implications from these two accounts are stark and clear. Paul’s example of steadfastly teaching the Scriptures should motivate us to depend on the power of the truth of God’s Word and share it with others consistently.

Also, we must realize that the message may be accepted or rejected, but we are not in control of the results. This reality should keep us in humble reliance on the moving of God’s Spirit in the hearts of leaders who come under the truth of the Bible.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs often as we focus on praying for our leaders, we should also think of those who serve on their staff as well. Those who surround leaders in their offices are crucial to their success. In Acts 13, the proconsul Sergius Paulus had a counselor who tried to block the gospel from getting to him. It matters who is on the staff of our leaders.

Take some time to read this short article about two of my favorite Chiefs-of-Staff in Annapolis. I love these ladies and enjoy every time I visit their office. As busy as Andi and Katlyn are, they are always warm and kind when I come by. Let the article remind you how to pray for these key people in our government as they serve with much passion in the middle of so much pressure.

Click here for the article.

Question #1:  Do you want your government representatives to please God?

It’s a loaded question filled with implications. The answer may not be as clear-cut as we might think.  For some, the definition of “pleasing God” is really the same as “vote the way I like”.  Is that necessarily the true definition?  Maybe you haven’t thought about it in these terms, but this is definitely an interesting thing to consider.

A verse that guides our thinking on this question needs to be included in our answer, though.

Verse #1:  And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.  (Hebrews 11:6 ESV)

This is a huge statement.  The worldview that is shaped by this verse runs totally against our culture.  Think of it – any thought, attitude, intention or action done apart from faith is not pleasing to God.  The implication for believers is massive because we must constantly be aware of what drives who we are and what we do.  We know that it is very possible for a follower of Jesus to displease God.

But what does this verse say about unbelievers?  Even if they do something moral or right or just, are they pleasing God?  According to Hebrews 11:6, the answer is no.  All of mankind’s righteousness is the same as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).  Only a heart that has been given faith to believe, know and desire God and His ways can please Him.

So. . .

Question #2:  Since our governmental leaders must have faith to have the capacity to please God, what will cause that to come about?

Verse #2So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.  (Romans 10:17 ESV)

Pretty simple.

We are guided by this second verse to answer how leaders can come to faith in order to please God.  It’s not by outwardly observing religious activities.  It’s not by speaking, thinking or even voting in ways consistent with God’s Word.

It’s impossible for anyone to please God without faith, through which all who are saved can receive Christ in the first place.  Even the most outwardly moral and upright people will spend eternity apart from God if they live a life of faithlessness.

Which brings us to. . .

Question #3:  Since the church is God’s agent in this world to proclaim the Word of Christ, what are we doing to ensure leaders hear that Word so they can receive the gift of faith in order to please God?

Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch

The concept of “The Paphos Paradigm” (intentional, targeted ministry of the gospel to governmental leaders) is taken from Paul’s encounter with the governor of Cyprus, Sergius Paulus, in Acts 13:1-12, but the pattern is seen all through the Bible.  Five chapters earlier, an African treasury official gives us another encouraging example of the life-changing power of the gospel.  Acts 8:26-39 has important lessons for today’s church.  Let’s look at ten of them (not necessarily in order of importance):

1.  There was a political official God wanted to reach.  “. . . there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. . .” (v. 27b)  If you know even a few stories from the Bible, you’ve seen this before.  God repeatedly sends messengers into the lives of political leaders to speak His truth into their lives with the goal of heart-change.

2.  God called a messenger to go to the political leader.  “But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.) . . . Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” (vv. 26, 29)  The call of God was made clear to the messenger, in this case the apostle Philip, but that call still necessitated action (we’ll get to that in the conclusion).  Philip immediately followed the Lord’s call and plan.

3.  Philip went to where the leader was.  So he got up and went . . . Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” . . . And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.” (vv. 27a, 30, 31b)  In that day there weren’t too many choices for communication, so Philip had to physically go to where the Ethiopian was.  This is, of course, the most effective place to be to talk with anyone, but the church today has so many technologically creative ways to share love and good news with leaders.  Face to face can’t be beat, though, and has a tremendous impact.

4.  The leader was outwardly religious.  he had come to Jerusalem to worship, and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah.” (vv. 27c, 28)  How often do we see this?  Our leaders are often seen speaking in churches, attending prayer breakfasts and quoting Scripture during speeches on the floor.  But just because there is a profession of faith or an outward appearance of religiosity, a leader may have never repented of and been forgiven of sin.  We cannot assume that and the church should be on the front lines of exhorting leaders to “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you–unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5)

5.  The Word of God is powerful.  “Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this:
         ‘HE WAS LED AS A SHEEP TO SLAUGHTER;
         AND AS A LAMB BEFORE ITS SHEARER IS SILENT,
         SO HE DOES NOT OPEN HIS MOUTH. 
    ‘IN HUMILIATION HIS JUDGMENT WAS TAKEN AWAY;
         WHO WILL RELATE HIS GENERATION?
         FOR HIS LIFE IS REMOVED FROM THE EARTH
.'”  (vv. 32, 33)  This is a point we could include in every top ten list.  But we must pause to acknowledge the powerful moving of God’s Spirit in this whole narrative was through the reading, meditating, asking about, and proclaiming Scripture.  Philip’s opinion doesn’t show up anywhere.

6.  The leader was seeking God and open to Him.  The eunuch answered Philip and said, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?” (v. 34)  He had worshiped in Jerusalem, had the book of Isaiah open on his lap and was clearly wrestling with the meaning of the passage.  What a blessing when someone asks a question about the Lord.  When they do, we should have an answer ready!

7.  The message was clearly communicated, starting from where the leader was.   “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture . . .” (v. 35a)  When is the last time you opened your mouth, or email or letter, to share Christ with your representatives?  Ever?

8.  The content of the gospel message was centered on Jesus.  “. . . he preached Jesus to him.” (v. 35b)  If we believe Christ has the answers for all man’s problems, that has to be shared.  There is no other definition of the gospel than Jesus Christ crucified and risen.  Speaking up for godly, biblical laws to be enacted in our land is great, but lawmakers may still go to a Godless eternity if we stop there.

9.  A believing leader should be an obedient leader.  “As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?’ And Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’ And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him.” (vv. 36-38)  Just like any believer, visible fruit will accompany true faith.  The Ethiopian’s desire to obey and identify with Christ showed a heart that wanted to please the Lord.  This is the kind of change our leaders need.  We all do.

10.  God desires leaders to move from despair and confusion to joy.  “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing.” (v. 39)  What a change of heart, emotion, action and purpose this eunuch went through in these few verses!  Many of your leaders are rudderless in life.  They are on the pointless treadmill of life without purpose or meaning.  The church has been left on earth to go to all nations with the direction-changing, hope-producing gospel that we can be forgiven and know God personally.

Conclusion:  When Philip asked if he understood what he was reading, this poor, confused, desperate Ethiopian treasurer responded with a most important question: “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?”

We should be like our God “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  (1 Timothy 2:4).  Pray for your leaders and consider how you can share your faith in Christ with them.

Pastor John Piper, Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Pastor John Piper, Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota

I came across a sermon in John Piper’s resource library at Desiring God from 1991 that, I believe, helps Christians sharpen their focus on virtually every area in their lives.  The text is from Acts 8:9-24, the account of Simon who offered Peter and John money for the secret to their ministry of sign gifts.  Simon is described as a magician and when he saw Peter and John working miracles, he was amazed – at the miracles.

Dr. Piper’s illustration of Simon’s lack of focus on the apostles’ true ministry of pointing people to Christ is striking.  When a baby is on your lap and you point to something interesting for them to look at – say, a bird outside – what do they look at?  Your finger!  They miss the whole point of something more interesting because they fixate on the finger that’s pointing, not what the finger is pointing to.

What a great picture.  Simon was amazed at the sign gifts, not on the Savior they pointed to.  We can all do that in so many areas.  How often do we get fixated on physical trappings around us, even amazed at them, and miss seeing Jesus to whom our world points?  The beauty of creation, a powerful sermon delivered by a gifted communicator, a great song on the radio sung by an incredible singer, the encouraging card sent by a caring friend.  So many areas of our lives can be sources of amazement while we completely miss the Lord inspiring it all and the Giver of it all.

Politics can be one of those areas.  The power, the change, the instrument for good in our world, the institution of rewarding those who do good and judging those who don’t.  The danger is always present to concentrate on the political process or charismatic personalities or the desire for better law and lose the focus on Christ Himself, who is supreme and “is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11).

Simon had a form of belief, but it was misdirected.  “Even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip, and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed” (Acts 8:13). 

By contrast later in Acts, the governor of Cyprus, Sergius Paulus, also believed but his amazement was caused by something else.  “Then the proconsul believed when he saw what had happened, being amazed at the teaching of the Lord” (Acts 13:12). 

We are far too easily amazed, just like the baby’s eyes following the pointing finger.  Christ is the point.  The gospel is the message to reconcile sinners to Him.  Other earthly pursuits and interests have been given for our enjoyment, but we can’t become overly enamored by them, lest we miss Him, the beginning and end of everything.

I commend Piper’s message to you. Click here to read or listen to it.

jimmy carterAn article by former president Jimmy Carter earlier this month in a British newspaper again confirms the need to pray for our leaders in government and importance of fidelity to the Scriptures.  In the article, Carter resigns from the Southern Baptist Convention, something he has done several times in the past dating back to 2000.  It’s a curious recurring action since no individual can hold membership in the SBC, but he resigns every few years anyway.

Carter’s main beef right now is the SBC’s statement on gender roles and his arguments reveal a view of the Bible that naturally leads to his conclusions.  He begins the piece by quoting first from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 2) which ensures all rights and freedoms regardless of status.  Then he quotes Galatians 3:28 which says “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  

For Carter, and many others who share his view, these truths are incompatible with defining separate roles for men and women.  Any other verses from Paul’s writings that clarify the definition of gender roles in the church or home are not to be rigidly followed or taken as authoritative.   According to Carter, “quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service. . . was in conflict with my belief – confirmed in the holy scriptures – that we are all equal in the eyes of God.” (Click here for the full column)

The point of this post is not to discuss the domestic or ministerial role of women, but to defend Paul’s writings as the inspired Word of God which do not present an inconsistency here.  Letting God speak for Himself through the Bible allows one to see the complementary nature of different passages which are completely reconcilable with one another.

In thinking of the Paphos Paradigm, the government official, Sergius Paulus, was amazed at the teaching of the Lord through Paul and believed (Acts 13:12).  Jimmy Carter does not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, along with many others in our world.  For this reason the church should take seriously the responsibility to pray for the spiritual eyes of leaders to be opened to the authority of God’s Word and to be active in making this teaching available in the political sphere (1 Timothy 4:1-4).

Jesus’ mandate to His Church in Matthew 28 is to teach others to observe all He commands through His Word, not to hold the Scriptures to the standards of our human reason.

Paul statueIn Acts 13:12, a politician actually repents and believes on Christ.  What do you think of that?  How in the world did that happen?  Isn’t that the antithesis of what we would expect?

What did Paul say to this leader, Sergius Paulus, to convince him to trust in Christ?  The passage doesn’t recount Paul’s words, but other passages do, filling in the blanks of Acts 13:12, which just says Sergius was “amazed at the teaching of the Lord“.

Paul probably said what he usually said.  The man stayed on task, you have to admit.  When he stood before King Agrippa in Acts 26, I think we get a pretty good idea of Paul’s message to Sergius Paulus (and other leaders he addressed throughout his ministry).  We also get a good insight into the message the Church is still responsible to take to government officials.

1)  Personal testimony – Paul did this several times through Acts, but he recalled for Agrippa his personal encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus.  What did he share?

*  His previous life – “And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them” (26:10).  Paul honestly identified himself as a sinner in need of forgiveness.

*  When he met Christ – “While so engaged as I was journeying to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, at midday, O King, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining all around me and those who were journeying with me.  And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.  And I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting’” (26:12-15).  Paul pinpoints the time he heard Christ’s message stopping him in his tracks.

*  The call to follow and serve – “‘But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me'” (26:16-18).  Paul’s affirms why he sharing this message in the first place.  It is good news for all sinners.

*  His obedience – “So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance” (26:19-20)

 2)  The Gospel – “that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He would be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles” (26:23).  Christ’s death and resurrection was central to Paul’s interactions with leaders of his day.

3)  An apologetic opportunity – “While Paul was saying this in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad.” But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth.  For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner” (26:24-26).  Notice Paul handles objections that come up during his statements from a by-standing political leader, Festus.  This could easily have occurred before Sergius as well.

4)  An appeal for decisions – “Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.” And Paul said, ‘I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains’” (26:28-29).  Agrippa didn’t believe, Sergius did, but Paul’s desire was the same for both rulers.

Can you see yourself saying these things to your governmental leaders?  Can you pray for open doors so that others might take this message to them?  Do you even have thoughts of caring for your public officials spiritually?  How we answer these questions will determine to what extent the Body of Christ will carry out the mandate to make disciples of every nation, including political types.

For many in today’s American church, this is going to take a major change in mindset, priority and action.

Mark Sanford, Governor of South Carolina

Mark Sanford, Governor of South Carolina

Some friends have asked my opinion on the recent admission by South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford that he had an extramarital affair.  Specifically, I hear the question “Don’t these politicians know they’ll get caught?  Don’t they know what they’re risking?  Surely they aren’t that dense.”

First, we need to remind ourselves that improper sexual relationships aren’t relegated only to the world of politicians.  In fact, if this admission comes from someone in, say, the entertainment industry it may even help their career.  Bed-hopping in some vocations can actually advance one’s goals.  But we’re talking about politicians now, and for them (at least some of them) the fallout can be a career-ender.  Are they so obtuse to believe that adultery is a valid option for them?

This ties in with the Paphos Paradigm of Acts 13.  Another governor, Sergius Paulus, who was the highest ranking Roman political official on Cyprus when Paul and Barnabas came through on the first missionary journey, is described as “a man of intelligence” (Acts 13:7).  He summoned Paul and Barnabas to meet with him personally so that he could hear their message himself.  This wasn’t uncommon since customarily public orators traveled the ancient world speaking new philosophies all the time.  Sergius had the intellectual curiosity to seek out those who presented new thought in his day. 

It has been my experience (and I expect it to hold true in the future) that those I’ve met who have risen to high office didn’t get there by accident.  They are driven, ambitious and very, very smart.  As you browse through their education and achievements this becomes clearly evident.  Since I seek to minister the gospel to these folks, that fact can be intimidating, but there are several biblical principles that need to be kept in mind. 

Let’s just get this first one out of the way.  All of us are sinners and need the gospel of Jesus Christ for forgiveness and the power to obey Him.  We all won’t struggle with the same sins, but we all will struggle.  Governor Sanford claims to follow Christ which is another reminder that Christians can give in to their flesh and fall as well.  This doesn’t address the issue of intelligence, but is just a statement of fact:  “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

Next, there is a wisdom that this world provides and a wisdom that comes from God.  There are some very intelligent people who have no heart for God.  There are some who don’t have the degree from Harvard, but love the Lord and seek to please Him.  Paul made this clear to the Corinthians when he said “Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”  (1 Corinthians 1:20)

Not only does Paul show that there are two sources of wisdom (God’s vs. the world’s), but he also demonstrates that the qualities of those two ways of thinking are very different:

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.  (1 Corinthians 1:25-29)

The smart person (in the world’s definition) will see God’s wisdom as foolishness.  But any “wisdom” apart from God is destined to destroy.  We see it every day in marriages, families, communities and nations.  The impact has a wider range when leaders fall, so again we should be in prayer for them to act wisely, from wisdom that comes from God in His Word.

So when a politician cheats on a spouse, are they being unintelligent?  It’s the wrong question.  We should ask “To what source do our leaders look for wisdom and their ability to make God-glorifying decisions, professionally and personally?”  When they are unfaithful in marriage, it only shows their source and quality of wisdom is man-based, not God-centered.  But let us take care to cast stones: “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted”  (Galatians 6:1).

I say in the title that Governor Sanford’s struggle is shared by all leaders.  Obviously, I don’t mean that all officials cheat on their spouses.  But they do all have a sin nature, like every person.  The struggle for the right wisdom is the fight we all must wage.  The Church has a dog in this fight and we must wake up to our responsibility before God to speak loving truth to the leaders of men to see their hearts changed.  The time and treasure we are spending to merely force them to give us the society we want is one of the greatest acts of neglect in the Church’s legacy.

Dr. fruit of the SpiritJohn Piper posted this to his Twitter page recently:  “Filled with the HOLY SPIRIT Paul said, “You son of the devil, enemy of righteousness, full of villainy” (Acts 13:9). Which fruit is that?

It caught my eye for two reasons: 1)  I’ve wondered the same thing many times and 2) it’s a crucial question in the Paphos Paradigm found in Acts 13:1-12.  If you want a little more background on the quote above check out the entry on this blog from June 1, 2009 (“Lessons from Wichita and Paphos – Appropriate Confrontation of  Evil”).

So here are the two seemingly contradictory concepts Piper is asking us to reconcile:  1)  Paul was full of the Holy Spirit, the evidence of which is found in Galatians 5:22, 23a: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control;” yet 2) Paul verbally rips into the false prophet and magician Bar-Jesus with the words quoted in Piper’s tweet.

There are several layers to the answer, I think.  The first is Paul’s motivation for addressing Bar-Jesus so firmly.  It’s the same motivation that drove him to be the greatest missionary as well as endure suffering, hardship and loss.  Paul’s primary goal was to proclaim the gospel and Bar-Jesus was keeping that from happening.  Hence the reproof and judgement of temporary blindness (Acts 13 :10, 11).

Another consideration, as I wrote on June 1, is that these words we read in Acts 13 probably weren’t the only ones Bar-Jesus heard from Paul.  Chances are Paul spoke the truth of the gospel in the magician’s hearing, offering to him the same forgiveness and new life as any other hearer in Cyprus.  He just chose to reject it and tried to prevent the governor, Sergius Paulus, from hearing it also.  That sent Paul off.

So, to answer the original question, which fruit of the Spirit did Paul display in his treatment of the false prophet, Bar-Jesus?  A couple come to my mind.  The first is love.  I doubt that in 21st-century America we have a very accurate idea of what love really is.  Our definition is to make much of a person; if we are the recipients, our expectation is to be made much of.  Without getting into a deep theological discussion, God Himself doesn’t always treat people He loves by this definition.  His definition of love is to give people the opportunity to make much of Him, which is our highest good.  What happened to Bar-Jesus showed the greatness of God, pointed others to Him and had a part in the salvation of Sergius Paulus.  It was the loving thing for Paul to do.

Faithfulness would be another fruit seen in Paul’s words and actions here, again based on his goal of getting the gospel out.  How many times do we let obstacles keep us from sharing the truth as we should?  Is faithfulness in shorter supply in today’s churches and if it is, can we trace that back to not being controlled by the Spirit as we ought? 

All followers of Christ should reflect Him and these fruits that show the Spirit indwells.  But we will collide and disagree with our culture.  It will make us mad (which is not necessarily wrong biblically, but can be sinful).  But WHY does it make us mad?  What will our response be?  How does Paul’s example inform our motivation and our treatment of those who are hostile to our message of the gospel? 

It’s an interesting question.  How would you answer it?

police tapeYesterday’s murder of the controversial Dr. George Tiller, notorious for his prolofic abortion activity, will no doubt be written and spoken about much in the next few days.  The vigilante nature of the murderer’s  act is obviously immoral and unjustified.  It made me question, though: does the Paphos Paradigm shed any light on confronting evil in the political arena?  I believe it does because Paul and Barnabas came across an obstacle in the capital of Cyprus.  

6 When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they found a magician, a Jewish false prophet whose name was Bar-Jesus, 7 who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence. This man summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God.  8 But Elymas the magician (for so his name is translated) was opposing them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.  9 But Saul, who was also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, fixed his gaze on him, 10 and said, “You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord?  11 Now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and not see the sun for a time.” And immediately a mist and a darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking those who would lead him by the hand.  (Acts 13:6-11)

Several principles can be observed from Acts 13 in relation to responding to those with opposing priorities.  First of all, I think we can agree that opposition will occur in this world and we shouldn’t be surprised or intimidated when it does.  Especially in the political sphere we tend to take great offense that others don’t share our point of view when this is one inescapable reality.

Second, notice why Paul was stirred to action: Bar-Jesus was placing himself between Paul and the governor to block the gospel from having any effect (v. 8).  Paul wasn’t passionate about policy differences as much as he was displeased that a wall had been placed in the way of his message.  His actions clearly reflect a priority of seeing his mission through – witnessing to Sergius Paulus.  He wouldn’t let anything get in the way of that, because he knew the powerful impact the gospel has in the human heart.

Third, motivated by the right reason, Paul has sharp words for Bar-Jesus and calls him exactly what he is: an enemy of what is right.  But again, let the passage define “right”.  Bar-Jesus opposed Paul’s gospel message while his political views aren’t even mentioned (or seem to concern Paul at all).  Passion for seeing the gospel reach a leader is the issue here, not to change his mind on a policy.  When the truth of God does its work, the Church must believe that worldviews are changed and spiritually regenerated leaders can then make laws that are more moral and equitable.

Fourth, think about what isn’t recorded in this passage.  Given Paul’s pattern of ministry and his priority of proclaiming God’s truth, I believe he witnessed to Bar-Jesus (or at least spoke within his hearing) before this recorded confrontation took place.  And who knows what the result was from the combination of Paul’s teaching and Bar-Jesus’ temporary blindness?  For Sergius Paulus, it was faith in Christ.  We aren’t told what happened ultimately in the magician’s heart and maybe the author, Luke, never found out.  But from the impression left by Paul’s response to his opposition, Bar-Jesus may have believed as well.

Murdering a political opponent is never right.  With prayer and proper confrontation from the Christian community, perhaps Dr. Tiller would have drawn close to Christ.  Our concern over the negative effects of the actions of those hostile to God’s principles in Scripture must be spiritual rather than merely political or opinion-based.  It’s important to speak up for righteousness in our world, but the battle is won and lost in the hearts of people as they respond to God’s truth.

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