I had coffee today with a member of the Maryland General Assembly and a comment he made has stuck with me.  He said, “Brent, if Satan himself sat down with a pad of paper to design an environment effectively suited to derail a person from thriving spiritually, it would be politics.”  No field, according to this delegate, causes one to reject the crucial and eternal things of life and to embrace the fleeting and temporal things as much as politics.  That’s a significant statement coming from a politician.

C. S. Lewis, author of "The Screwtape Letters"

C. S. Lewis, author of "The Screwtape Letters"

It got me thinking about The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis’ effort to describe Satan’s strategy of distracting humans from following God (who is referred to as the Enemy in the book).  In a series of letters the demon

Screwtape, an experienced tempter, is writing his advice to his nephew, Wormwood, on how to draw his assigned human away from God.  Consider these quotes through the filter of the life of the believing or unbelieving politician (really buckle down and think about these; it’s not always easy reading):

“Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that is ‘finding his place in it,’ while really it is finding its place in him. His increasing reputation, his widening circle of acquaintances, his sense of importance, the growing pressure of absorbing and agreeable work, build up in him a sense of really being at home on Earth, which is just what we want.”

“This, indeed, is probably on the Enemy’s motives for creating a dangerous world — a world in which moral issues really come to the point. He sees as well as you do that courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful until it became risky.”

“The Enemy loves platitudes. Of a proposed course of action He wants men, so far as I can see, to ask very simple questions: Is it righteous? Is it prudent? Is it possible? Now, if we can keep men asking: ‘Is it in accordance with the general movement of our time? Is it progressive or reactionary? Is this the way that History is going?’ They will neglect the relevant questions. And the questions they do ask are, of course, unanswerable; for they do not know the future, and what the future will be depends very largely on just those choices which they now invoke the future to help make.”

“Talk to him about ‘moderation in all things.’ If you can once get him to the point of thinking that ‘religion is all very well up to a point,’ you can feel quite happy about his soul.”

“Aggravate that most useful human characteristic, the horror and neglect of the obvious. You must bring him to a condition in which he can practice self-examination for an hour without discovering any of those facts about himself which are perfectly clear to anyone who has ever lived in the same house with him or worked in the same office.”

Marriages can be devastated by working in the political world.  Satan knows this and exploits it, which is another reason to soberly pray for our leaders’ homes:

 “Make full use of the fact that up to a certain point, fatigue makes women talk more and men talk less. Much secret resentment, even between lovers, can be raised from this.”

Even when someone enters politics with the intention of being careful about Satan’s attacks, it is also true that

“Suspicion often creates what it suspects.”

When it comes to a Christian’s political involvement as a citizen, these might be helpful:

“We produce [a human’s] sense of ownership not only by pride but by confusion. We teach them not to notice the different senses of the possessive pronoun–the finely graded differences that run from ‘my boots’ through ‘my dog’, ‘my servant’, ‘my wife’, ‘my father’, ‘my master’, and ‘my country’ to ‘my God’. They can be taught to reduce all these senses to that of ‘my boots’, the ‘my’ of ownership.”

“On the other hand we do want, and want very much, to make men treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, as a means to their own advancement, but, failing that, as a means to anything-even to social justice. The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. For the Enemy will not be used as a convenience.”

The plan and schemes of the real “enemy” of men’s souls can be overcome, but only by God Himself.  Do you want godly leaders?  Are you praying for them to desire Him and His ways?  Are you communicating to them that you care for their souls more than their votes?

 Satan has conjured a plan to lead people astray from God.  Many inside and outside of the Church are falling prey to his subtle attacks.  We are in a battle in the spiritual realm and must know our enemy and his tactics, but also trust the One who has the power to defeat him.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Ephesians 6:12, 13

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.

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.