Summary: This continues in my expository series through the book of Acts
I was in the mood for a little George Jones this week—I’m sure that mood strikes each of you with regularity. I listened to his lament, entitled “Choices”, with the words
I’ve had choices Since the day that I was born
There were voices That told me right from wrong
If I had listened No I wouldn’t be here today
Living and dying With the choices I made
Each of us, to one degree or another, can identify with old George. Any man who says he’d not change a single choice he’s made in life is either a liar or a fool, and most likely, both. Life is a series of choices, decisions of every variety, some tiny and some huge, with consequences that range from utterly inconsequential to life-changing. How many different decisions do we make in a given day? Certainly, it must number in the thousands, if not the hundreds of thousands. Many of these decisions we reach subconsciously, or at least we do not deliberate about them in any detail. The light turns red, I stop the car; I don’t engage in sophisticated analysis of what to do. Now, with the light turning yellow, I do engage in a bit more detailed analysis: “can I beat it”, is the general question.
What’s the most important decision you made in the last week? What’s the least important? (Talk around the table briefly).
When we come to today’s text, we find Paul making a series of decisions that will greatly impact the lives of others, and the success of the spread of the gospel of Christ that we’ve been studying. Last week, we looked at that pivotal text in the book of Acts, where the church at Jerusalem settled once-and-for-all the Salvation Equation: we are made right with God by virtue of God’s grace, met with our faith, plus nothing else. I do not come to God pleading my own case, asking God to look at the good things I’ve done, or the religious organizations I’ve joined, or how I’ve treated other people, and then to let me into Heaven on those bases. No, I come to God recognizing that apart from His grace, I am sunk, that my sin separates me from Him, and that what He requires of me is one thing and one thing only: trust in Christ. Paul has been entrusted by God with spreading that message, and now he makes the first decision we note today, in verse 36:
I. The Second Missionary Journey
Notice Paul’s initial purpose and reasoning: it is to go and check on the churches that have already been started, to see what is happening there. It’s not to launch new churches, or to proclaim the gospel in a new place, but rather to assess the current state of these existing churches. The Christian life is about far more than making a start with Christ; in fact, placing our faith in Christ is only that, a start. Yes, when we place our faith in Christ alone for our salvation, we become God’s children; we are brought into His kingdom; our names are written in Heaven for eternity, and Heaven is our eternal home. But Paul is also concerned with the growth and development of these new believers, and that’s the reason he gives for wanting to make a second missionary journey. But the second decision we consider is where things get a little hairy:
Let’s begin by noting something: the Bible doesn’t gloss over the “ugly parts”. Luke is honest as a historian here, telling the truth about a dispute between two great men and leaders of the early church. This dispute is noted in verses 37-39, and it has to do with
A. John Mark
This dispute caused “sharp disagreement”. Did tempers flare? Yeah, I think so, from the Greek used here. The word in the original here doesn’t connote an orderly, reasoned discourse; these guys went at it. Remember, these were men, men who would not be fully-sanctified until they got to Heaven. God created each of us as emotional beings; sometimes, we exercise our passions in ways that go beyond the bounds of the glory of God, that get out of control—and it’s likely that these two flesh-and-blood guys said some things in some ways that they each came to regret later. Unity in Christ doesn’t mean uniformity, and in this fallen world, it doesn’t always mean agreement, by any means.
And we won’t have all of our sharp edges worn off until we get to Heaven. Martin Luther said of himself, “I am rough, boisterous, stormy, and altogether warlike, fighting against innumerable monsters and devils. I am born for the removing of stumps and stones, cutting away thistles and thorns, and clearing wild forests.” Yet God used Luther mightily to reclaim the precious truth of salvation by God’s grace through faith alone in Christ.