Summary: Our Enemies, Difficult Ministries, Loving Our Enemies
THE CHURCH HAS LEFT THE BUILDING – Uncomfortable Joy
Acts 8:1-8(pg. 764) July 19, 2015
Are lost people your enemy? If someone disagrees with you do you go on the attack? When you walk through the airport and you see the guy in Middle Eastern garb do you instantly form an unfavorable opinion of his character?
One of the most difficult issues every one of us deal with is our prejudices and preconceptions. It’s impossible for us not to be shaped in some way or another by our backgrounds and experiences.
If you were a black man growing up in Birmingham Alabama in 1968 your experiences and interactions with people would be radically different than a white kid born in Lexington Kentucky in 1960 with affluent parents with county roots. All of us have roots...Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, Native American...different cultural experiences...different advantages and disadvantages...different moms and dads or lack thereof.
We don’t have much knowledge of the Apostle Paul’s background...other than this. Hebrew Heritage...Something that shaped him with a fervent pursuit of the Mosaic law...from the tribe of Benjamin...He became a Pharisee, a pursuer and leader in the implementation and practice of this law. Zealous about it...passionate...we know he had advantages...He studied under the great teacher Gameliel. He became a Hebrew of Hebrews.
He had roots...they shaped him and they caused him to pursue and attack those who disagreed with him religiously. It became a life or death issue.
As Stephen, one of the churches earliest servants is being stoned to death...He prayed “Lord Jesus rescue my spirit...Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord do not hold this sin against them.” (sounds familiar doesn’t it?) When he had said this he fell asleep.”
But it’s the next verse that jumps out: “And Saul approved of their killing him.”
“Inwardly Saul thought, “Good! I’m glad this is happening...It’s what’s best.”
He though Jesus and anyone associated with “this way” needed to die...or at least go to prison. He firmly believed that this was a truth that needed his leadership...It became the catalyst for a “great persecution” that broke out against the church in Jerusalem...This persecution scattered every believer...except the 12 apostles... throughout Judea and Samaria.
I. PERSECUTION ALWAYS REVEALS PRIORITIES
Why would God let this happen to the church in its infancy? Why as Godly men bury Stephen with deep, deep grief does God allow Saul to begin to destroy the church...going from house to house, like S.S. soldiers, dragging men and women to prison?
Well, I’m not God...but Jesus is! And He’d told them...and He’d told us “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as it’s own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, that is why the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19)
He tells them: “Remember what I told you “A servant isn’t greater than his master...If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (John 15:20) They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.” (v. 21)
Saul knows all about God...He’s studied His word under great instructors...He’s zealous...passionate...But doesn’t know God at all.
But you can tell those who do by their priorities in the midst of persecution.
“Those who had been scattered preached the Word wherever they went.” (v. 4)
Wait a minute!!! Stephen is praying for the forgiveness of those who are killing him, and other believers who have been forced to run for their lives are preaching the Word...as refugees in foreign places. What kind of religion is this?
Folks, this is more than religion...religion will give you Saul’s heart...this is transformation. This is a relationship with a resurrected Messiah who has filled his followers with His Spirit.
It’s easy...it’s natural to hate those who hate you. And hit those who hit you. It’s something entirely different to meet hate with love. And hits with help. Only those who have truly met Jesus and been filled with His Spirit will make the salvation of their enemies more important than revenge. But it’s this true relationship with God through His son that reveals our priorities to an unbelieving world. Jesus said.
MATTHEW 5:43-48 (p. 678)
[The word “perfect” in this place doesn’t mean “without any flaws.” It means “doing what you were made to do (teleios). The Greek word for sinless is (ana martetos). Jesus doesn’t use this word here. Hammers are made to drive nails. Saws are instruments to cut wood. Frying pans are made to cook chicken. Each of these instruments are “Teleios” perfect, when they are doing what they were made for.
Jesus has made us “perfect” through His Holy Spirit. We are made to love like Him. Love our enemies. Love those who give us the cold shoulder. Love not like unbelievers, but love like our dad. Then we are doing what He made us for “perfectly.”]