2/3/03 10.30 a.m. Acts 16:1-15
We are starting a sermon series on Acts 16 and, this week will be looking at sharing our faith in Jesus. In the early church God was giving the Holy Spirit to Jews and to Gentiles. This showed that these new Christians were proper believers. This was a dilemma for early Church leaders who were all Jews. Christianity had started life as a type of Jewish sect.
Some Jewish Christians believed that these Gentile converts had to become Jews as well as becoming Christians. i.e keep the O.T. law including circumcision, food laws, religious festivals, and renouncing sexual immorality.
Yet Paul, and others including Peter, took a different stance. They said the gospel was solely a free undeserved gift from God who sent Jesus to die for people's sins.
As a result of this tension the Council of Jerusalem met, recorded in Acts 15.
Circumcision not included. Go against the fundamentals of the gospel. The gospel depends on the gift of God, not an outward human sign.
Sexual immorality prohibited because against God's revealed will.
The Gentile Christians were asked to abstain from the other practices to avoid causing unnecessary offence to Jewish Christians.
The principle of not compromising the fundamentals of the gospel, yet acting sensitively towards others was and is important.
The church leaders had just met and said circumcision not needed. Why then did Paul then circumcise Timothy 16:3 ? Because he was taking Timothy to mix with Jews. They would associate Timothy with his Greek father & not his Jewish mother and be offended. It was to avoid this offence getting in the way of the spread of the gospel that Timothy was circumcised.
The fact that the Council of Jerusalem had just decided that circumcision was not essential for Christians gave Paul the freedom to circumcise Timothy. If Paul had not successfully argued that circumcision was unnecessary I am sure he would not have gone ahead with this.
I wonder what God is calling us to do to spread the gospel In Talke, Talke Pits, Butt Lane and other areas ?
Is there anything that we do or do not do that might cause offence to someone and stop them from being drawn to Jesus ? Is there anything that we do that is getting in the way of us sharing our faith with others ? We may be spending time, emotion, energy, emotion, money on things that do not glorify God. We may be scared of our reputation or status being at risk if we appear to be too radical for Jesus.
It may be that this very building is an obstacle to some people. They may be worried that they won't fit in, they won't know what to do and be looked down upon. They may need someone to invite them. Or they may need someone to go out to them, to draw alongside them in the name of Jesus so they can know something of His love for them.
God doesn't call or equip every Christian to be an evangelist. But he does call and equip every Christian to be a witness. Our faith should be such good news to us that we want to share it with everyone !
Kris Akabusi, Olympic silver medallist and broadcaster said, ' I believe that God is primarily calling me to be a witness where I am... rather than a celebrity Christian speaking at a different church each Sunday.'
Where is God calling you, and me, to be a witness in our daily lives ?
Read verses 4-5. The unity and the compassion of the church leaders' decision had two effects. It strengthened the faith of the churches and this enabled them to share the good news and for people to come to faith.
The leaders were united in confirming the gospel of grace. They were also united in affirming love by making concessions to the background of the Jewish Christians.
We can share the love of Jesus by telling of the gospel of grace. That God loved the world so much he sent his only son to take the punishment for sinners. So that anyone may be free to know and to follow God.
We should also be prepared to make allowances for where people are coming from. At times this may be painful, costly. But we who have been forgiven so much are called to be forgiving. It is the litmus paper of our faith.
In verses 6-10 we read of God the Holy Spirit blocking Paul, Silas and Timothy from some areas, and calling them to go to Macedonia.
There was the negative side, the blocking from certain areas. We don't know exactly how the Holy Spirit did this. Whether it was a strong inward compulsion, a word of prophecy, or an inability to physically enter a place because of, say, the closing of a border crossing or whatever. There was the positive side as well. God spoke to Paul in a dream to call him to Macedonia. The gospel was crossing into Europe for the first time !
Sometimes we can be frustrated at something, especially if we concentrate on the negative. It may be only later when we see God's leading and guiding and, perhaps the importance of an event and how it fitted in with God's plan.
We can ask the questions. What does God want me to learn from this ? What does God want me to do in this situation ?
Perhaps we need to be praying, both as individuals and as a church, for God to lead us into situations where we can share his love, in word or in deed.
It is God who brings people to faith. We need to be open to His leading and His power in prayer. We need to be available to be used by Him.
Billy Graham said,'We are the Bibles the world is reading,
we are the creeds the world is needing,
we are the sermons the world is heeding.'
We read from verses 11-15 how Paul went to Philippi, the capital of Macedonia.
When Paul visited a new city he first of all went to a synagogue where he would find people versed in the Old Testament. He would then use this as a basis of sharing the gospel. In some locations he then went on to a public place, perhaps where religious and philosophical debate took place. He would then start by referring to something he had observed in the city and go on from this to share the good news of Jesus.
In Philippi he first went to the place where he expected Jews to be meeting, verse 13. There was no official synagogue there. A synagogue needed at least ten men and there probably were not enough men there to set one up. Lydia was from outside the area and probably an agent of a manufacturer of purple cloths which were dyed in Thyatira. She was a worshipper of God, believing and behaving like a Jew without becoming one.
Note, 'the Lord opened her heart to respond ', verse 14. We saw earlier how it is God who not only sent Jesus but also enables people to respond to his love. Paul went out, drew alongside people and shared God's love. He left the rest up to God.
An infant school teacher with a class of five year olds suddenly felt faint and dropped to the floor. As she was falling she called out, 'Go and get the headteacher'.
Lying on the floor she was dimly aware of a crowd of young faces looking at her and a tiny voice saying, 'Which one of us do you want to go ? '
God calls every Christian to go and tell. To go out to draw alongside people. To build relationships with friends, family, neighbours, colleagues etc. Being good, interesting, likeable, reliable friends is one way in which the kingdom of God grows. When we do this it seems more like fun than evangelism. I am sure the testimony of every one of us would involve a Christian getting alongside us as a friend and living out the gospel. There are ways in which we are seeking to draw alongside folk as a church. The Luncheon Club and Mothers' Union are examples of this.
We should be praying as well. Praying for ourselves that God will give us the courage and the opportunities to share his love with others. Praying for folk, that God's Holy Spirit would work in their lives to open their eyes to what Jesus has done for them. To turn to Jesus as their Lord, friend and Saviour.
We need more people to be involved in the Church. Not necessarily in doing things 'up front'. We need people to help with providing flowers and arranging them; people to clean the brasses; people to help at the door, not only new people but also for people whose names are on the rota to carry out this ministry.
We can all share the good news. As individuals and as a church, and as churches. On July 18th we will be having a short 45 minute service at the Freeport with the Baptist & Methodists. This is a way of going where people are. Showing them that the church is alive, relevant, and wants to reach out to them. Please pray for the preparations for this. In early October we will be having our Harvest Celebrations including Rode Hall Silver Band on the Saturday night. This gives us all an opportunity to invite people to church in a less threatening way. I am currently talking to Peter Hart, a former professional footballer who is now a Vicar, about arranging an evening where he can share his experiences and his faith to people outside the church.
But we can arrange countless activities and without the support of the fellowship there will be little fruit. If we look around the church this morning we have to be realistic and say that unless there is an influx of younger, committed members within the next 5 to 10 years this church will rapidly decline.
Are we all prepared to devote ourselves to releasing people to minister in outreach ? Are we all prepared to devote ourselves to pray, to reach out and witness to the love of God in Jesus ?
We cannot just sit back and expect God, or someone else to do everything or , like the school children whose teacher fainted, expect someone to tell us exactly what to do. We have to be like Paul, go out to people, be open to God's leading to share the good news, and let God do the work of bringing people to faith.