February 17, 2014 by lellielieb
The reading for today took me through a story in the book of Acts. The passage began with Paul, newly in from a missionary journey, being briefed on the situation in Jerusalem by James. Paul learns that, among the Jews “WHO HAVE BELIEVED,” there are many who are “zealous for the law.” This group is not happy that Paul has been sharing the gospel with the Gentiles. The elders suggest that Paul should go to the temple and show himself to be a loyal Jew, faithfully following the law for those who have a vow. They think that if people see Paul behaving as a normal, loyal Jew, they will stop spreading rumors and trouble. RIGHT!
Of course Paul gets mobbed and saved, though arrested, by the Romans. Before he is taken into the barracks, the Roman guards allow him to make a speech to the crowd, “And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet.” They were willing to listen because he was speaking their language. They become a great audience, letting him tell them all about his conversion experience. Paul confesses that once he was a persecutor of the followers of Christ, even holding the coats of those who stoned Stephen. But then he goes where they simply cannot follow. He tells them about the task God laid out for him–going to the Gentiles to share the good news of Jesus. The next verse in the ESV reads, “Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, ‘Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.'”
WOW! A couple of things stood out to me from this passage today. First, many of those who opposed Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles were believers. They were unable to see past their prejudices and recognize the fact that God was doing a new thing. Their hate was so great that they were unwilling or unable to see God’s love and compassion for people who were “other” than themselves. I’m familiar with this story, but I always assumed that the people who caused this incident were some of the same crowd that pushed for the death of Jesus, but I was wrong.
Second, they were willing to listen to Paul to a point. As long as they thought there was a possibility that he was on their side, they listened. They kept those open minds right up to the point where Paul says that God sent him to the Gentiles. Then they go crazy. Paul was saying things that went against their ideas about God. They couldn’t handle it. A.W. Tozer once said that idolatry flows from wrong ideas about God. Paul’s listeners had an idea of what God was like. They believed God loved them and only them. They wanted to keep Jesus for themselves; they believed they were on the side of purity. When Paul challenged them with another idea, they wanted him dead–just like Jesus.
This scares me a little. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the US and THEM mentality that seems to pervade Christianity. It’s dangerous. I wonder how often I have been wrongly critical of other Christians. The fact that my calling doesn’t match your calling doesn’t make your calling wrong. I think we need to do more to cheer one another on. We need to be wise, yes, but we need to be very aware of our own pressure points and prejudices. We need to ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom and discernment. We need to remember that Jesus didn’t call us to a battle of US vs.THEM. He called us to be the servants of all. We have an enemy, but he is spiritual. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood…”(Eph. 6:12) I need to think and pray about this more. I need to recognize my own sin. Lord, give me love and discernment today and every day!