New Testament, Sunday School

The Believin’ Bereans and the Thessalonian Thugs ~ Sunday School Lesson ~ 11-30-14

bereans

These are my notes from my ladies’ Sunday School class this morning. I’ll be posting the notes from my class here each week. Click here for last week’s lesson.

Through the Bible in 2014 ~ Week 48 ~ Nov. 23-29
Acts 15-19, Galatians, 1&2 Thessalonians, 1Corinthians 1-4
The Believin’ Bereans and the Thessalonian Thugs

A large part of Acts is devoted to describing how Paul traveled around Asia and Europe preaching and planting churches. Today, we’re going to look at two places he went, Thessalonica and Berea, and their two very different responses to the gospel.

Acts 17:1-9- Thessalonica

Jews vs. Gentiles (1-2, Romans 1:16)
In the days of the early church, one of the apostles was known primarily as the apostle to the Jews, and one as the apostle to the Gentiles. Do you remember which was which? Peter preached mainly to the Jews, and Paul preached mainly to the Gentiles. But as we can see, there was some overlap for both of them.

When Paul arrived at a town with a synagogue (a local “mini-temple” in towns distant from Jerusalem) he started his preaching gig there– to the Jews. This mirrors what we studied back in October, when Jesus sent the disciples out to preach. First, the messiah was God’s promise to and through the Jews, so it was only right to give them “first dibs” on the gospel. Second, this was a period of rapid growth for the church, and converted Jews, with their background in the Old Testament could become competent teachers and preachers much more quickly than Gentiles who had no biblical training at all. Paul emphasizes this concept later in Romans 1:16:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

The Substance of the Sermon (2-3)
In verses 2-3, what does Paul draw from to convince the people that Jesus is the Savior? Does he tell them about his phenomenal personal salvation experience on the road to Damascus? No. He “reasoned with them from the Scriptures.” (2) This is something that’s extremely important for us to grasp and remember as we share the gospel with others today.

The gospel isn’t true and necessary because we personally experience life change from it. The gospel is true and necessary because God says it is.

People can experience life change from Weight Watchers, or a near death experience, or Mormonism, or Buddhism. But the life change they experience doesn’t save them and doesn’t prove that these things are true. This is why, when we evangelize, Scripture should take center stage and personal experiences of how Christ has changed our lives should play a supporting role.

The Mixed Response (4-9)
The encouraging news of this passage is that some of the people Paul preached to heard the gospel and believed it. Sometimes, we are reluctant to share the gospel with people because we’re afraid they will reject it (or us), but we should always keep verse 4 in mind– what if they actually believe it?

The remaining five verses, however, describe the opposite response to the gospel. Now, keep in mind, Paul is preaching to Jews…in the synagogue…from their own Scriptures. These are “church people,” if you will. If anybody should have received with joy what Paul was saying, it was this audience. Instead, they rejected the plain teaching of Scripture and basically ran Paul and Silas out of town on a rail.

Though we don’t usually experience rejection to this extreme today, it is a good reminder to us that there are still unbelievers in the church who will reject the plain teaching of Scripture. And, if there are enough like-minded unbelievers in a particular church or denomination, they will run off pastors, teachers, and denominational leaders who stand firmly on Scripture, and will codify rebellion against Scripture into their core beliefs and policies. This is why we have “churches” today that have homosexual bishops, female pastors, accept evolution, etc. Faithful, active church membership does not automatically guarantee that a person is saved.

Acts 17:10-15- Berea

Second Verse, Same as the First (10)
Sometimes, God closes a door and opens a window. Sometimes He slams the door and throws us through the window. Regardless of His method, we end up in the yard with a new place to share the gospel, and that’s exactly what happened to Paul and Silas.

Again, they started out by preaching the gospel in the synagogue.

An Enthusiastic and Responsible Response (11-12)
It’s easy to see why Paul said that the Jews of Berea were more noble than those of Thessalonica. He had three reasons:

1. “They received the word with all eagerness.”
These Jews loved God’s word and were hungry for it. Hearing Scripture taught wasn’t a burden or a duty for them, it was a joy.

2. They were “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”
These Jews had the godly wisdom to know that, if what Paul was preaching was truly from God, Scripture would back it up. They did not just gullibly take every thing Paul said at face value. They did their homework and dug into the Scriptures to make sure Paul wasn’t pulling a fast one on them.

In our day and age of so many false teachers permeating the media, it is imperative that we follow the example of the Bereans. Don’t listen to that TV preacher just because what he says sounds good to the ear. Don’t assume that Bible study you’re considering buying is true to Scripture just because it’s on the shelf at a Christian bookstore. Be a good Berean. Do the homework– it’s never been easier! Google the pastor or author and find out if he/she has a track record of proclaiming sound doctrine. Compare what you’re hearing or reading to Scripture (in context), and see if what you’re being taught is really what God’s word says.

3. “Many of them therefore believed” (Mark 1:14)
There’s nothing more noble than hearing the gospel and believing it. That’s exactly what Jesus said to do in Mark 1:14: “repent and believe in the gospel.”

The Rest of the Story (13-15)
I wanted to end the lesson with verse 12, because I’m a “happily ever after” kind of gal. But this is the Bible, not a Disney movie, and the reality is that wherever the gospel flourishes, Satan will be hot on its heels to attack.

The unbelieving Jews who had caused such a ruckus in Thessalonica heard what was going on in Berea, and they didn’t like it. So, they traipsed roughly 50 miles down the road (a trip which probably took 2+ days) and started causing the same kind of trouble in Berea. We can expect the same kind of results today. When we preach the gospel, we will often face opposition.

 

When we share the gospel, we can be encouraged and spurred on by the fact that sometimes people will believe it. At the same time, we must be prepared for the opposition Paul and Silas, and even Jesus faced. But, like them, we will eventually get our happy ending. Jesus promised:

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Matthew 5:11-12

Church, New Testament

Godly Giving ~ Sunday School Lesson ~ 11-23-14

godly givingThese are my notes from my ladies’ Sunday School class this morning. I’ll be posting the notes from my class here each week. Click here for last week’s lesson.

Through the Bible in 2014 ~ Week 47 ~ Nov. 16-22
Acts 1-14, James

Godly Giving

As Acts opens, we see the church in its infancy, experiencing the romance of its newness, but beginning to transition into maturity. Jesus reiterated His mission statement for the church -the Great Commission- in Acts 1:8. The church is to be about the business of making (missions/evangelism) and training (discipleship) disciples. Sunday school is one of the places where discipleship (training in God’s word, holy living, and the life of the church) takes place. Last week we trained on one practice of church life: the Lord’s Supper. This week, we will train on another practice of church life: giving and offerings.

As I said, the church was in its infancy, and you know infants– sometimes they get things wrong and sometimes they get things right. Today we’re going to look at one example of how they got giving right and one example of how they got giving wrong.

 

Acts 4:32-37

 

Taking Care of Our Own

Already bound together by their love for Christ, the ever present threat of persecution (Peter and John had recently been arrested) served only to draw Christians closer together, and to make sure they looked out for one anothers’ needs. There was no government safety net, and even in Jesus’ day (John 9:22), people were being expelled from the synagogue for identifying with Him, so the Jews could not be counted on to help needy Christians either. The church recognized that they were responsible for taking care of their own, and this is still part of the mission of the church today. Can you think of some specific examples of how our church has stepped up and taken care of its own?

Holding Stuff Loosely

Verse 32 says church members held that none “of the thngs that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” We need to understand that this is not talking about socialism or living together in a commune and sharing everything (otherwise, no one would have owned houses or lands as verse 34 mentions). It means that church members loved their fellow Christians so far above material things that it was nothing to them to sell their possessions if it meant helping a brother or sister. They did not have the American mentality of acquiring more and more stuff to hang on to, or measuring their worth or success by their bank accounts. 

It’s All God’s Anyway (Psalm 50:10-12; 24:1)

The early church had an understanding and a reverence for God’s sovereign ownership of every molecule of the universe that we would do well to cling to. To these first century Christians, saying that nothing that belonged to them was truly their own was a recognition that everything belonged to God– their houses, their lands, the cattle on a thousand hills, the earth and the fulness thereof (Ps.). To them, money was simply a tool they could use to minister to others– a tool owned by God that God Himself was entrusting to them to use for His glory. We are also to hold our money and possessions with the question always in our mind, “How can I use this to glorify God and further His kingdom by ministering to others?”

We Joyfully Give All Because Christ Joyfully Gave All (2 Corinthians 9:7, 1 Corinthians 1:22-24)

Verse 33 almost seems to be stuck into this paragraph at random. After all, the other five verses are about giving, and 33 is about preaching. But it’s a very important verse. Notice what the apostles were preaching: the gospel. The church heard about the Savior who gave everything, His comfort, His security, even His very life- everything -for them. And what was the response? Out of love for Jesus, gratitude for all He had done for them, and a desire to follow in His footsteps, they joyfully gave to others. 

These folks are the “cheerful givers” Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians. We are not to give under compulsion: not the compulsion of the Old Testament Law, since Jesus fulfilled it and we are no longer bound by the tithe, not the compulsion of guilt that we’re not giving enough or trying hard enough, not the compulsion of fear that God will zap us if we don’t give enough, and not the compulsion of peer pressure, desiring to look good to others. God wants our giving to be motivated by our love, joy, and thankfulness to Him. And when churches preach Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor.) as the Jerusalem church did, they produce grateful, joyful saints who desire to give everything back to Christ.

Trusting and Submitting to Trustworthy Pastors (Hebrews 13:17)

Twice (35 & 37), this passage says that when the church gave money, they brought it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. This tells us two things about the Jerusalem church: 1.) The apostles (their pastors) lived their lives, made decisions, and taught God’s word in a way that earned the church’s trust, which all pastors should strive to do. It helped that there were twelve of them to keep each other accountable. 2.) The church trusted their pastors and submitted to their leadership. They did not feel they had to take control over the pastors or their decisions about distributing the money. They trusted their pastors’ judgment and leadership. Hebrews 13:17 says:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

As long as our pastors are trustworthy and not violating Scripture or scriptural principles, we are to submit to their leadership.

 

Acts 5:1-11

 

Motive Matters (Matthew 6:3-4)

Why did God kill Ananias and Sapphira?

a) They didn’t give a big enough offering.

b) They didn’t give all the money from the sale of their land.

c) They lied about how much of the money from the sale of their land they were giving.

 The answer, of course, is “c”. This wasn’t about their offering. This was about lying to make themselves look like hotshots to other church members. Remember, we just discussed 2 Corinthians 9:7, which makes clear that God doesn’t want us to give under the compulsion of fear that He will zap us for not giving enough or the compulsion of peer pressure– trying to look good to others. This was God’s judgment on their prideful desire to be esteemed by others as big givers instead of being humble and not letting the left hand know what the right hand is doing (Matt.).

As Peter pointed out (4), they didn’t have to sell the land at all, and when they did sell it, it was up to them to determine how much of the money they would give to the church (back to 2 Cor. 9:7- “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart”). All they had to do was be honest about it. First Samuel 15:22 says:

And Samuel said,
“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to listen than the fat of rams.

When it comes to giving, God cares far more about the attitude of our heart than the amount of our check.

Users are Losers

Not only were Ananias’ and Sapphira’s motives for giving wrong, but they used a ministry of the church (the offering) and the people of the church to get what they wanted: admiration and accolades. We don’t use the church to get an ego boost or build our reputation in society. God’s church, His ministries, and His people are not entities at our disposal for us to use to gratify our selfish desires. They are holy and precious to Him, and we are to treat them as such.

 

Giving is an act of worship, submission to God’s sovereign ownership of everything, and a ministry to others. It is an important way that all church members can take part in the life of the church. God wants our hearts to be so completely His that it is a joy to give back to Him as much as we possibly can.

Wednesday's Word

Wednesday’s Word ~ Acts 1

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Acts 1

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes,11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. 14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.

15 In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, 16 “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.19 And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For it is written in the Book of Psalms,

“‘May his camp become desolate,
    and let there be no one to dwell in it’;

and

“‘Let another take his office.’

21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” 23 And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. 24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord,who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers