The Agony of Change Part Two

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Everything changes! Ask anyone 60 or above, and they will confirm that truth. For generations, the American elderly have talked about “the good old days.” Mostly, when we talk about “the good old days” we talk about pleasant childhood memories.

With serious, honest reflection, the old days were not so good from one perspective. What is good about outhouses, no running water (of any temperature) in the house, wood-burning cook stoves, houses with little or no insulation, long hours of hard work, no safety rules, very limited medical help, lower life expectancies, and a constant struggle against poverty?

I am not a big fan of technology. Computers mystify me. Modern vehicles confuse me. I still understand repairing instead of throwing away and getting a new one. I am freaked out by systems that understand me better than I understand them. The availability of far more information than I can master intimidates me.

Do not get me wrong! I love microwaves! I greatly enjoy fast hot water! The comfort of modern vehicles is astounding! Our current standard of living is wonderful! Air conditioning is awesome! Quick information is addicting! Medical options are incredible!

When change occurs, it always is a combination of the desirable and the frightening. Religious change always challenges Christians to be a people of faith in God rather than a people of anxiety.

  1. Have you ever taken the time to consider the changes confronting Christians in the first century?
    1. Consider the Jews who became Christians.
      1. They came from a focus that said the nation of Israel is all that concerned God to an understanding that all people were of concern to God (consider Genesis 12:3–all families of the earth; Jonah 4:10, 11–Should I not have compassion on Ninevah; Isaiah 42:6, 49:6–a light to the nations or Gentiles; Matthew 28:19–all the nations).
      2. They came from the concept of holy geography [the city of Jerusalem from the time of Solomon] (Deuteronomy 12:5, 11, 13, 14; 1 Kings 9:3) to the concept that the whole world is God’s and appropriate for worship.
      3. They came from the concept of a priesthood (Exodus 28:1-4; Numbers 18:7) to the concept of a community of priests (1 Peter 2:9, 10).
      4. They came from a controlling high priest (Leviticus 16) who represented them before God to Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9:11,12).
      5. They came from a temple which was the only site of sacrifice and a place of prayer (see 1 Kings 8:27-53) to the concept that their bodies were God’s temple (see 1 Corinthians 6:19, 20).
      6. They came from a concept of national worship in one geographical place (Deuteronomy 16:16) to a concept of personal worship with no national center (Revelation 3:4).
      7. They came from an emphasis heavy on structured ways to an emphasis on committed hearts.
      8. Those are enormous changes!
    2. Consider the idolatrous gentiles who became Christians.
      1. They came from a faith that there were many gods to acknowledge and not offend, to an understanding there was only one actual, living God (Acts 17:22, 23; 1 Corinthians 8).
      2. Most of them came from understandings that regarded anger, lying, drunkenness, stealing, and sexual exploitation as morally acceptable to an understanding that declared all those things were immoral.
      3. They came from acknowledging all temples as sacred places to an understanding there were no physical temples or sacred places.
      4. Those are enormous changes!
    3. Many changes that create in us great anxiety are small in comparison to those changes!
      1. Learning how to combine gentile believers in the resurrected Jesus Christ with Jewish believers in Jesus Christ was an enormous challenge!
      2. To increase our understanding of their problem, it would be as demanding as combining former Caucasian adulterers, former African-American pimps, and former Hispanic alcoholics into an established congregation that ignored members who used meth.
        1. The variety of needs would be enormous!
        2. The only common thing all those people would have is faith in Jesus Christ.
        3. The challenge would be enormous–and only possible through God’s grace!
  2. Again, if you think this is an exaggeration consider carefully Acts 15:1-29.
    1. Paul and Barnabas just returned to Antioch (a gentile congregation) that sent them on their journey into principally gentile areas (Acts 131-3)
      1. Often in their work, they first went to a synagogue (the Jewish place of Sabbath assembly) and then to the gentile community.
        1. For an example, consider Acts 13:16-49.
        2. The “men of Israel” were Jews.
        3. “You who fear God” were gentiles.
        4. Gentiles engaged in serious study of Judaism were welcome to attend Jewish synagogues.
      2. What Paul and Barnabas found upon returning to Antioch shocked them.
        1. Some Jewish Christians from Judea told the gentiles Christians in Antioch that they could not be saved (forgiven of sins) unless they were circumcised as a Jewish religious practice.
        2. Paul and Barnabas strongly confronted these Christians, but they could not settle the issue.
        3. All decided the matter must be referred to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. The first recorded instance of using outside resources?
      3. On the way from Antioch to Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas reported in gentile areas the conversion of gentiles.
        1. They reported in detail.
        2. The end result was “great joy.”
      4. In Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas reported all God did through them to the apostles and elders.
        1. Some converted Pharisees insisted that gentile converts had to be circumcised and observe the law of Moses in order to be Christians–it was “necessary.”
        2. The apostles and elders called a meeting to be dedicated to discussing this issue of gentile conversion (the Jews [before Jesus] converted gentiles to Judaism–such was known as making proselytes. See Matthew 23:15.).
      5. The meeting:
        1. The meeting resulted in “much debate”–it was an emotional, contested matter that definitely contained two strong opinions.
        2. Finally, James quoted from the Old Testament prophets verifying God’s interest in the gentiles.
          1. He declared it was not necessary for gentile Christians to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses.
          2. He said gentile Christians should observe four Jewish standards–not to eat things given to idols, not to commit fornication, not to eat strangled things, and not to eat blood.
          3. He affirmed Jewish Christians should not be concerned about the teachings of the law of Moses because those teachings were emphasized every Sabbath in synagogues.
          4. As Paul affirmed (15:11), gentiles must depend on God’s grace for salvation just like Jews must depend on God’s grace for salvation.
        3. A letter was sent to gentile congregations verifying the Jerusalem decision not to place Jewish practices on gentile Christians.
          1. Gentiles were saved by God’s grace just as were Jews.
          2. Gentiles did not have to accept Jewish practices to be saved.
  3. As you will see from scripture, this Jewish decision in Jerusalem did not end this highly controversial, highly emotional issue–Jewish converts to Christ and gentile converts to Christ were just too different in their behaviors. (Their cultures and backgrounds clashed.)
    1. The Jerusalem Christian Leadership understood more about God’s concerns than did many Jewish converts.
      1. Just like today, a decision made by informed people with evidence from scripture did not end the matter.
      2. Just like today, personal preferences and expectations were superior to God’s intent stated by scripture.
      3. Just like today, there were people more concerned about their fears than God’s declarations.
    2. Solutions are never as simple as making an announcement.
      1. We do not quickly turn loose of matters we feel passionate about.
      2. There is no substitute for understanding God’s character and concerns in reforming our passions expressed in our desires.
  4. Consider some things you should notice in Acts 15:
    1. Paul, Barnabas, and the Christians at Antioch felt no shame in seeking help beyond themselves when they could not resolve a matter.
    2. The meeting the Jerusalem elders called was open to all factions and views–it was not an announced decision enforced on uninformed people.
    3. It was a meeting dedicated to one matter.
    4. James, who was in charge of the meeting:
      1. Recognized God at work where God was at work–even when God’s work was unpopular with one group of Christians.
      2. Understood God’s purpose and kept the focus on God–not human preferences.
      3. Refused to let anxiety determine the outcome and the course taken.
      4. Asked gentiles to exhibit their faith in Christ by their behavior–live consistently with their new moral understandings.
      5. Included the “whole church” in the decision to send a letter to gentile congregations.
      6. Focused on the positive and the encouraging.

In every generation there will be something to learn and understand. The problems and challenges of one generation will not be the problems and challenges of the next generation. The conclusion of any age group that says: “We already addressed that so it does not need to be discussed or understood,” or “Just accept the conclusions of the past and you will not have that problem,” solve nothing.

The solution to challenges must always arise from mutual respect because we all are in Christ. Never seek a solution by questioning and destroying people’s confidence in Christ. The effects of character assassination produce consequences that last a long, long time.

David Chadwell

Author: Greg

Welcome to Gods Message on the web. My name is Greg and I want to welcome you. I started doing these Podcasts, MP3, and Audio Books back in 2007. Stay awhile and make yourself at home. The Christian Podcasts here are free and for everyone to enjoy. I’m doing a complete series on David Chadwell who is a retired minister from Fort Smith, Arkansas. I’ve also done an Audio Book for Wayne Jacobsen’s the Naked Church. Plus a series of MP3s for Pastor Billy Crone and his The Final Countdown series.

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