Tag Archives: early church

God’s People, part 140: Saul

Read Acts 8:1-3

“Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at [Stephen] and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul.” (Acts 7:57-58, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

20181019_apostle_paulPart 140: Saul. As we carry on with our God’s People series, we now arrive at a pivotal moment in the history of the early Christian Church. At the time, the church hadn’t even yet been given the label, Christian, but were known as The Way. The church was predominantly made up of Jewish people who saw Jesus Christ as the Messiah and the embodiment of God.

These Jesus followers, or Christ followers as they would later come to be known as (aka Christians), did not see themselves as starting up a new religion; rather, they saw themselves as “enlightened” Jews who were following the true Jewish religion.  What that meant was that they thought that they were given, through Jesus and his apostles, the true understanding of the Jewish Scriptures and God’s Salvation plan.

They were preaching this revelatory message in the streets of Jerusalem, at the Temple, and in the synagogues. What’s more, they were not only preaching and teaching this to Jewish communities in Judaea, but throughout Syria as well. For any devout Jewish person, and especially the Pharisees and Sadducees, this new sect of Judaism was growing at an alarming rate and would have been viewed as a threat against all the Jewish people.

Why? Because they saw it as a rewriting of Jewish history and of the Jewish faith and they feared that this dangerous little cult of Jesus followers was going to bring the wrath of God down upon their heads. After all, they had been following the Torah since God gave it to Moses and it was God who commanded the Jews to follow the Law and to live by His commands; yet, these Jesus followers were twisting around the Law and saying that some of the Law didn’t matter anymore because it was fulfilled in a person who was convicted and crucified traitor.

One such Pharisee was named Saul. He was zealous for the Lord and his Jewish faith and he was not going to sit idly by while this ragtag group of Messiah hopefuls ransacked the Jewish faith and led people astray. That is why he approved of Stephen’s stoning and went on a campaign to root out that Jesus cult once and for all. Acts tells us that he went door to door arresting people and having them put in prison.

At first, Saul’s campaign against the Jesus movement was limited to Jerusalem; however, Saul of Tarsus knew that it was spreading far beyond Jerusalem and he fully intended to track it down no matter where it was spreading to. He was going to track it down and stamp it out permanently. Before we get ahead of ourselves, though, let it suffice for us to say that Saul did not see himself as a “bad guy”; rather, he saw himself as a defender of God’s people against “bad guys”.

Let that challenge us. Most people do not act the way they do believing themselves to be bad or evil. Most people believe that what they are doing is righteous and just in the eyes of God (or whomever they view as the ultimate judge of those things); however, such a view can easily lead to close-mindedness that closes people off to the truth that God is actually revealing to them.

Let us be challenged by that so that we can reflect on how we are like Saul and the ways in which we can change so that we don’t fall into the same trap that he did. If we open ourselves to God, rather than our preconceived opinions of God, God will guide us to the truth he has ultimately revealed to us through Jesus Christ our Lord.

“Zeal without knowledge is fire without light.” – Rev. Thomas Fuller

Lord, help me to burn with zeal for you, but also help me to temper it with open-mindedness, restraint, and understanding. Amen.

God’s People, part 233: In Common

Read Acts 4:32-37

“Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need. Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it. In this way, things will be equal.”  (2 Corinthians 8:14, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

EarlyChurch_LivingInCommonPart 233: In Common. The Scripture reading for today’s devotion is a powerful scripture that has, unfortunately, been vastly misunderstood and misused. It shows us the power that exists within the body of Christ when it is living out the kind of servant-love that Jesus taught and commanded his disciples to carry on following his ascension; however, it also is an example of how Scripture can be used and twisted to carry out the agendas of human beings, even if they do so with good intentions.

Let’s first get the humanist interpretations out of the way. Good people with good intentions can still find themselves paving the way to hell. This Scripture gives us a prime example of how that can happen. People like Karl Marx were largely against religion and, especially, deterministic materialism. The Church, especially the Roman Catholic Church but also including Protestantism, had become an institution that promoted deterministic materialism. It expanded like an empire, demanded that monks not marry in order to retain church property, and pushed to grow its authority on a global scale.

All the while, it taught that “slaves should obey their masters,” that God determined who should serve as rulers and that all people should respect and subject themselves to kings, political authorities, and the law (no matter how immoral it might be), and it held people in subjection to classes defined by wealth. Sadly, many of the religious leaders who held people in their economic places were themselves extremely wealthy (e.g. the Pope, the King of England, bishops and cardinals, etc.).

Thus people like Karl Marx saw religion in such a way: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”[i] Religion was something that needed to be rooted out from society in order for socialistic and systemic change. With that said, Marx was sympathetic to the non-supernatural elements of Christian teaching, especially when it came to everyone living in common as found in Acts 4:32-37.

Marx is not alone in that and many, including Christians, have pushed for social change. In fact, there are some Christians that would call themselves “Communists”. Still, it is not equitable to mention Communism (not to be confused with Socialism and/or Democratic Socialism) and not mention the failings of that political system. Any student of history knows that Communism led to the rise of dictators such as Joseph Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Fidel Castor, Hugo Chavez, etc., who used brutal measures to uphold their authority and Communistic ideals. Of course, those ideals led to the elite government leaders being rich and everyone else being poor.

That is not what we see happening in the early church; rather, what happened in that context was much more practical, organic and self-sustainable. As mounting pressure rose up against early Christ followers from Jewish and Roman authorities, the community came to rely on each other to survive. The early Jewish Christians took a vow to poverty, meaning that they would not own anything to themselves, but would share resources and rely on the charity (love-driven giving) of others to sustain their lives and ministry. That is a far cry from the top-down approach of Communism.

With that said, it was also a witness to the great faith of the the early Christian community in Jerusalem and, we see that even Paul encouraged his churches to contribute to the “poor” in Jerusalem in order to support their lives and ministry (Romans 15:31; 2 Corinthians 8:1-15; Galatians 2:10). It must be noted; however, that this “living in common” was not something that was completely widespread throughout the church, but was specific to the Church in Jerusalem. Clearly, Paul’s churches did not all live in common, giving ownership of everything (e.g. money, property, resources) up to the Church as a whole; however, Paul’s churches still equitably shared their resources with others, including offering their homes up to be used as places of worship, tithing to support the ministries, and sharing in common meals.

What does this say for us? In our churches today, we see less and less giving. People see tithing as a “personal” matter and they get easily offended with pastors and/or church leaders talk about money. People want all of the “services” of a church (e.g. baptism, weddings, funerals, weekly services, Bible studies, Sunday School, counseling, and visitations); however, they don’t feel all that inclined to making their contributions a top priorty over other expenses. In fact, many view giving to the church (local, regional and global) as an obligatory expense.

This is not how the Church was intended to be. All of us make up the Church Universal, and investing in the Church is the same as investing in ourselves. That was the view of the earliest church, and that is how we should view it today. We are God’s and belong to the body of Christ; therefore, should we not prioritize supporting the body of Christ with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness? That should be our top priority, along with bringing the good news of Christ to all people. I pray that you will reflect on that, if you are not already, make that the top priority in your life.

“Generosity is as much showing your vulnerability as it is your passion for something.” – David Droga

Lord, help me to let go of my materialistic desires, so that I may generously supply the Church, of which I am a valuable part, its needs so that that it can carry on your ministry and advance the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen.

[i] Marx, Karl. “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right” in Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher. (Paris, 1844), https://marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1843/critique-hpr/intro.htm.


Read Galatians 5:13-21

“When one of you says, “I am a follower of Paul,” and another says, “I follow Apollos,” aren’t you acting just like people of the world? After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow.” (1 Corinthians 3:4-6 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”

FieryFWORKS OF THE FLESH: Factions. In the last devotion, I wrote about dissension in the church. Also, I have in the past written about cliques as well. So, why write about factions? Doesn’t cliques cover it? The answer is no, not quite. While cliques are certainly not healthy within the church, and they can end up growing to be a faction if push came to shove, but on their own cliques are no more than pockets of people who gravitate together, often times gossiping about others and putting others down. A faction, on the other hand is a much more organized and intentional group of people who are gravitating together in order to achieve a common goal. Factions are often the result of subversive dissensions.

Think back to Julius Caesar. It was a subversive dissension that ended up causing factions to rise up and splinter the Roman Republic. The end result of that was that whatever freedoms were under the Republic, and I am sure the dissenters had good reasons to question Caesar, were completely obliterated by the rising up of an empire under the absolute power of a tyrannical emperor. And that tyranny eventually led to even more tyrannical emperors who caused more subversion, which led to more factions seeking to stab the life and the power out of the emperors.

Clearly, factions are detrimental to any government or organization; however, factions are even more detrimental to the life of the Church and they go against Christ who is the very head of the Church. Paul is clear that factions should be a “no go”. For Paul, the Church was an ORGANISM not an organization. It is the resurrected and living BODY OF CHRIST, not a religious institution. In terms of your body, what good would it be if the heart took sides with the lungs and brain and stood in opposition to the lower extremities? All of the blood would go to the top half of the body and the lower half of the body would become necrotic and die. That may not sound like a big deal to the heart, lungs and brain; however, necrosis slowly spreads and eventually even the heart, lungs and head would die.

This may seem like a silly illustration, but only because IT IS A SILLY ILLUSTRATION. Body parts DON’T form factions against other body parts because it is not good for the whole of the body. A body is designed for self-preservation, growth and life. If the Church is the BODY of CHRIST, and if we are the individual parts that make up that body, then we are not designed to form factions against other parts; rather, we are to find harmony and work in cooperation with other parts for the good of the whole. Factions are like cancer and are not good for the body. Don’t take me wrong, I am not saying that healthy, constructive dissent is a cancer…it is not, and it does not lead to factions; however, subversive, undermining dissension does lead to factions and will destroy the body. The Good News is that the Holy Spirit is our immune system and if we choose to live by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we will not take part in factions even if we are being led to be an honest voice of dissent.

“If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” – Jesus of Nazareth (Mark 3:24-25 NRSV)
Lord, steer me in the opposite direction of factions. Help me to be a healthy and vibrant part of the body of Christ. Amen.