“But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Acts 9:15-16)
These are the instructions of the Lord to Ananias concerning Saul of Tarsus. The Lord appeared to Ananias in a vision instructing him to go and lay his hands on Saul in order that his sight might be restored. Knowing the reputation of the man and how he has persecuted the Church relentlessly, Ananias, understandably, is surprised by God’s directions. Nevertheless, God assures Ananias that He has a plan for Saul of Tarsus that involves “bearing His name” before kings, Gentiles, and those of Israel.
Let us take note of two things in the Lord’s words to Ananias about the man who will one day come to be known as the Apostle Paul: 1.) Paul is chosen by God, that is, God has a calling for Paul to serve Him, to be an instrument or vessel of the Lord and, 2.) Part of that calling involves suffering. Thus, the Apostle Paul will simultaneously be in the will of God and also suffering trials and hardships as he does so.
We as Christians in this day and age often lose sight of the fact that suffering, to one degree or another, is an inevitable part of our walk with the Lord. Moreover, we also tend to think that suffering is a sign that something is wrong and that those who experience it must have drifted away from God. Some preachers and teachers lead us to believe that, if our faith is strong enough and we are standing firm on God’s Word, the trials and tribulations of this life will pass us by as we stand in the safe shelter of God’s loving arms. And in those occasions that hardship does befall us, we are exhorted to seek to discover what it is God is trying to “teach” us in the storm.
“For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:20-21)
Sin can and does break our fellowship with God and often brings with it earthly consequences. If the “storm” we are in is the result of our own sinful behavior, then we definitely should not only seek to know what God is trying to teach us but also confess that sin to the Lord and turn from it! But there is also the suffering that comes upon us simply for doing what is right, not that which is wrong. The Apostle Peter says that this is the purpose for which we have been called: to follow in the steps of Jesus.
Even so, trials, hardships, and sufferings have a way of catching us off guard. They’re certainly not something we make plans for, even though we know that they will occur from time to time. And rather than patiently enduring and accepting our situation, we grumble, complain, and even doubt and question the Lord. Never would we even consider rejoicing that we have been counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of the Lord (cf. Acts 5:41).
Virtually every person of God mentioned in the Bible bears the wounds and scars of suffering in the account of their life. Countless examples could be cited that demonstrate that those who walk the closest with God often suffer the most for Him. My message here is not that we should seek out suffering and embrace it as a masochistic martyr, but that we should understand that we will face hardships and trials when we seek to live the Christian life. Jesus Himself told us that we would have tribulation in this world but to be of good courage because our Lord has overcome the world (John 16:33). The good news is that we serve a God Who has already defeated sin, death, and Satan and that our eternal destiny is to live with Him forever! For all the sufferings that the Apostle Paul would endure, he had these simple words to say of them:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)
Finally, I wish to close with the autobiographical account of Paul himself, looking back over years of service to Christ. Few of us will ever be called upon to suffer for the Lord the way this man did and yet his assessment in the end was that he regretted nothing (2 Timothy 4:7). Someone once presented to me a theory which states that the Christianity that Paul taught is different from the Christianity which Peter, John, and even Jesus Himself taught. The suggestion was that Paul had created a “false Christianity” born out of his own imagination and which he himself knew to be a lie. I referred the critic to the following passage and said that, if what he said was true, then Paul sure underwent a whole lot of suffering for a lie. People might suffer willingly for something they believe to be true, even if it’s not, but nobody is willing to suffer for something which they know to be false!
“[I have been] beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?
If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me, and I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and so escaped his hands.” (2 Corinthians 11:23b-33)
To God goes all glory. In service to Him,
**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.
[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]
“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13 NIV)
This verse of your Holy Word convicts me because I confess that there are not many “astonished” by my courage for You. We, the people of Your Body, are all ordinary men yet You have called us to do extraordinary things by the power of Your Spirit. For it was not the courage and confidence of Peter that gave him the strength to preach the Gospel before the very men who called for Your blood to be shed, but Your Word tells us that he was filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:8). It is not many of the wise, or the noble of this world whom You have called to share the Message of Salvation with a lost and dying world but ordinary, weak and earthen vessels into whom You have poured Your power.
Nor is our courage and confidence to be found in the education and knowledge of this age, even if such things have their benefits. Though we might possess great acumen for scholarship, or a prodigious aptitude for philosophical and intellectual pursuits, these can do nothing to change a hardened heart except Your Spirit moves upon it. Neither must a lack of education or learning be cause for fear and anxiety because, after all, it was Your power present in those two fishermen that day that made the lame man walk — something which all the combined mental abilities of some of the greatest thinkers in Israel could not accomplish. Day after day that crippled man was set right before the door of the great temple as the most prominent religious leaders in the nation walked right by him and his legs remained as lifeless as they had been the day before; until Your Spirit raised him up at the word of two of the most unlikely men in the entire assembly.
Perhaps, Lord God, it is the last words of this verse which bring the most conviction. Because after the miracle of the crippled man leaping up and walking and the untrained fishermen preaching boldly in the temple to the astonishment of the religious leaders of the Sanhedrin, it is said that those present took note that these men had been with Jesus. Their words and their actions did not reflect their own “glory” but pointed squarely to the One Who had sent them: You, Lord Jesus. Are those whom I encounter in my own day-to-day life taking note that I have spent time with Jesus? Are they hearing my words and seeing my actions and praising my Heavenly Father? Or do I even look and sound like I have spent much time with You at all?
Lord, let my life be so lived that others may examine it and take note that I have been with Jesus. Let my own words and actions be saturated with a holy courage, causing others to be “astonished” that the power of God can work through even the feeblest of instruments. Let me sit and learn at the feet of the Master and enable me to proclaim with boldness those things which I shall hear there.
In the name of Jesus I pray,
“And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” (Acts 17:10-11)
A couple of weeks ago, I received a comment on a post that disagreed with my interpretation of a particular Bible passage. This was not the first time someone has shared a dissenting point of view and, I am quite certain, will not be the last. To be completely honest, I welcome thoughtful, sincere comments whether they agree with what I have written or not. Opposing viewpoints can have a way of sending us back to the Word of God to re-evaluate our position and to make sure that Scripture really supports it. Anything that leads us to spend more time in the Bible isn’t a bad thing, is it?
What concerned me about this specific comment wasn’t the fact that it criticized my conclusions, it was the reason the person gave for disagreeing. Apparently, this individual had heard a Bible teacher speak about this particular passage of Scripture on Television. The conclusions reached, according to the writer of the comment, were significantly different from what I was sharing in the article. Rather than offering Biblical support for these conclusions or citing corroborating passages, the only basis for accepting the interpretation seemed to lie in the identity and credentials of the man on the T.V. Program.
A Matter Of Authority
There is a great deal of overemphasis placed in the credentials and identity of individuals when it comes to Bible teaching and preaching. I remember browsing through a website a few years ago that advertised openings for pastoral positions in various churches across the country. It amazed me how many listings put the educational requirements first and foremost in their posting. “Must have a Doctorate in Theology or Pastoral Studies” was at the very top of a great many of the advertisements. Now, it is understandable that a church would not want to install a novice, ignorant of the Word of God, into their leadership, but it struck me as ironic that qualifications such as “must be of sound moral character”, or “must exhibit Christian virtues in their daily life” were listed at the bottom of the posting more often than not. It was almost as if these attributes were an afterhought! The most relevant credentials, in the minds of many of these church boards, had more to do with where a pastoral candidate attended school than the spiritual guidance he would bring to their congregation.
It seems that many people would rather put their trust entirely in the educational and experiential background of another person than evaluate their message against the Word of God. If a Bible teacher is famous enough, or has the right academic degree, then they are ready to unquestioningly accept any and all teachings that the person gives. But such a practice is never taught nor commended in the Bible itself. If anyone in Scripture had the authority to rest on His credentials, it would have been the Lord Jesus. Yet even He never urged anyone to accept His teachings uncritically, but frequently backed up His Message with references to the Old Testament (e.g., Mark 12:10, 12:24, Luke 24:27, 24:44, John 5:39). Luke describes the people of Berea in the Book of Acts as “noble” because they not only accepted the teachings of the Apostle Paul with an open mind, but because they “searched the Scriptures daily” in order to verify whether or not what he was teaching was Biblically sound (Acts 17:11).
We do not see anybody in the New Testament bolstering their message by referencing their educational background and credentials. We never see anyone appealing to their fame or popularity as reasons for accepting their teachings. From the Apostle Peter’s Pentecost sermon (Ch. 2) to Stephen’s testimony before the Sanhedrin (Ch. 7), the Book of Acts is filled with messages that are supported and substantiated by the holy Word of God, not the authority of the people giving the message.
Search The Scriptures
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:” (2 Timothy 3:16)
Not long after I began “Answers From the Book”, I was contacted by someone who wanted to know a little more about my own credentials and background. They were very interested in quoting my writings and referencing this website but, I was told, it was important to know the credentials of the person they would be quoting, you see, because there is a lot of really bad misinformation out there on the Internet and you can’t be too careful about the articles you refer to. I understand that it can be nice to put a face to something we read and it can be comforting to know that someone we give reference to in our own writings isn’t likely to turn out to be a heretical wacko, but my concern was that they wanted to just accept anything and everything I write without really checking it out for themselves. I would never want anyone to subscribe to my point of view and interpretations of Scripture based on who I am or my educational background. My response to this person was to read what I have written, check it against the Word of God, and if it agrees with what the Bible has to say on the subject, then accept it based on that. In other words, search the Scriptures to see if these things are so.
The Bible: An Open Book
“Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.” (Psalm 119:18)
Until the invention of the Gutenberg press, copies of the Bible were few and far between. It wasn’t until the Word of God became widely available and Scripture was not exclusively accessible to the clergy that great leaps and bounds were made in the Biblical knowledge of everyday people. When people began to be able to read and study the Bible for themselves, great Reformations and movements of the Holy Spirit became widespread and far-reaching. The days of total reliance on the spiritual insights of others ended when everyone who was able to read could avail themselves of their very own personal copy of the Bible.
Nowadays, we do not even need to purchase or acquire a physical copy at all. Anyone with Internet access can read the Bible online and find numerous study aids at no cost. The resources that even a generation ago were seldom found outside of the studies of the most ardent Bible scholars can now be affordably accessed by anyone inclined to do so. There really is no reason why we cannot check and verify any Bible interpretation and see if Scripture supports or refutes it. We must be diligent, however, to come to our Bible study with a reliance and expectation on the Spirit of God to open the eyes of our understanding, for He alone is truly qualified to teach the mysteries of His own Word. The interpretations and teachings of others can be of enormous value and the Holy Spirit can use others to show us things from His Word that we have never noticed. But we do well to get alone with the Lord and our own Bibles and verify their message for ourselves.
It is not the credentials or background of the individual teacher that matter most, it is the integrity of the message. Any and all Bible commentaries should stand or fall on their own Scriptural merit and nothing else.
To God goes all glory. In service to Him,