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Acts 21 Being in the World but not of It July 5, 2012

Posted by roberttalley in Acts, Apostle Paul, Christian Living.
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BEING A CHRISTIAN IN AMERICA
Acts 21:15-40

As believers in Christ we are in the world but not of it. That means we have to understand what is the world and our relationship to that world. The world in this sense is not the creation or even the population of this planet on which we live but rather the evil system in which Satan and sinful men work together and which tempts us to sin. There is in our flesh a natural draw to that world of which we must be aware and against which we must resist.

The Bible teaches that every nation and government is a part of this world (In the book of Daniel, for example). That means that we as believers must beware of the specific temptations presented by being citizens of whatever nation of which we are a member.

This is not an unusual problem. It has been faced by every generation of Christians. It was faced by those who lived in the Roman Empire both before and after it became “Christian.”

It also was a problem for the Jew. Remember that when Jesus spoke of being in the world and not of the world he was speaking to believing Jews about how they were to relate to their unbelieving but religious background.

We find in this passage in Acts Paul’s application of being in the world and not of it. There are four principles to which I would like for us to respond as we look at this passage.

A. The goals of our lives are determined solely by service to the gospel of Christ (verses 17-20a).
B. How we practice our patriotism must be determined by our goals as believers in Jesus Christ (verses 20b-25).
C. The world should not take kindly to us because of our service to the gospel of Christ (verses 26-36).
D. Our national citizenship is a gift from God to be used for service to the gospel of Christ (verses 37-40).

1. The goals of our lives are determined solely by service to the gospel of Christ (verses 17-20a).

Ray Pritchard tells of hearing “about soldiers who on the eve of a desperate battle said to each other, ‘Have you died yet?’ They meant, ‘Have you stopped trying to save your life and do you understand that to be a good soldier means you may die in the great battle?’ It’s that sort of mindset that Paul cultivates here. If this life is all there is, then we need to be cautious and careful in all that we do. But if there is another life beyond this life, and if we know that someday we will be raised from the dead, then we can risk it all for the sake of the Kingdom.”

2. How we practice our patriotism must be determined by our goals as believers in Jesus Christ (verses 20b-25).

Paul had been preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and he as well as the church in Jerusalem had recognized that to demand believing Gentiles to keep the law was to put a burden on their Christian faith (see Acts 13 as well as the book of Galatians). Rumors, however, among the believing Jews asserted that Paul was teaching that the Jews abandon the law to serve Jesus Christ. This was not true but the rumors were calling Paul’s patriotism as a Jew into question. If Paul’s patriotism as a Jew was being called into question then it would make the ministry of the Jerusalem church more difficult. James, therefore, asked Paul to not only take a Jewish religious vow but to also pay for the incurred expenses (sacrifices, perhaps) of four men from the Jerusalem church.

Why would Paul do such a thing? Because of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He did not have the mindset of “How dare they expect that of me? Don’t they respect my rights? I have my pride?”

In this day and age, questioning someone’s patriotism is a weapon often used in the media. People go out of their way to make sure that no one pays the patriotism card against them. Through the ages peoples have rewritten history so that their patriotism would be supported by the “facts.” We, however, as believers in Christ are disciples first and patriots second. We are to bear the cross before we bear the flag. Our message is a message of freedom in Christ not the virtues of democracy.

Does your love of the gospel govern your patriotism? I’m not talking about your views of environmentalism, gun control, taxes, or health care reform. In a sense I am not even talking about abortion or freedom of religion issues. I am asking, “Do those who know you best know that you rank your love of the gospel of Jesus Christ above any patriotic or political or philosophical ideals? Is your attitude toward your community governed by your love for the gospel of Christ?

3. The world should not take kindly to us because of our service to the gospel of Christ (verses 26-36).

Why did these Jews from Asia oppose Paul? His message was a threat to their world. If Jesus is the Christ, then they would be destroyed along with the pagan nations of the world. If Jesus is the Christ, then their self-righteousness would accomplish nothing in this world or in the next. Is this not true for us? If Jesus is the Christ, then our attempts to lift ourselves above the nations of the world smacks of rebellion against God. If Jesus is the Christ then the sacrifices we make for so many good and even great things pale in significance to witnessing to our neighbor who is lost and going to hell. If Jesus is the Christ then we will be willing to risk our lives to love and forgive one another. If Jesus is the Christ then we will keep his commandments and live for the Kingdom of eternity rather than the kingdom of this earth.

Moral stances swing back and forth. This is especially true of a democracy. What our nation perceives as right today may be wrong tomorrow. Think of the stances of our nation on alcohol. That is the way democracy is. The people decide what is right and wrong. The message, however, of the gospel of Jesus Christ will never change. The attitude of our nation toward the gospel will change from time to time but our gospel will never change.

4. Our national citizenship is a gift from God to be used for service to the gospel of Christ (verses 37-40).

Should we hate what our nation has become? Should we rebel against our nation? Absolutely not, the Bible teaches that we must respect our leadership regardless of who they may be or what they may stand for. There is, however, something positive that we should do. Use our citizenship on earth for the furtherance of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We have freedom of religion. Let us practice it as soldiers bearing the cross of Christ. We have freedom of speech, let us witness of the gospel to all we can. We have freedom to assemble, let’s attend church every time the assembly is called. We have freedom to vote, let us vote with his gospel first and foremost in our minds. Let us be good citizens. Let us be better Christians.

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