May 22, 2013

Stand Your Ground

Acts 13:4-12 ~ So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them. When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.

I was studying this passage today because of its demonic/satanic peculiarity. It at first appears to be two people but in reality is it only one, Bar-Jesus and Elymas (a title) are the same person. In verse 8 we read that he ἀνθίστατο/resists or “withstands” Paul and Barnabas. What are Paul and Barnabas doing? They are proclaiming the word of God (most likely some form of the Gospel of Jesus Christ). Elymas is withstanding them while they are doing this and appears to be successfully turning the proconsul away from the faith as noted in Acts 13 above. It appears he is literally pushing back against Paul and Barnabas. Since Bar-Jesus appears at least initially to be successfully withstanding Paul and Barnabas’ proclamation of God’s word he takes on a gravely sinister personality. Of course nothing can withstand God's word and Gods authority and power in His word so eventually Paul rebukes him and he is blinded for a season.

In this demonic man we see a special tool of the Devil strategically placed to try and circumvent the plans of God. Of course this is not possible and he is essentially verbally smacked around by Paul and sent on his way but the confrontation is of interest for Christians today. Why? We need to recognize when we're being detoured from our proper tasks. We need to give the “how-to and the what-for” to those that would attempt to withstand or actively repress our proclamation of the word of God or the Gospel.

As in the case of Bar-Jesus, some of Satan’s tools will be those right within a public gathering to proclaim the truth of God’s word, or in this case, a synagogue. Also in this case it is a new area that had never been evangelized before. The probability of elevated demonic activity is always higher in places where the Gospel has not been heard. We see the same in Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8. What is the godly man’s response? A gentle conversation? No. Paul flames this dude! It is a scathing unrelenting rebuke of (dare I say it?) biblical proportion. Why does Paul do this? It is mainly because of the overt and obvious biblical denunciation of sin. In particular, the biblical denunciation of occultism in which Bar-Jesus appears proficient, hence the fact he is called a μάγος or magician/sorcerer.

We need to realize this passage very much speaks to us today on a few different levels. One, the forces of evil will stop at nothing to subvert the will and purposes of God. They will even infiltrate our places of worship and gatherings in an attempt to shut us down and silence us. This should only embolden us even more to do what we’ve been called to do by the Lord. Two, Paul writes of a time in the last days when:

2 Timothy 3:1-8 ~ “…there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,  having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.  For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. 

These people and tools of Satan will literally walk boldly right in our front doors. A person needs to ask how this would be possible if we are vigilant and on the lookout for dorks such as this and the answer should be obvious. We apparently are not as vigilant as we believe we are or worse…we too will have turned away from sound teaching. How? Perhaps the infiltration occurs because we are not rebuking those clearly in error and accepting their heresies and lies directly into our homes and places of worship? In other words this could also be a call to the biblically educated laity to politely bring error to leaderships attention.

What are we to do if we are blatantly resisted? What does Paul go on to tell Timothy later in 2 Timothy 4? The answer to these demonic intrusions and resistance for dark corners is in the immediately following verse…

2 Timothy 3:10 ~ “You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness”

All these things that Paul had done were based firmly in the truth of the Scripture (v.15) and virtually nowhere else. Scripture was good for just about everything so that the people of God would be equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 ~ “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

Additionally, Paul also says that we should expect resistance and outright persecution (v.11-13). Once we have our footing established and our foundations lay in the Scriptures…we are to preach the Word.

2 Timothy 4:4 ~ I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

It is the old saying, “Stand for what you believe.” If you are truly on the path you were called to be on evangelizing and preaching the Gospel…count on the fact that you will encounter resistance (vicious at times). If you are doing what you’ve been called to you will be on the offensive for God and will be the point of the sword into the lair of the enemy that lies in darkness. An enemy cornered will fight viciously like a rabid dog to get away. If you are not encountering resistance and trials…there is an incredibly high probability you are not doing what you were called to. Sorry folks, I take the Good News to everyone that I have the proper opportunity to whenever I can. I can tell you right now, it is a Sisyphean effort to get the boulder to the top of the hill only to get it swatted back down (in hostility or ignorance) just when I think I am making headway with an unbeliever. The system of this world and children of darkness hate us with a consuming hatred. People that hate you rarely let you go scot- free. There will be a price to pay. Expect the darkness to push back at the light. Expect the storm to try and snuff out the candle. In 2 Timothy we see the last of Paul’s letters. It is the last letter he will write before he is executed. We see a man that preached the Gospel boldly and fought the fight of good to the bitter end. He never reneged and he never back-pedaled. He never compromised. We could only hope to be so valiant in the face of death. 

1Timothy 4:7 ~ I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith…

There needs to be a place, a line where you will say, "This far, and no farther!" That line for me is the truth of Scripture, the truth of the Gospel, the truth of Jesus Christ. Where is your line? Do you even have one?  As for Paul, Scripture tells us he fought the good fight. He had not compromised the truth…he had not compromised the Gospel to tickle people’s ears with false teachings and a false gospel. He had driven his sword in the ground and not given an inch. He had stood his ground fearlessly.

So should you.

Stand your ground for the Gospel. Stand for what you believe.

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