A Few thoughts on Acts and Philippians By Marco Gonzalez
Paul in Acts 16 and Philippians faces great troubles, stressors, and difficulties, but is also given a tremendous amount of opportunities and triumphs for the gospel. In his first visit to Macedonia, he was beaten with rods, imprisoned, dragged to the market place, and condemned before the rulers. Treated as a Jew, and savagely beaten, though he possesses Roman citizenship, Paul is thrown in jail. Disgraced, severely crushed, stripped of all clothing, and struck by many blows and rods from the crowds and magistrates, Paul is shackled in prison with little hope of escape. The whole community, in Philippi, influenced by the rulers, set themselves against Paul.
As Paul writes the epistle to the Philippians he is imprisoned in Rome. Joy becomes the main theme of his letter, and he uses his experiences in prison, ministry, and circumstances to reorient their gaze back to the gospel. The Philippians are under grave circumstances, the church is experiencing rivalry and disunity, Paul is in jail, and new teachings of flesh over grace are tearing them apart.
In Acts, however, the gospel and the supremacy of God to save sinners are displayed. On Sabbath day, a reference to the creation ordinance, we anticipate the special presence of God with his people. To observe the Sabbath is to share in God’s rest, primarily and not redemptively, and to enjoy the blessing of eternity in the presence of God. We enjoy this foretaste every Sabbath, and not merely a celebration of redemption. Since God is present, when Lydia meets with him, her stance was worship. So the words “On Sabbath day” and the salvation of Lydia become a rich foretaste of the messianic banquet (Rev 19:9). God is the active agent, using Paul, awakening Lydia’s heart to heed what was spoken.
There are many destructive, sinful reactions that Paul warns the Philippians about. Greed, Selfishness, self-righteous judgment, envy, anger, bitterness, rivalry, and fear are what Paul tells the church to avoid. But, while in prison, Paul demonstrates and models the opposite of those behaviors. Paul, knowing the circumstances, is aware of the grave dangers that lurk in the shadows of the Philippian church. The persecution faced before them, the near death experience of a key church leader, the fear of Judaizers who mutilate the flesh and confuse the gospel, and the overwhelming disunity, greed, and selfish ambitions of the church. The Philippians, on the one hand, are presented with dire circumstances that can bring forth sinful reactions, and, on the other hand, the good the church had done by donating money to Paul can just as easily lead to sinful reactions. So in both the difficult and good, the opportunity for sinful reactions is present.
In Acts, we find the liberating power of the gospel to transform heavy laden people. Lydia and the fortune-teller are prime examples of Gods transformative power. God met them in their context, their world, and their circumstances. But, in Philippians we find the God of hope who promises to change us. In the midst of trouble and disaster God’s character is never called into question, but only enlarges by reorienting our vision to Christ. Though the gospel is being defamed by false teachers, the apostle is in prison, and the church is disillusioned, there is still great hope in God’s truth.
First, we are so unified with Jesus Christ that we partake in his suffering, his life, and his death. Christ has overcome all obstacles, including the sting of death, and believers have no fear of it. Second, the humility of Christ was the basis for his exaltation as Lord and Judge of all. Though he was the exact representation of God he denied himself all his divine rights, as creator. Not that he divested himself of his being, but Christ refused his divine rights and privileges. Third, Christ took the form of a servant, refusing all his rights as God, even to the point of death.
So what actually changes people? God is always the active agent, through the Holy Spirit, bringing radical change to our hearts. But this is too broad an idea, what actually occurs in the human heart? The root issue was clear—the creature wants to be the creator. So we must reorient our hearts to acknowledge that two realties exist: God and Man. The model Paul presents us with is to humble ourselves before God. I must acknowledge that God is king and I serve only him, self-interest leads to destruction. With God on the throne I take his agenda and prerogatives before my own, and this creates my service to others. Like Christ, it means emptying my heart of all inordinate desires and ungodly motives. And since Christ is one with the Father, we are one with our brothers and sisters in Christ. If this isn’t enough, God promises to will and to work his good pleasure in us. The grace to do what I could never achieve is given to me.
What does it take to be Justified?
Acts 15:1-35: The first church council at Jerusalem convened to establish what exactly Gentile converts to Christianity should do to be saved, while Judaizers insisted upon circumcision and adherence to the law of Moses. The very Gospel was at stake.
Cloning by John Frame
To clone is to imprint a human egg with genetic material taken entirely from a single person, producing a genetic replica of that person. This is different from normal reproduction, in which genetic material from two persons, mother and father, is combined in a third, their child.
A clone, though a genetic replica, is not an exact duplicate of his parent, as in the Michael Keaton movie “Multiplicity.” Although the genetic material of the two persons is identical, the clone will be much younger, and will inevitably be raised in a different environment from the parent. Identical twins, who also share a common genetic makeup, differ from one another significantly, and no doubt a cloned child would be even more different from his parent. Identical twins often have their similarities reinforced by being raised in the same household, receiving the same education, being subject to similar influences. A cloned child would not have anywhere near that level of environmental sameness with his parent.
It seems almost inevitable that in the near future someone will succeed in cloning a human being. Indeed, that may already have been achieved. The technique is available, having succeeded with Dolly the sheep and many other animals. So the ethical treatises are flowing thick and fast. This topic is a good one on which to practice our skills of ethical reflection, because there is a great need to distinguish between serious reasoning and hysterical ranting.
There are some good reasons for Christians to oppose the cloning of humans at this time:
1. Research into the cloning of humans would require destruction of many fertilized eggs and embryos. Given the pro-life premise that the fertilized egg is a human person, with the right to life granted in the sixth commandment, such research involves murder, and Christians should not condone it.
2. As of now, the process of cloning as performed on animals produces a high risk in the clones of birth defects and other serious health problems. It is wrong to conceive a human being in such a way as to virtually ensure such problems.
3. It is hard to imagine a good motive for creating a clone of oneself, rather than reproducing normally or using other artificial means of conception (artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, surrogate motherhood, etc.) Some may secretly wish hereby to achieve some kind of immortality, but of course that is foolish and wrong. Others may want to see someone live after them who has exactly the same personality, talents and virtues. But talents and virtues may have as much to do with environment, training, etc. as genetics. The same questions arise about someone’s attempt to make a perfect genetic copy of somebody else, say, a spouse, or someone they admire, from genetic material that has been frozen or otherwise preserved.
I can, however, imagine one good motive: A married couple can’t have biological children because one spouse is incurably infertile. But they wish to have a child who carries on the genetic inheritance of one of them, without bringing a third party (artificial insemination by donor, surrogate motherhood) into the picture. Certainly the desire to continue one’s genetic inheritance is not a bad thing, and the desire to keep third parties out of a couple’s reproductive life (though a difficult question ethically) is certainly a godly desire.
So the question does arise: If research on cloning reaches a point of success, where clonal reproduction is no more risky than natural reproduction, should Christians approve of it (given the godly motivation described above)?
Here the hysteria mounts: Isn’t such cloning playing God? Consider some arguments against cloning even in the best-case scenario noted above:
1. “God has restricted the right to govern human reproduction.” Well, of course God governs everything. But what has he said that forbids cloning?
2. “Cloning is an unnatural process.” Yes, in a way, but so is birth control. So is healing by antibiotics. So is surgery. But God does not call us to leave nature as it is, but to take dominion of nature for his glory (Gen. 1:28ff). See course discussions on “natural law” ethics. It is relevant, perhaps, also to mention that something like cloning does occur in nature: when one fertilized egg divides into two, creating genetically identical twins.
3. “Cloning is creating, while natural reproduction is begetting. Creating is God’s prerogative; begetting is ours.” To my knowledge, Scripture does not make any moral distinctions along these lines. Certainly we have creative powers that are part of the divine image in which we are made. We are not, of course, creators in the sense of making the first genetic material. God did that in Gen. 2:7. But it is not clear from Scripture that we should abstain from using the creative powers we do have, that he has given us. Note the parallel between Gen. 1:27, 5:2, and 5:3.
4. “A cloned child is given an identity not freely chosen by him” (see my review of Bouma, et al., Christian Faith, Health, and Medical Practice, that makes this argument). But none of us freely chooses his or her identity. We all must take the genetic cards we are dealt. The argument may seek to make the point that the cloned child of a pianist might be forced to become a pianist against his will. But that is by no means a necessary consequence of cloning, and parents of normally conceived children often impose similar pressures.
5. “Even when carried out with the best motives, one who carries out a cloning process is using a technique that has been perfected at the loss of much human life, the destruction of human embryos.” This argument gives one pause, but I don’t think it is determinative. Certainly the history of weaponry has advanced at the cost of much unjust destruction of human life. But is it therefore wrong for us to use that technology to pursue just war, or to hunt deer? We cannot evaluate an action merely on the basis of the history of similar actions. To do so is to engage in genetic fallacy. Something that was once done with a sinful purpose and result may be done again with a godly purpose and result.
So I am not convinced that there is any principle of Scripture that rules out cloning in all cases. Cloning, in the best case, is “playing God” only in the sense that we should always play God: imaging his creativity by taking dominion of natural processes for his glory.
Foundations of Assurance
Many Christians base their assurance of salvation on false premises. This Scriptural guide reveals the certain hope that is provided in Christ himself.
HANDOUT SERMON NOTES
Someone might well say “There’s no way anyone can know if there is life after death or if there is a heaven or hell, and there’s certainly no way to know whether you are going to one of those places or the other.”
In to the quagmire of human opinion steps a man called Jesus Christ who makes audacious claims – claims that if not true make him less than a good teacher, but either a liar who has deceived billions of people, a lunatic (madman)… or else, He is exactly who He claimed to be.
Text: John 14:1-6
Assurance is built in much the same way as a house, brick by brick, laying one truth upon another.
THE EXISTENCE OF GOD – Romans 1 – God does not believe in atheists! God has made the evidence of His existence known to man – all know it but many suppress it.
GOD’S REVELATION – THE BIBLE – It is not a scientific text book as such but when Scripture makes claims that can be attested by science, it stands the test of time in a remarkable (supernatural) way. It is centuries and millennia ahead of its time.
Earth – a circle (Isa 40:22), hung on nothing (Job 26:7) – the moon a reflector of light (does not shine (Job 25:5) – the fact that air has weight (Job 28:24, 25) - time zones (a moment in time that will be night time for some and daytime for others – Luke 17:31-37) – the number of stars “cannot be numbered) Jer 33:20-22) – the water cycle (Ecc 1:6, 7) – Life is in the blood (Lev 17:11) – strict hygiene and sanitation laws (found in Leviticus 13:45-59)) that kept Israel from the spread of disease millennia before germs were discovered (its only in the last 100 years that the regular washing of hands became standard practice in hospitals) – atoms and molecules (things unseen) (Heb 11:3) – ocean currents (Isaiah 43:16; Psalm 8:8) – archaeology - fulfilled prophecy… (Christ, born of a virgin in Bethlehem, His cross and resurrection (Psalm 22; Isa 53), etc. etc.)
JESUS CHRIST – HIS PERSON AND HIS WORK - He existed in history - In a communist Russian dictionary, Jesus is described as "a mythical figure who never existed." Of course, no serious historian could hold to that position today. The evidence is overwhelming as to the fact that Jesus existed, not just from the Gospels and other Christian literature around the first century, but also from non-Christian sources.
Well respected historians of the day, including Tacitus (a Roman) speak of him, as well as the noted Jewish historian Josephus. He writes
"Now there was about this time, Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him, both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians so named after him, are not extinct at this day." Josephus: Antiquities XVIII 63f
Of course, a whole book is needed to cover all the evidence regarding the existence of Jesus. In fact, Josh McDowelI has already written one, called "He walked among us." Suffice it to say that there is overwhelming evidence to say that Jesus was a real historical person.
There They Preached the Gospel
Acts Chapter 14:
The Christian Life by Sinclair B. Ferguson
The nature of Union with Christ
This union is sometimes referred to as “the mystical union”. The term is not a biblical one and may be too broad a term adequately to clarify our understanding of what it means to be “in Christ”. Often “mystical” suggests the idea of a merging between oneself and God. But union with Christ should not be thought of in terms of a loss of our own identity.
We may find some help in understanding our union with Christ if we think of it in terms of the follow categories:
Federal comes from the Latin foedus, meaning a treaty or covenant. What is being emphasized here is that God has established a relationship between Christ and his people which may be thought of as a covenant. What Christ does becomes theirs by virtue of our union with him.
Theologians used to speak about a “covenant of Works” in which all men were united to Adam as their representative, and therefore fell in his transgression (Rom. 5:12-21). Paul saw the parallel to that in the relationship of Christ to his people. Christ appeared as Adam in reverse, undoing what Adam did, regaining what Adam lost. So Paul says that through Christ’s obedience on the basic of this covenant relationship between him and ourselves, grace abounds over our sin, justification becomes a reality, and believers reign in life. All this is because one man’s act of righteousness (rom 5:18-19). But that is possible only if there is this objective union between Jesus and ourselves. The federal union is effected outside of us and in Christ.
A carnal or flesh union
By his incarnation the Son of God became one with us, sharing our nature. He came “being born in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:7), “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom 8:3). These are difficult words to interpret, but they appear to suggest that in his conception Christ really took hold of our nature in the womb of the Virgin Mary, sanctified it through the spirit, and live out his life of obedience in the weakness of our flesh. He came truly to brother us, and to be tempted in all points as we are so that he might sympathise with us in our weakness (Heb 4:15). Furthermore, he established this bridge between God and us in our flesh in order that he might come into contact with our sin, being “made sin” for us (2 Cor 5:21). We are united to him by driven covenant and also by divine incarnation. Our union with Christ is therefore based on Christ union with us.
The Power and Purpose of Money
Reasons of the Heart by Bill Edgar
Surprised my Laughter
Few things dislodge the complacency of certain skeptics as humor. Closely related to a sense of the extraordinary, humor has an element of mystery that makes it a powerful tool for conversation. Why is a good joke funny? Why do certain animals make us laugh? Why does someone slipping on a banana peel strike us as droll? One reason is that in each of these situations two realms clash—the ideal and the ordinary. We spend much of our lives focused on the ordinary, where life can be sadly dark and meaningless. But at times the other reality intrudes and there is a clash, to which we respond with laughter.
In the classic film Modern Times, Charlie Chaplin satirizes the rule of technology. At one point, Chaplin is invited to test a remarkable new eating machine—one that feeds him mechanically without any human effort required. Something inevitably goes wrong, and the robotic arms and dishes become out of the synch, food is flying around, and chaos reigns. We laugh at such a scene because the pretensions of modern technology have been shown to be inadequate to the needs of humanity. The ideal realm, where eating is more than a biological function, forces its way into the ordinary sphere of the dull technology.
Humor can be cynical and destructive, showing a lack of shame and a loss of honor. Often this negative humor is escapism rather than a reality check. Not only is it an indiscriminate judgment, it is not good humor. Distrust, which lies at the heart of humor, can work both ways—being a sign of arrogance or a conventionally permissible way to reveal problems. Such literary and dramatic masters as Shakespeare and Cervantes deploy humor through the clown, revealing truth as the two worlds clash. Through humor we can proclaim basic truths about God, sin, and redemption, and even suggest the great surprise of the gospel.
James is one who journeyed toward faith in Christ through humor. He’s now an Episcopal priest, but as a young man he was thoroughgoing skeptic. Though he had been raised in a Christian family, he had had several negative experiences and was turned off by some unattractive Christians. A number of the most outspoken believers he encountered were not consistently living out their faith—some were terrible parents, for instance, and others were dishonest in business dealings. James found that many Christians were, in a word, hypocrites. If the gospel is true, he wondered, how could so many of adherents be so phony?
What arrested his attention was essentially a joke. On one occasion he raised his objection to Christian belief with a believing friend. After telling his friend that he could not join a religion with so many hypocrites, the Christian turned to James and said there was room for at least one more! The rather elementary quip jolted James into the realization of Augustine’s wisdom, that the church is not a museum of saints but a hospital of sinners
The Guardrail of the Creeds
The value of creeds and confessions in the life of the believer and the church.
Rivaling the Apostle's Creed
Michael J Kruger writes:
Aristides, a converted Athenian philosopher, wrote an apology to emperor Hadrian around 125 A.D. As such, it is one of the earliest patristic writings we possess. It is a lengthy treatise which compares the God of Christianity with the gods of the barbarians, the Egyptians, and the Greeks.
But, at one point, he summarizes what Christians believe in a manner that would rival even the Apostle’s Creed:
The Christians, then, trace the beginning of their religion from Jesus the Messiah; and he is named the Son of God Most High. And it is said that God came down from heaven, and from a Hebrew virgin assumed and clothed himself with flesh; and the Son of God lived in a daughter of man. This is taught in the gospel, as it is called, which a short time was preached among them; and you also if you will read therein, may perceive the power which belongs to it. This Jesus, then, was born of the race of the Hebrews; and he had twelve disciples in order that the purpose of his incarnation might in time be accomplished. But he himself was pierced by the Jews, and he died and was buried; and they say that after three days he rose and ascended to heaven (Apol. 2).
Aristides makes it clear that Christians affirm a number of key truths:
1. The divinity of Jesus: “God came down from heaven…” In the mind of Aristides, Jesus is not an angel, or a semi-divine being, but the very God of heaven itself.
2. The incarnation: “clothed himself with flesh.” In very vivid language, the author affirms that Jesus is God enfleshed; he took upon himself a real human body (contra the Docetists).
3. The virgin birth: “from a Hebrew virgin.” This doctrine flows naturally from the prior two. If Jesus is God, and he took on human flesh, then his conception would be distinctive from other human beings.
4. The authority of the Gospels: “taught in the gospel…and you also if you read therein, may perceive the power which belongs to it.” Notice for Aristides, there are books called a “gospel” which you can “read” to learn more about the person of Jesus. Moreover, these gospels contain a certain “power” which the reader can discern.
5. The authority of the apostles: “and he had twelve disciples.” Aristides recognizes that Jesus had an authority structure through the twelve that was necessary “so that the purpose of his incarnation might in time be accomplished.”
6. His death on the cross: “pierced by the Jews.” This is a clear reference to Jesus’ crucifixion under Pontius Pilate at the request of the Jewish leadership.
7. His resurrection: “after three days he rose.” Jesus did not stay in the grave but was raised from the dead.
8. His ascension: “ascended into heaven.” Jesus returned to his former heavenly home, in a position of power and glory.
This is a surprisingly thorough and wide-ranging summary of core Christian doctrines at a very early point in the life of the church. And it was this form of Christianity that was publicly presented to the Emperor. Once again, we can see that core Christian beliefs were not latecomers that were invented in the fourth century (or later), but appear to have been in place from the very beginning.