Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Wednesday, 1 March 2023:
Nehemiah 12:27-47 – And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, with thanksgivings and with singing, with cymbals, harps, and lyres…. Then I brought the leaders of Judah up onto the wall and appointed two great choirs that gave thanks…. And they offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.
The security of the nation rested not in their defenses but in their faith and fidelity to God. Worship was seen as vital to national defense. A people truly united in faith in God are mighty.
Worship was carefully organized and carried out to plan.
Revival brings obedience, unity, and joy among God’s people.
“God had made them rejoice with great joy.” Worship, prayer, and Bible study are true interactions or dialogues with God – He is intimately involved and responsive. Through these spiritual activities, God enlightens, brings peace and joy, and glorifies Himself before both God’s people and a watching world.
“…the women and children also rejoiced.” Worship is intended by God to be a family endeavor that unites a family and brings joy to a family. Worship is also intended to be an organizational endeavor and a national endeavor where the people give great thanks and proclaim, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Acts 15:6 – The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up….
A godly church congregation knows how to disagree in love, to disagree without being disagreeable. The effect of the Holy Spirit always draws people to unity not disunity.
Acts 15:1, 10 – But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?
No one can obey their way to salvation. Salvation is a gift from God which comes through faith in Jesus. In these verses, the brothers were saved, but legalists were telling them they weren’t saved because they hadn’t done the right deeds. God expects obedience but as a product of salvation rather than a requirement for salvation.
Acts 15:11 — Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.
Interestingly, men from Judea were trying to make Gentiles earn their salvation at the same time God was offering salvation as a gift through Jesus — “And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith (Acts 15:8,9).” How do you think it made God feel when these men tried to exclude God’s children from the family? In their defense, the Judeans were undoubtedly very concerned that the Gentiles would bring ungodly immorality into the body, causing disorder and destruction while misrepresenting the holy character of God. It is understandable that in that pagan culture with its vile practices, the Jews would be very resistant to join hands with the Gentiles. However, I think Paul makes a distinction between spiritual birth and spiritual maturity. We are “born” spiritually by grace through faith in Jesus Christ — no process of human effort. We are born babies. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, new believers are called to grow in spiritual maturity, being “perfected” in love. This is where church discipleship comes to play (“teaching them to obey”). This is a life-long endeavor that is impossible apart from the continual work of the Holy Spirit but also requires much human effort. The Judeans wanted the Gentiles to be born grown up already. Instead, Paul offers some very broad guidelines for the saved Gentiles for church membership so they can join the body and be discipled further. Interestingly, everyone was expected to sustain from sexual immorality immediately.
Acts 15:12 – The assembly fell silent, and they listened.
How many people actually, truly listen? So many disputes would end if people would only listen, and listen beyond the words to capture the true heart and motives behind the words. The word listen and the word silent are spelled with the same letters; perhaps that is not accidental.
Acts 15:19, 20 – Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.
The Apostles agreed upon how to deal with the new Christian who was just stepping out on the road of sanctification. This is not an all-inclusive list of Christian behavioral expectations but rather a place from which to start as the new believer draws closer to Jesus one day at a time. Note that what was considered obvious was abstaining from idolatry and sexual immorality. Verse 21 explains that the new Christians need teachers who will walk with them over time, day-by-day, and who will teach them more and more continually — this is discipleship/disciple-making. There remains an expectation of spiritual growth for all of us. Who is discipling you, and who are you discipling?
Acts 15:39-41 – And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
Once again, Christians must know how to disagree without damaging relationships. In this case, Barnabas and Paul were at an impasse, so they cordially agreed to separate, and God used this separation to spread the Gospel even further. Note that this separation was not a “church split”, it was not an ungodly broken relationship. It was merely de-confliction with continued collaboration. They retained their relationship and unity of purpose. They will join together again later.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 1 March 2023: Today, build and sustain (repair if needed) relationships that might be threatened by disagreements. Don’t let disagreements hinder relationships. Disagree without being disagreeable. Stay on the mission Jesus gave you of reconciliation. Continue to speak the truth in love, but don’t burden people with truths they cannot handle. With whom are you in disagreement? Make sure you are still cordial with that person. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18) Also, see a need; meet the need. If you are aware of someone who has a need that you have the power to fill, just do it. References from today’s readings: “Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.” (Proverbs 28:27)