Modern Churches Drive Away Their Congregations Without Even Realizing It

This week’s commentary on the Social Gospel Blog with Minister and Author Paul J. Bern will be concerning the January 6th insurrection at the US capitol, so-called “conservative Christianity”, and everything that is wrong with modern Christianity — https://www.socialgospel.net/blog or https://www.authorrevpauljbern #faithbased #socialgospel #therealBible #progressiveChristianity #truth #onetrueGospel

Pandemics, Gun Violence, the Nations of Israel and the US, and Bible Prophecy

Commentary this week on the Social Gospel Blog with Minister and Author Paul J. Bern will be a prophecy against all of the above. Not because of my opinion, but because it’s all been foretold in Scripture. https://greatestservant62.medium.com/gun-violence-the-pandemic-the-nations-of-israel-and-the-us-and-what-the-bible-says-about-them-8d842205224b #SocialGospel #Israel #USA #pandemic #gunviolence #Biblicalprophecy

75% off on all print books by Minister Paul J Bern

Alternative nonfiction by Author & Web Pastor Paul J. Bern. You’re spending too much time looking at screens. Try reading a book instead. It’s easier on your eyes! Find out more on my author page at https://www.amazon.com/author/revpauljbern Visit my ministry website at https://www.social-gospel.net/so/efNNcmrVJ

Seven years in the making, this 3-part series on the writings of the apostles Luke & Paul is a lot more than just a compilation of Bible studies. This collection of Luke’s and Paul’s writings presents them from broader perspectives that are much more applicable to modern life than one might expect. Each study is limited to a few pages for the sake of brevity. These studies are done from a whole new 21st century perspective that is sure to educate while making the process enjoyable. Over 1,000 pages of enlightenment! A must-read for believers, whether they attend church or not!

The roots of the continued conflict in the Middle East, the Scriptures, and the achievement of a lasting peace

The True Origins of All the Fighting in the Middle East Turn Out to Be One Gigantic Family Feud

(Romans chapter 9, verses 14-33)

Last week as we left off at verse 13, Paul the apostle was addressing some concerns to the early Roman church regarding the separation of Christian believers and their Jewish brethren (and in some cases, family members). This was, in actuality, a culture clash that was occurring at the time Paul wrote these words. I will now present the final 10 verses of this week’s Scriptural study, beginning at verse 14:

 

“What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but God’s mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: ‘I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth’. Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens those whom he wants to harden.’ One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?’ But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘why did you make me like this’? Does not the potter have the rights to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, – bore with great patience the objects of his wrath prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory – even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?” (Romans 9, verses 14-24)

 

‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ (Exodus 33:19) God chooses those that he sets aside for honor and praise, but he also chooses those who stand against him, because to stand against God means to rely on our human pride and only what matters to ourselves, refusing to submit to God’s will. “It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but God’s mercy.” What doesn’t? Our selfish desires, our ulterior motives, and all our little schemes and manipulations that we hatch on others we dislike. We can obtain neither eternal salvation nor the forgiveness of sins by our works alone, or by our words and deeds, whether they are good or bad. Recognition of God’s grace and of the shed blood of Jesus Christ are what saves us. Refusal to believe these established facts are what condemns us. I can’t make it any more plain than that.

 

Then why, Paul wrote, does God still blame people when they sin, and why does the guilt remain? And, who are we to talk back to God making demands as to why he has made us as he has? People who make this mistake, and it can be a very serious one, are forgetting who is God and who isn’t. Let’s not go there, people. Remember to keep your eyes on the prize! What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known… – even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?” God has shed his grace upon us through Jesus his only Son so that the riches of his glory could be made known. The glory of the Son, in turn, is then made known through us, his adopted children. Since Jesus walked the earth as a Jewish carpenter, his salvation is equally available to Gentiles and Jews on an equal basis. So now you know why we’re all family members. And now let’s conclude this study of Romans chapter 9, starting at verse 25.

 

“As he says in Hosea, ‘I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one’, and, ‘it will happen in the very place where it was said to them, ‘you are not my people’, they will be called ‘Sons of the Living God’. Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: ‘Though the number of the Israelite’s will be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved. For the Lord will carry out his sentence on earth with speed and finality’. It is just as Isaiah said previously, ‘unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah’. What shall we say, then? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. And why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written: ‘See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame’.” (Romans 9, verses 25-33)

 

Paul the apostle quotes the book of Hosea chapter 2 and verse 23 to finish making his point to the Roman congregation. “‘I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one’, and, ‘it will happen in the very place where it was said to them, ‘you are not my people’, they will be called ‘Sons of the Living God.” What was Paul talking about? He was referring to Israel’s status as God’s chosen people based on the promise God made to Abraham (see the book of Genesis chapter 15), which was that Abraham would be the “father of many nations” and that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the clear night sky. Paul refers to this in the next sentence when he wrote, “Though the number of the Israelite’s will be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved. For the Lord will carry out his sentence on earth with speed and finality.”

 

The unvarnished truth here is that not everyone is going to heaven when they die. In fact, there are many out there today who simply aren’t going to make it into New Jerusalem. A disturbing proportion of them will be what the Bible calls “lukewarm Christians” in the book of Revelation chapter 3. It is there that it is written about the church at Laodicea, “I wish that you were either hot or cold. But since you are neither, I will spew you out of my mouth”. That judgment refers to the end times church, which is the present day since the second coming of our Lord is getting close. And if only a remnant of Israel, who are God’s chosen people, will be saved, now many fewer who comprise all the remaining nations excluding Israel will be saved? The answer is, not as many as we have been led to believe by organized religion, who seem to think that only those who belong to their denominations will be saved. It is those very people who are going to be in for a really rude awakening.

 

“… the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. And why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as it were by works.” Right here is where Paul finishes making his point, which is that Jews and all other nations have all become one in the eyes of God. The non-Jews have righteousness, which means to be found without fault but in that case according to their faith, while the Jews who do not believe in Jesus (there are a growing number who do believe) have lost out because they thought they could be made righteous by their works. This teaching was a reference to the Law of Moses in the Old Testament, when in fact that’s not how things work in God’s kingdom. Nobody, whether Jewish or not, can get to heaven and achieve eternal life based only on their good deeds. That is because no matter how many good deeds any one of us performs, we all still have that sinful nature that dates all the way back to Adam and Eve. There is no way we can shake this off of us on our own. Only by placing our unconditional faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ can eternal salvation be attained and our sinful natures overcome.

 

They stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written: ‘See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame’”. The “stumbling stone” Paul is referring to is none other than Christ Jesus himself. If we trust only in our works or our related sacrifices such as tithing 10% of our income like certain churches teach, that will not get us to heaven in and of itself. But if we humble ourselves before Christ by surrendering control of our lives and placing our complete trust in him, then and only then can we become Jews by adoption in the family of God. When we trust in God, we can never be put to shame so long as we work diligently at this continuously. So here is something we have found that will improve our relationship with our Savior while bringing us ever closer to him all the while. Let’s begin to put this into practice today, and soon you will see just how remarkably effective in your walk with the Lord this is.

 

The Differences Between Human Trafficking and Slavery, and What the Bible Says About it

It Has Been Reported That There Are Over 40 Million Slaves Throughout the World. But There Are Far More Economic Slaves Than That, and Many of Them Don’t Even Realize It

(Matt. 20, verse 27; 2nd Peter 2, verse 19;

Romans 6, verse 22)

by Minister Paul J. Bern

Since I have already mentioned the presidential impeachment circus in Washington DC last week, and wrote about it at length the week before, I will not be revisiting that topic anytime soon. But there has been another topic that is disguised under the turmoil of Washington politics as being something potentially dangerous to the point of being explosive. That other topic is economic inequality, which is currently at greater levels than at any other time in human history. And so today I will be comparing two different kinds of slaves. One is a victim of human trafficking, such as those forced into the sex trade or into indentured servitude.

The other kind are those who are in economic servitude, whether they realize it or not. These are working people who make under $35,000.00 per year. Arguably speaking, that number could be made to include everyone making less than $50,000.00. At any rate, if your monthly take-home pay is insufficient to pay your bills on time, and especially if your income is insufficient to meet your monthly obligations, you are a slave. If your take-home pay won’t even take you home, you are an economic slave. While this fact is nearly unbearable for many, bear it we must. That’s why this week’s commentary is directed at you, my readers. You who hold down 2 jobs, all you students of all ages who have jobs while they train for a new field of endeavor. I want you all to know that I’ve been where you’re at, and there is a new day soon coming that will be a great relief to multitudes. This means an end to economic inequality and the raw greed that has driven it. Allow me to quote from an article that originated in the Lame Stream Media, but which is still relevant more than 2 years later:

40 million slaves in the world, finds new report

By Mark Tutton, CNN

September 19, 2017

Story highlights

  • Report estimates number of victims of modern slavery in 2016
  • 25 million people in forced labor, 15 million forced marriage
  • International Labor Organization and the Walk Free Foundation produced the report

London (CNN) More than 40 million people were estimated to be victims of modern slavery in 2016 – and one in four of those were children.

Those are the findings of a new report produced by the International Labor Organization (ILO), a U.N. agency focusing on labor rights, and the Walk Free Foundation, an international NGO working to end modern slavery.

The report estimates that last year, 25 million people were in forced labor – made to work under threat or coercion – and 15 million people were in forced marriage.

More on modern slavery, from The CNN Freedom Project

It’s impossible to know exactly how many people are living in modern slavery, and different studies have produced different estimates. One reason is that modern slavery is a hidden crime that’s difficult to identify. Another is that different studies use different definitions of slavery, with some including forced marriage, for example, and others not…..

By this point it’s likely occurred to you all that, while reprehensible for its gross immorality and its contempt for humanity, slavery doesn’t seem to be anything I’ve heard about in church before. Who would preach about modern slavery in the early 21st century, and in church? Or those who are mainly in cyberspace like myself? The Bible has a lot of things about slavery contained between its covers, such as 2nd Peter chapter 2 verse 19, “They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity – for ‘people are slaves to whatever has mastered them’.” How should we view this in modern terms? It should be viewed in terms of addiction at the very least. Suppose we are up to our eyeballs in debt. At the very least, we are slaves to our credit cards (student loans are excluded here on the grounds they are predatory loans). The same thing goes for that expensive model car you’re driving that’s keeping you broke. Or your drug habit, or your porn addiction, or your sexual fetishes and fantasies that exist only between your ears where no one can see them, like hiding them in plain sight. If any of this stuff is in your life, you’re a slave, and it’s up to you to do something about it. I know these words will be hard to read for some, but still this is necessary because it’s my job as a minister to point these things out.

Jesus Christ had something to say about this issue of who is greater or lesser than another. In Matthew’s gospel chapter 20, we find Jesus interjecting himself into a dispute among the apostles as to who would be the greatest for posterity’s sake (their thinking at this point had not yet mastered the teachings of our Lord and Savior). Look how Christ responded: “23) Jesus said to them, ‘You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.’ 24) When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25) Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26) Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27) and whoever wants to be first must be your slave….”

If Jesus were to return today, everything for the most part would begin to run in reverse of the way the world has things arranged. I realize this will be hard for some to imagine, but we must do precisely that as a unified people if we can ever have any hope of breaking out of the economic chains that bind us. So if you want to become the most valuable worker at your employer, or at your business, make yourself the biggest slave or the greatest servant. Nothing less will do in the eyes of Christ, so let’s all get busy finding someone who needs help the most and start with them. We can all make the world a better place if we spurn competition and embrace cooperation.

For my third example of slavery in today’s world, let’s take a quick peek at the writings of the apostle Paul, who wrote in Romans 6 verse 22, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.” So if you are content with nothing less, or if you are driven to have, nothing but the highest standards of being slaves to Jesus Christ, he and he alone can deliver what we need in return for our unending devotion to the Son of God. “Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26) Not so with you….” Does everyone see this, as I close? The difference between those who want to be the greatest, as opposed to the ones accumulating the most of all the world’s wealth plus that of millions more, is their faith and belief in Jesus Christ (or not). Because when we do this, we will make ourselves servants of the Prince of Peace.

A quick study of the Book of Philemon

The following study is an excerpt from my 2017 nonfiction book, “The Apostles in Plain English Vol. 1: the Apostle Paul”

To get your copy, visit my website, now on sale at half price — was $48.95, now just $24.48, free shipping too!

Teaching Others About Jesus Refreshes People’s Hearts (the book of Philemon)

For this week’s in-depth study of the writings of the apostle Paul, we will take a good look at the book of Philemon (which is between Titus and the book of Hebrews). Philemon was the head of a small home-based church. This was common back in the days of the early Church. There were no mega-churches with congregations numbering in the thousands back then like we see today on TV and the Internet. At that time the Roman Empire ruled over what we call the Holy Land, and they governed with utter ruthlessness, as you know. So church services were held in secret behind locked doors because the death penalty was being imposed on all true believers who found themselves caught up in the Roman Empire’s dragnet. So it is in this context that we begin today’s study in the first and only chapter of Philemon.

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon, our dear friend and fellow worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier and to the church that meets in your home: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I have heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. I pray that you may be active in the sharing of your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing that we have in Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.” (Philemon verses 1-7)

Notice, as before in my other studies, that Paul’s message starts out nearly the same way, which is “grace and peace to you”. Grace in this context means unmerited and undeserved favor from God. Grace is something that is bestowed upon us by God free of charge. The same goes for peace. Not in the worldly sense such as the anti-war protests from the 1960’s up until recently, but in a Spiritual sense like what is described in the book of Philippians – a “peace that is beyond all human understanding” (see chapter 4). There is no doubt that Paul was plugged into this incomprehensible peace. It is evident in his writings throughout the New Testament (after all, Paul wrote one third of the New Testament himself). There is an additional ingredient I will add to this Spiritual mix, and that is thankfulness. “I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I have heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints.” This still applies the same way today. “Pray without ceasing”, Paul wrote elsewhere. “Pray with a thankful heart”, he said.

“I pray that you may be active in the sharing of your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing that we have in Christ.” How are we doing in this regard? Do we show up at church on Sunday morning for an hour or two each week while doing nothing more? Or are we sharers of our faith out in the community while being unconcerned about what others might think about us as we do so? Do we have a love, or even a passion, that is reserved not only for the saints who are God’s people, but for all mankind? If we’re not doing all this, then our faith needs strengthening so that our names may be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life as described in the book of Revelation. Are we ready for “the wedding feast” (see Matt. 22: 1-14) with Jesus and all the saints of today as well as years (and centuries) gone by? In so doing, we will be doing just what Paul said as we continually “[refresh] the hearts of the saints.” Now let’s go to the next part of our study beginning at verse eight.

Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. I then, as Paul – an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus – I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. I am sending him – who is my very heart – back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the Gospel. But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced. Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good – no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.” (Philemon, verses 8-16)

What would Jesus do, as the time-honored question asks? What if it were us instead of Onesimus? Have we made the final decision in the affirmative regarding being one of the sons and daughters of God? Where do we stand in our Spiritual commitment to Jesus Christ? Have we made ourselves useful tools of the Kingdom for Him to use? Have we become the very heart of Christ? All I’m saying here is that if Onesimus, who was a barely educated slave by modern standards, can be this indispensable to the Lord, then it is up to us to become the same way. But Paul didn’t accomplish this by issuing orders in a hierarchical, authoritarian management style (like what is prevalent in the military and in corporate America.

Paul wrote, “…. I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love.” Further down Paul wrote, “I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced.” Government and leadership in a Christian mind-set is accomplished by a lateral or horizontal management structure consisting of groups of peers, as you can see. In this instance the modern Church seems to have lost its way. As Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon, he wrote that his reason “was that you might have him back for good – no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.” Here again in the apostle Paul’s writings, we have the Christian concept of Christ-centered unconditional equality, just as he wrote about in 2nd Corinthians chapter 8, among other places.

Onesimus, who was evidently a slave since Paul mentioned it in verses 15 and 16, became a citizen of God’s kingdom and was no longer considered a slave, but an equal. In God’s kingdom – which is soon to be established here on Earth, whether anyone believes it or not – there is no longer anyone who is either slave or free, or of any race or nationality, or male and female, or employer and employee. All of the above will fall by the wayside as the entire body of believers gets ready for the arrival of Jesus our Lord, at which time we will all be reunited with Jesus the Christ as equals and peers! And now let’s conclude today’s study starting at verse 17.

So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back – not to mention that you owe me your very self. I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your own obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask. And one more thing: prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers. Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” (Philemon, verses 17-25)

Welcome anyone you meet, even strangers, as if they were Christ himself, because in a way, they are. We are all made “in the image and likeness” of God as written in the book of Genesis. All our blood is the same shade of red. Because, if we do this consistently, other people will see Jesus in each of us, meaning that we will all equally benefit from Jesus’ unconditional love. If any one of us has been wronged by another, we would do well to forgive that person as Jesus has commanded. “Forgive us our sins”, says the Lord’s prayer, “as we forgive those who sin against us”. Forgive them even if they’re not sorry. To the same degree that we forgive others, by that same measurement our own sins will be forgiven, just as the apostle James wrote (see James 4: 11-12).

Confident of your own obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.” Do we stand this same way before Christ every day? Do we give Jesus confidence in our own obedience? Let’s all make sure that we get ourselves there so that we may make ourselves “without spot or blemish” before the Lord. In this way we will finish preparing ourselves for the Great Wedding Feast in Jerusalem as guests of honor of the Lord Jesus Christ. And that’s what it’s all about.

To all the money lovers out there, and all you greedy people: You’ve got it all wrong, but it’s not too late to change things….

Is Money Evil, or Does It Just Seem That Way?

1st Timothy chapter 6, verses 6-11, 17-19

by Minister Paul J. Bern

To begin this week’s message, I will skip over the worn-out cliches about money being the root of all evil. That’s not what the Bible says about this topic. At best that time-worn phrase is a half-truth. At worst it is a calculated deception, plain and simple. Here is what the Bible really, actually says about money, from 1st Timothy chapter six in your New Testament: “6) But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7) For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8) But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9) Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10) For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 11) But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.”

All right people, let’s break this down, beginning at verse 6: “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” Let’s get this one thing straight,everyone – there will be no selfish and materialistic people living in heaven for all eternity with the rest of all the believers. (I will decline to speculate on president Trump’s chances of getting that far) Right here is where the Word of the Lord hits home for a lot of people. It’s time for everybody to grow out of their needs for glittery merchandise, as well as the need for the very latest and greatest in electronic devices and mechanical monstrosities (WTH do you need 500 horsepower? Or 600, etc.?). Our planet is gradually dying all around us, and all some people can think of is how to get more stuff delivered to their door than their neighbors have. Or, who owns the fastest car or truck. It’s high time for many of us to grow up.

For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it….” As the master evangelist Rev. Billy Graham once said during one of his many crusades’ “You’ll never see a U-Haul truck following a hearse in a funeral procession.” In the very next verse, the apostle Paul continued his train of thought when he added, “ Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” Can I get a witness out there, somebody? People do all kinds of things to earn money. From tradesman to factory workers, restaurant workers and retail employees, numerous ways of earning a living are being worked out (and with paltry wages, I’ll say). But then there are those who do things that are unethical or illegal, the ones who don’t play by the rules. I don’t know for sure how God will sort through this cargo ship full of wayward individuals – some of whom are actually very good people, and who would give you the shirt off their back if they could. That’s why I never judge people for their economic situations.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” Wealth can be addictive. Trust me, I’ve been there. Within wealth’s foundation is a mortar whose main ingredient is greed. Wealth starts off in liquid form, otherwise known as liquid assets, just like that concrete I just mentioned. As it grows in power and strength, wealth gradually solidifies until anyone who has accumulated less of it eventually gets crushed into powder by those who have so much more. Wealth, and its economic system ‘Capitalism’, are predatory in nature. The profit at one company, or one sole proprietor, invariably comes at the expense of another. Capitalism turns everyone into backstabbers – a miserable and pathetic existence for all. And then the apostle Paul continued his exhortation to Timothy:

But you, man (or woman) of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” Here in verse 11, Paul is giving direct orders to Timothy, a beloved pastor in the early Church, to pursue all the positive things that make up a life free of hate, prejudice and greed, while being filled with compassion and empathy, making all others greater than ourselves. Having said all that, let me close out the remainder of this week’s commentary, once again in 1st Timothy. “17) Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18) Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19) In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6, verses 17-19)

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth….” There it is again, people. Don’t put all your hopes into wealth, or it will fade away like that new car you just bought. There’s no use in feeling more important just because you have more stuff, or a newer car, or a bigger house, or nicer clothes, etc. “… but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” If material goods are what you’re after, ask God to grant your wishes for new things, whatever they may be. But don’t be surprised if they don’t all show up at once, or if at all. God discerns the motives of anyone who asks him for anything. If you have wrong motives, don’t be surprised if you receive nothing. But if your motives are genuine, honest and pure, the Lord may decide to send you a series of blessings, as it is written: “….to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.

Don’t put your faith in anything made by the hands of men and women. Don’t put your faith in anything that comes from the ground, from the red clay all the way up to the finest diamond. If you want someone to believe in, place your faith in God. Above all, stop putting your faith in money! Why put your faith in created things when you can place your faith in He who made it all (see Psalms 44:1)? Above all, God is commanding us “….to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself’ – remember that? If we all do this together,our love for others will replace our love of money – hands down!

Free Book Excerpt #5 from the upcoming faith-based series, “The Social Gospel Series Volume 1: the Apostle Luke”, by Minister Paul J. Bern

Peter Returns to Jerusalem With Great News

[Acts chapter 11, verses 1-18]

When we last left off at the conclusion of Acts chapter 10, Peter was staying and teaching at Caesaria at the home of newly-converted Cornelius the Roman centurion, having been sent there through a vision he had. This week as we start part 1 of Acts chapter 11, we find the apostle Peter has returned to Jerusalem some time later to tell the believers there about everything that had happened on his journey. So let’s take up where we left off starting at verse one.

The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles had already received the Word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, ‘You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.’ Peter began and explained to them everything precisely as it happened: ‘I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. I looked into it and I saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles, and birds of the air. Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter, kill and eat.’ I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean’. This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.” (Acts 11, verses 1-10)

Let’s all keep in mind that, to the Jews at least, their promised Messiah was a Jewish Messiah for Jews only, since that is what certain sections of the Old Testament taught. So for the Jews in Jerusalem, the very idea of salvation in Christ being available for Jew and Gentile alike was, frankly, more than some of them could stomach. The ones most vehemently opposed, of course, were the Sanhedrin (the ruling council of the Temple, the Jewish equivalent of the Vatican for Catholics), the very ones responsible for handing Christ over to the Romans for execution. This is why it reads in verse 2, “….You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.’ Peter began and explained to them everything precisely as it happened….”.

So the apostle Peter relates all that had occurred to the eager, if slightly confused, Jews in Jerusalem who found themselves thinking outside the box when it came to Gentile salvation. Although many Jewish people since have come to know Jesus Christ as their Messiah, Lord and Savior, the vast majority still await Him. That is between them and God, and so because of that I refuse to condemn them. As you all know by now, the Bible warns us repeatedly not to judge others (see Matt. 7: 1-5, Romans 14: 6-13 and James 4: 11-12). But I would like to appeal to my Jewish brothers and sisters that there is still time to follow His Majesty the King! There is still time to give your heart and mind to Jesus!

But for now, and to finish up the first part of this week’s study, Peter tells his Jewish brethren “everything precisely as it happened….”. He spoke of his vision on the roof where he was in prayer, of the definition of “clean and unclean” as far as ancient Jewish customs were concerned, combined with his discovery that there are no unclean people, since Almighty God is the creator of us all. This ‘clean vs. unclean’ paradigm that had been in place for 2 millennia was done away with for good due to Christ sacrificing himself on the cross for the whole of humanity. Ever since, everyone and everything that God has made is considered clean and wholesome when they are considered equally, since God has made it all equal. And so now let’s move on to part 2 of this week’s study, starting at verse 11.

“’Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He will bring a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’ As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.‘ So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?’ When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, ‘So, then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.‘” (Acts 11, verses 11-18)

So now we begin to see why this part of the Book of Acts was included, even though it may seem repetitive in places. The apostle Luke wrote this to be a teaching tool for all future generations of believers so everyone would know exactly why things unfolded as they did with respect to Peter’s ministry. And it’s all because of the words of Christ: “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Notice that Holy Spirit baptism was freely given to all the people with no preconditions, and that is was distributed verbally while Peter spoke to everyone in the home of Cornelius the centurion, and so it was much the same everywhere the Twelve went (“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning”). There was no ceremony or laying on of hands such as what we see in some denominations today (primarily Protestant). The laying on of hands upon an individual by the church leadership is something normally reserved for healing, not Holy Spirit baptism.

So I think at least some of these churches, who I will decline to name, are not being Scriptural when it comes to baptism of the Holy Spirit. In order to receive the Holy Spirit, one must first receive and embrace the Word of God that is bringing that Holy Spirit word upon the entire congregation, no matter who they may be. I certainly don’t believe that Holy Spirit baptism involves standing up in church and babbling unintelligible things when there is no one present who may interpret those who are performing their version of ‘speaking in tongues’. For additional info you may want to read the first 24 verses of 1st Corinthians chapter 14, everything regarding speaking in tongues is right there. But for Peter and the other six brothers from Caesarea, the baptism of the Holy Spirit came about through the preaching of the Word, which was done in a language everyone could understand – their own!

“’So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?’ When they heard this, they had no further objections….” As we can all see, the Holy Spirit, together with the Father and Son, had already made his presence abundantly clear to all. This is most noteworthy, I believe, considering the fact that only six others in the group besides the apostle Peter had been there to witness all these things. Everyone else was running on raw faith, just like we are. So take heart and do not be concerned, because as true believers in Jesus you are in some pretty exceptional company!

“….they had no further objections and praised God, saying, ‘So, then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life’.” This sentence sums up the entire New Testament! Just as God has created and loves all men and women equally, so he has sent his only Son as the blood payment for our sins (as in previous studies, including my own), and this blood payment has similarly been distributed equally. This is the Gospel of Christ – that all of us are reconciled to God through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God! Formerly the Bible, which consisted of what we now call the Old Testament, was during the time of Christ the only ‘Bible’ there was. It was a Jewish book written for Jewish people, calling them God’s chosen ones.

But after the ascension of Christ into the heavens, the Gospel has been extended to all because of the positive qualities God has seen within those who call upon his name, and who profess their undying devotion to God’s only Son. So there you have it in a nutshell, people. This is just another way to explain how one may obtain eternal salvation. The first step is to hear the Word, or in this case to read it. What you do with it is entirely up to you, and I would advise you to pray before proceeding. But proceed we all must, because where our souls will spend eternity depends on it. See you all next week for the second half of Acts chapter 11.

The Gospel Spreads Like Wildfire

[Acts chapter 11, verses 19-30]

Last week as we finished up part one of Acts chapter 11, we found Peter and six other brothers from Caesarea explaining everything that had transpired at the home of Cornelius the centurion. The primary thing that caused everyone concerned to stop and do a double-take was that the Holy Spirit was being received by Jews and Gentiles alike, something that had previously been unheard of. Centuries of Jewish religious and cultural domination was crashing down all around them, which would end with the fall of Jerusalem and the entire Middle Eastern region at the hands of the Roman Empire in 70 A.D. Still, that historical occurrence was at least 30 years into the future as far as the early Church was concerned at this point in time. So, for this week’s study of the apostle Luke’s narrative, there will be a shift in the scenery as Luke moves us onward to the medium-sized city of Antioch (pronounced ant-ee-ock), which was in modern-day southern Turkey. So, let’s take up where we last left off, beginning at verse 19.

Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Steven traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, some men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. News of this reached the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.” (Acts 11, verses 19-24)

You’ll all recall back in chapter 9, when Saul had to be lowered in a basket out of a window in the wall surrounding the city of Damascus after his conversion to Christianity. The religious and legal authorities had put out a ‘kill order’ on Saul for heresy and blasphemy against the Jewish ruling council in Damascus, and for treason against Rome for siding with the Christians that he was being paid to round up to be transported back to Jerusalem. Saul is currently lying low while he awaits further instructions from the Lord. In the meantime, all those who had fled the persecution brought on by Steven’s stoning death had wound up in the places listed above in verses 19 and 20. You already know where Antioch and Cyprus are located. Phoenicia was in Greece, and Cyrene was an ancient Greek city on the North African coast in north-eastern Libya. (The precise location of the ancient city was thirteen kilometers from the coast).

“….some men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.” Evidently a very large number, possibly a majority of the population, were being converted as a result of the testimony of the brothers from all these places, and they had all combined their spirits to come and perform Spiritual warfare on the Lord’s behalf! As it was in the upper room on the day of Pentecost, and that very morning in Jerusalem as Peter gave a sermon that brought 3,000 men to the Faith (not counting women and children), and as it was at the home of Cornelius the centurion, so it also was at Antioch as the believers and those who testified to what the Lord had done for them through his Holy Spirit retold their experiences. Their messages were received loud and clear, and the very sound of the men’s voices testifying to the crowds who gathered wherever they went, was sufficient for the Holy Spirit to baptize everyone who asked for it.

There was no formality or order of service as we understand it, because the Holy Spirit doesn’t operate that way. Although those who taught spoke in tongues, or other languages, taught and preached in those tongues, they knew those languages supernaturally. Jews taught to Greeks, Egyptians, Cypriots, Syrians and many others situated in modern Turkey, Jordan and Iraq as they taught each other. All did so supernaturally. None had any formal training in those other languages since there were no schools as we know them today. There was some rudimentary education for some, but for the majority there was none at all. So it was extraordinary that they could teach and inspire one another in each other’s native language.

But today we have churches – even whole denominations – whose idea of speaking in tongues is standing up and babbling a bunch of gibberish and what amounts to baby-talk, and that passes for ‘speaking in tongues’. Except that that’s not speaking in tongues, it’s just people putting on a show for the most part. The apostle Paul wrote in 1st Corinthians chapter 14, verses 1-25, a detailed explanation of what speaking in tongues entails. You can find my study on the first half of that chapter from this link. But my point here is that the apostle Paul wrote that people shouldn’t speak in tongues out loud unless there is someone there who can interpret. You can pray in tongues in an unknown language, Paul wrote. But to paraphrase, if nobody else would understand the tongue in which you are praying, pray anyway, but only between yourself and God. Otherwise, no one will understand you and it will confuse or even drive away new believers.

News of this reached the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.” You’ll recall from chapter 4 that Barnabas’ was actually a nickname which meant ‘encourager’ or ‘the son of encouragement’. Evidently he had a positive, upbeat kind of personality that is always welcome wherever it may go. So we can see that Barnabas’ arrival in Antioch was precisely what the Lord had in mind. The Holy Spirit was with Barnabas, and spoke through him to all who would sit and listen, and who were willing to be taught. So it is profitable to seek out such people today just like back then. Nothing has changed. In the world in which we live there are really positive and really negative people living side by side, and not always harmoniously. Unless, of course, you stick with only the positive people, like Barnabas was. Better yet, become one yourself! Be the change you are seeking! And now let’s finish up the second half of this week’s study starting at verse 25.

Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch. During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread out over the Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.” (Acts 11, verses 25-30)

So now we have advanced within the apostle Luke’s narrative to the point where Saul, who had been cooling his heels in his home town of Tarsus after barely escaping from Damascus with his life, is brought to Antioch by Barnabas. I am struck by the great lengths people had to go to back then in order to get things accomplished. In today’s world, Saul could have been summoned with a phone call and a plane ticket. How easy things are today compared to the first century A.D.! Back then, Barnabas first had to go from Antioch to Tarsus, which was a fishing village on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean sea (this would be in southeastern Turkey today). This is a distance of approximately 123 miles by today’s standards. Then he found Saul, who didn’t have much luggage due to his clandestine escape from Damascus, and they went back to Antioch – all without a car! Now that’s what I call ‘dedication’! Could any of us walk a 250 mile round trip today just to bring someone back with them? Barnabas did exactly that.

So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.” So here it is evident that Saul, who shortly afterward would rename himself ‘Paul’ and who ultimately wrote one third of the New Testament, was mentored by Barnabas at Antioch prior to his performing any preaching or teaching on his own. Considering that Saul had formerly arrested, jailed and sometimes even executed Christians, his now being taught and mentored by Barnabas amounted to a radical career change for Saul. There’s no overstating that fact, that a paid executioner had been transformed into a humble and willing student! That is what the awesome power of the Holy Spirit truly looks like! As a result, others who saw visually what we are seeing here in my words on this page received, and continue to receive, the inner peace and presence of the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, the risen Lord, Savior and Redeemer!

Then a man named Agabus stood up and predicted a widespread famine, which actually occurred not too long after that. Consequently, the early church in Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside of Judea received an offering from the believers further north in Antioch, as it is written in verses 29-30: “The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.” This gift, and the others described by other apostles, was always in the form of trade-able goods or food stores. There was no cash as we know it today. So they sent gold or silver coins, nonperishable foods, and likely a sword or two. Today, they would be called “preppers” and would have to endure the humiliation of a criminal prosecution.

They sent each other assistance as they had need of. One church or group of churches would send another an offering during times of famine, which happened more frequently back then than it does today. They didn’t have to get on radio or TV to get their needs met like so many churches do in modern times They didn’t need to demand that everyone pay 10% of their income, either. All they had to do was to come together in prayer in the Spirit, with each person in the group combining the internal habitation of the Holy Spirit within themselves together with everyone else, like a team prayer, and their needs would be met. This was, and still is, especially true when all other means have been exhausted. God supplies all our needs each and every day! And next week we’ll begin part 1 of chapter 12.

This week’s ongoing Biblical study series will be part 1 of Acts chapter 27

The Apostle Paul Sets Sail For Rome

Acts chapter 27, verses 1-12,

by Minister Paul J. Bern

Last week as we put the finishing touches on our knowledge of Acts chapter 26 and what it all actually means, we saw the apostle Paul had concluded his testimony to King Agrippa in the presence of governor Festus and various officials and dignitaries of their time. About his testimony Festus had said to Agrippa, “This man could have been set free had he not appealed to Caesar” (see verse 32 of Acts chapter 26). But Paul, who was on a mission from Almighty God, undertook that journey knowing it could be a life-ending decision. But first, he must sail to Rome on a perilous journey by ship, and sailing ships were far more rudimentary than they are today. And so on that point, let’s all go to verse 1 of Acts 27.

1) When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment. 2) We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us. 3) The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs. 4) From there we put out to sea again and passed to the lee of Cyprus because the winds were against us. 5) When we had sailed across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia. 6) There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board. 7) We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete, opposite Salmone. 8) We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea.” (Acts 27, verses 1-8)

In verse 2, Adramyttium was originally located at the head of the Gulf of Adramyttium, on the River Caicus in the Plain of Thebe, approximately 4 kilometers west of the modern town of Burhaniye, but later moved 13 kilometers northeast to its current location and became known as Edremit. Also in verse 2, (Acts 20:4) “They are designated “men of Macedonia, Paul’s companions in travel.” We learn later that Aristarchus was a native of Thessalonica (Acts 27: 2). They were probably seized to extract from them information about their leader Paul, but when they could tell nothing, and since they were Greeks, nothing further was done to them. But both men would be executed by the Romans in their not-too-distant futures.

3) The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs.” Right here in this verse is ample proof that Paul posed no threat whatsoever to his Roman captors. In fact, he readily gained their trust once they realized that Paul’s faith was genuine and authentic. Paul reinforced the trust he had earned when he came back to the ship on schedule. In verse 5, “ 5) When we had sailed across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia. 6) There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board.” All these seaports were located along the southern coast of modern-day Turkey.

Verses 7 and 8 further trace the directions of Paul’s Roman captors as they ultimately ended up in the seaport of Fair Havens. By now everyone realizes that traveling long distances in the 1st century AD was difficult even on a good day. On a bad day, trying to sail a boat was a pointless excersize in futility. “When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete, opposite Salmone. We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea.” Fair Havens is on the south side (“leeward”) of the island nation of Crete in the central part of the Mediterranean sea. And now let’s move on to part 2 of this week’s study series.

9) Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Day of Atonement. So Paul warned them, 10) ‘Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.’ 11) But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. 12) Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest.” [Acts 27, verses 9-12]

For any persons who weren’t aware, Paul the apostle and the others with him were all Jews who had been converted to Christianity, so the Day of Atonement had deep meaning and was of major significance for each of them. All except for the Roman guards, who evidently cared nothing about the convictions of Paul, Luke and company. So much so that the ship’s captain and her owner convinced Julius the centurion to set sail ASAP. And, that meant setting sail on the morning of the first day of the Jewish feast of Yom Kippur, just so Julius and his fellow soldiers could show off their sailing skills and their disdain for Christianity, not to mention their total disrespect for our risen Lord and Savior. But this is what happened in verses 9, 10 and 11.

“….But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. 12) Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on….” Can’t stay where they were, but couldn’t leave either? It looks like some additional planning in this case would have been beneficial for everyone concerned. But that was not to be. And so the apostles Paul and Luke, together with Aristarchus of Thessalonica who had been a member of the church at Thessalonica that the apostle Paul had founded, set sail for Rome. Will they make it despite setting sail at an inopportune time from a weather standpoint? At this juncture, there’s no way to tell. But if you will only return next week at this time for the next lesson in this series, everything will become clear to you. So, God willing, I will see you then.

This week’s ongoing Biblical teaching series will be part 2 of Acts chapter 26

Paul the Apostle Continues His Testimony Before King Agrippa

[Acts chapter 26, verses 19-32]

by Minister Paul J. Bern

Last week as we left off at part 1 of Acts chapter 26, the apostle Paul was giving his testimony before King Agrippa, in the presence of many of those who had imprisoned Paul previously. Moreover, the majority of those individuals seated before Paul, Festus and king Agrippa were accessories to the murder of Jesus Christ, who rose from the dead on the morning of the 3rd day, much to their humiliation. As the apostle Luke wrote, Paul had not yet finished his defense, so let’s start where we last ended on verse 19. “19) So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. 20) First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds. 21) That is why some Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. 22) But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen – 23) that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.” 24) At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.‘” (Acts 26, verses 19-24)

Since the first half of Paul’s testimony to Festus and the king was covered last week, this week we find Paul the apostle beginning to turn up the intensity of his rhetoric. He testified vigorously against the Jews from Jerusalem, and especially to those who were denigrating the sacred Name of the Lord. In verses 20-21 Paul said, “20) First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds. 21) That is why some Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me.” ‘I remind them’, to paraphrase Paul regarding his Jewish accusers and former brethren, ‘of the very thing that they lack, which is Christ’s Salvation’. All they had to do was

Moving on to verse 22, the apostle Paul would not allow himself to be separated from Christ in any way, and compares his faith to that of Moses from centuries before: “But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen….” Paul was testifying on the Lord’s behalf what His intentions were, and that those intentions manifested themselves through Paul. Those who saw or were touched could be saved by embracing the Gospel, and by being healed (in that order). It was not until the following sentence was uttered that the real purpose of Paul’s testimony came forth: “23) ,,,,that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.” Immediately, King Agrippa stops the proceedings at verse 24, as he accuses the apostle Paul of insanity. “Your great learning is driving you insane.” I don’t know about you, but if anyone is called ‘insane’ because of their Christian beliefs, that’s a huge compliment to a real believer.

So here we have the apostle Paul being called a madman in full view of everyone, and how does Paul respond? “25) ‘I am not insane, most excellent Festus,’ Paul replied. ‘What I am saying is true and reasonable. 26) The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. 27) King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.’ 28) Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?’ 29) Paul replied, ‘Short time or long – I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.’ 30) The king rose, and with him, the governor and Bernice, and those sitting with them. 31) After they left the room, they began saying to one another, ‘This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.’ 32) Agrippa said to Festus, ‘This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.’”(Acts 26, verses 25-32)

Somehow, in some way, Paul seems to have found an opening in the heart of king Agrippa. Maybe it was something the king had been taught or otherwise had exposure to in his youth, who can say for sure? But his response gives away his true belief when Paul asks this question in verse 27: “The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. 27) King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.’ 28) Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?’” The sarcasm in Agrippa’s tone of voice was likely unmistakable by this time. He was telling Paul to take a look around and notice that he was surrounded by his enemies. So to paraphrase Agrippa, he was asking Paul, ‘if you can’t make converts out of your own people, what makes you think you can convert me?’

Paul’s reply was classic Christendom: “…I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.” Although Paul was in chains during these proceedings, he was more free than many of those who had no chains and walked around as free men. Seeing this as being a potential rallying cry for Paul’s supporters, King Agrippa – with Festus’ agreement – immediately adjourns the proceedings so they can discuss the matter privately starting at verse 31. “After they left the room, they began saying to one another, ‘This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.’ “. Nobody knew what to do with Paul, except for the one thing Paul sought, which was to have this case dismissed so he could be set free, even if he had to go all the way to Caesar to do so. And even then, he stipulated, only for the cause of the risen Christ, with nothing held back for himself.

32) Agrippa said to Festus, ‘This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.’” To everyone there, what Paul the apostle was doing didn’t make any sense. He could have been set free, but Paul couldn’t allow that to occur just yet. He was mindful of what the Spirit of the Lord had told him in Acts 23, verse 11: “The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.’” This right here is the real motivator for Paul – the opportunity to speak to Caesar himself. That would be the modern-day equivalent of setting up a meeting with president Trump.

Paul had been told by the Spirit of the risen Lord, who had appeared to him after he had been apprehended by the Roman guards at Jerusalem, that he would testify in Rome as to the good news of the Gospel of the risen Christ. Paul had also been told that he would testify before governors and officials, and the Lord had taken the most painstaking care to make sure that everything occurred precisely where and when it is intended. Paul the apostle continued to follow in the Lord’s footsteps, as the other prophets did before him dating all the way back to Abraham. The next stop on his journey of faith will be Rome and an audience with Caesar, but the journey to Rome will take a few unexpected turns. So be sure and return next week at this time for Part One of Acts chapter 27, where Paul sets sail under guard for his audience with the Emperor. Everyone have a splendid week.