“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’.” Acts 23:11
It is a joy to return to preaching through the book of Acts! It is filled with examples and lessons that I need to learn and apply. As I continue to look at the “Acts of Acts” in this sermon series, it seems like each chapter has the apostles, or early Christians, involved in an act that we have a tendency to try to avoid. Yet it was these very acts of God in their lives that transformed a fledgling group disciples in disarray into a mighty force that turned the known world upside down with the gospel of Jesus Christ. We live in a time where we need such a transformation in the church and in the lives of the individuals who follow Jesus.
As we arrive in Acts 23 in our sermon series we find Paul continuing to have opportunity to give a defense of the gospel of Jesus. Even when facing opposition, Paul both speaks with courage and is reminded by God to take courage as there is work yet to be done. As we seek a greater obedience to living the word of God, we must also be able to hear God’s word tell us, “Take COURAGE! You still have work to do.”!
Conscience: Paul is able to speak with courage because his conscience doesn’t fill him with fear. He announces boldly to his accusers that he has a clear conscience when it comes to his duty to God. Many times, we dwell on our failures, mistakes, and sin to the point that our conscience fills us with so much fear that we fail to live and speak with courage. Paul was not perfect, he even calls himself the worst of all sinners, but he understood the freedom of living in God’s grace and forgiveness. When our heart is aligned with a pursuit of God and our will is being molded and shaped to be more like His will, we will have a conscience that propels us forward with courage instead of holding us back in fear. When we are engaged in the Act of COURAGE, we must make sure our Conscience is clear before God so it is our ally and not our enemy.
Opposition: Even when we deal appropriately with our conscience, Opposition will often stand in the way of our having real COURAGE. Sometimes we overestimate the opposition, sometimes we underestimate it, and at times we even see it accurately. The problem we face usually doesn’t have so much to do with the opposition as it does with our view of the One giving us courage. God gives us courage to face opposition by reminding us that He is always with us — that He will never leave us or forsake us. It is in the midst of opposition that we have opportunity to learn what real courage is. When we face Opposition, we can take courage because the One who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world.
Understanding: We can gain COURAGE through Understanding as long as we are very careful not to lean on our own understanding. Paul uses his understanding of the crowd in Acts 23 to present the gospel of Jesus in a way that caused them to question each other for a time rather than focus on opposing him. He also understood where the real battle was and that the real enemy was trying to fill him with fear to distract him from the work God had created for him to do. It is our understanding of the spiritual nature of the true battle we are in that should lead us to courage as we realize that the enemy has already been defeated. When we make the effort to understand the person our opposition seems to come from, we take a step forward in disarming fear so that courage can be found. When it comes to living out the Act of COURAGE, we would do well to gain understanding of our opposition and, more importantly, a greater understanding of our source of courage.
Risk: COURAGE is rarely visible unless there is some form of Risk present. It is in the face of great risk that we find out for the moment if fear or courage has the upper hand in our life. Paul is talking to a crowd that is already very angry yet in order to remain faithful to teaching about Jesus he risks deepening the anger even further by speaking of the resurrection of the dead. Later in the chapter when a plot is concocted to take Paul’s life, he risks everything by entrusting his very life to the work of his nephew as a messenger and in the willingness of the Roman officials to protect him. Life is full of risks that we will never fully avoid because we can’t fully see the outcome of our actions or the actions of others. While it may still feel like risk because we can’t see the outcome, we can never go wrong when we walk by faith in doing the things God has called us to and has prepared in advance for us to do. The Act of COURAGE isn’t the absence of Risk, it is understanding the risks and doing the right thing regardless.
Accusation/Attack: This part of living with COURAGE is simply another side, a more personal side, to the opposition that we face. Satan is good in his role as the great accuser and seems to work constantly at removing courage far from us. It is the Accusations and Attacks that plant seeds of doubt about the clear conscience God has given us when we live in relationship with Him. Paul’s enemies realized that God had filled him with great courage so silencing him wasn’t enough — it simply wasn’t going to work — they would need to personally attack him and bring his life to an end. When the attacks come, and they will, it is important that we remember, and are reminded, that God has forgiven us, accepted us, and given us an important work to do. It is He that gives us the needed courage to press on toward our high calling. When living the Act of COURAGE, we must recognize that the Accusations and Attacks that come our way are from someone weaker than the One who lives within us.
Government: It is often hard to consider that Government should have anything to do with the Act of COURAGE — particularly in the context of having the courage to share freely about Jesus. This part of courage may vary greatly depending on where you live but even in the very “non-Christian” government of first century Rome, Paul could grow in courage because of his rights and protections as a Roman citizen! Paul eventually appeals to Caesar, and receives an audience with him, not for the purpose of gaining freedom but to courageously speak of Jesus. We can learn much from the respectful way Paul would approach government authorities — even when he knew their actions toward him were wrong. We make good use of the courage God fills us with when we use it to present Jesus to the governmental authorities around us. When we consider the Act of COURAGE in our life, the Government that exists on earth can both give us courage, and be spoken to with courage, when we realize that the authority they possess has been given to them by God.
Explanation: The purpose of our COURAGE is so we will not only be ready but that we would give an Explanation for the hope we have in Jesus. Courage is like many things — you never really know how much you have until you try to use it. God’s purpose in telling Paul to take courage was so he would take the boldness of his testimony about Jesus to Rome. There are times that we work so hard to have, or grow in, courage so that we can face one fear or another but usually it is for our benefit rather than because we want to be more effective in sharing a bold explanation of our life in Jesus. The courage God wants to give us isn’t so we can be a more fearless person, it is so we can be a more faithful witness! As you grow in the Act of COURAGE, may your opportunities to give and Explanation for the hope of Jesus in you increase.
So, how are you doing in living out and growing in the Act of COURAGE? Do you live life with a clear Conscience before God? Will you face Opposition with the knowledge that God’s power within you is greater than he that opposes you? Will you seek Understanding from God’s perspective of the situations you find yourself in? Will you recognize the Risks that you face and choose to do the right thing regardless? Do you turn over the Accusations and Attacks that come your way to the One who has already defeated them? Will you realize the role God has given Government so that you would know how to take the message of Jesus to your governmental leaders? Are you ready to use the courage God gives you so that you would be ready to give an Explanation for the hope of Jesus in you to all who would ask? I pray that your response to the Act of COURAGE will boldly show, and tell, the world that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior!
“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” 1 Peter 3:15
After having the month of August off, it is a joy to return to preaching through the book of Acts! It is filled with examples and lessons that I need to learn and apply. As I continue to look at the “Acts of Acts” in this sermon series, it seems like each chapter has the apostles, or early Christians, involved in an act that we have a tendency to try to avoid. Yet it was these very acts of God in their lives that transformed a fledgling group disciples in disarray into a mighty force that turned the known world upside down with the gospel of Jesus Christ. We live in a time where we need such a transformation in the church and in the lives of the individuals who follow Jesus.
As we arrive in Acts 22 in our sermon series we find Paul publicly giving his testimony as a result of being arrested for being at the center of a riot. Paul seemed to understand what Peter would write about being ready to give an answer — even in times where it might seem safer to just blend in and not speak up. As we seek a greater obedience to living the word of God, we must also be ready to give an ANSWER.
Acknowledge: As we prepare to be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within us, it is important that we acknowledge we started at the same place as the person who needs to meet the hope we have. Paul begins his defense — his answer — in chapter 22 by acknowledging that he not only understands their concerns but for much of his life he was right there with them leading people in the very actions they were involved with. Sometimes as Christians our answer falls on deaf ears, at least in part, because we don’t acknowledge we were once just as lost as they were. We want to forget that part of our life. We want to believe we have always been in a right relationship with God — but we haven’t been! Our acknowledgement is a necessary part of our answer so that people can see there is hope for them to experience the change that Jesus offers. When we are engaged in the Act of ANSWER, our Acknowledgement of where we’ve been can help others see they are not beyond the reach of God’s grace.
Notice: For our answer to be as effective as possible, it is important that we actually notice who we are talking to! Paul appears to do this as he chooses to address the crowd in Aramaic. As you read the text, it is obvious that using this language gets the crowd’s attention. Remember, this wasn’t a friendly crowd wanting to hear what the traveling preacher was saying — it was an angry mob already in turmoil over what Paul had been teaching. If we are going to excel at giving an answer with gentleness and respect, it is imperative that we notice everything we can about who we’re talking to! Too often we put our foot in our mouth because we’ve not paid attention to the details. So, our mouth opens and out comes something offensive, making whatever truth we may have shared to fall on deaf ears. When we Notice as much as possible about the people around us, God will use those details to guide our words in the Act of ANSWER.
Speak: While this part of our answer should be obvious, it is often the most difficult because it represents the point of no return. Paul writes to the Romans that faith comes by hearing the word of God and that hearing the word of God requires that someone speaks it. Paul would not only speak as part of his answer about his faith, he would speak as much as possible in a language that his audience would understand. A life lived fully in the hope Jesus offers will often get people’s attention but what will we do with it? The speaking we do about our faith in Jesus must come from both our acknowledgement of where we started and from the things we notice about those we speak to. When it comes to living out the Act of ANSWER, there does come a point where we must Speak about the incredible hope that we have in Jesus.
Willing: To know these first three elements of the Act of ANSWER is good, but doing it typically requires that we ask the question of ourself, “Am I willing?”. Even when we know the importance of the hope that we have, many times we are intimidated into not being willing to share it. Paul had been told he would suffer much for sharing about Jesus yet he was willing to keep giving an answer because he knew it was the only way others would know about an everlasting hope. Instead of letting fear drive our silence, we must be willing to step up and speak up every time God gives us an opportunity to share about our relationship with Him. Are there people we are not willing to speak to because we think they’re unreachable or undeserving? According to God, knowing the good we ought to do and not be willing to do it is sin. The Act of ANSWER will never by attempted by us until we are Willing to be obedient to God in all things and make the most of every opportunity He gives us.
Expose: There is a perceived downside to the Act of ANSWER and that is that it has a tendency to Expose both us and those we give the answer to. When our answer is filled with the honesty and integrity that it requires, it reveals that we started at the same place as those hearing our answer — we were a sinner in need of God’s grace. Paul’s answer to the crowd exposed to them that even in his strongest held beliefs before meeting Jesus, he was wrong. God uses that same answer to also expose the need in the lives of those listening. It appears that Paul was being listened to, and perhaps even had agreement from among the crowd, until his answer exposed a great sin of prejudice. Everything was good until Paul stated that God had sent him to the Gentiles. That was more than the crowd could stand! Their racial prejudice was so ingrained that they would seek to rid the earth of Paul rather than accept that God desired all people to be saved. Our answer, or lack of one, can expose just how much, or little, we believe that Jesus is the only way to God. Who we tell, or don’t tell, can expose our layers of prejudice and lack of faith in God’s power to change anyone who would turn to Him. Our speaking the truth in love will many times expose the hatred, hurt, and rejection in the lives of those listening. The problem isn’t the exposure, it is what do we do with it. God’s call is for His light to expose, and dispel, the darkness so that mankind would no longer live and walk in it. When done effectively, our Act of ANSWER gives out the light of Jesus so that the deeds of darkness are Exposed.
Respectful Rights: As we give an ANSWER for the hope that lies within us, we do so recognizing that we have Rights that must be used with Respect. Paul was not afraid to speak up for his rights in a respectful way in order to have even greater opportunity to speak about his faith in Jesus. When about to be flogged in an attempt to get the truth out of him, Paul simply asks, as a Roman citizen, if doing so is right. While some of our rights vary based on the country we reside in and the government we live under, God tells us that our relationship with Him through Jesus gives us the right to be called children of God. Even when our rights seem to be non-existent or eroding away, do we use what we have to increase our opportunity to speak about our hope in Jesus? When exercising our rights with respect will lead to hardship for us, are we willing to still speak up about Jesus? Sometimes it is not so much that we have our rights taken away from us as Christians as that we have given up our rights as Christians because they create a hardship for us. The opportunities we have in the Act of ANSWER often increase when we know the Rights given us by both God and our earthly authorities and we exercise these Rights with Respect.
So, how are you doing in living out and growing in the Act of ANSWER? Do you Acknowledge that you started at the same place in regard to God as those that you are giving your answer to are in? Will you take the time to Notice everything you can about those to whom you will express the answer you have for your hope? Can you Speak up and put your answer into words that others can understand? Are you Willing to make the most of every opportunity? Do you allow the light of Jesus Expose the truth about Him, about you, and about those you share with? Will you be Respectful when you use your Rights to gain greater opportunity to share about your relationship with Jesus? I pray that your response to the Act of ANSWER will boldly show, and tell, the world that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior!