Christ preserves his church

Posted on 02 Jul 2017, Pastor: Rev Hans Vaatstra

Reading: Acts 12:1-17
Text: Acts 12:18-24

Christ preserves his church

Acts 12:18-24New American Standard Bible (NASB)

18 Now when day came, there was no small disturbance among the soldiers as to [a]what could have become of Peter. 19 When Herod had searched for him and had not found him, he examined the guards and ordered that they be led away to execution. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and was spending time there.

Death of Herod
20 Now he was very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; and with one accord they came to him, and having won over Blastus the king’s chamberlain, they were asking for peace, because their country was fed by the king’s country. 21 On an appointed day Herod, having put on his royal apparel, took his seat on the [b]rostrum and began delivering an address to them. 22 The people kept crying out, “The voice of a god and not of a man!” 23 And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and [c]died.

24 But the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied.

 

The time is short

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

In this 7th chapter of his letter to the Corinthians Paul provides a solution to the problems of immorality discussed in chapters 5 and 6 which is God’s gift of marriage between a man and a woman. In fact this chapter along with Ephesians 5:22-33 provides the churches with the pattern for Christian marriage.

Summarising 1 Corinthians 7 as a whole, Paul wrote about;

  1. a) The importance of giving to one another in marriage saying in verse 2 “let the husband fulfil his duty to his wife” and vice versa.
  2. b) As well as that, in the early days of the church there were couples where only one person may have converted to Christianity. Paul urged them to stay together for the sake of peace and the wellbeing of families.
  3. c) And then Paul also discussed the possibilities the single life can provide for people to be involved wholeheartedly in kingdom service, without the distraction of marriage and family commitments.
  4. d) He also wrote about slavery and virginity in this chapter with the point being that due to the current conditions in the Roman empire at the time, the way he put it was; “in view of this present distress’ it is best for people to remain in the current situation, married or single, as the case may be.

Why was that? This is really the concern of the our text in verse 29-31. In view of the present distress Paul issues a warning and then an encouragement and thirdly urges readers to look to the future. That’s essentially the structure of my sermon this morning. We’ll begin with the warning.

  1. A warning In verse 28b and 29 a Paul warned that the Corinthians “would have trouble in this life” and that “the time had been shortened”. Paul’s whole discussion about marriage was influenced by what was going in the world around him in the first century after Christ. According to Acts 18:2 it was because of persecution directed against the Jews in Rome that Aquilla and Priscilla ended up staying with Paul in Corinth. It’s also true that in Paul’s day the Roman authorities would often not distinguish between Jews or Christians whom they thought of as an emerging Jewish sect in any case. Both groups were often on the receiving end of Roman persecution. Furthermore the Roman emperor Nero was  beginning to make his hatred for Christians felt in  the cruel treatment of Christians here and there in the empire and Paul himself had suffered persecution in Ephesus only recently and would eventually be imprisoned in Rome for his faith.

So Paul was aware that there were difficult times ahead for the church and he warned the churches about that quite often in his letters. In Romans 8:17 Paul wrote about God’s people suffering with Christ in order that they might be glorified with him. In 2 Thessalonians 1:4&5 “persecutions and afflictions are a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment that his people might be considered worthy of the kingdom of God.” Again, in 2 Timothy 3:12 “All who desire to live godly lives in Jesus Christ will be persecuted.” Some of this persecution against Christians came from Jews and until 313AD and the edict of Milan under Emperor Constantine a lot of of it came from the State which at that time was the Roman empire.

Where Paul wrote: The time has been shortened, we find that the use of that term elsewhere in the Bible reveals a certain tension which comes with living between the first and second comings of Christ a time often referred to as “the last day”. Paul wrote clearly about that in 2 Timothy 3 where it says “In the last days difficult times will come. Men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy.” In the NT the last days refers to the period of time between the first and second comings of Christ. In Paul’s day there was an air of anticipation about that; that Christ would return soon and at the end of Revelation we read the words “yes I am coming quickly Amen Come Lord Jesus.

Well Jesus hasn’t returned yet so what does this mean? It means be ready at all times. Our lives on this earth are relatively short compared to eternity. We should be ready to meet the Lord Jesus any time. Paul wrote about that in 1 Thessalonians 5 saying the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” Our life may end or Jesus could return at any time.

Then we must also be vigilant. Paul is issuing a warning. The world is not a friend to the church. Whoever is not for Christ is against him. In Matthew 10: 22 it says “You will be hated by all on account of my name, but the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

In the context of this passage which is all about marriage  we know that much of our society today is characterised by instability, especially wrt. family life. Family life is often disrupted by marital unfaithfulness, irresponsible men who father children and then are not there for them. Many couples live in de-facto relationships revealing a lack of commitment in the relationship. As well as that recent government legislation has done little to encourage fidelity and has hampered the ability of parents to train up their children according to God’s word. The government has officially sanctioned what the Bible calls perverse and has even made a law to redefine the definition of marriage. Furthermore those who recommend chastity as a way to prevent immorality and associated problems are laughed at and scorned by the media and left wing or libertarian politicians. Satan knows which strategies work.

So the text is in the first place a warning to families. These are difficult times in the 21st century too . If you want to follow Christ and  live biblically consistent lives then you will have trouble on this life. So as Pail wrote elsewhere “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the full armour of God that you may stand firm against the schemes of the devil”.

In the second place there is an encouragement to  hold loosely with the temporal things of this life. Paul wrote “ those who have wives should be as though they had none. Those who weep as though they did not weep. Those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice. Those who buy as though they did not possess. Those who use the world as though they did not make full use of it.”

So what did Paul mean there? Well he’s certainly not advocating separation and divorce because that would contradict the rest of this chapter about conjugal rights and staying together in the marriage even in a situation where one is a believer and the other is not. He’s not in any way undermining the creation ordinance of holy marriage.

This has to do with two things

  1. a) Don’t pin all your hopes and aspirations on the relationships and affairs of this life. Verse 33 which says “One who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife.” Calvin in his explanation of this verse wrote “It is as though they are looking at God with one eye  but managing at the same time to look at their wives with another. The point is that marriage is both a joy and a blessing. It is God’s gift to us for the purpose of companionship and procreation. However marriage is also a weighty responsibility and at times because of sin marriage can become a burden  which can weigh heavily on the a Christian’s heart and mind. According to Paul both the added responsibility of marriage and family life and its associated burdens because of sin can constitute a distraction away from the Lord’s work.
  2. b) Live every day as though it could be your last. Paul wrote in verse 31 “the form of this world is passing away” So what Paul is saying is that we ought to live in the present as if we might leave it at any moment. Whether we are married or single, happy or sad with few possessions or many of them we ought to be overly absorbed by the temporal things of this life. They are transient, yes including our marriages no matter how much we love our spouses.

Now that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t cherish our marriages and families. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work on our marriages because that would contradict what Paul wrote here and in other passages like Ephesians 5 where Paul urges husbands to love their wives as Christ lived the church. He also wrote in verse 27 “Are you bound to a wife do not seek to be released” and so on. Stay in the condition to which God has called you.

What Paul is saying is that in light of the relative brevity of our lives and in light of the tensions that exist between the already and the not yet; the present life and the life to come; we ought to hold the temporal things of this world fairly loosely and then keep an eye on eternity. The thought is well stated in Martin Luther’s hymn “A might fortress is our God”, especially the lines “let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also, the body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still. His kingdom is forever.”

So our citizen ship is in heaven so we won’t pin all our hopes and aspirations on this life but on eternity. In the meantime how then must we live? In the context of 1 Corinthians 7, cherish one another in your marriages if you are married. Do not deny one –another’s conjugal rights. Do take time out for prayer. Be faithful. Be content. If God has blessed anyone with the gift of being able to live as a single person use that gift to serve the Lord. Otherwise it is better to marry than to burn. Above all remember that this life soon passes so seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.  (Matt. 6:33)

  1. That brings me to the third thing, look to the future. Paul wrote in verse 31b, “for this world is passing away.” He is really reiterating what he said about the time being shortened. This world, our marriages and families are all part of God’s good creation and his will for our lives .

However because of sin, the world is subject to groaning and frustration according to Romans 8:22. Much of what we see around us in the world is twisted away from God’s design and God’s law. Trouble is we see so much of it and so often we become accustomed to it and are tempted to think is not so bad. But the changes to the marriage act changes to family law, and the like are a serious distortion of God’s design and are therefore under judgment and are passing away!

It says much the same thing in 1 John 2:17 “The world and its lusts are passing away but the one who does the will of God abides for ever. The world of marrying and of creating wealth and spending it, the world of lighting and crying will not endure as we know it. It is passing away. Furthermore Romans 13:11 says, “The day is at hand”. Romans 16:20 says that “God will soon crush Satan under his people’s feet.”  James 5:8&9 says “the coming of the Lord is at hand and that the judge is standing at the door”.

These passage tells us that Christ’s second coming is certain and imminent. And so we should be ready at any time because we don’t know when that is going to happen. We should be ready and expect the passing away of this order and the ushering of the new.

Why? Because Christ came the first time and that guarantees that he’ll come again.

Christ has come once for the forgiveness of sins and will come again to bring salvation.

There are those who are sceptical about that. The apostle Peter wrote about them in 2 Peter 3:3-4 where it says  “Scoffers will come in the last days  following their own passions and saying ‘where is the promise of his coming  for ever since the fathers fell asleep, things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation.”

That question wasn’t raised by anxious believers by mockers wanting to discredit the word of God

Peters encouragement to the churches was “do not ignore the fact that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years and one thousand years is as a day. The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness.  But is patient towards you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should reach repentance.” The thrust of that message is that God is not stalling. He hasn’t forgotten about us! He is patient and is giving plenty of time for repentance and conversion.  So we should thank God for his grace and help bring about repentance and conversion where needed and as we are able God helping us.

In the meantime the expectation of the second coming is a great incentive for holy living.  In Romans 13: 11& 12 it says the night is almost gone the day is at hand therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light” always looking forward to this glorious coming of that new eternal day. How?

Well by way of conclusion let’s summarise what we’ve learned from our text so far.

  1. Be careful with those who cut themselves loose from God as their creator and redeemer. They are no friend to the church. In Paul’s day there was open persecution. In our day and place there is legislation which contradicts the word of God. There are temptations and other bad influences which threaten the church and the family.

So what should we do about that?

  1. The text encourages us to have the right perspective on the present. Cherish your marriages and families but don’t idolise them Enjoy and use your possession as a trust given you by God but don’t hold them too tightly, they are temporary things which are passing away.
  2. Look to the future. Jesus Christ has come once for the forgiveness of sins and as sure as day follows night he’ll come again bringing salvation.

Consequently let your expectation of Christ’s return should be an incentive to live for Christ  and to seek the things that are above and not the things that are here on earth.

Amen.