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Glorifying God

Acts 21:19-26

 

 “After he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. [20] And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, ‘You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law; [21] and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. [22] What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. [23] Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; [24] take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law. [25] But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.’ [26] Then Paul took the men, and the next day, purifying himself along with them, went into the temple giving notice of the completion of the days of purification, until the sacrifice was offered for each one of them.”  (NASB)

 I don’t know if it is because I was tired while I was preparing this sermon, or what, but I had to read this passage of scripture a half dozen times to understand what was happening in this text.  The first few times I read it, I saw a startling contrast between the salvation of the gentiles in verse 19 and the salvation of the Jews in verse 20.  Initially, I thought that immediately after Paul shared his news of the spread of the gospel among the Gentiles that the apostles were trying to one up him with their news about the conversion of the Jews.  Perhaps this was one of those times were personal experience was tainting my reading of the scripture, because the opposite was happening.

 I have noticed a tendency among believers to want to compare the results of their ministries with others.  A few years ago I was talking with a lady while we waiting for our class to begin at a writer’s conference at Glorieta, New Mexico.  I’m not real good at small talk, especially with strangers, but it was obvious to me that she wanted to talk, so I did the best I could.  We disposed with the mandatory, “What do you write” and “Have you had anything published?” questions rather quickly, and began to talk about spiritual things.  I asked her “What church do you attend?”  She said, “I don’t know if you’ve heard of it or not, it isn’t as big as Willow Creek—I attend Saddleback.”  In those days, Saddleback might have been smaller than Willow, I don’t know, but I was amazed at why she would need to make the comparison.  Just in case you haven’t heard of those churches, Willow Creek is located near Chicago, IL and Saddleback is in Orange County, CA and both of them are huge churches that have a tremendous influence on other churches around the world.  Which one is larger or more influential shouldn’t ever be at issue.  For some reason, it was in this lady’s mind.  But I don’t think she is the only one—we all do it.  We all make these comparisons.

 When the emerging church conversation was taking form, many of the leaders were saying that size wouldn’t be the issue; things like authenticity and spirituality were what were really important.  In my book Future Church:  Ministry in a Post-Seeker Age, I featured churches that ran 45 to 3000 and I stand by that decision, because a church can have an effective ministry regardless of its size.  But as the conversation has matured, I’ve noticed that size has become an issue again.  To many people, bigger will always be better.

 And to some degree, numbers were important in the New Testament too.  While I don’t detect a spirit of “one ups manship” in these verses, the disciples were quantifying the response to the gospel.  Paul related “one by one the things which God had done” and the apostles talked about “the thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed.”   Quantifying the blessings of God isn’t a problem.  After all, we have an entire book of the bible named Numbers, and several times in that book, God told the leaders to take a census—to number the people. But then again, there was a time when David took a census that upset God. 

 1 Chronicles 21:1-8 says, “Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel. [2] So David said to Joab and to the princes of the people, ‘Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan, and bring me word that I may know their number.’ [3] Joab said, ‘May the LORD add to His people a hundred times as many as they are! But, my lord the king, are they not all my lord's servants? Why does my lord seek this thing? Why should he be a cause of guilt to Israel?’ [4] Nevertheless, the king's word prevailed against Joab. Therefore, Joab departed and went throughout all Israel, and came to Jerusalem. [5] Joab gave the number of the census of all the people to David. And all Israel were 1,100,000 men who drew the sword; and Judah was 470,000 men who drew the sword. [6] But he did not number Levi and Benjamin among them, for the king's command was abhorrent to Joab. [7] God was displeased with this thing, so He struck Israel. [8] David said to God, ‘I have sinned greatly, in that I have done this thing. But now, please take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly.’

 What was the difference between this census and the ones that the Lord commanded in the book of Numbers?  I believe that the answer to this question is the key to understanding this issue.   You don’t have to read far to see the source of the problem, verse 1 says, “Then Satan…”  Really, that’s all you need to know.  Satan was behind the census.  But why?  Why would Satan want the servants of the King counted?  Certainly not to bring glory to God, he did it to puff the king up with pride.

  C. S. Lewis said, “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.”   That was David’s problem; he wanted to quantify what he had so he could feel superior to those who had less.  Joab saw it for the wickedness that it was and it displeased God so much that he sent a plague upon David’s kingdom.

 Quantifying God’s blessings isn’t the problem, but taking credit for what God is doing, or resenting that God is using someone else more than He is using you is more than a problem, it is a sin. The apostles didn’t stoop down to such activities.  Instead, when they heard of the extent of Paul’s success they “began glorifying God.”  In spontaneous praise, they also told Paul about the great movement of the Spirit.

 As God’s Spirit is moving across our land, faithful men of God are doing the same thing—Glorifying God for what He is doing and making sure He gets all the credit.

 On March 25, 2005, Larry King interviewed Dr. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Community Church and author of the best-selling book, The Purpose-Driven® Life.  King introduced the show by saying, 

“Tonight, evangelical superstar, Rick Warren in his first live prime time interview since that at heroic hostage, Ashley Smith read his best-seller, "The Purpose Driven Life" to the Atlanta courthouse killing suspect, Brian Nichols. Hours later, Nichols let her go and surrendered to police.”  During the interview, Warren set the record straight about what changed Nichols.  He said, “I don't think that my book has the power to change anybody. The book does happen to have over 1,500 Bible verses in it that I quote, and I think that that has the power to change lives, and I think that's why the book is being used to change a lot of lives. Because I've just quoted the Bible. And honestly, there's nothing in the book that hasn't been said in historic Christian faith for 2,000 years. I just happened to interpret it in a simple way for the 21st century.” 

 Warren didn’t yield to the temptation to take credit for what God is doing through his ministry.  Instead, with humility he said that God’s word not his book is changing lives.  He aligned himself with humble preachers throughout history who were faithful to teach the “historic Christian faith” to their people.  At another point in the interview he said, “…the message isn't really anything new, Larry. It's been taught for 2,000 years in churches. If somebody wants to hear it, they don't have to read my book, just go to church on Easter and hear it.” (http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html)

 No wonder God is using this man is such a powerful way.

 What about you?

 James 4:6 says, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”(HCSB) 

Is God resisting you, or are you surrounded by His grace?  Do you tend to take credit for the grace of God, or try to quantify it for your glory, or are you quick to give glory to God for what He is doing through others and you? 

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