How do you determine the worthiness of the causes you support with your mind, energy, and finances? What steps do you take to protect yourself from being influenced in a manner that does not strengthen the cause of Christ? This is post #7 in our Radical Acts blog series. In the last article, we looked at what the Holy Spirit did to transform Peter’s life. In this post, we will look at the people who joined the cause of Christ and the ones who fought against Him, even those who thought they were on God’s side.
Listen to this post as a similar podcast from our Radical Acts Bible Study covering the book of Acts in the New Testament. (11 lessons)
The Purpose of God Is the Gospel Message to All People
The God of the unexpected surprised the mostly-Jewish church with His addition of Gentiles to it in an unmistakable way. Then, He also caused an explosive spread of His gospel message among those same Gentiles.
Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, 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 ears of 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. Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he 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 called Christians first at Antioch. (Acts 11:19-26)
God poured forth His Spirit in a city about 220 miles north of Jerusalem called Antioch. It is located in modern Syria. Many Gentiles were saved, forming a new church that became a strong and solid landmark in the Gentile world. The problem was it was mostly Gentile. They did not have the whole background about who God is like the Jews did. They did not get a chance to watch Jesus in action like many of the early Christians in Jerusalem did. They needed lots of good teaching and shepherding.
So, the Jerusalem church leaders sent their reliable brother Barnabas to shepherd the Antioch church. Barnabas knew he needed help so he went to Tarsus to find Paul and brought him back to Antioch. The Bible says that for a whole year, Barnabas and Paul met with the Antioch believers and taught great numbers of people. That is where believers in Jesus Christ were first called Christians, not in Jerusalem or Israel. Don’t you love God’s sense of humor!
Barnabas and Paul—Following the Purpose of God
Then, in the midst of that effective ministry, the Holy Spirit chose to set apart Barnabas and Paul from the other church leaders and send them on mission to faraway places.
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. (Acts 13:2-4)
The time was right. Barnabas and Paul had the experience they needed to not only share the gospel with Gentiles but also to disciple them and set up churches that included them. Obediently, they left Antioch and traveled through Cypress then up into what is central Turkey today.
Paul and Barnabas always started their ministry in the synagogues where not only Jews but also God-fearing Gentiles were in attendance. God-fearing Gentiles were those who worshiped the God of Israel in the Synagogue and practiced some but not all of the Jewish laws. They had already made the choice to leave behind their culture’s gods and idols. So, their hearts were hungry to know the true God.
We see in Acts chapters 13 and 14, the missionary preachers met with varying responses. In some places, people came out in droves to hear them and believed the gospel.
As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God. On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him. Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. (Acts 13:42-49)
Many of the Gentiles in those Jewish congregations believed the gospel message. The Bible says that they were “glad and honored” to be included in the plan of God. God grew His church through those new Christians.
The results of the preaching of the gospel were due to God’s work. The Christian evangelists were harvesting the “wheat” that God had prepared. (Dr. Constable’s Notes on Acts 2017 Edition, p. 213)
But some of the Jews, especially the synagogue leaders, rejected the message about Jesus as their Messiah. So, instead of joining the work of God, they fought against Him.
When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying. (Acts 13:45)
That leads to one of the saddest verses in the Bible for me as a woman.
But the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. (Acts 13:50)
God-fearing women of high standing were incited to work against God. That bothers me greatly.
God-Fearing Women Chose to Work against God
Those God-fearing women were Gentile women from a pagan background who had chosen to renounce their pagan deities and worship the Jewish God alone. But they were not completely following the Jewish Law so were not considered to be Jewish converts. God-fearing Gentiles were welcomed to attend the weekly synagogue gatherings. They had a place in the back separated from the Jewish congregants. Those God-fearing women were worshiping the God of the Bible and learning about Him from the Old Testament Scriptures read at the Sabbath gatherings.
Women of high standing
What does their description as “women of high standing” mean?
Well-to-do women in many cities of the Roman world were attracted to the Jewish religion and thus found among the God-fearing Gentiles who frequented the synagogue (Acts 17:4, 12). (F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, p. 268)
Both history and archeology tell us that married women in Asia Minor exercised much more influence than was the case in most other parts of the Empire. They had a platform and influence. Those women witnessed the miracles and heard the message, watching many turn to God from idols. Yet, they chose to support a cause that worked against the purpose of God.
Jesus’ own experience
Jesus experienced the same thing among His own people. We read about it in the gospel of Luke.
All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and the experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John. (Luke 7:29-30)
Those who wanted God with their hearts responded first with repentance for their sins and submitted to be baptized by John. Then, when they heard Jesus’ words, they joined Him. They accepted God’s purpose for themselves.
But the ones who were supposedly the most faithful to God rejected the message of repentance and baptism by John. They also rejected the words of Jesus. The Bible says they rejected God’s purpose for themselves.
The same thing is true of the God-fearing women who heard the gospel from Paul and Barnabas. The “jealous” Jews used them to prevent the Holy Spirit’s work in their region (Acts 13:50). They rejected the purpose of God and chose to work against God. Why do you think “God-fearing” women could be influenced to join the cause of the “jealous” Jews?
Dear women, carefully examine the causes you support. Be on God’s side. God’s side is always the right side. And it always involves obedience to God over peers, the culture, and even your own sensibilities.
Examine the Causes You Support
How do you determine the worthiness of the causes that engage your mind, energy, and finances? What steps do you take to protect yourself from being influenced in a manner that does not strengthen the cause of Christ?
We are the visible representatives of the living Christ. Jesus Christ gave His life for us so He could give His life to us so He could live His life through us. Any cause you support should represent Jesus Christ living His life through you more than your own will or emotions taking the lead. I want to repeat that. Any cause you support should represent Jesus Christ living His life through you more than your own will or emotions taking the lead. And beware of others who are influencing you.
Paul wrote this to the Galatians who lived in the same area as the God-fearing women of high standing:
Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may be zealous for them. It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, (Galatians 4:17-18)
That same discernment is applicable to anyone who is trying to influence you. What are their motives? What is their desired result?
- For the believer in Jesus Christ, who determines what purpose is good for you? God does.
- Where do you find out what God considers good? In His Word, the Bible.
As Paul says, zealous people will try to win you over to their cause by appealing to your good motives. They convince you to compromise with them for a good cause without you even recognizing that this is what is happening!
Compromise Is Dangerous
Dear reader, compromise is dangerous.
The world continually tempts you to follow its way of doing life. Or it lures you into following your own way of doing life without any regard to God or anyone else having authority over you. (Identity: Sticking to Your Faith in a Pull-Apart World, p. 8)
Here are four things I want you to know about compromise with the world:
Compromise with the world is usually subtle and tricky.
You get fooled with what looks to be good causes that serve to lure you into the den of God’s enemies. Those who hate Him.
Isaiah said this, which is so relevant for today,
Scoundrels use wicked methods, they make up evil schemes to destroy the poor with lies, even when the plea of the needy is just. (Isaiah 32:7)
Scoundrels will take advantage of your tender heart to do whatever they can to suck you into their schemes. Beware the causes you support. Don’t get sidetracked by cultural issues. Let the unbelievers fund those things. The God-fearing women of Acts 13 were tricked into supporting a cause that had jealousy at its root. Compromise with the world is usually subtle and tricky.
Compromise with the world draws you through wrong relationships.
Christians are generally trusting people. So, when we start running with the world on what the world says are “good causes,” we can get outsmarted really quickly! We get lured by the subtlety of the world and then we get locked into wrong social, political, or spiritual relationships that get us entangled even deeper.
The God-fearing women in Acts 13 sided with the enemies of God rather than with God’s messengers. Compromise with the world draws you to its side through wrong relationships.
Compromise with the world slams the door on hearing ideas that you don’t like.
“Why do I have to listen to your viewpoint?”
A recent example of this is the demand for “safe zones” on college campuses. I read an article in November 2015 that described how students demand they be guaranteed “safe zones” where they can be protected from hearing ideas that they don’t like but openly criticize anyone with ideas that don’t match their own. The last time I looked, if you are only fed one set of ideas day and night, isn’t that brainwashing? Isn’t that what cults do to capture the minds of their initiates?!
I do not necessarily like listening to someone with ideas that do not fit my value system. But listening to those ideas and running them through the sieve of what God’s Word says strengthens my discernment of what is God’s way of approaching life compared to the world’s way or my own way. Being aware of the contrast benefits me. The same is true for you.
The God-fearing women in Acts chapter 13 chose to support a cause that would stop Paul and Barnabas from speaking the truth about Christ. Bad choice. Compromise with the world slams the door on hearing ideas that you don’t like.
Compromise with the world entraps you through emotions and can bring disastrous results.
Our culture treats feelings as if they were an inerrant internal compass that always points to truth and reality. “Follow your heart.” “What does your gut say?”
The God-fearing women of Acts 13 were emotionally drawn into supporting a cause that produced ungodly fruit—abusive speech and abusive behavior against Paul and Barnabas. You can add to that the abuse of power that forced God’s messengers out of their city so that no one else could hear the Good News from their lips!
Compromise with the world entraps you through emotions and can bring disastrous results.
My friend Sue Bohlin said this in one of her blogs,
The toxic “pickling brine” of our culture puts a much higher emphasis on the immediate, the here-and-now, of the physical world (which our feelings are part of). The majority of Christians … think just like the non-Christian world around us, and that includes ignoring the unseen, eternal world and focusing on the visible, temporal world. When we recalibrate our focus to include the unseen sphere of life, … we can put feelings in their place: they are like lights on the dashboard of our car, indicating what’s going on “under the hood.” But if we focus on the dashboard lights while we drive, instead of on the road, we’ll run off the road—or worse, crash. We can acknowledge them but refuse to let them lead us. (Sue Bohlin, “Feelings: A Lousy Idol,” posted on blogs.bible.org on July 24, 2018)
What is involved in recalibrating our focus before supporting a cause? It is what we learned in Acts chapter 1—aligning ourselves with the purpose of God and prayer for His guidance.
Align Yourself with the Purpose of God
Whenever you need to make a decision about supporting a cause, remember what we learned from Acts chapter 1.
Step #1: Align yourself with the purpose of God as described in His Word.
What will glorify Him more than yourself or someone else? Look at the fruit that this cause produces. Does it tend to draw people closer to God or make them more arrogant and self-sufficient because of their cause? Is a relationship with Jesus Christ the ultimate goal? A godly cause will encourage obedience to God and His Word rather than twisting Scripture to make it fit the cause. Don’t let the culture dictate how to interpret God’s word. I call that “Taming the “Look-Imagine-See” Dragon.”
Step #2: Consider options that also align with the purpose of God.
Seek wise counsel. Look into the financial integrity of the organization. Look at the character of the leaders. Are they living dependently on the living Christ or more on themselves? Avoid personality-driven causes. The zealousness of someone for their cause does not guarantee that it is a good cause. Watch out for persuasiveness. Get as much information about the cause from different sides as you can. Check out the mission statement of the organization.
The Bible gives us some guidelines in Galatians 6.
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:10)
In spite of the lure of the world, that which is decidedly backed by Christians who are unashamedly following Christ in dependence and obedience should take priority in the causes you support. As I mentioned earlier, let the unbelievers fund those things that are not specifically furthering the gospel and exaltation of Christ in our world.
Step #3: Ask God for direction and for Him to show you the best choice.
Asking God for direction is living dependently on God. God the Father who is also your Creator has given you a brain to use. He wants you to use your mind and heart to evaluate the options and then remove the options that are not lined up with His way of doing life. Give yourself time to think and pray about it. Once you have done that, ask Him to show you which good option to choose.
Step #4: Submit to God’s direction and look for the fruit of what you support.
Submitting to God’s direction is obedience. God’s work will produce godly fruit that glorifies the name of Jesus Christ and draws many people to Him as a result.
Pay attention to this quote by Chuck Swindoll.
Few things are more demoralizing than realizing you’ve been helping the wrong side. And that demoralization is intensified when you didn’t know it. (Chuck Swindoll)
Our best good works are empty if they do not serve as an outworking of our conviction that Jesus Christ is Lord of our lives and has broken the stranglehold of the world’s ways upon us.
Dear Christian reader, you take Jesus with you into every cause that you support. The adventure of learning how to choose the right causes to support is certainly part of the Holy Spirit’s transforming power as is clearly seen in the lives of Paul and Peter.
In the next post, we will look at how following Christ on this grand adventure will help you to find and fulfill God’s purpose for you.
Let Jesus satisfy your heart with His Spirit’s transforming power. And say yes to a life of adventure with Him!
All of the above information is covered in the Radical Acts Bible Study of the book of Acts.
- Radical Acts Bible Study
- Satisfied Series 7 Podcasts (Acts series)
- Book of Acts—Get fired up for adventure!
- Acts 1: Trusting Jesus When Making Decisions
- Acts 2: Spirit Baptism
- Acts 4-6: Spirit Filling
- Acts 8-12: Paul, A Misdirected Life Transformed
- Acts 2-11: Peter, An Ordinary Life Transformed
- Acts 13: Support Causes Aligned with God’s Purpose
- Acts 13-16: Finding Your Purpose During the Adventure
- Acts 17-19: Living Life in the Extremes
- Acts 20: Jesus as Lord Deserves Our Loyalty
- Acts 21-26: Experience God’s Goodness on the Adventure
- Acts 27-28: Adventure in God’s Protective Hand
- Romans 12:1-2 Dare to Be Different from Your World
- Release Your Expectations of Acceptable Outcomes