Thursday, January 16, 2020


Last week, we looked at a couple of justifications in the book of Acts - we looked at the way that Stephen defended himself by starting at the beginning of God's story and preaching it right up unto the moment of his stoning, and we looked at the way that Peter defended his actions by revealing a vision he'd had from God and one he'd seen in men. As if Acts has some kind of theme of how we are to defend ourselves, today, we're going to look at a third justification. This one comes from Paul.

Paul doesn't shy away from his own story. In fact, it seems like every time we turn around, Paul is talking about his conversion experience on the road to Damascus and how he used to be a Pharisee and now he's a preacher, and if anyone was ever qualified to kill Christians, it was him, and that means that he's the one qualified now to preach Christ.

In Acts 22, we see Paul again launching into his testimony in the same way that he so often does. And if you track it all the way through, it's basically this:

Paul starts by listing all of the things that make him qualified in men's eyes, but at some point, he transitions and starts talking about all of the things that make him qualified in God's eyes. And really, it's genius.

He starts by saying all of the things that he is that men are looking for in a man. He wants to establish rapport with those who are listening, who think they know who he is but do not truly know anything at all. They think he's somehow so very different from them, that everything he's doing is foreign and weird and backward and even, perhaps, sinful. They're convinced that they are "us" and Paul is "them," which is pretty much how the world seems to run, isn't it?

So Paul starts by saying, no. I'm not "them;" I'm "us," just like you. You're circumcised? So am I. You're a Jew? So am I. You know the law forward and backward? So do I. Whatever kind of outsider you thought that I am, I'm not; I'm the same kind of person that you are.

But then he starts into it a little further. "But I'm also the kind of person who..." and he starts listing all of the things that make him the kind of man that God has chosen to use. The kind of preacher that is making waves all through the region.

In other words, what he's saying is - you're right. There is something about me that is different than you, but that's precisely why I'm having the blessed kind of impact that I'm having and you're not.

Ah, how the tables have turned.

All of a sudden, a bunch of men who thought Paul was in some way deficient are now faced with the prospect of actually being the deficient ones themselves. Those who were convinced that they were "us" all of a sudden figure out that they're actually "them." What kind of world is this? What just happened? How...?

It's great preaching is what it is. It's great conversation. It's the way that we ought to be starting more of our dialogue with one another. So much of our talk starts at us vs. them, and we just seem to intensify this the more we yell at each other. We think the way out of this is to show "them" how right "us" is and wrong "them" is and get them to come over to our team. But history, and even the present, show us that that doesn't work. It never has.

What we have to do is, like Paul, start by showing them that there really is no us vs. them. Me? I'm you. You? You're me. We are we, and there is only us. But then, we take it a step further and give God the glory for the greater things that we're doing, the things that set some of us apart, and all of a sudden, those who were so sure they were "us" start to feel like "them" and realize that they're the ones on the outs. We have to show them we're all the same and then call them to a higher plane of living, to a place of increased blessedness by God's standards, not men's.

We start with the flesh that we all share, then we preach the Spirit that He blesses us with,and in doing so, we affirm that we're not so different after all, but there is a better way yet. It's brilliant preaching. Brilliant living.

It's genius, really. 

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