One of my most favorite bible readings is from Acts, Chapter 13. When people study the bible, they typically do so in one of two styles: 1) Focusing on the historical value, or 2) Finding the life application. I am the type of person who prefers to combine the two styles. When I understand the history and context of the verse(s), God shows me how I might apply the lessons in my life.
If we understand the main characters in Acts 13, we fully absorb its lessons: Paul, Barnabas, John Mark, Bar-Jesus, the Jews, and the Gentiles.
Paul was a man with a past that had been transformed by the saving grace of Jesus. With this transformation came the same powerful personality, but one that now focused its strength on spreading the message of Christ.
Barnabas was a milder personality. Barnabas was equally committed but didn’t have the assertive strength that Paul possessed and utilized. Paul reached through words. Barnabas reached through actions. Remember, God created Paul and Barnabas to be what He needed them to be at their time in history.
John Mark was a younger Christian. He had every desire to grow and certainly loved the Lord. He really did not have enough life experience to have the fervor of Paul or the maturity of Barnabas. Paul and Barnabas took him under their wings. If you continue to read the Book of Acts, you discover John Mark was the reason Paul and Barnabas went their separate ways. One wanted to apply common sense; the other offered compassion.
Bar-Jesus was a showboater. He was a fake. Bar-Jesus attempted to interrupt the work of the Holy Spirit being accomplished through Paul and Barnabas. Scripture says that Paul “being full of the Holy Spirit” confronted the illusion of greatness and power that Bar-Jesus tried to muster. Paul wasn’t nice. He was direct in his reprimand of the lack of integrity in Bar-Jesus’ work. Paul made the announcement that the game was over. God was onto Bar-Jesus’ games. The show was over.
The Jews seemed to play the role they typically played throughout the New Testament. They were cliquish, proud, arrogant, and loved to gang up against their opposition. In this case, the opposition was Paul and Barnabas. They really didn’t like Paul’s straightforwardness and certainly did not like their bible knowledge being questioned. Scripture tells us neither Paul nor Barnabas backed down.
During one sermon, the bible teaches that Paul stood, paused, took a deep breath and then spoke. Think about that. How much more effective would we be if we took our stands but paused before reacting; then, took a deep breath to fill our words with the power of the Holy Spirit? Would it change our interaction in times of dissent, discussion, or debate?
The other thing I love about Acts 13 is its clear account of how the Jews gathered, read, and studied God’s word but they didn’t get much from it. They heard what they wanted to hear if it fit into their preconceived notions. The word tells us that the Jewish people read God’s word every time they gathered in church, but they were clueless about what they were reading. Their physical eyes read; their spiritual eyes were blinded. Their physical ears heard; their spiritual ears dismissed anything outside of their comfort zone.
That’s where the Gentiles, the non-Jews, fit into the picture. Because of the hardness of the hearts of God’s own people, Christ expanded His reach to those people’s enemies. Through the blood of Christ, God’s people are now defined as “Christ Followers.”
This is where I put in my life application. We’ve reviewed the history, so what’s the message? I think the message is plain:
We all have our strengths and weaknesses.
The older should teach the younger and the younger must be open to learning.
God sees through the superficial wrappings of fake people.
We can read the bible everyday but if we aren’t willing to enlarge our territory by expanding new horizons through His word, we simply are missing the point and going nowhere fast.
God will find a home in the hearts of those who humbly listen to learn.
Another final life application for me is the fact that the players from the Early Church really haven’t changed much in today’s church. We have assertive Christians who have experienced dramatic transformations. We have mild-mannered Christians who stand firm but do so with compassion. We have fake Christians who want to make everything a show where they receive the glory. We have young Christians who would do well to follow in the footsteps of more experienced leaders. We have people who gather together and read the bible without a clue as to how to apply it. We have people who need Jesus and deserve Him just as much as all the others.
The real question is who is in the spotlight?