There’s the proverbial cart, and then the horse, and then there’s Acts 11. In a time when the Church was growing at an “explosionistic” rate, the world was being rapidly introduced to the teachings of a Carpenter from Nazareth who had died not many years before. Hung from a cross and vilified by both His friends and His enemies, He had twelve Apostles who were very close to Him, eleven of whom would affirm and teach His Gospel until their own deaths. And in what would be almost a spiritual pyramid scheme, those twelve apostles taught other people, and those people taught other people, and then those people taught more people, until the very empire of Rome had to stand up and take notice at what was going on and who these people were who believed in a risen Messiah and preached of turning from the wickedness of this world. And in homage to their Teacher, the world called them “Christians” (Acts 11:26).
It’s important to understand this world because we have to understand the impact these people made in it. The whole of Acts 11 has to do with the advancement of the Gospel, beginning with a retelling of Cornelius’ conversion in Acts 10 (who would be the first gentile convert), and then, beginning in Acts 11:19, the distribution of Christians all over the world as a result of the martyrdom of Stephen. People were going everywhere to escape this persecution, and were bringing this teaching and lifestyle that brought them there with them. They were acting differently, talking differently, and living for something different altogether. The people began to identify them with this Jesus of Nazareth, because their actions so closely mimicked His.
Today, many of us have it backwards. Instead of being Christians and letting the world call us that, we tell people who we are and then hope our actions line up. This is especially predominant in denominational circles where many claim to be followers of Christ, and yet most are surprised to learn, “Oh, you’re a Christian?” Their astonishment stems from that there is literally nothing about their lives that differs from those around them – using the same foul language, going the same sinful places, scorning the same poor around them, and other “unchanged” ways.
Which begs the question: what would they say about me? If I could restart my relationships with people, and no one knew I attended a church anywhere, what would my actions and life show to other people? Would it show evidence of prayer, hope, forgiveness, compassion, self-control and love? Would they be surprised when I invited them to services? Which is the status quo of my life, obedience or conformity?
There is always a danger to being too showy, a problem shown by the Pharisees by their constant dependence on other people’s recognition of their good deeds (Matt. 6:3-7). But notice in that passage, that Jesus is not dismissing the actions, but the way they go about those actions. He says, “when” you give alms, and “when” you pray, not “if” you give alms or “if” you pray. The problem isn’t in those two actions, but in how you present them – the motivation of the heart.
The pendulum swings too far on both ways in our religious world, with people being showy about every great thing they do, and others scared that some may find out where they really stand, and hide their light under a bushel. The truth is in the middle, with the courage to act, but the wisdom to know how to do it.Last modified: January 22, 2019