While living in Texas, near Southwestern Adventist University I was good friends with a theology student and his wife. They just had a new baby when I called one evening. The husband was quick to get off the phone with me. I thought nothing of it, but apparently he thought he owed me an explanation when he called back the next night.
He explained he had an argument with his wife when I called. His wife was trying to breastfeed but wasn’t succeeding and was becoming frustrated. He then started instructing her how to breastfeed, and she became very angry at him. I asked him, “How in the world can you tell your wife how to breastfeed?” His answer was the classic example of how some people overestimate book knowledge when he very authoritatively responded, “I read it in a book!”
There are some things you just can’t learn in a book. A book might make you smart, but it can’t make you compassionate, understanding and caring, and those are very important traits in a Christian missionary.
Around the same time, I talked to another theology student who was telling me how wise his grandfather was but then lowered his head in disappointment and said, “but he never got a degree, so all of his knowledge was wasted.”
Degree or no degree, knowledge is never wasted. Too many confuse a degree with an education. There are actually many people who are educated through personal studies and practical experience who do not have degrees, and there are people with degrees who have no practical knowledge. And, of course, there are plenty of people with both practical and theoretical knowledge. Those are the best!
It has been many years since that night I called my friend in Texas. He has gone on to become a wonderful pastor and an even more gracious, caring and understanding husband and father. He has learned some great things from books, but it has taken more than books for him to learn to be caring, compassionate and understanding. It takes experience. It takes time alone with God in prayer as well as reading the Good Book.
When I am encouraging a Bible student who is discouraged with doubt and disappointments, they will listen a little as I quote Bible promises, but they really become attentive, when I tell them how I have applied those verses in my life when I too have been disappointed and discouraged.
I can easily understand why my friend’s wife got so frustrated with him when he was trying to instruct her because of what he had read in a book. Book knowledge is great, but it is pretty useless unless you yourself have put it into practice and succeeded. And I seriously doubt my friend ever put that book knowledge on breastfeeding into practice! Therefore with all the book knowledge in the world, he had no right instructing his wife how to nurse their baby. Likewise, unless we are putting Bible teaching into practice we cannot expect others to listen to us.
Paul’s references to headship
In the light of this broader understanding of the character of God and of His plan for marriage, let’s examine I Corinthians 11:3: “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.”
Does this text refute all I have said, proving that the authority structure at the heart of the universe is indeed like a military chain of command? I believe not. The word translated “woman” here is gune, and the word translated “man” is aner. While gune could be translated either “woman” or “wife,” “guneis the only word in the biblical Greek for wife in the New Testament. There is no other word that properly expresses the meaning wife in the New Testament.” Likewise, “the Greek word aner has two essential meanings: man and husband…This is the only word in the New Testament that is used for husband.” 1 In other words, Paul was affirming that husbands and wives were to follow the headship model of Jesus, as mapped out in Ephesians 5:22-33:
“Wives, be in subjection unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, and Christ also is the head of the church… Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself up for it… Even so ought husbands also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his own wife loveth himself: for no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as Christ also the church… Nevertheless do ye also severally love each one his own wife even as himself; and let the wife see that she fear [respect] her husband.”
The same understanding of aner and gune applies to I Timothy 2:12, which states, “I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” While this is a difficult statement to understand (similar to its neighbor text, stating that women are to be saved through childbearing), like other challenging texts in Scripture, we allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. The New Testament has many references to women teaching, praying and prophesying in public. Seventh-day Adventists believe, and the Bible teaches, that women as well as men may function as prophets, one of the most significant positions of spiritual responsibility in all of Scripture. We also believe women should preach, teach, heal, and otherwise proclaim the Gospel alongside men. Ellen White wrote:
“It was Mary who first preached a risen Jesus; and the refining, softening influence of Christian women is needed in the great work of preaching the truth now. If there were twenty women where now there is one who would make the saving of souls their cherished work, we should see many more converted to the truth. Zealous and continued diligence in the cause of God would be wholly successful, and would astonish them with its results.” (Signs of the Times, September 16, 1886)
The submission of wives to husbands was given to Adam and Eve, a married couple, as a necessity in order to preserve harmony within covenant relationships between husbands and wives.
Joel 2:28-29 prophesies that men and women will unite at the end of time in declaring the soon coming of Jesus and helping prepare others for that great day.
I believe God has allowed a controversy over headship to arise in our church to prevent us from making the disciples’ mistake of associating spiritual leadership with positions of superiority. I also believe that “The one who stands nearest to Christ will be he who on earth has drunk most deeply of the spirit of His self-sacrificing love…” (See Desire of Ages, p. 543)
When the mother of James and John asked Jesus whether her sons could be seated in positions of honor on His right and His left, the rest of the disciples were indignant that the two should claim the highest positions. Noting this, Christ called them to Him to explain,
“Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)
Again, Christ decried the love of title and position even among God’s people when He said,
“And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.” (Matthew 23:7-9)
I wonder whether it is possible that even the titles of “Elder” and “Pastor” can be seen as positions similar to “Rabbi” and “Master”? I am told that pastors are still called “Brother Smith,” rather than “Elder” or “Pastor” in some countries of the world where they all call each other names like “Brother Smith” and “Sister Brown.” Has this use of seemingly innocent titles fostered the idea of over/under position among us?
Commenting on this topic, Ellen White explains:
“In the kingdoms of the world, position meant self-aggrandizement. The people were supposed to exist for the benefit of the ruling classes. Influence, wealth, education, were so many means of gaining control of the masses for the use of the leaders. The higher classes were to think, decide, enjoy, and rule; the lower were to obey and serve. Religion, like all things else, was a matter of authority. The people were expected to believe and practice as their superiors directed. The right of man as man, to think and act for himself, was wholly unrecognized.
“Christ was establishing a kingdom on different principles. He called men, not to authority, but to service, the strong to bear the infirmities of the weak. Power, position, talent, education, placed their possessor under the greater obligation to serve his fellows. To even the lowliest of Christ’s disciples it is said, ‘All things are for your sakes.’ 2 Corinthians 4:15″ (Desire of Ages, p. 550, emphasis added.)
How grave a warning this is for us today! The disciples could not receive the Holy Spirit’s outpouring until they put away their strife for supremacy, their cherished hopes of hierarchical position. Let us not fall for the same strategy of Satan yet again. It is an old one, for it was Lucifer’s original lie that God sought the highest place instead of the lowest.
“Sin originated in self-seeking. Lucifer, the covering cherub, desired to be first in heaven. He sought to gain control of heavenly beings, to draw them away from their Creator, and to win their homage to himself. Therefore he misrepresented God, attributing to Him the desire for self-exaltation. With his own evil characteristics he sought to invest the loving Creator. Thus he deceived angels. Thus he deceived men. He led them to doubt the word of God, and to distrust His goodness.” (The Desire of Ages, pp. 21, 22)
God’s goodness—His character—is the opposite of self-exaltation. It is this character—the seeking to serve, the lowest place, as Jesus modeled from the manger to the Cross—that He desires us to reflect in contrast with the character of Satan.
Let us not malign the character of God in order to support our cherished positions. Jesus refuted Lucifer’s accusations against the character of God (and the law of His kingdom) when He revealed the Father’s character by seeking to serve, that is, the lowest place. We likewise are called to vindicate the character of God when we follow His example of humility. Together as a church, let us seek to serve, exemplifying to the watching universe what God can do in humble, believing souls.
Paul exhorts us to this lifestyle of service when he encourages us to be “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another.” (Romans 12:10) and “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” (Eph 5:21)
In this way, may we fulfill the prayer of Christ:
“That they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in thee, that they also may be in Us: that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me. And the glory which Thou hast given Me I have given unto them; that they may be one, even as We are One; I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be perfected into one;that the world may know that Thou didst send Me, and lovedst them, even as Thou lovedst Me” (John 17:21-23, 26).
Editor’s Note: We welcome your comments on the topic of the post, which is about the teaching of biblical headship according to Paul. It is not about women’s ordination.
Please note the following statement by Elder Ted Wilson, President of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, on July 10, 2015, at the General Conference Business Session in San Antonio, Texas:
“The vote on Wednesday did not have anything to do specifically with women being ordained as local elders. … neither was it pertaining to anything in policy regarding commissioned ministers.
So let us be clear on what was voted on Wednesday. We are now back to our original understanding and I would strongly urge all to adhere to what was voted. But do not place into the vote other things that were not listed in the vote.” (See “Ted Wilson Statement to Clarify the Vote Regarding Women’s Ordination Accommodation,” on Seventh-day Adventist Church North American Division site, fetched August 10, 2015)
In other words, Elder Wilson made clear that ordained female elders will continue to serve as before, and commissioned female pastors will continue to serve as before. And the ordaining of female elders and commissioning of female ministers will continue as before.
Nothing has changed in this regard.
(You may also consult “GC PRESIDENT SAYS ORDINATION VOTE DOESN’T CHANGE CURRENT POLICY” on the Adventist News Network site for another report on the same statement.)
Thus no comments will be published that argue against the ordination of female elders or the commissioning of female pastors. Neither will we publish any comments regarding ordination of female pastors, either pro or con, since that is not the subject of this post.
If you have not read the two previous posts on the topic, please do so before commenting. You may find that what you wish to say fits better under one of the previous posts:
Abstain from all appearance of evil. 1 Thessalonians 5:22 KJV
A misunderstanding of this verse has crippled the success of many missionaries. A young student loses his parents, and his teacher is afraid to put her arm around his shoulder and comfort him for fear she might be accused of evil. A pastor is having studies with a bar tender in his home and needs to swing by the bar to pick up the umbrella he left at the bar tender’s home. What will people think if they see him walk into a bar? Is that giving the appearance of evil? No! It is just giving the appearance of walking into a bar!
My purpose here is not to lessen the accountability of gospel workers. My point is to help us, as missionaries, to be healthy and balanced. Yes we must be careful not to put ourselves in compromising positions, but at the same time we must realize, there are some unbalanced people out there who will misconstrue and misrepresent just about everything, and we can’t allow them to cripple our ministry. It reminds me of when, after 9-11, President George Bush told his fellow citizens to go on with their daily lives, regardless of terrorist threats, otherwise the terrorists win. Likewise, if Satan can cripple our ministry by making us over-analyze and stretch our imagination to see how each action and motive can be misconstrued into something evil, then Satan wins.
The truly converted soul is illuminated from on high, and Christ is in that soul “a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” His words, his motives, his actions, may be misinterpreted and falsified; but he does not mind it because he has greater interests at stake. –Ellen White, Testimonies, Vol. 5, Page 569
There is a line between giving “the appearance of evil” and someone else judging us.
Just because someone else judges us does not automatically mean we have given the appearance of evil. And by the way, just because someone claims to have the gift of discerning spirits does not mean they really have that gift. They may just have the gift of judging and causing dissension. Jesus’ own disciples were surprised when they saw Him talking to a woman at the well. The Pharisees judged Jesus for hanging out with prostitutes and publicans, but He never gave “the appearance of evil”! They were judging.
I have seen other gospel workers’ ministries become totally paralyzed by their understanding of what Paul said about not appearing evil. The NLT version of Paul’s earlier quote simply says,
Stay away from every kind of evil. 1 Thessalonians 5:22 NLT
A teacher can put her arms around a hurting child and still stay far from evil. A pastor can walk into a bar without it appearing to be evil, so long as he does not walk like he is drunk or make jokes about drinking. Joking about drinking or actually insinuating you are doing something evil is when you give the appearance of evil. Just because something can be misconstrued by someone with a dirty mind does not mean it is giving the appearance of evil. It simply means someone has a dirty mind.
Everything is pure to those whose hearts are pure. But nothing is pure to those who are corrupt and unbelieving, because their minds and consciences are corrupted. Titus 1:15 NLT
Satan will use unhealthy, unstable people to misconstrue and misjudge our every move. We cannot let God’s work be paralyzed by people with wild and dirty imaginations. The key, I believe, is to have a healthy understanding of where the line is between giving the appearance of actual evil, and someone else just judging according to their unhealthy imagination. We can’t let unhealthy imaginations dictate our mission. It’s a matter of healthy boundaries – knowing where our responsibility ends and others’ responsibility begins.
Joseph had his motives and actions misjudged and misconstrued but in the end Pharaoh himself said,
“Can we find anyone else like this man [Joseph] so obviously filled with the spirit of God?” Genesis 41:38 NLT
Obviously the prior accusations against Joseph did not mean anything to Pharaoh. He could see right through the false accusations and see that Joseph’s mission was filled with the spirit of God. So long as our mission is filled with the Spirit of God, balanced healthy people will see through any false insinuations, and God will make our mission successful just like He did for Joseph.
I tried to imagine the setting of our topic for this week on Exiles as Missionaries. I tried to picture Daniel, his three companies and many others being forcibly rounded up to be taken from their homeland as captives. The homes they lived in, the streets they played on, the schools they learned in, the temples they worshiped in, all now gone. Their nation was decimated by a powerful foe and the life they had known until then was now gone forever. The word monumental does not do justice to how life changing this event was.
One could easily justify Daniel and his companions choosing a strategy to go along, to get along. No one, in an adversarial situation, wants to make waves and bring the spotlight upon themselves. Many would say, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” and find an excuse to deviate from prior practices and customs. But not Daniel. It was a matter of principle.
“But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.” Daniel 1:8
Principle – that guiding sense of right conduct – was so real to Daniel that even in captivity he would be true to it. We say Amen to Daniel’s courage and adherence to his principles but we must remember he was a captive. It was one thing to purpose in his own heart but another thing for those in charge of him to accept his request.
As revealing as his inward purpose was, his outward relationship with the prince of the eunuchs was equally telling about the type of person Daniel was. And this was key to Daniel and his companions being able to effect the requested change.
“Now God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs.” Daniel 1:9
That could not have happened by accident, and we would miss a lot about being a missionary were we to gloss over this text. This one line of Scripture is revealing about the conduct of Daniel as a captive. Without knowing the how’s we can safely conclude that Daniel possessed social skills that were attractive rather than repulsive. Kindness begets kindness, compassion begets compassion and love begets love.
What a powerful combination of graces that Daniel possessed. His devotion to God was unshakable. His understanding of the importance of sound health was undeniable. And his people skills were unassailable. Daniel had the complete package. Babylon didn’t make Daniel; Babylon only revealed the man who Daniel was.
While we celebrate Daniel and his faithful companions, we must remember the unsung heroes of this story. Long before Daniel faced the temptations of a lifetime, he had been instructed and raised in a way that prepared him for his moment on the grand stage of life.
It’s often said that it takes a village to raise a child. For Daniel the unsung heroes of his story must include the parents that taught their son the importance of principles over inclination. This could not have happened by chance. There had to be intentional, meaningful training given to this young lad. Social skills of kindness, care, compassion and manners are best learned in the home. God bless godly homes.
Beyond the primary impact on the life of Daniel by his parents, I would like to think that his teachers outside of his home contributed to the man that he became. We all know the role that teachers have played in the development of not only great men and women but in the lives of ordinary people who possess good morals and become contributing members of society. The value of teachers can never be fully appreciated this side of heaven.
For us, we can play a part in the life of future Daniels. We each have the opportunity to help prepare the youth of today for the roles they will play in life tomorrow. Our example of adhering to either principle or following inclinations is one that is being watched closely by young eyes.
Our encounters with others and our discussions around our dinner tables have an influence on how the youth in our spheres of influence will interact with others along the way. Will they like Daniel have learned not only guiding principles but also the kindness and love that Christ enjoins upon us all? We should purpose in our hearts that we will be the unsung heroes in the lives of the youth around us. Who knows, we may be helping to raise the next Daniel or Danielle right now.
Here are a few Hit the Mark questions for this week’s lesson discussion:
- What does the word “principle” mean to you?
- What, if any, is the difference between a principle and a belief?
- Is it true that the healthier one eats, the better a Christian they will become? Why yes or no?
- Is it true that as long as one loves God, they are free to indulge in harmful health practices? Explain your answer.
- List five principles that you believe all followers of Christ must adhere to.
- Is the following statement True, Mostly True, Somewhat True or Not True: The most important part of witnessing is the message and not necessarily the demeanor of the purpose giving the message. Explain your answer.
We close this week with the words of Mordecai to Esther. We usually find comfort in these words during momentous times in our lives. But they can be equally applied to our role as unsung heroes in the lives of the youth around us.
“And who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this? Esther 4:14
Until next week, let’s all continue to Hit the Mark in Sabbath School!
No question, things were for a time going quite well among the early believers. Of course, everyone is fallen, and before long some tensions started to rise.
Read Acts 6:1-7. What problems arose, and how did the church deal with those problems?
Rapid growth of the Jerusalem church brought with it social tension. Philip was appointed to a team to deal with it. Converts included underprivileged and economically challenged persons whose participation in the daily common meals placed increasing demands on church leaders. A murmuring about unfair distribution of food to Greek-speaking widows emerged. This was especially sensitive because of reminders by the Hebrew prophets not to neglect widows and orphans.
To resolve this serious issue, all 12 apostles gathered the believers and proposed the appointment of seven men, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, who would literally
deaconize (Greek for so the 12 could
deaconize the Word (see Acts 6:3-4). All seven had Greek names, perhaps indicating a balancing of welfare service for the neglected Greek-speaking widows. Among them was Philip, the first time that this Philip is mentioned in the Bible.
The apostles argued that additional leadership was needed so that they should not be overworked by the administration of the resources necessary for communal life. They emphasized that their call was to devote themselves to the Word of God and to prayer.
What are some of the potentially divisive issues in your own local church, and how can you allow God to use you to help ease them?
While we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:18, NKJV). Think about what Paul is saying here, especially as we study this week about Philip the evangelist, someone of whom we know little except for the few references in the Bible.
As we will see, though, Philip did a good work even though most of what he accomplished we know little about. Who are some people whom you know of who have done great things for God but with little outward recognition? Why is it always important to keep the principle of Paul’s words in mind, especially if we do a work that doesn’t garner much acclaim or attention? See also 1 Cor. 4:13.
Philip was a popular Greek name that means
horse lover. In the New Testament there are four persons called by that name. Two had the additional name
Herod and were part of the Herodian ruling family, which exerted a generally harsh rule over Israel in New Testament times. The remaining Philips had outstanding roles in mission.
The second Philip was designated
the evangelist in Acts 21:8 to distinguish him from Philip the disciple. He first appeared in the Jerusalem church as a
table waiter (Acts 6:2-5) who turned evangelist and missionary (Acts 8:12). His missionary service, extending over twenty years and supplemented by his four prophesying daughters, is mentioned in Acts. We know little else of his background.
It was Philip who preached the gospel to the Samaritans; it was Philip who had the courage to baptize the Ethiopian eunuch. For a time the history of these two workers (Philip and Paul) had been closely intertwined. It was the violent persecution of Saul the Pharisee that had scattered the church at Jerusalem, and destroyed the effectiveness of the organization of the seven deacons. The flight from Jerusalem had led Philip to change his manner of labor, and resulted in his pursuing the same calling to which Paul gave his life. Precious hours were these that Paul and Philip spent in each other’s society; thrilling were the memories that they recalled of the days when the light which had shone upon the face of Stephen upturned to Heaven as he suffered martyrdom flashed in its glory upon Saul the persecutor, bringing him, a helpless suppliant, to the feet of Jesus.—Ellen G. White, Sketches From the Life of Paul, p. 204.
(Acts 1:8 NIV).
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth
World mission was the main concern of the risen Christ during the 40 days between His crucifixion and ascension.
The New Testament preserves at least five of His Great Commission statements: Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15, Luke 24:47-49, John 20:21, Acts 1:5-8. Together they constitute the greatest assignment ever given to Christians. Among the commands was a geographical strategy for mission outreach, from its Jerusalem base to all Judea and Samaria, then ultimately to the ends of the earth. This was a command that they, indeed, took seriously and set out to fulfill.
This geographical strategy is prominent in the mission work of Philip the evangelist. According to Acts 8, his work extended outward from Jerusalem in expanding circles. That is, it kept spreading farther and farther as time progressed.
Who was this Philip the evangelist? What does the Word of God tell us about him and the work that he did during the earliest days of the church? Finally, what lessons can we take away for ourselves from the inspired record of this early missionary?
Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, September 5.
Key Thought : Peter made many mistakes, but his teachable attitude and openness to God’s leading in his life is a lesson for us today.
1. Have a volunteer read Acts 2:14-18.
a. Ask class members to share a thought on what the most important point in this text is.
b. What is the only purpose for the gift of tongues? Are we to expect to see this gift manifested today?
c. Personal Application : Have you ever experienced or met someone who believed in tongues, but you felt was more focused on emotion, exultation of self, or proof that they had the Holy Spirit? Share your thoughts.
d. Case Study : One of your relatives states: “Is your church more focused on outreach and evangelism or are they more inwardly focused? How are the church funds spent?” How would you respond to your relative?
2. Have a volunteer read Acts 10:1-4.
a. Ask class members to share a short thought on what the most important point is in this passage.
b. How do you think Cornelius, a non-Jew, came to be a devout man who feared God?
c. Personal Application : Have you ever had an experience where God has sent someone to you or to your church so that you could witness to them?” Share your thoughts.
d. Case Study : One of your friends states, “I think this is an example of not running ahead of the Lord. Peter was right to wait for God to have people come to him. We try to reach out, but the people aren’t ready for the gospel. We should wait and pray and God will send people to us who are searching for truth.” How would you respond to your neighbor?
3. Have a volunteer read Acts 10:17.
a. Ask class members to share a short thought on what the main idea of this text is.
b. Does God speak to His servants today in visions and dreams, or is that a thing of the past?
c. Personal Application: Has God ever given you a vision or dream that you weren’t sure what the meaning was? How can we be sure it’s from God and not Satanic or pickles and ice cream? Share your thoughts..
d. Case Study : One of your neighbors states, “Doesn’t this text show that it doesn’t matter what goes in the mouth, but what comes out? Isn’t it okay to eat whatever we pray over and God will bless it?” How would you respond to your friend?
4. Have a volunteer read Acts 15:19-21.
a. Ask class members to share a short thought on what the main idea of this text is.
b. Why is there a restriction here on things strangled, blood, and food offered to idols? Is this a cultural restriction, or does it apply to us today?
c. Personal Application: How do we “trouble” those who are coming into the church? How can we guide and teach without being judgmental? Share your thoughts.
d. Case Study : Think of one person who needs to hear a message from this week’s lesson. Tell the class what you plan to do this week to share with them.
(Note : “Truth that is not lived, that is not imparted, loses its life-giving power, its healing virtue. Its blessings can be retained only as it is shared.” Ministry of Healing, p. 148)
Cambodia ~ by Chhenghorn Thean
Cheng lived in a slum-like camp for displaced persons in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
One day Cheng walked past a house and heard someone speaking to a group of people. Curious, she stared through a window. Was this a church? She wanted to study English, and she had heard that churches often teach English. She waited outside e until the program ended. A man walked out and introduced himself as Pastor Hang.
I want to learn English, Cheng said. Pastor Hang told her that an English class met at the house-church on Wednesday afternoon.
On Wednesday afternoon Cheng returned for the English class. The teacher started the class with prayer, and when the class ended he invited Cheng to visit the church on Sabbath. She came to the worship service, but knew nothing about God and didn’t understand the sermon. Nevertheless, she wanted to return. She continued studying English on Wednesdays. Two weeks later Pastor Hang invited Cheng to a Bible class on Friday afternoon. She enjoyed learning more about the Christian God and invited Pastor Hang to come to her home to teach her.
Cheng told the pastor that she was having marital problems. She explained that she and her husband were not legally married, and her mother-in-law was trying to separate them so that her son could marry a Chinese girl. The couple moved, but then her mother-in-law took their two little sons and refused to allow Cheng to see them.
And then her husband began refusing to give her money from his earnings to buy food . The pastor listened sympathetically to Cheng’s sad story, then he offered a possible solution. He had noticed that Cheng was a natural salesperson. He invited her to sell Adventist books to earn some money. Chen agreed to try. The pastor continued to study the Bible with her and led her to Jesus.
He taught her how to sell the books. Cheng followed his directions, but she wasn’tt able to sell any books. The best places to sell books are in restaurants early in the morning and during the evening meals. But it was rainy season, and Cheng could not get to these restaurants easily.
When the rains stopped, Cheng prayed,
God, if You are the true God, if You want me to follow You, please show Your power by helping me to sell some books tonight. Then she set a goal to sell three or four books for $1 each.
To be continued
Read Ellen G. White,
Jew and Gentile, pp. 188-200, in The Acts of the Apostles.
Peter told of his astonishment when, in speaking the words of truth to those assembled at the home of Cornelius, he witnessed the Holy Spirit taking possession of his hearers, Gentiles as well as Jews.
The same light and glory that was reflected upon the circumcised Jews shone also upon the faces of the uncircumcised Gentiles. This was God’s warning that Peter was not to regard one as inferior to the other, for the blood of Christ could cleanse from all uncleanness. . . .
Peter’s address brought the assembly to a point where they could listen with patience to Paul and Barnabas, who related their experience in working for the Gentiles.—Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 193, 194.
- Peter’s vision has been explained to support the argument that the dietary laws of the Old Testament are no longer valid—specifically, as justification for eating unclean meat. The meaning of the vision was clearly explained by Peter himself:
I should not call any [human] common or unclean(Acts 10:28). The vision was not, therefore, about diet but about acceptance of other humans as God’s children, regardless of ethnicity, nationality, occupation, or religion. Why, though, do people use this as an argument in regard to diet? What should this tell us about how careful we need to be in how we handle Scripture?
- Dwell more on Romans 2:14-16. How should we as a church relate to this idea in terms of missions? That is, why do we need to preach to those who have the law written in their hearts?
- In Thursday’s study, we talked about the Jerusalem Council as a model for the church today. Read over the texts about the council (Acts 15:1-35). What are some specific things it did that provide a template for the church today? For instance, look at such things as: (1) personal testimonies about witness, (2) the role of the gospel, (3) the role of Scriptures, (4) the role of missions, and (5) how the people related to each other in the council.
Early success of the mission to the Gentiles raised some crucial questions for the early church regarding what requirements should be expected of Gentile converts, those grafted into the faith (Rom. 11:17). Tensions always appear when people from other religions and cultures join an established believing community. In this case, Jewish Christians, with their high regard for the requirements of the Old Testament laws and rituals, assumed that Gentile converts would accept and obey these laws and rituals.
The main focus was circumcision, the fundamental indication of entry into the Jewish community for males, symbolizing compliance with all the requirements of Judaism. Should Gentile converts to Christianity be required to undergo circumcision? Some Jewish Christians in Judea certainly thought so and stated their conviction in stark theological language: to them it was essential for salvation.
What happened at the Jerusalem Council that helped settle this important issue? Acts 15:1-35.
Although the question of circumcision was the main reason for the Jerusalem Council, it dealt with a range of cultural practices that the gospel did not require of its converts. The decree of the council (Acts 15:23-29) provided a common platform where Jewish and Gentile Christians could coexist in fellowship. Jewish core values were respected, but Gentiles were allowed to avoid circumcision. The council’s decision was both practical and theological. It set a pattern for the church to deal with issues and problems before they became too divisive. Experienced missionaries learn to identify core Christian belief issues and keep the focus on them as opposed to getting bogged down with things that are not essential to the faith.
What lesson can we take away from the Jerusalem Council that could help the church today as it deals with controversial issues? What did they do that can serve as a model for us?
If I had not read it with my own eyes, I might not have believed it. It’s not that I’m unfamiliar with the miraculous working of God throughout the Bible. Countless times I’ve read about how God has done the impossible. He made the waters of a sea stand up in a salute to let a million plus people pass by. He caused the earth to reverse its motion in answer to one man’s prayer. He has done miraculous things.
He had a large sea creature swallow a man whole, lodge him inside of his stomach and finally ferry him to an appointed shore so that a city could be warned of their impending ruin. He had His people to walk around a fortified city and by a shout cause the massive walls to collapse as straw. He has done miraculous things.
And beyond that I’ve read how Jesus would touch the sick and they would be made completely well. He had a crippled man who had not walked in decades to stand and walk away in the freedom of youthful energy. He reversed blindness by spitting into clay and placing the mud on the eyes of the blind. He even touched a funeral bier and life came back into the dead. He has certainly done miraculous things.
But the miracle at Joppa must go down as one of the most profound miracles ever. You might remember the city named Joppa from the story of Jonah. It was this port city where Jonah began that fateful trip aboard the ship headed to Tarshish. But the miracle we will focus on today may exceed the Jonah saga.
As Acts chapter 10 records, Peter was up on the roof and fell into a trance. The vision of the creatures in the sheet was shown to him and Peter is commanded to eat. Even though in a trance Peter remonstrates against violating his principles. He next hears a command that gives us a clue that we are watching a miracle unfold.
And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” Acts 10:15
Peter was prejudiced.
He looked at others as inferior. Prejudicial attitudes were in the DNA of the entire nation. To converse openly with a Gentile let alone to eat and accept lodging in their quarters was considered a violation of serious magnitude. Being prejudiced was an acceptable way of life. But not for a true follower of Jesus Christ.
The vision that Peter had on the rooftop in Joppa and his resulting change was one of the greatest miracles ever recorded. It was the miracle of a man being freed from the sin of prejudice.
It is a miracle that desperately needs to be repeated in the lives of God’s people today. Prejudice between races in the family of God is as real as it was in the days of Peter. Races, shades of complexion, genders, accents, dialects, beliefs and stations in life are the unspoken prejudices that plague God’s church.
Like Peter it is in our DNA to not only magnify differences but to find constant justification for our ungodly attitudes. Like Peter we need a miracle to free our minds. Even though he had walked, talked and lived with Jesus, it took the vision at Joppa combined with the circumstances of his then present life, to unlock his mind. I’m confident that what God did for Peter He is willing to do for us today.
This story of Peter is full of hope, encouragement and guidance for the church. It shows again how patient and long-suffering God is with His people (and how blind we can be to our own flaws). It reminds us that naming the name of Jesus is not enough – we must have the mind of Jesus. And this story also illustrates that many times it is not a need for new, cutting edge strategies and increased resources that will give us success in spreading the gospel. It is often a matter of a new heart and a willingness to love others as He has loved us.
Here are a few Hit the Mark questions for this week’s lesson discussion:
- What does the word “prejudice” mean to you?
- Is it realistic to expect believers to be free of all prejudices? Why yes or no?
- What did Peter mean in Acts 10:34 when he said that “God is no respecter of persons?”
- What is the best way to overcome prejudice in others that we are attempting to witness to?
- Is it true that Deuteronomy 28:13, “And the Lord shall make thee the head, and not the tail”, proves that a believer is more highly valued in God’s sight than a non-believer? Why yes or no?
- Is the following statement True, Mostly True, Somewhat True or Not True: You cannot love God supremely if you have any known prejudices against others. Explain your answer.
We close this week with parts of two salient verses that cry out to us today, especially in this age of social media commentary. Let’s pray that God gives us each the victory.
“Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?” “Speak evil of no man.” James 4:11-12, Titus 3:2
Until next week, let’s all continue to Hit the Mark in Sabbath School!
As we saw yesterday, by the time Peter made contact with Cornelius, he had a change in attitude regarding the Gentiles that other Jewish believers hadn’t yet understood (see Acts 10:44-45). What happened that changed Peter?
Cornelius’s conversion and Peter’s role in the
witnessing task were so important for the mission of the church that God communicated in a supernatural way with both the missionary and the missionary’s eventual host: while an angel visited Cornelius, Peter was given a vision.
Also, Peter stayed in Joppa with a tanner (Acts 9:43; Acts 10:6, Acts 10:32), a detail that we don’t want to miss. Tanning and tanners were repulsive to the Jews since they handled dead bodies and used excreta in their processes. Tanneries were not allowed in towns; note that Simon’s was located
by the sea side (Acts 10:6).
Peter’s stay with a tanner indicated that already, before his vision, he realized that some of his previous attitudes were at cross-purposes with the gospel. Both Peter and the family of Cornelius needed to shed some cultural baggage. All people, represented by
all kinds of . . . animals (NKJV) in Peter’s vision, are God’s children.
Peter’s call to witness to Cornelius implied that, although all people are acceptable to God, not all religions are equally acceptable. Cornelius was already a
religious man, like nearly everyone else in ancient society. As a soldier he would be acquainted with the worship of Mithra, and as an officer he would have taken part in emperor worship. But these were not acceptable to God.
There is a lesson here today for those who approach non-Christian religions on the basis of equality with Christianity. Although sometimes it is done in a spirit of political correctness, such an attitude leads to a watering-down of the biblical claims of Christian uniqueness and finality.
How do we show respect for people whose faith we believe is wrong without giving the impression that we respect those beliefs ourselves? What is the difference between respecting people as opposed to respecting their beliefs?
You can view an in-depth discussion of “Peter and the Gentiles” in the Hope Sabbath School class led by Pastor Derek Morris. (Adobe Flash Player version.) A Youtube version of this week’s lesson at Hope Sabbath School is below.
- The first. The apostle Peter wins the award…for what honor? Do you think his hope of bringing Gentiles into the early Christian church was greeted with unanimous acclaim? What types of issues always come up when working with people from different cultures?
- Peter at Pentecost. Couldn’t God have worked out a different set of beliefs for the Gentiles? Why was it so important for them as spiritual “foreigners” to belong to the new Christian religion? How was Peter able to speak so persuasively to the Gentiles that a worldwide religious movement was formed? How important is language in reaching those from other countries? Should we learn “their” language or should they learn “ours”? What did God do at Pentecost to solve the language barrier? What are we Seventh-day Adventists doing in this regard? What could we be doing?
- Cornelius. Quite a man, Cornelius was, wasn’t he? On His own—with the guidance of God, of course—what did this Roman warrior do to follow Jesus? How important was his home-based church to him? What feelings did Cornelius apparently have towards Peter? Ironically, what Christian lesson did Cornelius succeed in teaching Peter? What were the lessons learned in each step to this Roman man’s conversion? A. His home; B. His possessions; C. Meeting Peter.
- Peter’s vision. What was so unusual about Peter’s staying in the home of a tanner? What was repulsive to the Jews about the tanner’s work? What was repulsive to Peter about his vision? Was Peter eager to accept everyone from every religion? Do we ever assume that all Christian religions are “about” equal in their belief structure? What is dangerous about such an assumption?
- The Jerusalem decree. Was the Jerusalem Council in any way like the General Conference Session? Considering a membership then of a few thousand members to a membership today of nearly 20 million, is discussion and agreement on timely matters still important to the church? What is the crucial dividing line between matters of interest to church members and those that are core Christian beliefs? Try to imagine the spirited discussion among our church fathers about beliefs some felt were not required for Gentile converts. Compare those thoughts with the way we deal with divisive issues today.
Then Peter began to speak: I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. (Acts 10:34-35 NIV). Though these words to us are not that revolutionary, for them to have come from the mouth of Peter was an astonishing confession.
We have to remember who Peter was, where he came from, and the attitudes that he had and still struggled with. (See Gal. 2:11-16.) No doubt, though, his experience with Cornelius helped him see even more clearly the error of his ways and helped him get a better picture of what God had intended to do with the gospel message.
Read Acts 10:33. What did Cornelius say to Peter that showed that he understood, even despite so much ignorance, that following the Lord also meant obeying Him?
Read Acts 11:14. What does it say that shows us the need to spread the gospel even to such a godly man as Cornelius?
How does Romans 2:14-16 help us to understand what was going on with Cornelius?
As we have seen, Cornelius was a Gentile who
feared God (Acts 10:2), though he still had a lot to learn (don’t we all?). Nevertheless, his fasting, his praying, and his giving of alms all revealed a heart open to the Lord; and thus, when the time was right, God worked miraculously in his life.
An important point to remember in this account is how, though an angel appeared to him, the angel didn’t preach the gospel to him. Instead, the angel opened the way for Cornelius to meet Peter, who then told him about Jesus (see Acts 10:34-44). We can see here an example of how the Lord uses humans as His messengers to the world.