United we stand
Acts 22:17-23:10 from the daily reading in the One Year Bible
“It happened when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I fell into a trance, 18 and I saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.’ 19 And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves understand that in one synagogue after another I used to imprison and beat those who believed in You. 20 And when the blood of Your witness Stephen was being shed, I also was standing by approving, and watching out for the coats of those who were slaying him.’ 21 And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”
22 They listened to him up to this statement, and then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!” 23 And as they were crying out and throwing off their cloaks and tossing dust into the air, 24 the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, stating that he should be examined by scourging so that he might find out the reason why they were shouting against him that way. 25 But when they stretched him out with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman and uncondemned?” 26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and told him, saying, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman.” 27 The commander came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman?” And he said, “Yes.” 28 The commander answered, “I acquired this citizenship with a large sum of money.” And Paul said, “But I was actually born a citizen.” 29 Therefore those who were about to examine him immediately let go of him; and the commander also was afraid when he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had put him in chains.
30 But on the next day, wishing to know for certain why he had been accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the Council to assemble, and brought Paul down and set him before them.
23 Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.” 2 The high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth. 3 Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?” 4 But the bystanders said, “Do you revile God’s high priest?” 5 And Paul said, “I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’”
6 But perceiving that one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!” 7 As he said this, there occurred a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. 9 And there occurred a great uproar; and some of the scribes of the Pharisaic party stood up and began to argue heatedly, saying, “We find nothing wrong with this man; suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” 10 And as a great dissension was developing, the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them and ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force, and bring him into the barracks.
In Matthew 12:25 Jesus says: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” This is the strategy Paul used to overcome his accusers. In today’s text it says: Perceiving that one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!” As he said this, there occurred a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. And there occurred a great uproar; and some of the scribes of the Pharisaic party stood up and began to argue heatedly, saying, “We find nothing wrong with this man; suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” And as a great dissension was developing, the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them and ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force, and bring him into the barracks. Unfortunately though it is also a strategy used by the devil. It’s a strategy which man is extremely vulnerable to. As we look at our culture and our society, we are polarized, divided as far as north from south on many things. Even more unfortunate is that this tendency toward division is prevalent even in the church.
In the church there are divisions between denominations and even within denominations. There are divisions over doctrines and over the rules and regulations of man. There are divisions over traditions, worship styles and leadership models. The church is even divided concerning it mission and vision; are we to be inward focused ministering to each other and the Lord or outward focused, missional and evangelistic? So what Jesus said, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand, is becoming true of the church today. In 1 Corinthians 1:10-13 Paul says: Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? Look at the list of the deeds of the flesh, listed in Galatians 5:19-21: Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. How can the body of Christ be so entangled in the deeds of the flesh? Is it any wonder that there is a lack of power and credibility in the church today? The church has lost its vision because it has focused on what is different rather than focusing on Christ. We, as the church, are called to be a community of believers. The word community comes from the combining of the words common and unity. When we focus more on differences than we do on the unity we share in and with Christ, we break community. When we see and focus on the things which divide us, we no longer see Christ who unites us, with Himself, the Father and each other. Focusing on differences we become farther divided.
Rather though than focus on what should not be, the things we as believers should not do or allow, Jesus says: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) In Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus says: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” How can we show the love of God and Christ to our neighbors; to the world if the world sees division among those who say they follow Christ? The world will know that we are Jesus disciples by our love for each other. There will be differences in preferences. There will be differences in leadership models. There will even be differences in doctrine and mission, but may we never lose our vision. May we never take our eyes off of Christ and the love that binds us. May the kingdom of God never suffer because of the divisions between us, His people.
Heavenly Father, Lord Jesus Christ; precious Holy Spirit; may love both guide and rule my life. First, love for You with all my heart, mind and soul. Second love for my neighbor, whoever and wherever they are, but especially love for those who also love You. May I indeed be known by love and be a demonstration of Your love, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Amen.