Troubled? You’ve been listening to the news again haven’t you? I know, if we only have what we hear and what we see to comfort us, well, there would be no comfort at all. But the life that Christ has given us to live doesn’t just take hearing and seeing for its definition of how we can continue in our Faith.
I love little short verses in scripture. Sometimes they outweigh the lengthier, wordy verses. ‘Jesus wept’ says so much about Him at that one moment in time in his ministry. My favorite short verse is one stated by Jesus after the resurrection. One of His first concerns after His death and having been raised from the dead is conveyed with the simple words ‘go tell Peter’. A friend that had denied Him three times, someone that had made just about as many verbal mistakes as you can make while traveling with Jesus. But, Christ was compassionate about Peter’s heart after those miscues and found it necessary to make sure the messenger reassured Peter and comforted Him in what must have been the worst time for Peter’s friendship.
I remember another small phrase that has caught my attention over the years. It’s found in Galatians 2:13 and only two words really that catch my attention. Paul had a good friend named Barnabas, a friend that Paul called a ‘good man’ (Acts 11, full of the Holy Spirit and faith). Barnabas, who earlier, upon meeting Paul for the first time, sold all his land and laid the money at Paul’s feet. Barnabas, whose name was really Joseph, but called by all the apostles Barnabas, means Son of Encouragement. (Acts 4) He had been a companion with Paul on many mission trips and shared in most of Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles. But in the verse found in this scripture, Paul, with what surely must have been great regret, tells us that ‘even Barnabas’, his close partner and ministry companion, had been carried away by other Christian leaders to stand in opposition to Paul. ‘Even Barnabas’ has a tone of broken-heartedness to it, a surprise, grief and a disappointment to it. His friend, someone he trusted, ‘even’ he had left and suddenly Paul stood alone! It was not his first rejection, Peter and James had opposed him earlier, but Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement, must have shocked him. There was no argument or anger between the two men. Paul simply called it dissimulation. Literally, Barnabas was ‘faking it’! He knew the Grace of God, had been a part of Paul’s Grace ministry, but could not overcome the temptation to please those teaching a combination of Law and Grace. Old school plus new school. It was ‘play-acting’ that spoiled the relationship between Paul and Barnabas. Peer pressure had cause Barnabas to act differently than he really believed. It was hypocrisy to oppose Paul, someone he had ministered with for years. He sided with the Jewish Christians that confronted the apostle.
Barnabas didn’t like being unpopular or out of step with the other brethren. Being popular was more important than being right, being true, or being a friend to a friend. It was system verses truth. The opposition to Paul from the other apostles was not going to go away easily, it was not going to die easily. But, Paul had made the cleanest break of all the followers of Jesus. He had been the chief persecutor of the new Church, the leader of the opposition to Jesus and the protector of all that the Law proclaimed. He directly presided over the stoning of Stephen. For Paul, the life of living for Christ had become an all or nothing question. He was the most radical of the bunch, moved away from the old religious system into the new glorious way of Christ and all that it meant and stood for. For Paul it had become Christ and Him crucified. Knowing Christ is the ultimate goal and not following traditions. It was about Christ alone- not about mixing or adapting the old and the new but throwing out the old traditions and system and replacing them with something else. He had learned what Nicodemus learned earlier from Jesus, you cannot massage the old way with the new way; you had to be a new creature, something different than before. With the introduction of Christ in this world, old wineskins containing new wine are not the way this Gospel works. This Gospel cannot be placed in the wrappings of the system that had been in place. ‘Mix and match’ is out!
While it is interesting that such a ‘good man’, someone closely connected with spreading the Gospel for so many years and so many places, could all of a sudden ‘play it safe’. But even more interesting to me is that Paul suddenly stood alone! This is the person that was specifically called out by and taught by the Spirit for 15 years. And now, Paul would have to go it alone. The loneliness of that moment must have been crushing to Paul. Others would come later and support Paul’s work, but this event must have had a severely discouraging effect. But, as is characteristic with his ministry, Paul continued on through trouble, never discouraged to the point of quitting. Paul was a believer who was willing to do the Gospel at all cost and without fear.
So about that bad news thing! So much of what we face today, the speculation of an assault on our Faith with more intensity and frequency than ever before, we are left with that same kind of choice Paul faced. Will we cave to the pressure of tradition or political correctness to retain our peace, or will we only find our peace by steadfastly, personally maintaining a confidence (not a loud or rude one), a confidence in God speaking to us on how to live daily, to be a guide to show us how to follow Him continuously, praying constantly, remaining close to God in a relationship that depends on God more and more, more than any time in our lifetime. Not going through the motions- but going, having sensed the Spirit of God’s nudge to follow Him.
With all the things that are going on, with the cultural, economic and spiritual challenges, we still can remember that God asks nothing more than a heart after Him. This is the foundation of how we must proceed in the future. God has promised to go with us, never leave us. Paul, unlike Elijah, knew that being alone did not mean being alone. The fact is that according to scripture, the Body is one and has many members. Not necessarily all a member of one group, but one body made up of who knows how many seeking the heart of God. Daily, a body made up of people you may not know that have gathered together in the unity of purpose and oneness that seek God no matter how terrible what we hear and what we see sounds and appears. No, no, Elijah, being alone in this is not an option!