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  • Pastor Brett

Restore the Authority of the Church

Updated: Aug 28, 2022

Read Acts 16:1-5 in your Bible. I used the NLT to prepare these remarks.

https://www.behance.net/gallery/110813615/Sermon-Illustrations-2022

Jesus is the Head of the Church; He has delegated His authority to His followers to do the work of the ministry.

Leading people can be a frustrating experience. Former President William Jefferson Clinton once said running a country is a lot like running a cemetery; you’ve got a lot of people under you and nobody’s listening. I guess if you’re a Clinton you can get away with saying things like that! And a lot of other stuff – clearly!

We’ve been talking all summer about biblical and spiritual things that need to be restored in our homes and churches if we’re going to have an impact on our communities and country. This week we’ll look at restoring the authority of the Church. By that, I mean the authority of leadership in each church and the authority of the Church in general. The Church has been shoved to the margins of society. We need to exert the authority God has granted us and leave “political correctness” to the idolators who made up their own rules.

This is the start of Paul’s second missionary journey. Timothy was Paul’s replacement for John Mark, the young man who, at a point in Paul’s first missionary journey, deserted Paul. Barnabas, Paul’s mentor and partner, was willing to forgive John Mark’s temporary lack of courage and take him back, but initially Paul did not want to trust him again. Paul and Barnabas parted company over the disagreement (Acts 15:36-41). Though this detail is not included in the NLT, the Greek text tells us Timothy suddenly came to Paul’s attention.

Timothy’s mother being a Jewish believer and his good reputation were points in his favor. The problem was, Timothy was not “Jewish enough” to suit more legalistic Christians and Jews. If Timothy were to assist Paul in his ministry, they would have to address these problems first. The way in which Paul solved this problem sets an example of leadership which we can follow.

1. Paul respected his fellow Jews. (1-3)

Though Timothy had Jewish ancestry, he was not consecrated to it. At this time in history, Jews based their ethnicity on one’s father; you were considered a Jew if your father was Jewish. Starting in the second century, they would reckon a person a Jew if their mother was Jewish.

With Timothy’s father being a GREEK and Timothy not being circumcised, he had two strikes against him. Though Timothy was WELL THOUGHT OF, Paul asked him to be CIRCUMCISED to remove those “strikes” and expand the circle of his acceptance.

There were at least two reasons why this matter was important and had to be dealt with in this way. One, the Jerusalem Council had just decided to include Gentile believers without requiring them to become Jews first. This decision didn’t immediately resolve tensions surrounding ethnicity. No doubt there were some Jewish Christians who refused to accept the decision. Timothy’s inadequate Jewish “credentials” would be an offense to his attendance at synagogue.

Two, Paul’s usual method in a new place was to go to the local synagogue first. He could not bring Timothy into the synagogue unless Timothy became Jewish by means of conversion. One step in the conversion process was circumcision.

Notice the text explains Paul’s reason for taking this rather extreme step: IN DEFERENCE TO THE JEWS OF THE AREA. We don’t read where anyone required this of Timothy or had even been suggested to Paul. This implies Paul took this action on his own initiative, being very respectful. He was a leader who showed respect for people with whom he would have had some theological disagreements.

As a secondary motive, Paul had already experienced hostility at the hands of some Jews in that region (Acts 14:5, 19) and would be understandably eager to avoid repeating that experience. Looking ahead, we read in ACS 21:27-29, that Paul was mobbed by Jews who were incited against him by the false charge that he’d brought a Gentile into the temple. This shows how easily the Jews took offense at Gentiles being in their sacred spaces and justifies Paul’s concern over this very point.

Paul’s actions regarding Timothy’s suitability for synagogue worship is one of many illustrations of the fact that Paul’s approach to keeping the Jewish law was flexible and nuanced. On the one hand, he argued against circumcision if someone taught that it was necessary for salvation (Galatians 2:3-5, 11-14). On the other hand, he was guided by the goal of having maximum effectiveness in preaching the Gospel (1 Corinthians 9:19-20). Paul continued to practice the applicable parts of the Jewish faith and encouraged other Christians to do the same (Acts 18:18; 20:16; 21:23-26; Romans 14:1-15:13; 1 Corinthians 7:18; 2 Corinthians 11:21; Galatians 5:6; 6:15).

II. He taught his fellow believers to respect the leaders of the Church. (4-5)

Timothy became part of Paul’s ministry, joining him in his travels. Paul arranged for Timothy’s circumcision to make him more useful in ministry to the Jews. This was a decision born of practicality than theology. (We should also give Timothy props for what he gave up to make it happen!) Here again we find Paul going above and beyond to be a leader who set an example of consideration and obedience. With Timothy thus made more suitable for Jewish Christians and unconverted Jews, Paul and his entourage went FROM TOWN TO TOWN.

Paul taught the believers to obey the decisions of the Jerusalem Council (15:19-21, 28-29). What’s interesting in Timothy’s case was the council’s decision did not require circumcision. His mission at this point was not to start new churches, but to inform the believers of the Council’s decision and urge them to obey the commands set forth in the decision.

The NLT uses the word INSTRUCTING, but the Greek goes a little further than that. The literal translation is “handing over” the decree. We might call it “handing down” the decree. The council’s decision were commands to be followed; they were not mere suggestions. Paul respected the leadership in Jerusalem so much that he went around to the churches he’d founded and instructed them to obey. In this too, they were to follow his example.

The result was positive. Luke lists a couple of the benefits the churches received as a result of obeying the council’s decisions, showing proper deference to the authority of the Jerusalem Council. First, the church members were strengthened in their FAITH. This is a validation of the council’s decision. If they had commanded things contrary to Scripture, the faith of the believers would have been weakened, not strengthened.

Second, they experienced numerical growth which, in Acts, is a sign of God’s blessing. It is also a validation of the sincerity of the faith of the church members.

We should not conclude our study of this passage without giving the First Church credit for being a diverse, multicultural organization. It took some doing (especially for Timothy), but they achieved a unity of Jewish and Greek cultures that were opposites on most points. In our time, politicians and idealogues talk a lot about diversity without achieving it. The First Church knew diversity and unity because they were equipped by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is the Head of the Church; He has delegated His authority to His followers to do the work of the ministry.

So often we think of leadership as an exercise of the will. We think of leaders as people who make things happen, who have determination and mental fortitude to overcome all resistance and make their vision happen.

This is not Jesus’ idea of leadership. He taught that the person who would be leader must first be servant of all (Mark 10:42-44).

This means that a Jesus-type leader will not compromise on the things that are essential but will be considerate of others and place them before himself. Paul set an example of this kind of leadership when he anticipated the objections the Jews would have to Timothy and arranged for Timothy’s circumcision to make him more acceptable to them. No one required Paul to do this, but he took initiative to act considerately toward his weaker brothers, thus practicing what he preached in 1 Corinthians 10:23-24. Such leaders are easier to follow and therefore more likely to be effective in growing churches, both numerically and spiritually.

RESOURCES:

Clinton quote obtained from https://legacee.com/types-of-leadership-styles/leadership-jokes on 19 august 2022.

The Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol. 12, Acts, William J. Larkin.

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