Acts Progression: Philip and Paul

We’re making our way through Acts, talking about the situations and verses that rise to the top this time. Now we’ve come to my favorite story in the New Testament: Philip and the Ethiopian (Acts 8:26-40). Not surprisingly, I’ve already written a bit about this here on #NotAboutMe.

Philip 1
(c) Carole Sparks

In Things Not Said: Philip, part 1, we spend the whole post in Acts 8:26. Meeting Philip at the height of his career in Samaria, we watch his obedience take him down an unknown road–literally.

Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.  -1 Samuel 15:22

Philip 2
(c) Carole Sparks

Watch God arrange innumerable circumstances so that Philip and the Ethiopian cross paths at the right time. In The Right Place at the Right Time: Philip, part 2, we cover Acts 8:27-29 and rest in the confidence that God is in control.

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.  -Isaiah 55:9

Philip 3
(c) Carole Sparks

Finally! In Intersection: Philip, part 3 we see Philip speak to the Ethiopian guy, climb into his chariot, and share the Gospel. It’s Acts 8:30-40, and the principles for evangelism are clear.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.  -Hebrews 11:6

I’ve also spent some time with Saul-who-became-Paul. Click on one of these links if you’d rather read more about Saul/Paul.

Paul inauspicious beginning
(c) Carole Sparks

Acts skips over it, but Paul spent three years in the wilderness before his ministry was effective. Paul’s Inauspicious Beginning pulls from Acts 9 and Galatians 1 to explore the early days of what became the most fruitful Christian ministry ever. The principles for us are clear.

An early post, “Do Me a Favor?” looks at the way we responded to God’s personal leading in our lives, using Ananias (Acts 9:10-19) as an example. There’s also a bit about my friends asking me for money.

This post, A Martyr Mindset, came up in conversation just this week. Sometimes our greatest personal sacrifice isn’t the path to God’s greatest glory. Sometimes we sneak out of town in a basket (Acts 9:23-25, 2 Corinthians 11:21-29)…or the modern-day equivalent.

A pile of previous, but still pertinent, posts on Philip and Paul as we progress through a pair of chapters in Acts. Both my alliteration and my #BibleStudy are #NotAboutMe.  (click to tweet)

With over six years of blogging now, I’ve covered a lot of territory. Which of these posts looks most interesting to you? I would really appreciate it if you leave me a comment on that post or pop back over here to let me know. 

 

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God Used Paul, but God Used Saul too

Some would say Paul was used by God more than anyone else in the New Testament except Jesus. They are probably right. Paul was a man of deep commitment and fierce intellect. But so was Saul. His personality didn’t change when God changed his name. In fact, God was cultivating that personality in him all along. Continue reading

When Your Ministry Falls Out the Window

Paul only had a week in Troas—not long to share everything God had placed on his heart, to encourage all the leaders, and to meet new people with whom he could share the Gospel. The week passed quickly. On Paul’s last night in the city, the church planned a special service where Paul would speak, and they would all share communion.

Paul didn’t just share a thoughtful devotion.

Acts 20:6-12.

Now I’m from the south, and I’ve heard some long-winded preachers. Very rarely do they truly have that much to say. Did I say “rarely”? In fact, only once, in my experience. Most of the time, they have a good message but lack a good editor. Continue reading

How Much More

A wobbly number line stretched across the classroom board, drawn without the help of a straight edge. Zero was near the center. To the left, the negative numbers. To the right, the positive numbers. You remember it from elementary or middle school, don’t you? For me, it was a green chalkboard and a teacher who was allergic to chalk. “Occupational hazard,” he said. At each end, the line was capped by an arrow just before the edge of the board. The arrow meant we hadn’t really arrived at the end of the line—that it continued into infinity in both directions.

As I read through Romans 5 this week, that number line returned to my mind. Four times in this chapter, Paul says “how much more.” It’s not a question but an exclamation, like when I (frequently) say, “What was I thinking!” or “How could I have forgotten that!”

I dug into the Greek a little. The phrase is pollō mállon (thank you, BibleGateway.com and my Complete Word Study Dictionary). It means simply “much more;” we add the “how” to get the right meaning in English. This word pairing comes up rather often in the New Testament, most notably (I think) in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus said,

If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?  -Matthew 6:30 (emphasis added)

Much more.

With these words, the speaker (Jesus, Paul, etc.) creates a comparison between two concepts. There’s a first thing, which may be positive or negative, but the second thing so far exceeds the first as to make the first thing insignificant.

Like when David said, “My cup overflows” (Psalm 23:5), the image here is abundance, excess, extra to the point of wastefulness.

In the number line of life, we start out in the negative, somewhere to the left of zero. God’s generosity (saving us through Jesus’ death) doesn’t just return us to zero. It goes far beyond, bypassing even that arrow at the edge of the board on the positive side, into infinity or, in our case, an infinite eternity.

Let’s look at Paul’s how much more comparisons in Romans 5.

Since we have now been
justified by his blood,
how much more shall we
be saved from God’s wrath
through him! For if, while
we were God’s enemies, we
were reconciled to him
through the death of his
Son, how much more, having
been reconciled, shall we
be saved through his life!
Not only is this so, but
we also boast in God through
our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have now
received reconciliation.
Romans 5:9-11

How much more are we saved from God’s wrath (v. 9)

Jesus’ blood gives us the right to be in God’s presence (justification), but it’s more than that. Because of Jesus’ death, we don’t have to worry about the final judgment. God will not release his righteous anger on us.

Jesus gave us an excellent example of this. When the prodigal son returned to his father (Luke 15:11-32), the father could have said, “Yes, you’re my son, but you need to be punished.” He didn’t. The younger son not only returned to his status in the family, but he was also saved from his father’s wrath.

How much more are we saved through His life (v. 10)

We’ve also been brought into a healthy relationship with God (reconciliation), but He doesn’t stop there—oh no! Jesus’ continuing life in and through us, both saved us and continues our sanctification (the “shall we be saved” of this verse). We have an on-going, deepening relationship with God through Jesus.

Again, from Jesus’ parable: The prodigal’s father could have said, “I forgive you, now get out of my sight,” but he didn’t. He pursued a renewed relationship with his long-lost son, starting with a big celebration.

Next in Romans 5, Paul introduces the idea of the “one man” Adam and the “one man” Jesus Christ. This section is full of comparisons, but twice he uses our pollō mállon again.

But the gift is not like
the trespass. For if the
many died by the trespass
of the one man, how much
more did God’s grace and
the gift that came by the
grace of the one man, Jesus
Christ, overflow to the
many! Nor can the gift of
God be compared with the
result of one man’s sin:
The judgment followed one
sin and brought condemnation,
but the gift followed many
trespasses and brought
justification. For if, by
the trespass of the one man,
death reigned through that
one man, how much more will
those who receive God’s
abundant provision of grace
and of the gift of
righteousness reign in life
through the one man,
Jesus Christ!
Romans 5:15-17

How much more does grace overflow to many (v. 15)

Before Jesus came, many people died because of sin—Adam’s original sin instilled in them. But many more than that will live eternally because we get grace (our saving factor) through Jesus’ singular death and subsequent resurrection.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.  –Ephesians 2:8

How much more will grace-receivers reign through Christ (v. 17)

Because of Adam’s sin, death reigns in our lives. When we receive God’s grace, He dethrones death and sets us up to reign in this life through Jesus.

How much more is there to say? (I mean this one as a question.)

I hope you can see the type of comparison Paul makes in these four verses. In the first two, he says, “What you know is good, but the reality is so much better!” In the second pair, he says, “If this is bad, the converse is not just good but amazingly good!” Every time, God goes the extra step to make our situation beautiful and remarkable.

Let’s end with a related “immeasurably more” from Paul.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.  –Ephesians 3:20-21

Why does he give us much more? For His glory. We can draw a heavy line all the way across our number lines on the board and off, into infinity.

number line 2
(c) Carole Sparks

God isn’t playing a zero-sum game with our eternity. He gives us “much more” every time. My #more is #NotAboutMe via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Can you think of a good image to help us understand God’s “much more”? My number line is just one example. Have these verses impacted your life in a particular way? In either case, we would love to hear from you in the comments below. Let’s glorify God with a discussion of His Word!

Spiritual Maturity and Sentence Diagrams

If you’re of a certain age, you remember diagramming sentences in elementary/middle school. If you’re a #wordnerd like me, you don’t just remember it, you enjoyed it! Yes, I am that weird kid who diagrammed sentences just for fun.

So when I showed up in New Testament Greek class and my professor started diagramming some of Paul’s sentences in Greek, I was delighted. A couple of them took up the entire board! (We were then using dry erase markers on white board, not the chalkboards of my grade school years. Ah, progress.)

When I come upon a long,
complicated sentence, I fall
back on sentence diagramming.

Paul could write some of the longest sentences. I often get lost in them. But when I do, I fall back to some mental diagramming. (Confession: if it’s extra-difficult, I might draw the diagram in my q.t. journal. Am I alone in this? Probably.) Hopefully, I’m not alone, however, in finding real spiritual truth in a well-diagrammed sentence.

Take this one, for example.

Colossians 1:9b-12.

It’s one sentence in my NIV, and the ESV includes the first half of verse 9 in the same sentence. If not periods, Paul could have at least used some bullet points in this section. I won’t force a sentence diagram upon you now because it might unearth long-buried nightmares, so let’s turn it into a list. We like lists, don’t we? I took a little time to dig out  the key words (watching for prepositions and paying attention to punctuation) then bulleted some questions I asked myself as I studied this.

4 Marks of Spiritual Maturity

One whose life is worthy of God and who pleases God (v. 10) will model these four traits.

  1. Bearing fruit
  • Is my life producing/causing good in the world?
  • Are people learning about Jesus?
  • Are needy people blessed?
  • Is my church better/stronger because of my service there?
  • Do my thoughts and actions honor the Lord?
  1. Growing in knowledge of God
  • Do I know more than I did last year about God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit?
  • Am I more familiar with the Bible now?
  • Do I know how to apply biblical truth to life situations (wisdom)?
  1. Being strengthened to have more endurance and patience
  • Does it take me longer to get angry now?
  • Can I withstand longer/harder trials?
  • Do I seek Him more often than I seek His solution to my problems?
  1. Giving joyful thanks to God
  • Am I perpetually thankful for my salvation?
  • Do I find ways to give thanks regardless of my circumstances? (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
  • Do I see God’s blessings in my life—the good parts and the bad?
  • Is my perspective on life characterized by joy?

2 Notes of Caution

I’m sure you know what I’m about to say, but it’s easy to overlook the bigger picture of God’s Word when we zoom in so tightly.

  1. Doing these things doesn’t qualify us for heaven. God qualifies us through Jesus (v. 12b). Instead, these “marks” are evidence of what God has already done in our lives.
  2. God doesn’t supply this list so we can judge others but to affirm for ourselves that we’re on the right track. This is one of many passages designed to encourage us.

There’s so much more to this set of verses. We could go in ten different directions with all the Truth Paul packs into one long sentence. My goal today was to give you (or remind you of) one tool for dissecting the Scripture. (Oops—I switched from English to Biology.) I don’t know about you, but turning Paul’s long sentences into bullet points (a sneaky half-diagram) helps me understand, remember, and apply the guidance God has given us through Paul.

This is not middle school English, but we can use sentence diagramming to clarify Paul’s super-long sentences. #BibleStudyTools #NotAboutMe via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Do you remember sentence diagramming? Have you used it in your personal Bible study? Any other good suggestions for understanding Paul’s grammar? Or more personally: How have these verses spoken to you? Is there a particular one of my questions the Lord has highlighted for you to ask yourself? Any way you’d like to answer in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!