Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Sermon - Bearing Fruit For God - Kinds of Bibilical Fruit

The past couple of posts have been looking at fruit and fruitfulness.

Jesus comes looking for and expecting to find fruit and a lack of fruitfulness has consequences—that’s what we learned from Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree.

You can see in John 15 that God desires to see us produce abundant fruit that will last and how He prunes or lifts up branches to help them produce more fruit than they already are.

We are called to Bear Fruit For God

Romans 7:4 Therefore, my brothers, you also were put to death in relation to the law through the crucified body of the Messiah , so that you may belong to another—to Him who was raised from the dead —that we may bear fruit for God. 5 For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions operated through the law in every part of us and bore fruit for death.”

Just as there are two Kingdoms battling over the souls of every human being in this world, there are two kinds of fruit we can produce as humans—Fruit for God and Fruit for Death—the kind of death Adam & Eve experienced back in Genesis 3—so to this day, people all over the world, including us here in this church are repeating what they did and bearing fruit for death.

For those apart from Christ, that’s the only option.  But in Christ, we can actually bear fruit for God—for His Glory.

So what does fruit for God look like?  Are we talking Apples, Oranges and Pineapples?

The First Fruit
Those of you who plant gardens know that even if you plant a variety of plants on the same day, some will produce fruit and be ready for harvest before any others.  There’s one like that when it comes to Fruit for God—it bears fruit before anything else—the Fruit of Repentance

John the Baptist first mentioned this when He was speaking to the Pharisees, questioning their motives for coming to him.  He said in
Matthew 3:8—“Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance.”
10b Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit [fruit for God] will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

Without this first fruit, the only destination is being thrown into the fire.  Repentance must be harvested before anything else—that is talking about Salvation.  The second fruit then becomes possible.

We know from John 4 that God is seeking worshippers who will worship Him in Spirit & Truth.  God is actively looking for and desires worshipers.  True Worship is the second fruit.

Hebrews 13:15— “Therefore, through Him let us continually offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of our lips that confess His name.”
Because of all that Jesus did on our behalf, purchasing our freedom, we offer up praises to God.  Confessing His Name, speaking His name, singing His name, testifying to His Name—even when it’s not easy, even when it costs us. 

We Worship God for Who He is and what He has done Romans 12—offer yourselves as living sacrifices.  This is essential to a healthy harvest in the Kingdom of God.

The Third Fruit – Sanctification

Out of our repentance & worship comes a true life change—where we are made more and more like Him, conformed to the image of His Son.  To be made holy is to be Sanctified—which is the third fruit.
Romans 6:22—“But now, since you have been liberated from sin and have become enslaved to God, you have your fruit, which results in sanctification —and the end is eternal life!”

We have been set free—delivered from bondage to sin—and set free to be a voluntary slave of God—He makes us holy—the fruit is Sanctification—being more and more like Him—having that corrupted image restored and brought back to life.

You can infer what kind of people Adam and Eve were and who we are to be again in Galatians 5:22—“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, 23 gentleness, self-control.”

I’d guess the first fruit of the Spirit they ignored was Self-Control.

To be Sanctified means to be Set Apart—God sets us apart for a Purpose—to Serve Him and participate in His mission.

The Fourth Fruit—Service & Mission

We have a purpose and something to do—that’s why He keeps us here.  As long as we are here, we have more to do, more opportunities to be watching out for in order to fulfill our mission.  Paul understood this—as long as He was alive, He was to live for Service & Mission.

Philippians 1:21-22—“For me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22 Now if I live on in the flesh, this means fruitful work for me; and I don’t know which one I should choose.”
Paul prays for his readers

Colossians 1:10—“so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God.

God doesn’t just want us to be working and laboring—spinning our wheels until we die—He desires us to be fruitful in our Service and Mission.

And in order to be more and more fruitful, we must continually Grow as a Disciple—

The Fifth Fruit--Discipleship

James 3:17-18—“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without favoritism and hypocrisy. 18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace.”

Wisdom is more than just knowledge—it starts with the fear of the LORD and walking with Him.  It is what you know of God that translates into how you live and make decisions. 

This wisdom changes how you pray, what you pray for, how you prioritize your life, how you know your Bible.  You become someone who loves Peace—peace with God and with each other—loving God and loving your neighbor.

As you grow, you become full of good fruit.

And Discern Good from Evil

Discernment – by their fruit you will know them

Ephesians 5:8-11—“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light— 9 for the fruit of the light results in all goodness, righteousness, and truth— 10 discerning what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Don’t participate in the fruitless works of darkness, but instead expose them.”

As you grow in wisdom with the Lord, discerning good and evil as a Disciple then you will begin to produce more and more of

The Sixth Fruit--Evangelism 

Making new disciples and participating in the harvest

John 4:35-37—“Don’t you say, ‘There are still four more months, then comes the harvest’? Listen to what I’m telling you: Open your eyes and look at the fields, for they are ready for harvest. 36 The reaper is already receiving pay and gathering fruit for eternal life, so the sower and reaper can rejoice together. 37 For in this case the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’”

We sow and reap as disciples—we are to bear good fruit—fruit like ourselves—Disciples make more disciples.   

The Great Commission is—Go and make disciples of all nations—it’s not just a conversation in sharing who Jesus is or asking a question—this fruit is a whole life of influence.—the Vineyard owner oversees it all.  If we would just open our eyes and look around—at our community, we would see there is a great harvest.

This is what it means to be producing Fruit For God.  And God desires us to be effective and fruitful in our lives.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Sermon - Fruit from the True Vine - John 15

Lots of people love fishing and eating fish.  But from what people have told me around here, if someone caught it around here, you’d better ask where it came from.  There’s a great debate whether fish caught out of the Pigeon River is good to eat given the history of pollution. 

When it comes to fish—you’d better ask about its source.  The same is being said about fish and seafood caught in the northern Pacific Ocean after the Fukishima Radiation leak out of Japan.  More and more of that radiation poisoning is showing up in tests. 

The same can be said for fruits and vegetables.  I prefer to buy fruits and vegetables from the USA because I know we have a few more standards for pesticides and cleaning. 

When we talk about fruit, we’ve got to talk about the source.  Because the source of our fruitfulness makes all the difference. 

To see that source, we need to look at John 15.

As we begin John 15 we need to look at the context.  The last line of ch. 14 says “Come now, let us leave.”

They are leaving the upper room where they celebrated the Passover Meal, what we know as the Last Supper.  He’s talking to a group of Jews who have grown up hearing how they are born into the Promise, born into the covenant because they are Abraham’s descendants.

Jesus is headed toward the Garden of Gethsemane where He knows that Judas is betraying Him. He knows His arrest is coming, His beating and crucifixion.  He knows that many of these men with Him will desert Him.  He knows it all. 

This begins one of the longest sequences of Jesus speaking and teaching.  And the first thing He begins to talk about is how He is the Vine and we are the branches.  How in Him we are supposed to produce fruit.  Notice how many times this comes up in just 17 verses.

John 15:1-17

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last”

The word “fruit” appears 9 times in these verses.  Sometimes Jesus is comparing someone who bears no fruit with someone who does.  Other times, Jesus is describing the source of our fruitfulness and the desire of God.

Look at how Jesus describes Himself.  Jesus is the True Vine—He is the source from which all fruit comes.  Every branch, Jew & Gentile, Church or individual must be connected to Jesus.  From Him we draw our support, from Him we draw our nourishment and everything we need to produce fruit.

Many other teachers, religious figures claim to be a source for truth but only Jesus is the True Vine.  Jesus says that we can bear no fruit—no fruit that has eternal value, no fruit that lasts apart from Him.  Apart from Him we can do nothing—nothing of significance, nothing of real importance.

Look at how Jesus describes God the Father.  He is the Gardener.  This is the same role the Father plays in the opening chapters of Genesis when He plants a garden as a place for Adam & Eve to live.  He cultivates it and decides what fruit is to be grown.  And the most important harvest, fruit that He wants to grow is you and me—those who are created in His image!  Above all else, God desires us to be fruitful and multiply—multiply those who love, honor, obey and worship Him.

The Gardener has a very watchful eye—He closely inspects every branch to gauge its fruitfulness.  And if a branch is not fruitful, He does something to it. 

Many of you read this passage and wonder if it is talking about someone losing their salvation.  I would say no.

Most of your translations say “takes away”, “remove” or “cuts off”.  But those imply something that doesn’t happen till later.  The literal translation of this word is a form of “to lift” – “He lifts up”.  Now it could be for removal, but any of you who have ever grown tomatoes should know that lifting of the vine, lifting of the branches is extremely important if you want to grow tomatoes.  What happens if you don’t lift up the tomato plant?  It gets buried in the dirt, the fruit rots and won’t produce.  You lift it up out of the dirt, out of the filth of the world, that way it drinks in the light, the dirt washes off, and the unfruitful plant will begin to produce fruit. 

All this time, this branch has continued to be “In Me”—like last week when the owner of the vineyard comes and inspects His tree—He gave plenty of time for fruitfulness—then additional time—another year, digging around it and giving extra fertilizer.  That’s what’s happening here.  He is lifting up the branch—giving another opportunity to bear fruit.

But this opportunity doesn’t last forever.

I believe Jesus is talking to these Jewish men and dealing with an issue that is still a very common attitude today.

Many Jews thought they were guaranteed a safe and secure afterlife solely on the grounds that they were born Jews, born Abraham’s descendants because they had the Torah or sacrificed at the Temple. 

Many of our friends & neighbors make a similar mistake, that just because you or they were born in America, born to Christian parents or raised in church that they are set. 

Romans 9:6-8—“It is not as though God's word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.  Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham's children. On the contrary, "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring.”

In other words, who your parents are don’t guarantee your salvation, how much money you give doesn’t guarantee salvation, how many times you go to church doesn’t guarantee salvation. 

If you do have the privilege of being born to Christian parents, you have freedom to call on God, you have access to the Scriptures—essentially all the advantages to Knowing God—but you never make a decision on your own, never come to a saving faith—you are choosing not to draw any nourishment from the vine and thus not growing any fruit—you are choosing, despite all your advantages “not remain[ing] in [HIM]”—vs. 6—such a branch is thrown away—it begins to wither and dry up and is thrown into the fire to be burned.

The Gardener does everything He can to make you fruitful.

You’re like one of these branches out here on some of these trees—in the spring, you can tell which ones are dead and rotting because they don’t grow any leaves on them.  I’ve seen half the tree with leaves and flowers and the other half with nothing.

Jesus says in 15:8—that we show ourselves to be true disciples when we produce fruit.  So the opposite principle would say that if we are not producing fruit, we are not true disciples. 

Someone who has rejected Jesus cannot be producing fruit for Jesus—they are withering away and dying—life is being sucked out of them.  Fruitlessness shows that someone is cut off from the source—because if you were truly connected, you would be producing fruit.

Branches that do not remain in the True Vine—connected to the Source… those get cut off.  Without the first fruit of Salvation—all the advantages are wasted.  But there is always hope.

Even for the Jews who so long ago rejected Jesus--

Romans 11:23—“And even they, if they do not remain in unbelief, will be grafted in, because God has the power to graft them in again.”

But notice that if you are producing some fruit—that doesn’t mean God leaves you alone or ignores you.  He’s not looking for branches that produce the bare minimum—he’s not looking for grades like a D or a C.  He’s not interested in average.

God is not content to let any branch be just a little fruitful—he prunes it, He pays MORE attention to it so it will become even more fruitful. 

And so He Prunes us.  Pruning is not always a pleasant process—sometimes things need to be removed, other times they need to be shaped and moved to a new location, or so it will grow in a new direction.  The branch doesn’t ask for that treatment, probably doesn’t like that treatment, and cannot typically see or appreciate or understand the results—the goal of being more fruitful.

But the Gardener does—He knows exactly what it takes for us to be more fruitful and He will do whatever it takes in our lives to make us so.  He will nourish us from the True Vine.

God desires you and I to be fruitful, because that confirms that we are His disciples and it brings Him greater glory.  There is not supposed to be coasting, a retirement or resting on past achievements—God is always seeking for us to be producing more fruit, not less. 

That is His desire from us—and I hope it is yours.  I hope that is your desire for this church!  that is what the nourishment from the True Vine is for—so that we will produce, not just a little, not just some, but much fruit—abundant fruit—a harvest 100 times what was sown in us.

Fruit that has lasting, eternal value—fruit that has affects generations into the future.  The fruit that lasts is the fruit that likewise remains in Him.

So the question is, how is God pruning you to make you more fruitful?  What is He cutting away that is hindering your fruitfulness?  How is our Gardener shaping the way you grow, moving you into a new location?

The good news is that He wants you to be Fruitful—He wants to see you and I, and this church Produce much fruit—lasting fruit—fruit that remains in Him for generations.

And He wants you and I to abide, to remain, to stay in Him.  He wants you and I close and drawing our nourishment from the True Vine—does that describe you?

Ask for His pruning to make you more fruitful.

You may be hearing this realizing that you have not remained in Him and you feel your spirit withering away and you’re in danger of being thrown into the fire of hell.  That is not God’s heart for you.  Don’t cut yourself off from Him.  Today, right now you can be grafted into the True Vine through the fruit of repentance.

Monday, February 03, 2014

The Importance of Bearing Fruit - Jesus & the Fig Tree - Matthew 21:18-19

In the coming months, many farmers will be thinking about the coming harvest.  Yes, they are already thinking about the harvest.  Thinking about the harvest tells them what they need to plant.  After all, if they want to reap corn, they won’t be planting clover.  And thinking about the harvest tells them how and when to prepare the soil, when to plant the seed and how to take care of it.  They’ll be thinking of the kind of weather they need, when the rain needs to fall, how much rain is too little or too much.

In everything he does to get ready, the farmer is thinking about the harvest and what he hopes to get from his efforts.  No farmer would plant any seed without the intention of getting a harvest.  No farmer wants their crop to fail.  No farmer is content with doing all that work and not getting any fruit from their efforts.

For a farmer to get to the time of harvest, but have no fruit for his efforts is tragic.  He would consider it a waste.  He certainly would not be comfortable with that situation.  He would not be content nor would he accept it.

He would try to figure out what went wrong.  Why did he have no fruit from his crop?  What does he need to do differently next season?  Did he use the wrong fertilizer, the wrong pesticide?  Was a rival farmer poisoning his field?  Should he plant something else or the same thing?

Something has to be done differently because another season of fruitlessness will bring ruin.  This farmer would never be content or comfortable with a season full of work but no fruit, no harvest to show for it.

But too many of us in the church are comfortable.  Too many Christians are OK with fruitlessness.  Your life is like the season for the farmer.  You and I must be looking toward the harvest and the fruit of our labors.

Because there is Danger of Fruitlessness.

There is an unusual moment in the life of Jesus when He is leading His disciples into Jerusalem.  As they walk, Jesus sees a Fig tree in leaf and He goes over looking for some figs but there are none

Matthew 21:18-19—“18 Early in the morning, as He was returning to the city, He was hungry. 19 Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He went up to it and found nothing on it except leaves. And He said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” At once the fig tree withered.

This tree had all the signs of life—it had plenty of leaves, but no fruit. Apparently there were no early indicators of fruit, no flowers, no buds or anything.  It wasn’t as if all of this tree’s fruit had already been harvested by someone else because Jesus found “nothing but leaves.”  This tree was just consuming resources but producing nothing in return.

Notice two things about this Scripture.  First,

1.    Jesus Searches for Fruit

You and I, as well as our church are just like that tree.  And from time to time, Jesus will come and inspect our fruitfulness.  The question is what is He going to find when He examines my tree, your tree, the tree that is this church?

What kind of fruit are we producing?  If we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that we don’t like being inspected and evaluated.  But we have to understand that Jesus has every right to inspect us and examine our fruit.

Jesus tells a parable about the owner of vineyard

Luke 13:6-9—“6 And He told this parable: “A man had a fig tree that was planted in his vineyard. He came looking for fruit on it and found none.”

Notice that the owner came looking for fruit expecting to find some.  The owner had shown the interest, taken the initiative and invested in planting a vineyard and in this vineyard, he had planted a fig tree.

That’s how Jesus is with us.  He comes and searches our lives.  Much like He inspects the churches in the early chapters of Revelation and walks among the seven golden lampstands.

2.   Jesus Wants & Expects to Find Fruit

7 He told the vineyard worker, ‘Listen, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it even waste the soil?’ 8 “But he replied to him, ‘Sir, leave it this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. 9 Perhaps it will bear fruit next year, but if not, you can cut it down.’”

The owner of the vineyard gives ample time for the vineyard to produce fruit.  He even gives additional time and extra effort—digging around and fertilizing.

Jesus is just like the owner in this parable—you and I are the vineyard, this church is the fig tree.  And He wants to find fruit.  He expects to find fruit in us.

Fruit is the natural produce of a living and growing tree.  But there’s more.

3.   Lack of fruit brings judgment

The owner called for the tree to be cut down.  When Jesus saw the fig tree on the side of the road in full leaf but no fruit, He cursed it and the opportunity to produce fruit was lost.  Jesus said, “May no fruit ever come from you again.”

Jesus curses it even though it was not the season for figs.  But a tree like this with no fruit is not normal or natural.  If it has all the signs of life, then fruit is a part of that life.  Can a fig tree that never produces figs really be called a fig tree?  In the same way, can a Christian who never produces any fruit, any other Christians, really be called a Christian? 

A Christian by definition is going to be someone who seeks to bear fruit not just in their own lives but also in the lives of others.  We do this through sharing the love of God and our testimony through evangelism and by growing disciples through teaching the Word of God.

No believer can be pleasing to God if they have all the signs of life: faith in God, knowledge of the Word of God, etc., but has no fruit.  We are given new life, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be His witnesses and produce fruit.  When we are not, something is wrong in our walk with Christ.

Back in 2012, I lived in western Kentucky.  That year, the region experienced a bad drought that ruined the corn crop.  I remember going to a church’s corn maze and seeing the stalks, leaves and husks in that field.  It was all so thin that you could easily see the other paths that were supposed to be hidden by lush and healthy corn.  Before we left, I picked some of the corn and pulled back the husk.  It was truly sad.  There were so few kernels on that corn.  Most never developed.  The few that did were small and immature.

We see this corn and know that it is wrong.  It is wrong for it to be unfruitful.  It shouldn’t look like this.  It represents loss, wasted seed, wasted time, wasted season. 

And that is so not what God wants for us—Fruitlessness is not the heart of God for us nor is it the sign of a disciple of Jesus. 

John 15:8—“My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be My disciples.”

So God desires that we produce fruit—not just a little but much fruit.  And that fruit is the proof that we belong to Him.

We’ll be getting into that in the weeks to come.

The good news is that not only does God desire fruit in us, He provides all that we need, the power to be fruitful for Him.

Even more, no matter how long it’s been since we have think we have borne fruit for His Kingdom, Jesus continues to reach out to us—continues to give us opportunity to be fruitful—He will fertilize us all with the hopes of seeing us be who He has called us to be—bearing Much Fruit for His Glory.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Good & Just Laws Increase Freedom

So many in our culture, even most of us while we were younger, might rail against the rules and question why you should be required to follow them.  We see laws, curfews, bed times as unreasonable restrictions on our freedom, but there are areas in life where we accept them without question.  Here is one.

Imagine that tomorrow, our government, coupled with the school’s driver’s training program decided that all of the traffic laws were too restrictive, or archaic, and besides the kids are going to break those laws anyway—laws like speeding or the driving on the wrong side of the road, or running a red light or stop sign.

So based on that conclusion, now youth will be taught simple things like just how to start the car, the basics of how to drive, how to navigate the roads without the old rules, how they can best avoid accidents (though none of their techniques are foolproof) and then how to make sure insurance pays for everything so you can buy new cars whenever you need to. 

The hope is that eventually the rules of the road will disappear and everyone will be free to drive however they want.

So imagine driving in a city where everyone ignored the lines on the road, no one stopped at stop signs or Red lights, where people drive on whichever side of the road they want to, turn left when they want to, where there is nothing to regulate or direct traffic. 

Are you more or less free?  Are you more or less afraid?  You’re less free—huge risk every time you drive—more fearful and less likely to drive at all.

Is that the kind of place you would want to drive in?  Just trying to drive in a world with no rules seems like suicide doesn’t it?

Can you imagine a government or a school system promoting this?  Would this be a better driving situation?  Would society be safer, would commerce and business work better?  Would you be more free?

All of the rules of the road actually make driving safer, more productive, less expensive, and ultimately more enjoyable.  You are MORE FREE because of the rules. 
Do you agree? 

Monday, October 07, 2013

Sabbath Sermons - Parts 1 & 2

At Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, I've been going through the 10 Commandments describing them as the 10 Commandments of Freedom.

Probably one of the most difficult in the series, given how the Christian church has dealt with it, is the subject of the Sabbath.  

There's a lot of confusion on the subject so I thought I would post the messages here.  The audio on the church video wasn't right so I had to re-record them later.  Here you go.
Here's Part 1 - 

Here's Part 2

Monday, September 02, 2013

The Apostle Paul - Why should we listen to him?

I ask this question because some people do not like Paul.

Do any kind of research on contemporary issues and the Bible and you will find heavy criticism of Paul.  Detractors will say he is the true founder of what we know as Christianity.  They will charge that Paul significantly deviates from Jesus’ teaching, that he is too opinionated and blind to his cultural biases on issues of women and sexuality.  Those with these perspectives argue that Paul is not a reliable source of truth.

In essence, such detractors create separate classes or levels of Scripture.  For them, there are the words of Jesus in the Gospels, there are the other writers of Scripture like John and Peter, then lastly and most questionable are Paul’s writings.

I would say in the majority of cases, these detractors have a misunderstanding of Paul and his positions and/or have their own agenda and issues for which Paul’s writings frequently frustrate so they have to find ways to dismiss them.  But while such criticisms may be modern opinions, they are by no means reason to discredit him.

I believe it is important to look at how Jesus and the Apostles viewed Paul and his ministry.  Early on, the Church was unsure of Paul as well.

Paul relates his background several times in his letters and his story is told in Acts.  In Acts 22:3-5 Paul relates his training and persecution of the church; persecution which resulted in people being thrown in prison or killed, like Stephen. 

Then Jesus directly confronted Paul on the road to Damascus.  Listen to Jesus’ words as he describes His call on Paul’s life.

Acts 9:15—“This man is my chosen instrument to carry My Name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.  I will show him how much he must suffer for My Name.”

Acts 26:16—“I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of Me and what I will show you.  I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles.  I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.”

These are serious commendations of what Jesus was going to do through Paul.  Jesus’ words do not mean Paul was perfect, but it does mean he too is appointed as a representative of Jesus with a unique calling and apostleship. 

He had God’s approval.  This holy God continued to do “extraordinary miracles through Paul” – Acts 19:11.  This would be a strange thing to do if Paul was so unreliable or was fundamentally transforming the faith into something Jesus never intended.

The Holy Spirit spoke to the Church in Antioch and told them to “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” – Acts 13:2

Even the demons knew who Paul was; they knew that he was a powerful representative of God’s Kingdom.  While others were trying to invoke the Name of Jesus against a demon without really knowing Him, the demon responded, “Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” – Acts 19:15.

The early Church, while initially nervous about Paul because of his past behavior, eventually accepted him.  In Acts 15 when there was a dispute about salvation of Gentiles and whether circumcision was to be mandatory, Paul and Barnabbas went to Jerusalem, “they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.” – Acts 15:4.  Later at that meeting Paul related all the “miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.” – 15:12.  In the end, the leadership at Jerusalem sided with Paul’s position and wrote a letter to the churches calling him, “dear friends.” – 15:25.

Galatians relates Paul’s own memory of meeting the Apostles after his conversion and during those events surrounding the debate about circumcision:

Galatians 1:18—“Then after three years [from his conversion], I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days.  I saw none of the other apostles, only James, the Lord’s brother….
Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas [for the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15]
vs. 7—“they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews.  For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. [notice Paul is not only equating his ministry with Peter’s but so are the other Apostles] 
vs. 9— “James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars gave me and Barnabas the fight hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me.  They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews.”

So Paul and his ministry was accepted and validated by other Apostles and the early church.  Apparently Paul was so accepted as an equal, even to Peter, that he was confident enough to rebuke Peter publically in Galatians 2:11-21:

“When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.
14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?
15 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in[d] Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.
17 “But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker.
19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

This is not a pleasant conversation.  It is confrontational, it is stinging.  And it was directed to Peter, one of the most prominent and respected disciples of Jesus.  By all indication, Peter received this rebuke, repented and realized his error.

What’s more, this incident did not seem to lower Peter’s opinion of Paul or his writings.  Look at these endorsing words from 2 Peter 3:15:

“Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom God gave him.  He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters.  His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”

Peter recognizes that God has given Paul wisdom and that wisdom is applied in the letters he has written.  Peter acknowledges that some of the things Paul talks about are challenging and that false teachers, the ignorant or unstable are able to distort what Paul says.  Then, most importantly, Peter says these people distort Paul’s letters, “as they do the other Scriptures.”  So in Peter’s mind, what Paul had written in his letters is equivalent to his own writings, the other Apostles, and the established Jewish Scriptures, which we now call the Old Testament.

 So Paul’s writings are worth studying because Jesus, the Apostles and the early Church all voiced their acceptance of him and his ministry.  You may not like Paul, you may not like or agree with what he wrote but that doesn't change the fact that the he didn't just make stuff up, he was led and inspired by the Holy Spirit. 

Next up will be a brief discussion of the nature of Inspiration.