CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Christians Getting Into Trouble

Nov 26, 2015

One cannot read the gospel accounts without noticing one very clear thing: wherever Jesus went, and whatever Jesus said and did, he brought division, he caused offense, and he created trouble – heaps of it. He always managed to get a reaction.

He of course did not go out of his way looking for trouble, but the very nature of the message he proclaimed, and the very nature of his listeners meant that conflict, controversy and heated responses were sure to be the result. And what was true of Jesus was true of the early disciples.

One cannot read the book of Acts without also noticing this to be the case – constantly, repeatedly, and invariably. Everywhere the disciples went they stirred up trouble and caused great controversy. Just about every single one of the 28 chapters of this book contains accounts of the early believers causing upheaval, provoking controversy, and eliciting very strong responses.

Like Jesus, they divided the crowds, caused great commotion, and angered many. To them this was just the normal stuff of being a follower of Jesus. And like Jesus, they certainly did not go around looking for trouble. Like Jesus they were gracious and amiable, but like Jesus, plenty of people were outraged by the message proclaimed.

Indeed, if I were simply to offer every text which highlights this divisive and troublesome ministry of the disciples, I would already fill a 1200-word article. So I can only be selective here, and make mention of just some of the episodes found in the book of Acts.

Paul riot JerusalemIn the very first public appearance of the disciples, division and mixed reactions were fully on display. As we read in Acts 2:12-13: “Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’ Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine’.”

And things continue this way throughout the entire book. Of course often it was the religious leadership that especially got bent out of shape over what the disciples said and did. In Acts 4:1-4 for example we find this:

The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand.

And in Acts 5:17 we see that “the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy.” Just two chapters later we read about some more wild reactions: “When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him” (Acts 7:54).

Things got so hot and heavy that in Acts 9 we read about a conspiracy among the Jews to kill Paul. And it was not uncommon for riots to break out when the disciples came to a city to preach Christ and him crucified. In Acts 14:1-5 we read about what a divisive ministry the early disciples were involved in:

At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed. But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the other Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders. The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. There was a plot afoot among both Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them.

In Acts 16:39 we discover how the Philippian leaders actually asked Paul and Silas to get out of town because of all the controversy they were creating. And in Acts 17:4-6 we see what riotous results followed on from the ministry of Paul and Silas:

Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women. But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here”.

Differing versions render that last sentence in various ways, eg., the disciples “turned the world upside down” (KJV); or, they “caused trouble everywhere” (GNB). This has been my message all along: wherever they went, they caused trouble! Not deliberately or maliciously, but that was always the outcome of their ministry.

In fact, just a few verses later we read about more mayhem and mania as a result of their preaching and teaching: “When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil” (Acts 17:8). Consider Acts 19 and the riot in Ephesus. Verse 23 says this: “About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way.”

Soon things really got out of control: “When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and all of them rushed into the theatre together” (Acts 19:28-29).

Just the routine reaction to on-fire disciples preaching the gospel of Christ. The same thing happened in Jerusalem (Acts 21:30-31): “The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut. While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar.”

In Acts 22:22-24 we find more lively reactions to Paul and his preaching: “The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, ‘Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!’ As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, the commander ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks.”

And the uproar keeps on going on:

When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees believe all these things.) There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. “We find nothing wrong with this man,” they said. “What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks (Acts 23:7-10).

As if all that were not enough, in verses 12-22 in the same chapter we read about a plot to kill Paul, in which over 40 men “formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul”. Wow, now that is some reaction!

In Paul’s trial before Felix a lawyer named Tertullus said this of Paul the rabblerouser: “We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world” (Acts 24:5). And when Paul testified before Festus we find him interrupting Paul: “You are out of your mind, Paul! Your great learning is driving you insane” (Acts 26:24).

So why mention all this? Simple: Such was the ordinary course of events in the lives of the first disciples. This was no quiet life. This was no “your best life now”. This was no picnic. This was all out spiritual warfare which always produced very real reactions wherever they went.

This was – and is – the normal Christian life. Whenever true disciples of Jesus Christ proclaim the true gospel, there will always be a reaction. There will always be controversy. There will always be division. It will seem like making trouble is part and parcel of the gospel witness.

As mentioned, I am not suggesting we go out of our way to cause trouble. Quite the opposite: we are to respectfully and lovingly share biblical truth. But no matter how irenic and diplomatic we might be, it is simply inevitable that the Word of God proclaimed by the power of the Holy Ghost will cause massive reactions – some good and some bad.

Moral of the story: if in your daily Christian life you are provoking no one, angering no one, upsetting no one, offending no one, then you might have to ask yourself if you are really living a biblical Christian life, or are just going along with the crowd.

If all we want is a life of ease, of comfort, of relaxation, we can have it – but we will then not be true followers of Christ. Tragically so many folks who claim to be Christians just want to be happy and wealthy and well-liked. But that is not the way of the true believer.

As Leonard Ravenhill once said: “You see, what people are seeking today is a painless Pentecost. There isn’t such a thing. What happened immediately after Pentecost? They prospered? Yes? No! They went to jail! It wasn’t prosperity; it was prison, pain, privation, and persecution.”

The choice is ours: will we follow in the footsteps of Jesus and the disciples, or will we allow today’s carnal and compromised preachers to tell us to just live the good life? I know which road I prefer. Do you?

[1697 words]

16 Responses to Christians Getting Into Trouble

  • Good post, Bill and very true..

  • People today don’t want to hear the Word of God because it pricks their conscience. It has a knack of driving deep and they are scared of it. Many years ago I used to read my bible quietly during the lunchbreak at work; once discovered, I was treated like a leper. Nothing has changed much since Paul’s time; people still go on the defence if you mention anything about God, morals or church activity. Riots are the result of people fearing the truth in God’s Word.

  • Thanks for this article Bill. I read in Lk this Wednesday “Keep this carefully in mind: you are not to prepare your defense, because … Lk 21: 12ff”. The comments by the Lord following this are comforting if just for the fact the we Christians will not be saddled with legal fees; presuming that Jesus meant what he said to be taken literally. If it was not meant to be taken literally then what does it mean? Unless otherwise advised to my satisfaction, I take the words of the Rabbi literally.

  • Yes I agree with you Chris Dark but why do people fear the truth of God’s Word? Perhaps these people operate out of a different agenda; who fears God’s word? God’s word is the truth. I believe that the father of lies fears the truth.

  • Whilst I thank you for this article Bill, I have to say that it is not easy having to face the prospect of getting into trouble. One can spend many sleepless hours tormented by the devil and his angels. Who knows what the outcome will be. The Church and the state are inseparable it seems; and that is the great tragedy. To whom shall we turn. As the Psalmist says: :Keep me safe O Lord, You are my hope.:

  • As B T Walters points out above, Luke 21:12ff is most pertinent to the matter of getting into trouble for Christ’s sake. Indeed “witnessing” is a forensic term in this passage – disciples are to expect to witness for the Master as defendants facing trial: This will be a time for you to serve as witnesses. Therefore be resolved not to rehearse ahead of time how to make your defense. For I will give you the words along with the wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. Luke 21:33-38 [NET].

    In John 15:18 – 16:11, the disciples are plainly told to expect the hatred of the world which was about to crucify their Lord.

    The Holy Spirit is not only the Helper/Advocate/Comforter for believers. He is also Heaven’s prosecuting attorney against the world, convicting the world in matters of sin, righteousness and judgement.

    In an increasingly hostile culture, not only are the disciples of Christ on trial – the world itself is under an indictment from Heaven brought by the Holy Spirit Himself!

  • On the 3rd of November 2015,on BBC Three Counties Radio, Mr Iain Lee was interviewing Barry Trayhorn., a UK prison chaplain, who was forced to resign from his post, May 2014, for preaching from the Word of God in a chapel service in a prison.He was quoting from Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians, chapter 6.11ff:

    “….do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”[1].

    During the interview Mr Lee demonstrated a shocking level of bigotry, boorishness, ignorance and lack of respect towards Mr Trayhorn. It has to be heard to be believed [2]! Indeed Mr Lee would not be out of place working for French magazine, Charlie Hebdo. In a second interview, Mr Trayhor’s legal defence, Mrs Libby Powell received the same treatment [3]!

    These are not an isolated incidents but are increasingly symptomatic of the BBC, who, in order to reflect a post secular Britain, have a systemic hatred of Christian values and morality.

    The root problem of the BBC is that it has indeed become a temple of idolatry and multiculturalism. During the programme aired on November 3rd, Iain Lee whose itching ears are open to all manner of wickedness, invited Alan Wilson, the Bishop of Buckingham on to the programme to give his view of the case.
    Unlike his treatment of Barry Trayhorn. whom he had repeatedly interrupted and shouted down with his own bigotry, Mr Lee gave the bishop an inordinate amount of air time to spout his revisionist poison. I believe he was laughing up his sleeve, listening to this prating Bishop making a fool of himself and thus bringing disrepute onto Jesus Christ and the Church. Why wasn’t a real Christian member of the clergy allowed to have their say, instead of this heretical buffoon? Why is the Christian voice rarely heard? [4]
    [1] Mr Barry Trayhorn’s dismissal as prison chaplain
    www.christianconcern.com/media/rev-barry-trayhorn-explains-his-case
    [2] Iain Lee interviewing Barry Trayhorn
    www.christianconcern.com/media/barry-trayhorn-talks-to-bbc-three-counties-radio-about-his-case
    [3] Iain Lee interviewing Libby Powell
    www.christianconcern.com/media/libby-powell-defends-barry-trayhorn-and-christian-freedoms-on-bbc-three-counties-radio
    [4] Mr Iain Lee interviewing the Bishop of Buckinghame
    www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p035mk2h (2hrs 6 minutues)

    David Skinner UK

  • Chris Dark when you were found out reading your bible at work during your lunch break did you stop ? or did you keep reading ? did you bow to others opinions ( as if that matters really ) did you feel shame ? or embarassment for reading the bible during your lunch time ?, me personally I had the exact same experience working in a big Jewish nursing home, people started spreading rumors and started mocking and not having lunch with me, I was and am strong enough in my walk with God , that I just kept going reading my bible, often times by myself as no one would sit with me at lunch, I got to be the bible thumper and other nicknames some not so kind, see I know Chistians don’t know the difference bewteen being a doormat ( bullying ) which is never right , Jesus never excepted bullying and being alive with Christ and being a true witness, take care and may God bless you with strength and courage in your walk.

    Blessings

    Chris Potter

  • BT Walters

    A very good point about not meditating or considering your defense in court cases. (Luk 21:14-15) The attack of the enemy is often to use the legal process itself in malicious attacks where the expense of the defense creates a defacto punishment. Much better to trust God than lawyers, use as little money as possible on lawyers and keep your money for more useful purposes. They try to instill fear into you by these attacks but if you trust God He will stand by you.

    On the occasions you do suffer injustice this will be seen as a testimony against the wicked and will work to overcome their injustice as those who see your injustice publish it as widely as they can. Eg. The ongoing battles by Kim Davis in Kentucky and Ashers Bakery in Ireland. This may be the only way the political and legal change that is required can be secured. We should settle it in our minds beforehand to not let these things instill fear in us.

  • Thanks for this always timely reminder Bill. The turmoil created by disciples who love God and their neighbour as their own selves is in the true gospel which reveals that either ones’ justification is by Gods’ great grace alone through His crucified Son in our place. or it is in the hearers’ own imagined and utterly false claim to justification by something else. Habakkuk 2:4 is the best comment on Pauls’ use of the last part “the just shall live by faith.” Justification by grace through faith in the death of Jesus and His resurrection in the glory of God of which, apart from, we are bereft utterly, is the most scandalous declaration against human pride. That is what causes the trouble! Thanks again.

  • That’s fair enough, we are aiming for heaven after all.
    For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 2 Cor 4:17

  • It says somewhere in Isaiah about Jesus that “the fear of the Lord is his treasure” and doesn’t it say somewhere else that God takes pleasure or desires those who “tremble at his word”? It is good to fear the lord in a healthy way. It just means we recognize who God is and who we are, like the flower of the field, here today and gone tomorrow. Our earthly existence is vulnerable and fragile and our entry into eternal life entirely dependent on His grace and our preparedness to walk the straight and narrow path. Not easy when you sometimes think the only way out of a situation is to go home to the Lord, but definately worth it.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  • Thanks Ursula.

    Isaiah 33:6 He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.

    Isaiah 66:5 Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at his word: “Your own people who hate you, and exclude you because of my name, have said, ‘Let the Lord be glorified, that we may see your joy!’ Yet they will be put to shame.

  • Wow Bill! Very timely for us. Ships are safe when they are docked in a harbor. But that’s not what they are made for. X

  • @Chris Potter; often I had to stop reading because of interruptions, in the end I would usually seek a place to read alone. Interestingly, the one person who defended my reading was an atheist….he said to the others, “if she wants to read a bible during her lunchbreak, she can; there’s no law against it”. I was only in my late teens when these incidents happened.

  • well the Poles have got the right attitude……..how many saw this in the MSM ? ( wonder why ? )

    Poland rises against Islam – Fr.Miedlar addresses the March For Independence, 11 Nov 2015 (Eng subs) – YouTube

    www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hakb6S0IpgY

    Good on the Poles, I wish Australia had men like this to lead ! 150,000 turned out !

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