February 2, 2020
Pastor Ricky Smith
Parents in the room, have you ever looked at your kids and observed something that they did, and then you responded with the question, “What were you thinking?!” Has that ever happened? I mean, because you observe them doing something that you know that they know better than to do?
Men, has your loving wife ever looked at you and said, “What were you thinking?!” And you said, “I’m sorry. I’m an idiot.” Maybe. -because we get frustrated and even find a little humor when we observe someone’s actions, and what we see them do forces us to say,“Surely somewhere along the way, you thought this was a bad idea.”
What we know is, sometimes we may see what we find to be foolish, and we then ask, “What were you thinking?” And we do that because we know that our actions sometimes speak louder than our words. We can say, “We’ve got this figured out.” We can say, “We know what to do.” And then our actions begin to speak what is opposite of that. Our words speak loudest when they align with our actions.
Our kids are watching to see if our words are backed up by action. The world is watching to see if the words of the church are backed up by action. In fact, Jesus even established this principle in John 13:35 when he said this: “Hey, this is how all men will know that you are my disciples: if you love one another.”
I mean, he even made this connection that the things that are viewed in our life, the way that we live, the things we do and say, speak to whose we are. So, there is this connection there.
This morning, as we look in Acts chapter 23 and the example of Paul as we’ve been following through the story, journeying his life in the book of Acts, we’re going to begin to draw attention to Paul’s consistency in the things that he said with how he lived. And we’re going to look at contrasting what happens when we speak out against someone who’s not living and not doing what they should do. We’ll see that in this passage.
I. Life song for Christ
Here’s the first thing I want you to write down today: A life song for Christ. Our life should be a song that sings for Him. Let’s look in Acts 23, verse one. It says:
And looking intently at the council, Paul said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.”
It’s as if to say, “Brothers, Countrymen, People from the same heritage, People who at least have some shared beliefs, My brothers, I’m not up here just blowing hot air. My life sings in rhythm with my words, and it is in sync with my heart. All my life, I have lived in good conscience up to this day.”
Paul’s life was defined by:
When we look at the life of Paul, I think there are three things that define this and make him able to say it. The first one is the principal of an appointment that he was given. You go back and listen to last week’s sermon or read the preceding chapter, and what we see is, Paul telling his story of how he met Jesus and the difference that it made in his life and that God called him from death to life. God calls him from darkness, and he was blind. And now, he can see.
He doesn’t ignore or deny his sinful life before Christ, but he sees that God has redeemed his past and given him an assignment, a commission. In fact, when we go back to the preceding chapter, we them specifically him retelling the story of when his eyes were opened and he could see the truth, God called him into relationship and said, “I want to send you on a mission, an assignment to go and speak and tell the truth to the Gentiles.”
He had an appointment. Following his amazing conversion, God sent him on this mission. So, it’s part of his story that he then had to be consistent with. God didn’t send them on the mission. Years and years of his life were being faithful to obeying that one call. It wasn’t like, “Well, I’m not around it anymore.” He remained faithful with a good conscience for decades to that assignment.
Even in that appointment, though, we see his life is marked by affliction. When we read the story of Paul, he was shipwrecked. He was beaten. He was imprisoned. He was accused. He was threatened. His life was not easy. It was constant drama and attack and friction and conflict all around his life.
But even in trials, his life was defined by an attitude of abundance. Even when he walked through the trials, even when he walked through the fire, even when he was tested, he looked at it with a heart of abundance.
Let me explain that to you by showing something else he wrote in another letter. In 2 Corinthians chapter one, verses 3-7, he says this:
2 Corinthians 1:3-7
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.
Contextualize that with Paul when he has affliction,“I’m beaten. I’m attacked. I’m criticized. I’m in prison. In those afflictions, I go through them with grace. I maintain consistency that my life sings and points others to Christ so that He can be an encouragement to others when they are in affliction.”
Notice this abundance of comfort, this abundance of hope. Paul understood, it didn’t matter how bad it got for him; there was always purpose in it. No matter how difficult it may have been, he could always see how God could use that in his life and how God could use that to help bless others. And Paul could stand now boldly in the face of all of his opposition and say, “I have lived my life to this day in confidence, with a good conscience.” And that idea, if we want to get technical, this is the Greek word sindece, which speaks of the will, and it’s connected to the root word Idos, which relates to our outward expression.
In other words, to have a good conscience means that what others see is compatible with our heart’s desire. That’s what this idea of being in good conscience is. What you see is consistent with my heart, and that’s what Paul could stand there proudly and say. And I can’t help but process that and internalize that in my life. Can that be said of me? Can that be said of you? -that you have lived your life, that I have lived my life in good conscience to this day? -that when people see the things that I do, it points them to the desire of my heart?
And what is that? Jesus. Paul even explains this another way. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, he says, “You come follow me, because I’m just following the example of Christ.” It was a redirection of affection, a redirection of hope, pointing others to Jesus by what they saw him do. Can that be said of you?
See, for the believer, that requires that I understand the importance of being submitted to the heart of God, to the will and the authority of King Jesus. This means that the fruit of the Spirit should be on display, that of love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and faithfulness and gentleness and self control.
My LifeGroup went hard on that one this morning. We understand this. Have you ever hopped in a car, and it was out of alignment? The car still goes down the road, but it is difficult to keep on the right path. Why? Because it’s out of alignment somewhere. It is being pulled off course. This is the challenge for you and me. When our actions are not in alignment with our heart’s desire, we are pulled in a direction opposite of where God may want us to go.
Our outward expression should be in line with inward conviction.
This is a good self-reflection question. Are my actions in alignment with my heart? This all boils down to this idea (here’s the whole sermon in one sentence today): Our outward expression should be in line with our inward conviction.
I think it was R.C. Sproul who said, “You may not always live out what you profess, but you will always live out what you believe.” Our actions are connected to our heart. Where is your heart, and are your action in alignment? So, for the rest of this journey, as Paul can stand confidently without any threat of being deceitful, he can say with assurance how his life has been up to this day.
II. Leaders shout against corruption
Now he shows a commitment to being consistent and even notices and calls out others who are not in alignment. Watch what happens, because the challenge here, if you’re taking notes, is that leaders shout against corruption. We’re going to see what he does here. Paul is the leader. Let’s see if we can pinpoint the corruption. Let’s look at verses two through five:
2 And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. 3 Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” 4 Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God’s high priest?” 5 And Paul said, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’ ”
I need to give you a brief history lesson so that we can understand what’s happening here. The high priests in Jerusalem at this time is Ananias, and Ananias was known (you can read the history books for yourself. Double check me here, if you’d like), Ananias was known to be violent, haughty and gluttonous. He was corrupt and in the hip pocket of the Roman leaders.
In fact, it would be later in his life in AD 66 that he gets assassinated by some Jewish gorillas because of his pro-Roman affiliation. He’s not a good guy. But what’s interesting, why I think this is noteworthy, is that the timing is important. Acts 23 takes place somewhere between AD 57 and 58. Ananias has been the high priest since AD 47.
That tells me there’s no way that Paul didn’t know he was a high priest. He had been in that position for a decade. So, the language here is not him saying, “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you were the high priest.” It’s almost unavoidable. He had been in that position for 10 years or more, and he clearly would have been dressed as a high priest.
It would have been obvious who he was, but what Paul is basically saying here is, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck. You’ve heard that statement. He’s saying, “Bro, if you want to start acting like a priest, I’ll start treating you like one.” Basically what he’s saying is, there is a clear disconnection from the corruption of your heart and the things that you’re here saying.”
And notice the reaction of the rest of the people in the room. “What? You don’t speak against the man of God.” And as if Paul is then responding in consistency with his character because he’s been a faithful, good Jew, he’s basically saying, “No, I will give respect to the priest when he acts like a priest. But if he’s not acting like a priest, I’m not going to give him the respect that is due to that position.”
That’s, in essence, what is happening here. Why is that even important? I mean, we don’t have high priests, and we’re not under Roman rule… I think there is a principle here that’s important for us. Paul criticizes him, and he uses this language of,“Hey, you’re just like a whitewashed wall.”
And there are two points in the Bible, one in the Old Testament and one in the New Testament, where this language is used. The first one is back in Ezekiel chapter 13, verses 10 through 16. You can write that down and read it later if you want. It uses the imagery off a whitewashed wall to portray something that looks good on the outside, but is rotten on the inside.
Maybe you’ve had to sell something on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace, and you put a fresh coat of paint on the outside, so it looked brand new, but inside you knew it was broken. That’s a whitewashed wall. It’s broken on the inside, but it looks great on the outside.
Jesus, though, used the language to criticize the Pharisees in Matthew, chapter 23 when he says, “They’re like a whitewashed tomb.” He was calling out the corruption and the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of that day. So, Jesus and Paul were united in condemning those who pretend to be righteous but inwardly are corrupt. And there’s a lesson here for you and for me today.
We’ve got to be guarded. Let’s translate this idea of respecting someone in a position of authority, even someone in a position of spiritual authority. Let’s take this idea and translate it into a common, everyday understanding for us. What can we learn?
Well, God has planted in your life and in mine, spiritual leaders, right? But let’s not be like the people who cried out, “Don’t speak against the man of God.” There are some people, even pastors, who are corrupt and need to be called out. If he’ll start acting like a man of God, we’ll start treating him like one.
Even more so, let me say this way: Please do not elevate me to any level of perfection that doesn’t also apply to you. I am a wretched man, redeemed by God, just like you. We just have to be careful. Surely yes, positions of authority demand respect, but they also need accountability.
Here’s the idea: I think there’s a really simple, practical application for us because in our modern culture, you do not have to follow the news very long to hear of another elevated pastor in our world who falls to corruption and sin. Sadly, it’s true, and when exposed, it damages the reputation of Jesus and His church.
So, what do we do with that? It’s really simple. Pray. Pray for the protection of the Spirit. Pray for those in leadership. Pray for our church. I would even ask you to pray for me. Pray for our pastors. Pray for us. Why? Because we cannot do this without the Lord. And God forgive anyone for even trying.
We talk about this often. If you haven’t been here in a while, do us a favor. We’re going to commit to pray together every morning at 8:30. Set a reminder on your phone, an alert, an alarm, whatever it may be. You may be on your way to work. You may be walking to the coffee pot. But every morning at 8:30, let’s pray. Pray for our church. Pray for our unity. Pray for submission to the Holy Spirit. Pray for me, please; I beg of you.
Pray every day at 8:30am!
III. Look out for division
And in our pursuit of following the leadership of the Holy Spirit, we have to look out for division. Watch what happens in the text. Paul’s pretty creative here. Verses six through ten say this:
6 Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” 7 And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. 9 Then a great clamor arose, and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party stood up and contended sharply, “We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?” 10 And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away from among them by force and bring him into the barracks.
Okay, what in the world is going on here? We need to understand that, in the climate of that day, there were two religious sects that had risen to power, and while they were cloaked in religious affiliation, they primarily became the two political parties of the day. On one side were the Pharisees. The Pharisees really came to prominence during the 400 year time when the book of Malachi ends and when Matthew starts.
And it’s in this season when it seems as though there weren’t many prophets speaking on behalf of God. It was almost in this season of silence, and in the absence of God speaking, man began to take over and come up with their own ideas, their own opinions, and their own influences. The Pharisees, at their core, were very pious, elite religious leaders with a great emphasis placed on keeping all the rules and regulations.
And they liked rules and regulations so much, they would use the ones in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, and they would add more to them. They just kept piling on the rules. So, that was their frame of reference. Contrast them with the Sadducees. They were educated. They loved to debate. They loved to think logically. And for them, the crux of the matter was, they denied this idea of resurrection from the dead. At the core of their worldview was this idea that when man dies, he is just like an animal. He’s just dead. And so, out of those differences in theology and those differences in philosophy, came this political fight for control, back and forth.
It sounds similar to America right now, if you think about it. Two parties fighting back and forth for control, influenced at the end of the day by their own agendas, their own preferences, and their own opinions. Does that sound familiar?
But both of them opposed Christianity. Both of them opposed the Way. But notice, Paul in his creativity, sees who’s in the room, and he just throws this bone out there knowing they’re going to attack it. He brings up the resurrection of the dead. “That will distract them and keep them busy for a little bit.” The tribune uses that as the opportunity to get him away.
I just think this is an opportunity for us to be mindful. Are we ever like the Pharisees and Sadducees, finding ourselves distracted, arguing, bickering with each other over things that are not the Thing? This is not a political sermon. I’m just going to use this as an opportunity since the Pharisees and Sadducees were political voices of that day.
In case you didn’t know, everybody in Jesus’s Church has a difference of opinion. Did you know that? In case you didn’t know, even people in this church have differences of opinion, and we’re all on the same team! So, what do we do? You know, I would say, it is okay for us to discuss. It is okay for us to debate. It is okay for us to disagree, as long as we understand, as the people of God, there are essentials that we must hold fast to, that we must agree upon.
We talk about these in our new member class all the time, and I’m going to throw this out early, since we’re priming up for November. Remember that I said this the first Sunday of February. As opportunities may come for us to voice our opinion or even disagree with each other, remember, we’re all in the same family and on the same team. And be careful; sometimes our public arguments can give credence for others to say. “I don’t want any part of that Christian movement.”Just be on your guard. Remember that on essentials we must agree, and on the nonessentials, we have to find ways to show love.
IV. Listen for God to speak
For Paul, he conveniently used this to ignite a debate in them to get him out of the situation. But notice what happens next. The most powerful thing in this whole passage happens in verse 11 when he listens for God to speak.
Church, I believe God has a Word for you today in this verse right here. Watch. verse 11.
11 The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”
Has God ever shown up to you in your life at just the right time? I mean, what an encouragement! What a blessing! But, I need us to notice a few things here, and then I’ll be done. Here is the first thing I want us to notice: The Lord Himself appeared to Paul. So many times throughout the Scripture, God sends a messenger of an angel. There are very few times in Scripture where the Lord Himself comes. The Lord Himself came to Paul on the road to Damascus and changed his life forever.
Now the Lord Himself appears to him again after all that he endured. Why? Why did God choose to appear to him now? Maybe (the text doesn’t say this, so with full disclosure, I’m making an assumption here), maybe Paul felt very discouraged at this point.
Paul was not a superhero. He was a human. So, let’s just step into his mind and see it from his lens. “Come on, God. I’ve been following you for decades. You sent me to the Gentiles to share the Gospel, and I did that all over Asia. You told me to collect an offering and bring it back to Jerusalem. I did that. I’ve been there for 12 days. There have been three mob riots around me, and now I’m in prison again. Can that guy catch a break?” I mean, just imagine the mindset of Paul here, and notice, at just the right time, the Lord shows up.
I think it’s interesting that the text tells us that He doesn’t come immediately. He doesn’t appear immediately. It’s the following night. The Lord left him in that place. God let him sit there for a bit before He appeared. Perhaps he was discouraged. We can only suspect what Paul may have felt. Maybe he thought he had reached a dead end. Maybe he thought there was no way out. Maybe he thought, “Well, this is it. This is how I go…” And the Lord showed up.
But notice what the Lord did. The Lord didn’t just appear before him. The text tells us, “And the Lord stood beside him.” Notice that intimacy. Notice that connection. Notice that intentionality of where he stands. Positions matter. And here’s what we know about the Lord: The Lord goes before us.
Church, the Lord goes before us. Man of God, Woman of God. The Lord goes before you. We see this Scripture revealed in Deuteronomy 31, verse eight.
8 It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”
The Lord is going before you, but the Lord is also beside you. What do we read in Proverbs 18:24?
A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
He’s right there with you. He even told us again in Matthew 28, verse 20. “I’m never going to leave you. I will always be with you.” And here we have Paul spending a night in prison, maybe thinking, It’s over. This is how it’s going to end. Every specific mission that the Lord has given me up to this date, I have fulfilled. So maybe this is how I go.
And the Lord shows up. The Lord speaks words of encouragement and direction. And what does He say? “Take courage. As you have testified about the facts of me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome. Sometimes, the Lord is going to wait to give you that Word until after the trial has calmed down. Sometimes He may come right beside you in the midst of that storm and speak that Word of encouragement to you. And notice here what he says to Paul. “Paul, you’ve done everything I’ve asked you to do, Brother. You’ve brought everything to Jerusalem. But I am not done with you yet. I’ve got a plan for you. I’ve got a further purpose for you. You’re going to Rome, and you’re going to preach to Rome just like you have preached to them here in Jerusalem. But you’ve still got to spend the night in jail.”
And sometimes, Church, Friend, you may find yourself in a season of affliction, trial, or pain, and you’re crying out, “Well, I thought I did everything I was supposed to do. Maybe this is how I go down.” And maybe the Lord hasn’t come to you yet. Maybe you’re still waiting. Maybe you’re still waiting for the next night to come, for the Lord to speak to you and say, “Be of courage. Do not quit. Do not be afraid. Trust me. I’ve got a plan and a purpose for you beyond your wildest dreams, if you’ll just trust me. If you just let me show you, I’ve got something for you.”
And in those moments, you may want to quit. Maybe it’s your marriage, that you just have done everything you could do, and it is just unraveling before you. Maybe it’s that addiction, and you think, “I’ve tried everything I could try, and it’s still got its hold on me.” Maybe it’s that debt, and you’ve done the plan, and there seems to be no way out.” Maybe it’s that that employer who mistreats you, and you feel like you’re attacked and abused. You think, Maybe this is it for me.
You fill in the blanks. You know your circumstance. But I’m telling you, you and I have been in seasons of affliction, and in that waiting, we may find ourselves saying, “God, will this ever end? Is this how I go down? When you feel stuck, listen for God to speak. When you feel like there’s no way out, wait on the Lord. He’s got a word for you, and that word may come through opening his Word. That message may come from a song. It may come where he uses the encouragement of someone else who sends you that text in a timely way or who writes you that note and you open up that mailbox. Who knows how the word may come to you?
When you feel stuck, listen for God to speak.
But when you feel stuck, listen, because here’s what I know: No matter the trial, no matter the affliction, no matter the pain, God wants to teach you something about Himself, and He is worthy. He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all you’ve ever asked or thought. There is no mountain too high that He can’t move. There is no valley too low that He can’t bridge across. He is your God, and He is your rescue. He is your deliverer. He is your Savior. He is worthy. Listen for him to speak.
He’s got a word for you today. Don’t quit. Don’t give up. Be encouraged. Sorrow may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning. Sometimes you feel that morning right away, don’t you? Sometimes at night feels long. But there’s joy. Your morning is going to come. It may not come the way that you have it mapped out. It may not come the way that you want it to. But God is faithful, and He is worthy. He has a purpose, and you are going to help bring Him glory if you’ll let Him.
Here’s why I can say that with confidence: The very fact that you woke up this morning and you took a breath in and out tells me God’s not done with you yet. If he was done with you, you wouldn’t be here. The very fact that you’re in this room today tells me God’s got a word for you today. I don’t know what it is, but I don’t believe that God is a God of coincidence or happenstance. He’s a God of sovereignty, providence, and perfection. So whatever your season, look and listen, because he is a great God.
- I choose to give my life to Jesus.
- I commit to pray for my church every day.
- I will remain faithful and wait for God to speak.
- Read Galatians 5:22-23.Why is it important that our lives show the Fruit of the Spirit?
- What is the negative impact if our actions don’t line up with what we profess?
- Read Acts 23:1. How can we hold each other accountable to live our life with a good conscience that shows the world that Jesus is the King of our life?
- Read 2 Corinthians 3:1-12 and compare that with Paul’s statement in Acts 23:1.
- If Jesus is the Lord of our lives, how should it impact our ability to endure suffering?
- Paul was patient in affliction. In Acts 23:11, Jesus spoke with words of encouragement. Read Deuteronomy 31:8 and Proverbs 18:24. Discuss how we can be patient in waiting for God to speak.