Monday, July 30, 2012

“The Apostolic Example”

Third Quarter 2012 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
The Apostolic Example
For the week of Aug. 4, 2012
The Apostolic Example (1 Thessalonians 2:1-12)
The word “bold” as an adjective means fearless before danger and either showing or requiring a fearless, daring spirit. Typically, those we call bold are those who are outspoken and forthright. They do not mince words; they call it as they see it. But this can also be considered rude. The Greek definition for the word bold means to speak freely. Strong’s Concordance defines boldness as being frank in utterance or confident in spirit and demeanor. 
When Paul wrote his letter to the Thessalonians he said,
“For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain: But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention.”  I Thessalonians 2:1, 2.
The idea here is that after the beating in Philippi anyone would probably have quit out of fear, but Paul and his companions moved forward into Thessalonica without skipping a beat. As soon as they could, they entered a synagogue and started to preach that Jesus was the Christ. As Paul says, they were bold in God to speak the Gospel, even though they knew they would probably get another beating. Nevertheless, Paul indicates that the love of God constrained him (2 Corinthians 5:14), or pushed him forward.
So how are love and boldness related? To answer this question, let’s reconsider Paul’s prior experience. Our lesson states,
Paul recalls how he and Silas were shamefully treated in Philippi on account of preaching the gospel. On the long road from Philippi to Thessalonica every step was a painful reminder of that treatment. Their physical wounds were likely still visible, and after all they had just been through who would have blamed them had they taken a more indirect approach to evangelism in the new city. But the Thessalonians proved eager and open for the truth, and despite their pain and suffering, God said “Be bold [in My might] and strong [in My strength].” So they “began to be bold.” (1 Thessalonians 2:2; author’s translation)
Paul is clear in the remainder of the chapter that he neither diluted the message, nor used flattery or deceit.  His prior painful experience in Philippi did not restrain him from preaching the truth to avoid the same consequence in Thessalonica. Neither he nor Silas moved to please men, but God, and therefore neither was rude to the opposers of the message. In fact, in verse 7 Paul says that he and Silas weregentle toward the Thessalonians, even as a mother nursing her child (1 Thessalonians 2:7).  Most often, nursing mothers are perceived as tender, nurturing, and loving, not bold, hard, or cruel.  Can these two concepts of love and boldness be reconciled? 
To speak boldly is to speak without fear. And we know from scripture that fear and love (agape) cannot coexist.  We know this because “Perfect [or complete] love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18).  So then, where does this perfect love originate?  Where did Paul obtain it, and for that matter where did the apostles?  And where might we?
If you recall, when the mob arrested Jesus the disciples fled and remained in hiding until after the resurrection for fear of the Jews.  After the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, however, they left the upper chamber and spoke freely and openly to the same Jews from whom they had previously fled.  “You killed Jesus!” they cried in boldness.  What made the difference?
The same Spirit that gave them power [boldness] gave them love.  According to Paul, in Romans 5:5,“the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”  He “… appeared unto [us] as cloven tongues like as of fire, and …sat upon each of [us].  And [we] were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave [us] utterance” (Acts 2: 3-4). This was the same Sprit that Ananias said would fill Paul (Acts 9:17). And Acts 13:9 states that Paul was full with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit shed God’s love abroad in the hearts and minds of the apostles, including Paul, and thus they spoke openly and lovingly of Jesus, without fear.  
But we know that fear reigns in our hearts, and that - try as we might - we are not yet complete in love. Ellen White addresses this lack of love in the book That I May Know Him:
“There is nothing that can so weaken the influence of the church as the lack of love….The people of the world are looking to us to see what our faith is doing for our characters and lives. They are watching to see if it is having a sanctifying effect on our hearts…There is no surer way of weakening ourselves in spiritual things than to be envious, suspicious of one another, full of faultfinding and evil surmising….If you have love in your heart you will seek to establish and build up your brother in the most holy faith” (p. 153).
“Pure love is simple in its operations….Do not give the lie to your profession of faith by impatience, fretfulness, and repining. Let the graces of the Spirit be manifested in kindness, meekness, forbearance, cheerfulness, and love….Love is a heavenly attribute. The natural heart cannot originate it…. “ (p. 167).
According to 1 Corinthians 13:5, there is no self-seeking when true love reigns.
 What will heavenly love, as shed abroad in the apostles’ hearts by the Holy Spirit, do for the end-time followers of Christ today? In the of words of Ellen White,
“[Love to Jesus] exerts a wondrous power. It makes the timid bold, the slothful diligent, the ignorant wise. It makes the stammering tongue eloquent, and rouses the dormant intellect into new life and vigor. It makes the desponding hopeful, the gloomy joyous. [It] will lead its possessor to accept responsibilities for [Jesus’] sake, and to bear them in His strength. [It] will not be dismayed by tribulation, nor turned aside from duty by reproaches….Where love exists, there is power and truth in the life. Love does good and nothing but good. Those who have love bear fruit unto holiness, and in the end everlasting life." That I May Know Him, p. 167.
This very love made the apostles bold, turned the world upside down in Paul’s day (Acts 17:6), and will show the world today that we are Christ’s disciples (John 13:35). It is what the world is waiting to see demonstrated in us.  We cannot manufacture it, but may receive it in its fullness from the Holy Spirit. When we do, we too shall abhor ourselves and repent in dust and ashes (Job 42: 6). Ellen White says that, “As the disciples waited for the fulfillment of the promise, they humbled their hearts in true repentance and confessed their unbelief” (Acts of the Apostles, 35). Only then did Christ pour the fullness of the Holy Spirit upon them. Only then did the disciples speak boldly. This is what it will take for us. This is what it will do for us. Until then, we will wander around in complacent spiritual stupor. 
 -Raul Diaz