Guilty, as Charged

Standing for Christ Before a Hostile Age (2)

“This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law...” Acts 6:13

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A Studied Ignorance?
Some years ago Susie and I were having dinner with two other pastors and their wives, when the conversation turned to persecution and martyrdom.

I have for many years had a keen interest in the plight of the persecuted Church. Back in the early 80s I contacted every evangelical seminary I knew of to find out if they had any reading lists or course materials on the persecuted church. None did. I wrote to every evangelical publishing house, seeking titles about Christians who were being persecuted for their faith. None had any to offer – none, that is, besides the few I already possessed. I contacted every evangelical publisher of Sunday school material, looking for resources on the persecuted church. Nothing.

This led me to reflect on the fact that, back in the early 80s, when the boot heel of Marxism was suppressing and crushing the faith of Christ in many places, and when the religion of Islam was just as actively and violently opposing the spread of the Gospel in traditional Muslim lands, believers in Jesus Christ were laying down their lives before a hostile age, precisely as generations of believers had done throughout the history of the Christian movement.

Only now, in this country, we were training a new generation of pastors, Sunday school students, and readers through whose minds a thought about the suffering Church conceivably might never pass. We were practicing a studied ignorance of what it means to suffer and die for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and why that might be necessary for believers in a hostile age.

When They Can Stand It No More

Standing for Christ Before a Hostile Age (1)

But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.

Acts 6:10

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The Message, Not the Man, the Offense
Stephen had a good reputation among the people of Jerusalem. He seems to have been a deeply spiritual man, full of practical wisdom, and ready to help others wherever he was needed (Acts 6:3). He is described as having been filled with the Holy Spirit. Full of grace and power, Stephen was also outspoken about his faith—not in a brash and blaring way, but calmly, speaking with wisdom and sound reason to everyone who would listen.

In spite of his gentle and reasonable manner, however, some of his contemporaries chose to dispute with him—members of a local synagogue, and clubs of foreigners who were staying together in Jerusalem (Acts 6:9). They could find no fault with the man: he was as good, wise, and kind a person as any of them had known. But they found his message offensive, probably because he insisted that a relationship with God depends not on one’s heritage, associations, attainments, or efforts, but on repenting from all sin and believing in Jesus Christ for forgiveness and salvation. Such a message implied that their views were wrong and their morality was not what it should be. They chafed at the thought that he—a lowly synagogue servant—should presume to tell them what they ought to believe and how they ought to live.

Be Sure to Learn Christ

The Christian and Learning (7)

But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs  to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:20-24

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Keep the Goal in Mind
It is essential, in all our learning—whether by reading and study or in classes and conversations—that we keep the goal of wisdom in mind.

We are growing in wisdom when we are growing in Jesus Christ—thinking with His mind, speaking with His gracious words (Ps. 45:2), walking in His Spirit (Gal. 5:16-23), and speaking to others of His Kingdom (Acts 1:1-8).

Learning is not just an intellectual activity. For the disciple of Jesus Christ, the goal of all learning should be to learn Christ, as Paul put it. And if we are learning Jesus Christ, we are becoming new creatures in every aspect of our lives—mind, heart, conscience, words, and deeds.

What does this involve? That is, what should we expect, and for what should we be searching and striving as we map our course along the way toward wisdom via a program of lifelong learning? Paul offers us some concise guidelines and landmarks for our journey.

Many Books

The Christian and Learning (6)

The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making of many books there is no end, and much study is weariness of the flesh. Ecclesiastes 12:11, 12

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Wearying, but Necessary
Solomon knew first-hand how much study can wear you out—all that reading, pondering, sketching things out, writing things down, looking for applications! It’s enough to exhaust even the most devoted student.

But Solomon was not condemning the life of learning in these words, as some suppose. He was simply making an observation. He has already told us that learning is an “unhappy business,” but he also insisted that God has appointed us the duty of searching out and seeking by wisdom whatever is done under the heavens.

To Search and to Study

The Christian and Learning (5)

But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13, 14

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Solomon explained that God has charged us with the unhappy business of searching out, studying, investigating, and learning everything we can so that we might be wise and glorify God in every area of our lives.

This project must begin in our hearts, as we have seen. Eager to learn and motivated by the fear and love of God, we must set our minds like flint to pursue learning in order to know and serve the Lord; and we must allow nothing to pull us off course in our pursuit of the wisdom of God which is in Jesus Christ.

That’s where Paul was. After a lifetime being mad for learning, Paul had become, as a follower of Jesus, even more determined to learn everything he could about the Lord, His Kingdom, and His glorious reign on high.

Mad for Learning

The Christian and Learning (4)

Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” Acts 26:24

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The Mind of Christ
The Apostle Paul declared – incredibly! – that all who believe in Jesus and are His disciples have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16).

Now being in possession of the mind of Christ is no mean thing. Jesus, we recall, used His mind to baffle the theologians of the day, gain insight into the thinking of every person, outwit His enemies and outthink His detractors, and even to turn water into wine! And we who are learning Jesus have this same mind!

But having the mind of Christ is something to grow into by stages, as we apply ourselves to learning Christ in all the ways available to us. Paul had spent a lifetime learning Christ, but he didn’t realize this was true until after his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road. Unlike many of us, I doubt that Paul, a rising star in the Jewish ruling class of the day, ever looked back on all the things he studied during his preparation and wondered, “What was all that about? Why all that philosophy and poetry? Why do I need all that stuff in order to serve my Hebrew brethren?”

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