What is the cost of being a follower of Jesus? The Greeks asked to see Jesus in John 12. We do not know whether Jesus showed Himself to them but He answered them and said that he who wanted to be his follower should be willing to die. If we die in the process of following the Lord Jesus, we will be gaining our lives. He also said, “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also.” John 12:26. This gives us a hint as to the cost of discipleship. We must expect to die in order to be faithful to Jesus. This is where many people fail. They make a decision for Jesus, but when it comes to following Him – paying the price and dying to themselves – they fail. Jesus said through perseverance you will be saved.
9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Acts 16:9
Oh, to have a clear calling and to be able to hear when God speaks to me; that I will know beyond any doubt that it is not my own leading, but God himself giving me the command: Come to Macedonia and help us. This is what we are called for – to a world that is lost. To help – not to be a stumbling block, not to distract from what they should hear, but to stick to the goal of helping the lost sinner. Woe to us if we become stumbling blocks to sinners who want to get to God for help and instead we sow bitterness and confusion in their hearts and minds. Theology is important. We must be faithful to the Scriptures. God’s word must be our supreme authority, but our calling is to help those who are lost. RC Sproul, a spokesman for Calvinism, said in an interview about his conversion, “When God’s spirit convicted me, I was stirred by a deep conviction of my sin and how lost I am. I fell on my knees before God and begged Him for mercy and forgiveness. At that time I knew nothing of the theology behind it. I didn’t know and I didn’t bother about is this Calvinism or Arminianism, it was irrelevant? I was convicted of my sins.”
May we bring a message that will convict sinners, make them fall to their knees and repent and cry to God. This is how we will help sinners.
12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together.
In this text Paul receives a calling from God. He is expecting to meet a great need when he arrives. He stayed in the city for some days and then, in desperation, went to the river where some women gathered together. There were no crowds waiting.
14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.
What an anti-climax. Paul arrived expecting to speak to crowds or to debate in the synagogues, but he ended up speaking to a group of women and one woman got converted. But Paul sees her – this soul which is so valuable that all the money in the world cannot pay the price for that soul, and for her to be saved from her sins makes everything worthwhile. This is what the Cambridge Bible commentary states about this: “…it is noteworthy how large a part women play both in the Gospel History and in the Acts. It was one effect of Christianity to place woman in her true position.”
If you are tired of your life of sin, your soul is worth more than all the riches in the world. It was worth all the trouble Paul took. Do not believe the devil when he says that God does not care about you, just look at what he has allowed in your life.
16 As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 18 And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.
19 But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers.
As Paul went through the city, a young girl followed him. She had demons who spoke the truth and called out, “These men are servants of the Living God”. The devil does not always lie, otherwise nobody would believe him. When Paul commanded the demons to leave, her owners realised that they would not make money anymore because she had lost the gift of divination, so they laid a charge against Paul. 20 And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. 21 They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” The real reason for their lawsuit was their loss of money.
22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. 24 Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. 25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, 26 and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened.
Friends, even in these circumstances, Paul remembered the words of God: Come over to Macedonia and help us! Sometimes the people God knows need His help are very different from what you think. You will meet them in very different circumstances to the circumstances you had expected.
27 When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Then they led him together with his household to the Lord. Take note: the crowd beat him and the magistrate also assisted in the beating. It was such a severe beating that Paul and Silas has open wounds. In South Africa, in the days when corporal punishment was still accepted in our legal system, the worst sentence was to be flogged. As a doctor, I was expected to be present before the prisoner was beaten in order to check his heart and blood pressure. There were a number of times when I had to be present during the punishment. The prisoner was tied over a drum. All his clothes were removed and a wet cloth placed on his backside. By this time both the man and the drum were shaking. The guard would hit him and then take a break, light his cigarette, have a smoke and then hit him again. He would do it slowly so that the numbness would disappear and the pain return. I saw brave young men shaking from pain but there was never an open wound. The worst was a swelling on the behind, not on the man’s back. I would never like to have to witness that again!
But here this group of people was a berserk crowd! They beat Paul and Silas so severely that their flesh was torn open. The people vented their anger on them. Why do I tell you all this? Friends, the principle is that we will often suffer unfairly, in spite of our innocence, if we want to preach the gospel such a way so that sinners will repent. Do not be surprised if you suffer unfairly without being guilty. It happened to our Master and a servant is not greater than his master. If they did it to Him they will do it to you.
Paul could have thought, what a mess! I preach to only one woman who gets converted, and here we get beaten so that we despair of our lives! He could have felt that the Lord was making things unfairly difficult for them. ‘Lord, this is above what we can bear! In order to preach Your gospel, is it necessary to go through this? Are we not outside Your will, Lord? What is going on here, Lord? Just look at the state we are in.’ You and I will have to learn to bow and accept unfair treatment. This is when people, who started off and made a decision to follow the Lord, fail. They get going and then something like this happens. They cannot bow and they refuse to accept it. They want justice. If there is still pride, arrogance and stubbornness left in a person, he will stop at this point and refuse to bow.
16 Every Scripture is God-breathed (given by His inspiration) and profitable for instruction, for reproof and conviction of sin, for correction of error and discipline in obedience, [and] for training in righteousness (in holy living, in conformity to God’s will in thought, purpose, and action)…2 Timothy 3:16
Every scripture is, firstly, profitable for instruction. You can receive instruction from God in a chair or on your knees. And possibly this is where sitting and listening starts but also ends.
Every scripture is, secondly, for reproof. Reproof is something that you say or do to show that you disapprove of bad or silly behaviour. The word of God points out this behavior in our lives, and we have to change that in our lives.
Every scripture is, thirdly, for conviction of sin. Conviction of sin is not something that just happens and then you continue as before. Something must change, you must repent, take a step and make restitution. God’s word means nothing if you sit in your armchair and nothing changes.
Every scripture is also for correction of error. God speaks to you and reminds you of the way in which you spoke to so-and-so. He corrects and reproves you, telling you to go and apologise to that person.
Every scripture is for discipline in obedience. Discipline means you are corrected and punished when you have done wrong so that you stop doing that thing. If God does not discipline you and say, “No, you are doing the wrong thing,” you will continue with your dirty eye, lusting after girls and your eye will be dark. He disciplines you like a child who has to learn that he cannot just dirty himself wherever he goes. The suffering Paul experienced was part of discipline.
Every scripture is for training in righteousness. Let me illustrate it with the training that takes place in the army. You have to march, keep in step, not lift your hands too high, look in front of you, not look around, do it together. You repeat it over and over and over again. That is training. If you do not do it properly or you do not try it properly, you will be told, ‘There is a hill, run to the top and bring me a leaf.’ If you leave the weakest, slowest one behind, you will be told to go back and fetch him and you will have to carry him.
In each one of these things we must be humble and soft and bow under God’s hand. Accept it when you are told, “Not like this.” “You cannot do it like that.” If you cannot accept it then you are like a stiff piece of skin which cannot be softened. You will leave God’s work, become an enemy of God and a stumbling block to people. Dear friends, how can we preach to others if we are caught up and troubled by the sin of stubbornness? Where I simply and stubbornly will not let go of my sin or my way.
You are possibly filled with spiritual pride and you thank God that you are not like so-and-so. The Pharisee went to the temple to make a sacrifice of thanksgiving. He did not take the honour for himself but he thanked God that he was not like so-and-so. The Pharisee was proud. God said, “You are going away from the temple unjustified, you are still guilty.” Be careful friends when you speak to others and witness to them that you do not develop an attitude of: “Thank you, Lord that I am not like so-and-so” because then you cannot help a sinner who is lost.
While serving the Lord, do I grumble and complain? Remember what Moses said to Israel, “Your murmurings are not against us but against the Lord.”
Paul’s life demonstrates that it is the easiest thing in the world to grieve the Holy Spirit. If there had been any grumbling, pride or stubbornness in Paul’s life, he would have quenched the Holy Spirit and he would have been unavailable when God wanted him to help the prison guard. Just grumbling, complaining, stubbornness and haughtiness is enough to quench the Holy Spirit. If we listen to the sermons delivered by the founder of this mission during the Ministers’ Conference, we will realise that this is what was standing in God’s way when He wanted to work in their midst.
Self-pity puts your own desires before the importance of God’s throne. St. Augustine prayed, “Save me from self-justification.” Another man of God said, “The fullness of the Holy Spirit is God’s answer to surrender and faith.”
Do you get the picture? Through everything that was happening, Paul had to keep all the negative things out of his heart and more than that, he had a love for the prison guard who came to him. Not only would the love of God have disappeared out of his life, but I tell you, if he would have allowed any of these sins, the anointing of the Holy Spirit would not have been on his words and the prison guard’s response would have been, “Oh what do you know? You’re a Jew, I’m not interested in you.”
My experience is that a true man of God’s mind is always unclouded by these issues. He is always looking for the soul who is seeking the Lord. Under the most extreme injustice and suffering, he retains the passion to help a soul that can go lost. God’s anointing is upon him. There is an openness in him and a love that is unchanged by suffering.
Here is the secret if sin has crept into our lives. This message is for those of us who sit with sin which we cannot conquer, sin which has swallowed us up and which we cannot overcome. No matter what that sin is: lust, looking at the most despicable pornography possible, grudges, hatred or whatever – here is the solution that God gives:
16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. James 5:16
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor (not a Catholic) who was imprisoned by Hitler. He was finally hanged because he opposed Hitler. In his book, Life Together, he wrote: “Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation.”
It is a vicious circle. Sin is there, you keep quiet. It grows, it becomes more unpleasant, it becomes more difficult to get out of it. So you withdraw even more.
“Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of the unexpressed it poisons the whole being of a person. This can happen even in the midst of a pious community.”
Do you feel isolated? Alone? Examine yourself to see whether there is no sin in your life.
“In confession the light of the Gospel breaks into the darkness and seclusion of the heart.”
Admit – not just say it – admit that I have done it.
“The sin must be brought into the light. The unexpressed must be openly spoken and acknowledged. All that is secret and hidden is made manifest. It is a hard struggle until the sin is openly admitted. But God breaks gates of brass and bars of iron (Ps. 107: 16)”
These gates of brass that are keeping you locked in will be broken by God when you come into the light.
“The sin concealed separated him from the fellowship, made all his apparent fellowship a sham; the sin confessed has helped him to find true fellowship with the brethren in Jesus Christ.”
If we walk in the light we will have fellowship with one another.
“Confession in the presence of a brother is the profoundest kind of humiliation. It hurts, it cuts a man down, it is a dreadful blow to pride. To stand there before a brother as a sinner is an ignominy that is almost unbearable. In the confession of concrete sins the old man dies a painful, shameful death before the eyes of a brother.”
It is one thing to die a painful death alone but here you die in front of another brother and this is the secret which makes so many people hate this.
“Because this humiliation is so hard we continually scheme to evade confessing to a brother. Our eyes are so blinded that they no longer see the promise and the glory in such abasement.”
“In confession a man breaks through to certainty. Why is it that it is often easier for us to confess our sins to God than to a brother? God is holy and sinless, He is a just judge of evil and the enemy of all disobedience. But a brother is sinful as we are. He knows from his own experience the dark night of secret sin. Why should we not find it easier to go to a brother than to the holy God?”
Friends, do you think after David sinned with Bathsheba, that he thought God did not know about it? Do you really think David did not confess his sins to God and say I am not hiding it from an all-seeing God? It was only when the prophet Nathan came to David that his sin came into the light.
“But if we do, we must ask ourselves whether we have not often been deceiving ourselves with our confession of sin to God, whether we have not rather been confessing our sins to ourselves and also granting ourselves absolution (forgiveness). And is not the reason perhaps for our countless relapses and the feebleness of our Christian obedience to be found precisely in the fact that we are living on self-forgiveness and not a real forgiveness? Self-forgiveness can never lead to a breach with sin; this can be accomplished only by the judging and pardoning Word of God itself.”
I can already hear what some people are saying in their hearts – this is just another law.
“Does all this mean that confession to a brother is a divine law? No, confession is not a law, it is an offer of divine help for the sinner. It is possible that a person may by God’s grace break through to certainty, new life, the Cross, and fellowship without benefit of confession to a brother. It is possible that a person may never know what it is to doubt his own forgiveness and despair of his own confession of sin, that he may be given everything in his own private confession to God. We have spoken here for those who cannot make this assertion. Luther himself was one of those for whom the Christian life was unthinkable without mutual, brotherly confession. In the Large Catechism he said: “Therefore when I admonish you to confession I am admonishing you to be a Christian.’ Those who, despite all their seeking and trying, cannot find the great joy of fellowship, the Cross, the new life, and certainty should be shown the blessing that God offers us in mutual confession.” (quoted from Chapter 5)
Here is the solution: God does not just judge the sin in us. He does not just judge our stubbornness and pride, but he gives us this solution to get free from this, to get forgiveness and victory. Friends, this is the sign of a true man of God, no matter how much he has suffered, he always continues to bear fruit. Just look at the fruit of this ministry in front of you. People can say and do what they want but they cannot imitate the fruit.
I would like to be like Paul was. He was soft and during the most extreme suffering he had a heart to help the lost sinner.