As a Christian Community we have been handed a big bag of lemons. We are self-isolating, quarantined, and staying away from others. But if you consider where Paul was when he wrote this letter…he was in prison! And Roman prisons were dark, dank, holes in the ground where the rats ran free and food was scarce. But yet, Paul, made lemon-aide out of the lemons he was handed! For even though he was chained, cold and hungry he saw it as an opportunity to serve God and preach the Good News of the Gospel. So think how you could take that bag of lemons you’ve been handed today and creatively make lemon-aide out of them. With many children home now, have them reach out to Great-Grandparents, Great-Uncles, and Aunts who are stuck inside their homes. It gets pretty lonely when its just you, the TV, and the dog or cat. For the younger ones, they could color pictures or make cards to send to family members As for you, think how you could reconnect with old friends, call those elderly neighbors nearby to check in, start a online Bible Study or Pray Group with friends, and get back into your Bible. Let’s look at this time as Paul did…and make lemon-aide out of that bag of lemons.
Here in Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian Elders, he is urging them to fulfill the ministry laid out before them…to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel Message, and continue to give to the needs of the less fortunate. And Paul’s words still ring true today. As Believers, the Lord demands that we support and serve the widow, orphan, and poor among us. Jesus reminds us in John 12:8 that we will always have the poor among us, and assisting them will always be an urgent, unavoidable necessity. But we’ll also soon discover, by doing this helpful service, we receive something in return… a intangible blessing of God that words cannot express.
Even Paul had times when he thought he was the only person in the world working for the Lord. And when people verbally assaulted or berated him for the Gospel Message he likely wished he could just run away rather than stand up to them. But God showed him in that vision that he wasn’t the only Believer in Corinth…that he needed to keep preaching the Good News despite the attacks…and that God was with him through it all. For one of the biggest tools in the arsenal of Satan is to make us believe we’re alone and separated from God and others…out there by ourselves without any support. But we’re not!
Paul and Barnabas were really close friends and partners in the Gospel. Barnabas had been instrumental in bringing the newly converted Saul to introduce him to the Apostles in Jerusalem. And later, the pair were commissioned by the Church in Antioch to go out on their first missionary journey together. Here, they were making ready for their second missionary journey, when Barnabas insisted on taking his nephew Mark along again. But Paul rejected the idea, annoyed that Mark had deserted them half way through the first trip. And so they went their separate ways. Now on the surface, we see discord and disunity between Paul and Barnabas…but by parting company, the Gospel was spread much wider by more people. Sometimes we become very comfortable in the little group we’re part of…and God has to stir up the nest to move us out…in order that His work gets done.
Here, Paul is quoting Joel 2:32… showing the readers that there is no difference between Jew or Gentile…God is the same to all people groups. In Acts 2:21, on the Day of Pentecost, Peter also quoted Joel 2:32 to the bewildered crowd that had gathered after hearing their native languages coming from the apostles . Both Paul and Peter stressed that anyone could summons God’s help…any race, any gender, any person. And when that person called on the name of the Lord…they would be heard by God and delivered. For there is no one that is beyond God’s reach…no one that can’t say, “I need Your help God!” and God won’t rescue.
Even the early Church had problems with Church division, and here Paul was pleading with them to unite rather than split into factions. For if you think about it, if the local Church can’t come together and become one voice…how do we expect the world to follow suit? When Jesus called those first disciples, He told them to “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Mark 1:17) And if you look at the other meaning for the Greek word for “perfectly united”… it means to mend or repair broken nets. Now anyone knows you can’t catch fish with torn nets…so how can the Church expect to follow Jesus and be fishers of men when their nets are shredded with division and strife? We as a body of Believers need to become perfectly united together, and mend our nets.
Later in the Bible, the Apostle Paul admonished the Church in Philippi to, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3) This has to be one of the toughest things to do given mankind’s self-centered, egotistic nature. Instead of seeking out our own 15 minutes of fame, we need to be trying to outdo one another in showing honor. Rather than demanding respect, we need to be recognizing others and praising them for important work they’re doing. Vanity looks for fame and glory, while humility moves “self” off the throne as we esteem others.
The Believers in Damascus had heard about Saul and his murderous threats against them. Ananias also knew Saul had traveled there with the authority from the Chief Priests to arrest them all. So you can imagine that Ananias had many excuses as to why he shouldn’t go and lay hands on this man…but God said, “Go!” And Ananias went. But somewhere between his house and the house where Saul was staying Ananias had a major heart adjustment. For when he greeted Saul, he called him Brother Saul. Brother meaning Saul had been accepted into the community of brothers and sisters in the Lord.