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Third Quarter 2018 • July, August, September
COMMENTARY—THE BOOK OF ACTS
Week 9: August 25–31
COMMENTARY ON "The Second Missionary Journey"
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
There are three especially egregious problems in this week’s lesson, so I will focus primarily on them. The first two occur on page 113 of the lesson, and the third becomes clear in the Teachers Comments.
The first two events occurred in Philippi. The first is recounted in Acts 16:11–13. Here is the passage:
So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, 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. 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 (Acts 16:11–13).
According to Jewish tradition, in order for a synagogue to exist, there had to be at least ten Jews who who could attend. If there were not enough Jews to support a synagogue, there were certain rabbinically approved places where Jews could meet. One of those acceptable places was beside a river.
Paul, seeing there was no synagogue, rightly supposed that the Jews who happened to be in Philippi would likely be meeting outside the city along the river, and he was right. The only people present were women, and Paul and Silas met with them.
The lesson then casts the Adventist shadow on this story. It states, “The significance of this is that Paul did not go to Jewish synagogues on Sabbaths only for evangelistic purposes, but also because this was his day of worship.”
This assumption is entirely invented. Nothing whatsoever suggests that Paul went to the synagogues only for evangelistic purposes or that he went because Sabbath “was his day of worship”. Moreover, throughout the book of Acts, after Paul spent varying numbers of weeks in the synagogues in the cities he visited, ultimately the Jews threw him out, and he began teaching daily in public places.
There is absolutely NO HINT that Paul worshiped in a special way on the Sabbath after being thrown out of synagogues. For sure he was not allowed back into the synagogues on the Sabbath after being thrown out. Paul did not define his worship of God by observing the Sabbath. In fact, even when he was going to the synagogues in the various cities, there is no suggestion that he “honored” the Sabbath. He pragmatically went where the Jews were gathered to teach about Jesus.
Requirement for Salvation
The second problem is in the way the lesson’s author tells the story of the Philippian jailor. After Paul and Silas were imprisoned following their casting a demon out of the slave girl who continued to follow them and to cry out, “These men are bond servants of the Most High god, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation,” they were beaten with rods and thrown into the local jail with their feet in stocks. The whole story occurs in Acts 16:16–40.
First, significantly, the lesson ignores the story of the slave girl with the demon. One might wonder why Paul cast out a demon when the words she was saying were truth. This story illustrates a significant reality: a deceptive witness—a false witness—cannot accurately bear true witness, even if their words are right.
Demons know who Jesus is. They can speak the truth if they wish. But because their natures are evil and committed to deception, when they tell the truth, their witness cannot be believed. This girl was harassing the missionaries and distracting from their message. Even though her words were true, her actual witness was disruptive and confusing. She was not helping people to listen to Paul and Silas.
Interestingly, the lesson makes no mention of this story. I have no way to know what was in the author’s mind, but clearly the truth about a false witness being unable to speak a truthful testimony even if the words are “right” is a problem with Adventism. Adventism claims to be Christian. It claims to tell the truth about Jesus and about salvation by grace through faith. It claims to know and speak the gospel, and it reserves the dark realities for the initiated.
Adventism itself is a false witness of Jesus. It would be unable to accurately explicate this story because the organization itself is parallel with that slave girl. They say the right words to the public, but their internal beliefs are contrary to the gospel. They cannot bear a truthful witness of Jesus.
The lesson does move on to the story of the Philippian jailor. Here is the story from Acts 16:225–34:
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, 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. 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. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God (Acts 16:25–34).
This account is crystal clear. The jailor, a gentile and an unbeliever, witnessed Paul and Silas who had been severely beaten with rods and then thrown into the “inner prison” and where their feet were fastened into stocks, SINGING hymns of praise and praying at midnight! All the prisoners were listening to them; they were hearing the truth of the Lord God proclaimed by men who had suffered for the Lord’s sake.
Suddenly there was a violent earthquake, and the prison doors were thrown open and “everyone’s chains were unfastened,” The jail was terrified and was about to kill himself before his Roman bosses could, but Paul stopped him and assured him everyone was there.
The jailor was convicted. He KNEW this event was not natural. He called for a light and there himself down, crying, in front of Paul and Silas and said, “What its O do to be saved?”
Verse 31 records their answer—and it remains a central passage describing how any person is saved: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
The apostles “spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house.”
That very hour the jailor took Paul and Silas into his house and cleaned their wounds, and the missionaries baptized him and his household.
The lesson says,
“Paul and Silas’s answer to the jailer’s question is in full harmony with the gospel, since salvation is entirely through faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:28, Gal. 2:16). What we cannot conclude from the episode, however, is that belief in Jesus is all that is necessary for baptism, at the expense of the proper doctrinal and practical instruction.”
This statement is patently false. Paul and Silas did not trick the jailor. They did not preach Jesus first, rope in the jailor and his family, and then present Sabbath and the law before baptizing them. NO!
Belief in the Lord Jesus is ALL that is needed. The lesson’s comments are double-speak. If “salvation is entirely through faith in Jesus”, there is NOTHING more that is needed in order to be baptized.
Adventism simply is not Christian. It doesn’t understand that salvation is not about knowing the right things and assenting to them. Rather, salvation is about hearing the gospel that the Lord Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose on the third day. When we hear that gospel and believe that He paid the price for our sins, repenting and trusting His blood to be sufficient to justify us, we literally are born again and transferred from death to life, removed from the domain of darkness and placed in the kingdom of the Beloved Son (Jn. 5:234; Col 1:13).
This reality which Jesus taught Nicodemus (Jn. 3:3-6) and which the epistles explain as well is what Adventism denies.
Adventism denies this essential heart of Christianity in two ways. First, it denies the nature of man, teaching that man is only physical and mental. It denies that there is a human spirit that must be born again because it is born dead. It denies that there is a spirit that separates from the body when a person dies.
Without this understanding of man, it cannot adequately teach the truth about sin or salvation.
The second way Adventism denies this core reality is by saying there are doctrinal truths besides belief in Jesus that must be taught for baptism.
Now, if that “baptism” is Adventist baptism, that statement is true. Adventist baptism is not baptism into the body of Christ but is baptism into membership in the Adventist organization. They may say they are baptizing people into Christ, but that is a euphemism for baptizing them into Adventism. Whenever a pastor baptizes a person, he reports that person to the local conference and they are registered as a new member—plus the pastor is given “credit” for adding another member to the organization.
Biblical baptism, however, is not into an organization. It is into the body of Christ, and the only thing necessary for a person to be baptized is trusting and believing in Jesus and His finished work.
What about suffering?
Finally, the Teachers Comments bring up the subject of suffering. It does not satisfactorily explain its role in a person’s life. It attempts to explain reasons a person can retain faith in God in the face of suffering.
“First,” the author says, “it should be noted that Paul’s extensive suffering does not negate the personal protective care of God.” People are “mostly ignorant of the events that God prevents.”
“Second,” he says, “suffering can serve greater ends.” People may be saved as a result of events that take place because of our suffering. “Inversely, enduring tribulations would serve to prove authenticity, Paul passes the test.”
The discussion of suffering ends with this suggestion for teachers: “Communicate to the class that suffering is a complex issue and that we should be slow to assume that suffering means being abandoned by God.”
The discussion of suffering in the teachers notes reveals that the author simply doesn’t know Scripture nor understand God’s sovereignty or the reality of a life alive in Jesus.
Jesus said we would share His sufferings when we are His. Mark 10:29–30 says,
Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.”
Paul said that we share the sufferings of Christ (2 Cor. 1:5; Phil. 1:29; 3:8; Col. 1:24; 2 Tim. 2:3).
Importantly, the Hebrews 12:1–11 outlines God’s discipline of His own children. The whole passage is worth reading:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
This passage tells us absolutely that God’s true children WILL experience discipline. He disciplines those He loves; if anyone is not experiencing discipline and hardship, he is not a true son. Discipline never seems pleasant. It is painful! The secret, though, is that we are to be trained by it.
God sends discipline into our lives so that we will learn to trust Him. We are to learn that He is our Protector and Provider. He alone is our Reward and our identity. If we are His, we will suffer. There is no way around that fact.
If we feel that as good people trying to please God we shouldn’t experience excruciating suffering, that God must be rejecting us or punishing us, we are not trusting Him as the sovereign God of all. Instead, we are indulging a deep sense of entitlement. We have done our best, have worked hard, had abandoned all to do what we thing God wants. We deserve better protection and care than we have!
We are putting ourselves in the primary spot, not God. We feel God owes us, that we deserve more care from Him, more protection. We make ourselves “sovereign” and God our neglectful attache´.
The truth, however, is that God is sovereign completely. Nothing that happens to us is a surprise to Him, and He ordains our suffering as He ordains our blessings. As His children, our job is to acknowledge Him as God and to give Him thanks. He is making us who He wants us to be.
Those who are trained by discipline sent from God reap the peaceful fruit of righteousness. When we suffer for the sake of honoring God—or suffer in our lives and learn to lean on Him when suffering occurs—we become who He wants us to be.
It is our entitlement that makes us feel we don’t deserve the suffering we receive. As God’s children, we can know that we will endure hardship, and our commitment to the gospel and to the leading of the Lord Jesus will mean we will have trouble in this world.
If we are born again, the Lord will lead us and protect us and be our strength and provision during our suffering, and He will rescue us i His own way and time.