The question "If not, why not?" challenges us to reflect on why we don't do some things in our lives. This post asks us to consider if we are living our lives for Christ Jesus like three New Testament characters, Stephen, Philip and Barnabas, did. Each served the Lord Jesus in a different way -- but to the best of their ability.
Are we? If not, why not?
It was an exciting time.
The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith. (Acts 6:7 NASB)
One man, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.
But it was also a very unsettling time. Persecution was increasing. Men of the synagogue in Jerusalem would dispute with this man, and because they could not defeat his wisdom, logic or his grace through discussion and debate, they hired men to lie to the officials about him. They concluded that if they couldn’t refute him with their words, they would quiet him with their actions.
Stephen was called before the high priest to defend himself from the charges. His defense was masterful, and once again, he could not be refuted. But the more he spoke the angrier the officials became. He could have just answered the charge brought against him that he blasphemed the temple and the Law. He could have replied to the false charge that he said Jesus of Nazareth would destroy this temple and change the customs of Moses. He could have said a lot of things to pacify his accusers.
But he did not! Instead he addressed the heart of the issue for which he was being judged – the attitude of the leaders and teachers of Israel. He told the truth. Using the very underpinnings of his accuser’s argument (we have Moses, Abraham and the prophets as our fathers) he told them how their attitude of arrogance was a common trait of Israel’s religious leaders and prevented their fathers and them from recognizing the prophets and sent ones of God. This very arrogance also led them to betray and murder the Just One, Christ Jesus.
At the end of his defense, he glanced up into the sky and, in wonder and awe, testified to all who were listening about what he saw, the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God.
Telling the truth cost him his defense; he lost the case… and his life!
Stephen was physically and forcefully thrown outside of the city walls and stoned to death. Yes, stoned to death! In great agony and pain, nigh unto death Stephen stopped protecting himself. He knelt down exposing himself openly to the stones, lifted up his voice and petitioned that God would be merciful and not hold his executioners accountable for his death; then he died. The stones had accomplished their task, but so had Stephen! (Acts 6 – 7)
What was it that enabled Stephen to not defend himself but to defend the Lord Jesus?
Have you ever bumped your head hard and had to put pressure on it to relieve the pain? Have you stubbed your toe and hopped around on one foot in agony? Ever hit your funny bone in your elbow so your whole arm goes numb? These are things we do to ourselves.
Consider what it would be like to be surrounded by people who are very angry with you, so angry that they are throwing stones as hard as they can at you with the intention of killing you. Even as they were stoning Stephen, he thought of their welfare and desired mercy on their behalf.
What was it that enabled Stephen to love his enemies and to do good to those who despitefully used him even as the Lord Jesus requested in
Mat 5:44-45 YLT:
(44) but I--I say to you, Love your enemies, bless those cursing you, do good to those hating you, and pray for those accusing you falsely, and persecuting you,
(45) that ye may be sons of your Father in the heavens, because His sun He doth cause to rise on evil and good, and He doth send rain on righteous and unrighteous.
Obviously, Stephen loved the Lord God and his son, Christ Jesus, very much!
Can you imagine the depth of the love Stephen had? A love, deep and broad enough to encompass his enemies? A love that thought of others, even his enemies, more than of himself.
A love that deep, a love that broad, a love that strong, a love like that can only grow out of a very intimate and personal relationship with the Lord and Master.
Do we have that kind of relationship with the Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus which fosters such a love?
Do we love our Father in Heaven and His Son more than our own lives?
If not, why not?
The persecution of this man’s beliefs drove him, and many others, from Jerusalem, so he “went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.” (Acts 8:5-6)
Hearing of his success in Samaria, the Apostles in Jerusalem sent Peter and John to Samaria to help also. The disciples were probably not surprised by the success of Philip in Samaria. After all, Jesus taught the woman at the well in the city of Sychar, which was also in Samaria. He spent two days teaching them and many believed. (Jn. 4)
Through Peter and John many were baptized with the Holy Spirit. Then Peter and John, after testifying and preaching the word of the Lord and the Gospel in many villages of Samaria, returned to Jerusalem.
Peter and John’s work was done in Samaria. And so, apparently was Philip’s for the scriptures say in Acts 8:26-27 NASB, (26) But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, "Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza." (This is a desert road.) (27) So he got up and went…; “
Philip conversed with the eunuch of Ethiopia, taught him of who Isa. 53 was written about, baptized him, and then the spirit took Philip to the northern part of Israel where he made his way to Caesarea. Though Philip stayed in Israel, the Gospel spread to Africa.
Philip, obedient to the voice of the Lord, spoke out and spoke up for His Lord and Master. Because of his obedience, he was instrumental in spreading the Gospel in Samaria, and he started it on its way to Ethiopia of Africa through the eunuch.
What was it that enabled Philip to share the Gospel as he did even as Paul encouraged Timothy in 2Ti 4:2 NASB to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction?”
Philip desired to do the Lord’s will; hence, he was sensitive to how the Lord led him. This sensitivity to the Lord’s direction enabled him to discern service opportunities. Because he desired to serve when the opportunities were there he took advantage of them. He made himself available to serve the Lord.
But being sensitive to the Lord’s leading and making yourself available to serve are only prerequisites. One thing more is needed, and Phillip had it: initiative. He had the ability to take the initiative and actually serve.” He preached, he taught, he healed, he baptized.
Philip is an interesting individual. Acts 6:3-5 introduces us to him along with Stephen and five others when the Apostles chose these seven men, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, to handle the temporal affairs of the Church.
We are told very little of his life. But what we are told is how he very effectively proclaimed the Gospel in Samaria, (Acts 8) and how he witnessed to the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8) and then how he was sent by the Holy Spirit to the city Azotus and then made his way to Caesarea.
That is the last we hear of Philip except for one more statement about him. We find it in Acts 21:8 where Philip and his family (including four prophetess daughters) host the Apostle Paul and his company on his third and final missionary journey. This scripture records that Philip was recognized as an evangelist.
Are we trying to be sensitive to the Lord’s guidance in our lives?
Are we trying to make ourselves available to serve the Lord however that service presents itself?
Are we taking the initiative to act upon the opportunities we discern?
If not, why not?
Joseph was born in Cyprus as a Jew. Originally a Levite, he is thought to have been a Hellenized Jew (one who has accepted the Greek culture and language as their own) and to have been one of the 70 disciples sent out by the Lord Jesus. (Lk 10:1, 17) He was active in the early Church and when the need arose he sold his property and gave the proceeds to the Apostles to be used for the care of the brethren. He witnessed first hand the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira for their deception.
Like others, the name he was born with was not the name he was known by. Because of his character qualities, the Apostles affectionately renamed him Barnabas and he was greatly loved and respected by the Christian community. (Acts 15:25)
When Paul came to the Church in Jerusalem, Barnabas stood up for Paul and persuaded the community there to accept Paul as a disciple. Because of Paul’s boldness in preaching the Gospel, the Grecians in Jerusalem tried to kill Paul. So Paul was sent away to Tarsus, but, he, Barnabas, stayed behind and then was sent to Antioch to teach and support the believers there. Barnabas, remembering the power of Paul’s preaching, sought out Paul in Tarsus, brought him back to Antioch and together, they taught the Church there for a year.
Barnabas and Paul brought Antioch's donation to the Jerusalem Church during a famine. It seems that Barnabas and Paul (Acts 11, 12) were in Jerusalem when James was beheaded and Peter was imprisoned and delivered from it by an angel of the Lord. John Mark was Barnabas’ cousin. (Col. 4:10) It was to John Mark’s mother’s house (where many were gathered together praying), that Peter returned after being released from prison. (Acts 12:12)
The three, Barnabas, Paul and John Mark, went on a missionary journey to Cyprus, Perge (where John Mark left them and went to Jerusalem), and Antioch in Pisidia, where they were so violently opposed by the Jews that they decided to preach to the Gentiles. Then they went on to Iconium (Konya) and Lystra in Lycaonia, where they were first acclaimed gods and then, in a turn of events, stoned out of the city. Then they returned to Antioch. (Acts 14)
What was it about Barnabas that made him such an encourager of the brethren?
It was no coincidence that in Acts 13:2 the Holy Spirit paired up Barnabas and Paul and sent them out as missionaries. The name Barnabas means ”Son of Encouragement,” and that was what he was to all. Here was a man full of the Holy Spirit, and full of grace who cared mightily for others and had their best interests at heart. Paul had the gift of speech, but Barnabas had the gift of encouragement. Together, the two were far greater than the sum of their parts, and they accomplished great and wonderful things for the Lord.
What was it about him that he was so greatly loved by the brethren?
Barnabas was greatly loved by the brethren because he cared for them very much. We are told this in Acts 15:25 NASB: “it seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul…”
Even the non-believers esteemed Barnabas highly. Earlier, when teaching at the city of Lystra, he was regarded as the god Zeus and Paul as Hermes, or Mercury.
The crowds thought Barnabas was Zeus and Paul was Hermes. Zeus was the god of the sky and the supreme ruler of the Olympian gods. He is represented as the god of justice and mercy, the protector of the weak, and the punisher of the wicked. Hermes was the cleverest of the gods, and Zeus’ messenger to all the other gods. (Acts 14:11-12 NASB): “When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they raised their voice, saying in the Lycaonian language, "The gods have become like men and have come down to us." (12) And they began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker.”
When a dispute arose regarding the observance of the Jewish rites, Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem, where, at the Jerusalem council, it was decided that non-Jews did not have to be circumcised to be baptized. On their return to Antioch, Barnabas wanted to take John Mark on another visit to the cities where they had preached, but Paul objected because of John Mark's desertion of them in Perge. Paul and Barnabas separated, and Barnabas returned to Cyprus with John Mark; nothing further is heard of him, though it is believed his rift with Paul was ultimately healed.
We don’t often think about Barnabas beyond that he was a companion of Paul for the first of Paul’s missionary journeys, or that he and Paul separated over whether or not to bring John Mark along on another missionary journey. Even in the separation, we see the type of character Barnabas was. He was willing to give John Mark another opportunity for service, to encourage him to be more, to do better, and he was willing to let the past be in the past. How Christ-like is that?
Are we supporting and encouraging the brethren as best we can?
Is our conduct such that those who witness our interactions respect our character and integrity?
If not, why not?
We have considered just three of many New Testament Biblical characters, both men and woman, who desired to serve the Lord and served Him with the skills they had. Each lived their lives willing to do whatever was before them, committed that God knows what is best.
One might think that while these men are wonderful examples, I don’t quite see how they relate to me.
The point is they wanted to serve, were willing to do what was necessary to serve, and acted upon the service opportunities.
Are we doing these things also?
If not, why not?
Perhaps we have concluded that we aren’t doing all that we can for the Lord. Don’t despair, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and we won’t be transformed from imperfection to perfection in a day either. But, lest we think that we will always have more time tomorrow, tomorrow never really comes -- when it does it becomes today! We can only live in today.
John 17:17 says, "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” Our Lord always links the progress and development of our spiritual life with our receiving and obeying the Truth. In other words, our growth in Christ depends upon our obedience to the word of the Lord. In 2 Pet. 1:2-11 NASB we are told what we need to do (note the text in bold) to be a partaker of the divine nature. It reads:
(2) Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord;
(3) seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.
(4) For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.
(5) Now for this very reason also, (that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature) applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge,
(6) and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness,
(7) and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.
(8) For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(9) For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins.
(10) Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble;
(11) for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.
We are told to diligently add to our faith: moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. By doing so we grow from where we are to where God would have us to be so that we can be fit for a place in His kingdom as a member of the Bride of Christ. Spiritual growth is a process, and it takes time and effort to do so. Many times we fail and we may conclude that we have nothing to serve Him with. We want to remember that our weakness and inability to do the things we want to do in service to the Lord is actually our greatest asset. When we call upon the Lord for grace to help and rely upon His strength, then whatever success we have is really His and not ours.
To be successful as a follower of Christ we must first and foremost be just that -- a follower. While we may be other things as well, i.e., Elder, deacon, evangelist, leader, teacher, father, mother, son, or daughter, employee, etc., we must always be a follower of Christ. When we step off of the path laid out for us, we step into trouble, and we all know we should never go looking for trouble as it has a way of finding us all on its own.
Stephen was one of the seven men chosen by the Apostles to serve the needs of the Church community. Because he was a man of faith and filled with the Holy Spirit, he performed great wonders and signs among the people. He was martyred for his great love for Christ and even as they killed him, he prayed that they would not be held accountable for his death.
Stephen loved the Lord God and his son, Christ Jesus very much; a love deep and broad enough to even encompass his enemies.
Philip was sensitive to the Lord’s leadings and because he wanted to serve, he made himself available for service. He took advantage of the opportunities that came to him. Like Stephen, he was a man of faith also. He performed great signs and wonders and had a gift for evangelism. Because he used what he had, he was instrumental in proclaiming the Gospel in Samaria and started the spread of the Gospel in Ethiopia.
Whether it was a financial contribution or encouragement in the Lord, Barnabas loved and cared for the brethren. Recognizing the value of Paul’s ability to speak for the Gospel of Christ, he supported Paul before the Apostles. Because of Barnabas, the door of evangelism was opened wide for Paul, and together by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Barnabas and Paul stepped through and testified of the Lord Jesus. Barnabas was an encourager and he encouraged all whom he came into contact with, including Paul.
Barnabas was greatly loved by the brethren because he cared for them very much.
Are we doing these things also?
If not, why not?
Spiritual growth just doesn’t happen. It requires the blood of Christ, the sweat of effort, and yes, even tears of repentance. Our growth depends upon our obedience to the word of the Lord. We should seek first the things of God and eliminate as much as possible the rest of the things cluttering our lives.
Most of us live our lives in a way that could be best expressed by the phrase, “If in doubt – don’t!” As a follower of Christ we really should put a positive spin on this phrase, and unless it violates God’s principles of righteousness, we should live by the maxim, “If in doubt – do!”
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. It is time to take the next step in our journey of growth. As we do so, may faith enable us to hold His hand and not let go. May humility enable us to acknowledge, repent and turn away from sin. And may His grace enable us to rise again when we stumble.
Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever. Amen! (2 Pet. 3:18)