"For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God, and the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth." ~ Deuteronomy14:2

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Raising The Standard: Joyfulness Is Providing Brightness In The Lives Of Others Regardless Of Outward Conditions

"Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame..." ~ Hebrews 12:2
"Blessed be God... who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God." ~ 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
From The Pages Of Scripture: The only effective way to eliminate darkness is to let the light in. God explains in Scripture that Christians are the light of the world. Many Christians fail to visualize the dark circumstances through which they must shine, but Christ actually experienced them for us. He was falsely accused, rejected, despised, forsaken, misunderstood, challenged, beaten, slandered, and threatened. We are called to believe on Jesus and also to suffer for His sake. Power of the right kind of response to suffering was demonstrated by two men who were subjected to cruel outward conditions. Because of their right response, eternal brightness was brought into the lives of many around them.
How Does Scripture Illustrate Joyfulness In Providing Brightness In The Lives Of Others? It is understandable that people who need the Gospel will expect those who bring it to pass their most rigid test --- the ability to rejoice when everyone else would be discouraged. Who in Scripture brought a cynical bystander to salvation because they passed this kind of test? Paul and Silas.
Several men sprang out of their hiding places and rushed upon two surprised travelers. They caught hold of them and dragged them into the town court. First, the two men were falsely accused. Then they were brought before the village rulers and magistrates. Again, false statements and accusations were hurled against them. The magistrates were easily swayed. The coats and shirts of the two men were ripped off. Guards were commanded to beat them. The two men knew that these magistrates were violating the law, because it was unlawful for any Roman citizen to be whipped before he was found guilty by trial. The muscles tightened in the backs and arms of the guards as they lifted the leather thongs with their metal balls high into the air and then brought them down with great force upon the backs of these two men. The crowd grew. Shouting increased as the mob urged on the guards in their bloody ordeal. First the metal balls produced large welts, then the strips of leather cut into the skin and tore the flesh away. When the guards saw that the prisoners were nearing death, they stopped the whipping. Then the men were cast into prison. A startled jailer was given strict instructions not to let them escape. Having received such a charge, he thrust them into the inner prison and locked their feet into heavy wooden stocks. The two men had been falsely accused, denied a fair trial, illegally beaten, and unlawfully imprisoned. Their backs were bleeding; their ankles were in pain. They were tired and hungry, separated from their friends, and suffered the sting of public humiliation. What did they do next? They rejoiced in the Lord with singing and prayer. The other prisoners marveled at what they heard. Such a response deeply impressed the jailer. He found himself considering the possibility of becoming a Christian himself. Obviously these men had something he and his family needed. Later that night an earthquake rocked the prison, springing open the doors and chains. The jailer thought his prisoners had escaped, and he was going to kill himself. But they cried out in a loud voice, "Do yourself no harm. We are all here." The jailer called for a light, ran in and fell down before these two prisoners. He brought them out of their cell and asked, "What must I do to be saved?" They replied, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved and thy house." That very night the jailer and his family believed and were baptized. They washed the wounds of the prisoners, set food before them, and rejoiced together at their new fellowship in Christ. Paul and Silas produced joy in the lives of others because they were able to rejoice in the cruelest possible circumstances. (From Acts 16:11-34)
How Could Paul And Silas Sing When Their Outward Condition Was So Bleak?
Music in Scripture is not always associated with merriment and happiness. One purpose of music in the Old Testament was to calm a troubled heart. David played on his harp to refresh the heart of Saul (1 Samuel 16:23). When Elisha saw the wicked king Jehoram, he was so disturbed that he called for the minstrel to calm him down. "And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the Lord came upon him." (2 Kings 3:15) Paul and Silas may have sung to prepare themselves for prayer. When they prayed and were assured of their deliverance, their singing would have changed to praise. "Then Sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea." (Exodus 15:1; cf. Judges 5:1-2) Paul later told all Christians to make singing an important part of their worship (Ephesians 5:19-20; Colossians 3:16).
Why Didn't Paul And Silas Escape When They Had The Opportunity?
It would have been simple for Paul and Silas to justify their escape. They could have easily slipped out of Philippi at night and headed on their way. Had not God miraculously opened the jail door, loosed their chains, and provided this opportunity for that purpose?l But Paul and Silas were more concerned about the reputation of the Gospel than their own safety. They were both Roman citizens (cf. Acts 16:37) and were entitled to the protection of the law. If they ran, they would have been condemned as associates of criminals. Even after they were given official permission to leave the next morning, they demanded an honorable release in public view. This was not to pamper their hurt pride but rather to demonstrate the legitimacy of their message and to encourage these new believers to be bold in their faith. Paul and Silas assured the integrity of the Gospel before they departed.
How Did God Bless Paul And Silas' Joyful Spirit?
Before Paul and Silas left Philippi, they visited the home of Lydia, the first convert. Her home had become a meeting place for the small church which now included the household of the jailer. Whether or not the slave girl became a believer we are not told, but it is reasonable to suppose that she did. There is some indication that Luke, the physician, was also a member of this new fellowship. In spite of his brief time spent there, Philippi became one of Paul's most loved churches. It brought him more joy than any other (cf. Philippians 1:3-8). He used the Phillipians as an example of generosity to the church of Corinth (2 Corinthians 8:1-6). His epistle to the Philippians was written to a firmly established church which included "bishops and deacons." (Philippians 1:1) It is a tender letter to mature believers, and comparatively little is said about doctrinal error. The joy of the Lord which Paul and Silas demonstrated to the first believers in Philippi may have been a major reason for their quick growth and maturity. Illustrated In The World Of Nature: The migration of the black-capped chickadee is one of the shortest of any bird. In fact, many do not migrate from their birthplace at all, and if they do, they travel only a short distance. These cheerful birds commonly inhabit deciduous and mixed forests and are often seen near homes in residential areas. This little bird has an amazing longevity of up to nine years. The chickadee is gray all year long, the male and female are similar in appearance. When they leave the nest the young birds closely resemble their parents.
How Does The Chickadee Illustrate Joyfulness By Providing Brightness In The Lives Of Others?
The woods were deathly quiet with a foreboding silence in the air. Only a few days before, the countryside had bustled with activity and the songs of excited birds preparing for their southern migration. Then a sense deep within triggered their inner time clock and they were gone. Many of the animals, too, had retreated to various chambers and underground dens not to return for many months. The temperature had dropped and biting, brisk winds ripped away what few leaves remained on the trees. Winter was fast approaching. Lakes had already frozen over, and it would not be long before heavy snows would blanket the northern forest. It was not unusual for the snow to accumulate six feet in depth. The winter would be cold and hard. The mercury would drop well below zero during many of the days ahead. In preparation for the cold months birds, animals, and reptiles had made special provision and had either left the area or fortified themselves to ensure their survival. It appeared as thought the forest was stripped of all life. Even the trees had taken on a stark appearance --- a look of death. As strong, northern winds continued to blow, grey clouds, filled with snow, began to gather. The skies grew darker and the temperature plummeted. Then, faintly in the distance above the whistle of the wind came a soft, chattering noise. The noise grew louder. It was a bird. Not just one bird, but a flock of them were flitting from tree to tree. Could these birds have lost their way? Could it possibly be that they did not realize a blizzard would soon form and snow would cover the countryside? The birds did not appear concerned as they sang their cheerful songs to one another. Even as the snow began to fall, they actively moved about in a confident search for dormant insects hidden in the crevices of tree bark. The large snowflakes fell throughout the night. By morning the storm had passed; everything was still. Snow covered the forest. It was a beautiful sight to behold the bright sunlight sparkling on the glistening white. Once again the air was filled with melody. The chickadees had not gone. They appeared happier than ever, seeming almost to welcome the snow. Some dipped into the powdery flakes to bathe. These hardy little birds would not leave as the others had, but would continue to make this their year-round home. The countryside could look forward to their bright, cheerful song and joyful activities even though outward conditions tended to discourage such a spirit. It is for this reason that one well known naturalist referred to the chickadee as the "bird of the merry heart."

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