Finding the Way Forward
Text: Acts 9:17-31
Proposition: The way forward for both individuals and churches will always involve two things: the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit.
Introduction: The last time that we looked at the book of Acts we were reading the account of the conversion of Saul as he was on the road to Damascus to persecute the Christians there. We considered the truth that sometimes the grace of God will pick you up and slam you to the ground. We talked about how God pursues us like a cowboy about to rope a calf. While we are busy pursuing other purposes, God pursues us, with accuracy, timing and stops us in our tracks, flips us up in the air and brings us to the ground with a thud. The account of Saul being laid out flat on his back on the dusty road just outside Damascus was a graphic picture of all that. So Saul’s life has been turned upside down, or perhaps he had always been upside down and now he was turned right side up. Things were no longer the same. This morning I’d like to talk about finding your way forward when things have been turned right side up. As we do that we’ll see that there’s always more to the story than meets the eye. We’ll see that God has a way of doing things that isn’t always what we would have chosen and that God uses a strange contrast of two things to effect change in individuals and in entire churches. Have a look at Acts 9: 17-31 with me.
I. God’s Bitter Sweet Recipe For Finding the Way Forward.
You know those strange combinations that our sense of taste finds intriguing, sweet and sour or spicy and tangy. They seem to be opposites and yet each compliments the other, enhances the other. Well God too has a kind of bitter sweet recipe, it’s found right at the end of the passage we’ve just read. In verse 31 it says, “Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.” That strange contrast I was talking about is in the last part of the verse, “And walking in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit they were multiplied.” Fear and Comfort, side by side, simultaneously directing them both as individuals and congregations to find their way forwards. Let’s look at what the Scripture records for us and see how it applies to us as individuals and even to us as a congregation, a body of Christ called Faith Community Church finding its way forward. So let’s take the first component of God’s recipe, let’s talk about what the fear of the Lord looks like.
II. Walking In the Fear of the Lord Means Trusting God, Again and Again.
There’s this well known line in the book of Job 13:15, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” Just a few lines further on Job adds, “Only two things do not do to me, then I will not hide myself from You: Withdraw Your hand far from me, And let not the dread of You make me afraid.” The fear of the Lord is not that kind of fear that makes us want to go and try to hide from God. Instead it’s a conscious choice to trust God even if he should choose to end me, to slay me. It’s an act of choice that believes He will not withdraw His hand from me, even when I sin and fall. Clearly the passage in Acts infers that Saul was walking in the fear of the Lord. What did that look like for him? It meant that though he had lost all credibility with the Sanhedrin and the Pharisees he had found a new identity in Jesus Christ. The fear of the Lord compelled Saul to see that God has a way of doing things that wouldn’t be our way. Saul was a solo player, the fear of the Lord said that God has no solo players, instead he uses a fellowship, a body of people that collectively are meant to look like Jesus. That’s absolutely necessary because as individuals we are tripped up by our own sin natures. Typically we reflect our selves more than we reflect Jesus, typically we justify ourselves more than allowing God to justify us in Christ. It takes a body, a unified body of believers to rightly reflect who Jesus is. That was a tough adjustment for Saul the soloist. Walking in the fear of the Lord also means that we are called to trust God’s timing over our own. I think Saul was a take charge, make it happen type of personality yet no sooner is he saved and baptized and ready to go than God directs Saul in a different direction. When you read Luke’s account it sounds like Saul is saved and then a few days later is preaching in the synagogue and then has to flee to Jerusalem. This is where we are reminded that things aren’t always what they seem to be. Years later Saul, now being called by his Greek name Paul, writes this in the book of Galatians 1:15-18, “But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter and remained with him fifteen days.” Three years, which to the Jewish way of reckoning time could mean part of one year, a full year and part of the next year, is how long it was before Saul goes to Jerusalem. Things are not always what they seem, God’s method was to sideline Saul in order to strengthen him for what is to come. The fear of the Lord is a call to trust God, again and again. It directs us to join with Him in His purposes, it amplifies His holiness and the process of holiness that He is refining in us. That fear of the Lord is part of how I find my way forward, how any church finds its way forward. It creates the environment that is profitable for God to be adding others to, to multiply a church. Proverbs calls the fear of the Lord, the beginning of wisdom, the fear of the Lord is an essential for learning, for the acquiring of wisdom, to see things through new eyes, the eyes of Christ.
III. Walking In the Comfort of the Holy Spirit Is Healing Again and Again.
Some commentators have said that it is usually one of these or perhaps both that becomes the reason why any person joins a church. Either it’s the fear of the Lord that church preaches and manifests or it’s some aspect of healing they experience through the Holy Spirit as He speaks to their hearts. Sometimes we have had people come to a worship service here and all they could do was weep tears of healing. The comfort of the Holy Spirit happens primarily through the Word of God. He uses it to speak truth to our souls, He pulls it up in our memory where it had long ago been filed and says to us, “This is where it fits in your life.” When Saul preached that Jesus is the Son of God in the synagogues, when he refuted the Helenists later in Jerusalem, it was the Holy Spirit bringing the word of God to Saul’s remembrance and adding the missing context. Walking in the comfort of the Holy Spirit means that it’s an ongoing process of learning the Word, referencing the Word, trusting the Word and ultimately letting the Word of God bring about change in us through the guidance, correction and comfort of the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps one of the most peculiar things for a non Christian to hear is that when you receive Christ, God will place His Holy Spirit in you permanently. To think that we can be a place where the Holy Spirit dwells is an incredible thought. It is a great trust on Jesus part towards us that He would presence Himself in the Spirit in us as sin flawed people. Then the realization strikes us that the very thoughts I hold in my mind the Spirit of God is especially privy to. Let me share a few verses of Scripture with you that speak about this. 1 Cor. 2:9-11 says, “But as it is written: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him. But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.” When you walk in the comfort of the Holy Spirit the deep things of God become made known to you. Sometimes the Spirit will use people like Ananias or Barnabas to be the catalyst for that, many times He will use the Word of God reminding you of the character of God and of who you are in Him. When you read Acts 22 where Paul many years later shares his testimony of these days we’ve just been reading about, he talks about the very definite direction he received from the Holy Spirit.
How do you find your way forward? It will have these two contrasting yet complimentary aspects to it. The fear of the Lord that induces wisdom in us and the comfort of the Holy Spirit that effects healing in us emotionally and spiritually, again and again as we walk transparently with Him, finding the way forward.