God on the Move: “Making Connection" – Acts 9-11; 1 Cor. 12

Telstar1It was fifty-two years ago this summer that President John F. Kennedy announced the launch of the Telstar Communications Satellite that connected in near “real time” the European continent to the USA by way of microwave signal. This was the first “instant wireless signal”, that allowed for both dynamic two-way communication and live picture broadcast. That first television broadcast was, in fact, the press conference that “linked” the western world together, and bridged the ocean without the physical constraints of tethering wires. In a real way, this was the beginning of wireless connection that has connected much of the world together without wires. You may be interested to know that there are now just over 7 billion people on the planet, and 6.8 billion cell phones. It is true, not every area of our globe is covered, and some people have multiple phones, but I doubt President Kennedy could have envisioned that a single satellite would begin connections that would put whole computers in purses and pockets of people around the globe in the form of cell phones… We live in the connected world, and most of us don’t even think about it.

Hold that thought about connection, because it is extremely relevant to our lesson from the Word… For a few moments, I want us to take another step together in our studies on the “Life and Ministry of Saul of Tarsus”, better known to believers as the Apostle Paul – and look at how the important lesson of connection was forged in his life…

We met Saul at the stoning of Stephen recorded in Acts 7, and took a quick overview of his life and ministry – just to get our “feet wet” in the details of his life. In the second study, we watched as Jesus broke the proud stride of the “Pharisee on a mission” and cast him to the ground in a blinding light. He met Jesus there, and Jesus took away his physical sight for three days, to give him spiritual insight that would change his eternity. Though well-educated and erudite before meeting the Savior in a vision, we noted that Saul wasn’t ready until he relearned the basics of life, and then had intense training for an extended period under the work of the Spirit’s transformation and Jesus’ discipleship in the desert. We watched Saul take his “first steps” in his new faith – and then celebrated the work of God in him over seven years of reshaping.

In this lesson, we want to bridge the gap between his time of early learning and his first mission journey, by looking at the Scripture for the next move of God in his life. Let’s summarize where we are this way:

• First, we can observe the thirty plus years of life of a Pharisee who loved the Law – but didn’t have a personal relationship with God.

• Second, the Word offered an excellent picture of the meeting place between the Savior and the would-be servant.

• Third, the early training and reshaping took place in initial success in Damascus and a hiatus in the desert to learn from the Savior, followed by an attempt on his life. Escaping Damascus, he met some key leaders of the faith but got a vision to from God to leave Jewish ministry and head for the diaspora – back to Tarsus. The temptation to “jump ahead of God’s call” was overcome, and Saul got busy ministering in small places, and learned faithfulness long after the newness wore off.

• Now we see the one lacking piece that will make or break the rest of his ministry – the careful making of connection to the other believers in the body of Christ (the church). With this, we see an important principle…

Key Principle: The believer was not called to follow Jesus alone, but to work in vital connection to the body of Christ.

The Apostle Paul carried the weight of the believers of his day – there is no doubt about it. He felt it when they turned on one another, hurt one another, or acted sinfully and brought derision on the name of the Savior. He constantly urged the believers to see themselves as connected together – all ONE in Christ. In one discussion, as Paul was writing about spiritual gifts – those special enabling powers given by God at the time of our salvation – he told the believers at Corinth that they were joined together… they were part of one another. He wrote:

1 Corinthians 12:12 For even as the body is one and [yet] has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 14 For the body is not one member, but many. 15 If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not [a part] of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less [a part] of the body. … 18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. … 20 But now there are many members, but one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” … 24 … But God has [so] composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that [member] which lacked, 25 so that there may be no division in the body, but [that] the members may have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if [one] member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. 27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. (NASB)

When we read that passage, there are five things that become very clear:

• First, any differences between believers (in terms of their exercise of gifts) must not suggest a different body connection, only a different function within the body. We are all pulling together in Christ – even if we are doing it differently than our best Christian friend.

• Second, our backgrounds aren’t supposed to be a dividing factor. Our race, our past and our status in society are melted away as we join with one another.

• Third, every role in the body is important – though not all are as “visible” to the whole.

• Fourth, individuals may find a cause to rejoice or cry – and we are to be able to it together. We are joined to each other in grief, sorrow, joy and celebration!

• Fifth, connection is the key to healthy activity. A body that loses a part loses health and wholeness. In the same way, we are to grow into our need of one another – caring about the absenting of one from the others.

Here is my question: “How did Paul come to that conclusion?” I know, you and I recognize the words were not merely Paul’s own – but he was moved by God’s Spirit to write what he did. At the same time, he agreed with the words. How did he grow from the rugged individualist leader type to one who was so very connected to others? I suspect God taught him through the incredible benefits of connection. In the early stages of his ministry, just as he was learning to be faithful in the small assignments, God was sculpting Paul. He was learning the value of connection.

Five Advantages of Connection:

I have been finishing the work on my upstairs bathroom, and have been putting the cabinetry on the walls, and finishing the wiring of the bathroom. To help me get the look Dottie wanted, we went to IKEA. Someone has quipped that IKEA is Swedish for “puzzle maker” – and if you have ever bought their products you know why that is both funny and painful. I admit it – I love their cabinets and rooms, but have never seen so many parts simply to hang a door! In the thousands of little pieces they give you as part of the pack, I have only one warning… be careful to keep everything together and organized. You will need every little Swedish “do-dad” they give you to put their furnishings together! Those little connectors are essential!

While we are thinking about those little connectors, let’s think about the “body connectors” that we have for the body of Christ. We get together in tons of little meetings. Many of them are not very important on the face of them – but people who pray and play together learn to stay together. When you know people well, it is harder to begin to believe bad things shared with you about them. You KNOW them… and that happened because of countless meals together, meetings, little tasks – time spent together! There are INCREDIBLE ADVANTAGES TO CONNECTION. I want to mention five of them that Paul learned at this stage of his walk – just before God called him into mission service along dusty roads, on wind-whipped ships, and surrounded by the smell of cooking pig meat.

Connection offers protection (Acts 9:29-30)

First, connection offers protection when the enemy attacks – and he WILL attack. Look in Acts 9:29-30:

9:29 And he was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic [Jews]; but they were attempting to put him to death. 30 But when the brethren learned [of it], they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus.

In our last lesson we breezed by the death threat against Paul. It was an important lesson to the young Christian – that walking with God was not going to be without it enemies and hazards. In fact, when you gave your life to Christ, the enemy of Jesus became YOUR enemy as well. As an unbeliever, Satan had no reason to get too far into your life. Most of the damage in terms of sin came from the influence of the world (where Satan has a hand) and the works of the flesh (which are bent toward evil since the Fall of man). Yet, when you surrendered your life to Jesus to follow Him and trust Him – you got a target on your back. If you move forward with your witness – you should expect the wicked one to pay attention to you in a whole new way!

Though other believers cannot put on all the spiritual armor God called the believer to wear – your brothers and sisters in Christ DO have a role to play when you are under attack. Do you remember where Paul wrote about the connection that offers protection? Ephesians 6 reminded the believers at Ephesus of the common Roman armor they saw everyday as soldiers passed through the city. Paul took inventory and assessed the implements for a fight – then applied those pieces of armor to the spiritual war. He urged the believers of Ephesus to be strengthened in God’s power (10). How?

1) By using the resources God gave them (Eph. 6:11);
2) By identifying the real enemy (Eph. 6:11b-12);
3) By deliberately putting on all the protection provided by God (Eph. 6:13).

Paul wrote of two types of armor:

The FIRST TYPE was that armor which must always be at the ready. If there was a lull in the battle, the fighter was not to remove the first three implements. He indicated that in the verb form “always having” the:

a. Belt of truthfulness: (alethia: truth as content) vulnerable area, carefully protected (14); Paul was not addressing the truth of salvation (as in v. 17 and the sword, Word), but rather the commitment to truthfulness of the believer!
b. Breastplate of righteousness (holy choices): covering heart, able to take direct blows when positioned correctly (14b), breaks your heart when not maintained. In the Hebrew world, the “heart” is the mind! (Prov. 23:7; Mark 7:21). Paul does not refer to self-righteousness (Eph. 2:8-9), nor of imputed righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21), but of a life practice of righteousness, or holy living.
c. Sandal guard straps fixed in position to provide a firm stand with the Gospel: metal tabs that protected the surface of the foot with cletes to hold the soldier in place. Paul refers to the unmovable faith in the Gospel to bring peace in the life of the lost.

The SECOND TYPE of armor was indicated in the poor translation of “Above all” (v.16). The grammar was NOT indicating the shield is more important, but is linked to the verb form of all of the next three items. They were to appropriate at the time necessary the:

d. Blocking shield of faith (theuron; large shield to block arrows; 4.5 feet by 2.5 feet., cp. Psalm 18:30). His reference is not to “belief” as such, but to “trust” that changes our view of ourselves and the world around us. When the battle rages, use the shield. 1) they were effective when locked together; 2) they were effective when held tightly and trusted and all remained in place.
e. Helmet of salvation (refers to the protection of the transformed mind) when we understand that our salvation has a PAST aspect: justification; a PRESENT aspect: sanctification; and a FUTURE aspect, our eventual glorification. We must see things through God’s eyes and learn to call the battle by His Word!
f. Sword of the Spirit: the WORD (RAMA: From the word “to pour, an utterance”) of God. The “machaira” dagger is not the broad sword, rhomphaia). A specific Word from God that He gives to take a direct shot at the enemy!

It is the blocking shield that reminds us of the protection from connection. Only a wall of shields would block, intimidate and cause advance. Alone, the soldier was just a guy with a leather covered device. Together, the wall of soldiers was ghastly if they were advancing on your line!

Let’s be clear: the enemy always looks for the believer that thinks they can stand alone. Without accountability, without engagement of others, without placing ourselves deliberately under the spiritual authority of godly men – we are like the wandering wildebeest on the prairie – we look much like “supper” to a hungry lion.

Connection offers inspection (Acts 11:19-24)

Deliberate connection to the body also offers something else – it offers the opportunity to have our life inspected by another. That isn’t the negative that some may hear. Listen to the passage that helped shape the early church’s sense of inspection:

Acts 11:19 So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. 20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and [began] speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord. 22 The news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. 23 Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and [began] to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain [true] to the Lord; 24 for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord.

God was doing something in Antioch that wasn’t happening in Jerusalem. In fact, Jerusalem had no desire for it to happen. God was opening the door to the Gentile world – a blessing that became the most disturbing problem to the early church of the first century. Many of the epistles, letters written from church leaders to local churches and other leaders, addressed that very issue.

The text related that most believers were sharing the message of Jesus WITHIN Judaism, even after they began to scatter with rising persecution (Acts 11:19). A few began to speak to Greeks – whether they were proselytes to Judaism or not we do not know – but they clearly went outside the normal frame of practiced ministry. Remember, the whole “church thing” was still new. Remember also that Jesus promised the Apostles they would be called upon to “bind” (forbid) and “loose” (allow) things as they sought the Spirit’s direction (Matthew 18:18).

When believers heard about the ministry to the Gentiles, they dispatched a godly and encouraging man to look carefully into the matter. What he found shocked, and then delighted him. God was doing something no one foresaw! He encouraged them to continue, and many came to Christ (Acts 11:23-24). The connection between the groups made inspection possible, and allowed the believers to share even greater joy – instead of one group hiding what they were doing from another out of fear. Why? Connection tears down fear. It bridges differences. It allows us to explain ourselves to a caring ear, so that we are challenged if wrong, and strengthened if correct. The group felt affirmed, understood and even more interconnected as a result of Barnie’s visit!

Connection offers endorsement (Acts 11:25-26)

Paul probably heard about what happened in Antioch later, but he also personally experienced it a short time after the first Greeks were coming to Jesus. Follow the story as Dr. Luke offered it…

Acts 11:25 And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

What incredible verses! Saul was about seven years old in Messiah, and he was faithfully serving God while making tents. He was part of the fellowship of churches – teaching and sharing –but he was “nobody particularly important” at that time. It was the connection that Barnabas made to him that changed all that.
Barnie knew what Saul had to offer. He recognized the need for a critical thinker, as well as a careful learner of the Word. Barnie was convinced that God was at work, but he knew that his evaluation needed to be examined in light of the Word of God. Who better than that tough minded Pharisee from Tarsus? Saul followed because Saul felt connected. They met for a year with believers in Antioch because they knew they were connected to one Savior, fighting one battle, working for one cause.

Did you note the outcome? Of course there were some great Bible studies, and yes… there were no doubt more added to the Lord… but look at the end of what we read…Christians got their name! They first LOOKED LIKE a body of Christ – sounding like the Savior and acting in that familiar loving yet decisive way. They got called “Christians” because they acted like “little Christs” – followers in DEED. Connection offered the opportunity for Saul to be endorsed by Barnabas, and it offered the opportunity for the whole body to be commended as walking like Jesus!

Connection offers context (2 Corinthians 12:2-7)

It would be easy to skip an important event that appears to have happened right at this time. About fourteen years after the events of Acts 11, Paul was writing to the church at Corinth, and he mentioned an event that probably fit the time we are studying – so it is worth mentioning. Saul was not ONLY learning how to walk with Jesus and serve Him from other leaders, he was learning from the Master Himself. Once again, a vision assisted Saul’s growth – and it will help us to see how God used connection to set the vision in a context of ministry to people. First, the record:

2 Corinthians 12:2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago– whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows– such a man was caught up to the third heaven. 3 And I know how such a man– whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows—4 was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak. 5 On behalf of such a man I will boast; but on my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to [my] weaknesses. 6 For if I do wish to boast I will not be foolish, for I will be speaking the truth; but I refrain [from] [this], so that no one will credit me with more than he sees [in] me or hears from me. 7 Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me– to keep me from exalting myself!

Paul was in the midst of a letter that offered three basic statements. 2 Corinthians offered an explanation in chapters 1-7 as to why Paul told the church at Corinth he was coming, but then did not show up. In chapter 8-9, Paul renewed his expectation that the people of Corinth would complete the collection for the believers at Jerusalem. In the end of the letter, Paul exhorted the believers of Corinth to follow proper leadership and behave well (2 Cor. 10-13). While the letter had a somewhat defensive tone in places, it was clear that some believers in Corinth were “bad mouthing” the Apostle in his absence. Some thought they were “just as qualified” to offer God’s direction as Paul – and they said so! They were arrogant in his absence, and his connection to them would help them get back in line.

The passage we read was about Paul’s own opportunity to visit Heaven in a vision. God used that, as he did long before with Ezekiel, to secure Paul through difficult days. His glimpse at the majesty of our God bolstered him through troubled times. Yet it was very personal. The things he saw were not to be shared – they were for him alone.

Did he get a “big head” and walk arrogantly because of the vision – not really. He got along with God’s deep and abiding encouragement something else. He got a “thorn in the flesh”. He got a weakness. God didn’t just want to him to be strong and privileged – but dependent and weak. The GREAT APOSTLE PAUL would need others to do the late night writing and correspondence – because his eyes evidently were not always working. Connection offers us a way to be real, to place all our blessing in a context of real life – and to walk with others as ONE OF THEM. Paul was connected to Christ by his incredible spiritual vision – and connected more deeply to other believers because of his faulty physical vision. Paul could set his blessings in the context of his needs, and be a balanced and loving follower of Jesus.

Connection offers expanded vision (Acts 11:27-30; 12:25-13:3)

Just as Barnabas found that God was expanding the vision of ministry, so Paul learned that in the body were some attuned to needs he would not have sensed. Luke offered:

Acts 11:27 Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them named Agabus stood up and [began] to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the [reign] of Claudius. 29 And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send [a contribution] for the relief of the brethren living in Judea. 30 And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders.

Then later Luke offered:

Acts 12:25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, taking along with [them] John, who was also called Mark. Acts 13:1 Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was [there], prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.

Look at both of these scenes and you cannot help but notice that God worked through the body of Messiah – as one part of the body was called on to assist the other part. Agabus made the room aware that trouble was coming. Others devised a plan to assist the fledgling church at Jerusalem and the Judean villages. Together they could tackle what no one could do alone. Together they could see what they could not see alone.

Later, after Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch, it was in the prayer meeting of the body that God set aside Barnabas and Saul for the work they were to do for Him. It was from their knees that God spoke to the ROOM, so that no one could later claim the men were self-appointed. A prayer meeting of the body yielded the first piercing into the darkness of the Roman world beyond the “drift” of the Gospel.

James Montgomery Boice told a story back in the days he pastored in Philadelphia. He spoke of Lawrence of Arabia visiting Paris after World War I with some Arab friends. He showed them around Paris, but what fascinated them most was the faucet in their hotel room. They spent hours turning it on and off; they thought it was wonderful. All they had to do was turn the handle, and they could get all the water they wanted. When time came to leave, Lawrence found them in the bathroom trying to detach the faucet. They explained, “It is very dry in Arabia. What we need are faucets. If we have them, we will have all the water we want.” Lawrence had to explain that the effectiveness of the faucets lay in their connection to the pipeline.

I am living in a time when believers don’t seem to realize that our power is not only from connection to the Spirit and to the Word – but also to each other. We were called to live, to walk and to serve in the context of community. The body of Christ has far too many parts that are proudly disconnecting themselves – and they are losing strength in the process. When the Spirit sent Barnabas and Saul out, it was not in disconnection – but in extension.

I want you to think for a moment about some men traveling in a river on a small raft. They didn’t realize until too late they were close to waterfalls and rapids, and the small raft was being tugged more and more swiftly by the sweeping current into the rocks of the rapids. The men began to panic. Knocked from the raft, one man after another struggled as they were pulled toward the falls, and toward a certain death. One man spotted a tree limb growing from the shore and glanced off a rock in the direction of the shore, grabbing the limb and working his way slowly toward the shore. The limb was small and weak, but with patience and struggle – that man was safe on shore. In the meantime, another man saw a large log – it looked strong and stable. He grabbed the log as it moved by, and that choice led him to the falls and to his death. Though the log looked stronger, it was unattached to the shore. It was unconnected. It didn’t lead to safety or strength. It led to death. (RS).

Believers must learn to connect and work at connection. That connection provides protection, inspection, endorsement, context and expanding vision. The believer was not called to follow Jesus alone, but to work in vital connection to the body of Christ.