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Witness and Worship

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
February 1, 2023 3:00 am

Witness and Worship

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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February 1, 2023 3:00 am

Praising God is easy when things are going well. But what about during the hard times? Examine Silas and Paul’s prison experience to learn how to worship and witness even in challenging circumstances. That’s our focus on Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.



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It is easier to praise God when things are going well and we're feeling blessed.

What do we do when the wheels fall off? Today on Truth for Life, we'll look at Silas and the Apostle Paul's prison experience to learn how to worship and witness even when our circumstances are daunting. Alistair Begg is teaching from Acts chapter 16. We're focusing on verse 25.

I think that it is safe to say that, more than anything else, we long together to be both a worshiping and a witnessing community of God's people. And it is for that reason that I wanted to draw your attention to the twenty-fifth verse of Acts 16. It just slips into the middle of the narrative here.

It is there without much introduction and much follow-up on. About midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. The context, of course, in which this incident emerges is described for us here by Luke. In fact, you have the encounter of three individuals in the space of a few verses who are impacted by the power of God's Word. First of all, in the life of a businesswoman by the name of Lydia, who had been attending the place of worship, who had been listening to the Word as it was proclaimed, and who in the course of that routine environment discovered that her heart was opened to the truth of God's Word and her life was changed. Then we go on to read in the opening verses of the section that follows of their journey to the place of prayer once again, and this time met by a slave girl, an anonymous slave girl, and she is delivered from the Spirit that possesses her.

And Luke does not tell us that she is at the same time converted and baptized, but I suppose each of us in reading this hopes desperately that that's the case. And so you have added to the number not only a businesswoman who is identified by name, but an anonymous slave girl who was being used and abused by those who were her owners. And then, of course, in the section that we did not read that follows the course of our reading this evening, you have the story of the conversion of a Roman jailer. And John Stott points out quite helpfully that in relation to these individuals, they were disparate from one another racially, socially, and psychologically, worlds apart, and yet they were changed by the same gospel, and they were welcomed into the same church. Now, the context that of course gives rise to the arrival of these individuals in the jail is the fact that when Paul exercised the Spirit that possessed this young girl, he also exercised the source of her owner's income.

And as a result of doing so, the encouragement of the conversion of Lydia and the dramatic transformation in the life of this girl is then more than balanced out by all that follows from that point. And you will notice that they are seized in verse 19, they are dragged into the marketplace, the agora, they are then put face to face with the authorities, they bring out the magistrates, and they seek very skillfully to disguise what their real concern was. What was it that made these men angry? It was the fact that their prophet base had been completely dismantled. And so they come to the magistrates, and they come very skillfully with the accusation that these men were causing a riot, and they were introducing an alien religion.

Now, the fact was that neither Paul nor Silas were seeking to do either. The word of the gospel had begun to permeate the Roman culture. However, the charges were significant enough for the magistrates to come, to assemble in the place, and for them to hear the case. I don't think there's any question in verse 20 and 21 that they are seeking to cash in on an inherent anti-Semitism, which would be part of the Roman mind, and also to stir up the notion of racial pride.

Why do I say that? Because you will notice the sentence that begins at the end of verse 20, "'These men are Jews,'" and then notice, "'unlawful for us Romans.'" These guys are Jews, and this is not the kind of thing that we Romans want to have to deal with.

Is it magistrates? All the time disguising what it was that really concerned them. As a result of having brought them to this place, they are then given a severe flogging. They are thrown into prison. The jailer is commanded to guard them carefully, and in order that he might do as good a job as he can possibly do, we're told that he put them in the inner cell, and he fastened their feet in the stocks. And then Luke tells us, at about midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and other prisoners were listening to them. Well, it's hardly a surprise, is it, that they were listening to them? If you think about the fact of what these prisoners were used to experiencing when others were added to the company, it certainly didn't have to do with hymn singing. You have fixed in your mind, some of you, the noise of them taking those metal cups and rattling them on the bars and making noises as the people are brought in and finally incarcerated along with them.

And therefore, every expectation that what they would experience would just be the curses and groanings as these individuals responded to their bleeding backs and to the stress and strain of the previous evening. And so they listened, because Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God. Loved ones, I don't know if it has completely dawned upon this congregation the phenomenal evangelistic potential of when we are at worship. This idea that somehow or another we would want to dumb down our expressions of praise or to marginalize them or to accommodate them to friends and neighbors who would walk in from our communities finds no origin in the thinking and praying and dreaming of the leadership here at Parkside. Rather, it is the longing of my heart that God will so move upon those who are genuinely his own in this place that we then, in praying and in praising God, will cause those who are still prisoners to the evil one to listen to what is taking place.

Because they have no explanation as to why it is that we should be as we are. Now, I don't want to be unkind to you in any way, but I do want to exhort you, and I do want to tell you this, and what I tell you I tell myself. If you think, as a congregation, that we have come close to approximating, to reality, of that which the Bible conveys, which some of us have experienced and which others of us long for, then, my dear friends, you have missed the boat completely. For example, in the preparation for worship in this place, we are still a long way away from the people of God coming with a spirit of expectancy for meeting with the living God and coming with a genuine desire for an encounter with him that sets aside every other marginal notion and preoccupation, in the recognition of the fact that for me to worship God is an act of selflessness, it is an act of God-centeredness, it is an act whereby the me in it all is lost sight of in the encounter with God who is worthy to be praised.

And do not misunderstand for a moment. This may be expressed in a beautiful silence. It may be expressed in a worshipful song. It may be expressed in myriad ways. But when you've experienced it, you know you have. Paul and Silas could have done a number of things when they hit the jail floor, couldn't they?

But actually, their reaction to their circumstances is very different from any of these, and that's the challenge at least to me. At midnight they were praying and singing. The phrase actually is in the imperfect tense. It doesn't mean that they sang the doxology and went off to sleep. The tense is that they were continually singing. They were singing.

Why? Because they recognized that God was even in their incarceration, that God had given them the ability to speak as they'd spoken to Lydia, that God had given them the ability to see the exorcism of the slave girl, and that God, as a result of that, had tolerated them to be put into this position. So God was still God in the jail in the same way as he was out of the jail. And so they said, Well, let's just praise him. I say to you again, I'm not sure we understand the tremendous evangelistic potential of a worshiping congregation.

And the prisoners were listening to them. I don't expect the pagans to sing in our worship services. If I was a pagan, I wouldn't sing, unless I liked the tune or something. What do I have to sing about? In royal robes, I don't deserve.

I don't know about royal. I don't know about robes, and I don't about deserve nothing. So when I look out on the morning congregation, so when I look out on the morning congregation, I expect to see people standing there, just staring in front of them. I see teenage boys bored out of their minds, just looking around, chewing gum. I see men slightly comatosed, leaning over on their side. If they could lie down on the pew, I think they would. I understand that.

Dead people don't sing. But loved ones, I cannot believe it when I see some of you. Oh, I'm gonna put a video camera out here some Sunday. I'm gonna send somebody out just to shoot through the congregation the way they do at the ballgame, and all of a sudden, your face is gonna be up on that screen. And you won't be going like this, Hey, hey, hey! You know, hey, we're on, we're on! You'll be putting your head down in shame. Goodness gracious, look at us!

Look at us! And I say to you again, there is spiritual geography here, loved ones, into which those of you who are serious may endeavor to go as a catalyst to those around you who are prepared to say, And I worship you, Almighty God. You are worthy of my praise. You take the lady in Mark's gospel when she comes with the alabaster jar of ointment, and she cracks it. And the people say, What a dumb thing to do! Do you realize what that was worth? Do you realize what she could have done with that? Of course she understood what she could have done with it. A lady had that in her dowry for one of two reasons. Either to use on the night of her marriage or to use in anointing for her burial. Do you think that she simply went through her cupboards and said, You know, maybe I can take something along here to see Jesus tonight. There's got to be something in here I can use, you know. They say, What does it matter after all?

Just give him whatever I've got. No, she said, This is what I will take, and this is what I will break. And as a result of taking it and breaking it, there was such a transformation.

One of the reasons, loved ones, that our worship is as ineffective as it is is because there is no purposeful taking, and there is no meaningful breaking. And again, I'm not talking about a style. Don't hang that one there. I'm not talking about it being effervescent. I'm not talking about it being silent. I'm not talking about it being anyway. I don't even know how it's supposed to be. But I do know the difference, because I've been there.

And some of you have too. And you cannot produce this. Only God can do it. It has to do with his reviving power. It has to do with the stimulus of his Spirit. It has to do with intangible and unquantifiable things for which the people of God legitimately ought to long. And these fellows, not in a worship encounter but in the most awful circumstances, give us an example of that to which we're referring.

Well, if we try and think it out, as we've done before, we arrive at the same point. I've said this to you, and I confirm it for you, that genuine Christian praise is first of all theological. In other words, it's grounded in the truth of God. That Paul and Silas recognize that God was as much in control when Lydia was converted as he was when they were beaten with rods, and therefore the focus of their praise remains the same. That's why I've gone increasingly sour on declaratory songs, because so often they do not give expression to the reality of how I'm feeling, how I'm feeling may be completely out of touch with anything that has to do with worship at all. And so when somebody gives me a declaratory song that I'm supposed to sing and then makes me sing it half a dozen times till it finally, you know, gets to me, it's a painful experience for me.

Why? Because true praise is theological. It is when the truth of God's Word stimulates the mind of God's child that the heart of his servant is then released in worship. If it's not that, then we're no different from Hindus or from Buddhists or from New Age gatherings, as they seek simply to say the same thing over and over and over again until finally they create some other kind of consciousness.

If you've got to sing a song five times before you're there, it's a lousy song. It's not only theological, but it is intellectual. Not that it requires a certain IQ, but as I say to you, the implications of what I understand about God is what warms my heart. So the emotion of giving voice to praise is grounded in theology and is stirred in the mechanism of our minds and is engaged in as a result of the act of our wills. Some of our absence of singing is just plain disobedience. Some of the absence of our giving voice to that which God is due is an expression of our indolence. And to explain it away, any attempt that we may make upon it, the Spirit of God puts his finger upon our lives and says, You know, isn't it interesting that you are able to overflow on this topic, you're able to gush on this theme, you're able to keep people stationary for thirty minutes at a pop, as long as you have the opportunity to address this issue. But when it comes to the issue of the praise and worship of the Lord Jesus Christ, suddenly it's just not there. Paul and Silas were praising God, I don't believe, because they felt like it. Do you?

They got their backs torn open, they got their mysterious put into an unfortunate position, they got their feet manacled into the stocks. Do you think they looked at one another and said, Well, how do you feel, Paul? Feel like a little praise time? Paul said, I feel as bad as I have ever felt in all my life. Silas says, Well, you know, is God still God, Paul? Yes, he is. Is he still worthy of our praise, Paul?

Yes, he is. Didn't you write to one of the churches and tell them that they ought to be thankful in all circumstances? Yes, I did. Well, don't you think, then, that irrespective of how we're feeling, we ought to give ourselves wholeheartedly to worshiping him?

Post it, yeah, okay. And so Silas gives the note, and the two of them launch into it. And the other prisoners were listening to them. It's clear, is it not, that not only does praise have an evangelistic impact, but praise also has an impact on our relationships with one another? Or, if you like, our relationships with one another also have an impact on our praise? In other words, it is not possible to praise God and sulk at the same time. Now, someone says, Oh, yes, it is.

I've done it. Well, no, you and I may have participated in an event whereby there was melody and lyric that had to do with devotion to God. But in actual fact, we were drawing nearer with our lips while our hearts were far from him.

You see, praise and irritation cannot coexist. And the harmony of the people of God will be discovered by those who are not part of the people of God, not least of all, in the sense of fervent unity that it has expressed when God's people worship. Also, you and I, in approaching the challenge and opportunity of praise, need to recognize the fact that it affects us personally as well. That through our pain and through our tears and through the journeys of our lives, we are recognizing that God is the God who even brings into our experience adversities, just as he did with Paul and Silas. And therefore, he's teaching us in order that we might praise him even when the circumstances seem counter to our praise. The idea that praise will always change my circumstances isn't true, but it will change my heart.

And that's what need it's changed. Now, loved ones, let us then remember that all of praise focuses on God and not me. For most of us the problem lies with introspection, with self-pity, and with embarrassment. Oh, what will others think? Well, so what, what others think? Unless what we're doing is a violation of the Bible, unless what we're doing is immoral, unless somehow or another we're just drawing attention to ourselves or seeking to do something that is disruptive, who cares what others think?

Don't you care what God thinks? Imagine the lady after she smashed the thing, going down the street. Boy, people are going, Whoa! What is that stuff? Where did you get that?

Nordstrom's? What is that? Mm, that smells good. And then four or five other people come down the same street. The people are going, Mm, you know, you just smell like the lady that was down here fifteen minutes ago. Where have you been?

What happened? Well, the lady came. And in an act of self-sacrifice, she broke that which was most precious to her.

And the fragrance permeated the room and lingered on the lives of all concerned. Offering praise to God won't necessarily change your circumstances, but it will change your heart, and it may impact others around you. You're listening to Truth for Life, that is Alistair Begg describing the elements of genuine Christian praise. Well, today I want to tell you about a book we're making available for you to share with young children, those who are preschool age or maybe just a little older. It's a brief book. It's titled His Grace is Enough, and it introduces the gospel, particularly the issues of grace and forgiveness offered by God. This is a colorful, hardcover book. It gives examples of mistakes that young children often make, like not doing their chores or making a big mess. So the examples are easily relatable to a young child.

The story line is pretty straightforward. It explains that no matter how big our mistakes, when we ask God to forgive us, His grace has already made a way for our restoration through the Lord Jesus. The book opens the door to many different conversations, including how Jesus' death frees us from sin and how God's grace helps us live without fear. You can request a copy of the book His Grace is Enough today when you give a donation online at truthforlife.org slash donate or call us at 888-588-7884. And a quick reminder for pastors and church leaders, if you are planning to attend the Basics Conference 2023, the annual conference hosted by Alistair at Parkside Church, you can register today.

Just visit basicsconference.org. I'm Bob Lapine. Are you small enough to be used by God? Join us tomorrow to find out why God isn't looking for impressive resumes. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-01 05:24:01 / 2023-02-01 05:32:25 / 8

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