The Copy Cats

Acts 19:6-22

And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. And there were in all about twelve men. And he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the multitude, he withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. And this took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. And God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out. But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.” And seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. And the evil spirit answered and said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. And this became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, who lived in Ephesus; and fear fell upon them all and the name of the Lord Jesus was being magnified. Many also of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices. And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of all; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing. Now after these things were finished, Paul purposed in the spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” And having sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.

The problem is pastors–regurgitation of what they were taught or worse, how they think. Therefore the problem is theologians and teachers–trying to teach pastors how to preach to people to fill the pews. Therefore the problem is people–offended easily by the total truth, needing baby food and not solid doctrine–itching ears at the table and worse; cancer, death, politics, pollution, Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi and articles of impeachment; missiles, Syria, Iran and Israel; overwhelming anxiety and the death of pets. It’s not the pastors’ fault, not alone; we have a huge cultural problem. Pastors are overworked and underpaid, disrespected and degraded and yet, we will not leave them alone for five minutes, needing their opinions on everything from the food we eat to the music of which we listen. Now I am not suggesting that pastors should lay hands on people to have them prophesy and speak in tongues, but like Moses and Paul, they need help.

First and foremost anyone who wants to walk with God needs to get serious and read the Bible for themselves. Unless you are learning for yourself, you only know what you have been taught. But the Bible is long and appears difficult to interpret, therefore we use a hermeneutical tool called the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics, where; context is king, author’s aspirations to his audience are apex, genre is the general, expository exegesis of examples enlightens and dividing rightly the word of truth either confirms or cancels our preconceived notions and presuppositions. One must not rip verses out of context but consider the continuing context, seeing the sublime string–This is Jesus; the God of Abraham Issac and Jacob, the prince of peace, the ruler of kings on earth, the Messiah, the redeemer and the God of all creation. The Bible makes much of Jesus, yet we are obsessed with Israel, Russia, Syria, Trump and Cyrus. The truth is, and it is painfully true, we don’t want to do what we were called to do, we want to be rescued from what we were called to do. And we want pastors who will tickle our ears promising a soon rapture rescue from this wicked world.

Elders able to teach, would be second in our current cultural climate to ease the burden we have placed on pastors. As we continue to consider the continuing context in Acts, we have seen Paul, Priscilla and Aquila more fully explain Jesus to people like Apollos, who then goes to Corinth to water what Paul had planted. This is not the exact prescriptive package we see in the current context, however, we see similarities between this and letters from Paul to Titus and Timothy. We see proper doctrine taught to others, to teach proper doctrine to others and so on–making disciples. But more than teach, elders and other disciples also follow the pastor. We need to give our pastors more time to be in the word of God. We also need to rid ourselves of pastors who preach things other than what we find when we consider the context–some mega-church pastors, for example. Now I am really ripping things out of context. Or am I?

“And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. And there were in all about twelve men. And he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the multitude, he withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. And this took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.”

Once again, we have to let the context explain the text. When some people were being disobedient and speaking evil of the Christian church, Paul withdrew from them. But also notice; “he withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus.” Paul left, and he took the disciples with him. We are used to seeing Paul preaching with a sense of urgency but we are also accustomed to his leaving, when things were really bad or good, or because it was simply time to move on. We see something slightly different here–we see intense training. I know what you are thinking, “Russell P, where do you get that?” Look closely at the context; “But when some were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the multitude, he withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus.” We don’t know exactly who Tyrannus was, but we know he owned a school building and either lent it to Paul or rented it to him to teach his disciples. I stick with the NASB translation because of its highlighted Old Testament quotes, its accuracy and readability but it is not always the best translation–this verse is one of those times. In fact, most translations fall a bit short of the Greek. Clearly, considering the Greek, Paul spent two years teaching these disciples, daily, in a Greek owen school house. The point is that even amongst disbelief and disorder, paul was training people. Therefore I see the similarities between pastors and elders. Give pastors time for themselves and to train elders; in turn, take advantage of the elders. A pastor is only one man. Moving on because we have much more context to consider, but before we do see what Paul saw; local disciples, driven to distraction, separated from the distractions to be taught the word of God. Many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers find in this text the prescriptive package for modern seminaries; I don’t. This was local people present, not a shipping off to a Dallas, dispelling a dispensational discourse, pastor factory. But a local teaching and training of missionaries and preachers. We will see this more as the context unfolds.

“And this took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. And God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out.” While teaching his disciples Paul was also performing other ministries, miracles in particular. I am not suggesting that pastors hold themselves aloof from their congregants, if they did, they wouldn’t be pastors. But I am suggesting that pastors train up those with the aptitude and appetite for the spreading of the word of God. Some will stay and others will go but this is at the heart of discipleship–reproducing. We who have less aptitude for the significant study of Scripture, should be able to rely on elders, who are trained by pastors. It’s a sharing of the burden which frees up the pastor to be in the word of God, continually and consistently, so that we get the best benefit from our pastors’ considering of the context. For example; your dog dies and you are despondent; don’t laugh, it’s all too common these days. Do you really need the pastor to come comfort you, considering he has to speak the word of God to the congregation? Not to mention that there is probably one in your presence who has lost more than a dog. I should not tell this story because I don’t want to be offensive, though I have no problem if one is offended. I am always on the outside and unpopular, which makes it easier for me to tell the truth.

I won’t delve deep into the details but I witnessed with my own eyes a man thanking and praising a pastor for his time and care concerning the loss of his precious dog. The man went on and on, more about his dog than the pastor. Ironically enough, a young couple sat behind him with their own story of suffering to tell; they had recently lost their young daughter and had to shop for a coffin not much larger than a shoebox. What’s worse, the mother of the young girl came from a former communist country and regularly ate dog to survive. Do not get me wrong, it is wonderful that a pastor would care enough about people to pray with them after a loss of any kind. Still, where are our priorities? How selfish are we concerning our pastors’ precious time?

Nevertheless we see the Spirit at work, Paul no longer has to be present to heal, having his handkerchief brought to people can now heal. The Holy Spirit empowers people, no question about it. Pastors can look like superman because of the Holy Spirit. But they are still merely men. They need rest and they need time alone with God, even Jesus did. Many of us call my pastor friend from a certain communist country in the Caribbean, “Padrino,” or, “the godfather,” because he was constantly being asked for advice and decisions, help and prayer. He was constantly on the go but now he is in the United States, fleeing from persecution, because I think God granted him some rest, leaving the fruit of his labor to continue on, hopefully in his footsteps. Hopefully some of us will be able to go check on them in April. While we absolutely expect supernatural strength in our pastors, we also realize that their time and energy is limited and we should expect them to make the most usefulness of their time and energy. Knowing God and reproducing is the most effective use of time and energy. Who needs a pastor that doesn’t know God?

“But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, ‘I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.’ And seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. And the evil spirit answered and said to them, ‘I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?’ And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. And this became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, who lived in Ephesus; and fear fell upon them all and the name of the Lord Jesus was being magnified.”

Notice; fear fell upon them. Also notice, the demon doesn’t disperse at the naming of Jesus but attacks them. Notice also that the demon knows who Paul is. Many pastors and preachers,  theologians and teachers take a slightly different approach to this text than I do, but I am in agreement with them, I simply take a longer view and see it a little bit differently. We all think it’s funny. We all understand that the demons shudder at the name of Jesus when it’s proclaimed faithfully and we all understand that Paul is known to the demons. We also understand that the these people were anti-types of Paul, copy cats who had no Holy Spirit but were parodying Paul, for their own sordid gain. But here, we fully consider the continuing context and see that they were actually a parody of Paul’s disciples. They didn’t listen to Paul’s teachings but attempted to mimic Paul.  Mega-church pastors come to mind. They said some of the right things but the truth is they had no Spirit behind them and only spoke what they thought would work; it didn’t. In fact, it has the opposite effect. Not only did they fail to cast out the demon, the demon mocked them and then overpowered them. They talked a good talk but didn’t walk the good walk and walked away naked and wounded.

These people, these seven sons of Sceva, were watching Paul and imitating him. Notice what they said; “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches;” they heard Paul preach and knew about Jesus but this knowledge was neither in faith nor out of a heart of service but rather selfish and for sordid gain. Money, popularity, plunder or seeking a sense of awe from the people, the seven sons had the names right, but that’s about it. Like the mega-church pastors and a stopped clock, they were right about two things but wrong about everything else. It’s ironic that the demon confirmed this, notice; “‘I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?’ And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.” These men were not reproducing disciples but copy cats, a mere parody of Paul’s true disciples.

“And this became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, who lived in Ephesus; and fear fell upon them all and the name of the Lord Jesus was being magnified. Many also of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices. And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of all; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing. Now after these things were finished, Paul purposed in the spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, saying, ‘After I have been there, I must also see Rome.’ And having sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.”

While we take a long view of Scripture, considering the continuing context, we also zoom in  on the short statements that confirm our long view. Did you see what has happened? While Paul, who has a long view, takes time to disciple future workers for the kingdom, the demon proclaimed the majesty of Jesus. Notice once again; “And this became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, who lived in Ephesus; and fear fell upon them all and the name of the Lord Jesus was being magnified.” To sum up; the Lord is lord of all. We think that Satan is the ruler of this world, based upon a mistranslation and dubious dogma, teaching and traditions, coming from our pastor factories and not through a natural, holistic, organic approach to discipleship. We have it all backwards, we are not supposed to send out disciples to learn but rather to teach. Learning is local. And I will admit to you that I am being quite hypocritical because as I write, we are in the middle of preparing to send our son to Bible college in the fall. But that is because a note from me to a mission board is not enough for him to be accepted as a missionary. And, admittedly, he is not ready to go to far off lands to preach the gospel. Going away from home will be of great benefit to him. Nevertheless see the sublime string and consider the continuing context. Paul went and was taught by Gamaliel in Jerusalem, becoming a Pharisee, teaching he now considers rubbish. But the Lord met Paul where he was and it was years before Paul returned to Jerusalem. Now Paul is making disciples where they are, going to them, reproducing and planting churches. In turn, some of them go out and reproduce. I know it seems ironic that I am writing to you about the need to give pastors a break but at the same time I place on pastors the burden to reproduce pastors and missionaries. But that’s what the continuing context and sublime string say. Also, the continuing context says that Jesus is the Lord of the land, not Satan. What looks like a victory for demonic forces is actually a victory for the gospel and against the Judaic system.

Why did Paul want to go to Rome? Why didn’t Paul send to Rome for twelve of their best men to come to the school of Tyrannus to be trained there? Why is a prophet never welcomed in his hometown? Why do we think that the world will get worse and worse? Where do we come up with all of our dubious dogmas? Again, I look back a few paragraphs and see Paul in Corinth with long hair and our reading of 1 Corinthians, assuming that men shouldn’t have long hair. We have to be missing something. Indeed we are, we don’t know the background of Paul’s writing about head coverings. But rather than admit that there is something we don’t know, seeing it to be cultural and not related to our times, we blindly accept that men are not to ever have long hair because we don’t consider carefully the context that we do have. We don’t take a long view of Scripture but being short sighted, rip verses out of context. We are the sound bite generations. Even when we do read, it’s books on blood moons and the late planet earth, being left behind, or our best life now. Do you know why? Because the Bible doesn’t say these things, so in order to cling to these things, we need an extra-biblical source. I am afraid it is that simple. Think about it, if the Bible promised us our best life, why would we need to decipher it? I only write so that we will consider the context. I shouldn’t have to write but thousands lead astray for sordid gain, the thought of a good spot in heaven or who knows why. Some people, I believe, simply can’t stand being challenged or wrong. We vehemently defend that of which we hold dear. The hardest thing for a person to admit is when they are wrong. Additionally, sensationalism sells. But the Bible is simple, written by the simple, to the simple. We read too much into the context rather than draw out what is contained in the context. Now we have copy cats and not disciples.

 

 

 

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