The "Man of God"
MAN OF GOD (Acts 14:1-18)
4 deficiencies which lead to the unhealthy veneration of specific people. A faulty view of:
1: Word of God (14:1-10)
2: Worship of God (14:11-13)
3: The man of God/ godliness (14:14-15)
4: The character of God (14:15-20)
Read 1 Cor 3:1-7
· There is a tendency in all of us to want to elevate certain people above others.
· It’s one thing to honour a person in authority, or a person who has been used by God to bless us and encourage us – it’s another thing to venerate them and accord them an honour which only God deserves.
· Muslims have venerated Mohammed, Buddhists have venerated Buddha as the one who can lead them to God, Hindu’s have their Guru’s and Catholics have venerated Mary and their saints.
· I think you get the point….this is a pervasive problem, even in religious and Christian circles.
What’s the African equivalent of this syndrome?... Man of God
· Alph Lukau's resurrection video dominated headlines when Alleluia Ministries released footage of a "dead man" being brought "back to life." Further enquiry confirmed that the man was never dead, he just came to church in a coffin and hearse. That’s one case that made news headlines, but its happening all across Africa all the time.
· Sunday Times released footage of
o Pastor Zindile November healing people with his shoe
o Pastor Lesego Daniels from Rabonni Ministries claiming the ability to turn petrol into juice
o Pastor Shepherd Bushiri claiming the supernatural ability to find missing persons with a tablet….all hoaxes
· This is becoming so rampant, that our government is trying to pass laws to regulate religious leaders. The government feels it necessary to protect it’s citizens from these so called “men of God” who direct their congregants to eat rat poison, drink urine and spray them with doom to drive out evil spirits.
· It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic….
MAN OF GOD
I’ve entitled this message “The man of God.” It addresses something which is an issue in every place and culture, but which is particularly relevant in our African context, “The man of God syndrome.”
I think maybe a combination of respect for the tribal chief in the tribal system and veneration of ancestors, as the ones connected to the spiritual forces which determine our destiny, has combined to create the perfect storm. Now in religions and Christian denominations and cults all across Africa, the man of God has risen to almost untouchable power.
· The man of God is the leader of the church
· The man of God is “the Lord’s anointed.”
· He has unbridled authority to determine the doctrine and practice of the church
· His teaching and authority is unquestionable
· He is the source of spiritual power, to heal, to drive out demons, to nullify curses, to secure God’s blessings for your life, to bring economic abundance, health, and influence.
· He’s God’s prophet, God’s mouthpiece – so his words bring reality into existence, his prayers have special power.
· He’s almost like a demi-god, a mediator between God and man. To be on his right side is to be on the right side of God. To give to him is to give to God, to submit to him is to submit to God.
· He himself is arrayed in the finest clothes, drives the most exclusive cars and lives in luxury. He is given a special seat of honour in the church, special food, special treatment wherever he goes – and so he should, because he’s the man of God, God’s man. God’s appointed chief and the one who has a special connection with and control over the spiritual forces which determine your destiny.
In our text this morning we will see that this is not only an African problem and by way of example we will find some solutions.
Read Acts 14:1-20.
As we work through this text and I’m going to highlight 4 deficiencies which I think accompany the man of God syndrome, not only in this historical instance, but also in our modern instance. 4 deficiencies, or inedequacies or faults that lead to the man of God syndrome – a faulty view of Word of God, Worship of God, the man of God, the character of God.
1: THE WORD OF GOD (1-7)
14: 1-7 provides an overview of their ministry In Iconium and Lycaonia and explains how they came to be in Lystra and Derbe – they were driven out of the other regions. So it forms a kind of overview and introduction to the more detailed account which we have from vs 8.
From this overview it is clear what the ministry of Paul and Barnabas was all about – preaching the gospel
· 14:1 they spoke and many believed
· 14:3 they remained, speaking boldly
· 14:7 when they fled they continued to preach the gospel.
· So their ministry was all about preaching the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to God.
It is also clear from this overview – what God was doing
· 14:3 They were speaking for the Lord who was bearing witness to the word of His grace by granting that signs and wonders were done through them.
· So God was attesting to or affirming the truthfulness of the message by displays of His power at work through his messengers.
· That is the function of miracles in the Bible – to attest to God’s Word. They are often called signs because they do what all signs do, they point. What miracles point to is the truthfulness of God’s Word.
Peter Paul connection (8-10)
In fact this is how Luke is inspired to use them in Luke Acts. Remember I said that Luke-Acts is a 2 volume series. According to Luke’s prologue, one of the main purposes is to give us confidence concerning the gospel. He does this in an interesting way – by showing how the same God who was at work in the ministry of Jesus was at work in the ministry of Peter, was at work through the ministry of Paul. So the ministry of Peter in the first half of Acts parallel’s the ministry of Paul in the second half.
o Peter’s sermon in Acts 3 parallels Paul’s sermon in Acts 13
o Peter healing a lame man (Acts 3), Paul healing a lame man (in Acts 14),
o Peter being imprisoned (Acts 4) and Paul being imprisoned (Acts 16),
o Peter receiving a vision from God to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10), Paul receiving a vision from God to proclaim the gospel to Gentiles (Acts 16).
So this account in 14:8-10 parallel’s the lame man Peter encountered in Acts 3.
· Both lame from birth
· In 3:4 Peter fixed his gaze on the lame man and here in vs 9 Paul fixes his gaze upon him.
· In both accounts Peter and Paul don’t pray for the man but simply command him to stand up
· and in both accounts the man instantly jumps up and begins walking.
Luke’s point is to attest to the truthfulness of the gospel which these men preached. The same gospel came through Jesus as through Peter as through Paul. This message is indeed from God because God has born witness to it with signs and wonders which were done through these apostolic witnesses.
The inspired account is meant to inspire confidence in the message. But these crowds effectively ignore the message and venerate the messengers.
What does Acts 14:3 says? “God was testifying to the WORD OF HIS GRACE” The miracles were pointing to the message
biblical miracles- Modern examples
Miracles in the Bible are not found scattered randomly and uniformly throughout salvation history. In the O.T they centre on the ministries of Moses and the other prophets and they were given to confirm these men as God’s messengers and therefore to give people confidence in the message. In the N.T they are centered around the ministries of Jesus and His Apostolic representatives and they serve the same function.
In 2 Cor 12:12 Paul refers to them as the signs of a true Apostle which is why I believe that these sign miracles died out with the Apostles – they served their purpose in confirming New Testament Revelation.
God is still doing miracles, but not the kind which serve as signs and centre around specific individuals who can command healing with the same authority as Christ.
The problem in these modern counterparts is that these so called miracles are still performing this validating function. Except that they are not from God and don’t validate true men of God.
Instead of the Word of God and the gospel of God being validated and confirmed and people being drawn to place their faith in the Sacred Scriptures, their faith is redirected toward these men and their supernatural powers and they will do anything these men say in order to benefit from the supernatural power they supposedly have.
People of the Book
What we need, if we are going to avoid this false veneration of people, is congregations rooted in and committed to the Word of God and none other. If the Bible doesn’t teach it, it’s not God’s Word, doesn’t matter what anyone says. We need to be like the Bereans in Acts 17:11 who searched the Scriptures to see whether these things were so.
Faulty view, inadequate view of the Word of God – and the remedy is scripture saturated congregations whose faith is grounded in the text of Scripture.
Second error comes from a faulty view of worship.
2: worship of God (11-13)
Worship here is not focussed on God, but on man. It is not worship arising from love and devotion to God, informed by the truth of God – but worship arising from a desire to manipulate God and informed by superstition and mystical experience. It’s experience-based, fear based worship.
Zeus and Hermes
The Greeks and Romans believed in many different gods. Hermes was the Greek God of oratory and inventor of speech. Paul was probably the main speaker of the two and therefore dubbed Hermes. Zeus was the head of the Greek pantheon of God’s.
For students of classical literature, here’s an interesting fact- 50 years earlier, Ovid in his metamorphoses, recounts an ancient legend that came from this region. It tells of how Zeus and Hermes came down to earth in human guise seeking hospitality. However they were rejected by everyone except an elderly couple who took them in. They were in turn rewarded by the gods who transformed their cottage into a magnificent gilded temple while the rest were punished by a massive flood. 2 inscriptions and a stone alter have confirmed the legend as retold by Ovid and indicate that Zeus and Hermis were worshipped as local gods. This helps us understand their reaction – they were desperate not to suffer the same fate as their ancestors by rebuffing these heavenly visitors.
So their response is totally in keeping with their pagan worldview. The god’s did sometimes come down in human form to test people and there was great reward for doing them good and great punishment for ignoring them or doing them wrong. That’s what pagan worship is all about – appeasing the God’s and getting them to do what you want them to do.
Pagan worship is not the devotion that springs from knowing and loving God and holding Him in highest regard. It springs from fear and superstition and it’s all about finding the right ritual, making the right sacrifice, saying the right incantation to divert wrath or secure blessing.
This Worship is superficial and man-centered and designed to get more blessing for me, rather than to give God the glory He deserves. Look at vs 19 at how fickle it is.
Churches that are plagued with this “man of God syndrome” are full of people seeking mystical experiences and power encounters. They are looking to be wowed by the supernatural, rather than being convicted by the Word of God about their sin and need of a saviour.
We can be like this too, we can evaluate the worship service based on what we got out of it, rather than what we put into it. The solution – worship that is God-centered and Scripture saturated.
The third errors or inadequacy comes from a faulty view of godliness – what it really means to be a man of God.
3: Man of God (14-15)
Paul and Barbabas initially don’t know what’s going on because according to vs 11 they are speaking in the local dialect. But as soon as they become aware – they tear their robes indicating their objection, their humiliation. They will have none of this. “We are just men like you.” (14:15)
How different true men of God are to those who would willingly receive this kind of veneration.
· They are aware of their humanity – we are just men
· Of their equality – like you
· Of their role – we are messengers, nothing more, nothing less
· They point people away from themselves toward God – turn to God who made heaven and earth.
The true man of God is first and foremost humble. He will not tolerate veneration of any kind but will makes sure God and God alone gets the glory. The credentials of a true man of God is humility and God puts those credentials on display by making him a suffering servant….
Paul could tell the Phililippians in Phil 1:29 “It has been granted to you as a special privilege, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.”
· We have just seen in chpt 13 how there is always a mixed response to the gospel and to those who preach it.
· Paul and Barbabas are sometimes welcomed and sometimes stoned – whatever the response – they continue to faithfully preach
· 19-21 – the are stoned, they quickly go from being god’s to being devils in the eyes of the people. The next day he moves on to Derbe making a journey of nearly 100 km’s on foot, in that condition and when they are done there he comes back to this very place that left him for dead in order to encourage the disciples.
· There is nothing fancy or grand about their ministry – that is plain for everyone to see. That is by God’s design because this is how the true servants of Christ are put on display.
o In 2 Cor 12 Paul highlights this when he must defend his apostleship against false apostles – Do they have the scars on their body like I do?
o He could say to the Galatians 6:17 “I bear on my body the brandmarks of Jesus”
o In 1 Cor 2:3 “We came to you in weakness and with great fear and trembling”
o And to the 1 Thessalonians 2:5 “We never came to you with flattering speech, nor with a pretext for greed, nor did we seek glory from men either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have exerted our authority, yet we proved to be gentle among you as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. …You recall brethren, our labour and hardship.
· – the true signs of being a man of God are not miraculous power but miraculous service.
Churches that suffer with this Syndrome would do well to get their leader off the chair on the stage and get him cleaning the chairs for the congregants – and see if his godliness holds up to that kind of testing….
THERE IS ONLY ONE MAN OF GOD AND HIS NAME IS JESUS… And Phil 2 tells us that though He enjoyed equality with God, and all the privileges of God, yet He didn’t consider this as something to be held on to for His own advantage alone, but instead he made himself nothing and put on the apron of a slave and became a sacrifice for our sin….. That’s what true godliness looks like.
Last faulty view, deficient view which leads to this man of God syndrome – is an inadequate view of God, which is exactly what Paul and Barnabas begin addressing in their response…
4: THE CHARACTER OF GOD (15-18)
Notice again, how faith in the gospel calls for repentance – we preach the good news that you should turn away from these vain things, this false pagan worship, this veneration of people and objects to the place of God, this superstitious worship that is little more than an attempt to manipulate some higher power to do your will.
This is all part of a pagan worlview and pagan worship and has nothing like worshipping the one true God through the one perfect sacrifice that He has provided.
Pagan offerings and sacrifices are an offence to God, they can never appease him or please him. No other sacrifice is sufficient, no other mediator will do.
God is creator and owner (15-17)
· There is only one true God, who stands in contrast to all other man-made God’s.
· The true God is the only living God and therefore the source of all life.
· He created all things – this is what identifies God – He is the creator.
· That’s why Christians can never go along with evolution. The foundational presupposition behind evolution is that all things came into existence by something other than God. It’s an anti-god philosophy trying to explain the existence of creation without a creator.
· Yet as Paul points out in vs 16-17 even though God let the nations go their own way and do their own thing, yet he never left himself completely without witness. He continued to provide rain and food and even a measure of gladness to a humanity that refused to acknowledge the source of all these good things.
This is really making the same point as Ps 19 – that the heavens declare the glory of God and day to day pour forth speech in a language that everyone can understand they declare the existence and glory of God. This is the same thing Paul says in Romans 1:18-20 that all men are without excuse because God’s existence and power and glory can be seen in the things that have been made. So God has provided a universal, undeniable witness to Himself in creation. Theologians have called this general revelation because it is generally available but also because it is general in content – it doesn’t provide any detailed explanations of who God is and how to worship Him.
You can see how Paul’s entry point to the gospel has changed. When preaching to Jews he presents God and Christ as the fulfilment of O.T prophesy. To pagans who have nothing of this O.T background, He presents God as the creator and sustainer of their lives. The one who had made them and provided for them, even though they were ignorant of Him.
Paul begins to inform and elevate their view of God.
· There are not many, but one
· They are dead, but He is alive
· He is the creator of everything you see – the only creator
· And He is the one who sustains your very life.
Once we begin to understand who the true God is, his character and power and holiness – His uniqueness and the way He works – there is no way we will be willing to put ordinary people alongside him and give them the kind of devotion and loyalty that belong to God alone.
Churches that are suffering with this man of god syndrome all over Africa are full of people with an inadequate view of the Bible, of what worship really is of what godliness really looks like and who do not truly know God – at least not the God of the Bible. . That is the saddest of all – they are in need of evangelism, of hearing the gospel so that they can turn from vain idolatry and superstition to the true and living God….
They might call themselves Christian, but they still need Christ.
Now calling men to repent
Paul says something important here that he repeats in Acts 17 when he preaching to the men of Athens. “The times of ignorance God has overlooked but in these last days he is calling on men everywhere to repent.” Here he says in vs 16 “God permitted the nations to go their own way” and calls them to repent from these vain things.
It’s like in previous generations, God left the nations to their false worship and disobedience and He didn’t send them any special revelation, any prophet or messenger to call them to repent. God raised up many prophets in ancient times and sent them all to Israel. But now that Christ has come, we are living in the last days and God is no longer leaving the nations in ignorance – but sending them a message – turn from your sin and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. He is calling on men everywhere to hear and heed this message.
And who is He enstrusting with this last days mission to all nations? You and I.
What defines God’s plan and purpose in these last days – is God’s international mission. Taking the gospel to the nations and calling the to repent.
As 2 Cor 5 puts it, we are Christ’s ambassidors and are called to call them back from darkness to light, from ignorance to the knowledge of the truth, from anarchy to submission to their king.
This is what God is doing in our day – and what He is calling us to do. There are no special men, with special gifts and a special calling but ordinary believers from among all men.
Perhaps the most subtle version of the man of God syndrome is the version that say – you are not that man and you don’t have that calling….
The version that says you are free to lead a life of comfort and ease and selfishness and the “man of God” is the one who is called to suffer and sacrifice to take the gospel to the nations….