Motivation Meditations in Acts : 6 : Living by Law
Acts 1:20 “For,” said Peter, “it is written in the book of Psalms…..
As we ponder on the behaviour of those we find in the book of Acts, we find ourselves considering things which, we noted in the previous meditation require us to walk a careful tightrope walk, because on one side there is almost truth and on the other side, if we are not careful, we go to another extreme of almost truth.
This is especially so in our reflections on Peter’s actions here in Acts 1. We considered in the previous meditation that this pre-Pentecost action differed from that seen later on in Antioch where the anointed and fully recognised prophets clearly heard from the Lord, and differed from Acts 12 where the church did not seek to replace James when he was killed by Herod. But there is another aspect of his actions that bears considering.
It is his reference to what we call the Old Testament Scriptures to justify what he thinks and feels. This is an especially difficult consideration because so much of our time we spend (rightly) teaching new Christians to read their Bibles and base their lives on the teaching found there, and especially that found in the New Testament. So am I suddenly going to reverse that teaching? Definitely not! However it does need to come with a warning. We have already implied this warning in our heading of this meditation: Living by Law.
Now if we may summarise the Christian’s position in respect of the Law briefly. The Ten Commandments still apply as general law applicable to any society. The remainder of the Law given at Sinai and afterwards was specifically for Israel as a nation living under God and much of it simply does not apply in modern largely, non-agricultural communities. The law of sacrifices has been fulfilled in Christ and, as there is no Temple today, could not be followed anyway. All that said, we have much teaching in the New Testament which is there to guide us and which should be followed by us. Yet there is a bigger issue. Living by Law is living by rules and means that we can, in fact, live without any reference to God (apart from His written word).
The bigger issue is that we are first and foremost called to live out a relationship with God through Jesus Christ and by the enabling of the Holy Spirit, and that means direct communication, which from His side means leading and guiding by the Spirit and, from our side, means listening and obedience. Now, yes, we have the Scriptures and we are to follow that teaching and therefore we do not need to constantly ask God what we should be doing and, in fact, often modern Christians spend much time asking God for guidance when the Scriptures are quite clear and are there to be followed.
Often He doesn’t want to hear us asking, He wants our obedience. It is that simple sometimes. But often it isn’t. We may find ourselves in difficulties when, like Peter, we pick out verses to confirm what we already have concluded in our minds. (That may be too unkind on Peter, forgive me if I’m wrong.) But there is that danger, the danger that we choose verses to back up what we want.
So how do we overcome this? Our starting point must be to come to a place where we are open to God’s will – whichever way it takes us. Second, we pray and ask the Lord to guide us into truth, into what His will is for us, and we seek to keep an open heart as to what that means. Third, we keep alert to His voice speaking to us. Now there is a great deal of difference between us scanning through the Bible looking for a verse to justify our desires, and reading the Bible and suddenly finding a verse leaping out at us. God does indeed speak to us in such a way sometimes.
Indeed I have even heard the Lord misquote Scripture to catch my attention. Many years ago we were contemplating taking a team to another part of the country to do two week’s evangelism and all holiday accommodation in that place was completely taken. Yet one day when I was walking to work in the City, I found this ‘verse’ drop into my mind from nowhere: “In my father’s house are many rooms. I have prepared a place for you.” Apparently being Scripture I particularly noted this thought and considered it was coming from the Lord. Being a young Christian at the time I pointed out to the Lord that it was a wrong quote. The right quote was “I go to prepare a place for you.” There seemed to be a pause and back came, “I have said what I have said.” As I reflected on that, I realised he was saying that the situation there was all in hand. On the strength of that, we told the team what we were doing and two of us went down twenty four hours earlier to this place where the local Tourist Board had told us there was absolutely no accommodation and a half an hour before the team arrived we had the final bit of accommodation for fifteen people! It was amazing.
Now the key element of that testimony is that God spoke and we obeyed. It was a situation – and we often find ourselves in such things – where Scripture on its own could not help us. We might have gone through Scripture picking out verses about God’s provision but that would not have helped us and our team to move with confidence and without worry. When James writes “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him,” (Jas 1:5) he recognises that there will be many situations where we need to have the ‘how to’ guidance from God.
I can look back on life now, from a perspective of knowing the Lord for over forty five years, and can see there have been a multitude of occasions where I (we) needed guidance and picking out Scriptures would have been inadequate. To end on a light note, you may have heard the old story, and so it can be a reminder, of the man who was seeking guidance of the Lord and stuck his finger in the Bible and it alighted on, “So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.” (Mt 27:5). He took his finger out and stuck it in another page and beneath his finger he read, “Go and do likewise” (Lk 10:37). Don’t ‘cherry pick’ verses and don’t use promise boxes or any other form of ‘guidance’ that is open to abuse.
Learn to be motivated by the Holy Spirit. If it is a significant guidance, check it with mature leaders and if it is a ‘life redirection’ word then it is likely to come from the Lord at least three times in different ways. He knows and understands that we need reassurance. Rest in His love and let Him lead, and don’t be afraid to check it out with mature leaders.