Agabus... Help Us Out Here!
Sunday Afternoon, April 22, 1990
Question: When we see a brother or sister sin or if we think they are sinning, shouldn’t we always just handle it as quickly and directly as possible? I know sometimes I can just deceive myself into thinking I should just pray about it when really I need to confront that brother or sister directly. I don’t want to be lazy, or irresponsible, so I’m thinking I should make a bee-line for someone when I think there may be sin between them and God. Is that right?
Of course, there are definitely times when we need to approach someone quickly and directly. However, it’s important to remember this, always: Sometimes when we feel the passion of God in our hearts and we seek an outlet for it (such as “laying our gift down at the altar” and sprinting to that person to try to solve the “problem” that we see), it may not be the Right thing to do, or the Right time to do it. The outlet that we find for that “passion” to resolve or help something isn’t exactly the right application, necessarily. The passion is real, but somehow in the application we sometimes don’t find the right way to go forward with that passion.
Just for the sake of illustration, consider something that happened amongst our brothers a few years ago, recorded for us in Acts 21. It seems very clear that our brother Agabus “went overboard,” “jumped the gun,” “over-reacted,” and MISSED IT when he spoke to the apostle Paul about the future. Agabus prophetically and courageously announced that Paul would be bound when he went to Jerusalem. Agabus went through all the dramatics of the thing as prophets sometimes do, if you read the account. So far, so good. Nice work, Agabus. But then, the human interpretation took over—out of sentimentality, love of Paul, fear of losing Paul, or human logic. (Sins, such as these, will always block our ability to hear Father. This often tends to happen to our generation in physical family units, particularly with sentimentality towards those who will not cease crucifying our Lord and denying His Reign. Many cannot hear God because their emotions and clinginess and fears and familiarity are more tangible to them than the Voice of God, so they function out of human emotion and logic with even unbelievers.)
Agabus fell into this all-too-common trap, as good a man as he was, and as accurate as he often was in his perceptions of things! He, and all the people there (along with Luke, who was certainly a man of God) told Paul in no-uncertain-terms that he should absolutely not go to Jerusalem! BUZZZZ. Wrong. This is a “mere human” sentimental fearful logical (and WRONG) application! It was a LEGITIMATE prophetic insight of Paul’s future imprisonment if he did, in fact, go to Jerusalem. But they went about it wrongly with Paul. They mixed human thought into God’s Thought, and didn’t make the distinction. They would have carried out a right thing, in a wrong way.
In spite of the fact that Paul could sense the voice of God in the declaration that he would be “bound” by enemies if he went, he knew something was incomplete and misapplied about what was said to him. In spite of the fact that the trusted brothers were urgent and genuine in their appeal that he should not go, Paul STILL knew better than to interpret it all as if he shouldn’t go to Jerusalem. Paul could tell the difference between accommodation and revelation—man’s application of God’s current Thought, versus God’s true intent. The prophecy was right, the intensity and the passion were right, and even all the dramatics were likely from God. It was great! But there was something a little bit out of place with the application of this passion. Paul would, of course, not “blow them off” and ignore their feelings. And yet, something was “off” in part of what was said, and it needed to be worked out with them.
How did Paul sort it out? Paul had a vision earlier in his life, and he knew that he would appear before kings, and suffer much for Jesus. While Paul’s imprisonment didn’t make sense to those who were thinking with just their natural minds, Paul knew that some of these things were supposed to happen. Paul knew he still had a lot of work to do. So what if his transportation to where he was supposed to do that Work happened to be a prison ship rather than a cruise liner?! Agabus and the others didn’t see that. Paul made part of his trip to see the “Kings” he was going to tell about Jesus...hanging on a piece of wood in a violent stormy sea! There was a process involved in fulfilling what Paul needed to do in life that didn’t quite make “sense” to everyone. Their passion was absolutely right, but the application was a little bit askew. Agabus combined God’s desire with his own desires, and presented it all as if it were God. It wasn’t. The application of the Revelation was wrong, though the Revelation was RIGHT.
Now back to the question...1 John 5:16 says, “If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life.” I’d just like to suggest something else for you to explore as you go through all these things. As we pray, what we should be searching out is how God wants us to participate in His Love and Life in helping someone to Grow Spiritually, or maybe even through whom God wants to share His Life. It may not be His time or His way for YOU to do it, NOW!
OF COURSE, cowardice or carelessness must never be the hyper-spiritualized excuse for disobeying the Command from God to “Admonish/encourage/warn be-called-alongside to help one another daily so that none are hardened and deceived by sin.” Of course, passion needs to be directed towards resolving the thing that has caught a brother or sister in sin and broken Fellowship with their God. Of course, to do less and to “just let the Holy Spirit do it” would be to disobey the Holy Spirit who wrote Hebrews 3:12-14 and dozens of similar Scriptures. One absolute that you should keep in mind is: Don’t you dare brush it under the rug and forget about it. Don’t you dare just forget about it and say, “Oh, well, it’s probably not what I thought.” That approach is wicked and foolish and disobedient to God. We will at times kill our brothers and sisters if we do that.
There is Work that we must do together! “I will build my Church that the gates of Hell cannot prevail against!” “The pillar and foundation of Truth” is God’s People working together to serve His Purposes, “wrestling to present every man complete/perfect/mature in Christ”—“in the pains of childbirth until Christ is (fully) formed in them.” “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you!’” “Fulfilling the Law of Christ” requires our involvement! THIS is the Church that makes the gates of Hell crumble and causes them to “have no hold” on those together in Christ Jesus. That’s His Plan. “His Intent is NOW, through the Church, to make known His Infinite and Intricate Wisdom, even to Principalities and Powers.” Agabus’ prophecy was definitely faithfulness to express the passion that Jesus had put in his heart. That was good. But...
Urging Paul to take a different course of action, simply because the brothers didn’t want the prophecy to happen was very similar to what happened when Peter told Jesus that Jesus shouldn’t suffer and die. “Get behind me, satan” was God’s opinion of letting sentiment or fear or anything else cause us to do things our own way.
The application is...
In your intensity and in your passion to see something through and find the finish line of this race, and in your effort to present everyone perfect in Christ and not accept anything that is not Christ, realize this: The application sometimes involves going to Jerusalem on a prison ship. When we see something in someone’s life that we think may need to change, sometimes we may have to wrestle with it first before anything else happens. Sometimes we have to suffer through something as we watch and cry and weep and feel the agony and the pain of it as we search for Life for someone. Life in Christ together means we never IGNORE things that “crucify Jesus afresh” and thus cause broken fellowship between them and God. But we allow for the fact that we’re not always Right in what we see.
Who would have thought that Peter would have been permitted to go into a Gentile’s house (Cornelius)? It violated SCRIPTURE, and “everyone” knew it. But Peter saw a Vision of a sheet from Heaven, and was COMMANDED to “take, kill, and eat” things that were forbidden by Scripture. We don’t always know all of the things that go on in the GodHead and Fellowship with Him, and we may just not be seeing even “obvious” things as we think we are. That doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it, as Peter did (Acts 10 and 11), but sometimes things aren’t as “black and white” “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” as what we assume they are. So, start with the humility of knowing that God’s Ways are sometimes “past finding out” and we don’t know it all! So we allow for the fact that we may not have it all figured out, even if it seems obvious. That will cause us to tread more carefully and humbly, rather than barging into things with a sledgehammer of “what ought to be done.” Love. And realize that the Fruit of Life is meant to help us discern if we are just missing it ourselves, or if we can help somehow. Fruit is a telling matter, according to the Master Teacher.
Allow for the fact that the timing, the application of what ought to be done about whatever the problem is, and who ought to be involved...are all subject to Father. We need to let Him remain the Father, and us the children, eh?! Be available, be qualified (“you who are SPIRITUAL,” God said), and care deeply. Don’t be negligent, or careless, or disobedient by ignoring things that seem unlike Jesus. But, draw on His Wisdom in how to go forward. Jumping on things with both feet from a flying leap of ten meters is not always the way Jesus did things, is it? “Who’s face is on this coin?” “You who have honestly not sinned yourselves, you go ahead and be the first to heave a stone at this woman.” “Go tell that fox....” “It’s not my time, woman.” “Bread to the dogs? Are you kidding?” “Moses said to you...but I say to you...” “Cut off your hand.” “Forgive as you desire to be forgiven.” “Am I your arbiter?” “You snakes.” “When I return, will I find faith on this planet?” “Satan desires to have you, but when you’re converted, strengthen your brothers.” “What business is it of yours if I allow him to remain alive until I return?” “Go find out the meaning of this.” Father is VERY Creative and diverse in how he Helps us, isn’t He??!! You be part of Him and part of that! By all means, “Admonish one another daily so that none are hardened and deceived by sin”—but participate with HIM in His Ways, rather than running roughshod over people. Make sense?
We’ve talked about finding God’s Way and hearing God’s Voice in a situation this way:
It is similar to running alongside of a wall, trying to find a window to go through in order to get to the other side of that wall. If you want to get past the wall, you don’t sit casually in a folding chair in front of the wall, waiting for a window to just appear in front of you! That is laziness and sin. But, at the same time, you don’t lower your head and run full force into the wall in hopes that your head butt into the wall will create a hole—so you can do this great thing for God. Instead, you run up and down the wall searching for the Window into God’s Mind and Ways—HIS Solution, HIS guidance, with all of your heart and strength. That is, if you love and if you care. You realize you have got to get to the other side, but that it has to be God’s Window. And you might get up to that window just in time to see somebody else go through that window and do what you’ve seen needs to be done. And you find perfect satisfaction in that because—all you want is to see God’s will done! It doesn’t have anything to do with you. It only has to do with God’s will. And if somebody beats you through that window one hundred times out of a hundred, then Glory to God! You didn’t need to be anybody special, be recognized or “used” or do anything for yourself anyway. It’s just about them, and about God’s Love and Life. You’ll be passionate about seeing things all the way through, and to have a total satisfaction that God’s will is done. You’re going to see things through all the way to the point where purity and freshness and truth prevail and there’s nothing in the shadows. You’re not going to be satisfied with anything less than that, and you’re going to run up and down that wall with all your heart, desperate to find that Window that only God Himself can open in order to impart life, rather than legalism. You care deeply and love deeply, and all of that is devoid of SELF and human opinion and judgment and sentiment and ambition, or any other sin. You only care about them, and the Glory of God. Now, THAT Father can work with. : )
So, if you see a brother or a sister in a sin, and that “sin doesn’t lead to death,” you should pray and God will bring life. He may bring it through you. He may bring it through someone else. But be passionate about it, and don’t let it slip through your fingers. Care! There have been so many times that I’ve had this burning in my bosom and I’ve wanted to see something through. I’m not making excuses for myself and I am refusing to brush it under the rug. I’m not going to be lazy about it. I’m not going to feel guilty in a way that makes me neglect the word of God and the ways of God. I’m going to see it through. Yet, sometimes it has taken weeks and even months until finally something will break and somebody will say, “Man, why is this thing like it is in my life?” And I’ll say, “Hmmmmm! I’m glad you asked. Let’s talk about that! : ) Do you remember two months ago when....” And that’s the way God brings Life, rather than the burden of law. It is in His own time and it’s fresh and alive. He brings Life. You should pray, and God will give Life.
So, the Answer is in seeking God and asking Jesus Himself to choose His vessel and His timing, saying, “God, please don’t let it be anything less than your best.” As a whole church, as well as every single individual from the least to the greatest, we’ve got to have that heart and that passion. Let’s look together towards ways of Life, but also ways of completeness. Wrestle to present every man “saved”? Is that what God said? No! Wrestle to present every man perfect, complete, and full! Nothing less than full and complete is acceptable. Let there be no wandering eyes, no half-dead brains, and no lukewarm hearts! NONE! “See to it, brothers, that NONE of you has a sinful or doubting heart!” Let there be no brothers and sisters without knowledge or without convictions. Let there be no brothers and sisters without peace. Let there be no brothers and sisters that aren’t washed and cleansed and free from guilt. Let there be no brothers and sisters that exude laziness or apathy or bitterness or lack of forgiveness or any such thing. Absolutely nothing short of the full measure of the stature of Christ is acceptable. There has to be passion in every heart from the least to the greatest to present every man perfect in Christ all along the way. That’s what God said the local Commonness of daily Life in Christ (“church”) is all about, and all relationships in Christ!
Again, see to it, brothers, that none of you have a fearful or a sinful or an unbelieving heart. “See to it that none of you...” That’s the commission. As we look toward the Master Teacher as the Messiah, the Owner of the bond servants, the Head of the church, and as the Father of the family, we see He has called us to love Him with all our hearts and to wrestle to present every man perfect, rather than nit-picking His children. If you see a brother or sister that is disappointing to the Father (unbeknownst to them, usually), then pray, and God will give Life. He may bring Life through you, or he may bring it through some other means, but whatever you do, don’t let go of the commission until you’ve seen it through!
The things that taint us and keep us from being able to follow the Father’s lead, and the things that interfere with our ability to be discipled by the hands of Jesus and to do the work of Jesus, have to do with the hidden secrets of the heart. Don’t ever let anything stop you from following Jesus’ lead on that. Fear of men, being a respecter of persons, our own personal guilt, or a thousand other things can block our ability to walk with God and obey Him. Forget all that stuff! “Oh well, I probably don’t have as much discernment as so-and-so does, and so I’m probably missing it entirely, so I’ll just brush it under the rug.” No way! Pray! Don’t brush it under the rug. Sure, you could be wrong, and probably are. : ) As we said about Peter and the sheet, sometimes we have NO way of knowing something, and things won’t be like we expect. That’s okay. But pray anyway. Watch and see. Find a satisfaction in your heart that it’s resolved, or that you can learn something that will bring you closer to Jesus as you find out WHY you were mistaken. But brushing things under the rug is NOT the solution! That will only disorient you, rob you (and perhaps others), and embitter you or divide you from the Treasures God intended for you in Real relationships. Not a good idea.
Now, if you have been wrestling to present one another perfect, you may sometimes find a discomfort in your heart. You see somebody and there’s something wrong. Something is out of joint. There’s something that’s not free and full and alive, and you care about that. You cry over that when nobody’s looking. No one would even necessarily know that you care that much. Perhaps it is unwise or gossipy to talk about it. Maybe you don’t even see this particular person that much. But when you care, and you’re watching and you’re praying, and all of a sudden as you’re prepared “in season and out of season”...wonderful things can happen in participating “as if God were making His appeal through you.”
“Wow, look at this sin that I just recognized in my life.” And you say, “Yeah! All right! I’m glad you were open to God’s Spirit to see that, because that has put a division between you and me. Our fellowship wasn’t complete. Our joy wasn’t there. There were shadows. There was darkness. But, Hallelujah (translated, “Fantastic,” “Wonderful,” Awesome,” “Spectacular!!” “God is GOOD!”)! You have found that shadow and now things can change.” God said: It’s only as we walk in the light together, as He is Light, that our joy with one another and Him is made complete and there is fellowship that we have with one another. Maybe it was circumstances that allowed this brother or sister to SEE. Maybe somebody brought it to their attention. Maybe it was in their own prayer closet. Or maybe it’s because you brought it up. I don’t know what it was, but when something comes into the Light that had previously caused a broken fellowship, it is an opportunity for Life and healing and change!
Do you know what it feels like to feel uncomfortable with somebody? You just can’t quite look them in the eye. Maybe you don’t even know why there is the discomfort. But, deep down you know there is something there that’s not pure and holy and complete. It’s just not whole. Is it in you? Is there envy or unforgiveness or some other unresolved sin? Is it foolish judgments of their personality or appearance or ways? OR, is it in them? Is there something that is legitimately unlike Jesus there that needs to be resolved? One way or another, something is disjointed in the Spirit! That much you know. You find yourself tempted to be distant, or to avoid a person, or you are thinking bad thoughts of them when you see them or hear them (or, GOD FORBID, saying negative things about them to a spouse or to others). You would want to smile, of course, and be at Peace with them, if you yourself truly love Jesus. You would want to talk about Jesus things with them, but it just would feel hypocritical to do so, as things are at the moment. You want to share Scripture and Life with them, but it’s four steps back from where you want it to be and you can’t get through it. Well, then, keep in mind all of these things we’ve just considered.
We have a Destiny together! We want to live in a way, together, that breaks satan’s jaw. We want to build in a way together that is not marked with legalism or foolish ambition or vain conceit or human wisdom. For Jesus’ sake, we want to build in such a way as to allow “our joy to be complete” together. Then we will be able to walk in true fellowship, having all things in common, together celebrating life to the FULL! “God’s Intent is NOW, through the Church,” to exhibit the Life and Freedom and Power and Light and Love and Righteousness of the Son of God. His desire is that we be, truly, “a habitation of God, by the Spirit” with “ever increasing Glory”—“a City set on a Hill that cannot be hidden”! And, God’s House “is built with Wisdom.”