God’s People are Part of a Society – Acts 11:19-26

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Tonight we are taking our study of the names and titles of God’s people and turning a sharp 90 degrees. This is a transitional message, and it might seem to be completely off the subject, but we will come back. This is where I intended to begin five or six months ago. Our outline for this evening was the first thing I penned as I was envisioning this study. But then I realized that a look at the Biblical names and titles of God’s people should come first. So for the last three months that is what we have been doing, and it has been a good study for me.

Next week and perhaps the following wek, Lord willing, we will begin to look at the various names and titles which God’s saints have borne since the conclusion of the Book of Acts. We have been called “saints” and “brethren,” but in the centuries since Paul and John we have been called “Donatists,” “Anabaptists” and a host of other names as well. I don’t want to digress into a mere intellectual exercise, so I need your prayers.. But I am reasonably sure that we can learn something about living in an ungodly world, by considering those who have lived in it before us. Even once we get into the history aspect of these lessons, I hope that this will still remain a Bible study.

I hope you have seen that the names and titles which we find in the Bible were applied for a reason. Those reasons still exist, and they should apply to us as much as it did to the earliest disciples. Since it was the Holy Spirit who gave us those names, we should strive to properly bear them. But over the last two thousand years we’ve been called a host of extra-Biblical names. Many of them were meant to hurt us or brand us, but in fact they became badges of honor. I think that it will do us good to consider the names, titles and cat calls which have been applied to our forefathers. And perhaps some of them ought to be reintroduced. Or at the very least, the reason for the application of appellation ought to be seriously reconsidered.

Tonight I’d like to lay some foundational principles before we get to the next title under consideration. Please be patient, and seriously consider these things.

Let’s begin with some general observations.

The first human societies were homogenous – uniform. I’ll come to some examples in a few minutes. I hope that you will see that they were thoroughly interwoven each aspect of the society linked with and influenced every other part. They were tapestries. The people were all related with similar goals and objectives – usually based on a single religion. That religion might have had one, two or many gods, but there was a recognized relationship between those gods and the people who worshipped them. “Religion” in some fashion, was the unifying substance in every aspect of those early societies. Tonight I will be using the word “religion” in its generic and often misused sense, so please forgive me.

Mankind’s first societies were quite different from ours. Modern society is composed of dozens of large boxes, with a few smaller boxes inside the larger. For example, for most of America, religion is confined to church on Sunday, heads bowed before meals if at home, and perhaps bed-time prayers. Society forbid that religion should have anything to do with education – or politics – or business. Generally speaking, society wants a different box or compartment for every area of life. It wants its politics to go into one box other than the religion box. Economically, politics only indirectly intersects our neighbors’ financial lives, unless they are on welfare. Morality has its own box, or perhaps even a whole set of boxes with different morals for different aspects of life. The entertainment world has one set of morals; economics has another; religion has another.

I am not saying that this is the way that it should be, but it is the way it is in our modern society. Furthermore there is no consistency when we compare one man’s set of boxes with another man’s. Every man has his own religion and his own definition of morality; his own politics; his own philosophy. One man’s “religion box” is large and important, while another’s is small, ugly and unimportant. One believes that cheating is never permissible, while the other thinks that it depends on the reason. One says that the end justifies the means, and the other flatly denies it.

I am no expert in such things, and a lot of my thoughts tonight are not coming out of the Bible or any book that I’ve been reading. Much of this is just the culmination of half a century of observation, and I am near-sighted so I might have things just a little skewed. But how much does religion play in the difference between the Republicans and the Democrats? I’m referring to religion in a general sort of way – the way your neighbor might use the world. I’m not talking about Baptist Republicans vs. Catholic Democrats – because those are just names. There have been Baptists among the liberals and Baptists among the conservatives. There are Catholic Republicans and there are Catholic Democrats. Isn’t religion a deeper thing than names and which Bible is pulled out and taken to church on Sunday? Isn’t it a matter of religion when one university permits the teaching of intelligent design and another forbids anything except evolution? I guarantee that the college which teaches creation will be a religious school, not a state school. How much does “religion” – Biblical or non-biblical – govern economics in this country? Does religion have a role in whether or not a family saves money, spends money or wastes money? Is there any religion involved in how hard a person works? Is welfare a religious question, a moral question, an economic question or a political question? Aren’t arguments about homosexuality, abortion, capital punishment, legalized gambling, legalized marijuana, legalized alcohol, all related to people’s religions? Why have I stopped attending the meetings of the local philatelic society? It’s a matter of religion. Why do you ladies wear dresses and not shorts? Again, it’s a matter of religion. Our society is filled with hundreds of religions, and those religions make us a heterogenous society. Is a heterogenous society a good thing – or bad?

Consider some of the pre-Christian societies.

First of all societies, after the fall, was the family of Adam Genesis 4. When Cain was born what was the first recorded words of his mother? “I have gotten a man from the LORD.” His birth was a part of that woman’s religion. In fact she appears to have been thinking about her Redeemer. Some of you, as Christians, considered the birth of your first baby as a gift from God. But would your neighbor think the birth of her baby as a divine gift? I wouldn’t say that she’d actually say it, but some people might think – “This, my son, may be the next big step toward evolutionary perfection.” More or less everything in Adam’s family/society revolved around Jehovah. Why did Adam have to work so hard to get his vegetables to grow? He knew the reason. He had sinned against God and the ground was cursed for his sake. When he went into his fields, he remembered what he had under Jehovah’s blessings back in Eden. We don’t have Adam’s day-to-day life described, but what IS described takes us to the Creator. Honoring and obeying the Creator was the reason for the family’s sacrifices. Unfortunately, sin had been introduced into the human heart, so there were problems. And what was the punishment for that sin – “”When thou tillest the ground” it will not have my blessing. Cain rebelled against God’s authority and punishment, choosing to create a wrinkle in society. Then after the murder of his brother, Cain acknowledged that “every one that findeth me shall slay me” – because he had become a thorn in the side of an homogenous society. So eventually he left – but to start his own homogenous society – patterned after his will. It is significant that the last verse in Genesis 4 speaks about the days of Adam’s grand-baby, Enos. “Then began men to call upon the name of the LORD.” Despite the fracturing of society, because of sin, there was still one religion in the family of Adam.

Skipping down a number of generations we come to Genesis 11 and Babel. Still to some degree there was a kind of unity in the earth – a unity quickly evaporating. We are told that “the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.” Isn’t it a little redundant to refer to “one language” and “one speech”? Those two terms suggest that in addition to speaking the original language of Adam and Eve, these people had one basic mind. The word Hebrew “speech” is also translated “thing,” “act” and “matter.” “The whole earth was of one language and one matter.” But because of sin, the homogenous nature of early society was crumbing. Society was in the process of rejecting the Creator. Because there was no king, every man was attempting to do that which was in his own heart. But some, in order to preserve the status quo, decided to build something on which to focus their unity. “Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven, and let us make a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” Their desire was to maintain their uniform society. But it was an evil, rebellious society having already kicked Jehovah off their throne. For example, they were choosing not to fill and replenish the earth, as they were commanded. So God scattered them. Following Babel, human society again manifested itself either in cities or families. Each of those cities may have different from the other, but they were someone homogenous in themselves.

And then we come to Israel. It began with the call of Abram in Genesis 12. “Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from they kindred, and from thy father’s house (thy current society), unto a land that I will shew thee. And I will make of thee a great nation…” Jehovah intended that the family of Abraham would worship and serve the Lord. And we see this in Genesis 17 with the Abrahamic Covenant. “God talked with him, saying, As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations.” The chapter begins with “And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.” There were going to be rules involved within this covenant. And there was a specific sign “He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money must needs be circumcised.” God intended that this new society – Abraham’s family and eventually the nation of Israel was to be homogenous. There was supposed to be uniformity. And an interrelationship between all the various aspects of life. There wasn’t supposed to be a lot of different independent boxes – they were all to be in one box. Circumcision was just a part, but as the Lord said, “the uncircumcised man child… that soul shall be cut off from his people…”

Eventually Joseph and Jacob go into Egypt, until the time of Moses. The uniformity of Israel crumbled once again because of sin and compromise with the world. But then came the exodus and the giving of the law. Once again, there was one God, one law, one sacrifice – one religion – unity. Oh, moments of disunity came along – “These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of Egypt.” But when things arose, they were forcefully put down. Israel was an homogenous nation unlike anything with which we are personally familiar. Of course there were ups and downs – periods of more unity and agreement and less unity and agreement. But the key ingredient to that unity was the people’s relationship to Jehovah, expressed throughout their entire society.

Jehovah was to be the God of every aspect of the life of Israel. He wasn’t just the focus of the worship part of their religion. He was their economy, from the manna in the wilderness – to the locusts and Philistines who devoured their crops. Jehovah was supposed to be their government – their politics. It was the Lord who made their women fertile, and it was He who caused some to be lepers. Jehovah was key to their health care system – their joy and even their pain. In those days when Israel’s heart was right, Jehovah was the hinge upon which every door and every window of their lives opened and shut. “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” Tithing wasn’t a part of their religion; it was a part of their lives. The Lord was the atmosphere in which all Israel was supposed to live and breath. “In Him we live and move and have our being.”

What did the rebels do when they wanted to become society’s kings and gods? What was the first thing Jeroboam did after declaring independence from Judah? He established a state religion saying that it was of God, but it wasn’t. I Kings 12:26 – “And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David: If this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again unto their lord, even unto Rehoboam king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam king of Judah. Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And he set the one in Bethel, and the other put in Dan.” In order to wrench away Israel from the family of David, Jeroboam introduced a new religion. But at the same time he still knew the value of homogeny – he wanted a single unifying religion. Ahab and Jezebel were later trying to do the same, but without using the name of the “Jehovah.”

Old Testament heathen societies.

Nearly all Old Testament heathen societies were dictatorships. Egypt, for example, was run by a dictator, but he wielded his power in the name of his gods. As I’ve said before – the exodus was all about Jehovah versus the gods of the Egyptians. In order for Joseph to become a proper part of that society he had to be prepared. “Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him hastily out of the dungeon: and he shaved himself, and changed his raiment, and came in unto Pharaoh.” He didn’t just shave his beard, he shaved his head, if not his whole body. Joseph’s meal with his brothers had to be socially correct – with different tables. When Israel moved into Egypt she was placed in quarantine in the land of Goshen. The Egyptians discredited shepherds, and over time Israel became Egyptian slaves, because they were different – they upset the Egyptian homogeny. The order to kill the Israelite babies was a part of that problem,. There was no room for different gods in Egypt, because different deities meant different life-styles.

When the Babylonians captured Judah, what did they do with the young Israelites? The Book of Daniel tells us that those young people were forced to conform to the Chaldean society. Daniel and his friends were given Chaldean names and a Chaldean education. They were expected to eat Chaldean food, because the Babylonian FDA had decided they were the only people in the land smart enough to know what was nutritious food. Why was Daniel thrown to the lions and his friends cast into the burning fiery furnace? Wasn’t it because they refused to conform to the homogeny of Babylon? They believed that the God of universe supercedes any human government or society. They were saints of God, and chose to stand upon the things of the Lord, willing to suffer the consequences if necessary.

Out of a dozen other societies, I will close with an exception – which proves the rule. In the midst of all the wicked homogenous societies, Assyria captured the ten northern tribes of Israel, creating a new nation of Samaria. And what was the Assyrian policy to make sure that Samaria remain weak? Non-homogeneity. “And the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof. And so it was at the beginning of their dwelling there, that they feared not the LORD: therefore the LORD sent lions among them, which slew some of them. Howbeit every nation made gods of their own, and put them in the houses of the high places which the Samaritans had made, every nation in their cities wherein they dwelt.”

Where am I trying to go with all this?

My point is that Satan is in mortal combat with Jehovah. He would love to have a society which completely, totally and homogenously serves and worships him. When he can’t have that, then his next choice is to divide and conquer. When he has successfully divided his target society, he maintains his control, by creating constant confusion and disruption – Non-homogenity. If there is any unity in any society, he want to be its author, and even its god.

The Lord on the other hand desires unity – godly unity. He wants His saints to be saintly; He wants His children to be brethren and disciples. He has ordained that we be His husbandry – His cultivated field – and His temple. He wants us to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth, especially when the world is in darkness and under the power of evil.

It is important that in the midst of the confusion and hodgepodge of modern society that we be a godly homogeny for the Lord’s glory.