Sorry that these notes are not properly written up. I'll try to fix that some time, but it's not top of my list.
COPING WITH SETBACKS Dirtiest footballers in the Bible. Acts 11:3 (NIV), "So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off." v1-3: Fine Christians gathered together, worshiping, hearing the voice of God. It's a nice setup, like a bible week. v4-5: Obedient to God, they go. v6-7: Everything goes their way. In their position we would be tempted to congratulate ourselves on being "in the will of God", and thinking that everything is working out perfectly because of our obedience. v8: suddenly it all goes wrong: "Elymas the sorcerer ... opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith." It was probably a jolt to Barnabus and Saul's faith. How did they interpret this setback? - It's a rebuke from God because we got it wrong! - It's opposition from Satan! - God is testing us! - It's just the way the world is, these things happen. These options apply to every little thing that goes wrong for us, as well as the big things. (For example, when intermittent wipe stopped working on our car's windscreen wipers.) How we react to a setback determines what value it has for us. Even if it's a rebuke, opposition, or randomness, it's still a test! We can always ask: how would God want us to respond. "What Would Jesus Do?" is not just tacky jewelery. In this case, Paul believed Elymas' opposition was from Satan. He addressed it head on, and God intervened. In other cases when he met setbacks, Paul reacted differently: - Acts 13:50-51, opposition from Jewish leaders, Paul just left. - Acts 16:6-10, the vision of the man of Macedonia: Paul and companions are prevented (we don't know) from preaching in various places, but just keep on trucking until God leads them. - 2 Corinthians 12:7-9, the "thorn in the flesh" was "a messenger of Satan" but also a means of grace: "my power is made perfect in your weakness". Back to the passage: v9-11a: a very uncompromising rebuke. When is this appropriate for us? Probably VERY rarely. Then why was it appropriate for Paul? (I only have a question here, not an answer. From this we can learn some humility in our interpretations of the Bible, and some honesty about our uncertainty. God does NOT always do what we expect.) v11b: blindness the same punishment that Saul himself received in Acts 9 (he too needed to be led away by the hand). Saul responded rightly -- will the sorceror? We don't know. Just like Saul and Barnabus, Elymas had to decide how to respond to the setback. v12: the proconsul believed, not because of the sorceror's blindness but because "he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord." Signs point the way: they are not a destination, just something that helps people get to the destination. As the sorceror's physical eyes were closed, the proconsul's spiritual eyes were opened.