They Came to Jesus and Burned Their Dark Magic Books

The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Acts of the Apostles Dark magic has been around for a long time.  When Israel was going into the Promised Land the LORD told his people not to dabble in the pagan occultic practices of the Canaanites (Dt. 18:9-14).  They were to avoid omens, fortunes, divination, spiritists, sorcery, psychic readings, and other sorts of dark magic.  The same goes for God’s people today.  Paul called sorcery one of the sinful “works of the flesh” (Gal. 5:20).  In Acts 19, when Paul was in Ephesus, many who turned from their sins and believed the gospel ended up confessing their wicked practices of sorcery and dark magic.  They even went a step further:

Large numbers of those who had practiced magic collected their books and burned them up in the presence of everyone. When the value of the books was added up, it was found to total fifty thousand silver coins (Acts 19:19 NET Bible).

I appreciate David Peterson‘s comments on this in the Pillar New Testament Commentary on Acts:

The remarkable humiliation of the exorcists and the consequent glorification of the name of the Lord Jesus by many led to another amazing event. ‘Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed (exomologoumenoi kai anangellontes, ‘confessing and disclosing’) what they had done.’ There was a public expression of repentance on the part of ‘many of those who believed,’ whereby ‘a number who had practiced sorcery (ta perierga,’ ‘superfluous works’, a technical term for magic) ‘brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly.’ Apparently they were moved by the exposure and overcoming of the exorcists to realize that their own previous involvement with the magic arts now needed to be acknowledged. Perhaps they had kept scrolls in which spells were written as an insurance policy, in case their newfound faith proved to be inadequate in some situation! Burning the scrolls was a way of repudiating what they contained and represented a greater trust in God to deliver them from trouble and supply their needs.

Such repentance before God and his people was costly: When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand [drachmas] (argyriou, ‘of silver’, without specifying the units of silver as ‘drachmas’). Luke’s reference to the price of these scrolls once more suggests ‘his strong dislike of the money-making side of magic and his clear rejection of it from the Christian side’ (Barrett). These people recognised that genuine discipleship involved letting go what they treasured in order to enjoy the blessings of God’s kingdom (cf. Lk. 9:23–27; 18:18–30). The scrolls that were burned may have contained the famous ‘Ephesian letters’, with their words of power for warding off demons, and ‘the sort of material preserved in the magical papyri such as thaumaturgic formulae, incantations, hymns and prayers’ (Trebilco). By depicting the defeat of the magicians in this way, Luke conveyed the message ‘that in the name of Jesus, the faithful shall triumph over the forces of darkness: Christians need not fear the devil, for there is no power in him against them’ (Garrett).

David Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles, 19:18-19.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

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The Gospel and Daily Humility (Bridges)

 I enjoyed Jerry Bridges’ book, The Blessing of Humility.  It’s a readable discussion of humility based on the Beatitudes.  Chapter ten of this book is called, “The Humility and the Gospel.”  Below are four main points Bridges makes in this chapter.  I’ve summarized them for the sake of space.  The question is this: How does the good news of the gospel help keep us humble every day?

  1. For one thing, it frees us up to be honest with ourselves about our sin.  We can face our sin squarely when we know that it is forgiven.  Even when a particular sin is vile in our eyes – not to mention God’s eyes – we can call it what it is, and thank God for his forgiveness.

  2. The second way the gospel helps us live a life of humility is to show us another person’s sin in light of our own.  To paraphrase and even enlarge on the words of one of the Puritans, the proud person is so busy judging the sins of other people that he or she has no time to see the sins of his or her own heart.  Meanwhile, the humble person is so busy dealing with his or her own sins that he or she has no time to judge the sins  of others.

  3. A third way the gospel helps us walk in humility is that it helps us practice meekness and mercy.  We can only truly appreciate the gospel when we see it through the lens of our sin.  And as we do that, we can forgive the sins of others because we have been forgiven so much.

  4. Fourth, the gospel motivates us to want to live in purity of heart – that is, to have as our supreme goal in life to live no longer for ourselves but Him who redeemed us to be a people for his own possession. …I find myself often praying over a few phrases from the old hymn “My Faith Looks Up to Thee.” ‘Take all my guilt away / O let me from this day / Be wholly Thine!’

In summary, I would say that it is impossible to truly walk in humility without to some degree appropriating the truth of the gospel every day.

Jerry Bridges, The Blessing of Humility, p. 86-88.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

The Government and the Christian (Luther)

 The Christian faith is not opposed to civil authority.  For example, Scripture calls followers of Jesus to respect authority, pray for leaders in positions of authority, and live peaceful lives for the benefit of society.  In fact, it is a proper interpretation of the fifth commandment to include obedience to those in authority over us.  Martin Luther understood this when he gave instructions on the fifth commandment and civil government.  Here’s a summary of what he said in light of that commandment and Romans 13:

[We owe the government] first, the payment of taxes, namely that each shall give the authorities such money and labor as is required of him.

Second, respect, that is, that we have sincere respect for government….

The third duty we owe government is honor.  …This means, first, that we recognize that government is from God and that through it he gives us much greater benefits.  For if God did not maintain government and justice in the world, the devil, who is a murderer, would everywhere bring about murder, so that none of us could be sure of life, wife, or children.

But God sustains government and through it gives peace and punishes and guards against the wicked, so that we may support wife and children, bring up children in the discipline and knowledge of God, have security in our homes and on the streets, that each may help the other, and communicate and live with another.  Such gifts are altogether of heaven, and God desires that we consider and recognize them as gifts of God.  He desires us to honor government as a servant of his and to show gratitude to it because through it God gives us such great benefits.  …If you knew that someone had saved your child from death, you would thank him warmly.  Why then are you not grateful to the government which saves you, your children, your wife, daily from murder?  If the government did not restrain the wicked, when could we be secure?

Luther goes on to note how we should pray for the government.  He also writes that it is true that some people abuse the ordinance of government, but government itself is not a bad thing since God instituted it.  It’s similar to marriage: sometimes marriage is abused by the wicked, but marriage itself is not wicked since it is an ordinace of God.

I appreciate Luther’s perspective on government.  It is true that no country is perfect.  There are sinful people in every government and every government rules over sinful people – that’s not a good mix!!  But when a government maintains even relative justice and relative peace in the land, we can thank God for that. It’s a common grace blessing.  Here in the United States there are many aspects of our government’s policies and laws that I disagree with, but I’m very glad that my family can sleep safely every night.  I’m also glad that I almost never have to worry about violent crime.  Reminder to self: Thank God more often for the protection and safety our government provides!

[Of course, there are governments that are so crooked that people are constantly worried about violent crime.  I don’t have time and space to expand upon that here and now, but Luther does talk about that as well in this context.  You’ll have to find it on your own or perhaps I’ll come back to the topic later.]

The above quote is found in volume 40 of Luther’s Works, page 281-284.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Means and Ends Cooperate (Bavinck)

Here’s a deep theological thought for the day, a truth that magnifies the sovereignty of God: “With God, means and ends always cooperate.”  Herman Bavinck wrote those words, followed by these statements which highlight God’s sovereign decree:

“In his decree the causes and the consequences, the pathways and outcomes are established in indissoluble connection with each other.  His decree is no loose assembly of various incidental phenomena that exist on their own, but consist of a complex of decisions intimately related, forming an unbreakable whole and a system of divine ideas, one single arrangement of everything that will exist or occur within time.

God executes this decree within time.  Therefore everything that happens within time is mutually related in the same unbreakable way as the ideas and decisions within God’s eternal decree are related.  Therefore we human beings are bound to means; anyone pursuing a goal must travel the path leading toward that goal.  …The Lord holds himself to the means which he established in his counsel for attaining his ends.  Predestination embraces not only the eternal state of rational creatures, but also the determination of the means and paths leading to that eternal state.”

For the biblical background of these statements, see Isaiah 40-46 and Ephesians 1, among other texts.  And if you’re interested in the larger context of the quote, you can find it in Saved by Grace, page 133.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

All Things for Good: Other People’s Sins? (Watson)

 Sin, of course, is not a good thing.  Sin is evil; sin is lawlessness.  However, in God’s sovereignty, he can use sin for the benefit of his people.  Paul said it very clearly: All things work together for the good of those who love God (Rom. 8:28).  “All things” includes those instances when people sin and hurt us in doing so.  In “All Things for Good,” Thomas Watson listed several ways how the sins of others work for our good.  Here’s one of them worth contemplating:

“The sins of others work for good, as they are glasses [mirrors] in which we may see our own hearts.  Behold a picture of our hearts.  Such should we be, if God did leave us.  What is in other men’s practice is in our nature.  Sin in the wicked is like fire on a beacon that flames and blazes forth; sin in the godly is like fire in the embers.

Christian, though you do not break forth into a flame of scandal, yet you have no cause to boast, for there is much sin raked up in the embers of your nature.  You have the root of bitterness in you, and you would bear as hellish fruit as any, if God did not either curb you by His power, or change you by His grace.”

That’s a very insightful Christian thought!  When someone else sins, rather than bragging that I’m better, I remember that I too am sinful and if it weren’t for God’s grace and power, I too would act out in all sorts of evil ways.  So the sins of others should not make me proud, but humble.  It will still hurt when people are sinfully cruel to us, but as Christians we can be confident that God will use it for our good.

The above quote is found on page 47 of All Things for Good.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

When the Church Becomes Worldly (Guinness)

 Here’s a helpful commentary by Os Guinness on worldliness in the church:

It would be idle to speculate what terrible new order today’s trendy clerics and faithless Christian activists are greasing the slipway for.  But we need not wait for the outcome.  The truth is that the greatest enemy of the Western church is not the state or any ideology such as atheism, but the world and the spirit of the age.  Anything less than a full-blooded expression of the Christian faith ahs no chance of standing firm against the assaults and seductions of the advanced modern world.

So when the church becomes worldly, she betrays her Lord, and she also fails to live up to her calling to be dangerously different and thus to provide deliverance from the world by a power that is not of the world.  When ‘saving us from ourselves’ has become the widespread problem of the advanced modern world, the worldly church has no supernatural salvation to offer and stands in shame and as desperately needing saving herself.

But that is not the end of it.  The worldly church is not only corrupt but cowardly, for much contemporary worldliness is a voluntary capitulation to the spirit and system of the age.  There are times when the powers of the age openly seek to seduce the church or brutally subjugate her to their own purposes.  That can be bad enough, as witnessed by the widespread compromise of Russian Orthodoxy under Stalin or Lutheranism under Hitler. But the contemporary worldliness of parts of the Western church, as exemplified differently by the extremes of either the Episcopal Church in America or the emergent Evangelicals, is in one sense worse.

As Jesus said, ‘You will know them by their fruit.’  Just wait long enough for their ideas to ripen, and in case after case it turns out that the much-trumpeted ‘new kind of Christianity for a new world’ turns out to be the old kind of compromise and heresy.  Such worldliness is inexcusable because it is self-chosen, naively and brethlessly self-chosen, and in many cases foolish beyond all comprehension.

From Renaissance, p. 119

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

Loving Other Saints Who Are Sinners (Watson)

 Christians mess up and make mistakes.  Followers of Jesus sin and don’t always act in a kind and loving way.  Sometimes Christians are even difficult to love!  However, we as God’s people are called to love each other with a fervent and forgiving love (Col. 3:12-14).  Whether in a marriage or between family and friends, Christians must love each other.  I like how Thomas Watson talked about this on page 82 of All Things for Good:

We love a saint, though he has many personal failings.  There is no perfection here.  In some, rash anger prevails; in some, inconstancy; in some, too much love of the world.  A saint in this life is like gold in the ore, much dross of infirmity cleaves to him, yet we love him for the grace that is in him.

A saint is like a fair face with a scar; we love the beautiful face of holiness, though there be a scar in it.  The best emerald has its blemishes, the brightest stars have their twinklings, and the best of the saints have their failings.  You that cannot love one another because of his infirmities, how would you have God love you?

Thomas Watson, All Things for Good, p. 82.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015