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February 18, 2018
Upsetting the World
Christians who preach the truth of God’s word have been accused of many things. There is a curious accusation brought against Paul and his companions that is recorded in the book of Acts. When Paul and those who were with him preached in Thessalonica, the following charge was made against them: “These men who have upset the world have come here also” (Acts 17:6). This “upsetting” was not some mild disturbance. In fact, the meaning of this word from the Greek language is from the same root as “to be driven from one’s home.” In other words, it was intense. The implication is that the whole world was turned on its head—everything had become completely unsettled. The preaching of the gospel was having such an effect in changing the beliefs and lives of the people of that day it seemed that the world was being turned upside down. Though it is clear that the gospel was preached in the first century with great love, it is also evident that the early church was uncompromising, dogmatic, and aggressive. What is it that is so “upside-down,” so unsettling and upsetting about the message preached?
One True God
At a time when the religious world believed in many gods, they rejected every one of them, and preached the one true God. At Lystra after Paul and Barnabas had performed a great miracle by the power of God in healing a man who had never been able to walk, the people wanted to honor them as gods. When Paul and Barnabas heard of this, they tore their clothes, and ran among the people, crying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, WHO MADE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM” (Acts 14:15). As a result of such a stand against the gods of the people, Paul, instead of being honored—even worshipped—was stoned and left for dead (Acts 14:1-20).
On the Areopagus in the city of Athens, where there were altars to many gods, Paul spoke of an altar which the people of Athens had erected “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.” Paul then told them about the true and living God, the one who “made the world and all things in it” (Acts 17:19-24). Similarly, in writing to the Ephesian Christians, Paul said there is “one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:6).
In the city of Rome there still exists a building called the Pantheon, one of the best preserved and durable of all the buildings of ancient Rome. This was the place where all the gods of the Roman Empire were accepted. The Christians of the first century, and later, would have had little trouble with the Roman government if they had had some representation of their God in the Pantheon, as one of the many gods, but to such a policy they adamantly refused—the world was stood on its head.
One True Savior
At a time when the religious world believed in many saviors, they rejected all of them, and preached the one true Savior. They accepted only the one announced by the angel to the shepherds. “Today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). This is the one the angel told Joseph to call Jesus because “He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). This is the one Peter preached to the people of Jerusalem after the death and resurrection of Christ. “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). It was this kind of preaching that helped to upset the world in such a way.
One True Gospel
At a time when the religious world believed in many religious doctrines, they rejected all of them, and preached the one true gospel. The apostle Paul, the same man who was accused in Thessalonica of upsetting the world, said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). In no uncertain terms Paul let it be known that this gospel was the only true message. “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!” (Galatians 1:8). In proclaiming the "one faith" (Ephesians 4:5), the early Christians emphatically rejected the idea that one faith is as good as another—once again, the world upside down.
One True Church
At a time when the religious world believed in many religious groups, they rejected the idea of such, and preached the one body of Christ, the one true church. Jesus had announced, when Peter confessed Him to be the Son of the living God, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18). Christ promised to build only one, and did build only one church. Paul said that Christ was “head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22,23). In the same letter the apostle said, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling” (Ephesians 4:4). Christ is the head of this one body. If there were many bodies, the church would be a monstrosity—one head with many bodies.
Salvation is in this one body. “For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body” (Ephesians 5:23). If one is not in this one body, this one church, he is not in that of which Christ is the Savior. Also, reconciliation is in the one body: “and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity” (Ephesians 2:16). Though there were many religious groups, the early Christians let the world know there was only one true church—very upsetting to the world.
One True Morality
At a time when the world lived in moral degradation, they showed the beauty of a pure, wholesome life—one true morality built from God’s own words. Peter reminded the Christians of his day, and all subsequent time, “you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1Peter 2:9). Paul’s admonition was, “keep yourself free from sin” (1Timothy 5:22). “Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,” says the Lord. “AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; And I will welcome you” (2Corinthians 6:17). The world is turned upside down.
One True Discipleship
At a time when the world wanted religions that satisfied the fleshly man, they preached a religion of restraint, self-control, sacrifice—true discipleship. Christ had taught his disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). Paul admonished Christians to present their bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, and not to be conformed to the world (Romans 12:1,2). Though he was an apostle, Paul said, “I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified” (1Corinthians 9:27). How upsetting for the world!
If such a stand for, and exhibition of, truth upset the world so much in the first century, is there any reason to doubt that it will do the same thing now?
—S. Scott Richardson Sr.