Robert Jeffress - Coloring Outside The Lines
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". Whether you're an artist or an accountant, creativity is essential for success in every area of life and that includes ministry. Today we're going to look at two churches who experienced God's blessing because they were willing to be creative in sharing the gospel. My message is titled "Coloring Outside the Lines" on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
If I ask you to make a list of the most creative people in history, I imagine some of you would write down Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci; perhaps Beethoven, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford; perhaps even Bill Gates, Steve Jobs in today's culture. But no list of creativity would be complete without the name Walt Disney. Walt Disney was a creative genius. In fact, his genius, his biographer said, emerged at an early age. The biographer tells the story of Walt Disney being in the fourth grade and his teacher gave an assignment to the class to draw a little bouquet of flowers that she had sitting on her desk, and she made the rounds to check each child's progress and she stopped cold at Walt's desk. She looked down and noticed that he had replaced the bloom of the flower with human faces and where there should have been leaves there should have, he put arms instead.
She chastised him, but his biographer says nevertheless Walt Disney continued to draw things the way he saw them. We might say Walt Disney learned how to color outside the lines. I can't help but compare Disney's experience to my own. When I was in the first grade, my teacher was very distressed about my inability to color within the lines. She called my parents in for a conference certain that I had some kind of mental deficiency, and she said to my parents, "Robert is a sweet little boy, but don't expect too much out of him".
Coloring outside the lines is not always appreciated; but learning to be creative, to color out the signs is necessary for success in every area of life, including sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Today we're going to look at a portrait of two different churches that were willing to color outside the lines and yet it was because of their creativity that the gospel expanded as quickly as it did. In fact, in a very real sense you and I are Christians today because of the creativity of these two churches.
If you have your Bibles, turn to Acts chapter 11, Acts chapter 11. Now, remember what happened in chapter 10. We saw how God used Peter a Jew, the leader of the church at Jerusalem, to reach the true first Gentile convert, a Roman soldier named Cornelius. You know, it's not that the Jews didn't believe Gentiles could be saved. That was understood. But they believed, as one writer said, that a Gentile had to first of all pass through the vestibule of Judaism before he could be saved. In other words, Gentiles had to become Jews, and then once they were Jews they could be saved. But what about a Gentile who wasn't a Jew? Could he be saved? The story of Peter and Cornelius answers that question with a resounding yes, but not everybody was convinced when they first heard that news.
Look at chapter 11, verse 1. We see that the church at Jerusalem was eventually willing to color outside the lines of prejudice, and let's see how that happened. Verse 1, "Now the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles had received the word of God..." Word spread like wildfire from Caesarea by the Sea about Cornelius being converted and what Peter had done. It had traveled back to Jerusalem and the Jews there weren't exactly thrilled about it. Why? Look at verses 2 and 3. It went outside what they believed was proper. "And when Peter finally returned to Jerusalem, those who were circumcised," that is the Jews, "took issue with him, saying, 'You went to uncircumcised men,'" Gentiles, "and you ate with them".
They had not only heard how Peter had shared the gospel with them, but he stayed with Cornelius and the family for a couple of days, which means he ate with them. That was forbidden. And these Jews could still smell the bacon breath that Peter had probably when he got back to Jerusalem. They said, "Something is wrong with this". So how did Peter respond to their criticism? Look at verse 4. "But Peter began speaking and proceeded to explain to them in orderly sequence all that happened".
He spoke calmly. He said, "Let me tell you the story. I was on the top of Simon the Tanner's house when this vision came to me of a sheet coming down with clean and unclean animals and God said to me, 'Don't any longer declare unclean what is clean.' And I was thinking about what that meant when suddenly I was dispatched to Caesarea to preach the gospel to Cornelius. And he and his family not only believed, but they received the baptism with the Holy Spirit". Verse 17, "Therefore," Peter said to these Jewish leaders, "if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that could stand in God's way"?
It's a great verse. Who are we to stand in God's way of what God is doing? Now let's give these Jewish leaders some credit. Even though they had been trained since early childhood that Gentiles were nothing more than mongrel, disease-ridden dogs roaming up and down the streets of Jerusalem, even though they had been taught that, when they heard what Peter testified they had a change of heart. They changed their mind. Verse 18, "When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, 'God has granted to the Gentiles repentance leading to life.'" They were willing to admit they were wrong.
Now, they would struggle as we'll see later in our study of Acts. They'd struggle for years with what role Judaism should have in the life of the church. Should they keep the sacrifices? Should they keep the Jewish law? That was a continuing debate, but they changed their mind about Gentiles, complete Gentiles who had no connection to Judaism coming to faith in Jesus Christ. They were coloring outside the line of their man-made prejudice. And I want you to notice that this story about Gentiles being saved, the gospel extending beyond racial boundaries is repeated three times in Acts 10 and 11. First when it happens to Peter in Acts 10 he receives the vision, then when he goes and relates that vision to Cornelius, and then in chapter 11 he tells it a third time to the church in Jerusalem.
When you find something repeated three times in the Bible in two chapters, it's God's wake-up call. You better take notice of what God is saying and doing. This church was willing to color outside the lines of its prejudice. Now, I need to be real clear here. When we talk about coloring outside the lines of prejudice, we're talking about man-made lines, not God's lines. God has established some boundaries as well, and we have no right to go beyond God's ordained boundaries. For example, God has given a boundary when it comes to marriage. He says marriage is between a man and a woman. We cannot extend that boundary to include whatever we want to as our own definition of marriage. God has boundaries, lines when it comes to gender.
Genesis 1:27 says God made them male and female; not male, female, and question mark. We don't assign gender. God makes us that way, male or female. When it comes to ministry, we need to recognize, get rid of man-made lines of prejudice. God calls women just as much as he calls men to ministry, but there's one restriction. Women can't serve as senior pastors of the church. God in his design said a man is to be the pastor of the church. We can't go beyond that boundary, and we certainly can't go beyond the boundary of what God says about salvation. We can't erase the line and say anybody is saved who believes in God. No. Jesus said in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me". No, we have to stay within the God-given boundaries, but we need to move beyond man-made boundaries; and the church at Jerusalem was willing to do that, and that's why God blessed the church.
Now, when we come to verse 19, we look at another church, the church at Antioch that was willing to color outside the lines of tradition to reach people with the gospel. My late mentor, Dr. Howard Hendricks, wrote a book more than 20 years ago called "Color Outside the Lines". The subtitle is "A Revolutionary Approach to Creative Leadership". And in that book Prof. Hendricks said, "Ministry has never been more demanding or more determinative than it is today. The Christian community in the western world needs a larger core of leaders who model creativity in every aspect of service for the Savior".
I couldn't agree more. And if that was true 20 years ago that ministry is demanding, it's much more demanding even today. And I want to show you four ways the church at Antioch colored beyond the boundaries of tradition that are encapsulated in that saying we've never done it that way before. This church was willing to go beyond that. First of all, notice in verses 19 to 21 they were willing to establish the first Gentile church, the first Gentile church. Look at verse 19. "So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose in connection with Stephen..."
Remember when Stephen was martyred the church scattered, but that Greek word scattered means planted. God used persecution to scatter the church so it could be planted throughout the world. Some people went to Phoenicia and Cyprus and to Antioch. Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire right behind Rome and Alexandria. It was an idolatrous city, a pagan city. Some of these Jewish Christians went to Antioch, but notice speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. They were still bound up a little bit in their prejudice. It's not that they didn't believe Gentiles could be saved, but they didn't want to have any part of it. And so they just spoke to their fellow Jews, but... and this is the keyword verse 20. "But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and they began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus Christ".
Now think about how the gospel was expanding. First, in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost 12 years before this, on the day of Pentecost Peter preached the message to Jews and Jews were saved. And then you have in Acts 8 half Jews, Samaritans being saved. And then later in Acts 8 you have the Ethiopian court official who was a Gentile but he had proselyted to Judaism. He was a Gentile, or a Gentile convert to Judaism. He was saved. Then you come to Acts chapter 10. You've got a Gentile, Cornelius who worshiped the God of Israel being saved. And now you have complete pagan idolaters who know nothing about the God of Israel. Now they are being saved. That's what Jesus had in mind. "You shall be my witnesses in Judea, Samaria, Jerusalem, and to the uttermost parts of the earth". The gospel was expanding. Secondly, the church had to expand its leadership team.
Now notice when the church of Jerusalem heard about this explosive growth, to their credit they didn't try to shut it down. They didn't say, "Oh, this church is growing too quickly. It's a threat to us". No. What did they do? Look at verse 22. "The news about Antioch reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and so they sent Barnabas off to Antioch". Good old Barnabas. We see him again, the son of encouragement. Remember we met him in Acts 4 when he gave that gift to the church and encouraged the church. Then we saw him in Acts 9 when nobody wanted to have anything to do with the new Christian named Saul of Tarsus. Nobody believed it was legitimate except Barnabas, and he stood up for him. It'll be Barnabas who goes out on the first missionary journey with Paul in Acts 13. And when the church said, "We need somebody to go encourage these new Christians," they send Barnabas.
And so what did he do? Look at verse 23. "When he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and he began to encourage them". That's what he did. He encouraged people. He encouraged them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord. His message to these new converts was to remain true to the Lord. Why was that his message? Because he understood something that is still true today. When a Christian is a baby Christian, they're in great danger of falling away from the faith because they haven't developed the maturity they need to stay strong. Jesus talked about that in Luke chapter 8, verse 13. Remember he talked about seed, the Word of God, that is planted in fertile soil and it begins to grow, but when the hot sun comes out it withers away and dies because it hasn't established that root system necessary to get the moisture that it needs from the ground.
He said that's why it's so important that we encourage and nurture new Christians so that they don't dry up and get discouraged because of problems they face. That's what he did. He began to encourage them with a resolute heart. In fact, he had so many of these people that he couldn't handle it all on his own. The church was growing exponentially. How do I know that? Look at verse 21. "The hand of the Lord was with them, and a," underline it, "large number were being saved". They turned to the Lord. Verse 24, "And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord". Verse 26, "And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers". Three times and three verses the word numbers, large numbers is used.
Have you ever heard people say, "Well, God doesn't care about numbers? Our church may be dying, but that's okay. God cares more about quality than he does about quantity". Somebody here was doing some counting. They know large numbers were coming to the Lord. God does care about numbers because numbers represent people. And that leads to the third way they colored outside the lines. The church at Antioch taught God's Word in the church. Now, this is key. Look at verse 26. When Barnabas found Paul, he brought him to Antioch. "And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers".
In Acts 2:46, which was 12 years before this, after the day of Pentecost the Bible says the Christians had some kind of meeting at the temple. We don't know what they did. They gathered at the temple, perhaps in the courtyard, to sing and to pray, but mainly Acts 2:46 says they went from house to house teaching the Word and strengthening believers. But now that changes. Now when we're in Antioch, the Bible says that they met with the church. That Greek preposition with is E-N, en the church. You know what en means? In the church. They were not meeting in homes exclusively. The numbers had outgrown that. They met in one place. We have no idea where it was, but it was in one place large enough to accommodate the considerable numbers that were coming to the Lord and Barnabas and Paul taught them the Word of God. When they got together as a church, what did they do?
Now, listen to this. When they came together as a church, they didn't sign petitions to remove the Roman Emperor. That's not what they did. They did not organize themselves into service projects to meet the need of their community of Antioch. No. They met together to hear the Word of God taught. Barnabas, Paul understood that the only way these new Christians were going to survive in a moral, spiritual cesspool like Antioch was to be taught the Word of God, and that is true 2,000 years later. Today, God's plan is for us to grow strong through the teaching of God's Word. And how do we know if we're growing strong? God didn't give us his Word to make us smarter sinners. He gave us his Word to become more like Jesus Christ.
That's what Paul said in Ephesians 4, verses 12 and 13. What is the purpose of the church? "For the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and the knowledge of the Son of God," here it is, "to a mature man". What does that mean, to be a mature person? "To the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ". Don't miss this. The mission of the church, the mission of First Baptist Church is to what? Make disciples. The method for fulfilling that mission is teaching people the Word of God; but the measure of whether we're successful is how closely we resemble Jesus Christ in our attitudes, our actions, our affections. And by that standard, the church at Antioch was a raging success.
How do I know that? Look at the fourth way they colored outside the lines of tradition. Verse 26 ends with this Word: "And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch". As a result of hearing and applying God's Word, they were first called Christians. Now, they did not call themselves Christians. In fact, did you know never in the Bible do Christians refer to themselves as Christians or refer to other people as Christians? That word Christians is a term that was used by the godless pagan resident of Antioch to call these believers in Jesus Christ. The word Christians comes from two words: Christos, referring to the Messiah, Jesus; and Ianos, which means the members of a sect or a political party. These believers in Antioch weren't known as being Republicans or Democrats. They were part of a sect of Jesus Christ.
When these Antioch residents said, "Oh, they're just a bunch of Christians," literally they are Christ ones. They are Christ people. As we used to say, they're Jesus freaks. That's who they are. They meant it as a pejorative term, but there's no greater compliment for somebody than to be called a follower, a Jesus freak. Remember that question we used to ask years ago? If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? For these Antioch Christians there was enough evidence, so much so that even the pagans were referring to them as Jesus people.
In his commentary on the Book of Acts, Dr. Crystal tells the true story of Alexander the Great who conquered the world by age 23. One day it came to Alexander's attention that he had a soldier in his army whose name was also Alexander. He had been named Alexander in honor of the great general, but he was a notorious coward. And so he asked to see the cowardly soldier. The soldier was brought in, and the great general looked at him and he said, "Is it true that your name is Alexander and you were named so in my honor"? The trembling soldier said, "Yes, sir. It is". The great conqueror said, "Then either become a brave soldier or change your name". In this world that becomes increasingly darker with each passing day, it's imperative that those of us who call ourselves Christians either change our behavior or change our name.