Stephen McLaren

Acts 14: 19-20

1 John 3: 13-16

         I know that we spoke a bit on Lord’s day about the verses that I have read again in Acts, but reading them impressed me very much, considering this situation that is described.  It is a very serious situation, with the climax of feeling against Paul, and the enemy seeming to have got his way.  It would appear that Satan had achieved his object; they supposed Paul to have died.  If that had been true, then the testimony as borne witness to by Paul would have ceased at that point.  What made the difference was that the disciples encircled him.  And that action struck me as very significant.  The others, the opposers, supposed him to have died, but as to those who loved him it says; “the disciples encircled him”.  Clearly it was an action that was motivated by intense love, love for the apostle, no doubt for what he had spoken to them of and the truth he had brought to them.  They encircled him; there were those prepared to stand in that position.  No doubt Paul himself had been physically struck by stones, the direct object of persecution and of attack, but there were those who were prepared to step up and, so to speak, to share that with him, and to enter, in some measure, into the sufferings which Paul himself was suffering; that must have been motivated by love.  The result of that was that God intervened in His mercy and Paul was revived, and he rose up and entered into the city.  So I suppose you could say that it was as though Paul was walking in the power of resurrection and life.  It would appear he had died, but it was a most remarkable situation.  It seems to me a lot revolved round the action of the disciples.  I know that it was in the mercy of God that Paul was delivered from the situation and was spared; it was necessary that he should be spared.  His actual death would take place some time later in the ways of God.  It was not the time for him to be taken but nevertheless it was a very desperate situation here, and I have to ask myself what my reaction would have been.  Would I be prepared to stand up here and encircle the beloved apostle, take my place along with others who were of the same mind? 

         It would have been quite something if we consider Paul’s aspect of this, to become conscious as he rose up that these disciples whom he loved so much and served so well, were surrounding him, and it would be quite a thing for him to take account of.  No doubt Paul greatly valued that expression of love!  How much of his ministry was about the truth of the assembly, and the expression of Christ’s body here, the circle of affection in which love was shared; how blessed a matter it is that there is a circle where love for one another is expressed.  How good it is and right that it should be so!  The Christian circle is that, and it is very blessed to experience the flow of love that circulates in the Christian circle; a circle where there are those who know that flow of love and are prepared to sacrifice themselves and put themselves in a position of danger if anyone is subject to attack; “the disciples encircled him”. 

         I have noticed in reading through this book the many times it speaks of the affection of the brethren.  I think we noticed it in chapter 13, when we spoke of the evident affection that was there in verse 3, “Then, having fasted and prayed, and having laid their hands on them, they let them go”.  I think we commented on the impression that it gives that there was great reluctance to be separated.  It was necessary that they should depart from them for a while, though it was obvious there was a condition there where there was affection for one another to such an extent that they expressed their love in that way; “having laid their hands on them, they let them go”.  There is another reference elsewhere further on (the passage is well known), at the end of chapter 20, after Paul had spoken to the elders of Ephesus, where it says of them, “they all wept sore; and falling upon the neck of Paul they ardently kissed him”, v 37.  And there is another occasion further on when Paul and his company were only with difficulty able to take their leave of those who had accompanied them, chap 21: 1.  I just refer to that as an aside; I think it is evidence of normal relationships in the Christian circle, and what we might say is normal would be expected; and that is what led me to John’s epistle.

         John says, “Hereby we have known love, because he has laid down his life for us”; that is the Lord Jesus, of course. But then he adds, “and we ought for the brethren to lay down our lives”.  That is a consequence of the effect in our spirits and in our hearts of that great action of the Lord Jesus.  It should produce in us the desire to be counted amongst those whom John speaks of: “we ought for the brethren to lay down our lives”.  That is a question; are we prepared to do that?  In the Acts it was evident they were prepared to do that.  Where we began reading he says, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren”.  In that scripture we read in Acts, death was just round the corner, you might say.  But as to Paul himself and those believers there, I think you could class them amongst those whom John speaks of as he does here: “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren”.  Conditions of life are known as there is love in circulation, in expression.  I think we would understand that when John speaks of the brethren he is speaking of all who are Christ’s.  We know that in the present circumstances we may not be able to express love so freely, perhaps because of the circumstances that prevail at the present time, but still our disposition is one of love: we love the brethren!

         I trust that the thoughts on this scripture are clear enough and the brethren will see the link between where we read on Lord’s day and this passage in John’s epistle.  I trust too that we may enjoy this expression of love in circulation, and in the circle where Christ is supreme.  I thought too of the situation where the Lord Jesus was made the Centre in John 12, in the house in Bethany.  There was a circle of love there in the household, and it says, “where was the dead man Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from among the dead.  There therefore they made him a supper”, v 1-2.  In the circle of affection of which I am speaking, it is clear that the Lord Jesus always has the prime central place in all our thoughts, and in all our hearts and affections, and then love is expressed towards one another too.

         I trust that the Lord will bless these thoughts to us.

Word in a Ministry Meeting, Dundee

2nd February 2016