First Mennonite Church
August 30, 2015
Daring to Turn the World Upside Down
Text: Acts 17:1-9
What an amazing accusation against Paul and Silas, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also.” At this, the people and the city officials were disturbed.
In the Gospel according to John, Jesus warned his disciples against belonging to the world (John 15:18-21). The disciples of Jesus cannot get comfy with the world. The very fact that they claim Jesus as Lord and Savior makes them unfit to the world. That is why Jesus said, “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you” (Jn. 15:18).
In chapter 17, Jesus prayed for his disciples and said, “I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world . . . protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me … .
I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.
As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.”
(John 10, 11, 14-16, 18)
The Apostle Paul also warns against being well-adjusted to the world in Romans 12, verse 2. Do not be conformed to the world. This warning of Paul cannot be any truer for us today when all kinds of worldly forces, trends, and values hit us at every side and unceasingly. We are not only told what to eat and wear, or on what to sleep but the world also wants to force on us a false identity. It tells us that we are the center of the universe; it tells us that we exist for the sake of ourselves. This promotion of self as the whole purpose for living is nothing less than idolatry. Idolatry of self, which is narcissism, is contrary to the Spirit of Christ. Later in the same letter to the Romans Paul says, “For Christ did not please himself, but endured the insults, and this has been written to our instruction so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we may remain in hope” (paraphrase of Romans 15:3, 4).
James speaks bluntly about Christians’ relationship with the world: You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God (James 4:4).
It is therefore critical to every one of us who professes Christ as Lord and Savior to be constantly vigilant about how we live in the world. Are we living according to the values of the world? Is our life shaped by the message the world gives us? Is the way we spend our time and money a reflection of how much we have embraced the world? Or, is our life the reflection of our being shaped in the image of Christ? Are our pursuits in life according to the values of the kingdom Jesus proclaimed? Is our way of life troublesome to world?
Our passage for today is part of the narrative of Paul and Silas’ ministry. At every city they had previously visited trouble had erupted because of their message and way of life. In Philippi, Paul proclaimed Jesus with boldness. He displayed the liberating power of God by casting out a demon from a slave girl. For doing those things, he was accused of causing public and economic disturbances. Paul, therefore, was stripped of his clothes and given a severe flogging, after which he was thrown into jail. While inside the prison, although Paul was bleeding from his open wounds and instead of lamenting or of invoking his rights as a Roman Citizen, he praised God by singing hymns. His actions seemed weird to those watching and listening. Paul’s actions and attitude indeed put the world upside down. Praising God while his blood was dripping didn’t make sense to the other prisoners nor to the prison guard. Singing to God joyfully while wrongly arrested and sentenced was crazy and other worldly. After Paul was released, Paul continued his journey and came to Thessalonica.
Upon arriving in Thessalonica, Paul engaged his fellow Jews in their synagogue on three Sabbath days. The text describes Paul as an expert interpreter of the Jewish Scriptures. In verse 2, it tells us that Paul “argued,” “explained,” and “proved” the meaning of the Old Testament prophecies. The word translated “argued” means “to reason,” or “to discuss.” It should not be understood that Paul was being argumentative. Paul discussed, explained, and proved to them why it was necessary for Jesus, the Anointed One of God, to suffer, die, and be raised again. And he boldly proclaimed, “This is the Messiah, Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you.” But that was not all Paul did to turn the world upside down in Thessalonica. In his letter to the Thessalonian church he wrote:
You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. 2 We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. 3 For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. 4 On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. 5 You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. 6 We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. 7 Instead, we were like young children among you.
Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, 8 so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. 9 Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. 10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.
Turning the world upside down by Paul and Silas did not happen accidentally. It all began the day Paul was met by Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul had believed that the people he was persecuting and trying to destroy were dangerously mistaken about Jesus who they proclaimed was God’s Messiah. Yet, once Paul was given the divine light to know Jesus, his life was completely turned around. Everything the world had given him: religious authority, public admiration and respect he consider trash and useless for the sake of Christ. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians 3, verse 4-11, Paul writes: If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Once Paul met Jesus his whole worldview was changed. He realized that his religious fanaticism was void of God’s power because it was away from the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul realized that the gospel of Christ had been piercing arrows to those who were in power and to those who believed themselves to be guardians of the truths of God. Paul was convinced that Christ’s gospel was indeed a message of hope to the lost, but it was also a message that disquieted the status quo. Christ and his gospel turned the world upon its head. For Jesus said, “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it (Matthew 10:38-39). In 20, verse 16, Jesus says, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Again Jesus said to his disciples, “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear (Luke 12:21-22).
Paul realized that the gospel message not only did not fit into the mold of the world, but it turned the world upside down.
Once Paul had received the gospel he realized he had no choice but to proclaim it in words and with his very life. Paul therefore learned that suffering was an inherent result of belonging to Christ. His life in Christ and the proclamation of his message could not help but turn the world upside down.
Let us ask ourselves, how does my life in Christ affect my world? Is my life and confession of Christ disquieting to my friends? Can they see the difference Christ makes in me? Do my attitude, pursuits, and priorities show that I follow a living Christ? Is my commitment strong enough to lead me to sacrifice personal preferences for the sake of Christ?
Let us remember that we live in a world where sometimes evil is called good and where sometimes foolishness is called wisdom. Let us remember that we live in a world where moral disintegration is sometimes thought of as progress and where wrong is sometimes called right. Let us remember that we live in a world that applauds the lofty and disregards the lowly. Let us remember that the world hated and continues to hate the One who is love and who loved the world and even died to redeem it. The world has been living upside down for so long that whomever lives differently will be looked at as if walking upside down.
So, let us dare to turn our world upside down. Let us begin by pleading with God to touch our heart afresh with the power of his Gospel. Let us cry out to God to rekindle our heart with the fire of his Spirit. Let us pray earnestly that God may fill our heart with his passion and compassion. Let us pay attention to God’s voice we might have refused to listen to before.
In our relationship with others, let us remember that our world does not know how to forgive. So, let us be forgiving. Let us be considerate of others when they fail or believe differently. Let us show the love and compassion of Christ, especially when there is so much hate going on. Let us be patient when impatience seems to reign. Let us be thankful for God’s blessings by blessing others with the blessings we have received. Let us be open to others about our commitment with Christ our Lord and Savior. Let us praise God even in times or situations where it seems difficult to do so. In doing these things, we will begin to turn our world upside down to the glory of God. And the people around us will say as the Thessalonians said: “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also.” Amen!