The Sect That Is Spoken Against Everywhere

Paul in Rome

When Paul came to Rome as a prisoner, he was permitted to meet with the Jewish leaders in that city. The apostle used this opportunity to explain why he was there – not as an enemy of the Jewish people but that he was suffering “for the sake of the hope of Israel” (Acts 28:17-20). The Jewish leaders had not heard about Paul, but they had heard about the church.

They said to him, ‘We have neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren come here and reported or spoken anything bad about you. But we desire to hear from you what your views are; for concerning this sect, it is known to us that it is spoken against everywhere” (Acts 28:21-22).

The church was this “sect…spoken against everywhere.” Why was this the case?

When we study the book of Acts, we find several reasons why the church was “spoken against everywhere.” As we follow the same pattern that they followed, this will often happen to us as well. We will be “spoken against” by others. It is not that we should seek out trouble or conflict. Paul told the Romans, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18). However, we do need to be prepared for this reality.

Why Was This Sect Spoken Against Everywhere?

As we look through the book of Acts, we can find several reasons why the early church was opposed by those around it.

  1. It grew rapidly – When the church was established on the day of Pentecost, there were “about three thousand souls” who were added to it (Acts 2:41). Shortly after this, the number of the men grew to “about five thousand” (Acts 4:4). In the next chapter, Luke noted that “all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number” (Acts 5:14). This was a problem for the Jewish leaders. When Peter and John appeared before them a second time, they said, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us” (Acts 5:28). When Paul was in Antioch of Pisidia and “nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of the Lord,” the Jewish leaders “saw the crowds, [and] were filled with jealousy and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming” (Acts 13:44-45). The leaders “instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district” (Acts 13:50) because of how quickly they were winning followers for Jesus.
  2. It claimed that all others were wrong – When Peter and John first appeared before the Jewish council in Jerusalem to answer for their preaching about Jesus, they said, “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). Their message was that salvation was only in Christ. The leaders “threatened them” not to speak this message anymore (Acts 4:21). When they continued teaching this message of salvation exclusively in Christ, the leaders “flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus” (Acts 5:40). When Paul was in Athens, he told them of God who was “Lord of heaven and earth” in contrast to the false “gods” that they served (Acts 17:22-31). In response to his message, “some began to sneer” (Acts 17:32).
  3. It condemned the religious leaders – When Stephen was called to make a defense before the Jewish leaders, he outlined the history of God’s people and then condemned these men for rejecting Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the law itself: “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it” (Acts 7:51-53). Their response was to stone Stephen to death (Acts 7:57-60).
  4. It threatened certain businesses – In Philippi, Paul cast a spirit out of a slave-girl who had been “bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling” (Acts 16:16-18). When they “saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities” (Acts 16:19). In Ephesus, there was “no small disturbance concerning the Way” (Acts 19:23). The opposition was led by Demetrius who cited the threat against their business as a way to rally his fellow tradesmen to oppose the gospel: “Men, you know that our prosperity depends upon this business. You see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all. Not only is there danger that this trade of ours fall into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis be regarded as worthless…” (Acts 19:25-27). The way that Paul threatened their business was not by organizing a boycott, but by teaching the truth.
  5. It refused to alter its doctrine – When Peter and John appeared before the Jewish council and were “commanded…not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus,” they said, “We cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:18-20). When they were called back before the rulers, they were reminded of the “strict orders” they had received “not to continue teaching in this name”; but they answered, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:28-29). They were not going to change their message even though they were pressured to do so.

Do We Desire the Favor of Men or God?

It is possible for Christians to be faithful to God and enjoy the favor of those around them. This was the initial state of the early church as they were “praising God and having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:47). However, generally speaking, the world will be against us if we are striving to faithfully follow the Lord.

If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you” (John 15:18-19).

Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).

We need to strive to be faithful in order to enjoy the favor of God. Paul wrote, “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12). He also said, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you” (Luke 6:26).

Again, it is possible to be faithful and be held in high regard by others; but that will not always be the case. We need to decide what is more important to us – the favor of men so that they speak well of us or the favor of God so that the world speaks against us. Deciding that will dictate how we conduct ourselves.

How to Have All Men Speak Well of Us

After noticing what it was about the early church that caused them to be “spoken against everywhere” (Acts 28:22), we can infer from that what we can do to have all men speak well of us.

  1. Don’t convert anyone to Christ – There may very well be growth, but it will not be the result of God adding people to the church (Acts 2:47). Instead, this growth will be the result of giving people what they want. Understandably, this is popular and will cause the world to praise us.
  2. Don’t say that others are wrong – Instead, allow everyone to have their own interpretation of truth. Claim that there are many paths to God. This will be popular and will win us the world’s favor.
  3. Don’t call anyone a false teacher – This could be seen as judging someone’s motives rather than their doctrine. It is not acceptable to “judge” others in this way.
  4. Don’t be critical of any (legal) business – If a business is legal, even a business like a liquor store or a casino, the world believes is must be right. We cannot have the praise of the world if we do not support “legitimate” businesses like these.
  5. Don’t be afraid to compromise – The path to popularity is to teach what people want to hear. Paul explained this to Timothy, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). If we will tickle their ears, they will praise us for that.

How to Have the World Speak Against Us

If we follow the example of the early church, we will also have the world speak against us. What will we be doing that will make this happen?

  1. Grow (or attempt to grow) by converting people to Christ – We are to plant and water the seed of the gospel and let God give the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6). Our responsibility is not to make converts through any means necessary, but simply to “preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 1:17). By engaging in this work of evangelism, any growth will be the result of people being converted to Christ. The world will speak against us for evangelizing, regardless of the results, and that will only increase as the number of conversions also increases.
  2. Show that there is a standard of absolute truth – Jesus prayed to the Father, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17). We have to teach that God’s word is not a truth but “the truth.” Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). Though many will simply want to follow the way that seems right to them, we need to recognize what the wise man said, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12).
  3. Refute false teachers – Paul said that elders are to be able to “exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). However, this is not only for elders. All Christians need to be equipped to show why false teachers are wrong in their doctrine. Paul explained this in his second letter to Corinth: “We are destroying speculation and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). As we strive to convert souls to Christ and show them the absolute standard of truth in God’s word, we will also find ourselves having to “demolish arguments” (2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV) of those who teach things that are contrary to the truth of God’s word.
  4. Show that not everything which is legal is right – Our standard is God’s word, not the laws of the land. Too often, the law allows (or even encourages) what is sinful. Sometimes those who are in authority praise what is wicked. The Lord, through the prophet Isaiah, said, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20). Many want to “call evil good” and will not like it when we call it evil.
  5. Refuse to change the message – Paul told Timothy, “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13). We are not at liberty to alter the gospel, no matter how much the world wants us to do so. Paul wrote, “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! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9). The world changes, but the truth does not. God’s word is “forever…settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89). We dare not change it to conform to the world.

Conclusion

We need to be more like the early church than the churches around us and follow the word of God rather than what is culturally accepted. We may be labeled as a “sect” and be “spoken against everywhere,” but we need to be focused on pleasing God first. In the end, His view of us is all that matters.

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Featured image: Original image by Sweet Publishing / FreeBibleimages.org


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Comments

  1. Wayne Teel says

    Very good lesson, Andy. Thank you for this.