I would to God that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains. (Acts 26:29)
Lately, I’ve caught myself saying something similar.
“How are you feeling?” people ask me. I suppose they expect that at my seriously advanced age–I turned 70 last March, something that snuck up on me and took me totally by surprise; I had expected to be 30 again!–that I’m down in my back with the lumbago or something appropriate to the elderly. Rheumatiz?
What is lumbago? Anyway, I’m glad to say I don’t have it.
In fact, as well as I can figure, I don’t have anything. I feel great.
I’m certain it’s meant as a blessing and not as bragging, but periodically I hear myself saying, “I wish everyone in the world felt as good as I do.”
That’s true. I cannot remember the last ache or pain I had.
My wife lives with constant pain. Her arthritis and fibromyalgia keep her in constant pain. My 94-year-old mother says she hardly has a pain-free day. All around me friends of every age struggle with various ailments.
I wish they all felt good. I sincerely wish they were as painfree as I am and have been for year.
But Paul had something more in mind that just the absence of aches and pains when he told King Agrippa in his Caesarean court that except for the chains, he wished all people to be such as he was.
The great British pastor and commentator of a previous generation, G. Campbell Morgan, pictures the scene for us:
Notice the gracious assumption of superiority of condition. Agrippa was in purple; Bernice was decked with her jewels; Festus was robed in scarlet; the soldiers and magistrates were seen in their dignities; the lictors were observing and listening. Paul was a prison in chains, in bonds; he was to be sent to Rome, perhaps to death. Yet, he said, I would to God you could be such as I am.
Dr. Morgan continues:
And mark the tenderness of the man: Agrippa, I fain would give thee my soul liberty, but not my bodily bonds; I would give thee all the privileges, but none of the burdens. Three and thirty years earlier, this man had been as sincere as he was when he faced Agrippa. Of that past he had said, ‘I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.’
Mark carefully the difference in the man. It was a difference of tone, of temper, and of spirit. Thirty years ago, his sincerely would allow him to cast his vote for the death of men and women; and made him persecute them even to other cities. Today, he would die to save Agrippa, but he would not put his chains on Agrippa. That is Christianity. Magnify it, multiply it, apply it. The sincerity that persecutes is not Christian. The sincerity that dies to deliver, but will not impose a chain, is Christianity.
Lloyd John Ogilvie has this comment on Paul’s wish that all might be as he is, except for the chains:
That’s the power of personal witness, the dynamic of relational evangelism. Unless we can say that we want everyone to know what we know and become what Christ’s Resurrection has done for us, we have missed the excitement of the Christian life. Can we say we want people to become what we are? Many of us would shrink from that, unsatisfied by what we have allowed Christ to do in us. We would not want others to have the same incomplete, unsatisfying, inadequate experience of Christ we have! Be as we are? Do we want a duplication not just of our convictions, but our character? Paul wanted both for Agrippa. If we do nto want to multiply what we are, there is something wrong with what we are!
What precisely was Paul wishing for Agrippa and all within earshot?
1) That they would know the Lord Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
The lord they were serving was Caesar and the man just wasn’t big enough to satisfy the needs of his own heart and life, much less theirs. Their god was too small.
2) That the blood of Jesus would wash them from all their sin and make them whole.
As things stood, Agrippa and the others dealt with the burden and guilt of their sin the best they could, usually by smothering it with pleasure or choking it with rich food or drowning it in drink. Only Christ can reach inside the human heart and make it clean and whole and pure.
3) That the Holy Spirit would indwell them and do a new work in their lives.
They were in the flesh and they lived and moved in the flesh. They reasoned that way, they lived and died this way; it’s all they knew. Paul said, “The mind set on the flesh is death” (Romans 8:6). They needed a new birth, to become new people, and to be powered by a new Spirit.
4) That God would give each of them His purposes for their earthly existence.
Man was made for better things than seeing how much pleasure he can drain from his few years on earth. Man was made for the stars. He was built for fellowship with the Creator Himself. Anything lesser is unworthy and inadequate. He needs God’s purposes, the direction of the Designer and Maker of all things.
5) And that their perspective from that moment on would be Heavenly, and not just earthly.
Like an animal, the “mind set on the flesh” thinks only of the next meal and the next pleasure to be had. It cannot see in the future, does not think in terms of standing before a righteous God after this life, and knows no accountability to anyone for anything. But the mind set on the Spirit is another matter altogether. This one sets his minds on things above. The highest good to him is doing the will of the Father who sent him.
6) Thereafter, his life would be inundated by the love of God, the peace of Christ, the joy of the Lord, and a fellowship with other believers.
Jack Stanton, beloved brother in Christ and leading evangelist for Southern Baptist for two generations, used to tell of the night he was led to Christ–shoved might be a better term!–by a young man of 18 who had been saved for all of two days.
Jack had just graduated from high school and was working on a construction crew in East St. Louis. Since his grandmother lived nearby, he arranged with her to sleep at her house at night in order to cut down on his commute. That first Monday evening when he arrived at her place, she had supper ready for him.
As her beloved grandson ate what she put before him, Grandmother said, “Jack, our little church is having a revival this week. I’d like you to go with me.”
“All right, grandma. I’ll try to get by one night.”
She said, “Jack, I want you to go tonight.”
“Well, I’m tired, grandma. Maybe tomorrow night.”
She: “Jack, tonight. I want you to go with me tonight.”
Jack Stanton saw real quick he was not going to get any rest until he gave in. He agreed to acccompany his grandmother to church that evening.
It’s not like Jack had never been to church. He knew what went on there. He just didn’t want any part of it for himself.
Jack knew that in a revival service there would be singing, followed by preaching, and then there would be an altar call. No one would come, the pastor would close with prayer, and they could all go home.
He could endure that, he felt.
It seemed to Jack that someone had told the preacher about him because everything the man said seemed to fit. And when he preached, he pointed right at him!
Finally, the sermon ended and everyone stood to sing. Jack was almost home free. But not quite.
After a few verses of singing–and no one had responded–the pastor spoke. What he said was not what Jack wanted.
“Folks, today as I was praying, the Lord told me that someone was going to be saved here tonight. So, we’re going to keep on singing until someone gets saved!”
Jack said, “Oh lord! We’re going to be here all night!”
And they kept on singing.
After a bit, a young man of Jack’s age stepped across the aisle. He was very nervous. “Mister,” he said to Jack, “would you like me to go down that aisle with you so you can be saved?”
Jack said, “NO!” and the fellow jumped back on his side.
Jack was scowling on the outside but had enjoyed putting that fanatic in his place.
And the congregation kept on singing.
A few minutes later, the young man came back. If you thought he was nervous the first time, he was doubly so the second time.
“Mister,” he said to Jack. “I don’t know how to do this. But let me tell you what happened to me.”
Two nights ago, he said, he had been wandering the streets of the city, the loneliest man in town.
“I saw the lights and heard the music here,” he said. “I didn’t even know what it was.”
That night as the pastor preached, something within him stirred. And when the preacher gave the invitation, a man standing nearby said, “Buddy, if you want to go down there, I’ll go with you.”
That’s all it took.
“We knelt down there and Jesus Christ came into my life that night. And today when I prayed, I told him if he would send somebody here tonight like I was two nights ago, I’d do for him what that fellow did for me.”
Then he looked at Jack Stanton and said something that penetrated to the core of his being.
“Mister, if I could take my heart out and put it where yours is for thirty seconds, you wouldn’t ever want to give it back!”
Jack said, “That’s for me. Let’s go.”
They stepped into the aisle and that night, Jack Stanton was born into the family of God by faith in Jesus.
He had been captured by a youth with a newfound peace that passed understanding and a joy that defied description. Jack Stanton wanted what he had.
The question to leave with us then–or the questions–are these:
1) Would I want everyone to know Jesus to the extent that I know Him
2) Do I want their sins forgiven to the same extent that mine have been?
3) Would I wish for them the same portion of the Holy Spirit I am experiencing?
4) Should they be guided by a purpose as clear and as focused as the one I am following?
5) Do I want them to be equally as heavenly minded as I am?
6) If they had the identical amounts of love, joy, and peace as I do, would it satisfy them? or would they feel they had been cheated?
Do you want others to be as you are in Christ?
If so, go tell them you do. Some don’t know it.