RELIGION: THE ENEMY OF THE MINISTRY OF THE SPIRIT AND THE FREEDOM OF CHRIST

Today’s selected reading continues in the first New Testament epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Thessalonica. More specifically, today’s selected reading is found in verses seventeen through twenty of the second chapter. When you read the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Thessalonica you will find something that is actually quite interesting. In order to understand the significance and importance of that which the apostle Paul wrote in this particular passage it is first necessary to read the words contained within this particular passage, and then to consider them in light of what Luke records in the seventeenth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts. Consider if you will the words which the apostle Paul writes in verses seventeen through twenty of this second chapter: “But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavored the more abundantly to see you’re face with great desire. Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once again; but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For ye are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 3:17-20). If you take the time to read the words which the apostle Paul writes unto the saints within this particular city you will find him making quite the declaration concerning his time within the city, for in the seventeenth verse of this chapter he references the fact that he was taken from them for a short time in presence only—not in heart or in spirit. What’s more, is that you almost get the sense the apostle Paul felt as though his time with these dear saints and the people of this city was cut too short and he would have liked to have stayed longer. In fact, if you read the New Testament book of Acts you will find that he spent a year and six months in the city of Corinth, and in the city of Ephesus he spent three years. Luke doesn’t record exactly how long the apostle Paul spent within the city of Thessalonica, but we do know that it was undoubtedly much shorter than his time in the cities of Corinth and even Ephesus. In fact, the apostle Paul’s journey into the city of Thessalonica came right after he and Silas were in Philippi where they were imprisoned because the demonstration of the Holy Spirit directly challenged the agendas and wallets of men.

I feel a need to pause right here at this very moment and present you with a tremendous truth and prophetic reality which we must be aware of. If you turn and direct your attention to the sixteenth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts you will find that Paul and Silas were imprisoned because the demonstration and manifestation of the Holy Spirit delivered a young girl from an evil spirit. Consider if you will the account which is found in the sixteenth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts beginning with the thirteenth verse: “And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither. And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshiped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us. And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying: the same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation. And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour. And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers, and brought them to the magistrates, saying, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city, and teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither two observe being Romans. And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them. And when they had laid many stripes. Upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely: who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks” (Acts 16:13-24).

If there is one thing that I absolutely love about this particular passage of Scripture—it’s not that the apostle Paul was grieved within his spirit concerning this young damsel who followed them making emphatic declarations concerning their being servants of the most high God. What I find to be absolutely incredible about this particular passage is that when you read it carefully you will discover that the reason Paul and Silas were seized, the reason Paul and Silas were beaten, and the reason they were cast into prison was because the Spirit directly challenged the profits and gain of those within the city. Paul and Silas weren’t imprisoned and beaten because they cast out an evil spirit which was present within this young damsel, but because the demonstration of the Holy Spirit damaged their ability to turn a profit. I am convinced that what we find in this passage of Scripture is not so much a description of the Spirit of Christ within the saints and disciples of God directly challenging the evil spirits which are present within the earth, but the Spirit of God directly challenging the profits and gain of men. Paul and Silas weren’t dragged into the market, they weren’t beaten, and they weren’t cast into prison for casting out the evil spirit from this girl, but because the demonstration of the Spirit within them directly challenged the agendas, the wallets, and the profits of men. I am convinced that this is and always has been one of the most difficult realities for men to bear when it comes to the person and presence of the Holy Spirit, for the Holy Spirit has always directly challenged the wallets and purses of men. If we are being honest with ourselves, as well as with the Lord of hosts, we would have to emphatically declare that one of the greatest strongholds within our lives is that of our wallets and that of our purses. One of the final and one of the greatest strongholds to be broken within our hearts and lives is that of our wallet, and that of our spending and our accumulation of money. I am convinced the Spirit of the Lord doesn’t merely confront our wallets and our purses in terms of how we spend our money, but also in how we make and earn our money as well. The masters of this damsel were infuriated with Paul and Silas because they were the cause of their loss of profit and gain through this young damsel who had helped them amass much riches and fortune.

I feel the need right now to emphatically proclaim and declare that one of the greatest signs of the demonstration, one of the greatest signs of the manifestation, and one of the greatest signs of the work of the Spirit within our hearts and lives is when the Spirit can get a hold of all that we have—not merely all that we are. It is absolutely and incredibly true that the Spirit desires to get a hold of all that we are, but it is also true that the Spirit desires to get a hold of all we have. Consider if you will the account of the rich man who came unto Jesus inquiring what he needed to do to be saved: “And, behold, one came and said unto Him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And He said unto them, Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt eternal into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto Him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. The young man saith unto Him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions. Then said Jesus unto His disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. When His disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:16-26). While this particular passage within the gospel of Mathew brings us face to face with the reality of this rich young ruler who came into the presence of Jesus asking what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, the account which the beloved physician Luke records provides us with something additional and unique to this particular account. Consider if you will the account as the beloved physician Luke records it in his gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus:

“And a certain ruler asked Him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? None is good, save one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother. And he said, All these things have I Kept from my youth up. Now when Jesus heard these things, He said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich. And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. And they that heard it said, Who then can be saved? And He said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God” (Luke 18:18-27).

Within Luke’s gospel we find an additional telling of this account than that which Matthew provided, for when Luke presents us with the words which Jesus spoke unto this rich young ruler, we find Luke recording Jesus saying something very specific—“Yet lackest thou one thing.” It was true this particular rich young ruler had kept the commandments which Jesus had presented unto him, yet Jesus emphatically declared that he still lacked one thing. The question then becomes—if this rich young ruler kept the commandments which Jesus mentioned, what could he possibly still lack? The answer is actually found in what comes immediately after this particular statement, for Jesus goes on to instruct this man to sell all that he has, distribute it to the poor, and then to come and follow him. That which Jesus was asking this rich young ruler to do was to exchange earthly treasure which he had spent a considerable amount of time accumulating and coveting for treasure which is found in heaven. I can’t help but be reminded of the words which Jesus spoke in His famous Sermon on the Mount, which Matthew records for us beginning with the nineteenth verse of the sixth chapter: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). In all reality, that which Jesus was declaring and proclaiming unto this particular individual was that he had laid up for himself treasure upon the earth, and that his heart was with treasure which is found here within and here upon the earth. This rich young ruler had laid up for himself treasure within the earth, and his heart was intrinsically bound, wrapped up and consumed in that treasure. That which Jesus was offering him was a chance to set his heart free and break his heart away from the stronghold and grip the treasure of this earth had upon him. The one thing this man lacked was to release and set his heart free from the treasures of this earth which are only temporary and fleeting. I am utterly and completely convinced that that which the Spirit is speaking to us through this particular passage is a powerful invitation to free ourselves from the bondage and stronghold of earthly treasures.

The reason the masters of this young damsel were so infuriated with Paul and his companions was because the demonstration of the Holy Spirit within and through his life directly challenged the treasure which they had stored up and accumulated within and upon the earth. If I am being honest with you who are reading these words, I would strongly suggest that much like these masters who grew infuriated with Paul and his companions because their opportunity to turn profit and create wealth was gone, so also we grow infuriated with the Spirit when he invades this particular area within our life. The reason this rich young ruler went away sorrowful was not merely because he was rich, but because he was unwilling to allow the cross to enter into and invade that particular area within his life. This rich young ruler was very rich which means that he had a tremendous amount to give up and yield to the presence of the cross and the reality of the Spirit. I am convinced that sometimes the greater the sacrifice we have to make, the greater the conflict that exists within our hearts and souls to truly let it go. This man not only went away sorrowful, but he also went away unwilling to sacrifice the treasure he had laid up and amassed within and upon the earth. Oh what a great conflict and struggle that exists within the heart and soul when we have much to give up. What great struggle, what great conflict, what a Great War exists within our heart and souls when the Spirit asks us to give up the one thing in our lives which means the most to us. The masters of this young damsel rose up against Paul and his companions, beat Paul and Silas, and had them cast into prison because the demonstration of the Holy Spirit directly challenged their means to make a profit and create gain. If we are willing to be honest with ourselves and with the Spirit of Christ within us, we must admit that there are times when we too rise up against this particular work of the Spirit within our hearts and lives, for we have a hard time with the Spirit going after that thing which gives us the most security and stability within our hearts and lives. Oh, what would you do and how will you respond and react when the Spirit targets, invades and enters into that one area within your life that not only means the most to you, but perhaps also that which provides you with the most stability and security? Will you respond like the rich young ruler who walked away from and out of the presence of Jesus sorrowful, or will you be like the masters of this young damsel who rose up against the work of the Spirit and not only sought to strike it down, but also bind and cast it into prison?

If you want to know what the reality of this looks like within the Scripture, and even what an attempt to sidestep this looks like, you need only look at and examine the second, fourth and fifth chapters of the New Testament book of the Acts. If you begin reading with and from the thirty-seventh verse of the second chapter you will find the following words which describes the atmosphere and reality which the early church experienced after the day of Pentecost had come and after the Holy Spirit had added three thousand souls to their number: “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles> And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:41-47). You will notice in this particular passage that the early church had all things common, and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men as had need. Please don’t miss or lose sight of this very important reality, for one of the characteristics of the early church was not laying hold of or holding on to anything within their lives. Those who made up the early church had all things in common and counted not their own possessions as belonging to themselves, but willingly and voluntarily gave them up in order that the needs of the body might be met. This particular reality is found again in the fourth chapter of the same New Testament book beginning with the thirty-second verse: “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he posssessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles’ witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and destruction was made unto every man according as he had need. And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:32-37).

If you come to the fifth chapter of the same New Testament book you will find a reality that is entirely contrary to what we find in the second and fourth chapters. Whereas in the second and fourth chapters we find the church selling their possessions, lands and houses in order that they might distribute unto the needs of the saints, we find a couple by the names of Ananias and Sapphira who also had a possession and sold it. What makes this particular couple so unique was that the possession they sold did so for a certain price, and yet when they brought the proceeds of that sale unto the apostles, they kept a portion of the proceeds for themselves. What’s more, is that what this couple was guilty of—of course in addition to lying to the Holy Spirit—was attempting to give the appearance and impression that they were giving all to Jesus and unto the ministry of the saints, when in all reality, they were holding and had kept a portion back for themselves. This particular couple conspired together to lie to the Holy Spirit by presenting the reality that they had given everything unto the Lord, when in all reality they had kept a portion of it back for themselves. It’s important that we recognize and understand that keeping a portion of the proceeds back for themselves wasn’t necessarily a sin which the apostle Peter revealed unto them. What the actual transgression was which this couple committed was lying to the Holy Spirit by professing that they had brought the entire proceeds of the sale unto the Lord, when the true reality was that they kept a portion of it back for themselves. The rich young ruler walked away from the presence of Jesus sorrowful because he had much possessions and was very rich and could not free his heart from that treasure which was present within the earth. The masters of this damsel rose up against the apostle Paul and his companions because the manifestation and presence of the Spirt had directly come after their means to turn a profit and make gain. Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit by presenting the false reality that they had brought everything unto the Lord, when in all reality they had kept something back for themselves. I am convinced the prophetic word which we must encounter right now at this very juncture is not only what we are holding and keeping back from the living God as did Ananias and Sapphira, but also what we are refusing to strike down, kill, and utterly destroy as did Saul who was the first king of Israel.

Transitioning back to the first epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Thessalonica we find him writing unto them that he was taken from them for a short time in presence alone. The apostle Paul would go on to write how he desired to return and come again unto them, but Paul—perhaps together with Silas and Timothy—were greatly hindered of Satan from returning. If you turn your attention to earlier verses within this very same chapter you will find the apostle Paul writing of the great suffering and affliction these saints endured in order that they might receive the gospel concerning Jesus Christ. Consider if you will the words and language which is found in this chapter beginning with the fourteenth verse: “For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews: who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins always: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost” (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16). When the apostle Paul began this particular chapter, he did in fact allude to the experience they had at Philippi, which was the location they were beaten and cast into prison for the demonstration of the Holy Spirit which interrupted man’s ability to create wealth and make gain. The apostle Paul first spoke of their suffering, and their being shamefully entreated in the city of Philippi, but then several verses later spoke of their own suffering. This reality was also first mentioned in the first chapter, for within the first chapter the apostle Paul wrote the following words concerning their receiving of the gospel concerning Jesus Christ: “And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost: so that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia” (1 Thessalonians 1:6). When writing unto the saints which were at Thessalonica from Athens the apostle Paul sought to remind them of what great struggle and conflict they were presented with and received the word concerning Jesus who is both Christ and Lord.

In the first chapter, as well as in the second chapter the apostle Paul reminds the saints which were at Thessalonica concerning the great conflict, the great affliction, the great suffering, and the great opposition they experienced in order that they might receive the gospel concerning Jesus Christ. In the seventeenth verse of the second chapter the apostle Paul goes on to write how they were taken and removed from them—perhaps too soon and too quickly. This reality is found once more in the seventeenth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts beginning with the first verse: “Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apolonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: and Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the Scriptures, opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ. And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few. But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus. And they troubled the people and the rulers of the city, when they heard these things. And when they had taken security of Jason, and of the other, they let them go. And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews” (Acts 17:1-10). It is what we find and what we read in this particular passage of Scripture that brings us face to face with the reality of what the apostle Paul wrote in his first letter unto these saints, for undoubtedly the apostle Paul was referencing to the brethren immediately sending them away by night unto Berea because of the riot and uproar which was stirred up within the city.

I am thoroughly convinced the apostle Paul would have sought after and desired to stay and to remain among the Thessalonians in order that he might further expound unto them the truth concerning Jesus the Christ, and to establish them in their faith, however, that was not what happened. Instead of the apostle Paul being able to remain among the inhabitants of this city in order that he might establish and build up the church, he was immediately rushed out of town because of the Jews who became envious of the ministry of the Spirit. WHEN RELIGION BECOMES ENVIOUS OF THE MINISTRY OF THE SPIRIT AND THE FREEDOM OF CHRIST! I am powerfully convinced that what we read and what we find in this particular passage of Scripture is in all reality religion growing jealous and envious of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, as well as the freedom that is found in Jesus Christ. Much like persecution against the early church first rose up from among the religious leaders within the city of Jerusalem, so also would that same spirit of resistance and opposition find its way into the various cities within the province of Asia. We would be incredibly wise to recognize and understand this spirit of religion which has always risen up in opposition against the freedom that is found in Christ, as well as the ministry of the Spirit. The apostle Paul alludes to this reality when writing unto the churches which were in Galatia, for if you read the second chapter of that particular epistle you will find the following words: “…and that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privly to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage” (Galatians 2:4). What’s more, is that this reality is further found within the third chapter of the very same epistle, for the apostle Paul goes on to directly confront that spirit of religion which sought to overthrow and destroy the ministry of the Spirit and the freedom that is found in Christ among these churches: “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn from you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Have ye suffered so many things in vain? If it be yet in vain. He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (Galatians 3:1-5).

I am convinced that what we read in the seventeenth verse of the second chapter of the first epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Thessalonica is a direct manifestation of the words which Jesus spoke when He delivered the parable of the sower and the seed. When the apostle Paul—together with Timothy and Silas—came into Thessalonica, they came sowing the word concerning Jesus Christ and concerning the kingdom. What we find and what we experienced within this city, however, is a direct attempt of Satan and the evil one to snatch away and to destroy that seed before it had the chance to spring forth and grow up and produce a harvest. It might very well be said that the adversary sought to destroy this word, this work and this church while it was still in its infant stage. IT is absolutely necessary and imperative that we recognize and understand the tremendous reality that the enemy and adversary has always and will always seek to target and assault the word and work of Christ while it is still in its infant stage. Consider that even when Christ was still an infant Herod issued a decree to slaughter all the infant males under the age of three in order that he might destroy the Messiah from within the earth. The same reality is found in the Old Testament book of Exodus when Pharaoh king of Egypt sought to destroy all infant males under the age of two by casting them into the Nile River. He did so in an attempt to cut off the seed from the children of Israel in order that he might prevent them from continuing to grow and populate. Oh that we would understand recognize this very reality, for in Thessalonica, the adversary sought to catch away that which was sown in the hearts of men—perhaps because there wasn’t yet a true understanding. What’s more, is that I would dare say the adversary sought to overthrow this work by immediately surrounding and saturating it with opposition, affliction, and persecution in order that those who heard the word might become offended. OH, it is absolutely imperative that we understand this, for the adversary has always been and will always be after the word and work of Christ when it is in its infant stage. There is a great need within our hearts and lives to carefully guard and preserve the word and work of Christ—much like Jochebed preserved Moses in a basket among the reeds of the Nile, much like the angel warned Joseph and instructed him to take Mary and the young child down into the land of Egypt. Let us recognize the assault of the adversary against the word and work of Christ while it is still in its infant stage in order that we might do anything and everything we can to faithfully and carefully preserve it.

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