19 July: Are you kicking against the goads?

Bethel Baptist Church
Worship Service @ Home
19 July 2020

Service available on Youtube, or as text (below), or for audio see the Podcasts page.

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Welcome

Testimony

(Thanks Diana S.)

Diana was having a troublesome time with her neighbours, amongst other things, and was finding it difficult at work. However, the Lord started to bring to her attention, Bible verses in some of the products she was packing:

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

Luke 12:25-26

To Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and for evermore, Amen.

Jude 1:24-25

For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Jeremiah 29:11

Diana’s prayer for us: “Lord give us all Your love, and help us to accept it. Help us to trust You to remove all the obstacles and enemies we face. We praise You Lord because in times of trouble You are always with us, in Jesus Christ, Amen!”

Worship

(Thanks Margery)

Word

We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads”.

Acts 26:14

This is quite a remarkable statement from Jesus (aren’t they all!). We would expect Him to, at the least, give Saul of Tarsus a good telling off. To rebuke him for all the damage he is doing to Jesus’ infant church. But nothing of the sort, for He says to Saul: “It’s hard for you to kick against the goads.” Is it too much for us to paraphrase: “Saul, I feel sorry for you, because it’s hard for you to kick against the goads because you are actually fighting against God and by doing so do you realise that you are really hurting yourself?”

I’m tempted to say: “Well that’s the upside-down kingdom of God for you.” But the kingdom of God is always the right way up and we’re the ones who are upside down. This is one of the many numerous examples in the Scriptures, of which the book of Acts has more than its’ fair share, of the remarkable ways, the sovereign ways, the all-powerful ways, the amazing ways, the impossible to work out ways, the hidden ways, the higher than our ways, of the kingdom of God! Let’s look at this in more detail. A goad was a stick used by a farmer to prod an animal, especially an ox as he was ploughing the field:

“The metaphor is obviously that of the ox being prodded to pull steadily or to make a straight furrow”

J. D. G. Dunn

In other words, a certain standard was expected from the ox, which was to pull steadily and in a straight line. Should he go off course, he would get a prod. If the ox was foolish enough to kick back, then he would receive an even more painful prod of his own making. There are various applications of this. Some explain it e.g. as a kicking against one’s conscience (see also J .B. Phillips translation). However, I go with this one:

A proverb, here meaning, “It is hard for you … to resist God’s purposes for your life”

(Strauss).

The goads against which he was now told it was fruitless for him to kick were not the ‘prickings’ of a disturbed conscience but the new forces which were now impelling him in the opposite direction to that which he had hitherto pursued, the new “necessity” which was henceforth laid upon him (1 Cor 9:16)

F. F. Bruce

We can talk about the opposite direction, as here in this quote by F. F. Bruce, and moving from the old covenant to the new, but we can also talk of a continuation of a process from the old to the new, as in for example, a caterpillar becoming a butterfly, it’s all part of one process. Paul, it seems, was sticking to life as a caterpillar, and it was hard work! He needed to let go and let God, to let Jesus, to let ‘metamorphosis’ take place. We see this clearly in Paul’s testimony later on:

For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles …

Gal 1:13-16

God never has a Plan B, – with Saul / Paul; with the early Christians; with His Church; with you and with me; with Bethel. It’s His plan, from beginning to end, and it will happen, full stop! He was, and is, and always will be, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, and all that’s in-between! So, to everyone, let’s not fight against Him but let’s work with Him. Let’s co-operate! Church history has many examples of churches, convinced they are doing God’ will, like Saul of Tarsus was, and yet in hindsight they have been resisting that which God was seeking to do. e.g. John Wesley, a member of the Church of England which disapproved of him preaching in the open air and thus began the Methodist movement; The resistance to the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements. God wants to do the next thing, which is a new thing also, but is a continuation of what He has already began. Let us not be those who resist and fight it … It’s hard to kick against the goads! Why try to fight against God – you’ll’ never win! What lies behind this?

A testimony I have heard quite a number of times during lockdown is this: “I couldn’t get through this without the Lord.” This is then extended to include others: “I don’t know how people cope in life without the Lord.” And the bottom line is they are not coping! Conversely, I’m sure many of us have had this experience of looking at someone’s life and thinking, they seem to be getting on quite well without the Lord. However, as we have got to know them better, over time, we start to think differently, and like all of us, before we came to Jesus, they have built their lives on sand. When the storms of life come they are greatly shaken, can’t cope, and start to sink. Such is the plight of humankind. This brings to mind:

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope.

Romans 8:20

The word used here for ‘frustration’ (‘useless’ (NCV); ‘futility’ (NASB; NKJV); ‘God’s curse’ (NLT); ‘vanity’ (YLT) – you get the idea) is used elsewhere in the NT only in Romans 1:21, in a passage (Romans 1:18-32) “where the plight of humankind is so vividly depicted” (cf. Dunn). Dunn in his commentary on Romans gives an example to explain this word:

“the sense of the futility of an object which does not function as it was designed to do, like an expensive satellite which has malfunctioned and now spins uselessly in space”

James D G Dunn

“emptiness as to results, is used of the creation, as failing of the results designed, owing to sin”

Vine’s NT Dictionary

Following the fall, God subjected the whole of creation to futility, to frustration, to vanity. This is not done in a malicious way by God but rather in love, for God is love, and everything He does is done in love. This word that the apostle uses here is the same one used in Ecclesiastes for ‘meaningless’ (in the Septuagint):

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless” …

I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on humankind! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14

It’s fascinating what conclusion king Solomon comes to, even mentioning the word ‘goads’: “The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails – given by one shepherd …

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all humankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:11-14

The word ‘frustration’ (‘futility’) in Romans 8:20 can be regarded as nearly equivalent to ‘bondage to decay’ (‘in slavery to corruption’’) in Rom 8:21. Try stopping this physical body from change and decay – impossible. Try living in this physical frame forever – no way. Try beating God at His own game – No chance! It is hard to kick against the goads; it is humanly impossible to take the frustration and futility out of life here on planet earth.

The fact is that following the fall, God subjected (“a divine passive, subjected by God, with particular reference to Genesis 3:17-18” Dunn) His creation to frustration, to futility, to meaningless and He did this in love, to give us hope. There are two more words here that we need to consider:

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope” and that hope is that the creation will be liberated: “that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

Romans 8:21

We, the children of God are much more in Christ, than we would ever have been in Adam. So, it is hard for Saul of Tarsus to kick against the goads, but there is a purpose behind this, that ultimately, he might be brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

The Conclusion of the Matter

So what is all this saying and meaning – to put it bluntly: “life is absolutely rubbish without Jesus in your life, and not carrying out His plans and purposes for your life. Anything else is hard work and painful, totally frustrating, futile, and meaningless, a kicking against the goads. So kick away and hopefully one day you will meet with Jesus!” Is that extreme? Well no, not in the light of eternity, which should always be our perspective, an eschatological perspective! People are needy, frustrated, living empty lives, and again, this provides a wonderful opportunity for the Church to be there and bring hope to all people. As they come to that realisation: “that there has to be more to life than this” we can introduce them to Jesus who says:

The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and enjoy life, and have it in abundance; life to the full and overflowing.

John 10:10 AMP

Amen!

Quote of the Week

C. S. Lewis wrote in 1942:

Satan: “I will cause anxiety, fear and panic. I will shut down businesses, schools, places of worship and sports events. I will cause economic turmoil.”

Jesus: “I will bring together neighbours, restore the family unit, I will bring dinner back to the kitchen table. I will help people slow down their lives and appreciate what really matters, I will teach my children to rely on me and not the world. I will teach my children to trust me and not their money and material resources.”  

Verse of the Week

In righteousness you will be established: tyranny will be far from you; you will have nothing to fear. Terror will be far removed; it will not come near you.                                                          

Isaiah 54:14

Let’s Pray

“Loving heavenly Father, Your ways are past finding out but for those things You have revealed to us, we give You praise and thanks. We worship You, Sovereign Lord, Creator of heaven and earth. We thank you for this abundant life in Your Son and for the gift of Your Holy Spirit.

Lord guide us regarding the right Children and Families’ Worker. We thank You for the three applications we have received so far, for Radu, Julia and Bing and pray that You guide them.

Lord be with Your people throughout the nations of the world. Help them to boldly proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.  We especially pray for Pastor Inty and the Church in India as many demands are upon them, especially to provide food for the poor and needy. Lord we pray at Bethel that You will supply us with an abundance, not that we can be selfish, but that we can bless others in need, and such giving will result in praise and thanks to You who gave everything, through Your Son Jesus Christ Name, Amen.

[cf. 2 Corinthians 9:8-11].