Truth for Today

Truth for Today

The Bible has always been the foundation for Christian truth. Since the beginning of Christianity it is the Bible which has determined what Christians believe and also how they conduct themselves, both in personal life and collectively in the life of the church. The Bible as God’s revelation to us needs to be read and studied with seriousness and integrity. A.W. Tozer said, many years ago, that ‘Whatever keeps me from my Bible is my enemy, however, harmless it may appear to me.’ While J.C. Ryle wrote: ‘We must read our Bibles like men digging for hidden treasure!’

To develop such an approach is not easy because it requires discipline, prayerfulness and time. The latter is always at a premium and it can’t just be found, we need to make time for the important work of Bible study.  Yet the rewards for our souls cannot be calculated for through such study we learn to understand the ways of God and realise all that He has done for us through the work of Christ on the cross, which through faith brings eternal blessings into our lives. Therefore Bible study ought to be an essential ingredient in every Christian’s life.

There are basically two methods of approach when it comes to studying the Bible.

The first is the expositional method. Here a passage of Scripture is chosen for study. Such a passage may simply be a paragraph, or longer sections like a chapter or a whole book. It is read many times until the main theme is understood and then any secondary themes are appreciated.  From this a more minute study might be engaged in, such as word studies, and eventually the lessons and practical applications of the passage are learnt and put into practice in our daily lives. It is trying to understand and apply that passage to the best of our ability. This is the expositional approach.

The second approach to the study of Scripture is the topical method. Here a subject (or topic) from Scripture is chosen for study. Such topics could include the use of a particular number, a city or town, plants or animals or anything else which may come into our minds. Naturally such a study will not be restricted to one particular passage, but with the use of a concordance, many passages will be studied which have a bearing upon the subject.  Thus a chain of such passages are studied with each having the common thread of relating to the subject under consideration. Through this method we try to understand the subject to the best of our ability. This is the topical approach.

A sub-section of the topical method is the biographical approach to the study of the Bible. Here the life-stories of men and women of Scripture are looked at and lessons learned from their lives. The pitfalls into which they fell are warnings for us to avoid similar failures or defeats in our own lives, while the successes and victories they experienced in the Lord are incentives for us to imitate and so be blessed with similar triumphs in our own lives before God. So here are two biographical studies.

LUKE

There are three direct references in the New Testament to Luke:

The first is Colossians 4:14: which says: ‘Luke the beloved physician’, or as it is sometimes translated, ‘Our dear friend, Luke, the doctor’.

The second is 2 Timothy 4:11: which says: ‘Only Luke is with me’.

The third and final verse is Philemon v.24: which says: ‘Luke my fellow-worker’

To say the least these are extremely brief references to this early Christian and though we can build up some insights into his character from these verses, we are glad to say that there are other parts of the New Testament which we can use to look into Luke’s life and experience.

Luke in humility does not mention it, but he did in fact write two of the most substantial books of the New Testament namely, ‘The Gospel according to Luke’ and ‘The Acts of the Apostles’.  In the book of Acts he indirectly refers to himself on a number of occasions through the well known ‘us’ or ‘we’ passages. These passages clearly reveal that Luke was personally involved in the missionary activities which he described as he was part of that missionary group and was therefore an eyewitness of all that took place when he was with the other missionaries.    

The two books he wrote are remarkable pieces of writing and give wonderful insights into the early years of the church. The Gospel account focuses upon the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus, culminating in His death, burial, resurrection and ascension. The Acts covers a period of approximately thirty years which were the formative years of the church. Acts focuses upon two great apostles. In the first twelve chapters the spotlight is upon the apostle Peter, who was the apostle to the Jews, but was used by God to bring the first Gentiles to faith in Christ. From chapter thirteen to the end of the book the focus is upon the apostle Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. Paul is seen on three great missionary journeys and then on a final journey to Rome as a prisoner. On some of these journeys Luke joined him and so witnessed many of the happenings about which he later wrote. So through these writings we can appreciate something of the worth of Luke and glimpse insights into his life and personality.

The first such insight into Luke is to point out that he was a Gentile. He did not belong to the privileged nation of Israel. His heritage was non-Jewish and he could not trace his ancestry back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  We are informed of his Gentile background from two sources. One is non-Biblical and the other Biblical.

The non-Biblical source is found in the ancient traditions of the church. These have all without exception maintained that Luke was a Gentile.

The Biblical source is Colossians 4: 10-14, where the apostle Paul gives a list of six of his companions. The first three were named as Aristarchus, Mark and someone called Jesus Justus, these the apostle refers to as his only Jewish fellow-workers. If that is so then we must conclude that the next three in that list, Epaphras, Luke and Demas were Gentile Christians.

So our conclusion must be that Luke was a Gentile. This means that he was the only non-Jewish writer in the New Testament, all the others writers were Jewish.  In fact in the whole of the Bible, Old and New Testament all the writers were Jewish, except this lone figure of Luke. He contributes two substantial volumes to the New Testament and stands as a great reminder of the truth that the Gospel is not for the Jews only, but for all mankind.

This is one of the great truths of the Gospel as Paul says in Romans 10:12, ‘There is no difference between the Jew and the Gentile.’  This was also the knowledge which Peter received in Acts 10 and 11 where he says: ‘Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness is accepted with him.’  Thus the Gospel liberates both Jews and Gentiles and gives them freedom to know God personally.

It is commonly believed that Luke was an early convert to Christianity in the city of Antioch in Syria. This city was the second great centre for the Christian faith as recorded in the book of Acts.  Jerusalem was the first important centre for the faith and saw the growth of an enormous church which followed the 3000 who were converted after Peter’s great Pentecostal sermon mentioned in Acts 2. However, that church was solely a Jewish church. It was not made up of Gentiles, except those who may have already converted to Judaism and who were therefore already proselyte Jews.

The second great centre for the Christian faith was Antioch with a church which was ‘mixed’. It was made up of Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ and unfortunately this caused some tension and difficulty which Barnabas and the apostle Paul helped to resolve.  The essential difficulty was that the central truth of Christianity was startlingly revolutionary to the Jewish mind, because the Gospel teaches that both Jews and Gentiles come to God on the same basis, namely faith in Christ. Each can know God directly through Christ. In the past the Jews had taught that to know God a Gentile had to first of all become a Jew and then he or she could know God. So the Gospel produced a sweeping and comprehensive change to that thinking, but sadly time and time again Judaism would raise its head in the early church and its insidious effects had to be countered at all costs.  The New Testament book of Galatians deals in great detail with this whole issue, and we can thank God today that people, like the apostle Paul, were courageous enough to face this issue, enabling men and women everywhere to come into contact directly with the living God through faith in Christ. So the Christian church sees no national, tribal, linguistic or cultural barriers, we are all united as one within the body of Christ, which is His church.      

In addition to being a Gentile, Luke was a well educated person. To be educated is a very good thing, though some Christians are reluctant to encourage their young people to go to universities. They feel that such places put too much pressure upon young Christians who may lose faith through encountering criticism and cynicism. This is possibly a problem for some, but it can also strengthen faith for when Christianity is fully analysed its solid foundations in truth, evidence and consistency are uncovered and made abundantly clear.  In fact many young people have been challenged by the Gospel and entered into a living relationship with the Lord during their years at university or college. A more serious potential danger is that the educated person with good qualifications may develop pride and arrogance which may hinder good relations with others and weaken the work of the local church. Such a danger must be guarded against.

Yet, on the whole, education is good because it enables people to think creatively, to express themselves intelligently and concisely, to analyse properly and consistently and to extend their understanding and knowledge. When that is placed at the disposal of God it can be used to very rich and great blessing. That was certainly true of Luke. He poured his abilities, gifts, qualifications and education into the work of God.

It is clear that Luke was a well-educated Greek who had a particularly fine literary style and Greek scholars highlight his excellent writing gift. Luke’s writings flow. They are not ponderous or clumsy and even in translation there is a compelling element to his writing.

Not only was Luke a good writer, but he also used his educated mind as a historian. His two New Testament books are primarily historical accounts. The Gospel is the history of the life and ministry of Jesus, while the Acts is the history of the early church, and through these writings Luke is revealed as a historian of real integrity.

Sir William Ramsey an archaeologist writes: “Luke’s history is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness…Luke is a historian of the first rank: not only are his statements of fact trustworthy, but he is possessed of the true historic sense.”  That is high praise indeed. What I think he means by ‘true historic sense’ is that Luke understood the flow of history.  In Britain most of us are familiar with the date 1066. We know that the Battle of Hastings took place in that year. William the Conqueror defeated Harold in that battle and led the Norman invasion of Britain, which is the last invasion these islands have experienced. We are familiar with the date, but we don’t know what happened in China in 1066, or in Africa, or in the rest of Europe; or what happened in Britain before 1066 or in the centuries afterwards. We may know the date, but don’t have a feel or understanding for the flow of historical events. Luke had that understanding and places events and happenings in their right context and so is revealed as a historian of first rank.

F.F. Bruce has further enlarged upon this point and has written: “Luke’s pages are full of references to provincial governors and client kings.  A historian who does this sort of thing must do it carefully if he does not wish to be exposed as inaccurate; Luke emerges from the severest test with flying colours.”  This is a remarkable commendation because those governors and client kings may have occupied their positions for only limited periods of time, in some cases only a matter of months or just a few years.  Their replacements did not necessarily have the same title and it would have been extremely easy to be confused and make mistakes.  Luke must have taken the trouble and a great deal of trouble to discover the facts and then wrote a comprehensive, accurate and orderly account of early Christianity. So in addition to being a wonderful writer, Luke was also an outstanding historian.

As well as being a writer and a historian, Luke was also a trained doctor. In fact Paul refers to him as ‘the beloved physician’ in Colossians 4:14. Luke as a medical practitioner naturally was not trained with the sophistication and specialism of twentieth century medical schools, but his qualifications were not as primitive as some would think. He would have followed in the footsteps of the great Greek physician called Hippocrates (from which the medical profession has its Hippocratic Oath) and he would undoubtedly be well trained in diagnosis and herbal medicines including the best treatments of his day.

He seems to have acted as a sort of personal physician to the apostle Paul, who does not appear to have been particularly healthy. In fact Paul’s health appears to have been extremely suspect, because when he talked of his ‘thorn in the flesh’ he was very likely speaking of a particular illness. Paul mentions that on three occasions when it seemed that the pain became intolerable and unbearable he cried out to God for deliverance from that ‘thorn’, but the Lord said: ‘My grace is sufficient for you’. At such times we could imagine Luke coming into his own as he medically cared for the apostle, and helped him through the intensity of pain and sickness.   

It is also of interest to note that in Acts 28 Paul and his companions (which included Luke) were shipwrecked on the island of Malta. Paul, through the power of the Lord, healed the father of Publius, the leading man on the island. In Acts 28:8 we read: ‘Paul entered in, prayed, and laid his hands on him and healed him’. The Greek word translated ‘healed’ in that verse means ‘instantaneous healing’. This was a wonderful miracle of immediate healing after Paul had prayed and laid his hands upon the sick man.

The result of that miracle was that other people on the island with illnesses came for healing and the very next verse, Acts 28:9 reads: ‘..others also which had diseases in the island came and were healed.’ Now the Greek word translated as ‘healing’ in this verse does not mean ‘instantaneous healing’ but means a process, a prolonged period of recovery. In fact the Greek word is the root for our English word ‘therapy’. If this is so, then we can imagine Luke taking the primary role in caring medically for the sick. The doctor able to practice his calling.

Luke was a man of wonderful gifts and abilities. He was well educated with a fine writing style, he was a historian of great integrity and a doctor who cared for others. A gifted man able to contribute to the work of God and help in the proclamation of the Gospel.

We may not be as well qualified as Luke. We may say, ‘I am no writer’, ‘I am no historian’, ‘I am no doctor’; ‘never mind being all three, as he was!’ Yet we are not called to be Luke, we are who we are. God has given us our particular gifts and abilities and we must utilise them in the service of the Lord. We must be like Luke in attitude, an attitude which says to God, ‘all that I am is yours and all my gifts and abilities are yielded for your service.’ Like Luke we must place all our gifts at the disposal of the Lord.

So we come to the third great characteristic of Luke. So far we have seen that he was a Gentile and that he was well educated. We must now focus upon the fact, the obvious fact, that he was a Christian. He knew the Lord personally in his life and had committed himself in totality to the Saviour and His service.

We can observe three features about Luke which reveal his Christian faith: his devotion, his hard work and his humility.

So firstly, he was devoted to the Lord, to his fellow workers and to the ministry of proclaiming the Gospel. He joined the missionary party on the second journey of Paul and we can plot Luke’s movements in the book of Acts through the three great sections which are called ‘us’ or ‘we’ passages. In these sections of the book, Luke moves from the third person plural where he uses ‘they’ or ‘them’ to the first person plural ‘we’ or ‘us’ This is powerful evidence that he joined the missionary group, and so during those times he was personally involved in all that took place and thus was able to write from first-hand, eyewitness experience.

These three passages in Acts are as follows: 16:10 – 17; 20:5 – 21:18; 27:1 – 28:16.

These sections plot the fact that Luke joined the second missionary journey at Troas and went on to Philippi. He stayed there while the apostle Paul and Silas went on, and then Luke rejoined them on the third missionary journey at Philippi and went with them to Jerusalem.  Finally, he sailed with the apostle (who was now a prisoner) on the last journey from Caesarea to Rome.

Luke’s devotion to the Lord was seen in his devotion to his fellow missionaries. It was a devotion which never wavered and he stayed with the apostle Paul to the end. Indeed when Paul wrote his final epistle, namely 2 Timothy, he says ‘Only Luke is with me.’ (4:11). Paul wrote that final epistle from a prison cell in Rome and it is full of pathos as the apostle did not expect release, except through execution. An execution which seemed imminent as he dictated the letter, for he wrote: ‘the time of my departure is at hand’. It seems that he could have been put to death at any moment. What makes the epistle even sadder is that Paul writes of fellow Christians who could have stood with him and spoken in his defence in the court case. However, instead of standing with him they remained silent and some even spoke out against him as they joined the opposition. His heart must have been broken by such desertion, but Luke devotedly stood with him and gave him great encouragement.

Luke may have written the defence papers which could later have been developed into the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. He may also have spoken on the apostle’s behalf before the emperor. It would have all been a risky business for Luke, because to be a friend of a prisoner of Rome, was to be considered an enemy of Rome. Luke was putting his own life in jeopardy by standing with the apostle, but that was the measure of his devotion. Loyalty to the Lord was reflected in his loyalty to the Lord’s servants. No wonder he was so deeply loved. Do we show loyalty and devotion on this sort of scale?

In addition to his devotion, Luke was also hard working. Certainly as a missionary he bore up well under the rigours of itinerant life. Like the others he would have faced dangers, persecution, shipwreck and the pain of walking weary miles to tell people the message of the Gospel. He seems to have never shrunk from such hard physical work.

Yet he also had a great capacity for hard mental work. He had wonderful powers of concentration. It would not have been an easy task to write two of the most substantial books of the New Testament. He would have had to painstakingly gather the material, check it constantly for accuracy, interview witnesses and cross-check accounts. He undoubtedly wrote and re-wrote the material until he gave us the two polished volumes which are now incorporated in the text of Scripture. Of course it was all under the hand of the Lord, but Luke’s style and painstaking hard work is there for everyone to witness.

Luke’s name does not appear in the two books he penned and though this fact raised no questions about his authorship for hundreds of years, in more modern times some have seized upon it to raise doubts about the authorship of Luke. Such doubts have tended to arise from what is known as ‘Higher Criticism’ which tends to be a destructive approach to Scripture. Its basis seems to be that the Bible is not the revelation of God but merely a human book and is therefore subject to mistakes, errors and inaccuracies.  True Christians affirm the divine inspiration, revelation, authority and reliability of the Bible as the Word of God. This is not simply blind acceptance but is based upon the accuracy, consistency and effective working of the message of the Bible in all who believe.

We come back to the question. Did Luke write the Gospel which bears his name, together with the book of Acts? Firstly, we can say that the introductions to both books are so similar that certainly the same person wrote them. The Gospel seems to be part one, while the Acts is part two of a treatise written for a person called Theophilus. That might be so, but was that author Luke? All traditions of the church from ancient times affirm that Luke was the author. Also the internal evidence of the books such as style, content and even evidence of medical insights suggests very strongly that Luke was the writer. Also it is particularly difficult to suggest an alternative to this educated Greek as the writer. The obvious conclusion that fits the evidence is that Luke wrote these two books, and great efforts would have been expended by him to produce them. All Christians are called to serve the Lord and work hard, so Luke should not be considered exceptional in this respect. Do we work hard for the Lord?

So Luke was both devoted to the Lord, as well as extremely hard working in his service for Christ, and thirdly, he was humble. This is clearly seen by the fact that he keeps in the background and never allows the spotlight to fall upon himself. His primary goal was always to draw attention to the Saviour, the Lord Jesus and to the message of the Gospel. That was the message which went around the ancient world like a tidal wave bringing a spiritual, social and moral revolution with it. When the focus comes upon people it is never upon Luke, he finds no room for boasting or pride, but he reveals the work of others and especially that of his fellow missionaries.

It is important to be humble. Yet we must say that to be humble is not the same as having an inferiority complex. Christians are not called to view themselves as inferior but they are expected to be humble. Inferiority decries self and considers self to be so worthless and useless that nothing is attempted and all is negative.  To be humble on the other hand is to realise that God has given us a work to do and given us gifts to fulfil those tasks. However, though we are willing to serve Him, we recognise that we can achieve absolutely nothing without the Lord’s help and resources. So we serve Him prayerfully and in dependence upon His Holy Spirit and realise that of ourselves we could never achieve anything of eternal worth or blessing.

God could use Luke and trust him in His service because he was humble. Luke does not appear to have been self-assertive, but quietly dependable and so Paul was able to describe him as a ‘fellow-worker’. (Philemon v.24). He was a worker, namely one who worked hard in the service of the Gospel, but he was more than that, he was a ‘fellow-worker’. This means that he could work with others, and so was capable of team effort. He did not ruffle feathers and did not allow himself to become bitter or upset. He recognised that his role was largely supportive, while the apostle Paul and Silas took the leading public role of speaking and ministry. Thus a great unity was engendered and the result was that the Lord was glorified. We might say to ourselves in the words of Jesus to the lawyer, ‘Go and do thou likewise’.

Luke is reputed to have died in Greece at the age of 84 and at that point he went to receive his reward from the Lord. This is what Peter wrote in his first epistle: ‘Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.’ (1 Peter 5:6)

Luke this humble man is now exalted in the glorious presence of Christ.

Luke was a well educated Gentile, who was a fine writer, a historian of great integrity and a well-qualified doctor. As a Christian he put those fine qualities to use in God’s service and showed true spiritual qualities of devotion, hard work and humility and as a result brought praise and glory to the name of Jesus Christ.

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