When King David assembled his great army to defeat King Saul he was joined by 200 sons of Issachar, with all their relatives under their command. The Scripture says that the sons of Issachar were men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do (1 Chron. 12:32). Surely these men were among David’s most trusted advisors! Nothing is more valuable to a king than counselors who understand the times and know what to do.
What would the sons of Issachar say to us today? How should we understand our times, and what should we do about them? I want to take the next two Windows on the World to answer those questions as well as I can. This week I will tell you how I understand the times, and next week I will tell you what the church should do about them.
It is often said that we are entering a new era. The rising generation—Generation X—does not accept the authority or answers of its elders. Christianity is on the decline, crowded out by an upsurge in paganism. The world is shrinking as the internet enables instant communication to span the globe. On top of everything else, we are poised to enter a new millennium.
Tonight I want to say that our era is not so new after all. Many of the obstacles and opportunities we face in the world today are the same obstacles and opportunities faced by the New Testament church. We are living in apostolic times.
Our culture is similar to the culture of the early church in at least four ways. First, the apostolic times were religious times. The New Testament is careful to explain how Christianity differs from mystery religions, and idol worship, and Greek philosophy, and Judaism and paganism. This is because, from the beginning, the good news about Jesus Christ had to compete for an audience. The apostles preached the gospel in the context of religious pluralism.
Our own times are just as religious. Think of the rise of Islam and Scientology in America. Think of the interest people take in horoscopes and psychic hotlines. Think of all the false preachers on television. Or think of the way that weight loss, and television, and psychotherapy, and sports, and singles bars, and militia movements and feminism have become religions unto themselves.
One of the reasons Christianity had to compete with so many religions was that the world was shrinking. The apostolic times were international times. International trade and travel exposed people to the latest ideas from other cultures. First Greek and then Latin became international languages. The apostle Paul was able to keep up a lively correspondence with churches all over the known world.
Our own times are just as international. Every day we have access to news from all over the world. Electronic mail is shrinking the globe once again. The export of music, food and clothing from the United States is making American culture the dominant culture of the world. The world looks to New York the way it once looked to Rome.
Third, the apostolic times were immoral times. I think especially of the city of Corinth, one of the great cites of Asia Minor and a leading cultural center. The apostle Paul once listed some of the sins of Corinth: sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, prostitution, homosexual acts, theft, greed, drunkenness and slander (1 Cor. 6:9-10). Then, as he ran his finger down the church rolls, he realized that many members of the Corinthian church had been enslaved by these very sins. And that is what some of you were, he wrote (v. 11). Early Christians worshiped in the center of sin city.
The same is true today. Adultery is ripping the American family apart at the seams. One of the lessons we have been learning from Elijah and Jeremiah is that we worship dozens of idols. Our neighborhood is well known for homosexual sin. We live in a nation that seems to be founded on greed. When people talk about the American dream they are usually craving a bigger piece of the pie. Or what about slander? Consider the nasty way our politicians speak about one another, or the juicy headlines in the tabloids, or the insults family members trade on television.
Finally, the apostolic times were dangerous times. The powers of this world tried to stamp out the church before it started. The missionary journeys of Paul were not only dangerous for him, they were dangerous for the churches he visited. According to tradition, most of the apostles became martyrs.
Our own times are just as dangerous, if not more so. More Christians have been martyred for their faith in this century than in all previous centuries combined. We can thank God that the sword has not yet been turned against Christians in this country, but we still suffer because Christians in other lands are suffering. We know that our brothers and sisters in places like South America, China and the Middle East are being intimidated and even killed for their faith.
We are living in apostolic times. We live in a global village marked by religious pluralism and moral indifference. It is a difficult, even a dangerous time to be a Christian.
If we are living in apostolic times then what should we do? You can probably guess the answer: we should live like the apostolic church. We should live the way the people of God lived during the days of the New Testament. The apostle Paul told them to live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness (1 Tim. 2:2). I will say more about what that means next week. In the meantime, ask God to make you a son or daughter of Issachar, one who understands the times and knows what to do.
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