Working Together

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Working Together

Acts 11:19-30                September 3, 2000



          We learned recently, or realized recently, at a Campus Life meeting for the pastors of NW Chicago, that there is little sense of community spirit in the high schools here.

          This is in regard to a search for whatever we can capitalize on to reach the kids in the schools.

          Since many of the kids leave their own neighborhoods to go to a school outside their neighborhood, there is little sense of ownership there among them.

          The question was whether the schools were the best place to try and reach these youth.

          We decided to continue with the school concept since that is where the kids congregate.

          Even if there is little sense of school spirit, at least that is where the kids gather.

          And it appears that the city may be moving toward a return to a neighborhood high school concept.

          This is important because it gives an added sense community accomplishment to go with whatever individual effort is involved toward achievement.

          In short, we help each other to achieve or accomplish.

          Just as there are many factors involved in establishing or building a community spirit in a school, so also in a church.

          As a school is a local body of learning, a church is a local body of Christ-centered worship.

          Remember the sense of school spirit when and where you grew up?

          There were cheers for the local basketball team, the pep band, the road trips, the competition, the drama club, the science club, the assembly halls.

          Team spirit is an effort many companies put forth for greater cooperation among employees and pride of mutual accomplishment also.

          They have a budget for company logos on jackets and company picnics, etc.

          You try to develop a sense of team spirit even in your own family when you work together on projects and take vacations.

          Even more than all of these is the potential impact of a team spirit among Christians because we have the gift of the Holy Spirit.

          He is the glue that holds us together in allegiance to the coach, Jesus Christ.

Big Question:

So what are the signs of a vibrant and effective community spirit in the life of the church?

During our sermon series in the Acts of the Apostles, we have been looking at a number of factors in the growth of the early church as it continues to excel in advancing the kingdom of Christ.

Last week we talked about overcoming personal prejudice.

This was a lesson Peter had to learn in order to carry out Christ's mandate to take the gospel to the gentiles such as Cornelius.

This week's passage in Acts 11:19-30 will focus even more on an expanded ministry to the Gentiles.

But it focuses on yet another way that the church is to be the church.

It involves a sense of community – a team spirit that enables those of us in the church to work effectively together.

I.       Cycle One

          A.      Narrative (vv. 19-21)

          Beginning with this passage, Luke is recording another new beginning in the worldwide program of the Church.

          We are reminded of the words of Christ in the gospels where he tells us repeatedly that he has come to us regarding his desire to give us new wine, treasures, teaching, garments, commands, new life, and a new covenant.

          Christ is in the business of making all things new. (2Cor. 5:17)

          This will proceed until he comes again, sent by the Father in perfect time, and claims his kingdom as his own.

          Since his kingdom is the True Church, it will continue to be renewed until he comes - then it will be perfected.

          But this new beginning, or new thrust in the ministry of the Church, parallels what happened with the ministry of Philip and Peter in 8:4ff after the stoning of Stephen.

          Indeed, this is the rest of that continuing story.

          Some of those who were scattered in that persecution went as far as Phoenicia (country on the coast north of Tyre), Cyprus (large island in the eastern Mediterranean), and Antioch (major city in northern Syria north of Phoenicia and just northeast of Cyprus).

          The first time we heard of Cyprus in Acts was in connection with Joseph (Barnabas), a Levite who sold a piece of property he owned there to give the money to the apostles for the use of the church in Jerusalem (4:36).

          This was in contrast to the story about Ananias and Sapphira who were not honest with the Holy Spirit about their gift.

          But the focus on this passage is the city of Antioch, the birthplace of the church outside Jerusalem.

          We are told that these believers who were scattered far and wide spread the message wherever they went.

          However, they told the message of Christ only to Jews.

          I am reminded that the plan of God for the dispersion of the Jews fit perfectly into his program of providing a ready made staging area for the gospel beginning at the synagogues throughout the Roman empire.

          But we are also told about some, perhaps even just a few, who went to Antioch to proclaim the good news there also among the Greeks.

          We understand this to mean that they went there with the express purpose of bringing the gospel to the gentiles.

          They not only came from across the sea in Cyprus, but they also came from great distance in Libya or Cyrene west of Egypt.

          The Lord's hand was with them and a great many believed and turned to the Lord.

          Indeed, I believe the Lord's hand was upon them to compel them to such missionary work.

          They obeyed and thrust the church into a new arena of outreach and success.

          We have seen the Christian movement shift from a predominantly rural setting in Galilee to an urban movement in Jerusalem and now to a cosmopolitan movement in Antioch.

Why did they choose Antioch?

          Or better yet, why did God send them to Antioch?

          Antioch was a major outpost of the Greek empire of Alexander the Great, named after the kings of the Seleucid dynasty that followed his death.

          It was now the third largest city in the Roman empire, having a population of up to 500,000, surpassed only by Alexandria and Rome itself.

          It was the headquarters of Rome's Syrian legion.

          It was the seat of the Roman province of Syria with a large Jewish population of anywhere from 22,000 to 65,000, with a large number of proselytes living there – that is, gentile converts to the Jewish faith.

          It was an international commercial center and a quite cosmopolitan city where people were accustomed to many innovations.

          It was a place where staid tradition was less important, but also where lax morals ran rampant.

          In short, it was a place like Chicago, a melting pot for the world.

          It was a place in which the world could be reached.     

          B.      Implication

          The first sign of a vibrant and effective community spirit in the life of the church is grassroots involvement.

          C.      Illustration

          D.      Application

          The great thing of interest that we must note about this passage is that we are not given the names of any of those who responded to the Lord's call to go as missionaries to Antioch.

          Since we are told where they come from, we are aware of the sacrifices they must have made to go to Antioch.

          But since we are not told their names, we might assume that there was no famous leaders among them and no one who stood out among them as prominent.

          Even though Acts does not give us names, we continue to receive from Acts many inspiring examples we can follow.

          What we learn here from this unnamed group of pioneers in the first general attempt to carry the gospel to the Gentiles is that it was done by ordinary Christians who just went and shared the gospel.

          Since there are so many of us who cannot claim to be exceptional, we are encouraged that the phenomenal growth of the church through the centuries has been through people just like us.

          Jesus Christ came to establish a grass roots movement of truth and faith in the Living God.

          And it works exactly because we are not exceptional.

          There is no other way any of this could happen except by the grace and power of God.

          It is our Lord Jesus Christ who is exceptional.

          Certainly, any movement will have its great leaders – its famous and important people.

          But the fact that this significant work was done by non-prominent Christians reminds us that the famous are not the most significant or most important people in the church.

          Some of the most significant work for the kingdom has been done by unknown witnesses who are obedient to Christ right where they are and where they do not attract much attention.

          Our task is to be faithful to what God calls us to do.

          If that doesn't put our name forward on earth, we should not be bothered by it because our call is not that we should be known – it is that Christ be known.

          Be encouraged where you are and with who you are as long as you are following his call.

          You are part of an underground movement that is shaking the earth.

II.      Cycle Two

          A.      Narrative (vv. 22-26)

          Now we come to the other side of the issue about how God can use those who are famous.

          They are famous because they are gifted.

          Barnabas was one of these.

          He had distinguished himself in the events surrounding Ananias and Sapphira, and he was the one who stood by Paul and his testimony about being called as the thirteenth apostle by direct revelation from Christ.

          These unknown Christians in Antioch may have lacked the credentials for others to give them the validity they deserved in order to gain a wider hearing, or perhaps they lacked some necessary leadership gifts.

          The Jerusalem church, hearing about the work in Antioch, decided to send help.

          They themselves were acting in a sense of positive leadership in sending them some positive leadership.

          What better person than Barnabas, the "Encourager", to send to this beginning work in order to encourage them.

          Note the qualities it mentions here: he was godly, good, steadfast, full of faith and the Holy Spirit.

          Moreover, he was a Jew from Cyprus himself, just like some of those who had come to bring the gospel to Antioch.

          He would have a broader perspective than many who had not been abroad, and he may even have volunteered for the assignment.

          Note his response when he arrived: he willingly saw the evidence of the grace of God among them, he was glad, and he encouraged them to remain true to the Lord in their work.

          He was the right man for the job.

          What do you suppose would have happened if he had come in and found all that they were doing wrong and called them to account for it – or at least made sure they knew how to do it right from now on?

          Surely he must have seen the weaknesses and excesses of their religious enthusiasm.

          He could have poisoned them from the inside out.

          But he took what was good and built on it.

He had the larger perspective in mind: when people are doing something from the Lord you take it as from the Lord and fan the flame of faith.

          He found a "caring church with a message of hope" and encouraged their hope of continuing with the Lord in the purpose of their hearts.

          Certainly there were things that needed changing, but that would come in time.

          Barnabas was an encourager because of his outstanding character qualities that inspired loyalty and commitment.

          His integrity and wholesomeness comes to the front in his unhesitating acceptance of this new work.

          Note the statement about his effectiveness as a leader since "a great number of people were brought to the Lord."

          First we saw a great number coming because of the faithfulness of the pioneer missionaries.

          Now we see another wave of believers as Barnabas takes them the next step.

          But now it gets too big even for him as he goes to Tarsus to look for Saul to bring him into the ministry at Antioch.

          And they work together there with the church for a whole year, teaching great numbers of people.

          This also says something about Barnabas – he was not so caught up with himself that he couldn't seek out greater expertise and gifts than he himself had.

          About ten years had elapsed since Saul had left Barnabas' company at Jerusalem and had gone to Syria and Cilicia to evangelize.

          Tarsus was about 100 miles from Antioch.

          Barnabas had remembered Saul's giftedness and knew he was the man to carry on where his own limitations took over.

          He was not threatened by his need and the need of the church but took a long journey to seek him out.

          He needed help to pastor this flock.

          And the fruit of his character was that the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.

          They were used to calling themselves "disciples", "saints", and "brothers".

          This name change is significant because this was a name of derision assigned to them by the local unbelieving Gentile populace who had a reputation for such things.

          The name means "Christ people."

          And it stuck. You and I today are proud to be called Christians.

1 Peter 4:14  If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.

          Because of this man, Barnabas, who was so willing to let Christ be seen in him, the whole church followed.

          And their witness of faith was so profound that it earned them the name, "Christian."

          Are you known as a "Christ person?"

          B.      Implication

The second sign of a vibrant and effective community spirit in the life of the church is positive leadership.

          C.      Illustration

          D.      Application

          Are you a biblical encourager?

          What is a biblical encourager?

          What are they ways you have encouraged anyone recently in their Christian labors? What are some ways in which you might do so?


1)      Biblical encouragers are easily gladdened. They do not see some new work and immediately compare it to their own. They do not focus on criticism. Even though it may be warranted, it would be ill-timed and in the wrong spirit. This is the way to alienate those who are young, enthusiastic and sometimes immature. And the chance is lost to influence them toward maturity and even to keep them in the church. Wise encouragers build the church.

2)      Biblical encouragers urge perseverance. Young believers can burn out quickly once the initial thrill of a new work wears off and they face disappointments and discouragement. Mature leaders are needed who have weathered storms and are not surprised by problems. They have the faith to handle crises. They lend stability to keep others, especially the young, from coming to a disastrous end because of depression and sin. Encouragers help others to abide in Christ wholeheartedly which involves teaching with compassion.

3)      Biblical encouragers have character. Good people refuse to break principles to achieve desired goals. They don't have ulterior motives or hidden agendas. When put in leadership, they make unselfish and principled decisions. They do not crush other to get recognition or manipulate others for their own ends. They do not use people and then drop them. They take responsibility for mistakes. They give credit to others. In today's society, it is possible even in the church for people without integrity to climb to leadership positions because we are too practical in seeming to love results more than the means. To get some prized skill we are willing to overlook some character flaws. Such people can build empires and become prominent, but don't deserve the credibility it costs to claim the name "Christian". When they fall, others are lost to the faith. One Hindu philospher has charged that, "Christians are ordinary people making extraordinary claims." Let us make sure we can meet our objective of being "Christ people". Also to encourage people, we must have faith in them – believe in them. That seems harder and harder to do these days, given a rampant lack of integrity by many. But ultimately our faith is not in people but in God and the possibilities of grace in their lives. Grace helps us see beyond gloom. We become agents of grace in the lives of others, not giving up on them. An encourager has the Christian character that keeps others close to Christ.

4)      Encouragers enlist the help of capable people. Because encouragers know that there are others who can do some things better than themselves, they are not possessive of their status. They do not thrive on being worshipped as heroes or try to protect their flock from the ministries of other gifted leaders. Some leaders are willing to have young, inexperienced assistants, but are threatened by more capable colleagues. But God says, "Those who honor me I will honor." (1Sam. 2:30)

III.    Cycle Three (vv. 27-30)

          A.      Narrative

          Barnabas isn't the only one to come from the mother church in Jerusalem.

          During his ministry there, some prophets also come to share a word from the Lord.

          Take note that these are Christian prophets – New Testament prophets.

          Later on, Paul would write in 1Cor. 12 about the desirability of the gift of prophecy as the greatest gift, only second to apostleship.

          One of these prophets, Agabus, spoke through the Spirit about a severe famine (already in progress in other places in the Roman empire) that would continue to spread – presumably to include even Jerusalem.

          We will see Agabus again when Paul is on his way to Jerusalem from Caesarea in Acts 21:10-11 as Agabus predicts his imprisonment that will ultimately carry him to his death in Rome.

          Luke sets in an editorial comment here about the validity of the prophecy from later perspective during the reign of Claudius.

          Other historical sources also attest to this – that the famine did indeed strike Palestine in A.D. 46

          And so the disciples in Antioch, this new church with new believers, gathers up an offering to be sent back with them to help.

          They send the gift to the elders of the Jerusalem church by way of the personal escort of Barnabas and Saul.

          Gal. 2:1-10 speaks of this happening.

          Furthermore, Paul writes in Gal. 2:2 that he went in response to a revelation.

          This revelation was the one Agabus revealed.


          B.      Implication

The third sign of a vibrant and effective community spirit in the life of the church is faith in the word of God.

          C.      Illustration

          D.      Application

          Note that the missionary spirit had really caught hold on the church in Antioch.

          It was a missionary church plant that had received the gospel from those who had come from the mother church in Jerusalem and now was sending gifts to the mother church in her time of need.

          Indeed, the church in Antioch would become the mother church to the Gentiles.

          But here was real partnership in missions where each church contributes to the other out of its economic, cultural, intellectual, and spiritual riches.

          Here was a "body of Christ" mentality of shared opportunity and responsibility.

          It is a kingdom perspective that Leighton Ford insightfully speaks of as a need to be "kingdom seekers rather than empire builders".

          But the really significant thing to note in this section is that the church in Antioch acted on faith in the prophecy before the need actually arose.

They had a faith in the word of God as it was revealed to them.

Not only did those who founded the church have faith in the word of God to establish the church, but it carried through the entire ministry of the church even to acting in advance based upon faith in what God revealed.

          And prophecy is not dead today as some might imagine.

          There are times in our Christian experience when someone will pray something in the Spirit whereby God directs an entire group or individual, or a message is preached where something unplanned is said that moves someone's heart in a certain way toward God, or even something planned is spoken that the Spirit interprets with pointed insight toward some life or situation.

          Ultimately, it is faith in the word of God that carries out the mission that changes lives for the kingdom of Christ.

          We must act upon the word of God while it is still faith.


Big Answer:

What are the signs of a vibrant and effective community spirit in the life of the church?

The first sign of a vibrant and effective community spirit in the life of the church is grassroots involvement.

The second sign of a vibrant and effective community spirit in the life of the church is positive leadership.

The third sign of a vibrant and effective community spirit in the life of the church is faith in the word of God.

Timeless Truth:

Working together is synonymous with being a Christian.

The kingdom of Christ is the community of Christ.

Our community spirit is the Holy Spirit.

Are you involved at the grass roots level?

Are you involved as an encourager?

Are you involved in the word of God?

If so, we are working together.

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