Activities of Christians
Sermon Text: Acts 11:19-30
Sermon Theme: There are three vital activities of being a Christian: evangelizing, discipling/discipled, and showing mercy.
The first preachers of the gospel at Antioch, were dispersed from Jerusalem by persecution; thus what was meant to hurt the church, was made to work for its good. The wrath of man is made to praise God. What should the ministers of Christ preach, but Christ? Christ, and him crucified? Christ, and him glorified? And their preaching was accompanied with the Divine power. The hand of the Lord was with them, to bring that home to the hearts and consciences of men, which they could but speak to the outward ear. They believed; they were convinced of the truth of the gospel. They turned from a careless, carnal way of living, to live a holy, heavenly, spiritual life. They turned from worshipping God in show and ceremony, to worship him in the Spirit and in truth. They turned to the Lord Jesus, and he became all in all with them. This was the work of conversion wrought upon them, and it must be wrought upon every one of us. It was the fruit of their faith; all who sincerely believe, will turn to the Lord, When the Lord Jesus is preached in simplicity, and according to the Scriptures, he will give success; and when sinners are thus brought to the Lord, really good men, who are full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, will admire and rejoice in the grace of God bestowed on them. Barnabas was full of faith; full of the grace of faith, and full of the fruits of the faith that works by love.
Hitherto the followers of Christ were called disciples, that is, learners, scholars; but from that time they were called Christians. The proper meaning of this name is, a follower of Christ; it denotes one who, from serious thought, embraces the religion of Christ, believes his promises, and makes it his chief care to shape his life by Christ’s precepts and example. Hence it is plain that multitudes take the name of Christian to whom it does not rightly belong. But the name without the reality will only add to our guilt. While the bare profession will bestow neither profit nor delight, the possession of it will give both the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. Grant, Lord, that Christians may forget other names and distinctions, and love one another as the followers of Christ ought to do. True Christians will feel for their brethren under afflictions. Thus will fruit be brought forth to the praise and glory of God. If all mankind were true Christians, how cheerfully would they help one another! The whole earth would be like one large family, every member of which would strive to be dutiful and kind.
[From Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary]
- Who needs to proclaim the Word of the Lord? Pastors? Missionaries? Laymen? God blesses a church where every member is a minister. The church in Antioch was not founded by apostles or pastors or trained missionaries. Rather, some unnamed men who were scattered because of the persecution that arose in connection with Stephen came to Antioch and began talking to both the Jews and the Gentiles, telling the good news about the Lord Jesus (Acts 11:20). The Greek word for speak (Acts 11:19-20) is the word for normal conversation. The implication is that these men didn’t preach as orators in the marketplace. Rather, in their everyday contacts, they were sharing Christ with the pagans. They were common men who had met the Lord Jesus and who wanted others to know Him, too. We all can do what they did. For this church knew the principle of the body, that God has gifted every member and each one is expected to exercise his or her gift in ministry. If the spreading of the gospel or the functioning of the church depends on the labors of full-time missionaries or pastors, ministry will be severely limited. But if every person who has trusted in Christ as Savior and Lord feels the obligation of serving Him and of telling others the good news about Him, the gospel will spread and the church will be built up. Every Christian should sense their responsibility to serve Christ and bear witness of Him.
- Would we mind if we were driven from our homes and scattered? What would we feel if God led us to one of the most wicked cities of the world? But, Christians in Antioch had a message to deliver — the good news about the Lord Jesus. God blesses a church where the gospel is proclaimed as the power of God to save sinners. It is significant that when God picked a city that would become the center for missionary endeavor, He picked a cosmopolitan, morally corrupt city like Antioch. In this secular, pagan environment, common Christians began telling the simple gospel message that Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners, that whoever believes in Him receives eternal life and forgiveness as God’s free gift — “telling the good news of the Lord Jesus.” But in telling the good news, they didn’t dodge the hard matters of sin and repentance, since we read that a large number who believed turned to the Lord. This means that these former pagans gave up their idols, their sexual immorality, their lying, and their corrupt business practices when they put their trust in Jesus as Lord. Faith in the good news about Jesus as Savior cannot be divorced from repentance from sin.
- What do you see when you see a new convert? Do you see a young person who doesn’t look like what you think a Christian young person should look like, and grumble in your heart? Or do you see the grace of God who has saved that young person, and rejoice? No doubt Barnabas saw a lot of imperfection in these new converts. New believers do not drop all of their pagan baggage the day they get saved. A church made up of people from such different backgrounds as those in Antioch was bound to have some irritations and conflicts. But rather than focusing on the imperfections and problems, Barnabas focused on God’s grace in saving these people. Instead of imposing a bunch of Jewish rules on them, he rejoiced at what God was doing, and then began to encourage them to remain true to the Lord. God’s grace teaches us to accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God (Romans 15:7). We need to treat others as God has graciously treated us. Why did Barnabas take so much interest in these new converts? Because “he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” Good men see goodness in other believers and become glad in their conversion. With a charitable spirit, and benign and hopeful heart, he looks upon the work, and it must be very bad if he does not see in it something to quicken his own faith, and deepen his own grace, and heighten his own love to God.
- Are you enthusiastic and happy most of all to be a follower of Jesus Christ? Enthusiasm should be the Christian’s normal condition. The religion of Jesus is a religion of love and gratitude, and where these emotions abound they never fail to kindle enthusiasm. In the face of this, an apathetic, unimpassioned Christian is an anomaly as incongruous in conception as a frozen sunbeam. The sun floats in an atmosphere of flame with it’s marvelous power to quicken many forms of life. The true Christian is a moral sun surrounded by an atmosphere of enthusiasm. This enthusiasm, born of love and gratitude, constitutes the gospel’s most effective guarantee for its diffusion. For in nothing is this enthusiasm more manifested than in efforts to spread the story of the love which kindled it. For the gospel is ever capable of awakening. So long as its power of benefiting men remains, so long as its power of awakening gratitude remains, and where this gratitude exists there will be enthusiasm ever impelling men to self-sacrificing labors for Christ. This spirit should be manifested not only in ministry alone, nor in the more official walks of Christian service, but should permeate equally all its humbler forms — illumining the most commonplace things with humble service of God’s house with sublime dignity.
- Barnabas saw “the grace of God” (Acts 11:23), the grace which is manifestly, unmistakably of God. But how could he see that which in itself is invisible? The grace of God is as viewless as the wind, as impalpable as gravitation. It is a life, and it grows; a leaven, and it leavens the lump; but we might look in vain to see the growth of life or the influence of leaven. How then did Barnabas see the grace of God? It is thus the invisible puts on visibility; and “the invisible things” — even of God Himself — “are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made” (Romans 1:20). Where the grace of God is, baneful ignorance of God gives place to a knowledge of Him which is as wondrous as glorious. Virtue supersedes vice, holiness displaces wickedness, the liar becomes truthful, the blasphemer reverent, the cruel merciful, the selfish beneficent; in fine, God’s grace transforms the lion of violence and vice into the lamb of innocence and uprightness. Now, Barnabas saw the wondrous effects of God’s grace upon the believers at Antioch. He saw idolaters discarding their gods, and turning to the living God. Is not this the hand of God?
- How firmly do we cleave to our Lord and Savior? God alone is the great Guide, the Almighty Guard, the impregnable Fortress, and the everlasting Friend of His people; and to cleave unto Him is at once our duty, our safety, and our glory. Then think how suggestive this word cleave is. To cleave to anything is to grasp it firmly, to hold it tenaciously, and to prefer to be torn in pieces rather than to be torn from it. It is thus the ivy cleaves to the oak, the sailor hangs to the rope that is to rescue him from a furious sea and a watery grave, and thus Ruth clave unto Naomi. “Orpah kissed her mother-in-law; but Ruth clave unto her” (Ruth 1:14, KJV); and the incident teaches how much more there is in cleaving than in kissing. So let young converts, and even aged saints, cleave unto or continue “to abide with the Lord;” then they will avoid every bypath. Cleave to Him as your Teacher, as your Redeemer, as your Support in all your duties and in all your conflicts, as your Comforter, as your Master, as your Example. For we should be continually watchful, to cherish and confirm one another in every good purpose of heart; respecting the Spirit of the gospel which is most directly opposed to the evil and selfish spirit of this age. Don’t, under pretense of liberty of one sort or another, come to be indifferent about the grace and salvation of others. Surely the hard, indifferent way in which too many of us treat the thought of our neighbor’s condition towards God is sadly like Cain’s way: sadly like the temper which led to a brother’s murder. The Christian renewed heart is altogether different from this; it is not at all satisfied, as men of the world are, with persons going on decently and quietly; it wants them to be inwardly sound and pure; first of all to have a good “purpose of heart,” and then to persevere in that purpose, “cleaving” to our Lord and Savior continually.
- Are you participating in the life of the Church both near and far? If not, why not? We need to learn from Barnabas in this respect — to be happy when God works somewhere else. All of us are happy, at least most of the time, when God works among us, blessing our denomination, church, people, or family. When he blesses somewhere else, well, we are not always so happy. We are restrained in our enthusiasm. Barnabas not only rejoice at what was going on, he also encouraged, taught, and strengthened the believers. The text says, “He… encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts” (Acts 11: 23). When a person is really glad about something God is doing, he normally works with the others among whom God is doing it. And when the person works with other people, he or she is almost inevitably glad about the work. The reason some of us are so sour may be that we stand back, saying, “Let God work,” or, which may be even worse, “Let others work. Let them do the job.” We don’t like other people or what God is doing among them, so we don’t pitch in. If we would, some of the blessing would rub off. If you are not involved in witnessing or disciplining someone, you ought to be, because there is joy in seeing how God blesses any faithful witness. If you are not involved in a Bible study where God is bringing people to Christ and people are growing, you ought to be, because there is joy in the fruit of such studies. If you are not participating in the life and worship of an active, working, worshiping, witnessing church, you ought to be, because there is joy in seeing how believers grow together into a fellowship where others are helped and in which the Lord Jesus can be seen.
- Are you a Christian first? Is that the most important thing about you? When the text says that “the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch” it means that Antioch was the first place they were given that name. But, taking that sentence another way, we might also observe rightly that they were Christians first of all, before anything else. They could have been Gentiles first and only Christians second, in which case they would have said, “We are Gentiles. Why should we send money to the Jews?” They could have been pagans first and Christians second, in which case they would have said, “Why should we worry about anyone but ourselves?” Actually, they were neither of these. They were Christians first. And because they were Christians first, they felt a bond with all other believers and were determined to help them when the need arose. Different people. Different roles. Different ministries. But, one Lord, one faith, one baptism. The unity of the body and the health of a biblical congregation is marked by biblical people who accomplish God’s work through his grace and power.
- How are we to respond to the moral as well as the spiritual famine that is taking place in our own time? The famine that was suffered by the Jerusalem church and borne in common by the church in Antioch causes us to examine how we respond to the needs not just of our near neighbors but even of those upon whom we depend for hearing the gospel. Our failure to hear, in the cry of the poor, the call of the gospel, is in itself a spiritual famine for us much as it is a physical one for those we ignore. Do you hear the calling to a greater awareness of how God’s blessings come to us through one another in times of trial, whether we be the ones who suffer need or the ones called to give. Those in Antioch, aware of the poverty and tribulations of those in Jerusalem, were prepared to meet these needs. Now, both we and the poor are famishing: they from a lack of necessary sustenance and we because we, in our luxury, lack the mercy of God.
City of Antioch History:
After the death of Alexander the Great, the kingdom he had established divided into four parts. One of these was ruled by a man named Seleucus, who founded Antioch. Antioch was on the Orontes River, which made it possible for it to maintain trade with the big Mediterranean cities. Yet it was far enough inland to be a strategically-centered command post for the rule of Syria. For the Arabs, whose world was the desert, the natural capital of Syria was Damascus. But for the Greeks, who came from the west and whose world was the world of the Mediterranean, Antioch was the natural capital.
A political center. Over the years Antioch grew in importance. When Ptolemy, another of Alexander’s generals, later conquered Seleucus and thus incorporated Syria into his more southern kingdom, he made Antioch the official capital of this new area.
As we read about the various cities of the Roman world in Acts, we find that each is quite properly given its own character. Jerusalem is a Jewish city, filled with volatile temperaments and seething with the Jews’ great hatred of the Gentiles. Rome is quite different. It was the capital of the empire and was very power conscious. Athens was the intellectual center of the world. Antioch was distinguished by being cosmopolitan. There was a tremendous mix of people in this city, as its geographical location might indicate. It was not far north of the Jewish states, so many Jews were found there. Josephus tells us there were 25,000 in his day. But Antioch was actually located in Syria, which meant that there were many Arab peoples too. And there were also Greeks, who were descendants of the Seleucids and Ptolemy, and Romans, since they were the occupying power. By Luke’s time Antioch had grown to be the third most important city in the empire. Rome was first, Alexandria in Egypt second, then Antioch of Syria because of its extensive Mediterranean trade.
A commercial center. Antioch was chiefly a business city. The wealth of the east flowed through Antioch on its way to Rome. The armies of Greece and Rome marched through Antioch. Antioch was sophisticated and tolerant. Yes, tolerant—because all these different peoples, each with its own background, had to live and function side by side. Antioch was somewhat like the “melting pot” of the American ideal.
A morally corrupt center. Even the ancients thought Antioch was corrupt. Outside the city there was a park or grove of trees called “the Grove of Apollo.” It was notorious as a location for licentious sexual indulgence. It was like an outdoor brothel, and people went there specifically to indulge their sensual appetites. Antioch was so well known for its debauchery that not long after this when a Roman senator was trying to describe how Rome, which had been morally upright in the days of the republic, had become corrupted by the moral degeneracy of the east, he said in picturesque language, “The Orontes has flowed into the Tiber.”
Yet it was here in this cosmopolitan, commercial, and most corrupt city that a great church was established. This church that had a mixture of races was grounded in the Word of God, and, because it was grounded in the Word and was anxious to obey Jesus Christ, it became the first great missionary church of the New Testament. [Boice Expositional Commentary]
The success of the church planting in the Gentile city of Antioch, with her wealth, her culture, her sources of widespread influence, her teeming thousands, was substantially accomplished. Antioch became a Christian city. In the time of Theodosius it is alleged that one half of her population were professed followers of Christ. Between the years 252 and 380 AD, ten Christian assemblies were here convened. Here Paul exercised his first systematic ministerial work, and from this point he started on all his missionary journeys. Here was born, and here Ignatius wielded his mighty power for the Christian faith. Thus, this city, where the first Gentile Church was gathered, exerted for centuries a controlling influence in spreading the new religion. From this let us, who are now entrusted with the gospel, learn to be bold. Christ calls for no timorous messengers. Christianity is in this world to conquer, and it will. [Biblical Illustrator Commentary]
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