Acts is “the only Church history we have in Scripture. Presumably the Holy Spirit wanted it included so that we would know what God intends for His people…It is important that we use Acts as a model…the Bible as our standard.” (Pawson)
I. Antioch of Syria -Acts 11:19-30, 12:24-25
The opening words of this section of Acts are similar to the opening in 8:4. This suggests that Luke is recording a new beginning to what has happened with the ministries of Philip and Peter in Acts 8:4-11:18. Luke is reminding us that the “scattering” of Christians by the persecution connected with Stephen was truly the scattering of the seed of the Gospel in God’s plan. What looked like defeat, disaster and misfortune to many, would prove to be a miraculous sending out of ministers to influence the world.
One of the first deacons was from Antioch (Acts 6:5). After the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:54-60), great persecution caused some disciples to flee from Jerusalem to Antioch (Acts 8:1, 11:19). Most of the believers who went out from Jerusalem to other cities, shared the faith and message of Christ with Jews only. However, some from Cyprus and Cyrene shared the Gospel with Greeks in Antioch as well (11:20). Luke tells us where these daring believers who took the lead in this great step forward came from, but we do not know their names. This amazing epoch of church history begins with no famous leaders or prominent figures, but with ordinary believers in dire straits living the normal Christian life…being spiritual catalysts and sowing the seeds that would eventually transform a region and turn the known world upside down!
This ANTIOCH played a significant role in the first-century expansion of the church, and was the capital of the Roman province of Syria. It was the third largest city in the world (next to Rome and Alexandria), located on a river 300 miles north of Jerusalem and 15 miles from the Mediterranean Sea. Antioch was founded around 300 B.C. by 1 of the 3 successors to Alexander the Great, and named for his father. It was a multi-cultural melting pot of politics, religion and commerce. This gateway city was a transportation hub; and was called the “Queen of the East” and “beautiful” because it was filled with everything that Roman wealth, Oriental luxury, Greek philosophy and art could produce. A suburb of Antioch was also a center for pagan idolatry, where famous sanctuaries offered worship accompanied with immoral indulgence and unbelievable indecency. In the early history of Christianity, this cosmopolitan city offered a fruitful field for Christian teaching and served to widen the outlook of the Christian community. At Antioch, believers refused to be confined within the narrow limits of Judaism.
II. The Antioch Church’s Example:
“Acts can be called ‘theological history’-a narrative of interrelated events chosen to communicate theological truths. It views God as acting in the arena of history and through that revealing His ways and His will to His people…Our task is to find those truths and see what abiding principles we can glean from them that we can apply to our thoughts, lives and ministries today.” (Fernando)
Where can we find a model church? What can we learn from studying the 1st century church that will empower our churches for fruitful ministry into the 21st century? Now we will look more closely at the Antioch Church (Acts 11, 13) to discover the vital signs and Biblical principles of a thriving New Testament Church:
1. Lay Ministry – Acts 11:19-21
The term “lay” (also laos or laity) means ‘nonprofessional.’ Many call this “body” ministry, and it’s used to refer to the significance and contribution of those who are in the body of Christ, yet are not Church leaders (1Cor.12). Some scholars also refer to this as “the value of non-prominent Christians” in ministry and the works of Christ. Historically, this is an aspect of the truth known as “the priesthood of the believer,” and has been a catalyst for revival and reformation whenever it’s re-discovered and practiced.
The purpose and start of the Antioch church was reaching, winning and serving others. It began with evangelism, but not with an evangelistic crusade or a great leader with a church-plant team. It was the fruit of normal Christian lives. This was personal, relational lifestyle witness and ministry from ordinary believers. Often, the most effective form of evangelism, discipleship and ministry is accomplished when normal, everyday believers reach out to their friends, relatives, neighbors, co-workers and acquaintances. It’s vital that all Christians are involved in the life and work of the Church. Christianity is “ordinary people with extraordinary lives” because of Christ; and it is most fruitful when we understand that “every member is a minister” and “all around us is our mission field!” Every Christian has a sacred calling, significant purpose and special place in ministry!
2. Team Leadership – Acts 11:22-24, 13:1
Trans-local (itinerant) ministry, special guest speakers and relationships with other mature Christian leaders outside of a local church, is a mark of authenticity, a result of humility and interdependence, and a means to the blessing and growth of healthy churches. Also, notice the great diversity of the local church leadership in Antioch. There were diverse ages, ethnicities, personalities, gifts and ministry functions on this team. The team was initially headed by Barnabus, a former business man and Levite from the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. The presbyters were prophets and teachers; and 2 of the 5 were described as and believed to be black men (Simeon called Niger, and Lucius from Cyrene in North Africa), and 1 had a wealthy-political upbringing. This Manaen had been the foster brother or best friend of Herod that had John the Baptist beheaded. And, last but not least, was the highly educated Jew, Saul (soon to be known as the apostle Paul). This leadership team was multi-cultural with complementary ministry gifts; and together they were producing fruit in unprecedented ways. Church leadership in Acts was not a 1 man show, neither was the authority or decision making all top-down and autocratic. In the churches, there clearly was spiritual authority, identifiable leadership, a team of elders and a Sr. Leader. The Sr. leader often functioned as a 1st among equals. The leadership emphasis in Acts and the New Testament is on servant and plural leadership. In Antioch, we find all this exemplified. They received the leaders sent to them from Jerusalem (Acts 11:22, 26), Barnabas was the lead brother (Acts 13:2; 14:12), they received outside prophetic ministry (Acts 11:27), they developed many gifted leaders (Acts 13:1), a diversity of elders in the same church transcended race and socio-economic status (Acts 11:20), and team ministry was a reality (Acts 13:5). Unity in diversity brings blessing!
3. The Grace of God – Acts 11:23
“Man is born broken, we live by mending. The grace of God is glue.” –O’Neil
When Barnabus arrived in Antioch, “he saw evidence of the grace of God.” What was it that he sensed; what was so apparent and special about these new believers? In the Bible, grace is used to describe a number of things. Grace is the thing God gives us, and the effect of the thing God gives us…the Christian life is a life of grace. A French preacher said long ago, “for the supreme moment when God meets the soul, a new word is necessary, and it is grace!” Its common definition is “the unmerited favor of God.” It has been said that “grace gives us what we do not deserve.” In Christian theology, grace is the unearned gift of God whereby He offers forgiveness and salvation through the cross and resurrection of Jesus. It’s how God’s influence works in us to give and grow a new life in Christ. It is “by grace” you are saved! God’s “amazing grace” changes lives, relationships and environments.
Grace (Gr. charis) also means “gift.” Its origins are “to rejoice and be glad.” To “say grace” before meals or take communion (Gr. eu-charist) is to be thankful and appreciative of the gifts and provision of God. The word is used to summarize the character of Jesus Christ (Jn.1:14, 17, 2Cor.13:14); and may be a description of when the fruit of the Spirit is flourishing (all 9 in Gal.5:22+). It’s also the root word used for anointing and spiritual gifts. To recognize and receive God’s grace/gifts brings a genuine smile to the face, contagious joy to the heart and spiritual blessing to our souls. The result is an overflow of gracious attitudes, kind words and caring actions among us. It produces the opposite of harsh environments, bad attitudes, religious legalism, condemnation or depression.
Grace is God’s glue for fixing the soul and connecting relationships. “The God of all grace and Gospel of grace” are ours. “Grace means there is nothing I can do to make God love me more, and nothing I can do to make God love me less. It means, though undeserving, I am invited to take my place at the table in God’s family” (Yancey). “Understanding God’s grace in all its truth” is the key to a fruitful life, Christian growth and victorious witness (Col.1:6).
To see God’s grace on a people means their lives were changed, the character of Christ was growing in them, and the gifts/anointing of God were flowing from them. God was there! The atmosphere of grace, attitudes of gratitude and joy are proof of new life in Christ, the presence of the Holy Spirit and favor of Father God. “Love that goes upward is worship, love that goes outward is affection, love that stoops is grace.” -Barnhouse
4. Biblical Discipleship – Acts 11:26
When the leaders at Jerusalem heard of the ministry breakthroughs in Antioch, they sent Barnabus to visit the church there (Acts 11:22-24). Then Barnabas goes to Tarsus to bring Paul back to Antioch, where they taught the believers for 1 year. Wow, Barnabus and Paul invested 1 whole year of teaching into these believers. These disciples at Antioch were the first to be called “CHRISTIANS!” (Acts 11:25-26, 26:28; 1 Pet. 4:16).
The Bible speaks of your commitment and relationship to Jesus Christ with words like “Lordship and discipleship.” These mean we have faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and are committed to a life of learning and growing as HIS followers. In Acts 2 we find this commitment also includes devotion to Apostle’s teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers. This means giving attention to Bible study, godly relationships, the Lord’s Supper and prayer is normal Church life, and necessary to grow and be fruitful.
To study the Bible for learning and living the truths of God’s Word is essential for all of us. It is building on the “rock” and being prepared for “the storms of life” (Mt. 7:24-27). The Scriptures should be honored above personalities, speculations, prophesies, pet-teachings or traditions of men. Only God can give spiritual life, but only abiding in God’s Word and godly relationships brings spiritual growth and maturity in Christ.
5. Generosity – Acts 11:27-29
Some prophets came to Antioch and received revelations from the Lord that a great famine would sweep over the world. The believers in Antioch immediately decided to send relief to the Christian brethren in Judea. They were not self-absorbed or materialistic, but committed to blessing and sowing in sacrificial service whenever possible. This was certainly a marvelous testimony to the power of the cross and Spirit of Christ in removing animosity in Jew/Gentile relationships. Generosity was manifest in these disciples who gave unanimously, spontaneously and proportionately. They gave “every one according to his ability.”
That this young church-plant would give to the “mother church” in Jerusalem shows how the missionary spirit of giving, sending and serving had been caught and cultivated in the foundations of this church that would become the “mother church” of Gentile missions. What a role reversal, and what selfless giving and mutual interdependence is seen in the Jerusalem church sending members, the Gospel and leaders; and the church-plant at Antioch sending money back to help in crises. Giving in difficult times to those in greater need was clearly manifest here as these believers lived out Jesus words, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
6. Worship and Prayer – Acts 13:2-3
At Antioch, they were worshipping or “ministering to the Lord!” Seeking God, intimacy with Jesus and spiritual disciplines were a lifestyle and priority to these early church leaders and Christians. Prayer and fasting was the normal Christian life. They were not only a “house of prayer,” but were eminently a “people of worship!”
A principal lesson in scripture and history teaches us that great forward movement is intimately connected with a deep revival of spiritual life, and embracing a higher standard of devotion to the Lord Jesus. The only way to waken true, deep, spiritual and lasting ministry fruitfulness is not to aim at this itself; but to put the 1st command in 1st place. If we will love and pursue God whole-heartedly, there will be a greater separation from the world and a greater consecration to the Lord and His service. This reality makes the great commission not for our own ministry or mission, but as an overflow of our love of the Divine Master…to all meeting of His wishes.
7. The Holy Spirit – Acts 13:2-4
While this book of the Bible is called “The Acts of the Apostles,” it is really “The Acts of the Holy Spirit” through the lives of the followers of Christ. The prominence of the Spirit here has prompted some in history to call this book “The Gospel of the Holy Spirit.” The theme of Acts is the growth of Christianity through the spread of the Gospel/Word of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. The most unique phrase repeated in this book is “the Holy Spirit;” which is spoken of 70 times (much more than any other book in the Bible). This profound “Spirit” emphasis is a central theme of Acts; and a defining characteristic of both the church at Antioch and fruitful churches today. HIS manifest presence, power, prophetic guidance and voice is here, and available to all who seek HIM and desire to obey HIS will (5:32, 13:4).
At Antioch, God by the Holy Spirit worked through ordinary believers to produce a spiritual breakthrough as “the Lord’s hand (Presence) was with them and many believed and turned to the Lord.” Then, they sent “a man full of the Holy Spirit” to minister and teach there, with the result being leaders who “minister to the Lord” hearing and obeying “what the Holy Spirit said to them” and joining the activity of God as people are “sent out by the Holy Spirit” into God’s purposes. God still blesses and builds lives, families and ministries “Not by might nor power, but by My Spirit says the Lord!” (Zech.4:6)
8. Missions – Acts 13:2-4
Antioch was the cradle of gentile Christianity and of Christian missionary enterprise! Paul and Barnabus used Antioch as the base for their missionary journeys into Asia Minor and Europe (Acts 13:1-3; 15:36-41; 18:22-23). Antioch is a model for a church as a “Sending Center.” Being committed to sending leaders and lay ministers out into the community, on short-term mission trips, into life callings and for church-planting is vital for being fruitful. This church begins its outreach close to home, but thinks beyond itself to reach other cities and nations too. The long term health and maturity of a church is often determined by sending capacity, not just seating capacity. Once again we see the desire for every member to be a minister. We can not rely on professional ministers alone to get the job done. You are the children of God, the priests of the Lord and the ambassadors of Christ. So, “tag, you’re it!” You are God’s chosen minister and missionary! Get involved by: praying for others that are serving or going on missions, giving support (your $, time & talents), participating in local community ministry, going on short-term cross-cultural mission trips, and/or by becoming a part of a new church-plant team.