Monday, August 4, 2008

This Week's Sermon: God Builds His Church

Acts 11:19-30.

The Family of God—The Church Begins by Gathering Believers Together

God brought the fruit of conversion from the seed of persecution. As these believers were scattered, God used their lives as a witness and testimony to His power at work in them through Jesus. The message and the witness were so great that it became clear that Gentiles were interested as well. God was bringing the increase. He was at work through the obedience of those who already believed to bring about faith in the lives of those who had never heard.

The believers in Jerusalem heard about the great number of people God was drawing to himself. They sent Barnabas to check it out.Barnabas came as an investigator, and became an encourager and a teacher in response to the work God was doing. He began to encourage them to remain true to the Lord. He didn’t give them a rule book and a theology seminar, he pointed them to Jesus. They were already showing evidence that God was at work in their lives, he simply encouraged them to continue to allow God to work.

His ministry was powered by the Holy Spirit and Faith. Barnabas was a man who believed God. He had faith that God would continue the work he had started, and he had faith that God could be trusted with the lives of these new believers. That faith, that confidence in God allowed Barnabas to encourage without badgering, and witness without threatening. Because of his obedience, God gathered more people to himself. Barnabas went because a number had turned to the Lord, now another great number of people were brought to the Lord. Barnabas needed help.

Making Disciples—Leaders Living Life with People Brings Growth

Barnabas sought out Saul to help nurture the new believers. It makes sense that Barnabas would seek Paul, who had already shown his passion for sharing Christ with his former zealot friends after his conversion, because Jerusalem was 300 miles to the South and Tarsus was only 123 miles on land. And Barnabas had been the one to put himself on the line for Paul , vouching for him to the disciples in Jerusalem.

They lived there for a year, teaching and discipling. Barnabas and Paul helped the new believers to deepen their faith. They were dealing with a whole new group of people who had little to no Jewish background. These new Gentile believers needed to understand some of Judaism in order to understand Jesus and the significance his life and ministry carry.

Barnabas discipled Saul as they discipled the believers together. Not only were Barnabas and Paul teaching the new believers, but Barnabas was teaching Paul how to be an encourager. In reading the New Testament it is easy to see Paul’s passion for the gospel, his dedication to sound doctrine, and his desire to follow Christ. I believe that what we see in his letters to the churches, that encouraging tone—his thankfulness for their faith, his confidence in God at work—I believe all that is due to the critical time he spent with Barnabas building churches. Not only here in Antioch, but in the years to come traveling throughout Asia Minor.

The fruit was so evident in people’s lives, the called them Christ-ones, little Christ’sUp until this point, believers were Jews who happened to believe in Jesus as Messiah, Son of God, Saviour of the World. They were mostly Gentile believers. They needed a new name since they weren’t Jews.

Universal Scope—Caring for the Needs of Believers Worldwide

God warned them of a famine to come, not in their region, but in another place. Up until this time, believers cared for those in their immediate fellowship or gathering. They met whatever needs there were with their own people. Here we see them reach beyond their immediate group to believers who were far away.

Out of concern for their fellow believers, they gave according to their ability to help believers in Judea. Just like with their own internal giving, though, this outreach was Spirit driven. It was evidence that God was at work changing their point of view. It is one thing to see the need close at hand and want to give, it is another to give to meet the needs of someone you have never met.

They sent the gift out to meet the need. They saw a need and decided to give, and they gave according to their ability. After they gathered their love gifts together, they sent Barnabas and Saul with the money to Jerusalem. This was really a kind of graduation for the believers in Antioch. They had shown their concern by giving monetarily, but they also gave up their leaders in order to send that gift where it could do the most good. They demonstrated that they were ready to continue to follow Jesus with leaders raised up from among themselves.

I am encouraged by what God is doing in our church. I believe he is drawing people to himself in new ways. People who have been involved in our church for a long time are receiving a fresh enthusiasm. And we are seeing God at work drawing more people into our fellowship. I know God is at work in our midst. So what can we do to join him in his work? How can we participate with him in drawing people to Jesus? I believe it starts with faith. Remember Barnabas was filled with the Holy Spirit and Faith. It was that faith that allowed Barnabas to obediently do the things God asked of him, and let God take care of the rest. It was that faith that enabled him to seek help from Paul, to encourage the new believers, and in the end to release them to continue to grow without him. Participating in God’s work requires faith that God will accomplish his work. Another way we participate with God is simply by living our lives as a testimony to God at work within us. Remember that at Antioch they were called little Christs. Are we living our lives so that people look at us and see Jesus? If not, we need to continue to seek God and allow him to work in us, to fill us so completely with himself that nothing else remains. Finally, we join God at work by coming together as a church body to meet the needs of others. We do that by meeting the needs of those in our own body, but also by caring about the needs of those who are far away. The believers in Antioch were going to face the same drought, but they knew that Judea would be harder hit. So they gave what they could and sent it to help their brothers and sisters in Christ that they had never met. Are we willing to do the same?

To join God in his work, to draw people to himself, we have to have faith, we have to be obedient and surrendered so that he can fill us with his spirit; so that he can develop in us his character; so that we can share his heart of mercy and compassion for others, including people outside our meeting.

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