The Surprising Impact of Faithful Christians
Text: Acts 11:19-30
I. The Mission of the Church is Advanced Through the Faithful Witness of Everyday Christians (Acts 11:19–21)
II. Christian Maturity Requires a Cadre of Faithful Gospel Servants (Acts 11:22–26)
III. The Health of a Church is Revealed in its Concern for Other Christians (Acts 11:27–30)
Good morning church. Believe it or not, fall has arrived. And just in case you happened to miss it: we just held our first Ladies Coffee Fellowship yesterday, our small groups are getting started again, and Wednesday night discipleship has officially begun.
I want to begin by thanking everyone who is making these important ministries possible— we cannot do it without your help. Secondly, I want to say, if you are longing for more fellowship and time in God’s Word this is the time to jump in!
If you have been standing on the sideline unsure of which small group to pursue, talk to me, to Ryan, or to one of the small group leaders so that we can get you connected to one of our groups.
And if small groups do not work well for you, I want to encourage you to come out on Wednesday night because we have plenty of time for conversation and fellowship before and after our studies each night. In fact, some nights I have to push people out the door an hour after we have finished, just so I can go home.
Friends, we need each other more than we will ever know this side of glory. Please do not let another week go by without joining one of our small groups or other studies.
So, as we finally transition to the book of Acts this morning, we are turning to a passage that not only records a significant development in the growth of the early church AND introduces us to some very significant people in the overall story of Acts; it exposes us to three ways that faithful Christians have a glorious impact on people both inside and outside the church.
Just think about it. Up until this moment in the book of Acts, who has been the center of attention? Who has been leading the charge? Who has been doing almost all the work? Two apostles (Peter and John) and two deacons (Stephen and Phillip). In fact, if Luke had concluded his book with Peter and Cornelius we might be tempted to think that ministry was reserved for an elite group of Christians. But in these 12 verses, he exposes us to the amazing way that God uses everyday Christians.
And the first thing that we see in verses 19–21 is that: The Mission of the Church is Advanced through the Faithful Witness of Everyday Christians.
The Mission of the Church is Advanced through the Faithful Witness of Everyday Christians (Acts 11:19–21)
Now, to fully grasp what is going on in these verses, we need to begin with a little bit of geography. Which direction are these people fleeing from Jerusalem after Stephen’s murder? They are fleeing roughly 300 miles to the North. And if we look at this map close enough, we can recognize the gospel’s advance through the past 11 chapters of Acts.
- These people fled from Jerusalem and the gospel was proclaimed in Samaria (as we saw in the account of Phillip).
- They fled past Joppa and Caesarea on the coast of the Mediterranean. (Peter and Cornelius)
- They fled past the northern boundaries of Israel in Galilee to the city of Damascus in Phoenicia. The very place Saul was going to capture escaped Christians when Jesus appeared to him on the road.
- And some of them fled all the way Antioch (300 mi), the third largest city in the Roman empire after Rome and Alexandria; with a population of half-a million-people (we are talking about a city the size of Minneapolis Minnesota, Colorado Springs Colorado, Miami Florida, or Mesa Arizona).
This is important, Antioch was no a back water town. It was a prominent center of Pagan idolatry and a central trading hub in the spice trade, with easy access to both the Silk Road and the Royal Road. In many ways, Antioch was the gateway to the most important cities and countries of the ancient world whether that be Athens and Rome or China in the far east. And as we will see very soon, it will become the gospel’s primary launching pad into Gentile world.
The Two-Fold Scope
Yet it is in this very exodus and migration to the north, that we witness the glorious impact of everyday Christians. Notice, Luke is not following the rock stars of evangelism. No, he is focusing on the way that ordinary (persecuted) believers (cf. 8:4) were actively spreading the gospel to BOTH the Jews and the Gentiles through their personal evangelistic conversations. God’s people carrying out God’s mission, to God’s World.
One group of believers actively sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with fellow Jews according to the general pattern in Jerusalem. And another group of believers (from the Island of Cyprus and the North African region of Cyrene) doing something that was unthinkable before the account of Peter and Cornelius— actively preaching the Lord Jesus to people who were not ethnic Jews!
Now we need to stop here for a moment to address a small issue in the text. If you are reading the NIV or the NASB you are ready to keep moving on because your translation says “Greeks” in verse 20. But if you are reading the ESV or NKJV you might be thinking, “wait a minute Mark my Bible says, ‘the Hellenists’ and you told me back in Acts 6 that the Hellenists were not Gentiles but Jews who spoke Greek and lived by certain aspects of Greek culture! What’s going on?”
Well, the overly simplified answer is that: (1) Luke is using a completely different Greek word that he did in Acts 6. (2) Luke is using this word in a similar but different way. Where he used the first word to distinguish Greek speaking Jews from the Aramaic speaking Jews in Jerusalem; he is using this word to distinguish Greek speaking Gentiles of every ethnicity (the people with whom these Christians are sharing the gospel) from native-born Greeks.
And what was the result? God blessed their evangelistic efforts by bringing “a great number” of Gentile idol worshipers to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Friends don’t miss the implication in these verses. God uses everyday Christians to advance his gospel mission in the world. And while this might seem incredibly intimidating or beyond your skillset, this passage reminds us that the ultimate result of your evangelism is not dependent on our abilities BUT your willingness to faithfully share the gospel and trust that God will do his supernatural work in their hearts by the Holy Spirit (John 3:7–8; 16:8–11).
But this glorious blessing presented the church in Antioch with a pressing need— these Gentiles were not like Cornelius who had been worshiping God for years, they needed to be instructed and discipled in the most basic elements of their new-found faith.
Christian Maturity Requires a Cadre of Faithful Gospel Servants (Acts 11:22–26)
The Man, Barnabas
Did you notice something different about the Church’s response to this news Antioch in comparison to their response to the revival in Samaria? They didn’t send Peter, John, or one of the other apostles to support the revival in Antioch. No. They decided it was best to send a man by the name of Barnabas. And in this one act, we begin to see that the apostles are beginning to hand over significant leadership responsibilities to other leaders who had a consistent record of faithful service in the local church. Because they realized (#2) that Christian maturity requires a cadre (team) of faithful gospel servants.
So what do we know about Barnabas?
Well, we first met Barnabas just before the episode of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 4:36.
Acts 4:36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
He then re-joins the story (in the most unexpected manner) shortly after the born-again Paul tried to join the disciples in Jerusalem.
Acts 9:26–27 And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.
In all of this what do we see? We see that Barnabas was a faithful, compassionate, bridge-building peace maker. Therefore, it should not be very surprising that of all the believers in Jerusalem, the apostles decided to send him to investigate and consolidate the first multi-ethnic church in the history of Christianity.
The Initial Ministry of Barnabas
So as we transition from Barnabas, the man, to his mission in Antioch, it’s easy to see that he was the perfect man for the job. Despite the fact that he was an official representative from Jerusalem he did not follow the typical leadership pattern of the day. What I mean by this, is that, when traveling philosophers or religious leaders entered a city for the first time, they did everything in their power to emphasize their importance and impress their audience with their rhetorical brilliance and knowledge. But Barnabas does nothing of the sort. He doesn’t make a big show if himself or his status. Rather, he focuses his full attention on the gospel-fruit in Antioch. And that is because, his first priority was to make sure that their faith was really real. And as he looked, what did he see?
He saw the grace of God. He recognized the conversions of Jews and Greeks to faith in Jesus (v. 20) and the effect of God’s grace in their lives and he knew that it was real. And as a result he knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt that God was working in an amazing way. And how did he respond?
He was glad. He was filled with joy that God had blessed the missionary work of these ordinary believers.
Yet, in all of this we cannot overlook the reality that the situation in Antioch was far from perfect…
The fact that he has to exhort these new converts to “remain true to the Lord with all their hearts,” exposes us to the fact that these Gentiles were still struggling to grasp the sweeping moral and ethical implications of their new-found identity in Christ AND the singular devotion that he demands as their Lord. Even more, the tense of the Greek verb exhort highlights the fact that this encouragement was not a single event BUT an ongoing, continuing activity. And this makes sense when you realize:
- They had lived in a religious world where an individual could worship multiple gods or change gods to meet the needs of the moment.
- They lived in a moral and ethical world where the strong preyed on the weak, the rich took advantage of the poor, and sexual immorality was celebrated as a personal right and social norm.
- And they lived in relational world that was marked by deep-seated pattens racial bigotry and prejudice.
Yet here is the key. For everything we can see in the text, Barnabas did not focus on the countless imperfections and issues in Antioch. He didn’t merely focus on their immaturity, their lack of understanding, or their struggle with past sin; and fall into personal discouragement and despair. No, he focused on what he was seeing—he was seeing the amazing and infinitely undeserved grace of God at work among formerly lost and ignorant Gentiles. And he did everything in his power to help them move forward in their faith. (Conversion is messy)
And as he encouraged, exhorted, and taught (discipled) these new believers what happened? “A great many people were added to the Lord” (Acts 11:24)… more people came to faith in Jesus Christ!
Let me point out something in this development that is easy to overlook: the text does not tell us that Barnabas began an evangelistic campaign like Phillip did in Samaria. It tells us that as he challenged these new believers “to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose” (11:23), more and more people came to faith in Christ.
I take this to mean that these conversions are the product NOT of Barnabas BUT the continuing and expanding evangelism of the everyday Christians in Antioch that Barnabas is discipling and equipping for maturity and mission. The pattern of personal evangelism is not replaced by professional evangelism. Rather, the training and discipleship ministry of Barnabas seems to fuel and expand the evangelistic efforts of everyday disciples.
The Continuing Ministry of Barnabas and Paul
Yet, it is in this very development that we are reminded why the church in Jerusalem chose Barnabas in the first place. Barnabas doesn’t try to solidify and defend his position of power and authority in Antioch. Not in the least bit, no. As he looks at the need, he appears to recognize his personal limitations and inadequacy.
On the one hand, he doesn’t have enough time in the day to address the magnitude of the need. And on the other hand —from everything we can see in the storyline of Acts— he probably not have the depth of knowledge and Biblical expertise that these Gentiles need to grow in their faith.
Yes, they have come to faith in Christ. But they desperately need to have their understanding of this faith grounded and defined and constructed from the foundation up.
So, what does he do? He responds by tracking down one of most gifted apologist, evangelist, and Bible teachers he knows, the soon to be apostle Paul. And he invites him to spend the next year helping him disciple, ground, and consolidate the first multi-ethnic church in the history of the world.
The Surprising Impact in Antioch
And as a result of their partnership and faithful discipleship, the most unexpected thing happens. In a city where everyone was defined by their ethnicity or our county of origin; this diverse group of believers receives a brand-new identity. They are no longer referred to as Jews and Greeks and Romans and Africans. No, they are given a new name, a singular nickname (one omni-ethnic identity), that has defined Jesus’s people ever since— Christians (i.e., the people who ‘belong to Christ’ or the people who ‘habitually proclaim the name of Christ’.)
A people united into one body, by one Spirit, with one hope, in one Lord, who hold to one faith, and one baptism, and worship one God and Father who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:4–6).
And we see this new-found identity and growing maturity displayed, in the most beautiful way, in a few short verses that are easy to overlook. (The health of a church is revealed in its concern for other churches)
The Health of a Church is Revealed in its Concern for other Christians (Acts 11:27–30)
What we do not Know
To be honest, we do not know why this group of prophets made a visit to Antioch. Were they just visiting? Had Agabus already received his vision about the imminent famine that was coming to Roman world? We do not know.
At the same time, we do not know if Agabus appealed to the church in Antioch to help OR if the church spontaneously responded to his prophecy.
What we do Know
What we know from Roman history, is that there were a number of famines during the reign of Claudius who reigned from 41–54 AD. And that the historian Josephus tells us that there was a particularly severe famine in Judea in d. 46.
What we know from this passage is that the Christians in Antioch “determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. 30 And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.”
In this we see at least two things that reveal the maturity and spiritual health of the church in Antioch.
One, their giving reflects the ordinary practice of the early church in Jerusalem (2:44–46; 4:32–37; 6:1–4). They are simply doing what churches are supposed to do.
Two, their giving is not motivated by their (ethnic or national identities) but their common union in Jesus Christ AND their heart-felt concern for the physical needs of their fellow Christians. (By this the world will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another)
We could focus on a couple of different themes in this passage this morning. But, I’d like to focus on just one.
How do you typically respond to the deficiencies and needs of our ever-imperfect church?
Are you prone to see the grace of God and be glad, celebrating and encouraging the good things that he is doing in the church and individual Christian’s lives (even though we have any number of needs)?
OR are you prone to look at all our imperfections as a church and the immaturity of individual Christians and turn away in frustration, anger, and disgust?
How do you typically respond?
Well, the ministry of Barnabas should point us toward two positive Reponses:
One, it is always right and proper to honestly assess our strengths and weaknesses as a church. The key is that we cannot blindly focus on the good OR the bad. We need to celebrate the countless ways that God is working in our church and in our church members today. And we need to actively consider how we can address discipleship needs of our congregation so that we can continue maturing as Christians. This is how we grow.
Two, we need to recognize the truth that a healthy, growing, Christ-exalting church requires two things: continual discipleship AND an ever-expanding team of faithful gospel servants to serve at every level of church life.
I am so thankful for everyone who has stepped up: to lead small groups, to help our discipleship efforts on Wednesday night, to serve our young children in Children’s Church and Nursery on Sunday morning, to lead us in worship, to serve in the kitchen and maintenance of our building and grounds. Every time I start to feel overwhelmed with the still unmet needs in our church I am encouraged by your faithful service.
Yet at the same time friends, we have important ministry needs that we are struggling to fulfill. And after 25-years of ministry, I know that everyone has a never-ending list of reasons not to serve. But what do we see in this passage?
We see something truly beautiful. We see the glorious impact that ordinary, faithful Christians can have on one another, their local community, and other churches.
And in this we see that you are more important to the health of our church and God’s mission in the world than you can possibly imagine.
 David Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 352.
 “The available evidence attests the worship of Zeus Bottiaios, Zeus Olympios, Apollo, Artemis, Aphrodite, Ares, Athene, Dionysos, Hermes, Poseidon, and Tyche;” (Eckhard J. Schnabel, Acts, Expanded Digital Edition., Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament [Grand Rapid: Zondervan, 2012]).
 “It is clear from the syntax of these verses that a contrast is being made between speaking to Jews only (v. 19, ei mē monon) and speaking to non-Jews also (v. 20, kai pros);” (Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles, 353).
 “According to an early tradition, Luke was a native of Antioch;” (Schnabel, Acts).
 “[The] growth in the size of a church is closely linked here with its growth in maturity, not simply with its outreach program;” (Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles, 355).
 Bruce Milne, The Acts of the Apostles: Witnesses to Him… to the Ends of the Earth, Focus on the Bible Commentary (Ross-Shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2010), 264.
 Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles, 355–56.