Before we launch into Acts 15, it is important to remember all God did through the apostles in establishing the Church in so many places over a relatively short period of time. The Holy Spirit emboldened them to proclaim the gospel in the face of opposition, persecution, even stoning. Not only that, God showed it was His will to bring the Gentiles into the Church so that Jew and Gentile “might be reconciled…both to God in one body through the cross” (Ephesians 2:14).
You can be certain that when God is starting to do a new work we have not seen before, the ‘old traditionalists’ want the Church to hold onto certain practices. They said, “it is necessary to circumcise them [the Gentiles] and to order them to keep the law of Moses” (Acts 15:5).
What Peter, Barnabas, Paul and James witnessed in their evangelizing was that God “gave them the Holy Spirit just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith” (15:8-9). What was taking place was a work of God, not man. Peter goes on to say, “we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord, just as they will” (15:11).
What marked this council in Jerusalem was that those who witnessed God working did not abandon the manifest work of the Spirit to a hierarchy of leaders who did not see the work for themselves. Right after this council, Paul writes with passion; “to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you” (Galatians 2:5).
We cannot afford to compromise on the pure gospel to any degree, at any time or anywhere!
Most of us in churches that send out missionaries are familiar with those who come home from the field giving a report to the sending church. It is usually a very exciting time to hear first-hand what God has done through His servants. Food and fellowship are usually part of these events.
In Acts 14:24-28, Barnabas and Paul returned to Antioch “where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work they had fulfilled” (14:26). Based on the churches that were planted in the area of Galatia, they could say with confidence that “the work [was] fulfilled.” Remember, this first missionary trip for Paul and Barnabas was only over about a five-month period!
There was another feature about their work that must be noted. Not only did these two servants plant churches and establish disciples and leaders in them, “they declared all that God had done with them, and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27). This was a major turning point for the Early Church. Up to this point, the Church had been ethnically Jewish. Now God had spread the gospel of grace to the Gentiles and brought them into the body of Christ.
It is my firm conviction that if we return to the methods of church planting proven by Paul and Barnabas, we would see the last unreached people group taking their place in the Body of Christ very quickly. This is the way to increase Christ among the nations and glorify God!
Unlike our present-day church planting models and leadership, Paul and Barnabas left the churches in Lystra, Iconium and Antioch with elders after only about five months.
“And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed” (Acts 14:23).
There have been many arguments insisting that establishing leaders out of the indigenous “new” believers is too risky. If we talk about the role of pastor, overseer and elder, some would say that persons who fill these roles need years of training and even Bible College or Seminary training. If these views were viable, why did the Early Church succeed and grow as quickly as it did?
There is one clear and firm belief that the apostles used in establishing any church; they trusted the Spirit in new believers He had regenerated and baptized into one body (1 Corinthians 12:13). His work brought to light in these “new creations” (2 Corinthians 5:17) qualities that were suited to the leadership role of “elder.”
One of the reasons we are so far behind in accomplishing the Great Commission is because we have tried to replace the work of the Spirit with man-made methods. Let’s return to a biblical model. Prayer and fasting will put our hearts in the right attitude to hear the Lord confirm or not, those selected for leadership. “They committed them to the Lord” as the safest hands to be in; for “He is the Head of the body, the Church” (Colossians 1:18).
Because my wife is a very successful gardener, I can tell you that she does not plant vegetables of flowers in her garden, but never goes back to make sure they are growing. She is often in her garden making sure each plant is healthy, watered and pruned so that flowers and fruit will result.
In a similar way, Paul and Barnabas returned to the disciples and churches they planted in Lystra, Iconium and Antioch of Pisidia. Notice the purpose for their second visit: “they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:21–22). In fact, Paul returns two more times on subsequent trips to check in on these disciples to make sure they were still growing and firmly established in the faith.
Note also that their instruction includes the need for these disciples to endure “through many tribulations” as part of their being established. There is a false narrative among some teachers that once you come to Christ, life is free of problems. Obviously, Paul did not teach that.
The point we must take away from these verses is that new disciples must be strengthened and established so they can stand on their own without outside assistance. Paul calls this “standing firm,” (1 Corinthian 16:13-14; Philippians 4:1 for example). Whether you are planting churches or part of a local church, it is important to make this model a habitual part of discipling others.
From my experience and knowledge of persecution in the Western World, there are very few, if any, who understand the degree of suffering Christians go through in other parts of the world. What little we do know, the many who face harsh and brutal treatment, and still remain true to Jesus and their faith in Him, understand the amazing character we see in Paul.
Paul was so hated that Jews from Antioch and Iconium came to Lystra and “persuaded the crowds [to] stone Paul and drag him out of the city, supposing the he was dead” (Acts 14:19). As much as he was hated by the Jews, he was loved more by the disciples he won to Christ. Rather than retreating to a safe place, “the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe…preached the gospel…and made many disciples” (14:20-21). Present suffering was not a hindrance to the spread of the gospel.
You can be sure that Paul is not trying to make a hero of himself in any way, but is determined to press on “to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named” (Romans 15:20). Oh, that this degree of passion would grip our hearts today. When it does, suffering should be to us fellowship with Christ who suffered for us, leaving us a model (Philippians 3:10; 1 Peter 2:21).
What happened in Acts 14:8-18 has features in it that are mimicked today. My mind quickly goes to certain music artists who gain popularity in ‘Christian circles’ and the crowds go wild when they hold concerts. From tee shirts to memorabilia, the hype is all about the artist, but God is left out.
Paul and Barnabas travel from Iconium to Lystra and there find a man crippled from birth. “Paul looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, said in a loud voice, “Stand up on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking.” At this, the crowd went wild and proclaimed, “the gods have come down to us in the likeness of men! (14:9-11).
Look at the response to this uproar; “when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God” (Acts 14:14–15).
Notice two things:
1) The apostles clearly and completely reject personal praise and exaltation.
2) They immediately present their reason for being in Lystra and the purpose for healing of the crippled man.
There is a grave danger in any popularity of allowing pride to obscure the reason for ministry and the message of the gospel. Be very careful of this danger in any area of your life.
If we are faithful to preach and witness the pure gospel of grace in Jesus Christ, we must expect there will be opposition. First, let’s start with the good news.
“Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed” (Acts 14:1).
Paul and Barnabas spoke in such a “manner” that the message of the gospel was received because the Holy Spirit was working through the speakers and in the hearers. This is not because these two men took a class in public speaking or had practiced what to say before going out in public. It was formed in their hearts and lives along with knowing that the Lord was working with them (Mark 16:20). This is confirmed in verse 3.
“So, they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands” (Acts 14:3). This is what the disciples prayed for in Acts 4:29-32. It continued to take place.
At the same time, “the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.” When the gospel is presented in its purity, we should never be surprised that there will come opposition against it. The risk was high for Paul and Barnabas, but it was worth the great number who were saved. Let the work of God speak for itself so He receives the glory for what is accomplished.
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If we read the Book of Acts too quickly, we will pass over significant details that should instruct us in the way we do missions and the Lord’s work. I had originally intended to jump from the initial relationship between Barnabas and Saul to Paul and Timothy, but there are vital lessons to learn in this journey from Acts 9 to 16.
When the Holy Spirit is allowed to build HIS unity between leaders and workers in ministry (see also Ephesians 4:3), the Spirit makes their work effective in those who receive the gospel and become disciples. Notice how two results go together; “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:52). This was the same result in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 1:6).
Remember that these evangelizing and church planting efforts were very short. Their time in Antioch of Pisidia was only about five months, yet look at the fruit.
What is my point? Unified labor and Spirit filled ministry produces results that is confirmed by the Lord that it is His work. So often mission organizations and churches measure results in the number of converts, churches planted, buildings erected, schools and hospitals built or how much giving has increased. We need to start measuring our ministry by what is going on in hearts and souls. It takes a “Spirit filled” person to measure JOY IN THE LORD!!
Every partnership in ministry will go through times of testing. How we go through these reflects the degree of humility and godly character each individual has developed. If either one of these features is weak or lacking, it will become evident when they face some circumstance that puts their relationship to the test.
Barnabas and Saul became the theme of Luke’s account in Acts 13. In this chapter, we see changes taking place. Saul’s name (prayed or asked for) is changed to Paul (small), and is “filled with the Holy Spirit” (13:9) to deliver a powerful message to Elymas at Salamis and then again in Antioch of Pisidia. Paul is now taking a leadership role more than Barnabas; not because he asserted himself, but it was the work of the Holy Spirit.
The fruit of this movement was that “the proconsul believed…the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath…the whole city gathered to hear the Word of the Lord…the Gentiles heard this, began rejoicing and glorifying the Word of the Lord” (13:12, 44, 48).
When there is the absence of jealousy and concern over position in leadership, humility makes way for God to work because we are unified in His purpose, not our agendas.
That early relationship between Barnabas and Saul was very important to the development and future of Saul’s (Paul’s) ministry. Not only did Barnabas introduce Saul to the leader in Jerusalem, he later looked for Saul at Tarsus to come and work with him at Antioch where the gospel spread and God’s grace was establishing a Gentile church (Acts 11:19-26).
“For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people” (11:26). You can imagine the spiritual growth in the disciples and both men. They experienced unity in working together. This is proven as they were “worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said; “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (13:2).
Their partnership had been under the control and development of the Holy Spirit. Now they could be sent out together by Him and the church at Antioch for new harvest fields.
Are we seeing this happen today? I would not say that it happens often because it is very rare. It is my conviction that it should take place much more than it does. How do we promote this kind of partnership? There is only one way – let the Holy Spirit work in us individually and connect us with a “like-minded” servant. Will you pray right now for this to happen quickly in your life?
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