Main Point: The gospel advances through healthy local churches.
The October edition of the Southern Baptist Texan has a cover story titled, “Calling Out the Called.” It is a story about Edgar Trinidad and Carlos Navarro, two pastors who led small churches in Texas to plant 24 churches in Texas and abroad. What started with individual members sharing the gospel faithfully and regularly has become a church-wide effort to make disciples and, as the Spirit leads, equip pastors to start or lead other churches. These churches are committed to personal evangelism and discipleship. While making disciples, they are identifying pastors, training those pastors personally, and then helping those men plant churches. These churches in Brownsville and San Angelo are doing what the church in Antioch did.
Remember Acts 11, it was the church in Antioch that first began to share the gospel with their non-Jewish neighbors. Acts 11:20 says, “Some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus.” Jesus was on their lips and they were committed to personal evangelism. Its members were talking about Jesus and they were calling their neighbors to repent and worship Jesus. Antioch was marked by evangelism.
Remember Acts 11, it was the church in Antioch that heard about the coming famine and sent money to the brothers living around Jerusalem (11:29). Antioch was marked by generosity.
Now we need to look at Acts 13 because it is the faithful church in Antioch that is used by God to advance the gospel. The gospel advances through healthy local churches and healthy local churches are made up of growing Christians. We are a local church, the church at Mambrino, and we want to advance the gospel. May God use us to make disciples of Jesus Christ in our area and in the nations.
Read Acts 13:1-3
As we strive to be a healthy church, remember
I. The Holy Spirit gifts and leads the church (v1)
Read Acts 13:1 again with me, “Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a members of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.” What we see here is
- Antioch was an Ephesians 4:11-12 church
Obviously, we need to look at Ephesians 4:11-12. “Jesus gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Ephesians 4 teaches us that a healthy church has Jesus-called men leading the people to do the ministry. Jesus gives certain men a grace-gift to lead the church. And according to Ephesians 4, every Christian is called into the ministry. Jesus gives every Christian a grace-gift to advance the gospel through the church. The responsibility of the leaders is to help the members so that the members can do the work the Spirit calls them to do. I want you to see that the church at Antioch is doing what Jesus gifted the church to do.
Back to Acts 13:1. What are prophets and what are teachers? The Holy Spirit gives prophets words to say to build up the church. In 1 Corinthians 14, the apostle Paul compares speaking in tongues to prophecy. There, in 1 Corinthians 14:2, Paul writes, “one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.”
Prophecy is God’s word that builds up the church. Sometimes prophecies are words about the future like the prophecy about the coming famine in Acts 11:28. At other times, prophets speak words of encouragement, exhortation, and comfort given by the Holy Spirit for the church.
What about teachers? Now, this is not hard and fast, but it might help to make a clear distinction. Generally, prophets speak God’s word while teachers explain and apply God’s word. Teachers are gifted by the Holy Spirit to take God’s word already spoken and explain and apply it to the church.
In the church that was at Antioch were prophets and teachers. Looking at verse 1, Barnabas and Saul have no additional biographical information because we already met them. Barnabas was a native of Cyprus, a Jew, and a priest who became a Christian (Acts 4:36). Barnabas is an encourager and a giver. Saul, as the Gentile mission advances, will start to be known more by the name Paul. Saul was a Roman citizen, a Jew, and he calls himself a Hebrew of Hebrews. Saul was a hard-core Jew who approved the stoning of Stephen and hated Jesus until Jesus showed up, humbled Saul, and changed Saul.
What about the other three prophets and teachers in the church at Antioch? Verse 1, Simeon is a Jewish name and he is called Niger which is the Latin word for black. Niger is not a slur, a cutdown, or a derogatory word. Niger simply means that if Simeon was an American filling out the census then he would check the race “Black”. Lucius of Cyrene is a man from northern Africa. And there is Manaen. Manean likely grew up alongside Herod the tetrarach; this is Herod Antipas who we learned last week stole the glory from God and was eaten by worms. Manean grew up with Herod.
There are many things we can take from this list of names. The first is how diverse the group is. The church’s leaders were from all over the map because the church’s membership was from all over the map. Antioch was a diverse city; the church’s leadership likely reflected the church’s membership. Another thing we can take from this list is that there was not one leader of the church, but leadership was shared; there was a plurality of leaders. These men were working together to equip the church at Antioch to make disciples. They were an Ephesians 4:11-12 church. When we grow up, let’s be Antioch. Brothers and sisters,
- We must grow as an Ephesians 4:11-12 church
That’s right and easy to say, how should we do it? What are some ways we can grow as an Ephesians 4:11-12 church?
Early on, when a church is young or small, the leaders do the ministry because there is no one else to do the ministry. As the church matures and grows through baptisms and discipleship, the leaders must make a shift from doing the ministry to equipping the members to do the ministry.
I think it is helpful for us as elders to say, and for you as members to hear, that this shift is where we are as a church. We are a church shifting from a few leaders doing the ministry to raising up leaders who equip the members to do the ministry. Much of the friction and frustration you feel is caused by the ministry shift we are going through.
I’m telling you this because the scary word for this transition we’re going through is change and sometimes churches struggle with change. We need to be clear and intentional about our goal. Our goal is for every member to make disciples of Jesus Christ who love God and love others. Our goal is to be a God-loving, gospel-spreading, disciple-making, church-planting church. So, we need you to pray, be patient, and work hard. Ask the elders, deacons, and teachers this simple question, “What can I do to help?”. Don’t accept “nothing” for an answer. Ask, “Will you teach me to do what you are doing?” We need all types of leaders who will help all types of people do all types of ministry. We need every member to be equipped to do his/her part.
II. We must be a God-ward facing church (v2)
We need every member every day in the Word seeking God.
Look with me at Acts 13:2, “While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’” The question is if the “they” of verse 2 refers to just these five men or to the church. I believe the best answer is verse 2 refers to the church, because of the presence of the church in similar situations in Acts 1:15; Acts 6:5; and Acts 15:22. The best evidence that they refers to the church comes from Acts 14:27. When Saul and Barnabas return to Antioch they report to the whole church who had sent them out. There is good reason to believe the whole church is included in verse 2.
- A God-ward facing church serves the Lord
Some translations have the words, “while they were ministering to the Lord and fasting.” This word worship, minister, or serve is a great word to help you know your part in the church. Serve started out as a Greek word used to describe a person doing his civic duty; to minister was to serve the citizens. This is why some countries have a ministry of defense led by the minister of defense. These ministers are not fulfilling a religious function for a church; they are serving the citizens of a country.
The word minister was also used to describe the work of the priests in the temple. Luke 1:8 and Hebrews 10:11 refer to the priestly work in the temple as service or ministry. The priests served the Lord when they offered sacrifices and prayers in the temple.
We can now make the step from ministering and serving to worshipping. Hebrews 13:15 tells us Christians, members of the priesthood of believers, “Through Jesus then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” What we say and do is our ministry. Ministry is serving the Lord and serving the Lord is worship.
And a God-ward facing church serves the Lord by worshipping God with our lips because God is worth talking about. We worship God with our songs, our prayers, and our teaching. A God-ward facing church serves the Lord by doing good to people. Another way to say this is we worship God by doing what God wants us to do. A healthy church member does not start addressing the church by asking, “what do I want from the church?” but by asking God, “how do you want me to serve?” A God-ward facing church serves the Lord and
- A God-ward facing church seeks the Lord
Serving the Lord focuses our attention on praising God and serving one another. Seeking the Lord focuses our attention on prayer. The church at Antioch was worshipping the Lord and fasting. Fasting is a deliberate and focused time of prayer when a person sets aside preparing and eating meals in order to seek the Lord’s will. Are you ready for a cheesy way to define fasting? Skip that meal so you can seek God’s will.
When a healthy church gathers together it seeks the Lord’s will by asking, “God, what do you want?” We then look to the God-breathed Word and do what the Spirit calls us to do. Looking at Antioch, we see that the church must seek the Lord’s will concerning how to win its neighbors with the gospel. We see in Acts 11 that the Christians in Antioch were doing this well; they were taking the gospel to their workplaces and to their neighbors.
The church in Antioch was fasting together; they were praying and asking for boldness and the opportunity to share the gospel. It is while they are ministering to the Lord and praying that the Holy Spirit speaks. Now, how did the Holy Spirit speak? The Holy Spirit spoke through the prophets and the prophets spoke the word to the people. The Spirit said through the prophets, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work do which I have called them.”
Notice that it is the Holy Spirit who is calling out men in the church in Antioch to do the Spirit’s work. This is not to say the Holy Spirit does not call and equip women for his work. The Spirit obviously calls women to serve others and is thankfully doing this calling and sending among us. The emphasis is on men here because of the role of men in leading the church. The role of pastor is reserved for men like the role of birthing babies is reserved for women (1 Tim 2:8-15). Women are no better than men because they can do something men can’t do. Men are no better than women because they can do something women can’t do. Men and women have equal worth but different callings. Men and women are equals, not identicals, Men and women are made by God to complement one another. The Spirit calls some men to pastor churches.
I pray the Spirit is working among us calling out older men and younger men to be pastors and church planters. Do you have that desire? Do you think the Spirit is calling you to help pastor a church? Do you want to talk to a pastor about what it means to be called? Please let me know. I, along with the other elders, would love to help you figure out if the Spirit is calling you to help lead this church or another church. We want to seek the Lord’s will with you. A God-ward facing church seeks the Lord through prayer and fasting and
- A God-ward facing church obeys the Lord
This is obvious but it must be said, “the church at Antioch did what the Spirit said to do.” The end of verse 3 says, “after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” We serve the Lord by worshipping the Lord, listening to the Lord, and doing what the Lord says to do.
Are you doing what the Spirit has called you to do? Have you sought the church’s help through prayer and training? Are you serving the Lord and his people? A God-ward facing church obeys the Lord. We must focus on God and we must obey God. What is cool is that when we focus on God and when we are obedient to God then we become more like God. Sanctification is for obedience and obedience is for sanctification. Henry Martyn, was an Anglican priest and missionary to India. Martyn wrote, “The Spirit of Christ is the spirit of mission, and the nearer we get to Him the more intensely missionary we must become.” Brothers and sisters,
III. We must be an outward facing church (v3)
Look at verse 3 with me, “Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.”
- The gospel way is gain by losing
Jesus says, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Fruitfulness, in individuals and churches, comes through dying. We are called to sacrifice self for the gain of others. We gain by losing.
What was Antioch losing? Antioch was losing two of their five leaders. Barnabas was what we would call their founding pastor and Saul was likely their most fruitful teacher. The Holy Spirit was telling the church at Antioch to cut Saul and Barnabas loose from their responsibilities so Saul and Barnabas could go work to start other churches.
This church in Antioch was healthy. They were serving the Lord, evangelizing their neighbors, and giving generously to those in need. Come on now; don’t mess with a good thing! But there was other work that needed to be done. The Spirit called Antioch to be a church-planting church. The multiplying of disciples must necessarily become the multiplying of churches. When we grow up, let’s be Antioch.
Let’s be a church seeking to advance the gospel. Let’s be a church ready to give whatever and go wherever the Spirit leads. Let’s give ourselves to the Lord and to one another. The Spirit is leading us to support church planters. The Spirit may lead us to plant a church in Hood County.
The Spirit may call some of our men and some of our sons to become pastors and church planters. The Spirit may call our women and our men, our sons and our daughters, to go to those cities and nations who have never heard and tell the good news. We want more healthy churches in our area and in the nations. Jesus is worthy of the praise of our neighbors and the nations. Will you go and tell them about Him?
Our prayer is that the Holy Spirit would speak and call out from among us men and women who are willing to go and do whatever the Spirit asks. The Spirit didn’t tell Saul and Barnabas where to go; the Spirit sovereignly and simply said, “set them apart for the work to which I have called them.” Maybe you have been thinking about what God would have you to do. Maybe God wants you to be a pastor or a missionary. Maybe God wants you to join another church in our area in order to pray and work so it becomes a healthy church like the church in Antioch. Let’s talk and pray about that. Let’s pray and talk knowing that following the Spirit’s call will often mean that some have to leave us. That would be our loss. But the gain for the kingdom, for making disciples, and for planting churches is worth the cost.
Finally, hear this,
- The gospel way is dependent on grace
When the believers prayed and fasted in Antioch, they were seeking the Lord’s will and the Lord’s help. “God help us,” was their prayer. Saul and Barnabas had not been told where to go. The church had just given the money they saved to the church in Jerusalem. What those Christians knew, and what we need to wrestle with, is that God is faithful and God is enough. What is the church to do? We must depend on God to lead and provide. We must depend on God’s grace.
Church, we need to do this now. One of our members, Braislee White, is going on a mission trip to Mexico with First Baptist Church Meridian. They leave Tuesday. We must devote ourselves to prayer and fasting for the work the Spirit has called them to do. So, instead of me praying, I call us to pray.
Pray for four things for Braislee and the team heading to Mexico. Pray first for gospel boldness. Pray that their lips are full of the glory and goodness of Jesus Christ. Pray second for gospel opportunities. Pray that men and women, boys and girls, would be available and willing to listen. Third, pray for the salvation of souls. Pray that there will be conversions as a result of gospel boldness and gospel opportunities. And finally, we are going to pray for healthy churches to grow and be started in Mexico. Pray for Jesus to gather members and raise up leaders who will form healthy churches. Let’s pray for boldness, opportunities, conversions, and healthy churches. Let’s pray for the Spirit to lead the work and call out more workers.