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Stick with Encouragement             3 MAY 15

ACTS 9:26-28 Saul now came to his spiritual hometown. The church at Jerusalem at first rejected him! This included the Eleven Apostles who had not left town under Saul’s persecution. (Acts 8:1 RSV) "And Saul was consenting to his death. And on that day a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the region of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles." They did not believe he was a disciple. This must have made another major impact upon him and helped shape his future division of labor with Peter. The original New Testament church rejected him! They were all Judaizers who believed you had to be a Jew first in order to be saved. You would think they would have embraced a fellow Jew. No one was more Jewish than Saul. But the Damascus Christians, probably mostly Gentile, had embraced him and even risked their lives by helping him escape the local Jews. In 64 B.C. Pompey received many ambassadors and gifts of the neighboring kings and in the following year Syria became a Roman province. Herod the Great built a theatre and a gymnasium at Damascus, though the town was outside his dominion. Its population, though Syrian by race and language, was deeply affected by Greco-Roman culture, and made rapid progress in trade and industry. Then, as now, Damascus was the chief commercial emporium for the nomad Arabs. In the time of St. Paul there were in Damascus about 50,000 Jews. Most of the women in the upper classes of society had embraced this creed.

Every new Christian needs a friendly brother/sister. [Last week’s lesson] Paul certainly did as a stranger on his home grounds. The Lord provided Barnabas. He had to certify Saul’s conversion story to the Eleven. After that the church accepted Saul into the fellowship for a season. Later on they would turn against Saul, when, as Paul, he denounced the Judaizers as in Gal 5. The Jerusalem church members tracked Paul and tried to reverse his open salvation message of (Acts 20:21 RSV) "testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance to God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ."

ACTS 11:19 Antioch was on the Orontes River about 300 mi (483 km) from Jerusalem and was the capital of the Roman province of Syria. It was the third largest city in the empire, with a population of about 500,000. Antioch was one of the cosmopolitan centers of the world of that day and a center of commerce, Seleucia (16 miles away) being its seaport (vs 13:4). Replacing Jerusalem as the number one Christian city, it was the center of the early missionary activity of the church (vs 6:5; 13:1; 14:26; 15:35; 18:22). Dr. Herschel H. Hobbs in his Studying Life and Work Lessons, April-June 1993, page 100 wrote “Our present Scripture passage is a continuation of Luke’s account in Acts 8:1-4… In this passage he showed how the gospel was preached to pagans and the results derived.” The Christians who were dispersed from Jerusalem were Judaizers, just like their home church in Jerusalem. So they preached at first only to Jews.

ACTS 11:20-21 Yet when some got to Antioch, they stated to witness to the Greek pagans. As verse 21 reads, we can safely assume they did so by the direction of the Holy Spirit. The results were impressive.

ACTS 11:22-24 The Jerusalem church had major problems with preaching Jesus to anyone they did not consider to be a good Jew. They challenged the Samaritans, who were half Jews. They questioned Peter in preaching to a Gentile who was considering becoming a Jew. But when Peter said it was of the Holy Spirit, they accepted it. So naturally when the Jerusalem church learned of the direct preaching to Gentiles, they had to send someone who would deal with the situation. This meant they wanted the preaching to non-Jews to stop. Most likely the Holy Spirit had them select Barnabas. He was from Cyprus. He could best determine what was really happening. What was critical was he was “full of the Holy Spirit.” “Full” is a bad translation. The Holy Spirit doesn’t come and go depending on what we say or do. The Greek should be translated “fully influenced by and being in the sphere of the Holy Spirit.” Therefore Barnabas was ready to hear the Holy Spirit tell him these Gentiles were really saved. It is obvious that Barnabas held the same views as Paul. It is also obvious why Antioch replaced Jerusalem as God’s lead witness church. They practiced a universal witness showing no partiality to anyone. This is as Paul wrote in (Rom 2:11 RSV) "For God shows no partiality."

In fact the Jerusalem church never gave a witness to Gentiles. One thing good about any local church is when they have people (male or female) like Barnabas. Dr. Hobbs noted on page 81, Barnabas said nothing to these Gentiles about circumcision and the Mosaic Law. Rather, he “exhorted” them to cleave to the Lord in the experience which they had had….They needed guidance in their faith and he gave it.” This shows that they were really saved and need direction on how to live and grow as a Christian. So he did as Jesus had directed in (Mat 28:20 RSV) "teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.""

ACTS 11:25-26 Barnabas thought so to the extent that he went to find Saul. Paul had been in Tarsus, his home city, and in Syria and Cilicia (GAL 1:21) about five years since going there from Jerusalem (ACTS 9:30). Together they spent a whole year teaching Christian Gentiles how to do (Eph 4:22-24 RSV) "Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, {23} and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, {24} and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." Image that! They were enthusiastic about Discipleship Training! They were starting Discipleship Training while today too many SBC churches are reducing or eliminating Discipleship Training. Note that they taught a large number of people. The Antioch church had grown into a sizeable church in a short time.

The statement “in Antioch the disciples were for the first time called Christians” has more than one point of importance. First they were “called” this by outsiders. The term’s first usage was a sham against them and not a compliment. Otherwise it would read were named. They were living out daily what Barnabas and Saul were teaching. Second, they were starting to be seen as a different religious group and not just another odd Jewish sect. It might seem this is all positive but it proven a burden. Until this happened, Rome saw Christians as a different breed of Jew. This made then a legal religion to Rome. But now Rome began to see them as a unique group that was not registered with the government. This made them an illegal religion. This status would lead to Nero and Rome’s persecution of Christians.

The word Christians appears only here, in 26:28, and in 1 Peter 4:16. It means partisans, or followers, of Christ, "Christ's people." Luke wrote: “…in Antioch the disciples were for the first time called Christians.” Had not the Jerusalem church been significant for several years? The date here is A.D. 44. Dr. Hobbs, page 106 wrote “We must conclude that the name Christian was a name used by pagans in Antioch to distinguish the followers of Jesus from Palestinian or Grecian Jews.” Why “the first time”? Because these saved people were the first ones to start to do the Great Commission as Jesus directed when Jesus said “make disciples of all nations…” and to really begin to spiritually grow so stating being as Jesus directed in (Mat 5:13-16 RSV) ""You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."

The encouragement Barnabas and Paul gave them began to bear fruit and the new Christians did their own witnessing and encouragement of new converts.

            Looking at what Paul wrote in (1 Cor 14:26 RSV) "What then, brethren? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification." “Edification” in the Greek means 3619. oikodome, oy-kod-om-ay'; fem. (abstr.) of a comp. of G3624 and the base of G1430; architecture, i.e. (concr.) a structure; fig. confirmation:--building, edify (-ication, -ing). So it is an essential basis of encouragement. You cannot encourage using only generalities. You must get specific and personal. Barnabas and Paul displayed (1 Cor 14:3 RSV) "On the other hand, he who prophesies speaks to men for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation." Also (1 Cor 14:5 RSV) "Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than he who speaks in tongues, unless some one interprets, so that the church may be edified."

 

Marvin Ganote, Advanced Bible Study Class, Adult Teacher. Lesson at: http://dma1.org/~ganotemd/lesson.htm  or http://academic.udayton.edu/MarvinGanote/Bible/lessn.htm