A Church Worth Imitating (Acts 11:19-14:28)

A Church Worth Imitating

Acts 11:19-14:28

Almost 17 years ago, we were debating what to call Faith Bible Church. It was the end of August 2003. I remember us sitting around a table in Rod Shackelford’s backyard. I think it was me, Rod, Robert Dodson, Peter Spiers and Bob Richardson. We were talking about what to name the church that had just started meeting.

Would we be a fellowship or a church? Would we be a community church or a Bible church? What did we want the first name to be–Grace, Faith, Murrieta? Can you guess what we eventually chose? I was the lone holdout–for two reasons. 1) I had already spent almost ten years at a Faith Bible Church in Washington, and I already had the shirt–I wanted something new. And 2) I really was pulling for us to be called Antioch Bible Church, to which, I was told–nobody knows what Antioch is. It would just be confusing.

We could have been ABC, but now we’re FBC–and it does have a ring to it. But I love the Antioch church. From the very start of our church, I believed it was the model for us–a picture of what we should become.

We all admire and look up to certain people. We see something in another and want to emulate them. I want Patrick Levis’s rhythm. I want George Shackelford’s energy. I want Ryan Broguiere’s ability to consume calories. I want Jim Evans’s faithful prayer life. I want Eddie Roman’s courage in evangelism. We see traits in others and we want to emulate them.

I don’t know what you are looking for personally, but Antioch is going to show us what we should be looking for as a church. If you are new with us, you are going to hear today what we want to become. If you are soon to be leaving us, you are going to hear a description of the type of church you should be looking for. Antioch is a church worthy of our imitation–and today, almost seventeen years later, I finally get to show you why Antioch is a church worth imitating. You’ll see why I thought we should use their name for our name.

Open up your Bibles to Acts 11 and let’s look at five core elements of a healthy church. Last week, Chris walked us through the conversion of Cornelius and the spread of the Gospel to Gentiles. Luke is the author of Acts and he is charting the birth and growth of the Church after Jesus death and resurrection.

Right after the story of Cornelius, the camera swings away from Jerusalem and settles in about 300 miles north in the city of Antioch, the capital of Syria. He is following the spread of the Gospel from Jerusalem to Samaria to the ends of the earth. Antioch is the third largest city in the Roman Empire, right after Rome and Alexandria, and loved by the Caesars. It was estimated to be about a half-million people strong and very multi-ethnic. And it’s into this very Roman city that the light of the Gospel is about to come.

Look at Acts 11:19 to 21, “So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. 20But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.”

The first element of a healthy church that we see is that the church is . . .

1)  Shaped by Love and Truth  (Acts 11:19 to 26)

After Stephen was martyred, persecution in Jerusalem intensified and many Christians were forced to leave. They spread out in all directions, and as they did, they continued to share their faith. In verse 19 Luke notes that they were only talking to other Jews. They may have had a “let’s keep it in the family” mentality. But there were some Greek-speaking Jews from Gentile areas (island of Cyprus and North African Cyrene) who began to witness to Gentiles in Antioch.

These men had a love for the lost around them. They had hope that the Lord could change people who weren’t like them. The Gospel spread to Antioch because of love. And when it happened, the church in Jerusalem responded in love. They sent a generous, gracious man to encourage the new believers.

Look at Acts 11:22 to 24, “The news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. 23Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; 24for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord.”

The name Barnabas means “Son of Encouragement” and is his Greek name. His Jewish name is Joseph and he’s the guy who showed up right before Ananias and Sapphira. Do you remember when Nigel preached on that? Ananias watched Barnabas sell land and give it to the church and thought, “I want to be cool like that!”

Barnabas is a stud–he is a generous, sacrificial, joyful man. And Jerusalem lovingly sends him away to help the new believers in Antioch. And look at verse 23 again–he arrived, he rejoiced, he encouraged them, for “he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith.”

The heart and attitude of the church leaders sets the tone for a church. In Antioch, love for Christ and for others was the foundation of all ministry. And just as Jesus displayed both grace and truth (John 1:14), so the church in Antioch co-mingled love with truth. “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

You see the undercurrent of truth throughout the description. The message of the first evangelists in verse 20, preaching the Lord Jesus. The response of belief in verse 21, turning to the Lord. Turning implies that they understood their sin, they repented, they began to understand what God required and they changed.

Barnabas came and began to encourage and love on people, and he recognized the need for gifts different than his. He went and got Saul (who we know as Paul) to help him. The language of the original describes a hard search for him.

Now why did Barnabas go get Saul? Well a few years later in Lystra, the people there would compare Barnabas to Zeus as the powerful one, and Paul to Hermes as the messenger. Most likely, Paul/Saul had stronger teaching gifts. Barnabas loved others enough to recognize they needed someone else. He taught them truth, and he brought them a converted Pharisee who could give them the truth of God’s Word even more powerfully.

The Church in Antioch, from its very conception, was shaped by love and truth. First John 4:10 to 11, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” This is a foundational element of every healthy church. And the tendency for all of us is to swing towards one or the other–to be truth-focused and use the Bible as a club. Or to be love-focused and avoid hard conversations so as not to offend. We need both at FBC. We’ve worked hard to be full of truth and grace. But don’t you think we would benefit from more Barnabases?

I want to see our church filled with people who rejoice at the work of God. I want to see our church filled with people who are full of the Holy Spirit and faith. I want to see more encouragers. I want to be that man as well. Just ask this question–when I walk away from a conversation, do people feel encouraged, loved, fortified, lifted up, hopeful?

Do you use the Word of God to encourage and bring joy to others? Barnabas did this. And he saw that his ministry, his gifts, weren’t enough. He recognized the need of the people there for spiritual input by others. He affirmed the gifting of people who were unlike him. He saw the necessity of their ministry for the health of the church–so much so that he went and recruited them to join him.

Do you affirm the gifts of others? It’s important to do this verbally, and it’s important to believe this in your heart. Chris does this incredibly well. He preaches and lives the necessity of various gifts for the health of the church. Antioch shows us a church shaped by love and truth.

2)  Spirit-Led (Acts 11:24, 27-29, and 13:2 to 4)

In our day, to be Spirit-filled can mean a whole bunch of different things. If you watch some TV channels, you would think that Spirit-filled means you whack people in the forehead. One of my grandmothers believed that being Spirit-filled was a post-conversion, full-Gospel, second-blessing where you’re given the ability to speak in tongues.

Biblically, to be filled with the Spirit is to be controlled by the Spirit. Ephesians 5:18 is in your notes. “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.” When a person is drunk with wine, the alcohol is affecting how they think, talk and respond. The more someone drinks, the more the liquor talks. In the same way, the filling of the Spirit is contrasted with drunkenness, because it’s an issue of control. When you are filled with the Spirit, you are led by the Spirit. He controls you and affects how you think, speak and respond.

Barnabas is described as “full of the Holy Spirit” (11:24). He was, Ephesians 5:18, “filled with the Spirit.” Or as I put in the notes, he was “led by the Spirit”. This sensitivity to the Spirit’s leading appears as a central element of the church in Antioch. In fact, being led by the Spirit is a core element of every healthy church.

Look again at Acts 11:24–Barnabas was “full of the Holy Spirit.” Verse 26 says he and Saul ministered there for a whole year, teaching people with the same heart. So that, verse 27, prophets came to Antioch from Jerusalem. And verse 28, Agabus (who shows up again later in Acts) foretells “by the Spirit” of a great famine coming. And the response of the church is to send relief to Jerusalem. They are giving in a way that indicates they are being led by the Spirit.

Flip over to chapter 13. A year or so after Agabus prophesies, the leaders are gathered, worshipping and fasting, and the Spirit leads them to send out Barnabas and Saul. You see this in verse 3 and again in verse 4, where it emphasizes, “being sent out by the Holy Spirit”. Over and over in Antioch, you see evidence that the Spirit of God was leading them.

This church depended on the Spirit of God for direction. They weren’t looking for signs. They weren’t speaking in tongues. They were humbly asking for God to lead and guide their decisions. As leaders and as a church family, they were worshipping, they were full of the Word, they were focused (that’s the point of fasting is extreme focus on prayer or worship). And they were listening.

Now we often jack those up today. We sing without worshipping. We worship and get distracted. We read the Word but don’t fill our hearts and minds with it. We fast, but to lose weight rather than push us to focus our prayers. We pray for guidance, but we don’t listen or look for answers. Those are habits of the flesh, not being led by the Spirit.

The church is most healthy when its leaders and its members are walking in the Spirit. One of our great fears as elders is that we would make a decision in the flesh. Virtually every meeting, you’ll hear us praying for the Spirit’s guidance. This is Jesus Christ’s, church and we want it led by His Spirit, not ours.

The key to being Spirit-filled is filling your heart with worship–that’s the connection in verse 13. That’s the same principle you’ll find in Ephesians 5. Churches should be led by men who are filled with the Spirit. Churches should be filled with people who are worshipping Jesus every day, listening to the Word of God and being led by His Spirit. Antioch is a beautiful model for a healthy church. They were shaped by love and truth. They were Spirit-led.

3)  Sacrificial Love for Others (Acts 11:27 to 30, and 13:1 to 3)

You may have already noticed this when Agabus appeared in Acts 11. Let’s pretend you’re not in the Spirit. A guy comes to our church from Mexicali, and he says, “Thus sayeth the Lord, there is soon to be a great famine, which shall come over every city.” If you decided that you believed him–then what would your response be? You’d empty Costco, right? You’d fill your garage with dry goods and canned foods. You’d pack out your fridges and freezers in anticipation of what’s coming.

Would anyone think, “What we should do is collect a bunch of money and send it to the churches in Mexicali and Tijuana and Rosarita and all of Baja!”? No!!! Because very, very few of us have the sacrificial love for others that the church in Antioch had. Acts 11:27 to 30 describes how this Gentile church responded with sacrificial love for Jewish churches 300 miles south of them.

Acts 11:29 to 30, “So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. 30And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.”

A number of ancient writers affirm that there were great famines in 45-46 AD. At the end of Acts 12, we read of Barnabas and Saul returning home to Antioch, then not long after being sent out on their first missionary journey. Time won’t allow us to cover the whole journey in Acts 13 to 14, but get this–Barnabas and Saul were gone 18 to 24 months on their first missionary journey. They travelled over 1,200 miles. The travel expenses alone, just for transit, would’ve cost almost a year’s wages, not to mention food, lodging, etc.

And in contrast to some future missionary trips, Barnabas and Saul never worked to earn money while traveling. They were dedicated to church planting. And that means that the Antioch church pretty certainly footed the bill for their mission’s trip, donating 1 to 2 year’s wages to send them out. This was a church that sacrificed for others.

I wonder if Paul had them in mind as an example when he wrote in 1 Timothy 6:17 and 19, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them… to be generous and ready to share, 19thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.”

Romans 12:13, “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”

Second Corinthians 9:6 to 8–the point is this, “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”

We live in a day when we’re told to stay alone for the good of everyone. It may be that you wear a mask despite your preference otherwise, in order to sacrificially love others. But that is a small thing. Are you a generous person? When you hear of a need, do you think, “How sad!”? Or, “I can help!” When you have extra clothes, furniture, money–are you prone to using, saving or giving? When you know of someone who’s sick, do you want to stay away or go serve?

There’s not an always-right answer to these. But what is the inclination of your heart? A healthy church is marked by people who sacrifice themselves to love others. And it’s that sacrificial love that leads us to #4.

4)  Sending Out at Cost (Acts 13:1 to 14:26)

Acts 13 begins by describing the leadership of the Antioch church. There appear to have been five men central to the church. They are listed in verse 1, “Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul” (Acts 13:1).

They’ve got a diverse and multi-ethnic group of men leading the church–two guys from Africa, one Pharisee, one islander and a royal. All of these men are gifted, but we know who the two most trusted are. Just in chapter 12, when the church has a lot of money to send to Jerusalem, who do they choose to carry it? Barnabas and Saul. The men who’d been there the longest. The men who had the most established relationships. The men who’d been the most faithful–arguably the most gifted of the men within the church.

The church in Antioch sent out their best–and it had to hurt. They were going to miss them. There wasn’t an equal who was going to step into their shoes. There is no one like Barnabas or Paul. It cost the church in Antioch to send them.

And this is how we feel in sending Morgan to Summit. Morgan is a super-gifted man of God. We are thankful for the five guys stepping into lead high school–but think about that. It took five men to replace Morgan. When we send someone out, it hurts us—every time. Josh Petras to Grace…Jake Dietrich, Daniel Nunez, Danny Salcedo and more to plant FBC Menifee. A healthy church will send out others at a cost to themselves.

We try to do that because the Kingdom of God is greater than one church. We don’t need to keep every gifted person at FBC, because God wants to reach the world. It’s going to hurt when Dojo eventually leaves to plant a church in the Philippines. He contributes such unique elements to our church, and he does an incredible job caring for people with love and truth.

Antioch shows us that healthy churches send people out even when it hurts. For Barnabas and Saul, they got on a boat and went to Cyprus. They shared the faith all across Barnabas’ homeland. Then they took another boat to the northwest and hiked into Galatia. They visited four different cities, telling Jews about Jesus as Savior, until they would be kicked out of synagogues. When that happened, they would go to the Gentiles (the non-Jews), telling them of the grace of God toward them.

Everyone knows that they’ve rebelled against God, even those who pretend He doesn’t exist. And God in His grace sent Jesus to bear their punishment for disobedience. The missionaries would tell of how Jesus lived perfectly and without sin, but was put to death and bore God’s wrath on the cross so that whoever believes in Him could be saved. Then after death, He rose again, showing His power over death. And that same future awaits every person whose sins are forgiven through Jesus. And people would hear this and believe–they would confess their rebellion. They would repent and turn from their old ways, and begin to learn what it means to obey God.

People today do this just like then. They hear the Gospel, they believe and they are transformed. City after city, this would happen. And at the end of it, Paul and Barnabas went back through, seeing whose faith endured and appointing elders for each church. The painful loss of Antioch resulted in the formation of multiple new churches. Healthy churches send people out, even at a cost to themselves.

That’s how we can look out now and rejoice at other churches that FBC’ers have gone to and either established or made stronger–Hawaii, Idaho, Texas, Arizona, Germany, Czech Republic, Philippines and more. It hurts every time we send someone out. But the reward is so great! Right now, we feel Morgan’s departure deeply–and we trust the Lord. We are confident that it’s the right thing to do for the Kingdom!

You send out people because God’s heart is for the world, and not just one church. You’re led by the Spirit and sacrificially love people, so you make costly decisions. All of this is shaped by a foundation of truth and grace. Antioch is a beautiful model for a healthy church. The fifth mark of this healthy church is . . .

5)  A Safe Community  (Acts 14:27 to 28)

Look at the very end of Acts 14–it describes the end of Paul and Barnabas’s trip. They grabbed a boat and went home to Antioch. “When they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28And they spent a long time with the disciples” (Acts 14:27 to 28). They’d been gone a bit less than two years. The church that sent them out now welcomes them home.

The guys gather the whole church up to tell them what happened. It was a missions night report like no other. This became the habit whenever these men would be sent out. They’d be sent to the Jerusalem Council next year, and then they’d return again to Antioch. They’d each head out on a missionary journey after that, and return again to Antioch. Antioch was a safe space–it felt like coming home. It was a safe community.

What’s especially interesting is that there is no real mention of Antioch in the Bible apart from the book of Acts. There are no letters sent there–no epistles. No mention by Jesus in Revelation. Here is why I believe the Bible is silent about Antioch. It was a healthy, safe community. The people there were well-taught. They were cared for by great shepherds.

According to church history, the apostle Peter would eventually pastor there. The church wasn’t perfect and it still had trials–but it was kept safely from wolves. It cared for its people and fed them the Word. It remained a place of truth and grace for a long time. A church endured there for almost 1,000 years after its founding. This is a church worth imitating. This is what we aim to become.

Chris, Nigel, Patrick, myself–we have a heart for people who’ve been hurt by church leaders. We want people to sense and experience what it’s like to be in a safe community. When you hear someone hurt or hurting, we want you to lean into them–to love them, to give them grace, and to patiently lead them to the Word of God. To show off Jesus Christ, who was full of grace and truth, in equal measure.

You shouldn’t need to hide when you’re at Faith Bible Church. We are all sinners. We know the depths and pains of our own disobedience. We have no right to be judge-y. And many here know the sweet taste of forgiveness. We know what it means to be made clean by the blood of Jesus. We are able to love others because He first loved us. A church filled with people like that, who are led by the Spirit and sacrificially love others, will be a safe and stable place. Antioch is a sweet church, and I think FBC is also. It doesn’t have the name I voted for, but it does have the same five core elements of church health.

Every time we send someone out. Every time we welcome someone in. Every time we listen to and follow God’s Word. Every time we give with hearts of generosity and sacrifice. We reflect God’s perfect design for His Church. I pray that the Lord gives us a long heritage of health at FBC.

About John Pleasnick

John serves as a pastor and elder at Faith Bible Church

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