Numbers 3, Isaiah 28, Acts 13

Read Numbers 3, Isaiah 28, Acts 13 today. This devotional is about Acts 13.

Being part of the first church in Jerusalem must have been an amazing experience. People were being saved all the time and everyone who believed started meeting in one another’s homes for prayer, instruction, and fellowship. Here in Acts 13, the first Gentile church at Antioch, seems to have had a similar experience. Verse 1a told us that there were “prophets and teachers” there and they are named in the latter half of that verse. Although they enjoyed great worship and fellowship, God’s work needed to go forward so that more and more people would become part of the church and, when Jesus returns, experience eternity in the kingdom of God. So God spoke in the person of the Holy Spirit and called on the church to send Barnabas and Saul out to evangelize people and form new churches.

Thus began both the “first missionary journey” of Paul and Barnabas and the final stage of the Great Commission as described in Acts 1:8: “…to the ends of the earth.”

God worked through Barnabas and Saul (and, for some reason, Luke the author of Acts, switched to calling him “Paul” in verse 9). People came to believe in Jesus and they were organized into local churches. But I want to focus for this devotional on the importance God’s mission over our comfort. The church at Antioch sounds like an amazing experience and, human nature being what it is, Paul and Barnabas may have desired to stay there for many years doing the Lord’s work. It took the direct voice of the Holy Spirit to compel the church to send Barnabas and Paul out on their first missionary journey. They needed God’s prompting to do what Jesus had commanded us to do in Acts 1:8–just as the Jerusalem church needed the prompting of persecution to move to “Judea and Samaria” (Acts 1:8).

God acts sovereignly to make sure that his will is done so we never have to worry about the mission failing.

What we should remember, however, is that until Jesus returns, we have work to do. It is easy to get very comfortable with the familiar–even (especially?) when God is using us and ministry is going well. But God did not call us to be comfortable, he commissioned us to spread the gospel and start churches.

This means that our church will sometimes have to part with people we love who are obedient to the mission. It has already happened to us in recent years and it will happen again.

This is also why we send 8-10% of our giving as a church away into missions and church planting. If we spent 100% of what God provided to us on our own work–even good, spiritual work–we would be disobedient to what God commanded us to do.

Maybe you’ve been considering some kind of change–giving more to the church or to missions, starting a new ministry here at Calvary, or going into church planting yourself. If comfort with the present situation is stopping you from taking on a new challenge for God’s glory, will you reconsider that in light of this passage?

Acts 11

Read Acts 11 today.

In Friday’s devotional about Acts 10 I suggested that transitioning the church from a group of Jewish believers in Jesus into a trans-national, worldwide group with no ethnic distinctions was going to create some tension. Here in Acts 11 we read about that tension. Despite facing criticism for his fellowship with Gentiles (vv. 1-3), the Jewish believers accepted Peter’s account of how God saved the Gentiles and how they received the same sign of the Holy Spirit as the Jewish believers did in Acts 2 (Acts 11:4-17). They then praised God for his mercy on the Gentiles (v. 18) and a church that had begun gathering Antioch began actively evangelizing Gentiles (vv. 19-21).

Barnabas emerged at the end of today’s chapter. He was sent from Jerusalem here when the church their heard about all that God was doing at Antioch (vv. 22-24). We’ve actually met this man before in Acts 4. His real name is “Joseph” (Acts 4:36) but was nicknamed “Barnabas” because he was always so encouraging. He’s the guy who sold some property and gave all the money to the church which led Ananias and Sapphira to do what they did in Acts 5.

Barnabas also showed up in Acts 9:27 and he persuaded the church to accept Saul after his conversion. Now, here in Acts 11, when he saw how much God was doing in Antioch, he went and found Saul so that Saul could contribute to the growth and strengthening of that church (Acts 11:25-26).

Although Barnabas did not have the same role that God called Saul to occupy, he knew how to connect people together for the growth of God’s work. By no means was Barnabas a man who just served in the background; verse 36 says that he… met with the church and taught great numbers of people.” So he had a strong teaching gift and used that gift publicly to strengthen and grow God’s church but he was in the shadow of Saul because Saul was such a giant in the early days of the church. Yet he never viewed Saul as his rival or was jealous of how God chose to use Saul. He was a man who was all about the work God was doing, not about who was getting the credit for doing it.

Barnabas could have stayed in Antioch and held even greater authority and respect than he had, but he knew that this church would benefit from Saul’s gifting. So, unselfishly, he recruited Saul’s help because it would be best for the church. This is the attitude that all of us as followers of Christ should have. God’s work is never about you or me; it is about doing what is best for the Lord’s church. If that means serving in someone else’s shadow, then let God be glorified.