By Ken Idleman
Other than the incarnation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection, what would you say is the single greatest event in human history? Is it the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus in 1492? The emancipation of slaves in 1863? The dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, to end World War II? Or is it when Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon in 1969?
I would reference a more obscure event. My guess is this event would not make anyone’s Top 10 list of greatest happenings in human history.
The account is found in the Bible. Acts 11:19-30 tells how Christianity is launched on its worldwide mission from Antioch.
The church at Antioch was alive with the power and presence of God. There was a special spirit in this church. This is the kind of church everyone wants to be part of. It was a spiritually dynamic church.
Such a community positively impacts everything in life for its members: marriage, family life, motivation and sense of purpose in this world. Their joy, confidence, and hope are all underpinned by the reality of being secure in Christ.
We all want to be part of a church like the one at Antioch. And we can! If we personally imitate and replicate the traits we see in the lives of the Christians at Antioch, our own church will become more spiritually dynamic. It will be the gift we give ourselves as we rejoice to be part of such a fellowship of believers.
They Talked a Lot About Jesus
Certain phrases punctuate this passage—“telling the message” (v. 19); they “began to speak” (v. 20); “telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus” (v. 20). And what was the result? It is the same result as in every generation and in every location: “A great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.”
This church captured the city’s attention and heart. How? The people could not keep their mouths shut about Jesus. In fact, the name Christian was coined first at Antioch because these people could not keep quiet about “Christos.”
Verse 19 says these people came to Antioch because of severe persecution (in Jerusalem; see Acts 8:1). Since they were under such intense pressure, you would think they would be afraid to tell other people about what Jesus had done for them. But they were not. They could not keep quiet.
The myth in our culture is that people don’t really want to hear about Christianity, that people are satisfied with their lives, that they have everything and they don’t need the Lord, that they already have a belief system and they don’t need us to convert them from it.
But consider what New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady told 60 Minutes. Brady—who at age 28 had already won three Super Bowls, was dating a supermodel, and was a magazine cover boy—spoke of his spiritual hunger: “Why do I have three Super Bowl rings and still think there is something greater out there for me? I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, ‘Hey man, this is what it is. I reached my goal, my dream, my life.’ Me, I think, Gosh it’s got to be more than this, I mean this isn’t, this can’t be what it’s all cracked up to be.”
Rolling Stone magazine’s interview of Brad Pitt included similar statements by one of Hollywood’s top box office draws: “Man, I know all these things are supposed to seem important to us—the car, the condo, our version of success—but if that’s the case, why is the general feeling out there reflecting more impotence and isolation and desperation and loneliness? If you ask me, I say toss all this—we gotta find something else. . . . I don’t have those answers yet. The emphasis now is on success and personal gain. I’m not the guy who’s got everything. I’m sitting in it, and I’m telling you, that’s not it.”
Do we have the conviction that people need Jesus Christ? We get excited about a new restaurant or movie or sports team. Why not a little excitement about Jesus and what he is doing in the lives of people and in our own lives? Why not more confident testimony about his church in our conversations with people? So many we know are longing for the same joy and peace of knowing him that you have.
They Demonstrated Joy
Barnabas was sent to Antioch by the Jerusalem church because he was such a great encourager. Wherever he went there was positive energy. In Acts 4:36, 37, he sold a field and laid the money at the apostle’s feet. In Acts 9:27, he vouched for Paul after his conversion on the Damascus Road. In Acts 15, he gave a second chance to John Mark, who had quit an earlier missionary journey.
Barnabas means “son of encouragement.” He lived up to his name. He was a good man. He was full of the Holy Spirit and faith. He was glad and he encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. And because of this one man’s positive presence and service, “a great number of people were brought to the Lord” (Acts 11:24).
Barnabas was a catalyst for joy in the Antioch church when he arrived. So, what about you? Are you a consistent encourager? When you show up do people light up? Are you happy or do you carp and criticize and complain?
James 5:13 says, “Is anyone of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? He should sing songs of praise.” In other words, if you’re unhappy, tell God about it. Counsel with the Lord in prayer and in private. If you’re happy, tell everyone about it. Spread your joy to others. Do not spread gloom and despair in the community of faith; spread joy.
They Wanted to Learn
Barnabas could see that these new Christ followers in Antioch wanted to learn and grow in their faith. Since he had a personal friendship with the apostle Paul, he went and found him in Tarsus and brought him back to Antioch. Paul met with the church and stayed for a whole year and “taught great numbers of people.” Prayer and the ministry of the Word were priorities for the apostles from the earliest days of the infant church.
This church in Antioch desired to have a literate faith. They hungered to know and to understand the things of God. They wanted to add to their faith, goodness, and to their goodness, knowledge. They understood that “faith comes by hearing the Word of God.” They wanted to “love God with their mind.”
We want to be a church where people learn the Word of God. We want to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). We want to teach even greater numbers of people.
They Were Generous
Toward the end of Acts 11 we learn the disciples decided to “provide help” for the brothers living in Judea (v. 29). They sent “their gift to the elders by Paul and Barnabas” (v. 30). This refers to the financial help that was given by these Gentile Christians to poor Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.
We are the children of a big-hearted, openhanded God. That means we should be the most giving people on the planet. Three attitudes should characterize Christians with respect to money:
Contentment—“But godliness with contentment is great gain. . . . If we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Timothy 6:6, 8).
Gratitude—Put your “hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17).
Generosity—“Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share” (1 Timothy 6:18).
In this way we “may take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:19). And isn’t that life the one all of us are seeking?
Ken Idleman ministers with the Crossroads Christian Church in Newburgh, Indiana.