The Antioch church became the center of outreach to the Gentiles. They had successfully put behind them the issue of fellowship between Jewish believers and Gentile believers, and by this point in time (probably about 15 years after Pentecost) they were aggressively moving forward to evangelize Jews and Gentiles in other regions. They became a home base for missionaries who went all over the world. Paul, Barnabas, John Mark, Silas, Titus (Ga 2:1-3), and undoubtedly many more fanned out from that great metropolitan city carrying Christ to anyone who would listen.
We have much to learn from them. Their fruitfulness as a mission-church was not an accident. There was a careful process behind the way they did things, and if we look closely, they will teach us how to do the same.
This weekend is the first weekend of Advent. We, along with much of the Church of Jesus Christ around the world, are reflecting on the fact that God loved us so much that He sent His Son to us as a missionary (Jn 3:16). Jesus left the glories of heaven to become one of us, a human, and to die for us on a cross (Php 2:5-8). God didnt abandon us to our sin and confusion, He sent someone to rescue us. And then, after we have become His, He asks us to become like Him which, of course, means we too will become missionaries, we too will love sinful, confused people so much we will go after them to rescue them. After all, missionaries dont sit and wait, missionaries get up and go.
Coming home (Ac 14:21-28)
Paul and Barnabas have now completed their first missionary journey. They are returning to Antioch from which they were committed to (placed beside) the grace of God for the work which they accomplished (fulfilled) (v26). The whole church assembled to hear the report of what God had done on their missionary journey. Undoubtedly, they told stories of miracles and people who came to Christ, along with descriptions of the persecutions they faced and how the Lord rescued them out of them all (2Ti 3:11). But there would have been one silent testimony in those meetings no one could ignore: the scars all over Paul (Ga 6:11). Theyd sent out a man who had been whole in his body and now received back a man who had been stoned (Ac 14:19). While they must have rejoiced in the glorious reports of how God opened a door of faith to the nations, the sobering cost of opening that door stood in front of them. Luke concludes by saying ...they wore away not a little time with the disciples (literal). Though he doesnt tell us how long this was, these missionaries would have needed time to heal, physically and emotionally, from the hardships they had endured.
The Antioch model
As we read Lukes account of Pauls missionary journeys (Ac 13:21), a pattern emerges. The Antioch church:
1) Selected missionaries (Ac 13:1, 2)
They used prayer, worship and fasting to prepare themselves to hear from God, and they relied on prophetic guidance to show them who God was sending, and when.
2) Sent missionaries (Ac 13:3)
Once they had chosen missionaries, they again prayed and fasted to spiritually prepare themselves to lay hands on them to send them out. The focus of this prayer was to place the missionaries into the care of Gods grace, and to believe that He would accomplish His work through them (Ac 14:26; 15:40).
3) Prayed for their missionaries
Any church that took such care to pray for those they sent out, surely prayed for them while they were gone. They did things as a community and they did things in a systematic, organized way, so in one way or another they must have encouraged continual prayer for their missionaries while they were gone. We see this disciplined prayer in Pauls daily mention of his churches (1Th 1:2), his call to other to strive together with me in your prayers
(Ro 15:30), and his urging that they devote themselves to prayer (Col 4:2) so that God will open up to us a door for the word
(Col 4:3). As a missionary he counted on others to pray for his protection, for boldness to preach, and for the spiritual responsiveness of those to whom he was sent.
4) Supported their missionaries (Ac 15:3)
We know Paul refused to take offerings from those he evangelized (1Co 9:11, 12, 15, 18). He didnt want anyone to think he cared about them for their money. He often worked at tent-making to support himself in cities where he stayed for awhile. But he did not refuse financial support from churches who wished to partner with him (Php 4:15-19). One of the reasons he wrote to the Romans was to ask them to consider giving toward his upcoming mission to Spain and other regions around the western Mediterranean (Ro 15:24).
5) Heard missionary reports (Ac 14:27)
Hearing the report of what God has done and celebrating is an essential part of the process, because all who pray and give share equally in the spiritual fruit of the mission (1Sa 30:20-25). Over and over again in Acts we read about missionaries sharing what God had done and that this brought great joy to those who heard (Ac 14:27; 15:3,4,12; 18:22; 21:19).
6) Healed their missionaries (Ac 14:28; 18:23)
No one comes back the same way they leave. They are deepened and damaged. Virtually any mission, whether a person goes to the other side of the world, or ministers to the community in which they live, has a price-tag. There is an emotional and physical cost. Even when there are joyous reports of fruitfulness, missionaries will still need to come home to rest, to be safe, to be loved, and to heal before another mission can be successfully undertaken. God never grows tired, but we do, and He understands our human frailty and brings us back to the community that sent us out. A missionary (and their family) might face re-entry (culture-shock upon returning), physical issues (lingering diseases, jet-lag), emotional trauma from things they have seen (poverty, disease, abuse, neglect) or things that were said or done to them, even loneliness for friends they have left behind. Paul closed his letter to the Galatians by saying, From now on, let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks (scars) of Jesus (Ga 6:17).
God is not a passive God. He goes after people, and we are not to be a passive people. We, too, must go after people. Love simply wont let us sit idly by and watch while others live and die without the Savior. Our hearts compel us to do what we can. Not everyone is called to get on a plane and go somewhere, but everyone is called to be a missionary. The only question that needs to be decided is, where or who is my field? As an individual believer, and as a church, we can approach everything we do this way, whether its our children, youth, seniors, a harvest party, a Stephen Ministry, a Life Group, a summer team thats repairing another churchs building, Royal Family Kids Camp thats loving abused and neglected children, or a medical team flying to the uttermost parts of the earth. A missionary-mindset has nothing to do with the size of a church or someones personal wealth. Its an attitude, an approach to life, its living aggressively, its part of our spiritual DNA. Its people who realize that we have been called to:
1) Selfless service: We are to go to someone, somewhere, not sit and watch others serve.
2) Selfless giving: We joyfully give as the Lord leads us, and pray over our gifts asking God to use our gifts to reach people. We believe people will be saved, healed and rescued because we have chosen to place our loaves and fish into Jesus wonderful hands.
3) Selfless prayer: We regularly commit to disciplined intercession for those who step out to serve the Lord. We understand we are covering them as they minister. We understand their safety and fruitfulness depends, in some measure, on our faithfulness to pray. We recognize that such prayer is demanding and inconvenient, but we make it part of our lives because we are missionaries, and it has to be done if were going to plunder the strongmans property (Mt 12:29; Lk 11:21, 22).
For many years the Antioch church has served us as a model of how to do missions. Weve tried to reach out as a community like they did, to train, send, support, pray, hear and heal our missionaries. And weve had much fruit, but were not done yet. As we read these passages afresh, their example calls us again to selfless service, generous giving, and a deeper commitment to prayer. And they also give us hope, that we can reach our generation as effectively as they reached theirs.
1) Where or who is your mission field?
2) Describe a time when you went on a mission, or gave to a mission, or prayed for a mission. What happened as a result?