Jews & Gentiles, Legalism & Antinomianism

I.      Introduction

Three weeks ago, I had the pleasure of teaching from my assignment in Leviticus 26.  In that lesson, we discussed about the Lord’s promises to provide blessings to Israel if they put they followed God’s will, and the Lord’s promises of curses that follow if Israel turned away from the path God had set before them.

And then we discussed how Jesus Christ bore those curses on Himself and fulfilled the Old Testament Law so that we would be free of legalism and free to live a life that honors our savior. 

I didn’t know it at the time, but this week’s assignment is Acts 15 and I’m pretty sure it’s the exact same message from a different point of view.  Leviticus looked at God’s plan for us from the Old Testament point of view, and Acts 15 will make an argument against legalism but this time from a New Testament point of view.

II.      Acts 15 The Jerusalem Council

Let’s put ourselves in history and see who is talking to who and when they’re doing the talking.  It’s the year 50 A.D, and Paul has been preaching the gospel for 13 years.  Acts 15:1 begins with,

Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”  And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue.

Slide2.JPGThis event is commonly known as The Jerusalem Council, and it’s an important part of the early church.  See, the early church wasn’t full of Baptists or Catholics.  The early church was full of Jews who had spent their entire faithful lives as pious Jews, observing the law.  The Holy Spirit was getting ready to work in the church leadership to establish the identity of the church.  Was the new church just a new sect of Judaism?  Or was this new church something completely new?  Were the converted Jews to abandon their centuries of following hundreds of daily rules in favor of this newfound freedom in Christ, or were new believers to become Jews and adhere to the Old Testament Laws?

       III.      Jews and Gentiles

So in this struggle between Jews and Gentiles, it’s helpful to understand who Gentiles are and what it means.  Let’s start in Genesis – of course – this time in Genesis 12.  Abram is living in a world filled with pagan worshippers and idolatry, and God separates Abram in order to establish a covenant, to raise a great nation of those who would follow the Lord.  Genesis 12:1-3 says that when Abram was 75 years old, the Lord said to him,

Now the Lord said to Abram,
“Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;
 
And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
 
And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

Slide3Abram was to live apart for the Lord’s purposes.  Remember that God never changes; these promises are forever.  And Abraham’s descendants proclaimed the one true God to the world.  Those that did not descend from Abraham were allowed to stay if they worshipped the Lord or keep traveling through.  Strong’s definitions says the word “gentile” comes from this word: 

gôwy, go’-ee; rarely (shortened) גֹּי gôy; apparently from the same root as H1465 (in the sense of massing); a foreign nation; hence, a Gentile; also (figuratively) a troop of animals, or a flight of locusts:—Gentile, heathen, nation, people.

Slide4.JPGNow, the word refers to any non-Jew that cannot trace his lineage to Abraham.  Or a locust.

God’s plan was to separate Abraham into a great nation to demonstrate the Lord’s power and glory.  But the gentiles aren’t forgotten; it’s just that God directed His plan through Abraham as His chosen people, and gentiles would see the glory of God through the nation of Israel and be blessed.  The verse we just read, Genesis 12:3 ended with this:

And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

Not just the Jews would be blessed by Abraham’s obedience, but all the earth.  Sometimes God doesn’t want to leave scripture open to interpretation, so He repeats it with a definition just to make sure we get it.  So this line is repeated in Galatians 3:8,

The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.”

Slide6.JPGGod’s eternal plan has always had a special role for the Jews, a plan in the past and still a plan for the future.  That’s the purpose of Romans chapter 11, to clarify to the Gentiles what God is doing with Israel.  The first 6 verses of Romans 11 says that God is still disciplining Israel; if God had rejected Israel, there is no reason for discipline.  God is still fulfilling His covenant with Abraham.  Then Paul tells us in Romans 11 verses 11-24 that us gentiles shouldn’t become conceited just because the Jews are being discipline; our faith grafts us to the olive tree of Israel.   We gentiles owe the Jews a great deal.  From the Jews, we received the bible, our savior, and the path to our salvation.  In return, Paul tells us that we should show the Jews mercy so that they will receive God’s mercy.

What’s God’s plan for the nation of Israel?  Romans 11:25-26,

For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in;  and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, 

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”
“This is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”

Slide8.JPGToday, Israel has still rejected their Messiah, and the purpose of the gentiles is to demonstrate that God’s mercy has come to all on the basis of faith.

          IV.      Old Testament for the Jews

So 13 years after Paul’s conversion to Christianity, Paul is preaching that we are saved by faith alone, not by the Law.  Orthodox Jews who believe in Christ are saying that, even with faith, obedience to the Law is still necessary, so if you want salvation, you have to follow the Law.  These orthodox Jews run into Paul and Barnabas and a big argument breaks out.  Acts 15:1-2 says these Orthodox Jews required Paul and Barnabas to go to Jerusalem so that the church could straighten them out.

Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”  And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue.  Therefore, being sent on their way by the church, they were passing through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and were bringing great joy to all the brethren.

You might think that the church is summoning Paul to give him a stern talking to, but in reality, it’s the Holy Spirit living in Paul that sends him to Jerusalem to straighten the church out.

Paul and Barnabas set out on their way to Jerusalem.  I like this verse 3 above; Paul and Barnabas are not worried about this meeting with the church; on the contrary, they’re happily spreading the good news to the gentiles along the way that they are free from the Law. 

The church had some stern words for Paul when he arrived in verses 4-5,

When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them.  But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.”

The orthodox Jews, the Pharisees, required the gentiles to be circumcised according to the Law of Moses.  And this became a stumbling block to the gentiles.  In other words, the same Law that the Jews were unable to fulfill for centuries before Christ the savior came was now being imposed on the gentiles.

             V.      New Testament for Everyone

Two of the Apostles stood up to speak.  The first is Peter, who appealed to the Jews on behalf of logic and a vision Peter received.  The vision we briefly touched on last week in Acts 11.  In that vision of a great sheet being lowered from heaven, he is told to get up, kill, and eat, even though Leviticus has strict dietary rules.  When Peter objects because the animals are unclean, God says in Acts 11:9,

But a voice from heaven answered a second time, ‘What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.’

Slide11And at first, Peter understands the Law has been fulfilled through Christ, so the Leviticus dietary restrictions are no longer necessary, but then he realized that Christ sacrifice did a lot more than allowing Peter to eat shrimp and grits.  It cleansed the believer, and what God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.  Later in Acts 11:16-18,

And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’  Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”  When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”

So Peter understand that if Christ truly fulfilled the Law, then the Law doesn’t save us.  The Law only tells us where we fall short, and our shortcomings are already paid for by Christ Jesus.  So what possible reason could the church have for insisting on circumcision for the gentiles?  They are already cleansed by God.  So now Peter tells the church in Acts 15:7-11,

After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe.  And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us;  and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.  Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?  But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.”

Why put a heavy yoke of burden on the gentiles, when Christ Jesus tells us that His yoke is easy and his burden is light?  Jesus Himself made this statement in Matthew 11:28-30,

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Slide14The yoke of the Pharisees was heavy and burdensome.  The yoke of the Pharisees was legalism and self-righteousness. The yoke of the Pharisees was not intended for the Pharisees, but for the Pharisees to impose upon the people.  And Jesus rejected all of that, saying that a saving faith in Christ Jesus was easy.

The burden of legalism was carried by Christ.  Christ perfectly fulfilled the Old Testament Law in active obedience.  He carries our burden for us and then became the sacrifice for us because He knows our sins are too heavy for us to bear.  As believers in Christ, our burden is light.  Romans 12:1-2 tells us what our burden is,

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

In other words, love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind.  And we do not do this alone, for the Holy Spirit indwells all believers and constantly encourages us to be Christ.  This yoke of faith is light, it’s easy to bear, and where we stumble, we are constantly encouraged and forgiven. 

But the heavy yoke of self-righteousness and legalism says Jesus’ sacrifice was insufficient.  A heavy yoke says we must continually strive to make ourselves acceptable to God through works.  Don’t get me wrong; God loves our works.  But our works do not save us or make us acceptable.  It is the sacrifice of Jesus, alone, that makes us acceptable to God.

The other apostle to stand up and speak is James in Acts 15:13-18,

After they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, “Brethren, listen to me.  Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name.  With this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written,
 
‘After these things I will return,
And I will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen,
And I will rebuild its ruins,
And I will restore it,
So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,
And all the Gentiles who are called by My name,’
Says the Lord, who makes these things known from long ago.’ 

James is pointing out to the Jews that Christ came for all.  God’s plan was to work through His people of Israel, but when God sent His son, the sacrifice of God Himself was too big to be limited to a chosen few.  The sacrifice of Jesus saved all who would come to Him.  Moreover, James is saying that the sacrifice of Jesus for all people is not something Christ changed; it is prophecy that Christ fulfilled.  God knew from the fall of Adam that mankind would need a savior, and that savior would be Christ Himself for all mankind.

I find it interesting that Peter and James both reach the same conclusion from opposite points of view.  Peter says, why go back to the Law and impose the Law on the gentiles?  Close your bible, Christ has fulfilled the Law.  James on the other hand says, “Open your bible.  See how Christ has fulfilled the Law.”

Slide17.JPGYou and I should do the same.  Open our bibles to the Old Testament and understand everything that Christ fulfilled.  The Law convicts us of our sin, but Christ frees us from the burden of the law.  And then close our bibles when the urge to impose a heavy yoke of legalism says we must still work our way to heaven.  Christ already fulfilled the Law, and the yoke of Christ is far lighter than any yoke of obedience.

          VI.      Balance Obedience and Freedom

So, if Christ frees us from the Law, are we free to do anything we want?  Well, yes.  And no.

One argument that could be made is that Christ died for our sins, then I should go on sinning.  The more I sin, the more it’s apparent how big Christ’s sacrifice was, right?

Slide18.JPGThere’s actually a term for this.  Two Greek words, “anti”, meaning “against”, and “nomos”, meaning “law.”  Antinomianism takes the biblical teaching of the freedom of Christ to an unbiblical conclusion that there is no low, not even moral law, that Christians should obey.  Paul talks about this heresy in Romans 6:1-2,

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?  May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?

 There is still a purpose to Old Testament Law.  Romans 7 tells us it convicts us of our sin.  The Law illuminates God’s moral code and how we ought to live our life.  It shows us how far we have fallen.  But obedience to the Law cannot save us. 

But if obedience cannot save us, then disobedience certainly cannot save us.  If we know we are saved from our sins and take the attitude that we now have permission to go on sinning, it’s like crucifying Christ all over again.  Living in sin enslaves us, defiles us, shames us, and it spreads death and corruption in our lives.  It keeps us from the abundant life that Christ promises.  To avoid sin, we follow the Law.

Here’s the balance each of us must learn.  If we love Christ and are saved from our sins, then we obey the Law.  But if we obey the Law, then we must obey the whole Law.  If we obey the whole Law, then what was the purpose of Christ sacrifice to fulfill the Law?

Balance legalism and antinomianism.  Antinomianism leads to living in sin and never knowing the abundant life.  Following the Law, on the other hand, leads to legalism and judgmentalism that so corrupted the Pharisees.  So do we obey the Law, or don’t obey the Law?

And that’s how Acts 15 wraps up in verses 19 and 20.  After listening to Peter and James, James and the church agreed like this:

Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood.

There are things we do as Christians that can demonstrate the love of Christ within us, especially when we are obedient to Christ’s teachings.  But there are also things that, even though permitted, can lead people away from Christ.  James asks the gentiles to abstain from things that make us a bad witness. 

This applies to a great many things that we should or shouldn’t do.  We must open our bibles and follow the Law.  We must close our bibles and follow our hearts.  We must do both if we are to strike a balance between legalism and antinomianism.  We are free indeed in Christ, but we are not to so indulge in that freedom that we become a stumbling block to others that are seeking to grow closer to the Lord.

So in your daily walk with Christ, remember your freedom.  Christ came to us, born of a virgin, to become a perfect sacrifice, because the sacrifice of God himself covers both Jew and Gentile, all who seek the Lord.  Balance our lives between being a between legalistic Jew that must follow all of the Old Testament Law and free-loving gentile who is free from the Law because of Christ’s sacrifice for us.  Balance our lives between being a judgmental Pharisee and a wild, uncivilized antimomialist.  Follow the law, and remember that you are also free of the law.

And if you don’t get that balance exactly right?  It doesn’t matter because God knows your heart.  That’s the best Christmas present ever. 

Slide21.JPG

To God be the glory.  Amen.

Encouragement

Slide2

Kind words do not cost much. They never blister the tongue or lips. They make other people good-natured. They also produce their own image on men’s souls, and a beautiful image it is.

– Blaise Pascal

Every spoken word, every action we take, effects another person.  We either affect somebody positively or we affect negatively.  Even many neutral actions, since they don’t affect another in a positive way, can be considered negative.  We label ourselves as either an optimist who sees the glass half full, or a pessimist who sees the glass half empty.  Or as an engineer, who sees the glass as excessively sized for the application.

Some Christians look at the people around them and find fault with them.  *They* gossip too much, they only hang around with their friends; they don’t serve like they should.  Other believers seem to have a good word for everyone they meet.  Which type of person do you like to be around?  Which type of person are you?

If we’re critical of others, we make excuses for our behavior.  I don’t feel good.  I woke up on the wrong side of the bed.  It’s just the way I am.   God made me this way.  Or, they’re just out to get me.  They deserve it.  Or we hide our criticism behind the phrase, “bless their heart.”  You can say the absolute meanest, despicable things about somebody as long as you add the phrase, “bless their heart” to it.  “He’s just a blathering idiot, bless his heart.”  “She’s a wicked gossip who smells bad and dresses like a vagrant, bless her heart.”

Why do we do this?  Like many sins, this one, too, is based on pride.  *We* are better than them.  If they don’t know that, then we can drag them down and push ourselves up by criticizing them.  We think so highly of ourselves that we don’t consider the other person’s feelings before we open our mouths.

That’s not God’s plan for us.  God wants all His children to encourage and lift one another.  Proverbs 10:10-11,

He who winks maliciously causes grief,
and a chattering fool comes to ruin.

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked.

And Hebrews 3:13,

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

What day is it?  That’s right, it’s Today.  I just wanted to see if you were paying attention.  And 1 Thessalonians 5:11,

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

And Ephesians 4:29,

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Slide3Ok, so does God want us to encourage one another?  Who can guess the answer to that question?

Today we’re going to study Acts 11 starting in verse 19 about a great encourager.  This is a difficult time for the early church; the early Jews preaching the gospel were persecuted by Herod.  Stephen had been stoned to death, and the early Christians were scattered.  There was some confusion around this time about the good news of the gospel and who could receive it.

Then Peter has a vision.  In Acts 11:1-3,

The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

Criticism is everywhere; here, early believers are criticizing Peter, one of the original 12 Apostles.  I can imagine them saying, “Well!  He may have traveled and listened to Jesus for 3 years, but he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  Why, just the other day, he was eating with so-and-so, you know, that ‘gentile’.  He calls himself a follower of Christ but you sure can’t tell by the way he’s behaving.”

As a devout Jew, entering the house of an unclean gentile under Jewish Law would cause Peter to become unclean, a fact other Jews pointed out to him.  But Peter has a vision, and in verse 4, Peter tells them about this vision.  He repeats it “precisely” to them;  he saw a sheet coming down from heaven, and inside were four-footed animals, and a voice from the Lord saying, “Get up, Peter.  Kill and eat.”

Slide5

Peter’s initial response indicated Jewish thinking; he cannot eat those animals because Jewish law forbids it.  “Surely no, Lord!  Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth!”  And the Lord responds, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

When we study God’s word, we often stop right there and think that God’s message is that it’s ok to eat pork.  Or shellfish.  Or… scorpions.  Or whatever.  And indeed, the scripture tells us this.  When you couple this vision with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:17), “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them,” we can also conclude that we are not bound by the Old Testament laws because Jesus completed them.  We are free in Christ.

But for Peter, the vision he received also addresses the salvation of gentiles.  Gentiles are also made by God.  Gentiles are non-Jews, not part of God’s chosen people.  Gentiles can also be made clean by God.  The Holy Spirit came upon some gentiles in Acts 11:15-18,

“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?”

 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.”

Slide6.JPGIn verse 19, after the stoning of Stephen, the early Christians scattered but continued to preach.  Those that went to Phoenicia, Cypress and Antioch taught only to Jews.  Other early Christians from Cyprus and Cyrene also went to Antioch, but began to teach the gentiles, the Greeks.  The early church began to grow rapidly.  Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, the early church there began to hear of the conversion of gentiles in Antioch.  Verse 22-24, 

News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

Slide7Barnabas is a great example of the Christian God wants us to be.  In Acts 4:34-37, scripture introduces us to this man.

There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.  Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Slide8His given name was Joseph, but the early church gave him the nickname “Barnabas”.  A complete reading of the word “barnabas,” gives a more complete picture of his name.  Barnabas means –

  • Son of encouragement
  • Son of prophecy
  • Son of refreshment
  • Son of comfort
  • Son of consolation
  • Son of preacher

In Hebrew names, the prefix “bar-” meant “son of.”  For instance, in Matthew 16:18, Jesus says, “Blessed are you, Simon bar-Jonah.”  It meant “Simon, son of Jonah.”  If Jesus had said, “Blessed are you, Simon bar-Smith & Wesson,” that could also mean “blessed are you Simon, you son of a gun.”

The selection of Barnabas by the early church was a wise decision.  Barnabas is described in glowing terms in verse 24.  He is the only man in Acts called “good.”  He is “full of the Holy Spirit” and “full of faith.”  And then Barnabas gives 3 examples of who we are to encourage.  First, by going to Antioch to share the gospel with gentiles in verses 19-22, Barnabas encourages new Christians.  These new Christians came not from Jewish backgrounds, but from pagan backgrounds.   It is because of this encouragement that (verse 21) “the Lord’s hand was with them and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.”

Why do new Christians need encouragement?

  • May have zeal and happiness, but not knowledge of scripture
  • May fall into old secular habits easily
  • If not welcomed, may seek inclusion elsewhere

We can definitely encourage new Christians by assuring them that God is at work in their lives, that God loves them and gave His son for them.  We can encourage new Christians, not by looking at what they are doing wrong, but by affirming the positive qualities they have and the positive actions they do.  We must approach them in love, not criticism or condescension.

I look at these early Christians, the aggressive evangelism they do to spread the Word, and the persecution they endured, and compare it to the safety and comfort of our modern church.  We’re coddled by Christianity, but it’s the suffering of the early Christians that produced the hope and character of zealous Christians.  I once heard it said that they did so much with so little, while in our modern comfortable lives, we do so little with so much.

Another person Barnabas encouraged was Saul.  Verse 25-27,

Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

Slide11Saul wasn’t exactly a new Christian; Saul was an educated Pharisee, a very devout Jew who had persecuted the Christians until Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus.  When Saul converted to Christianity, there was a lot of suspicion about him.  After all, Saul was a witness to the stoning of Stephen; how could this man be so changed after his encounter with Jesus?

Barnabus went specifically to search for Saul and bring him to Antioch and together they helped grow the early church there.  This was not the first time Barnabus had encouraged Saul; in Acts 9, immediately after Saul’s conversion, the Jews conspired to kill him and Saul tried to join the early church.  But the Christians there were afraid of him and distrusted him.  Then Acts 9:27, “But Barnabas took Saul and brought him to the apostles.”

Saul became Paul and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit wrote most of the New Testament, including the letter to the Hebrews, verse 3:13, “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today.”  While we think of Paul has an incredible teacher, how much of Paul’s writing can be attributed to the encouragement and joy of Barnabas?

Why do established Christians need encouragement?

  • Initial zeal of forgiveness fades, tempted by world
  • The stronger the Christian, the more Satan steps up his attacks
  • Like Paul, Christians we encourage may contribute to God’s work in ways we could never imagine

It says here in Acts 11:26 that the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.  Here’s the rabbit trail for this week; up until this time, followers of Christ had sort of an identity crisis.  For a while in Acts 1 through 4 they were called “believers”.  In Acts 5, they referred to themselves as the church, and then in Acts 6 they called themselves disciples and then brothers.  In Acts 9, they called themselves “The Way,” I assume because Jesus called himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  They also called themselves the Lord’s people in Acts 9, the Followers in Acts 17, and the Flock in Acts 20.  But it was here in Acts 11 that followers of Christ were first called Christians.

Slide13So back to Barnabus; he’s encouraged new Christians, he’s encouraged experienced Christians, and now Acts 11:23 it says Barnabus encouraged all of them, the entire church of Antioch.  So Barnabus has shown by his example we are to encourage new Christians, established Christians, both individually and in groups.  Did we miss anybody?

Acts 11 ends on a note that a severe famine began to spread throughout the Roman worlds, and in verse 29-30,

“The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.”

Slide14Barnabus’ encouragement was not limited to words; he also encouraged them by his acts of service.  There are many ways of providing encouragement; here’s a list called “8 Simple Ways to Encourage Others”

(http://www.ismckenzie.com/03/18/8-simple-ways-to-encourage-others/):

  • Take an interest. I believe this is one of the most effective ways of encouraging others. Show that you’re interested in what they’re doing. Get them talking. People like to talk about themselves and once you get them talking, you fire up their enthusiasm.
  • Acknowledge what’s important. When you acknowledge what’s important to another, you provide validation about who they are and what they’re doing. Whether we admit it or not, each of us craves acknowledgement. Affirmation fuels confidence and self-esteem.
  • Acknowledge a job well done. Worthwhile accomplishments take time and effort. You can encourage by acknowledging someone’s effort. A simple “well done” or “thank you” can have a strong effect, which can make the difference between going on or giving up.
  • Show your appreciation. It’s common courtesy. Thank someone when they do something for you. Thank your partner after they cook a nice meal. Thank a friend for lending you a book. A simple thank you lets others know what they have done is meaningful to you.
  • Return the favour. If someone does something nice for you, show your appreciation by returning the favour. This should not be seen as an obligation, nor as a contest. You’re not trying to top the other’s contribution, but to express what their actions mean to you.
  • Do something unexpected. This is a step beyond returning the favour. Respond with something unexpected: out of the blue. Such a response has a strong impact and can reach others at an emotional level.
  • Ask for advice or confide in them. Haven’t you felt important when someone asked for your advice or confided in you about something important? Didn’t you find you were energised and eager to help. Taking someone into your confidence can motivate them to show your faith in them is well founded.
  • Lend a hand. Waiting for someone to ask you for advice is passive. You can take the initiative by offering to lend a hand. If a person sees you are willing to commit your time and energy to their interests, they will be more committed to seeing it through and less likely to give up.

Slide15What about you?  Are you an encourager?  Do uplifting words come from you, or do words of condescension and criticism come from you?  Are you a Barnabas?  Or are you a barnacle?

Let’s keep in mind that all Christians need encouragement.  For new Christians, simply going to them and offering help is encouraging.  For maturing Christians, we can encourage them by affirming their good work and character and helping them apply their spiritual gifts in service to the Lord.  For all Christians, just being concerned about them and helping them is encouraging.

Nicole Johnson, a Christian author and encourager herself, wrote

“Encouragement is to a friendship what confetti is to a party.  It’s light, refreshing, and fun, and you always end up finding little pieces of it stuck to you later.”

Slide16.JPGLet’s go be encouraging confetti to someone today.

To God be the glory.