We want to be a great congregation. That must be our goal. Who decides what a great congregation is like? What makes a congregation great? What areas of ministry are most important to a great congregation? What do great congregations do? These are important lessons which we can learn from the book of Acts and especially by studying the church in Antioch of Syria.
According to God’s standard, what is a great congregation like?
GREAT CONGREGATIONS HEAR GOD’S WORD
Acts 11:19-21 shows us the importance of Gospel preaching (Rom. 1:16, 10:17). The Christians were scattered because of the persecution which began with Stephen. However, the persecution spread the Gospel rather than stopped the Gospel (Acts 4:29-31; 1 Thess. 2:2; 2 Tim. 4:1-4). When the men of Cyprus and Cyrene reached Antioch, “they preached unto them The Lord Jesus” (Acts 11:20 cf. Acts 8:35). The Gentiles were hearing the word of God being preached and the hope of the Gospel was extended toward them.
Because the Gospel was preached, “the hand of The Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to The Lord” (Acts 11:21; cf. Acts 9:35; Acts 3:19). God’s blessing must be joined with man’s preaching in order to have salvation of the lost (1 Cor. 3:6). Those who were converted are described as doing two things 1) they believed, and 2) they turned to The Lord. Here we see that their faith was one of belief and works (Gal. 5:6; James 2:14-26).
Since this great congregation began with Gospel preaching, how should we view gospel preaching today? Should we give diligence to be present and support the work? Should we support those who preach? Should we train men to preach for the future?
GREAT CONGREGATIONS HAVE GREAT HELP
Acts 11:22-26 shows us the importance of Christians working together (Eph. 4:1-16). We know that great Christians were living in Antioch because of the growth which was produced. However, they still could benefit from the help of a Barnabas. Barnabas was sent by the Christians in Jerusalem to examine and edify the church there in Antioch.
Barnabas was a great help to them because of his work. Barnabas “exhorted them all to remain faithful to The Lord with steadfast purpose” (Acts 11:23). To “exhort” is “to call to one’s side.” His scope in ministry was not to a select few, but he encouraged “all” of them. They were all encouraged to “with purpose of heart” (purpose is a word which is defined as : “proposal (intention); specially, the show- bread (in the Temple) as exposed before God” BDAG says, “that which is planned in advance; ie. to turn toward a way of thinking”.προθεσει from protithemi) they were to “remain with” or “cleave to” God. The Greek word means to stay further, i. e. remain in a place, with a person; figuratively, to adhere to, persevere in:— abide still, be with, cleave unto, continue in (with) προσμενειν. The same word is used in 2 Timothy 3:10.
Barnabas was a great help to them because of his character. Barnabas is described as “a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (Acts 11:24). If we are to be helpful to the cause of Christ, we must be individuals of great character .Character is influenced and developed by our choices. Daniel “resolved not to defile himself” in Babylon (Daniel 1:8), and that godly choice was an important step in formulating an unassailable integrity in the young man’s life.
Barnabas was a great help to them because he saw the need for more help. Too many times we feel like we can handle every situation on our own, but God shows us repeatedly that we need help. Barnabas saw the great work going on in Antioch and went looking for help from Saul. The church was well equipped with great Christians as is demonstrated by their progress, but they still needed more help. The principle of teamwork has already been demonstrated in Acts 6 with the apostles doing their work and appointing chosen men to care for other needs. We can learn much about delegation and teamwork from Exodus 18.
Admit that you can’t do it alone–Ex. 18:17-18
Understand your specialization–Exodus 18:9, 20
Select qualified leaders to share the work–Exodus 18:1a
Give leaders both responsibility and authority–Exodus 18:21-22
Fulfill your ministry–Exodus 18:22
From Acts 13:1, we learn that there were at least 7 “prophets and teachers” or ministers there in Antioch. The great work being done required a great number of workers.
GREAT CONGREGATIONS HAVE GREAT HEARTS
Acts 11:27-30 records the prophecy of a “famine over all the world”(11:28). The famine occurred around 45 AD. Showing remarkable love for their brethren, the Gentile Christians arranged to send funds to the soon to be suffering Jews in Judea. The gift was made “by every man according to his ability.”
We remember that God loves a cheerful giver. The poor widow who gave her last penny was a greatest giver in the New Testament except for our Lord. The Christians also displayed wonderful benevolence in Acts 2:44-45, 24:17; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; and 2 Corinthians 8:1-5, 9:12-13.
Christians are great givers because they have received the greatest gift. “ For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). Philippians 2:5-11 shows us just how much Jesus’ love for mankind caused him to sacrifice for others.
We can be a great congregation of God’s people. Not by living up to the world’s standards, but by living up to God’s standards. The church at Jerusalem shows us how to worship and the church at Antioch provides us with a great example of how to work. What was it that made Antioch great? 1) They received the word and supported the preaching of the Gospel. 2) They worked together as a team. 3) They practiced agape love which was seen in their benevolence toward those who had previously been hostile to them.