Should the Church Be More Vocal about the Conflict between Israel and Palestine?
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Should the Church Be More Vocal about the Conflict between Israel and Palestine?

What Is a Missionary Church? {Acts 12:25–13:12}

This article is part of our weekly series, “The Book of Acts and the Church Today.” You can see all articles in the series here. 

The church at Antioch was at a crossroads. By God’s grace, things were going well in this new congregation. They had experienced considerable growth. They had great teachers and eager students. It would have been easy for them to grow complacent, building themselves up with little concern for those outside. Instead, Acts 12:25–13:12 shows Antioch becoming the world’s primary missionary church for the next four centuries. As “the word of God increased and multiplied” in Antioch (Acts 12:24), the church became a beachhead, a secured position used for further combat advancement.

We should see our churches as beachheads; strategic footholds in enemy territory from which we follow the Spirit’s lead in seeking the lost.

The Spirit Selects and Sends Missionaries

The Spirit led the church to single out Barnabas and Saul to witness for Jesus (Acts 13:2, 4). But there are signs that the church became ready to do mission work because of the Spirit’s prior work in the congregation.

The Church Was Committed to Teaching

Luke identifies no less than five prophets and teachers in Antioch. Missionary churches know that missions is teachings-based; it’s filling the earth with “the knowledge of the glory of the Lord” (Hab. 2:14). So missionary churches are strong on teaching and generous in lending their teachers to those who are theologically poorer.

The Church Was Committed to Worship

“While they were worshiping the Lord,” the Holy Spirit selected Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:2). We should never divorce worship and missions. Missions is a worship movement; worship propels missions. Believers who prize God’s glory want to see others worshiping their God. “Here is a church that has seen the need to reach out to the world as its members draw near to God.”[1]

The Church Was Committed to Fasting and Prayer

Twice Luke tells us that the Antiochene Christians fasted as they asked the Spirit to choose missionaries. Fasting is one sign of spiritual sensitivity. Through fasting believers depend more on God, especially in times of calamity (Esther 4:3), sickness (Ps. 35:13), spiritual anguish (Dan. 6:18), neediness (Dan. 9:3), repentance (Joel 2:12), and decision-making (Acts 14:23). This group wasn’t self-confident but God-reliant.

After the Spirit selected his messengers, the church sent them off by the Spirit (Acts 12:3, 4). Paul later asked, “How are they to preach unless they are sent?” (Rom. 10:15). Technically, anyone can do just that; there are many self-declared, self-sent missionaries. But how is the preacher accountable if no church oversees him? How can the preacher labor for the church without a church behind him? The church of Antioch recognized and blessed their missionaries by the laying on of hands “and sent them off” (Acts 13:3). Through the church’s sending, a teacher, an encourager, and a disciple were “sent out by the Holy Spirit” to speak for God (Acts 13:4).

The Spirit Gains New Ground

Remember, the church at Antioch is a beachhead, a staging ground for new gospel gains. And the apostles’ method of advance was simple: proclaim God’s word in Jewish synagogues. The church had theological grounds for first appealing to Jews; the gospel is “to the Jew first” (Rom. 1:16, 17). They also had practical grounds. Jewish knowledge of Scripture provided a natural segue for introducing Jesus.

The first detailed engagement of the missionary journey was a fierce spiritual battle. A magician named Elymas opposed Saul and Barnabas in order to prevent a Roman proconsul from coming to faith (Acts 13:6–11).Elymas sensed that missionary outreach is an act of war. He wasn’t merely an unbeliever; he was actively fighting for Satan. Paul called him a “son of the devil,” an “enemy of all righteousness” (Acts 13:10). Elymas symbolizes the intimidation Christians face in sharing the faith today. Let’s learn from Paul who spoke for God as a man with a warrant from God. “Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently” at Elymas (Acts 13:9). We need to have more of the spiritual courage that put that look on Paul’s face. We must be patient, kind, and good (Gal. 5:22). But the Spirit who gives those traits can also make us steadfast and immovable (1 Cor. 15:58).

And the Lord honored Saul’s resolve: The Spirit struck Elymas blind to keep him from disrupting Paul’s work. And the proconsul believed! Sergius Paulus was “a man of intelligence” (Acts 13:7). He was wise and prudent. But that’s not why he became a Christian. He believed “when he saw what had occurred for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord” (Acts 13:12). Powerful, experienced, wealthy, educated, well-travelled, and important men aren’t easily astonished. In the New Testament, this word always describes people’s reaction to Jesus himself. Paul was brave and principled. Christ, by his Holy Spirit did the rest. The same Spirit who resurrected the Lord Jesus can raise dead sinners no matter how hard others try to keep them dead.

The church has enemies. But they are no match for God. In Acts 12, a king was killing apostles; “an angel of the Lord struck him down” (Acts 12:23). In Acts 13 a magician was trying to disrupt the apostles’ message; the Holy Spirit struck him blind. God will do what he wants. And what he wants is to use established churches as strategic footholds in enemy territory from which to seek the lost.

[1] Darrell Bock, Acts, 440.

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William Boekestein

William Boekestein is the pastor of Immanuel Fellowship Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He has written several books and numerous articles. He and his wife, Amy, have four children.