Society of Fellows
In 1940, during the darkest days of Britain’s stand against Hitler’s relentless attacks, Sir Winston Churchill delivered his now famous speech to the House of Commons. In that memorable moment he challenged his countrymen to a new level of courage and commitment with these words: “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will say, ‘This was their finest hour.’”
In his own inimitable way, Dr. R.G. Lee sought to stir a similar response from his hearers in the sermon, “To Whom Shall We Go.” In that message Dr. Lee began with this challenge: “I would arouse you, in the interest of a greater estimate of Jesus Christ, in the interest of a greater service for Jesus Christ, who is literature’s loftiest ideal, philosophy’s highest personality, criticism’s supremest problem, theology’s fundamental doctrine, spiritual religion’s cardinal necessity—and who is personally, socially, politically, economically, educationally, scientifically, religiously, the only hope of this head-dizzy, body-weary, soul-famished, hell-bound world in which we live.”1
During the early days of the New Testament church, faithful men exemplified similar courage and commitment for the purpose of expanding God’s Kingdom. They were men whose hearts had been stirred with a greater estimate of and a greater service for Jesus Christ. Their testimony is recorded in Acts 11:19-26. This section of Scripture records what may be called “the Church’s finest hour.” But this kind of action is not limited to the past. It can happen today—in your life and in the ministry of this church. This 1st century illustration can help us as we make a 21st century application. Let’s visit these first century friends and see how they made such a Kingdom-sized contribution to the work of Christ.
I. Notice the Difficult Situation (v. 19).
So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone.
The key words in that verse are “scattered” and “persecution.” Those words hardly established the kind of climate that would be suitable for anything remarkable to happen, but God has a history of using intense opposition as incredible opportunities for His work to be accomplished. One Christian leader noted the following: “I have observed a pattern, a strange historical phenomenon of God ‘moving’ geographically from the Middle East to Europe to North America to the developing world. My theory is this: God goes where He’s wanted.” 2 Perhaps we are not seeing more supernatural results because we don’t sense the reality of how desperately we need God. Could it be that a time of scattering and persecution is needed to wake up the sleeping church?
I’m afraid that our mild and modern consumer-Christianity has more interest in comfort than commitment and more concern for being served than for sacrifice and suffering. We must remember that Christ called his followers to do “whatever it takes” and to go “wherever He leads.” May we be so bold as to rise up as an army—sharing a witness for Christ—in the midst or at the risk of being scattered and persecuted!
II. Notice the Delivery System (v. 20).
But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus.
God has a history of using those who are unnamed, unknown, and unnoticed. The text simply introduces these champions as “some of them.” Their names were not mentioned, at least at first, and it seems almost intentional. The most important issue was not the individual personalities, but rather, the amazing movement of God in their midst. What we need in these modern days are leaders who don’t care who receive the credit as long as God gets the glory!
Dr. Lee made a similar point when he said, “we know our churches are needing men of heroisms, of clear vision—men who are not afraid to be different, who can lead people out of complacency and mediocrity into life…We need men who weigh sixteen ounces to the pound for God, who measure thirty-six inches to the yard, who strike twelve for God, who shine incandescently (not oil-lamps) for God.” 3
The landscape of these modern times is littered with mediocre men who have little commitment to anything other than mediocrity. Dr. Lee illustrated this point when he stated, “Mediocrity is the usage of only 40 strings on a harp of one thousand strings. Mediocrity is a Battleship of 40 guns—20 eight inch and 20 sixteen inch—using only 6 of each kind when a full-armed enemy is pressing the battle attack. Mediocrity is a man with locomotive power doing pushcart work. Mediocrity is a man with eagle wings fluttering about like a sparrow instead of soaring. Mediocrity is somebody or anybody with steam-shovel talents doing teaspoon work.”4
Praise the Lord for the delivery system of ordinary, obedient men who were willing to share Christ across cultural and racial boundaries for God’s Kingdom! He is still seeking such men today. We should pray that “some of us” might become “some of them.”
III. Notice the Divine Strength (v. 21)
And the hand of the Lord was upon them and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.
What a wonderful testimony of God’s divine strength—the hand of the Lord was with them! I want that to be said of my life and about our church! Is there anything more profound or more powerful than the hand of the Lord upon a life or a ministry? And notice the connection between the divine strength and the divine results—and a large number who believed turned to the Lord! Here’s the key: whatever else we have going for us, if we don’t have the hand of the Lord upon our lives and upon our church, nothing really supernatural or spectacular will happen. On the other side, however, when the hand of the Lord rests upon a person or people, wonderful things happen. The results are always changed lives in large numbers!
Most of our churches need a grand infusion of God’s hand resting upon them. My question is which comes first, the hand of the Lord’s blessing or the obedience of His people to share the gospel to the world? I personally believe that obedience must precede the blessing. Please allow me to quote Dr. R.G. Lee again on this subject: “Gospel evangelism (churches with a soul-winning spirit) prevents churches from becoming drifting sepulchers manned by frozen crews…Gospel evangelism is the heartbeat of, the Alpha and Omega of Christianity; and you take that out of gospel preaching and teaching and publications, it’s like taking the heat out of fire, melody out of music, numbers out of mathematics, mind out of metaphysics, fact out of history, fiction out of literature, brains out of the skull and expecting intelligence, and blood out of the body and expecting health.”5
Apart from the divine strength of God’s hand, no Christian or church will ever accomplish much. And without a willing spirit to share the gospel with the whole world, we will never know the hand of God. They are divinely connected and inseparable.
IV. Notice the Defining Statements (vv. 23a, 26b).
Then when he had come and witnessed the grace of God…and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
When the church at Jerusalem summoned Barnabas to check on the activities at Antioch, I’m sure they were more than a little concerned about what he might find. They sent him on an investigation in order to gather information, but they received a confirmation concerning the gospel’s proclamation and saturation!
The defining statements regarding that small band of bold believers at Antioch is one of the fines tributes given to anyone. What else needs to be said? Barnabas saw evidence of the grace of God there. They were first called followers of Christ there. What an awesome defining statement!
I must ask the question, however, what does the grace of God look like? Would we recognize it if we saw it? I’m sure it had something to do with these key elements:
· It involved passionate, experiential worship. The believers were not concerned with being entertained, but rather were interested in the presence of God in their midst.
· It included personal, evangelistic witnessing. Two distinct and different words are used to describe their declaration of the gospel. They were both speaking and preaching—two different words in the Greek. One refers to the conversational sharing (as you go) and the other is more confrontational. They used both.
· It infiltrated their practical, everyday walk. Believers were called “Christ-folks” or “men of the Messiah” as a testimony to their conduct. No Sunday-only saints in Antioch!
I had the privilege of preaching my grandfather’s funeral some years ago. He lived to be 103 years old. His wife of 78 years (my grandmother) arrived early at the old country funeral home to have a moment with the man she had loved and lived with for nearly 8 decades. When that frail, 96-year-old Mississippi lady stepped up with her walker and looked into her husband’s face, I knew I was on holy ground. And then she spoke to him. It was barely audible, but I heard her say over and over again, “he was a good man; he was a good husband.” The lady who knew him best and loved him most was giving her testimony of his life. As I thought about that precious picture, I was reminded of another time down the road for each of us who know Christ. One day we will see His face and what a joy it will be for us to hear the one who knows us best and loves us most say “Well done” to His faithful servants. May this be the defining statement and motivating desire of our lives!
Written by: Dr. Danny Sinquefield, Pastor
1 Lee, Robert G., Bread From Bellevue Oven, Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1947, p.10.
2 Yancey, Phillip, quoted in Christianity Today, Feb. 5, 2001, pg. 136.
3 Lee, Robert G., Bread From Bellevue Oven, p. 138.
4 Ibid., pp. 129-130.
5 Lee, Robert G., “Messages on Evangelism” delivered at the Florida Baptist Evangelism Conference, Daniels Publishers, Orlando, FL., 1970, p.21.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Danny Sinquefield has been pastor of Faith Baptist Church, Bartlett, Tennessee since 1994. He holds the bachelor of arts degree from the University of Central Florida; the master of divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; and the doctor of ministry from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky. He and his wife Rhonda are the parents of three sons, Jonathan, Joshua, and Joseph.