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The Antioch Example

20 Some of them [scattered by the persecution] . . . men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks, also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord . . . 29 The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea . . . 1 In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

Acts 11:20-21, 29, 13:1-3 (NIV)

Throughout the world are countless churches with “Antioch” in their name, and rightly so. For this church, described in Acts, was a fount of the gospel.

The early Church centered on Jerusalem until the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7). On the day of his death, “a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1). The diaspora (literally “scattering of seeds”) extended well beyond Samaria into Syria, to Antioch, near today’s Turkey.

The Antioch church was no mere shadow of the Jerusalem church. It surpassed it in spiritual insight. When Peter extended his ministry to the Gentile Cornelius (Acts 10), he was criticized in Jerusalem for fraternizing with the “uncircumcised” (11:2). To correct this misunderstanding, God used the child (Antioch) to correct the parent (Jerusalem). This was a precocious child, a model to other churches who would be legitimate offspring of the apostles’ teaching. In fact, in Antioch, believers were first called “Christians” (11:26). This church was . . .

  1. Spirit Led. Over outside objections, these Antioch Christians began to speak to Greeks (v. 20), as was pleasing to God.

  2. Manly. In some sectors, church involvement is regarded as “women’s work.” While, godly women are essential and prominent in healthy churches, there is no substitute for such as these men from Cyprus and Cyrene (v. 20).

  3. Generous. They readily provided help (v. 29) to their destitute “parents” in Jerusalem.

  4. Divinely Informed. They were blessed with prophets (v. 1), with those anointed to announce, “Thus saith the Lord.”

  5. Tutored. Teachers (v. 1) stood ready to interpret, apply, and reinforce the prophets’ words.

  6. Integrated. In Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen, and Saul (v. 1), Antioch had a rich racial, cultural, and economic mixture. In Christ, all were esteemed as vital parts of the body.

  7. Worshipful. As they were worshipping (v. 2), God put great things on their hearts.

  8. Free. In fasting (v. 2), they showed their freedom from distractions of the flesh.

  9. Prayerful. They prayed (v. 3), not as an afterthought, but in anticipation of God’s power.

  10. Missionary. They did not hoard their treasures, but sent them off (v. 3) to win the world.

Boats move along by a number of means. Some simply drift with the current. Others steam ahead under power. Still others hoist their sails to catch prevailing winds. Churches are the same. Some drift with the secular culture. Some charge ahead according to programs of their own design. But the best raise their canvas to catch the Spirit’s wind. Antioch did so, and God blew them to the Gentiles in their own city and beyond. That same God still breathes His Spirit on the Church, and congregations who have their sails unfurled can expect the ride of their life.