Studies in the Book of Acts
“Change is Hard”
One of the biggest “problem areas” of life is when “the new” “begins to take over from “the old” Everybody knows it has to happen -it has for generations. But even at that it is often difficult. That is the situation we find as we come to chapter 11 of the book of Acts. This movement actually began in chapter 10, which we studied in our last study. And the significant thing about that is that the preaching to the Gentiles which occurred in that chapter originated with God Himself. God himself instructed Cornelius a Godly Roman army officer to go to Peter for further information about the worship he had been doing. And He prepared Peter for further. But even though all of this was initiated by god Himself, the humans involved had a hard time accepting it. Peter actually argued with God about it, but finally went along with it. And now as we come to chapter 11 his friends argued with him like he had argued with God. As we look at this chapter we are going to see that it falls into three sections:
- The Contention of Peter – verses 1-18
III. The Convocation of a New Movement – verses 19-26
- The Cooperation of the New and the Old – verses 27-30
So let’s begin by looking at the contention with Peter that we find in verses 1-18. First let’s notice the participants in the contention. They are given in in verses 1 and 2.
Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God (2) And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him.
Here is a strange source of contention: “brethren” and even “apostles!” In fact the term “those of the circumcision” implies that the brethren and apostles were only the spokesmen for all of Jewish believers. Notice particularly the word “contended” in verse 2. This is a translation of the Greek word “diakrono” which means “to make a distinction.” In fact the same word is used in chapter 10 verse 20 and chapter 11 verse 12 and translated “doubting.” So this means that they “set Peter apart” and were questioning him and doubting him. The specific problem in thecontention is brought out in verse 3:
“Saying, you went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!”
These men were probably going through the same mental experience Peter had been through back in chapter 10. But notice how they handled it. They did exactly the right thing: they went directly to him and confronted him personally. This, in principle, is what Jesus had instructed in Matthew 18. And even though it is basic principle of the Christian life it is often overlooked. So, in order to help them, Peter tells them the details of what he had been through. And so the peaceful solution to the contention is given in verses 14-18
But Peter explained it to them in order from the beginning, saying (5) I was in the city of Joppa praying: and in a trance I saw a vision, an object descending like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners and it came to me (6)”When I observed it intently and considered, I saw four footed animals of the earth, wild beasts But I said, “Not so, Lord, for nothing common or unclean has at any time entered my mouth.(9)But the voice answered me again from heaven, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.”(10) This was done three times and all were drawn up again into heaven (11) “At that very moment, three men stood before the house where I was, having been sent to me from Caesarea (12) “Then the Spirit told me to go with them, doubting nothing. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house (13) And he told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house who said to him, send men to Joppa and call for Simon whose surname is Peter (14) “who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved (15) And as I began to speak the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. (16) Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, “John indeed with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit. (17)Therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God.
Peter didn’t have to be defensive because he could give a biblical reason for his behavior. Notice how often he refers to “the word” (or instructions) from God in one way or another. Then in verse 18 we see the results of that review:
When they heard these things they became silent and they glorified God saying “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.
The result of this whole process was understanding and agreement among the Christians. And this is always the result when biblical principles are followed.
A second section of the chapter begins in verse 19. It is the convocation of a new movement as described in verses 19 through 26. This is a very significant paragraph, because right here is where the focus changes from Jerusalem, so closely associated with Judaism to Antioch, a basically Gentile city. The first thing we see is the commencement of the new movement in verses 19 through 21. And it begins in what from the human standpoint seems strange: persecution – look at verse 19. And on the surface this seems like a simple enough story, and it is – but we want to look at it in some detail, because in these verses are recorded four methods that were used in spreading the message of Christ. The first method is that they used in verse 19 – preaching the word.
Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cypress, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but Jews only.
This is the translation of the word “lalountes.” And interestingly enough it is a word which means “speaking” or more specifically, “conversing.” As time goes by, some get more bold and speak to the Greeks, verse 20 says.
(20) But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus.
The word “preaching” here is a completely different word in the Greek than the one in verse 19. Here it is the word “euangalidzo.” This is the word from which we get our English word “evangelize, or “evangelism.” And it means “announcing” or “speaking publicly or to a group.” Antioch was the central city of the day – a great place to evangelize. Incidentally, notice that specific names are not given here – probably to emphasize that the Holy Spirit was the real force in the evangelism that was going on.
So that was how the movement; the “convocation.” But in verses 22 through 24 we have the confirmation of the movement. In verse 22 word of the evangelization of the Greeks reaches Jerusalem, so they send out Barnabas to investigate.
Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem to go as far as Antioch.
This was a wise choice. First, because Barnabas was not one of the apostles, but he was close to them. And second because he was from Cypress, and verse 20 says that the ones who had done the evangelism were also from Cypress. When he gets there Barnabas sees “the grace of God” – an unquestionable, but indefinable quality. Look at verse 23:
When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord.
Notice that Barnabas “encouraged” them. This is the third means of witnessing. The word used here is “paracalao,” and it is the noun form of paraclete, which means “one called alongside to help.” Jesus used this word in John 14 to describe the work of the Holy Spirit. And even though it is sometimes translated “exhort,” in the New Testament, it is better translated “encourage” as in this verse. Barnabas wisdom is also shown in verses 25 and 26 because there we see the consolidation of ministries
Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul (26) And when he had found him he brought him to Antioch. So it was that the church for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
Barnabas didn’t have the problem that many men in ministry have today, the problem of jealousy; of “protecting our turf” Verse 24 says that “a great many people” were turning to the Lord, and all that mattered to Barnabas was having enough personnel to help with the ministry. So he goes to find Saul – and notice the wording here: to “seek” Saul – evidently he had to hunt him down. Remember that back in chapter 9 Saul had gone off the scene and into God’s “training program.” And we don’t know how long he was there, but now the time has come to begin his public ministry. The next chapters demonstrate that Saul was eminently ready to begin – but what if he hadn’t used those years in Tarsus so well? If you are in your “Tarsus” be a good steward – the day will come when God will call for you to “go public” – and you’d better be ready.
Verse 26 says that they came back to Antioch and ministered together. Specifically, it says that they “taught” the believers there. And here is the fourth kind of ministry mentioned in this chapter. The word “taught” here is a translation of the Greek word “didadzo, which has to do with making details and ramifications clear. A good example of this kind of teaching, even though it is not in the New Testament is Nehemiah 8:8 – “So they read in the book of the law of the Lord distinctly and gave the sense and caused them to understand the reading.”
And an indication of the effectiveness of their combined ministry is in the phrase “the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch”
But in spite of these new developments, in verses27 through 30 we the cooperation of the New with the Old.
And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to (28)Then one of them named Agabus stood up and showed by the spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout the all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar (29)Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea (30) This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.
Here is the first mention of a prophet in the New Testament (except for Jesus of course) But the real importance of the paragraph is the cooperation that it shows – for the first time there is real unity in Christ between Jew and Gentile believers. The Gentile believers responded to a Jewish prophet. This shows that love for fellow Christians may take the form of physical financial aid And incidentally, notice the New Testament principle of giving even in this early in the narrative – every man according to his ability – verse 29
As we wrap up this study, notice that chapters 9, 10, and 11 show some wonderful examples of the continuity of a ministry from one “emphasis” to the next. We may not be able to see why we suffer or see the overall significance of events as they unfold from day to day – but with hindsight like this we can see how it all works together. For example, Stephen’s martyrdom became Antioch’s opportunity to hear the gospel. It also led to the persecution of Christians in general. And in fleeing that persecution they eventually came to Antioch. Peter’s “vision” became the church’s “eyesight.” Saul’s apprehension on the road to Damascus became Antioch’s teaching supply. And Antioch’s spiritual feeding became Jerusalem’ s physical feeding. Every new ministry is a development and refinement of what went before it. And as we look at this pattern we see, above all, that no one person can do the work of god alone – one plants, another waters, but God gives the increase. And look where it all leads.