Summary: When the saints go marching in, they will be armed with a towel.
Key Priorities of a healthy church
6 April 2003
Over the past three weeks we have brushed off the dust from God’s journal on the early church. It has been an exciting adventure to see from the Antioch Church what we have called: Key Priorities of a Healthy Church. In this short study, we have seen the first priority of a healthy church is Evangelism. The second is Encouragement. The third priority is Edification. Now as we turn the page of God’s journal we see the final priority of a healthy church and that is: Body Life. What is body life – it is the process where each believer needs to learn how to care for one another.
BIG IDEA: WHEN THE SAINTS GO MARCHING IN,
THEY WILL BE ARMED WITH A TOWEL.
1A. BODY LIFE BEGINS, WHEN WE EXERCISE OUR SPIRITUAL GIFTS (27-28)
Luke describes what occurred after Paul had a year with these new believers, teaching, training, and equipping them to understand and apply the Scriptures. At this point, God sends some prophets down from Jerusalem to Antioch.
Wait a minute? I thought you said last week Antioch was north of Jerusalem. So, how could they come down to Antioch from Jerusalem? Isn’t that some kind of error? Well, on the surface, I can see how one might think that. But when you compare the elevation of Jerusalem and Antioch, you will notice that Antioch is lower in elevation than Jerusalem. So when they wanted to communicate one’s travels as such, they would phrase in such a fashion, “came down,” indicating they were descending from Jerusalem to Antioch.
Now, one of the prophets is named, Agabus. This is the first of two times he is mentioned in Acts and both times Paul is present when this man arrives on the scene. The other time he is mentioned is when Paul is going to Jerusalem, and Agabus prophecies that Paul will be imprisoned. You can read more about that in Acts 21:10. But this first mention of Agabus gives a different prophecy… (read verse 28 again). The prophecy suggests a world wide famine. Is this provable? I mean did this really occur? Fortunately, Luke gives a giant hint when this occurred. Notice the last phrase of verse 28, “this took place in the reign of Claudius.”
According to one scholar, the reign of Claudius took place from A.D. 41-54, and Roman Historians refer to a string of bad harvests and famines during that reign. Most scholars place the Judean famine about A.D. 46 so we should find our place her in Acts 11 just prior to that. If we place the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in A.D. 30, we can place the founding of the church in Antioch approximately fifteen years later. Since events in Acts cover a period of about thirty years, we are approximately halfway through the historical time period Luke intends to cover in this book.
Luke calls it a severe famine, for in varying degrees it affected the entire Roman empire. Egypt sold grain for the benefit of the people in famine stricken Jerusalem. Cyprus supplied figs, and the Christians in Antioch sent aid to the believers in Judea. Different parts of the Roman empire suffered famines. Therefore, we interpret Luke’s description, “a great famine all over the world,” not in a literal but in a broad sense.
So, Agabus gives a prophecy of a famine that will affect the church in Jerusalem. Now, I don’t mean to impersonalize this issue, but when I say the word “Church,” I am not referring to brick and mortar. I am referring and only referring to people. You cannot have a church apart from people and when we speak of fellowship community, we are speaking of and only speaking of you and me.
But in this Antioch church, they must have been equipping them to understand spiritual gifts, because how else do we explain the acceptance of Agabus’ prophecy? If someone came to speak at our church, like Ricardo did some weeks back. We accepted him, Why? Because we knew his gifts are in the area of preaching and teaching. We also know he has the gift of evangelism. Why did we accept him? Because you have been equipped to know about spiritual gifts.
Where we need to grow is having our very own class or classes on spiritual gifts. This could be done in a small group or a Sunday School Class as well as from the pulpit. But for now, let me introduce you to 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4 and 1 Peter 4. Within all those chapters, you will read and understand various spiritual gifts the Holy Spirit gives to believers. For me to spend much time today on this, would be an injustice. But we will return to this subject. Suffice to say, this is an area that we need to grow in, because it is vital for body life, and that makes it a key priority for a healthy church.