Summary: The model of the book of Acts is clear. The apostles went with the gospel to people not just like themselves, but to stangers. That’s what love compels us to do!
Acts 11: 19-30 "Love" is one of those sadly misunderstood words in the human language today. What do people usually mean when they say they "love" something or someone? I consulted the American Heritage Dictionary of the Enlish Language. The definitions are ranked by how frequently they are used in our language today. What are the top two definitions? The first is, "an intense affectionate concern for another person." Like that one? Next week I’ll have to write that down on my wife’s mother’s day card. "Dear, I have an intense affectionate concern for you." The second definition is not much better. "An intense sexual desire for another person." Do you get the idea that it must have been a panel of men who edited this edition of the dictionary? Whoever turned love into "an intense sexual desire?" Somehow, you look at these definitions of love and you can’t help but thinking that "love" in most people’s minds means "what’s in it for me?"
I guess I still like the definition in Jesus’ dictionary (the Bible) the best. "Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." The Bible further describes love as more than just a feeling - or worse, "an intense desire" for something. Love is an activity. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is unselfish. Love gives. Love does. Love does not ask, "What’s in it for me?"
But where does Christian love excel the most? Where does it really set itself apart from the kind of love you might find in the American Heritage Dictionary? I believe that Christian love finds its highest expression in our ability to love total strangers. Isn’t that why mission work remains a high priority in our lives, even though we reap very few tangible benefits from it? After all, what benefit do we get from reaching someone in China with the gospel? What’s in it for me? Absolutely nothing. And that’s the whole point. When we love a total stranger, there’s nothing in it for me. The only reason we have for that kind of love is the one Jesus gives his disciples. We love because he loved us. Our story from the book of Acts shows this dimension of Christian love in action. Christian love is...
REACHING OUT TO TOTAL STRANGERS
I. WITH THE MESSAGE OF THE GOSPEL
The first paragraph shows us how the gospel began to spread beyond Jerusalem and the Jewish people. "Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenecia, Cypus, and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord." First of all, please note how the Lord actually used the persecutions in Jerusalem to spread the gospel! The devil thought he won a great victory when he scattered the Christians in Jerusalem. But instead of having one hotbed of Christianity in Jerusalem, the persecution only scattered the sparks and started brush fires all over the Mediterranean world.
At first, the gospel spread the way it usually does - along social lines. Friends tell friends. Think of the story of the calling of Matthew, who was a tax collector. When Jesus called Matthew to be his disciple, he immediately went out and had a big dinner party for all his tax-collector friends so they could meet Jesus, too. Friends will tell friends about the Savior. And that makes sense. If you know how to get to heaven and your friend doesn’t, how can you NOT tell them about Jesus? How can you not want them to spend eternity in heaven with you? So Jews told other Jews that the Messiah had come.
But in Antioch, something else happened. Jews not only told Jews about Jesus. Jews began to tell the Greeks about Jesus, too. They began to reach out to total stangers with the message of the gospel. What motivated them to do so? What motivates a proud new father to hand out cigars to everyone in the barbershop? We tell the good news to total strangers simply because there is good news to tell. Why NOT tell strangers?
And that’s the way it should be. The gospel of Jesus Christ has no limits or boundaries. It’s not the story of a Jewish Savior dying for the Jewish people. Jesus was the Savior of the world. He died for everyone in the world. His command to his disciples was to preach the gospel to every creature. There is no “language, tribe, nation, or people” for whom the Gospel was not intended.