Summary: This is the third sermon in the series, "Becoming A Contagious Congregation, A Study of the Church at Antioch".
Ever wonder why the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch?
We’ve already learned in the first two sermons in this series that Antioch was a Spirit-filled, praying, good news-sharing, missions-minded body of believers displaying evidence of God’s power and grace in their midst.
They were such a contagious congregation that twice Luke mentions the great response they received to sharing the Good News:
Acts 11:21 - "And a great number believed and turned to the Lord."
Acts 11:24b - "...and much people was added to the Lord."
I want you to pay special attention to their pastor, Barnabas.
Let me remind you that the church at Antioch was not started by an apostle or any other official from the church in Jerusalem. Men from Cyprus and Cyrene began announcing the good news to the Greeks in Antioch. (Acts 11:20) They were not formal preachers. In fact, the Greek word Luke uses for "preaching" in verse 20, is not the word for a formal talk or sermon. It is the word from which we derive the English word, "evangelize", which literally means "to share the good news".
Once they started sharing the Good News people started believing in Jesus, the church grew, and they needed leadership. The church at Jerusalem heard that a lot of people were becoming Christ followers at Antioch so they sent Barnabas to encourage and teach them.
Barnabas was filled with the Holy Spirit and faith (Acts 11:24). We covered that in the first sermon in this series. He was a remarkable example of church leadership.
The first thing Barnabas did when he got to Antioch and saw God’s hand at work there was to exhort them. (Acts 11:23) The word "exhort" literally means "to call near". In Greek it is "parakaleo". Some of you will notice this is the root word for the name Jesus gave the Holy Spirit in John 14:16,26; 15:26; & 16:7. In the English this title for the Holy Spirit has been translated, "the Comforter". That gives us some idea of what "exhortation" is all about.
But exhortation is not just about comforting someone. It does involve encouragement, but it also includes calling on someone to pursue a certain course of conduct. This is what the Holy Spirit does, and he has gifted certain people in the church, men and women, to help Him in this task.
Barnabas had the spiritual gift of exhortation and he used it wisely. When he arrived at Antioch and saw all the new Christians he began calling on them to follow a certain course of action, "that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord". (Acts 11:23)
Researchers have discovered certain people are genetically destined to excel in athletics. According to their studies, the A.C.E. gene is longer in athletes than in those who are not agile, fast, or wll-coordinated in their movements. Researchers also observed that people who are born with a longer A.C.E. gene must "work out" to utilize their hereditary advantage.
When we decide to become a Christ follower we receive the Holy Spirit. We now have the power to say no to sin and yes to righteousness. But as with those genetically predisposed to athletic success, we must "work out".
Exhorters in the church, like Barnabas, are what I like to think of as our "personal trainers". They instruct and encourage us to follow a certain course of action that will lead to spiritual success.
I believe the church at Antioch went on being contagious because they "worked out". They had a spiritual gym and attended faithfully. For an entire year they went through a discipleship program with Barnabas and Paul. (Acts 11:23) They allowed themselves to be exhorted.
The sad truth with a lot of Christ followers is that they won’t allow themselves to be exhorted.
One New Year’s Day, in the Tournament of Roses parade, a beautiful float suddenly sputtered and quit. It was out of gas. The entire parade was held up until someone could get a can of gas. The amusing thing was this float represented the Standard Oil Company! With its vast oil resources, its truck was out of gas.
When Christians neglect their spiritual maintenace, even though the resources are available to them, they will find themselves running out of gas.
No one can follow you if you’re out of gas. The individual believer and the church that desires to be contagious must contstantly be involved in a process of discipleship.
There’s something else about Barnabas that stands out. He didn’t hog all the attention in the church. He looked around at what needed to be done at Antioch and realized he needed a co-worker. So he set off to find Saul (Acts 11:25), known better to us as the Apostle Paul.
Much could be said about the significance of this decision on the part of Barnabas to recruit Paul as his co-pastor. It literally changed the course of church history! Barnabas and Paul became the first appointed missionaries of the Christian church (Acts 13:2). They took church planting from informal happenstance to organized planning.