A few weeks ago we began a new series from Acts 13-14, describing and defining for us the work of the ministry. The missionaries sent from Antioch went out to do something that God had set in front of them to do, and they knew when they had done it. It’s good for us to examine this work, for it will help us to assess whether we are actually living for the mission that God has placed before us; individually, yes, but more so, collectively as his church. Are we doing what God has set in front of us to do?
And so it’s quite common these days for churches to draft mission statements and the like to keep us on target, to keep the work in front of us. If you look at the top of your bulletin, you’ll see the phrase that is also on the screen behind me: OCBC English Congregation: Helping People Walk the Way of Christ. Have you ever wondered what that means? Well as we go through Acts 13-14 we’re going to unpack that over these four weeks. We’re going to study what Paul and his missionary band did as they fulfilled “the work” and evaluate how we are doing as a congregation in light of what we find.
Luke gives us a summary of this work in 14:21-23
21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
Last week we looked at the first part of that work to “point people to the Way” - fearlessly proclaiming in word and deed Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation. Today we’re going to focus on the second part of this work, the work of “strengthening the souls of disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” The word here translated “strengthen” is also translated, “to establish” - and it means to set right, to make strong. It is like if you break your arm, the doctor has to set it right so that it can heal and become strong again, and then as it heals the doctor also helps you through physic to make it even stronger. That’s the idea, to establish is to set right and make strong. So when we say we exist to “help people walk the way of Christ”, The second part is to “encourage people along the Way”.
Jesus has called us to a certain way of life, to a certain quality of life. The order is important here. Jesus is the Way, and He calls us to a way of life. If you get the order wrong, you have a different religion. A damning religion. A graceless religion. Salvation is a completely free gift, a gift of God’s love. You can do nothing to get God to love you, nothing to earn God’s favour, nothing to merit salvation. Only by humbly coming to God through the grace offered in Jesus. That’s what we mean when we say Jesus is the only way.
Yet having come to God through Jesus, we find that we not only receive the gift of salvation, but also receive the gift of a new life in Christ and the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in order to live, no longer according to the pattern of this world, but in a new Way. A Way of Love, a Way of Peace, a Way of holiness, A Way of Justice. A Way of Forgiveness. A Way of Grace. Whereas before we might have heard Jesus tell us to love our enemies and laugh it off, we now really believe that God is giving us the power to do so, and we begin to do so!
WE ESTABLISH BELIEVERS IN THE FAITH Jesus called us to go into the world and make disciples of all nations. And so we pray that we might present every single one of you mature in Christ. We consider how to spur one another on to the love and good works.
We Teach the Faith
Col. 2:6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
Notice the three stages of the Christian life here. 1) Having received Christ as Lord. 3) the established phase: In which we walk in Christ, confident, abounding in thanksgiving. 2) the establishing phase - where we are taught the faith.
I often use the analogy of a musical instrument. In one sense, you become a musician on the moment you receive your instrument. But if someone asked you to play your instrument on the first day, you would say, “I’m just learning”, but you practice the basics, you learn the techniques, and soon, someone might ask you to play something and you do, and you’re now a musician. You still learn and still grow, but you’ve got the basics mastered.
Heb. 5:11 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
Heb. 6:1 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do if God permits.
At OCBC we establish people in the faith through Sunday School, adult discipleship, preaching and leadership courses, we commit to learning the faith with one another.
We Encourage the Heart
Notice that part of this work of strengthening the believers was not only to teach them, but to encourage them. You see these words come up together again and again.
22 strengthening [episterizo] the souls of the disciples, encouraging [parakalesin] them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.
1Th. 3:2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish [episterizo] and exhort [parakalesin] you in your faith,
2Th. 2:16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 17 comfort [parakalesin] your hearts and establish [episterizo] them in every good work and word.
Establishing believers in the faith is not only about doctrine, but also about encouragement. Our faith grows weak and yes he have the ultimate encourager in the Holy Spirit, we are also called to encourage one another, yes as part of the work of the ministry. I note that on this missions trip, it wasn’t Paul alone who was sent, but Barnabas, the son of encouragement.
And how do they encourage them. Not by speaking what we would call a positive message, but by speaking real talk with them. “Saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” We are not offering people a kingdom without pain. We are pointing people through their pain to the kingdom to come.
We Prepare Ourselves for Good Works
The third part of this establishing work is that we prepare for good works.
2Th. 2:16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 17 comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.
So we not only establish the mind with sound doctrine, establish the heart with encouragment, but also establish the hands by training an equipping the saints for the work of the ministry.
The clearest teachings on Good works is in the book of Titus Chapter 3
Titus 3:1 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. 3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 8 The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. 9 But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned …
14 And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.
And so we establish believers in the faith, head, heart and hands.
We Establish Believers In The Family of Families
We call the church the Family of Families for that is what it is. It is called the household of God for a reason. I’m a child of God, you’re my brother, and when we’re brought together, we make up the household of God. And so the missionaries didn’t just go around making individual disciples, they gathered them into churches, that would be stronger together.
ACTS 14:22-23strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
Acts 15:41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
Again as we spoke last week, this is not something we do on our own. It is how the apostles fulfilled the great commission, specifically by planting churches. Because there is no churchless evangelism in the New Testament. There is no churchless disciples. A churchless Christianity is no Christianity. We see the type of body life in 1 Thess 5:14
1Th. 5:14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.
Youth: some of you might wonder why were here at times. A family is not often spectacular. It’s the mom waking up early in the morning while you’re still asleep, packing an after school snack in your bag so you won’t be hungry at practice. Its a dad asking if you’ve got your homework done, because its his way of showing concern and guidance for you. In this church you have aunties and uncles loving you. You have brothers and sisters that will not only have amazing times of fun with, but also friends who will admonish you when you’re making bad decisions, or pray with you when you can’t pray for yourself.
At OCBC we are trying to be the family of God for one another.
“Calling upon the power of the Holy Spirit, we together devote ourselves to prayer and to the teachings of Christ and his Apostles, trusting in the scriptures as our sole authority for faith and life. We admonish, encourage, help and bear with one another, considering how to stir one another on to love and good works.”