It should not be controversial to note that one of the most striking benefits of knowing God is the sense of purpose and meaning the He brings into our lives. Knowing God, means knowing that life has purpose and meaning. Last year we brought in Os Guinness and he did a debate with Christopher Dicarlo on the existence of God and whether one can understand the meaning of life if there is no maker. It’s a good thing that this wasn’t a formal debate, because Professor DiCarlo, the atheist, blatantly admitted during the evening that “If there is no God, then the universe is simply accidental and we are a product of that accidental occurrence. As such we would be on our own. The universe would be devoid of any absolute meaning or moral sense.” Now DiCarlo went on to argue that while we can’t find meaning or purpose, we can create it for ourself, but this was not persuasive to all in attendance. I was told later that one young lady was in tears outside the venue muttering, “there is no God, there is no meaning.” I don’t know if she was having a crisis of faith in God, or a crisis of faith in atheism, but it underscores the deeply rooted ache within us to understand our lives as being those of meaning, those of purpose, those of mission.
As I’ve already said, as Christians we receive as one the benefits of knowing God, the assurance that the universe has a purpose, that life has meaning and that our individual and collective lives are being lived in fulfillment of God’s intent for us. “We are,” the scripture says, “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Yet its not only the sense of overriding meaning and purpose that God gives to our lives, but also, as we are part of the Body of Christ, we become part of God’s mission in the world, to exalt his Son Jesus Christ in every corner of the globe, and to seek and save a people for himself from every nation. He shares this mission with His Son, when He sent Him into the world, and His Son then shares that same mission with us: “As the Father has sent me”, He said, so now i send you”, and in the very first chapter of the book of Acts, the book we’ve been studying, Jesus gathered the disciples around him and told them, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to all the ends of the earth.” So we, the church, the called out people of God, are given not only a purpose, but a mission.
The first major section of Acts was to set in front of us the Jerusalem church as a model church, a church for all ages. The second major section of Acts was to demonstrate for us the new people that God is calling us to become, a church for all people. This section is not focused around a specific church or a specific city, but the focus of these chapters is the mission itself - we now see the church fulfilling the words of Jesus that we will be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.
Acts 13:1 Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
The Spirit Propels
Previously I introduced the concept of the spontaneous expansion of the church from Acts 8, defining it as the work of the Holy Spirit moving in God’s people to bring the good news of Jesus outside of the church walls. This is accomplished through regular believers, bold through the filling of the Holy Spirit, equipped and supported by established church leadership.
In Acts 13, we find the leaders of the church at Antioch in prayer. This church had started by spontaneous expansion when no-named, regular-joe believers found their way to Antioch after the persecution of Stephen in Acts 7 and shared the good news of Jesus. People came to know the Lord and again the Jerusalem church supported the spontaneous expansion by sending one of their key leaders to stabilize and teach these new converts. Barnabas was his name and he recruited a man named Saul (also called Paul) to help him plant the church. In Acts 13 the church in Antioch has grown so that in addition to Barnabas and Paul we find three other men participating in the upbuilding of the church.
At first glance this is amazing: here is a church that is able to discern the Holy Spirit’s leading to the degree that they send out their Senior and Associate pastor into missions. But on second glance, this is even more amazing – as far as we know the concept of missions had not even been invented yet! Remember, up until this point Luke has presented the expansion of the church a happening spontaneously – churches have been planted, yes, but it has been in a reaction to a movement of the Holy Spirit. The novelty of the Antioch church is that these guys are being sent out proactively into mission.
A Prepared People
They were praying and fasting. Perhaps they were praying over the call that they had received many years ago that Saul would be God’s chose instrument for the Gentiles.
Not only were they worshipping and fasting. They were working, labouring and teaching. Barnabas and Saul had been labouring in Antioch for at least a year, possibly a bit longer when they time came.
Even more, they were prepared in other ways. They had been well trained in the scriptures. They had learned trades. They had learned humility.
Into His Work
The holy Spirit sent them out “to do the work to which I have called them.” On the one hand, this seems to be a reference at the very least to Saul’s conversion, in which the Lord had declared, “He will be my chosen instrument to the Genitles.
However, it is likely that there >>is more to this “work”. At the end of this account Luke writes a very interesting phrase, >>in Acts 14:26. He writes, “they sailed to Antioch where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which thy had fulfilled.” It’s this last phrase that is most important to us. When these missionaries went out into the world, they were given a work to do, a task which they were complete that was clear enough so that when they came home, they could say, we did it. They knew what to do //// They knew when they had done it This is vitally important. If you don’t know what the work is, how can you do it? I would ask you, – do you know what your work is?
So what was their task? Helpfully, 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. Acts 14:24 Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia.
1) Evangelize: Interestingly, we do not see the apostolic teams planting churches in every city. Instead they focused on key cities, strategic places for God’s kingdom. When they got there they made contacts and shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with those who would listen.
2) Established Believers into Local Churches: The pattern again and again throughout the New Testament is that believers were to be baptized and accepted into the local church. While baptism is an initiation into the body life, it is only the beginning of the establishment process. In verse 22 you see Paul strengthening the believers, encouraging them in their faith, and teaching them about life as a member of Christ’s body.
3) Entrust to Faithful Leaders: Paul did not stay long in the churches he planted – Ephesus was his longest stay of three years. But in the short time he spent in the churches he has very busy training men to be capable leaders to guard and guide the church after he moved on (see verse 23).
4) Extend the Mission Outward: We must understand that this is not the end of the cycle! Yet this is not the case of the New Testament churches, and this is vital to us to understand. You see, the Antioch church that sent Paul was not the originator of the Pauline Cycle. They themselves had been planted by the Jerusalem church and as they were evangelized, and established and had leaders appointed, they continued the cycle geographically sending Paul and his team out. However, the church must not only keep the cycle geographically, but also across generations. This is seen most clearly in 2 Timothy 2:2, in which Paul instructed his protégé Timothy: 2Tim. 2:2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. In this passage Paul refers to four generations. The church needs to be replanted in every generation. This allowed them to expand outward and inward at the same time. Geographically and generationally. Like “Risk”!
THIS WORK IS OUR MISSION
We’re going to be looking more closely at each one of these parts of our mission over the next month or so as we prepare to move and as we move into our new neighbourhood. We believe the Holy Spirit is leading our church into a new season of mission.
We don’t make up the mission of God. It is too important. This is not our mission, it is the Holy Spirits.
Some final thoughts
- The Mission of God is larger than any one church
- This mission is OCBC’s in the sense that we connect to the mission of God and seek to do its work. It is not ours in the sense that we created it, or own it.
- The Mission of God is larger than vocational ministry, but includes vocational ministry
- You see in the book of Acts, the entire body of believers dedicating themselves to this mission, but only some being sent into the mission.
- The Mission of God sometimes leads people away
- You’re a member of the church, not property of a church
- What are you living for?