Reaching Out to Others
Key Verse: “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.”
OUR LESSON RECOUNTS the experiences of those scattered because of “the persecution that arose about Stephen.” These preached the word “unto the Jews only.” (Acts 11:19) The references to various cities in verse 19 note the movement of the church as the spreading of the Gospel continued. Antioch, one of the cities mentioned, was unusual because in that city there were many Gentiles and “a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.” (Acts 11:21) Antioch became a ‘headquarters’ for the missionary work that was soon to turn westward.
Barnabas, whose name means ‘son of consolation,’ was sent by the apostles from Jerusalem to Antioch to investigate the unusual situation existing. Upon his arrival, he saw how the grace of God had blessed these brethren. He “exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.” (Acts 11:23) Barnabas, as the meaning of his name implies, had a talent for encouragement, and did not hesitate to use it wherever he was. We, as he did, should always seek to be instruments of encouragement, uplifting others rather than tearing down. “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another.”—I Thess. 5:11
Barnabas, however, knew that Saul (Paul) had been designated by Jesus as the apostle to the Gentiles, so he went to Tarsus to find Saul. (Acts 11:25) Upon finding him, Barnabas brought him back to Antioch, where they both met with the brethren and became elders. Both Saul and Barnabas taught in the church, building it up and instructing many people. We note that “the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.”—Acts 11:26
During the time that Saul and Barnabas were in Antioch, some prophets came from Jerusalem. One of these was Agabus, who prophesied by the Holy Spirit that a worldwide famine would occur during the reign of Claudius Caesar. Upon hearing this, the disciples organized a relief effort to the brethren in Judaea. Barnabas and Saul were the ones chosen to deliver the needed provisions to the brethren. This experience is a reminder to us that God not only requires faith, but also works, in order for us to be found worthy. “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.”—James 2:14-17
After an interlude in Acts 12, our lesson continues with the church at Antioch. Five elders are named in Acts 13:1. The Holy Spirit, God’s holy influence and power, is spoken of as guiding the church to “separate” Barnabas and Saul for a special work. (vs. 2) The brethren at Antioch financed a special missionary journey by these two elders. When God sets a person apart, he ‘sanctifies’ that person or ‘makes holy’ the person for the special work at hand. We, too, must sanctify ourselves that we might be of use to him. “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.”—John 17:17