Choose Christ or this world [Acts 11]

The pattern among the early church of evangelism was one of obedience. They were told to wait in Jerusalem. They did. They were told to then preach throughout Judea. They did. They were then told to preach to the whole world.

But they started with their own people. The early disciples were Jews. They taught among the dispersed Jews in Asia Minor and Greece. Then among the Hellenists: some would say this is those Greeks who could not be circumcised and join the synagogue, but Calvin comments here wisely. It is better to see this as the Gentiles.

And Antioch as a congregation that reflected the population of Antioch.

Luke doth at length declare that certain of them brought this treasure even unto the Gentiles. And Luke calleth these Grecians not Ellenes, but Ellenistai. Therefore, some say that those came of the Jews, yet did they inhabit Greece; which I do not allow. For seeing the Jews, whom he mentioned a little before, were partly of Cyprus, they must needs be reckoned in that number, because the Jews count Cyprus a part of Greece. But Luke distinguisheth them from those, whom he calleth afterward Ellenistas. Furthermore, forasmuch as he had said that the word was preached at the beginning only to the Jews, and he meant those who, being banished out of their own country, did live in Cyprus and Phenice, correcting as it were this exception, he saith that some of them did teach the Grecians. This contrariety doth cause me to expound it of the Gentiles. For Luke’s meaning is, that a few did more freely preach the gospel, because the calling of the Gentiles was not unknown to them. But the constancy of them all deserveth no small praise; because, being delivered, as it were, out of the midst of death, they are not afraid to do their duty toward God even with danger. Whence we gather to what end, and how far forth Christians may fly persecution; to wit, that they may spend [739] the residue of their life in spreading abroad the glory of God. If any man demand how it came to pass that strangers lately coming, and such as might have been suspected among all the Jews, and hated of them, because they were banished out of Jerusalem, were so bold, I answer, that this came to pass through the singular motion of God, and that they consulted suddenly according to the occasion offered them. For this deliberation is not of flesh and blood.

The hand of the Lord was. Luke proveth by the success that the gospel was offered unto the Gentiles also by the brethren of Cyprus and Cyrene not rashly nor unadvisedly, because their labor was fruitful and profitable. But such increase should never have followed, unless God had commanded and favored. Therefore, it followeth that it pleased God that the Gentiles should be called. The hand, as it is well known, doth signify power and strength. Therefore, this is Luke’s meaning, that God did testify by his present aid that the Gentiles were called together with the Jews, through his direction, to be made partakers of the grace of Christ. And this blessing of God served not a little to confirm the minds of all men. This place did also teach us, that what pains soever the ministers of God take in teaching, it shall be all vain and void, unless God bless their labors from heaven.

Acts 11:19-30

19Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that took place over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, and they spoke the word to no one except Jews. 20But among them were some men of Cyprus and Cyrene who, on coming to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists also, proclaiming the Lord Jesus. 21 The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number became believers and turned to the Lord. 22News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion; 24for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were brought to the Lord. 25Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they associated with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.”

27At that time prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28One of them named Agabus stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine over all the world; and this took place during the reign of Claudius. 29The disciples determined that according to their ability, each would send relief to the believers living in Judea; 30this they did, sending it to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.

Note that there was no question about the church dissolving people. Nor was there a consideration of social justice. The monies the church raised were to support the believers in other areas where there was famine.

Note also that Saul was bought to Antioch from his home town, where he had been working. He was not moved directly into activism.

And note that the hand of God was on the believers. Until the Shoah of last century, when Ataturk ethnically cleansed Anatolia and genocided Armenia, this part of the world was Christian.

The particular matters. We are not called to converge, and be some form of undifferentiated goo. We are instead called to be ourselves, with Christ. For in the great congregation to come, there will be many peoples.

It is not about social justice.

It is not about social progression. It is not about submerging our people with strangers, from another religion, and another country. It is not about fighting poverty. It is about the gospel.

All things flow from God: as water does not flow upstream, neither can those who have no salvation vote themselves to paradise. The work of the Early Church in evangelisation of the pagan was in his will and with his hand. The current fetish for social relevance and virtue seeking is not.

Choose Christ or this world. But choose wisely.