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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 8am & 11am service, 2016-08-14

Text: Acts 14:21-23

The birth of a child is always a joyful event. The happiest ones are the parents of the newborn. After waiting for nine months their baby has finally arrived. Words of congratulations pour in from their loved ones and friends. But as every parent here would know, the joy of birth soon gives way to an overwhelming sense of responsibility for the care of the newborn. The infant needs to be fed, bathed, and have its diapers changed regularly. It needs much tender loving care and attention. It needs to be nurtured and taught as it goes through the various stages of growth.

The same thing is true of spiritual birth. We rejoice whenever souls are saved and brought into God’s kingdom. But when a sinner turns to Christ for salvation, he is a newborn Christian. He is a babe in Christ. He needs plenty of care and attention. He needs to be nurtured and taught carefully as he grows into maturity. In the sermons we have had from the Book of Acts thus far, much emphasis has been placed on witnessing for Christ, and we have been challenged to go forth and sow the Gospel seed widely. We have seen the need to share our faith with others whenever there is opportunity.

But let us understand that evangelism is only part of a process – the process of making disciples. When Jesus commissioned His apostles He commanded them “…to teach all nations (the word ‘teach’ here means make disciples), baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

The Christians in the early church were not only concerned with winning the lost to Christ, but also with strengthening their faith so that they can grow and live as true disciples of Christ. This is something that we should also be very concerned about, as we serve the Lord together in Life Church. And as we study Acts 14:21-23 this morning we will see how Paul and Barnabas did this for the people who were saved through their evangelistic work.

Let us turn our Bibles to this passage now and read it together: “And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.”

You may recall that we have been studying the first missionary journey of Paul which began in Acts chapter 13. After being commissioned by the Church of Antioch in Syria, Paul and Barnabas sailed to Cyprus. From there they sailed to the southern coast of Asia Minor and made their way inland until they came to Antioch in Pisidia. Here they preached the Gospel in a synagogue and many people were converted and turned to Christ for salvation. But the unbelieving Jews opposed them, and so they left for Iconium. The same thing happened at Iconium and also at Lystra. They finally completed their Gospel work at the city of Derbe where their preaching was well received without any opposition.

At this point, Paul and Barnabas could easily have returned directly to their home church in Syria by going further eastwards. But v.21 says that  “they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch…” They chose to revisit the disciples they had won to Christ in these three cities. Why did they do this? It is because these disciples did not have enough knowledge of God’s Word to stand on their own. If no follow up work is done for them, they may not be able to resist the strong influences of their hostile pagan environment. Hence Paul and Barnabas now retraced their steps westward to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch in Pisidia to strengthen the new disciples, before they returned to the church that had commissioned them as missionaries.

From what they did at each city, we will learn that new disciples need to be strengthened in at least four ways: by confirmation, by exhortation, by organisation and by commendation. Let us begin with the first one. New disciples need to be strengthened by…

1. Confirmation to Prevent Them from Falling

This comes from the first part of verse 22 which says, Confirming the souls of the disciples…” The word ‘confirm’ that is used here comes from a Greek word [episterizo] which means ‘to strengthen or make firm.’ It conveys the idea of placing props against a structure to keep it from falling. If you were to walk through a forest you may find some trees that have buttress roots. A tall tree may have many large buttress roots to prevent it from swaying and falling. They give the tree stability. Without sufficient support, a big tree may topple over and come crashing down when it is blown by very strong winds.

In the same way, without sufficient support, new Christians lack the stability they need. They may fall when faced with great pressure from their former friends and associates. This need was great enough to make Paul and Barnabas decide to go back to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, despite all the horrible ill-treatment they had experienced there from unbelievers.

They must have spent sufficient time in each city – perhaps a few months – to nurture its new disciples with the Word of God. God’s Word is the primary source of every believer’s strength as 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:  That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” What we want to know is: What do new disciples of Christ need to learn from scripture in order to be confirmed or strengthened?

Since they are babes in Christ, they must be fed not with meat which they cannot digest, but with plain milk. Firstly, they need to learn the basic principles and practice for their spiritual growth – How to pray to God and how to read God’s Word daily; How to deal with sin in their lives, and not to depend on feelings to sustain their Christian life. Secondly, they need to learn the basic doctrines of the Christian faith – They need to understand who Jesus Christ is and their position in Him. Thirdly, they need to learn to share their faith with others.

Perhaps some of you may wonder what all this has to do with you, since you have already been Christians for many years, and you had learned all these basics a long time ago. Although these basic teachings are meant for new Christians, it is very useful to review them once in a while, just to make sure that they are still as strong as before. It is just like conducting a comprehensive site inspection of a building every five years. Why go through all the trouble to do this? Because we need to make sure that it is still structurally sound. Beams and columns that are strong may weaken over time, and if they weaken remedial action must be taken without delay or else a disaster may happen.

Perhaps now would be a good time for you to do comprehensive site inspection of your life. Ask yourself these questions: Is your love for the Lord Jesus as strong as before? Do you still read your Bible and pray as much as you used to? Have you allowed any sinful habit to come into your life? Have you been sharing your faith with others? If the Holy Spirit convicts you as you do this review, please take remedial action and don’t delay. Strengthen the things which remain! Get all the confirming work that your soul needs. And when you have done that, then you can be used of God effectively to confirm the souls of new disciples as well. Besides confirmation, another thing that new disciples need is…

2. Exhortation for Them to Persevere through Trials

This is found in the latter part of v.22 – “…exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” Unlike confirmation, exhortation or encouragement is most effective when it is done in person. This is because the encourager’s presence plays an essential part in the encouragement he gives. In the Greek language the word that is used for ‘exhort’ [parakaleo] literally means, ‘to call alongside’. The personal presence of the one who calls makes a great difference.

If you have been following the Rio Olympics this past week, you would know that the track and field events just started yesterday. One of the most difficult track and field events is the marathon. The finals of the women’s marathon is scheduled to take place today and the men’s turn will come next Sunday. It requires much stamina, patience and endurance to run a distance of 42 km. The most difficult part of the race is not at the start or the end but in the middle, when the athlete begins to feel very tired and exhausted. Despite that, he needs to maintain an even pace, and overcome the urge to slow down or to stop, or else he may never complete the race.

One thing that can help him to keep going is encouragement. Marathon runners have testified that crowd support helps them immensely. It may take the form of cheering, waving, clapping, or holding up a sign with the words, “You’re doing well! Keep it up!” Today, spectators can use a GPS tracking system to follow the runner’s progress. They can plan to arrive ahead of time at certain strategic points of the race when their encouragement would be most needed by the runner.

Paul and Barnabas knew that the new disciples at Lystra, Iconium and Antioch were at such a point. Although the new disciples had found peace with God after being saved, they now had no peace from their neighbours and friends who were steeped in pagan idolatry. They may also have been disappointed when Paul and Barnabas who had brought them to Christ were forced to leave them. What a great encouragement then it must have been to see them returning to strengthen them. What great inspiration to press on they received from the these two men’s example of perseverance and courage in the face of danger.

And they were certainly aware of the dangers that Paul and Barnabas had gone through. Listen to what Paul wrote later on to Timothy, who was from Lystra: – “But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3:10-12)

How did Paul and Barnabas encourage them? Did they say, “Don’t worry. The worst is all over. Things are going to get better from now on.”? No, they actually said that things are going to get a lot worse! They said, “…we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” (v.22) The way ahead is going to be very rough and difficult for all who live godly in Christ – they will have to face strong opposition, difficult trials and great discouragements. How can this possibly be a message of encouragement for them?

Perhaps some of us here may now be in a similar situation. We know that things are going to get worse for us in the coming days, and we wonder how we can find encouragement to face the future. The encouragement comes from knowing that God has a good purpose for every trial in life – it is meant to purify us and refine our faith. Encouragement also comes from knowing that the Lord is able to deliver us out of every trial we face. As the psalmist testified: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the LORD delivereth him out of them all.” (Psalm 34:19) And thus we can look forward eagerly to the glorious outcome that will come at the very end. This is mentioned in v.22 – “…..we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”

How comforting it is to be assured that after we have endured our cross we shall receive our crown in God’s eternal kingdom! All marathon runners in the Olympic games can only look forward to receiving gold, silver and bronze medals. But in our race we look forward to receiving eternal rewards that are so much better than all the Olympic medals in the world! Let us therefore keep exhorting one another to persevere and not give up the race that God has called us to run.

Thus far we have seen how new disciples are strengthened through confirmation and exhortation. Another thing that can strengthen new disciples is…

3. Organisation to Provide Accountability for Them

This is found in v.23 – “And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting…” This shows that the new disciples in each city were now gathered together by Paul and Barnabas to form themselves into a church, so that they would meet regularly for worship and fellowship under a proper leadership. Such organisation gives them a structure that helps them to cultivate a sense of accountability to God and to their fellow believers.

If you are a Christian, it is God’s plan for you not to be left on your own, but to be accountable to other Christians for your spiritual life and service. For this reason, we must encourage every new person we bring to Christ to start attending a local church as soon as possible. This will provide them with the support of mature Christians who will help them to grow spiritually. If any of you here are young Christians who have just started attending Life Church, please get yourself integrated well into a fellowship or ministry of the church where you can grow spiritually under the leadership of mature Christians.

In our passage we see Paul and Barnabas putting such leadership in place by ordaining elders in every church. These leaders are called elders not because they are old, but because of their spiritual maturity. Only those who are spiritually mature, who have been tested and found to be faithful should be elders in a church. This requirement is absolutely necessary because they are to be entrusted with the spiritual care and nurture of its members.

The question is how would Paul and Barnabas be able to find such men to ordain as elders in each church, considering that its members had only been Christians for a few months? Well, v.23 tells us that they prayed with fasting. Since the future of these churches depended so much on choosing the right men to be elders, they earnestly sought the Lord with prayer and fasting to provide them for every church. And the Lord can work in marvellous ways to provide just the right people to serve at the right time when we pray. You may remember that in chapter 13, Paul and Barnabas were sent as the first missionaries when the church in Antioch fasted and prayed. When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, they cried out to the Lord, and He answered their prayers by raising up Moses to lead them out of Egypt and bring them to the Promised Land.

Let us also pray earnestly for the Lord to provide members who are spiritually qualified and ready to serve as pastors, elders and deacons here in Life Church because our present ones cannot go on serving indefinitely. You may have noticed that this item has been listed regularly in our weekly prayer insert. In less than nine months’ time we will elect session members who will be entrusted with the care of the church for the next three years. The future of our church depends a lot on God’s provision of faithful men who are spiritually mature and able to help us all grow spiritually. That’s what we need.

But at the same time, let us understand that electing the very best leaders to serve does not guarantee that the church will thrive and that all its members will grow as they should. Those of us who serve as pastors, elders and deacons will admit that we are after all, still fallible human beings. We all have our own personal flaws, shortcomings and weaknesses, and at times we do fail and make mistakes. Even though we may do our best to serve you, our best is oftentimes not good enough.

Ultimately, our confidence for the future progress and prosperity of the church should be placed only in the Lord. The church belongs to Him. Our Lord Jesus is the life of Life Church. He is the One who builds it and sustains it, and He alone can guarantee the spiritual welfare of the church and of every disciple in it. This brings us now to the last point in this sermon – New disciples need…

4. Commendation to Place Them under God’s Care

This is seen at the end of v.23 – “And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed. The word ‘commend’ here in Greek [paratithemi] literally means ‘to place something before someone’ for safekeeping. Paul and Barnabas had done everything that was humanly possible for the new disciples at each church to grow. The only thing which they could do now was to place them all under God’s care through prayer.

Perhaps this prayer was made with words that are similar to the closing words of Jude’s epistle –  “Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.”

Our Lord Himself has promised in John 10:28-29 – “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand. My Father, which gave them Me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand.” What a powerful assurance this is of God’s power to keep us when we are placed in His care!

And someday, when we all are finally gathered in heaven before the Lord’s throne, we will then realise just how much He has done to keep us, and we will be overwhelmed by the depth of His great love! We shall see that in every age, the Lord has never ceased to watch, protect and help His people. And we will testify for all eternity that Jesus Christ is truly the wonderful Lord and Saviour, worthy of our highest praise!

And so, with this firm confidence, let us gladly commend every disciple, new or old to His care in prayer. Paul and Barnabas did that for the new disciples at Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, after they had patiently confirmed them, exhorted them and got them organised under newly-ordained elders. The result of doing all this is that these new disciples were greatly strengthened. How do we know that?

It is through the example of Timothy. Timothy was among the people at Lystra who had been saved and followed up by Paul. He was a young man then, perhaps in his early twenties, but he grew spiritually and soon became a very committed follower of Christ. By the time Paul returned to Lystra during his second missionary journey three years later, Timothy’s commitment was well known, not only in the church of Lystra, but also at the neighbouring church of Iconium. Paul must have been greatly encouraged to hear this and he saw great potential in him. Paul therefore took Timothy with him for the rest of his journey and assigned certain tasks to him. Timothy must have done quite well in them, since Paul wrote this about him to the Philippians:  “But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state. For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state. (Philippians 2:19)

Seventeen years later, when Paul was in his final imprisonment in Rome, and death was imminent, Paul wrote to Timothy, knowing that he could rely on him for help and encouragement in his final days on earth. Essentially what Paul wrote to him was, “Come to me quickly Timothy, for everyone has left me except Luke. And when you come please bring the cloak and the books which I left at Troas.” By the time Paul wrote this last request, Timothy was already a mature pastor overseeing the Lord’s work at Ephesus. Paul no longer regarded him as his student any more, but as his co-laborer, as his workfellow, as a man of God, as a brother and fellow minister. In other words, Timothy was now regarded as Paul’s own equal.

Paul could now depart in peace, comforted that someone would carry on the Lord’s work – someone whom he had been brought to Christ and then strengthened as a new disciple at Lystra. Now Paul told Timothy to do the same thing for others. He wrote to him in 2 Timothy 2:2 – “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men who shall be able to teach others also.” 

 

If we want to see results like this, then let us commit time and effort to make disciples and build up and strengthen one another. May we all grow to become strong, committed fruit-bearing disciples, able to withstand temptation and serve with love, in order to bring glory to our Lord Jesus Christ.

 
 

 

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11