In Acts 11:19-27, we are introduced to the church at Antioch. We see from this passage that it was started out of the evangelist fervor of those scattered from Jerusalem upon the persecution of Stephen. It was grounded in the word of God as Barnabas and Paul, over a year’s time, taught them the things of the Lord. It is no surprise that we continue to read about this church in Acts 13 as the evangelistic missions of Paul and Barnabas begin. It was a church born out of evangelism, and it was a church that continued to have a heart to see the Great Commission fulfilled. As we read through Acts 13, there are several characteristics that stand out about this missions-minded church.
First, we see that it was led by spiritually-minded men. These 5 men, prophets and teachers, were greatly used of God as they preached the Word of God and obeyed His will. One of them, Lucius of Cyrene, probably was one of the original evangelists that stepped out of tradition, which resulted in the planting of this church (See Acts 11:19-21). These men were not concerned with the narrow-minded opinions of others, but worked according to the Lord’s desires.
Next, we see this church was full of servants. It’s said of these men that they “ministered to the Lord.” This is not describing arm-chair theologians, but those who were involved in practical service to God’s people. When church members are continually seeking the welfare of other members, that church will possess the heart of God for evangelism.
Thirdly, this church was self-less. They practiced fasting. They were not focused on self, rather they denied themselves. When a church is willing to deny their mouth, they are usually willing to give their money and men to the work of missions.
Fourthly, we see that this church was sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Ghost spoke to them, and they heard! How important it is for a church to be sensitive to this leadership. A lot of time and resources are wasted by churches as they labor in places where the Holy Spirit does not want them, and miss out on opportunities which are placed before them, because they cannot discern His leadership.
Fifthly, notice their skepticism of their own ability to rightly discern the Spirit’s leadership. Do you see it in verse 3? In verse 1 we see them serving and fasting, and then the Spirit speaking to them in verse 2. What do they do? Do they immediately set about the work? No! They fast and pray first. Why? They were in the practice of not believing every spirit, but of trying the spirits whether they were of God (1 John 4:1). They were proving all things and holding fast that which was good (1 Thessalonians 5:21). How important it is that a church doesn’t assume that every open or closed door is an indicator of God’s will! We must not trust our own discernment, but make sure we have the mind of the Lord.
The next mark is exciting! Once they discerned the Lord’s will and were sure of the Spirit’s leadership, they were steadfast in their obedience. “When they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.” They didn’t set up a feasibility study, or contact other churches to see if they could help out in the work, or bounce the idea off of other preachers! No, once they knew it, they did it!
The last mark is that this church was surrendered. This sending away of Paul and Barnabas is described in Acts 14:26. It tells us that these men were “recommended to the grace of God for the work.” The word translated “recommended” means to surrender or yield up. God wanted these men, and though they were a great blessing to the church, and had helped them much in the previous year, the church yielded them to the Lord. What a sacrifice! If a church is not willing to send out its key men, that church will never fulfill its commission.
These seven marks were not just marks of the church at Antioch. They are marks witnessed in every missions-minded church, to one degree or another. What marks need to be developed more fully in our church? How can you be used of God to do that?