11 – Supporting Acts

Ephesians 4:11-12 (NIV)
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets,
the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,
to equip his people for works of service,
so that the body of Christ may be built up.

 

 

 

Are you a team player? Or would you rather work solo?

 

 

  • I’m happiest in a crowd
  • Please! Send me to a quiet corner, alone
  • I like working with others . . . till I’m tired of them

Peter and Paul are the superstars of Acts. But they didn’t build the Church alone. They had help.

We can’t look at them all, but let’s study some of the supporting actors of Acts.

 

 

We’ll start with Stephen and Philip.

The Church is growing, and the Apostles have a problem. People say that the Jewish widows get more food than the Greek widows. It’s not fair!

 

Acts 6:2-3 (NIV)
So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them.

Stephen and Philip are among chosen.

 

Stephen’s service is short-lived. He becomes the first martyr.

Acts 6:8, 12-13
Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people . . . They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law.”

Stephen gives a stirring speech on Jesus and the Old Testament. The religious leaders are outraged and stone him.

 

After that, Philip leaves town. But not to hide.

Acts 8:5-6
Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said.

Philip takes Christ’s command to heart and builds the Church in Jerusalem and Samaria – and through a divine appointment with the treasurer of Ethiopia, on to the uttermost parts of the earth.

We bump into Philip later in Acts, when he hosts a visit from Paul.

Acts 21:8
We reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven.

Still serving the Lord by serving the Apostles.

 

Serving Saul/Paul? Ananias was first.

Acts 9:10-11, 13, 15
In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

 “Yes, Lord,” he answered.

 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul . . .

 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem . . .”

 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.

Ananias obeys. He restores Saul’s sight and starts him on his Church-building adventure.

 

Remember Barnabas, who sells his property and gives all the money to the Apostles? He’s one of the men in Acts with two names.

Acts 4:36
Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”) . . .

I imagine many Josephs among the believers. Maybe the Apostles call him Joseph the Encourager to avoid confusion. And the nickname sticks.

Barnabas encourages the believers to welcome Saul into their circle.

Acts 9:26-27
When he [Saul] came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles.

The disciples accept Saul, and Saul gets right to work sharing the gospel. Some religious leaders are less welcoming. They plan to kill Saul. The believers send Saul home to Tarsus till the trouble blows over. And they send Barnabas off to Antioch to lead the growing church there. It proves to be too much for one man.

Acts 10:25-26
Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people.

Thus starts the ministry of Barnabas and Saul. And by the end of chapter 13, it is Paul and Barnabas. The encourager takes a back seat to the man he encouraged.

 

Barnabas and Saul introduce us to another supporting actor, John Mark.

Acts 12:25
When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.

John is a Hebrew name (Yahweh is gracious) and Mark is Gentile name. Mark may have been a Roman citizen. We know from Scripture that John Mark is related to Barnabas. It seems that John Mark gets along better with Cousin Barnabas than Paul.

Acts 15:37-39
Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus.

Are you disappointed in our supporting actors? The helper hits the road. The encourager leaves the encouraged.

Romans 8:28
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Divided, Paul and Barnabas cover twice the ground. And John Mark? Tradition holds that he is the author of the Gospel of Mark. Peter calls Mark “my son” (1 Peter 5:13). Likely the book of Mark is the story of Christ from Peter’s viewpoint.

And along the way, Mark and Paul reconcile—Paul later asks for Mark.

2 Timothy 4:11
Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.

 

Paul finds other helpers to take the places of Barnabas and Mark: Silas (sometimes called Silvanus) and Timothy. Mark is Peter’s “spiritual son” and Timothy is Paul’s.

1 Timothy 1:2
To Timothy my true son in the faith.

Peter and Paul pour themselves into these young men, equipping the next generation to build the Church.

 

Let’s look at one more person in Acts: James.

James holds down the fort in Jerusalem while the others leave to build the Church in the uttermost parts. James is the brother of Christ, and (according to Paul) an esteemed pillar of the Church (Galatians 2:9).

The Church is changing. New believers are not Jewish. How much of Jewish  tradition (specifically circumcision) must they follow to be true believers? James takes center stage and decides the issue at what we call the Council of Jerusalem.

Acts 15:19-20
It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.

Wise James, sometimes called James the Just, sets the compromise that moves the Church forward. More of his wisdom is recorded for us in his book of James.

 

 

It takes a team to build the Church.

Look again at the verse that started this study.

 

 

Ephesians 4:11-12 (NIV)
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.

God provides the exact mix of spiritual gifts needed so that the body of Christ may be built up (Ephesians 4:12).

 

“Some seek the gifts of the Holy Spirit with genuine earnestness. Yet often what they crave is but some joy, for the ‘I’ is hidden behind their quest.” Watchman Nee

Remember this: Spiritual gifts build the Church. Our gifts bring us joy, but they aren’t just for our personal benefit.

Maybe God has given you the gift to lead, or the gift to lead others to Christ, or the gift to teach, or the gift to serve, or the gift to open your home. Today’s take-away? Use your gifts to build the Church.

 

 

Who is on your Church-building team? Pray for them.

Don’t forget to thank God for the believers who encourage you. Likewise, don’t forget to pray for the people God calls you to encourage.

 

Do you see a bit of yourself in any of these supporting actors? Are you the encourager, the helper, the writer, the organizer, the glue that holds it together? And who has encouraged and helped you?