Acts13vs1-3; 18vs1-4, 18. Church Growing Pains.
Jesus sent His own disciples out "two by two", Luke 10vs1. The Great Commission of Matthew 28vs19, 20 was given to "the eleven disciples", vs16. There are some New Testament records of Christian work being done by individuals on their own, but most evangelism and church planting is done by teams. (Philip in Acts 8vs5 and vs26, and Paul in Acts 17vs16, 17 are two examples of individuals at work).
In this chapter we will examine how God provided particular colleagues for the apostle Paul, and we will try to gain an insight into why He selected the people He did. We will then briefly look at some of the other New Testament church teams.
There has only ever been one Paul. He lived and died between the years of Jesus Christ and AD67. In that brief life span he had taken Christianity into Europe and established many Christian churches. He left the priceless legacy of his writings which God has preserved for all time in the Bible - the results of his thinking through the Old Testament Scriptures and applying them to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the world in which he lived. He had kept his faith through persecution, imprisonment, punishment and, eventually, martyrdom by emperor Nero.
But, although there was only one Paul, many have aspired to be like him. Paul preached Jesus Christ. "If any man is in Christ he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come." 2 Corinthians 5vs17. The aim of his ministry was to "proclaim (Jesus Christ), admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ." Colossians 1vs28. He did not draw people to himself just to follow himself! If they followed him he would lead them to Jesus Christ.
The principle he gave to Timothy is a good one, 2 Timothy 2vs2 "the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others." I believe the principle of creation - that trees and flowers reproduce with seeds of their own kind, will also apply to the new creation: the church and God's kingdom. We should make it our aim to reproduce other people who will follow Jesus Christ as we do.
There are forty of Paul's colleagues who are named in the New Testament and then there are some six groups of people whose names we do not know. It has been a fascinating study to see why God joined Paul to people like Barnabas - the encourager, to whom Paul owed so much, Acts 11vs25-26; to John Mark - the enthusiastic youth who quit when the going got tough but who later became a very profitable help to Paul, 2 Timothy 4vs11; to Silas - the ever ready secretary, Acts 15vs40; and to many others. As we study let us allow God to put the names of men and women on our hearts that we can team up with for a stronger ministry.
1. God provided Paul with colleagues for at least four reasons: firstly partnership in Christian service. God made sure that Paul was not on his own doing the work he was called to do. In Acts 13vs2 he called "Barnabas and Paul", vs4 "the two of them (were) sent on their way by the Holy Spirit." vs5 "John (Mark) was with them as their helper."
Paul was a preacher and a reasoner, not afraid to break new ground. Barnabas a preacher and teacher, one noted most for his encouraging of others, he would urge people forward, he would counsel, he would advise. John Mark was literally their under rower! He would pull hard on the oars while they shouted directions. He could not see where they were going, but he put all his might into making sure they got there, trusting implicitly in his commander's instruction! That is partnership in the Gospel.
At the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, Paul gave testimony of what God was doing. Paul remember was a learned man, with a university education. He was a brilliant scholar, and a Roman citizen who spoke several languages. Peter also gives testimony. Peter a rough, tough Galilean fisherman. Always willing to fight; never one for fine words. Paul and Peter, another partnership in the Gospel.
Paul praised God for the partnership in the Gospel that he had enjoyed with so many people. The Corinthians, Galatians, the Jerusalem church, the believers at Philippi. To them he wrote: "In all my prayers for all of you I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now." Philippians 1vs4, 5. To a congregation with whom he disagreed on so many issues he wrote "You are the body of Christ, and each of you is a part of it." 1 Corinthians 12vs27. "There are different kinds of (gifts, service) workings, but the same God works all of them in all men." 12vs6. Verse 18 "God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be."
This is partnership in the Gospel. We must realise that God has placed us in a common fellowship with others, so we can contribute to their needs and they can contribute to ours. We will share profits and losses, ups and downs, with our Christian partners! No Christian is valueless to God - He sent Jesus to die on the cross for our collective salvation. And no Christian is valueless to the Church - the Holy Spirit will lead and guide us into a life of purpose and profit in partnership with other Christians.
2. God provided colleagues for Paul as a provision for each others needs. In so many practical ways God used other Christian men and women to bless Paul - and, I am sure, used him to bless them. Barnabas gave him the introductions to the apostles in Jerusalem, Acts 9vs26-30. He also gave Paul an outlet for his teaching gift, to train him in ministry, Acts 11vs25, 26. Silas gave Paul secretarial help, writing the follow up material for churches that we know as 1 and 2 Thessalonians. When imprisoned with Paul, they encouraged each other by singing together, Acts 16vs25. Silas was able to stay in Berea and continue evangelistic work even though Paul was driven out of the city, 17vs14. Luke gave his medical talents to Paul, perhaps using his medicine to stay with Paul when no-one else could have permission, Philemon vs24, 2 Timothy 4vs11. Lydia opened her home in Philippi for Paul to use as his own, Acts 16vs15. She also had a church meeting in her home, vs40. Jason in Thessalonica opened his home for Paul, suffered greatly as a consequence, including a beating and having to post bail, 17vs6, 9. Aquila and Priscilla shared their tent-making work with Paul in Corinth, 18vs3. They gave him long term hospitality, 18vs18. They travelled with Paul. They had a church meeting in their new home in Ephesus, 1 Corinthians 16vs19 and also in their home in Rome, Romans 16vs3-5. In Ephesus they probably kept a helpful eye on Timothy - Paul's trainee minister. They certainly used time and energy helping Apollos in his teaching ministry, 18vs26. Paul says "They risked their lives for me, not only I, but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them." Romans 16vs4.
It sometimes costs to meet the needs of others. God doesn't always call us to do easy things. Many help others in a way that does not hurt themselves but a real helper may pay dearly for the joy of being useful.
Tychicus was another encourager and a servant. He ran messages for Paul, acting as Paul's personal representative, 2 Timothy 4vs12, Ephesians 6vs21, 22. Tertius was an 'amanuensis' who wrote the letter to Romans at Paul's dictation, Romans 16vs22. He was a literary assistant. Rufus' mother in Rome had been like a mother to Paul too, Romans 16vs13.
God chooses to meet our needs through one another. He gives us each other's shoulders to cry on. He gives us courage to rebuke each other. He puts us in the right places at the right times with the right equipment to meet the needs of fellow Christians. Even in prison, Paul was enriched to praise God through the visit of Epaphroditus bearing love-gifts from Philippian Christians, 4vs18.
We must be available for God to use us. We must steward what God has given us. Then others can praise God for what He is doing through us
3. God provided colleagues for Paul to help preserve spiritual fruit. Paul's God-given task was "to carry (the name of Jesus) before the Gentiles, their kings, and the people of Israel" 9vs15. Paul was always looking for a harvest. For an effective harvest several things must happen: think of a potato field; the ground must be prepared, the seed planted, the weeds kept down, the ground earthed up, the diseases controlled, the crop must be gathered not too early or too late, and then good storage must keep it in prime condition for the market.
Paul was the first to acknowledge that "I planted the seed (of the Gospel in Corinth), Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who makes things grow." 1 Corinthians 3vs6, 7. God did the work. It was God's church. What happened in and amongst people was "a demonstration of the (Holy) Spirit's power", 1 Corinthians 2vs4. But God uses people, and Paul recognised this.
In the church at Antioch, Acts 13, "there were prophets and teachers: Simeon called Niger", possibly the African who had carried Jesus' cross, Matthew 27vs32; "Lucius of Cyrene", one of the first missionaries to come to Antioch, scattered from Jerusalem by the persecution, Acts 11vs19, 20; "Manaen" whose name means 'Comforter', foster brother to Herod the tetrarch. Paul and Barnabas worked with them, and were sent out from them. Returning from their first missionary journey "they stayed a long time with the disciples" 14vs28. No record of them preaching and teaching, because they were worn out! They needed ministering to! After their trip to Jerusalem they returned again to base in Antioch, 15vs35 "where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord." Antioch has a shared ministry. They listened and learned as well as taught and trained. Were there those who said "I wish Barnabas led this"? They had to wait! All in good time. I have often heard Christian pastors and lay leaders say, "I can't do everything". No-one is supposed to do everything! Do only what God calls you to do and encourage others into the gaps.
In Acts 14vs23 "Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them (the disciples) in every place (Lystra, Iconium and the other Antioch) and with prayer and fasting committed them to the Lord in whom they had put their trust." The Greek text seems to say that both the new elders and Paul and Barnabas were taking steps of faith. The appointments were made actively trusting in God. For Paul and Barnabas this was to preserve the spiritual fruit of their evangelistic enterprises. The new elders were trusting God to use even their inexperience in his service.
In Acts 20vs32 Paul is speaking to the Ephesian church elders. He is on his way to Jerusalem and then Rome, never expecting to see them again. They were very close to his heart. Vs29, 30 "I know that after I leave savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them." Paul wanted to preserve God's work in these dear people if he possibly could, but he knew he would not be there himself. What did he do? Two things - both of which are important. Firstly he recognised leadership in others. Secondly he recognised God's work was ultimately God's responsibility, vs32 "Now I commit you to GOD and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified." He taught the elders and he trusted God to build them up. Preserving God's work without taking too much responsibility on himself. He wrote to them, he prayed for them, Ephesians 1vs16, and he trusted God to build His church.
Paul could not be in Crete himself, so what did he do? Titus 1vs5, "the reason I left you in Crete (Titus) was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you." Now Paul wrote to spur him on in that work, but the responsibility belonged to Titus under God.
It is essential in any local church or Christian mission, that the burden does not rest upon any one person's shoulders. In the church different people will do different jobs. Somebody has likened the five giftings in Ephesians 4 to the fingers on a hand.
(i) The apostles are like a thumb, important in everything the hand does to
keep a grip on things.
(ii) The prophets are like the index finger pointing the way.
(iii) The evangelists are the leading finger always out ahead of the rest.
(iv) The pastors are the ring finger of church ceremony.
(v) The teachers: Well, they may be only small, like the little finger, but they
are useful for digging in the ear and things like that!!
Having mentioned all of them Paul says, "From Jesus Christ ... the whole body ... grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." Ephesians 4vs16. The way Jesus works to build up the body of Christ is for each person to do what he or she is told by God to do!!
In Paul's life and ministry there was real partnership in Christian service; there was the right provision for each other's needs, and there was due regard for the preservation of spiritual fruit.
4. God provided colleagues for Paul to give pastoral care to the church of Jesus Christ. In Philippians 2vs19-22, Paul gives a stirring testimony about Timothy, probably his favourite helper. Their work made them very close indeed. "I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no-one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare for everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel." He was a fellow worker with Paul, 1 Thessalonians 3vs2, 3, a faithful messenger for Paul, 1 Thessalonians 3vs6; he was leader of the church at Ephesus, though a young man, and Paul developed his pastoral heart
Remember that not everyone Paul worked with was a success. Perhaps some of us are more like these characters than like Timothy?
Demas was a fellow worker with Paul, Philemon vs24, in prison with him in Rome (voluntarily) Colossians 4vs14, but in 2 Timothy 4vs10 Paul says: "Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica." The love of the world stops many from being workers for the Lord Christ.
Some opposed Paul's work, like Alexander an industrialist - a man with a lot of clout because he had money, 2 Timothy 4vs14, 15. It is easy to let money rule the mission or church. Always remember that God can provide through poor people as well as through rich people. Two years into a step of faith for our work some supporters of mine were led into a church that did not believe in financially helping other missions. What would happen to us? A major source of supply was gone. We can give testimony to God providing in a variety of other ways. Without us saying anything He moved others to help us. Another example of teamwork!
Still others opted out of Paul's work like Trophemus left sick at Miletus, 2 Timothy 4vs20. He was not physically able to carry on.
But through it all Paul pressed on. God was working in him. God was working through him. Why should he stop? God's team helped him continue his ministry.
Of course there are other examples of team ministry outside of Paul's service. Peter and John were the first after the combined Apostolic group activity on the Day of Pentecost. Right through Acts 3 and 4 they are together in prayer, in miraculous healing, in preaching, in trouble with the authorities, in prison and in prayer again (with the whole church) to keep boldly witnessing.
In Acts 6 it was a group of deacons who were given the administrative role of the daily distribution of food among the needy. "Brothers, 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", Acts 6vs3. Where the handling of money is concerned not only must the right things be done, they must also be seen to be done. God has provided us in Ambassadors For Christ Britain with two retired local government officials (one the ex-treasurer) and a retired tax man to help look after our AFC accounts. These men are God's provision for us. Along with my wife Brenda, they look after the receipts and expenditure, the covenant and gift aid claims, the Charity Commission reports, the income tax declarations and any questions from churches and the general public. They are accountable, like me, to our Board of Trustees. They see all this voluntary work as part of their Christian service, using their skills and experience to help God's work. I simply receive the support they receive for me every month and I sit with them for occasional policy decisions and reviews. Teamwork. Another example of partnership in the Gospel.
Barnabas and Saul were entrusted to take monies collected in Antioch towards famine relief in Judea. Later Paul was to stress his accountability. "We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men", 2 Corinthians 8vs20, 21.
Another team, with a different purpose, were the "Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus", Acts 11vs20. They fled a common persecution but as they went together they spoke to all sorts of people and witnessed to Jesus Christ. There is a value in serving together.
Many is the time in door to door visitation or in open air witness that I would have given up and gone home if it was not for the team of people I was with. We kept each other at the task. Some days I probably would not have even got to the place of mission if the others on the team were not expecting to see me there. My appointment with the team helped me overcome doubts about the weather, the wisdom, the ways and one hundred and one other darts the enemy would fire into my mind.
In Acts 15vs36-41 we have a difference of opinion between team members Paul and Barnabas. It results in a division that God uses to multiply the number of mission teams by 100%. We will see a little more about this in our next chapter.
Aquila and Priscilla were a husband and wife team who did a great deal for the Gentile churches according to Paul in Romans 16vs3, 4. It is interesting to notice that in the references made to them four times Priscilla is mentioned first and twice Aquila. They are always mentioned together. There was no competition between them. What they both did they both saw as "our ministry". They were refugees themselves and yet used their situation to serve God. They made time to meet Paul and shared their jobs and their home with him, Acts 18vs1-3. They released Paul for preaching and teaching when it was right for him to do it, Acts 18vs5. They used their home for a person to person Bible School when Apollos needed more adequate teaching in the things of God, Acts 18vs26. They also used their home for church gatherings while in Rome, see Romans 16vs5, 1 Corinthians 16vs19.
We should notice that God does not want our business to stop us being involved in His work, He rather wants us to use it as a service vehicle for His work. God is wanting to use every Christian individual, and every Christian couple. The kind of person you are, the possessions you have, the people you come across are no accident. We should always follow God's promptings into a life of useful service.
We have not mentioned by name Erastus who in Acts 19vs22 was one who helped Timothy in Macedonia preparing the way for Paul's visits.
There is also Gaius, Acts 19vs29; Aristarchus who ended up a fellow prisoner with Paul, Colossians 4vs10; Tychicus, Trophemus and Sopater and the rest of the party in Acts 20vs4-6. The last chapter of Romans and various references in Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians, Timothy and Titus list more helpers' names. We may never know how much every one of these actually meant to Paul. But let us make sure we are helpful, encouraging, supporters of others in God's work and that we could really be called together, "fellow workers", Romans 16vs3, 2 Corinthians 6vs1, 1 Corinthians 3vs9, Philemon vs1.
How is it practically possible to be helpful and encouraging to one another?
Are there people within your fellowship who are not in the mainstream of everything that happens?
How can they best be encouraged?