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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
Acts 13 is traditionally referred to as the beginning of organized mission work where men (Paul and Barnabas) were specifically called by God and formally sent out by a church to carry the gospel to distant, far-away lands. I believe it can be easily proven from Scripture, such as Matthew 28:18-20 which is commonly called the Great Commission, that the scriptural mandate for evangelism, for doing mission work, was given to one place, to one organization on this earth and that is the local, New Testament Baptist church.
An honest evaluation and study of Matthew 28 will lead one to believe that the church's responsibility can be summarized in the following four words: evangelize, baptize, organize, and catechize. Passages like Matthew 28 in conjunction with Acts 13 provide for us a clear, unmistakable pattern and example of how scriptural evangelism is to be carried out and fulfilled. Unfortunately, since the day the Lord founded His church and commissioned it to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth, man in his own finite and feeble mind has developed and come up with his own means and methods, plans and programs for doing God's work on earth, instead of relying upon what is revealed in the Word of God. What man has failed to realize and understand is that you cannot improve on a perfect plan that was given by a perfect God.
In the first few verses of Acts 13 it is recorded of how the church at Antioch sent two men under their authority to do the work of God in God's way by God's command. On their first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas come to a city named Antioch (v.14), the very same name of the town where they began their ministry, except this Antioch is located in Pisidia, over 300 miles northwest of the Antioch in Syria. Acts 13:16-41 is the first of Paul's sermons ever to be recorded in detail in the Scriptures of what he preached. A considerable portion of the message which Paul preached to his audience was a review of the Old Testament record of the Israelites. This laid the foundation for ending the message by focusing on the work of Christ and the gospel message.
When Paul came to the end of his sermon, he was given an invitation to come back and preach again. Thus we have verses 44-52 given to us. In this section we are given the biblical basis for evangelism. In order for evangelism to be scriptural and effectual, i.e. blessed of God, three things must be evident and made prominent in our practice.
The Word of God Must Be Preached
"It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you..." (v.46)
I know that to make such a statement may sound to be over-simplistic, very basic, and even fundamental, especially if you are in a church where the Bible is faithfully taught and preached but you would be surprised and shocked to find out just how many so-called Baptist churches in this country have relegated the preaching of the Word to be of a secondary issue, rather than the primary function of a church.
What goes on in an average Sunday morning service in many churches today can be compared to as being a three-ring circus that can only be classified as superficial, shallow, sensual, sinful, and shameful. What we need is a resurgence, a revival, a return to the preaching of God's Word! It is through the faithful, consistent proclamation of the Word that the saints of God can be edified, educated, and equipped.
What did Paul tell Titus? "But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine:" (Titus 2:1). What did Paul tell Timothy? "Preach the word" (2 Tim. 4:2). It's that simple. Everything in the ministry of the church is related to this. The Word of God is what both sinners and saints need. The preaching of the Word was a pattern that was consistently followed in the early churches throughout the New Testament: "And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ." (Acts 5:42); "Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named" (Rom.15:20); "For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel" (1 Cor. 1:17); "woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel" (1 Cor. 9:16).
It is commonly believed today that in order for a church to evangelize successfully, it must offer and highly advertise the "extras" that it has so as to attract new members. These extras could be anything from guest stars, gigantic celebrities, to gospel singing groups appearing on any given Sunday with their religious side-shows.
In matters of evangelism many churches have developed a kind of "do-it-yourself" religion. Everyone seems to have their own schemes, systems, and methods for getting things done and being religiously successful. When all the gimmicks and gadgets of modern merchandising are brought into the church, the preaching of the Word seems to somehow get overlooked and would even appear to be out of place with such a carnival-like atmosphere. But Paul points out: "It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you."
The Word of God Must Be Portrayed
"For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth." (Acts 13:47)
By portraying the Word I mean that it should be depicted, illustrated, personified, demonstrated, exhibited, put on display through our lives and the way in which we live. Paul says it was God's command for him to be a light to lost people in order that they might see their desperate need for salvation. This is as the Lord commanded His own disciples: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 5:16). Our light is to shine and the world is to see Jesus in us.
A light is to be displayed, not concealed; it is to be seen, not kept a secret. A light does not call attention to itself but simply points the way through the darkness. This whole world lies in spiritual darkness but the light can expel darkness and illuminate the way. As lights we can lead others to the Lord. Shining is not a matter of choice but of obligation; it is imperative: "But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost...For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:3,6).
"For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light:" (Ephesians 5:8). By our character and conduct we bring God's light in a dark world. As God's lights, we can help others find their way to Christ. "That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;" (Philippians 2:15).
We are to live so as to attract men, not to ourselves, but to God. We have the message of God's salvation for a lost and dying world. They need to see that message being worked out through our lives in order that they may be delivered from the power of darkness and be translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son (Col. 1:13). God has commanded us to be a light, a bright and shining light, in a dark and dismal world.
The Word of God Must Be Published
"And the word of the Lord was published throughout all the region." (Acts 13:49)
This word "published" means to carry or spread to different places in different directions. It is truly amazing how that the early New Testament churches did what they did in evangelizing the known world without all the modern means of transportation and communication that we possess today. "Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word." (Acts 8:4).
The apostle Paul and his co-laborers did not have the luxury of having access to cars, planes, printing presses, phones, T.V., radio, computers and yet they took the Lord's command literally when Jesus said: "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). Somebody once said: "Others have done so much with so little, while we have done so little with so much." I believe God will hold us accountable with what we do with the means He has entrusted us with in the spreading of His Word.
In Acts 13:44-52 we are shown that if the Word of God is preached, portrayed, and published, there will be two responses or results to all of this:
1) professions of faith -- "And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed." (Acts 13:48) This verse of Scripture presents the two sides of evangelism: a. the divine side -- God has His elect; b. the human side -- if we do not preach the gospel then nobody can be saved. It takes both. We must go and witness and God will take care of the rest, according to His own good pleasure and will.
2) persecution because of the faith -- "But the Jews stirred up the devout and honourable women, and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts." (Acts 13:50). In v. 45 we see where Paul's critics attacked his message but in v.50 they also directed their attack at the messengers. The Bible characterizes it by the word "persecution" and we are told they were "expelled," driven out, thrown out of town. Whenever and wherever God is doing a great work and pouring out His abundant blessings, you can expect that the devil and his crowd will do everything in their power to defeat, discourage, or destroy the work of God.
In this passage we have the biblical basis for evangelism. We are shown how that our evangelism can be scriptural and effective. In this day and age of counterfeits, imitations, and substitutes, we need to rediscover the power in preaching the Word, rededicate ourselves to the importance of portraying the Word in our lives, and recommit ourselves to the necessity of publishing, spreading the Word so that others may know what we believe, why we believe, and whom we believe. To do so will mean God will pour out His blessings upon our lives, our evangelism, and our churches.
Every member of the Lord's churches can take part in biblical evangelism in three ways: personally go, provide funds for others to go, and pray for those who have gone. Just remember, you are either the missionary or the mission field.