Sermon for Sunday Evening, March 12th, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Act 14:24-28 ESV] 24 Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. 25 And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia, 26 and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. 27 And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they remained no little time with the disciples.
This morning we looked at the return of Christ to this world to gather up the elect.
Now we look at the return of Paul and Barnabas to Antioch.
While this can’t measure up with Christ’s return, it is important Biblical material for us to consider and to learn about.
And this passage ends a clear section in the book of Acts. Chapter 13 and 14 just now concluding, chronicle the travels of Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. In the next chapter we’ll take a break from the traveling and preaching to look at the important Jerusalem council where an important debate in the early church was worked out. And then the text will proceed to Paul’s second missionary journey.
But this evening we look at the end of the first journey, Paul’s return with Barnabas to Antioch.
And there are two points to look at this evening. Accountability in Missions, and Commendation in Missions.
First, accountability in missions.
I. Accountability in Missions
It was the church at Antioch that sent Paul and Barnabas out. Now it is to that church that they return.
And there they “declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.”
There is apparently an expected accountability of the missionaries to the church. They are sent for the Gospel, and the church desires to know how the work is going. They’re not sightseeing or partying through empire, they are preaching the Gospel through much opposition and persecution.
Paul hardly needs to say anything. They could just look at his bruises from the stoning and surmise what had happened.
But the accountability is not something they stressed over. Paul and Barnabas were glad to declare to the church all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.
From this first missionary journey came this first missionary report.
I’ve been working on getting each of our missionaries to give reports to us.
We had Adam and Karla Gordon speak about their work with All 4 Jesus Ministries.
Twice we’ve had a Gideon here, Gary Stellingwerf and Mark Guinup.
And soon, Lord willing, we’ll have Robert Waters give us a report of the Sussex Christian School which we support.
Accountability is a good thing.
We want to know that our money is being put to good purpose.
It really is wrong to call it “our money.” It is the Lord’s money and we want to know that it is being used for the Lord’s work.
Our missionary agencies, the Presbyterian Missionary Union and the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, and even our denominations, our Bible Presbyterian Church and its fraternally connected Orthodox Presbyterian Church emerged in part from the need of accountability in missions.
Back in the 1920s and 1930s the scene in Presbyterian missions had gotten really bad. Missionaries who didn’t believe the Bible were working to “improve” some nation or people group but attempted so without the Gospel. Many churches rose us and said “we can’t be sending money if you’re not doing Gospel work.” Eventually the Independent Board was created so that funds could be designated to Gospel-believing missionaries.
Missionaries, like all people, need accountability.
And the bigger the organization and the more money they receive, the more accountability is needed.
So we should encourage getting reports of missionary work and should only support work that is Gospel work.
II. Commendation in Mission Work
The text doesn’t explain why Paul and Barnabas didn’t just return west by land to Antioch in Syria. Rather they went south to a few places, Perga and Attalia, and then sailed west to Antioch. It isn’t clear, but if they had a timeline to meet, sailing would have been faster.
But they return to Antioch where, it is said, “they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled.”
To be commended is to be formally or officially praised.
From the grammar, “they had been commended” we apparently have in view a previously commendation of their work.
Then they declared what God had done since then and how He had opened a door to the Gentiles.
If there was commendation before, there certainly would be greater commendation now.
Yes indeed, it was the work of God. But Paul and Barnabas did also work.
It is not that God did 99% of the work and that Paul and Barnabas did 1%.
But rather, God does 100% of the work, but uses Paul and Barnabas in the process.
And they certainly are to be commended. They risked life and limb for the Gospel. They are indeed to be honored, praised, for their work.
Perhaps the implication is that the commendation was verbal.
But it is possible that it was also financial. They’ve been on the road preaching the gospel, sometimes indeed working other jobs, but they haven’t been working full time. They’d need the support of the whole church. Perhaps with food or accommodation in Antioch. Perhaps with financial contributions.
We indeed pay missionaries (and pastors) today.
Well I have a friend who is in the Plymouth Brethren church where they don’t pay any ministers. They don’t even have a minister. The elders takes turns preaching. I guess they preach about once a month.
But we we see that it is acceptable to pay someone for work in the church. It is acceptable to commend Paul and Barnabas.
Elsewhere, in 1 Timothy 517, it says elders who rule well should be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.
Well, again, perhaps one might contend this is not a financial honorarium.
So we have also:
“Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain” and “the worker deserves his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:18)
“the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 9:14)
So it is clear that a church may (even “ought to”) pay a pastor and may financially support missionaries as well.
And this fits well with the Presbyterian idea of doing all things in good order. I believe a church without a paid pastor is more likely to find it difficult to keep all the loose ends tied.
So we’ve seen that there should be accountability in missions and that there should be commendation as well.
So we should be encouraged to find out what work is being done by our missionaries and to praise them for their good work.
III. A Door of Faith
One other notable thing in our text is the statement that there has been “opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.”
This is a great summary of what has come before in the book of Acts. From place to place, wherever Paul and his companions go, Gentiles especially (and some Jews too) are coming to faith.”
A door has been opened by God.
And that door, the Gospel’s tell us is Jesus Christ.
[Jhn 10:7-9 ESV] 7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.
Don’t close that door. That’s what we’ll see next at the Jerusalem Council. Don’t close the door, salvation by the free grace of Jesus Christ and substitute in its place the requirements of the law. Look at how the Gentiles are coming to the Lord. Don’t put a burden on them, especially a burden that the Jews themselves were unable to bear.
IV. They Remained No Little Time
One last thing.
In verse 28 we read: “And they remained no little time with the disciples.”
Paul and Barnabas, like Jesus himself, was a “people person.”
Jesus was often to be found among the people, even the “undesirables”, the “deplorables.”
Likewise, Paul did not place himself above others in the church. Wherever he want, he sought to spend as much time as possible with the people of the church.
What a beautiful sight.
And something that we should all take heed of.
Let us strive for frequent fellowship with one another in the church, and with all to whom we proclaim the word of God.
Let us conclude with prayer for all out connections in the church. For missionaries, for officers of our church, for one another, and for people who we pray will hear with their ears the Gospel of God which comes from out mouths. Let us pray.