The church was growing as more and more people’s hearts and minds were turning to faith in Jesus Christ. The gospel was spreading and converting Jews and Gentiles alike in spite of and because of the persecution suffered by Christians who were not prepared to give up this new hope and truth. But, as we have read, there were teething troubles in these new churches and one of the areas of concern brought to the apostle’s attention, was the fact that some Jewish Christians took it upon themselves to inform the Gentile members of the church that they needed to be circumcised to be acceptable. This troubled and discouraged those Gentiles who professed their faith in Christ.
Since the Exodus, God has instructed His people to be strong and courageous in the face of adversity but, when that adversity comes from within His people, clear direction is required and He is to be sought. Having encouraged the Pharisees to recognise that grace needed to be administered here, a letter was sent along with Paul, Barnabas, Judas and Silas to strengthen and encourage the church. The things they were encouraged to abstain from were linked to idol worship leaving them free to worship God.
How liberating and unifying this must have been for all who were holding on to their traditions and struggling to understand why they couldn’t fully engage with the church Jesus had built. Not only was the church in Antioch encouraged, but Paul and Barnabas were clearly spurred on as they felt compelled to encourage all those in the towns where they had preached before. They were in agreement to do this but just couldn’t quite agree on whether to take John Mark with them. Paul felt he had been let down by this disciple before and Barnabas (ever the encourager), wanted to strengthen John by including him. The result? Parting company - but not permanently.
See God and the works of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name in this. As the two missionaries go their separate ways, God is able to bring encouragement and strength to even more followers. Paul took Timothy under his wing and Lydia and her household joined the church - adding even more.
These accounts are written to strengthen and encourage our faith and to spur us on as the Church - the body of Christ all working together to bring about healing, comfort, justice, freedom and salvation.
Lord, pour your Holy Spirit upon this nation now and bring about a change of hearts and minds today. Help us to strengthen and encourage one another to see an increase in your Church. Amen.