God’s Priorities for His Churches: Grace (2)
Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. Acts 11.22, 23
But the faithful servants of Christ must rejoice (as did Barnabas) when they see the gospel increase, by whomsoever God shall make his name known. And assuredly those which help one another, so that they acknowledge that all the effect which springeth thence is the work of God, will never envy one another, neither will they seek to carp [at] one another, but will, with one mouth and mind, praise the power of God.
- John Calvin, Commentary on Acts 11.22, 23
Seeing the Kingdom
The Lord Jesus indicated that His followers should expect to see visible evidence that His gracious, eternal rule had arrived and was exerting influence on earth (Matt. 16.28; Mk. 9.1; Lk. 9.27). He taught us to pray that His Kingdom would come on earth in a manner reflecting its condition in heaven, where His Word is obeyed in all things, and His glory is exalted in every place (Matt. 6.10).
Thus we should expect, as Christ by His grace establishes the Kingdom of God – in our souls, our individual Personal Mission Fields, and our churches – that His grace will overflow with Kingdom power, like rivers of living water, into our immediate temporal environment (1 Cor. 4.20; Jn. 7.37-39).
Such overflow makes the local community – its neighborhoods, institutions, cultural life, and people – a primary arena in which the grace of God flows and the Kingdom of God comes on earth as it is in heaven. As the Kingdom of God expands within a local community, it exerts a powerful transforming influence, and creates effects consistent with the purposes of the Kingdom at all levels. Where the people of God have made the Kingdom turn unto lives of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, and where churches are faithfully serving as agents of grace, there we expect local communities to experience the presence of the Kingdom in recognizable and unmistakable ways.
In other words, in such communities we should expect to see the grace of God, at work in and through His churches.
But what does such presence of the Kingdom mean, and what does it look like?
What did he see?
The passage above reports on Barnabas’ experience of arriving in Antioch to check out reports concerning the progress of the Gospel in those parts: “When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord.”
Look at that again: “When he came and had seen the grace of God…” He arrived in Antioch, a major Gentile city in Syria, and he saw evidence that the gracious Kingdom of God was present and expanding in that community.
Which begs the question: What did he see? And further: How was he able to know that what he was seeing was the grace of God?
Obviously, what Barnabas observed in Antioch was much like what he had become familiar with in Jerusalem. People openly professed faith in Jesus, and they assembled regularly to learn and worship. They made new friends and enjoyed one another’s hospitality – sharing meals and conversation together in their homes. They gave generously of their wealth and property to meet the needs of others; helped one another overcome lingering sins, restore broken relationships, and discover new ways of serving; and maintained a vibrant and visible life of worship and fellowship before the rest of the community. They related to one another for mutual edification in the Lord, so that their lives were more cooperative and collaborative than competitive. They publicly engaged people from various opposing worldviews to explain their belief in Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. They bore bold and consistent witness for Christ, so much so that the people in Antioch took to calling them “Christ-ones” – “Christians”. Their ranks grew, their presence expanded, they became a new community of grace within the existing community of Antioch, and their influence on the culture, life, and needs of the city became something everyone could see.
In sum, what Barnabas saw was the vibrant presence of grace, affecting people, families, neighborhoods, workplaces, relationships, roles, and responsibilities for good throughout the city of Antioch.
This helps us understand why Paul’s desire for the churches he served was that they might know more of the grace of God at work in their midst.
Similarly, we should expect that local communities today will give evidence of the reality of the grace and Kingdom of God unfolding in their midst. Wherever the grace of God flows, and the Kingdom of God has taken root and begun to blossom, the evidence of the Kingdom will take forms similar to what Barnabas observed in Antioch, so that the graceof Christ – His presence filling all things in all things (Eph. 1.22, 23; 4.8-10) – will be visible in many ways.
Barnabas knew he was seeing the grace of God in Antioch because he had seen that grace as it unfolded and grew in Jerusalem. Throughout the course of Christian history, the Kingdom of God has taken root in cities and countries all over the earth, and the evidence of the Lord’s gracehas been faithfully recorded, preserved, and transmitted. Many of the benefits of that grace continue today, though they may be unrecognized and unacknowledged with respect to their heavenly provenance. And much evidence resides in the records of Church history to guide us in seeking the grace of the Kingdom in local communities today.
Where God’s grace abounds, His benefits abound to and through His people. Thus, when Christ-ones gather for worship, when they take up the work of making disciples, and when they seek to extend the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom into their community, they must make grace their resource and their end. This is what Paul sought for the churches, and it is what we must seek as well.
What is a missional church?
Be sure to watch the first of five Conversations with Rev. Robert Lynn, Associate Pastor at Knox Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor, MI (click here). In these five Conversations Bob will share what he has learned from his reading and years of experience in pastoral ministry and theological education about what churches need today if they are to fulfill the Lord’s priorities. In the second Conversation, Bob and I take up the question of the mission of the church, and what it means to be a missionalcongregation. Watch this Conversation by clicking here.
Prayer for Revival
“The more insignificant they were, the brighter the grace working great results by small means.”
- John Chrysostom (344-407 AD), Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles 25
God has called His people to be bringers of grace and joy to the world. Our booklet, Joy to Your World!, can show you how this can work out in the lives of the people you serve. Order your copy by clicking here.
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T. M. Moore
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).