Demonstrating God’s Love Together
Their first journey is nearly over; 1,400 miles, probably around 18 months, with joy and heartache, danger and struggle, powerful healings and incredible responses. Now Paul and Barnabas are making their way home.
But hang on, why aren’t they just continuing eastwards, completing the circuit, finding the shortest route home while taking the opportunity to visit a few more new places? Instead they’re turning round, going back from where they came, re-tracing their steps, lengthening their journey.
We may not ever know the full reasons for that but key seems to be a matter of fundamental principle. They didn’t want to leave those whom they had met, challenged, converted, on their own, to sink or swim so to speak. A clear part of their calling, as they saw it, was not only to proclaim the good news to fresh ears in new places, but to nurture new believers, to stand alongside them as they sought to put this message into practise.
So, crucially, not only were Paul and Barnabas evangelists, but, perhaps principally, they were disciple-makers. And that’s also true of pretty much everyone else in the New Testament too. Preaching the gospel in never really separated from the business of helping live it.
Discipleship: Help to Live the Message...
So what did that look like?
Just in the same way as those records of Paul’s first sermons on this journey, help us to understand what the key elements of the gospel is, now as well as then, so too does his approach to discipleship help us know what that might look like today as well.
A number of words and phrases stand out ...
- strengthening of faith, (ongoing, increasing commitment to Christ)
- encouragement to persevere, (running the race, never giving up)
- reinforcement of truth, (what’s real matters, faith doesn’t deny truth)
- faithfulness through hardship. (overcoming adversity, not expecting an easy ride)
Churches fit for the Task...
In this process Paul and Barnabas were concerned that their legacy would be Christian communities that could continue the work they had begun. Churches fit for the discipling purpose;
- Effectively led, (elders etc...)
- Prayerfully engaged, (sacrificially committed) and
- Collectively responsible, (answerable to and interested in each other)
these were models of disciple making communities, that, though far from perfect, set the agenda for every church since, including our own.
And so, back with the Church that sent them, they spent time reflecting on the implications of their travels, seeking to become a better community themselves, investing further in one another, until they were ready to go again.