by Roger McCay
17 May 2020
Sermon Passage: Acts 14:20-28
Link to Audio Version
There are some who claim to be Christians who don’t think they really need to be involved in church. But, that’s like saying you are with a tour group that’s loading on a plane together to head to another country … and then running outside onto the runway and flapping your arms to fly with them as the plane takes off.
The thing is, the Lord went to great lengths to establish his church—his chosen people; true Israel—embodied and organized into local churches. He did this for a reason—many reasons, really. Critical to us, the Lord plainly reveals his will, in the Scriptures, that local churches are the way his people, the body of Christ, are to be formed together in this world. Churches are a means for us to journey together, as we follow Christ, lovingly united as his people. Indeed, it is irrational for a person to think that he or she is somehow continuing in the faith, the walk of a Christian, while spurning involvement and membership in a local, Jesus-loving, Bible-believing, doctrinally sound church.
Joining a church does not save you; Jesus saves you by his grace through faith. Born-again believers (disciples of Christ), by definition, strive to obey the Lord, working out our faith. It’s what we do, continuing in the faith. Church affiliation, church membership, is simple obedience and a clear marker of one’s identity as part of the body of Christ.
On the flip-side, it’s like John Piper has said, “In the New Testament, to be excluded from the local church was to be excluded from Christ.” Yet, without Biblical grounds for their assumption, there are some who claim to be Christians who don’t think they really need to be involved in church—much less be members.
In our passage today, we see the apostles Paul and Barnabas reach the furthest destination of the first missionary journey to the Gentiles, in Derbe. They then retraced their steps, touching base with and ministering to most of the local churches they had planted along the way, also continuing to proclaim the gospel, as we see in Perga. Finally, they arrived back to their sending church, in Antioch of Syria, giving a grand and joyous report, claiming mission accomplished to this glorious leg of the Spirit’s grand adventure.
As Luke has recounted this journey, in Acts 13-14, he has been clear that all along it was initiated by the Spirit of God and empowered by the Spirit of God for success. Through Paul and Barnabas, it was the Lord who planted churches in the various Gentile cities and put in place foundation stones towards sustaining these churches.
The Spirit of God Plants His Churches
Luke, in vv. 20-21 and 24-25, mentions, in passing, Paul and Barnabas’ continued evangelistic ministry in a couple of towns in different regions—Derbe, in Galatia; and Perga, in Pamphylia. Since he’d made his point as to what was involved in such ministry already, he only briefly mentions what took place there, as he’s rounding out and finishing the account.
Many folks in Derbe believed and became disciples. We know the name of one of the Christians. Gaius, from Derbe, would later be one of Paul’s fellow travelers, representing his church in Acts 20:4. Paul also visits that church in his 2nd and likely his 3d missionary journeys (Acts 16:1 and Acts 18:23). This Galatian church started strong and the Lord blessed them.
Perga is mentioned, and you may remember that Paul and Barnabas travelled through there earlier in their journey, yet did not preach the gospel there at the time (possibly due to Paul’s illness, some think malaria). But, they made sure to stop and preach the gospel there on the way back. At this point, loose ends are being tied up, bringing us to the end of the narrative concerning the first missionary journey.
Now, considering what Paul and Barnabas did along the whole journey as authoritative representatives of Jesus empowered by the Holy Spirit, it is important to observe and understand that they did not just leave behind a bunch of believers going about their individual lives independently trying to follow Jesus. They did not send out a shotgun blast of gospel proclamation and then head on into the sunset. Rather, they evangelized, discipled, and organized the disciples, leaving behind churches made up of definite bodies of believers that were set-up to flourish.
Disciples were identified with the church and were involved in the life of the church, as part of a definite structure. Indeed, the term disciple is synonymous with the term church member—disciples of Christ are together the church. God, through his apostles, planted these churches and set in place church membership, in the form of disciples who belonged to each particular church body.