Tuesday, September 10, 2019

How to Live Up to the Name “Christian”

“The disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.”
– Acts 11:26

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is in 1 Samuel 17: the story of David and Goliath.
You know the basic details of the story. The Philistines were the archenemies of the Israelites, and their greatest warrior, Goliath, stood over nine feet tall. He was one tough hombre.

As the Philistine and Israelite armies met on the battlefield, Goliath offered the Israelites a proposal: “Instead of our armies killing each other, just choose one Israelite warrior to fight me one-on-one. If he kills me, we will become your slaves, but if I kill him, you all will become our slaves. What do you say?” Well, all of the Israelite soldiers said in unison, “No way, Jose! I’m not fighting that guy. He’s huge! He’ll squash me like a bug.” No Israelite soldier had the guts–or the faith—to face Goliath … except for a wet-behind-the ears teenager named David. David alone stepped up and accepted the challenge to fight Goliath.

David had guts. David had great faith in God. But something else I love about David is that he thought outside the box. Every Israelite soldier thought the only way to fight Goliath was in hand-to-hand combat. And they knew they were no match for Goliath. But David refused to think the way every soldier in that army thought. When fighting Goliath, he wouldn’t need a sword. He wouldn’t need a spear. He wouldn’t even need armor, because he wasn’t going to use them. With God’s help, all he needed was his trusty old sling and a smooth stone. Who says he had to have a sword fight with Goliath? He would just stand back—out of arm’s reach--and chuck a rock at his forehead. And afterwards, if he needed a sword, he would just borrow Goliath’s, since he wouldn’t be needing it anymore.

You know who won that battle. And just as David walked in faith and thought outside the box, so did Christ’s followers in the city of Antioch (see Acts 11:19-30). With a population of half a million people, the city of Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire. It had a very diverse population and a booming economy. But sadly, its citizens had a penchant for drinking, gambling and playing cat and mouse with temple prostitutes outside the city. 

Antioch was the Roman Empire’s “Sin City.” Yet it was there, in that Roman Sin City, that Jesus’ followers initiated the Church’s mission to take the gospel of Jesus Christ beyond Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, to every group of people on earth. And it was there in that Roman Sin City that Jesus’ followers were first called “Christians.” Now, Christ’s followers in Antioch didn’t receive this glorious nickname overnight. There were three distinct, out-of-the-box steps that the believers in Antioch took on the road to being called “Christians.”

Step 1: They reached out to share the message of salvation (vs19-21). In the months and years leading up to the founding of the Antioch Church, churches only shared the Gospel with people of Jewish descent. But, in God’s view, that just wasn’t going to cut it. Why? Because when Jesus told his followers that they would be his witnesses in the uttermost parts of the earth, he didn’t mean they would be his witnesses only to the Jews. He meant they would be his witnesses to everyone. The Antioch Church reached out to witness to the “Greeks” who knew next to nothing about God, Jesus, or biblical morality. And the results of their bold outreach are plain to see in verse 21: “The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.”

Step 2: They reached out to encourage new believers (vs22-24). The Antioch Church was very good at out-of-the-box witnessing. But that by itself wasn’t going to make them into a great church. Next they needed to reach out to encourage. And Barnabas—whose nickname means “son of encouragement”—was just the man for the job! In verse 23 we read that when Barnabas arrived at the Antioch Church, he “encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.” Don’t forget: It’s one thing to see lots of people come to the Lord once. It’s quite another for large numbers of people to continue coming to the Lord day after day, week after week, month after month. I believe that without Barnabas’ encouragement and faith, the out-of-the-box evangelistic impact would not have lasted very long.

Step 3: They reached out to teach new believers (vs25-26). Barnabas realized that as well as the church in Antioch was doing, it needed more than he alone could offer. In order to take the church to the next level, Barnabas humbly set out for Tarsus to find Saul, the murderer turned evangelist. That was a trip of some 100 miles. He convinced Saul to come back with him to Antioch, and together, Barnabas and Saul taught “large numbers of people.” It wasn’t once-a-week teaching. It wasn’t light teaching. It was out-of-the-box discipleship which included solid, meaty, daily teaching. And as a result, “great numbers of people” were taught the word of God. And then and only then do we read: “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”

Like Christ’s followers in Antioch, Jesus calls us to reach out to share the Good News with those who are far from Christ, to lovingly encourage young Christians, and to teach God’s word to all who will listen. We are “Christians.” And these are things that Christians do.

Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of Impact Christian Church. Join us for our Grand Opening at 10 am Sunday, October 6th at the new Ralph Baker School in Victorville. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.

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