(Sixth in a Series)
This edifying series of chapel talks comes from the archives of our
Spokesman Assistant Editor, Prof. Em. Paul R. Koch • Eau Claire, Wis.
Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren. They wrote this letter by them: The apostles, the elders, and the brethren, To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Greetings. Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, “You must be circumcised and keep the law”—to whom we gave no such commandment—it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell. So when they were sent off, they came to Antioch; and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the letter. When they had read it, they rejoiced over its encouragement. Now Judas and Silas, themselves being prophets also, exhorted and strengthened the brethren with many words. And after they had stayed there for a time, they were sent back with greetings from the brethren to the apostles. However, it seemed good to Silas to remain there. Paul and Barnabas also remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also. (Acts 15:22-35)
With our synod’s biennial Convention around the corner—June 16-19, 2014 at Immanuel Lutheran College, Eau Claire, Wis.—how especially fitting this “first convention of the Church” meditation with its sound Bible-based encouragement for those who would be/are the Convention delegates representing CLC congregations nationwide. — Editor
When our President and Secretary of State carry on important negotiations with foreign powers, they must decide whether to do this by e-mail, by phone, by courier, or in person. The higher the level of importance, the more they favor face-to-face meetings.
Now, why is this? Probably because the negotiations will be stymied if you can’t look the other person in the eye to see how your words are registering—so you can gauge your next sentence accordingly.
God is telling us something about human nature and our ambassador functions, too—namely, there is nothing quite as effective as face-to-face meeting in our gospel ministerings, the one-on-one between you and someone who may yet become God’s child. Most of the Bible episodes of real successes came via face-to-face meetings.
Judas Barsabas and Silas are up for consideration. At the first convention of the Church, held at the mother congregation in Jerusalem, these men surfaced when the convention was arriving at a crucial decision. There was a doctrinal issue; the point in controversy was whether Gentiles could become Christian without first being Jewish. Many were laboring under the premise that since Jews were God’s first choice, Gentiles should become Jewish to share in being God’s first choice.
The Apostle Paul had it straight, of course—that God approves of NOBODY; all are equally unjust and ungodly, whether they be a law-minded Jew or non-law-oriented gentile. There is NO WAY anybody is capable of fixing up his own soul so as to please God. That’s why God went as far as He did on Calvary.
The men at Jerusalem listened to Paul (with Barnabas and Peter) explain why they preached free remission of sins, that God does not ask for nor desire a helping hand from the sinner in order to save him. Thus, the Gentile as well as the Jew gets no spiritual benefit out of circumcision or from doing anything else.
After prolonged discussion, the Convention passed a doctrinal resolution to not burden the gentile converts with any of the legal/religious problems with which Jews had burdened themselves, but rather let them enjoy the grace of God as God intended.
Well, that was certainly going to be good news to the folks up north in Antioch, who had sent Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem to get the doctrine of it straight. And so a letter was composed by the Convention assembled—to tell them the good news.
NOW, by what mechanism should this good news be best conveyed so as to transmit the quality of rejoicing, to really share the attitude and feelings of the home church? Well, send it by personal ambassador, of course! “Then it pleased the apostles and elders with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren.”
In its accompanying letter, the congregation gave a good reason for selecting this methodology, “We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth.” When a mission is important enough, you send persons to not only deliver the mail but also to explain, answer questions, and verbally underscore the message. So, when Judas and Silas arrived in Antioch, they “delivered the letter, [and] when they had read it, they [the Antioch believers] rejoiced over its encouragement. Now Judas and Silas, themselves being prophets also, exhorted the brethren with many words and strengthened them.”
This was follow-up, as these two capable men reassured the worried Gentile converts that they were already inside God’s family by God’s grace in Christ Jesus. They answered questions; they rehearsed important aspects of the discussion on the floor of the convention; they used their voices as fine ambassadors for Christ.
In application, my gentile friends—let us sharpen our competences NOW in all branches of learning so as to equip ourselves as God’s ambassadors. Let us work to acquire competence in Bible studies; let us memorize what God tells us about Himself; let us practice analyzing what we read and hear presented from God’s Word.
Every sermon or Bible class should find us open-minded and devout-hearted, asking “What is God telling me here? What is the main doctrine in this text, and what are the auxiliary thoughts? How and when can I make use of this truth? When would it be important to bring up this particular Word and apply it to real life? How can I practice this message in my own faith-living?”
You and I should be telling ourselves: “I am going to apply myself to language (grammar, vocabulary, linguistics, rhetoric) in order to develop my communication skills; God is giving me opportunities to equip me in His service–as an ambassador of the throne of grace. Even as I am one of God’s obscure saints, He chooses me to represent Him on this Earth.
“In addition, I can use my people-skills discussions with my peers, I will use my intelligence and talents and abilities so that I can serve Jesus productively. I cannot let myself be dull when He wants me to be sharp; I cannot let myself be disinterested about things that concern my Savior. As Barsabas and Silas were happy to serve their congregation and God’s family on the frontier as God’s obscure saints, I am encouraged to follow their lead and use them as my pattern of Christian service. Hallelujah!”
Let us join in the prayer of hymn 439.
“O God of Mercy, God of Might”
O God of mercy, God of might,
In love and pity infinite,
Teach us, as ever, in Thy sight,
To live our life to Thee.
And Thou, who cam’st on earth to die
That fallen man might live thereby,
Oh, hear us; for to Thee we cry,
In hope, O Lord, to Thee.
Teach us the lesson Thou hast taught,
To feel for those Thy blood hath bought
That every word and deed and thought
May work a work for Thee.
All are redeemed, both far and wide,
Since Thou, O Lord, for all hast died.
Oh, teach us, whatsoe’er betide,
To love them all in Thee!
In sickness, sorrow, want, or care,
Whate’er it be, ’tis ours to share;
May we, where help is needed, there
Give help as unto Thee!
And may Thy Holy Spirit move
All those who live to live in love
Till Thou shalt greet in heaven above
All those who live to Thee.
The Lutheran Hymnal
Text: Luke 10: 36, 37
Author: Godfrey Thring, 1877, alt.
Composer: Samuel Howard, 1782