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The Hand of the Lord-Part IV

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What is the measure of a Christians walk with the Lord? Is it how much Christianese they know? Maybe it’s how much Bible they can repeat? Maybe people measure it by how much stuff they do for the church? All of these things are sure fire ways to measure a persons walk with the Lord but there is one that I can almost guarantee you have never thought of that is a high mark in your own personal walk with the Lord. There is one measure of a believers trust in God's care that is actually between the believer and God Himself, and this measure is in the realm of giving. Generosity in the church is not just about seeing what you do but your own heart before God. He is the only One who needs to see what you do.
God has built His church and God has brought people to His saving grace, and through out Scripture when this happens people are so transformed by the reality that there is more to life then what this world has to offer that they could care less about this world. They are also so grateful for the fact they have been saved from an eternity damned to hell that they don't hold back in caring for God's people. They are so deeply changed that they don't have a shallow relationship with the Lord but a deep relationship that ends in generosity especially in caring for other believers.
The have recognized the Hand of the Lord at work in their city and in their lives and in growing His church, when the Lord calls them into action they don't hold back. The gospel message came to them and God provided this message, the teaching and the encouragement and now through this church God will provide for them and for others.

The Hand of the Lord Provides for His Growing Church

Let's take a look at Acts 11:27-30; Acts 11:27-30.
Acts 11:27–30 NASB95
27 Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius. 29 And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea. 30 And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders.
Remember the gospel message spread to Antioch which is a city in Asia minor outside the boarder of Israel. The Church in Jerusalem has heard of this gentile church growing and sent out Barnabas who is excited about what God is doing there and he encourages them to continue and also calls Saul to help teach and disciple this growing church. The people there are transformed by the Hand of the Lord in such a mighty way that the entire city gives them the name Christians, Christ followers. Now we find the first official act of the church is to help one another. This is still the Hand of the Lord at work in His church and we see first that the Hand of the Lord provides Spiritually.

The Hand of the Lord Provides Spiritual Blessings

Look with me at verse 27 and 28. Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius. As this church in Antioch is growing and the people in the church are being encouraged, taught and discipled, it is evident here that they are not out on their own. The hand of the Lord has been at work in growing the church and now we see God provides more spiritual aide to the church. Prophets have come from Jerusalem to Antioch. These prophets are a part of the foundation of the church. Now the prophets of the New Testament are not exactly like those of the Old Testament. These prophets came to declare the word of the Lord. They came from Jerusalem. The text doesn't tell us how many prophets there were only that they were multiple. Only one is named in verse 28, Agabus. Now these prophets would come in and they would proclaim the word of the Lord, declare His truth to the people. Now there are very few instances in the New Testament were a prophet predicts a future event. This is one of them and later in Acts this same prophet predicts Paul's arrest. In any case the prophet was one who spoke for God, he spoke God's truth and only God's truth. The job of the prophet was to reveal the word of God to the people and that is what these prophets were doing.
As the church grew the prophets were for the most part replaced by the pastors and teachers of the church. In any case here we have a prophet and his job was to provide spiritual aide to the church. He does so here. Agabus stood up more than likely in a church service and directed by the Holy Spirit, not of his own accord, told the church of an impending calamity. There will be a famine all over the world. Hard times were about to come. Of course Luke then tells us by looking back, that this famine did happen. It seems as though it is a side note but it was written for two reasons. First, it provides the time line of when this event happened. Keep in mind Luke is writing to a man named Theophilus for the purpose of explaining to him the events of the growth of the church. Theophilus would have known of this famine and of Claudius. So this would have helped establish a time line for him. Now there is no record of a famine that decimated the entire known world as it did in the day of Joseph in the book of Genesis. This famine during this time was sporadic. There is record of Egypt suffering a famine from a flood. There is also record of Judea suffering from a lack of food as well. Theophilus could have heard this and thought ok I know when this took place. This also helps us establish a time line as well. This is no longer just a story in a book, it is history. The second reason Luke might have added this statement of when the famine occured, because there has always been only one test for a prophet, especially one who foretold a future event, it had to come true. In the Old Testament if a prophet foretold a future event and it didn't happen they would have been stoned to death. This is not a gift anyone should just jump up and say they have, it came with a great deal of responsibility.
The Works of Josephus: New Updated Edition Chapter 15: How Moses Was Displeased at This, and Foretold that God Was Angry, and that They Should Continue in the Wilderness for Forty Years, and Not, during that Time Either Return into Egypt, or Take Possession of Canaan

(320) Thus this legislation, which appeared to be divine, made this man to be esteemed as one superior to his own nature. Nay, further, a little before the beginning of this war, when Claudius was emperor of the Romans, and Ismael was our high priest, and when so great a famine was come upon us, that one-tenth deal [of wheat] was sold for four drachmae, (321) and when no less than seventy cori of flour were brought into the temple, at the feast of unleavened bread (these cori are thirty-one Sicilian, but forty-one Athenian medimni), not one of the priests were so hardy as to eat one crumb of it, even while so great a distress was upon the land; and this out of a dread of the law, and of that wrath which God retains against acts of wickedness, even when no one can accuse the actors

This recording adds to the validity this is an actual event in history.
God had placed prophets in the early church for a reason and the reason was to proclaim His truth that has always been the job of the prophet. Between, Barnabas, Saul and now Agabus the Antioch church is receiving some very strong spiritual insight. Remember this particular church is very new and very young and as I said last week they are salivating for the revealed Word of God. God provides it to them. Now I am not sure if these prophets came on their own, moved by the Spirit or if they were sent by the church to encourage this foundling group of believers, but one thing I do know for certain is God was at work in it. When people are salivating for the Word, when people are hungry for the Word of God, God puts people in their path to provide for them a means of spiritual growth. That was the case in the first century church and that is the case in the church today.
The only reason why the church has a hunger for the Word today is because in every generation God raises up those who can declare His word. God did this in the book of Acts, then in 1517 God did it again. The church had fallen away from following God and exalting God. Salvation became something you had to work toward and what was worse then that was the fact that church would prey on peoples emotions to make money so that they could build new churches, they call this indulgences. Authority of Scripture was null in void and the authority of God was not in the church at all. The priests controlled everything. Until a young Augustinian monk came along and actually read the Bible.
And when he read this verse it shook up and the church was rocked by it as well.
Romans 1:17 NASB95
17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”
“The just shall live by faith alone.” This changed his life for ever and became the battle cry of the protestant reformation. God used this man to go out and declare the truths of Scripture to all of Germany. This man is Martin Luther and he was the spark that caused the fire of the reformation to burn brightly and bring the Scripture into the hands of the common people and those people salivated over it. They were able to read God's word in their own language and hear sermons about faith, hope, grace, being justified by a foreign righteousness that is not their own. They were taught you can't earn your way to heaven, you can't buy your dead relatives out of hell, the payment has already been made and that payment was made on the cross. Repent and believe in Jesus Christ, and only in Him can you have Salvation. This was the message of the reformation, this is the message of today and this was the message that went to the people in Antioch. These message didn't just come by chance, the Hand of the Lord was in it to provide these people what they needed. They received the Spiritual nutrients to help them grow, and God was sure to send them this nutrients through such men as Barnabas, Saul and now Agabus. These people were fed what they needed and this spiritual food helped them grow and caused godly character and hearts of gratitude for what God has provided for them. Spiritual blessing. This spiritual blessing is now reciprocated by the Antiochian church through generosity of God's physically blessings

The Hand of the Lord Provides Physical Relief

Verse 29 reads, "And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea." They didn't wait, this foundling church jumped into action. This seems to happen with the churches in Acts. This happened in the Jerusalem church when it first began.
Look with me at Acts 2:43-47
Acts 2:43–47 NASB95
43 Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. 44 And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. 46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
The early church felt a sense of awe, they were amazed at what God was doing and how He was working. They had a sense of community, they were together in verse 46 it quantifies it by saying, "day by day continuing with one another with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart." They didn't just get together on Sunday morning and sing a few songs and then walk out, see you next week. No they would go from house to house and eat together and pray together and listen to teaching and there was gladness. Look they also didn't see themselves as just individuals they were a community, they helped one another because they understood exactly who they were, one in Christ. Listen Peter's boat was John's boat and Thomas' cow was Bartholomew's milk. They share their earthly goods with one another because they don't see their earthly goods as the purpose of life. They don't see their earthly good as their own but as belonging to God. They don't see what they have as something they worked hard for and deserve but as gifts from God. They understood how things work in life and they saw their kingdom was not here and now but it was in the presence of God.
Their thinking about their stuff changed because their thinking about who God is changed. Their thinking about how their stuffed should be used changed because their thinking about what is important changed. The early church didn't see their possessions as theirs but as God's and so it was easy for them to be able to help one another because their food was given to them by God and belonged to God. They were practicing kingdom living now.
The Jerusalem church did this when they first believed the gospel message. This is the pattern of what happens when people receive the Spiritual blessing of God's revealed word. Even when Jesus walked the earth and people trusted in Him as Lord, on more then one occasion we have recorded for us people becoming generous. Levi who is also called Matthew left his tax booth to follow Jesus. He left behind his worldly means of support but was wealthy enough to have a great big reception for Jesus in his house and invited other tax collectors to dine with them. This is generosity sparked by a change in thinking. Then there is Zaccheus who was a wee little man who had to climb a tree to see Jesus because the crowds were so massive and the people so much taller. He was also a tax collector and very wealthy. Remember what happened to him.
Well lets take a look shall we.
Luke 19:1–9 NASB95
1 He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. 3 Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” 6 And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. 7 When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham.
See that Jesus knew who Zaccheus was and where he was. He didn't have to ask who is that guy up in the tree, He is Jesus, He knew. By calling Zaccheus by name and telling him He was to be Zaccheus' guest convinced Zaccheus that Jesus is what people have been saying, He is the Messiah. Jesus accepting Zaccheus prompted Zaccheus to action, he went from being a thief and ripping off his fellow Israelites, he now pledged to give half his wealth to the poor and he promised to give restitution to those he defrauded. Jesus didn't ask him to do this, he didn't tell him if you trust me then do this, Zaccheus was compelled to do it because of the spiritual blessing he received.
So you see this is what has happened to the the Israelites who have received spiritual blessings and now the church in Antioch is doing the same. They are grateful for what God has done for them, they are grateful for those God has sent to them from Jerusalem and now they are collecting funds to help the church that has blessed them so richly.
In fact Paul says this in his letter to the Romans;
Romans 15:22–29 NASB95
22 For this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you; 23 but now, with no further place for me in these regions, and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you 24 whenever I go to Spain—for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while— 25 but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. 27 Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things. 28 Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain. 29 I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.
This letter was written to the church in Rome at the end of Paul's third missionary journey. Notice how he tells them in verse 23 he has been throughout the entire region of Asia minor and now that he has spread the gospel there it is time for him to move on. He plans to go to Spain via Rome. First he must go to Jerusalem to bring a collection for the poor in Jerusalem. Look with me at verse 27, Paul writes this; "Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them." The Macedonian and Achaian churches were pleased to take a collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem. They felt they were indebted to them. Why? Why would they feel this way? Paul continues and answers this question. "For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things." They have received spiritual blessings and they believe they should reciprocate the spiritual blessing with material. This should be the natural desire, this is what should be the motivation to give and to be generous especially in the church. These gentiles didn't see the Spiritual blessings as a trivial thing, they saw it as the most rewarding blessing they could have recieved. This motivated them to give back materially to those who were so rich a source of blessing to them.
They also didn't do this out of compulsion, they weren't guilted into do this they were driven to do it because they understood the benefit they recieved. Paul elaborates more on this point when he writes to the Corinthian church.
2 Corinthians 9:6–15 NASB95
6 Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; 9 as it is written, He scattered abroad, he gave to the poor, His righteousness endures forever.” 10 Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; 11 you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. 13 Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all, 14 while they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you. 15 Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!
And Paul commends the Philippian church in his closing remarks of the letter by saying this;
Philippians 4:15–20 NASB95
15 You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; 16 for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs. 17 Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account. 18 But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. 19 And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
Being provided Spiritual blessings should be motivation enough to be generous with the relief of those in need. The church in Antioch understood this and they pooled together what they could to send it out to the Jerusalem church. The thing is they sent it under the charge of those who were responsible for their spiritual growth. Here is the thing God provides wise handlers.

The Hand of the Lord Provides Responsible Handlers

In Verse 30 we find the church in Antioch not only took a collection but they also made sure to send the collection along. "And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders." The church didn't just send the money off to individuals, they didn't hold on and wait for someone to come and get it. No they took the collection and then they sent along to the elders who are in Jerusalem. They also sent it by means of two men they trusted to bring it safely to the needy church. They sent it through Barnabas and Saul. They trusted these men and the money they collected went by their hand. The distribution of these funds wasn't by the hand of Barnabas and Saul but they took it to the elders of the church and the elders were the ones responsible for distributing the funds to those in need.
This is the first time in the book of Acts the term elder is used. These people were tasked with two functions to care for the spiritual wellbeing of the church and to help care for the physical wellbeing of the church. When people in the church were hungry for food the church would help, when they need a tunic the church would help. Now mind you I have to say this, these people were believers. The elders were tasked with this responsibility. It is a high and lofty position in the church. Paul provides the qualification for this position when he writes to Timothy. It is a good thing we have these qualification so we know how to look for an elder.
1 Timothy 3:1–7 NASB95
1 It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. 2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. 4 He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity 5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), 6 and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. 7 And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
These qualities are important and they are important for an elder but they are also important for any man in the church.
Peter also provides an exhortation to elders in his letter to the church;
1 Peter 5:1–5 NASB95
1 Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 5 You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
God has provided the leadership of the church to guide those in the church. The leadership is tasked with watching over the flock with the main concern being the spiritual wellbeing of the people and when there is a physical need the elders decide how to best care for that need.
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