This coming Sunday we are going to learn about Paul’s first missionary Journey in Acts 14. I am excited for our kids because they are learning to discover the Truth of the Word of God for themselves. The valuable, basic Bible study tools that they are learning will stick with them for the rest of their lives and equip them to be able to open God’s Word at any time and hear directly from Him. Over the past month, we have covered Acts 4, Acts 8, Acts 9, and Acts 10. It has been neat to see how the Lord has worked in and through the lives of His disciples. He has given each of His followers the gift of the Holy Spirit and told them to be witnesses everywhere they find themselves. We saw Peter and John do this in Acts 4. We saw Philip do this in Acts 8. Paul began to do it once he encountered Christ and was born again. We ran in to Peter once again in Acts 10 when he shares the Gospel with Cornelius and a house full of Gentiles. Now, we are going to shift our focus to Paul and his missionary journeys.
I. Called to missions while already serving
I have noticed a strange phenomenon in the Christian world today. Many churches are trying to recruit people to go on mission trips so that they can catch the ministry bug and begin to serve with the same vigor in their local church when they come home, after being on a mission trip. In theory, that sounds nice but, in reality, the Word of God presents a different strategy. Before Paul is sent out as a missionary to the Gentiles, we learn something very important about him in Acts 13.
2 While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
3 Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.
Paul was already serving the Lord in the local church before being sent out to serve on a mission trip. Our modern way of thinking is actually backwards to the Biblical model. This happens often when we set aside the Word of God for the schemes of men. May the Lord forgive us of that and may we be corrected by His clear teachings! Paul and Barnabas were already proving themselves as witnesses for the Lord in their local church. God called them out after they had proven themselves at home. The Holy Spirit led the church to choose these two men and send them out. Paul and Barnabas were chosen by the Holy Spirit and then were going to be led by the Holy Spirit to where they were supposed to go and work.
II. Worked according to an established plan
Paul did not just pack up and leave. It is clear that he had a plan as to what he was going to do when he arrived in a new city. Paul developed a custom of seeking after people who were already searching for God. Paul was a Jewish believer who was steeped in the Old Testament. He knew what it was like to be a Jew and to attend Synagogue. He also knew that the Scriptures were available in the Synagogue and that people gathered to listen to the reading of Scripture and have someone teach on what they were reading. Therefore, Paul determined that in every city he visited, the first thing that he would do would be to find a synagogue and meet with the Jews there. As a Rabbi, when he showed up, he would be given the opportunity to read a passage and teach it to the audience. This was a Jewish custom in all synagogues.
1 In Iconium they entered the synagogue of the Jews together , and spoke in such a manner that a large number of people believed, both of Jews and of Greeks. (Acts 14)
Also, another important principle that we see about missions and planning is the fact that Paul did not go alone. He always planned to form a team and the team would work together to teach the Word of God. While there, Paul reasoned from the Scriptures with the audience. We do not see this approach laid out for us in verse 1 of Acts 14, but, we do see this in other places like Acts 17. Paul would read a text and then ask questions to pull the answers and the Truth about Christ from the Old Testament text. This is called inductive Bible study and it is life changing. In verse 1, because of Paul’s work, a large number of Jews and Greeks believed the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and were born again.
3 Therefore they spent a long time there speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord, who was testifying to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands. (Acts 14)
Paul and his team stayed as long as they could in order to teach as much as they could from the Scriptures. This what Matthew 28:19-20 teaches us to do as we seek to make disciples. Once people believe the message of the Gospel, we are to equip them to study, understand, and apply the Word of God.
19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,
20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
III. Missions means making disciples
Some people think that mission trips are all about going and evangelizing. I agree, evangelism is part of the process. It is a vital part of the process but, it is just a PART of the entire disciple making PROCESS. Paul and his team were quick to share the Gospel with anyone who would listen. The end of Acts 14 gives us the whole picture of what Paul and his team were doing while on this mission trip ordained by God.
21 After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, (Acts 14)
As we can clearly see here, Paul and his team did not set out to plant churches. They set out with a different plan, a different goal in mind. They set out to make disciples of Jesus Christ, and, as they were doing that, the churches were planted. Many churches and organizations today uses an entirely upside down model. They seek to plan churches in order to make disciples. They evangelize to plant churches and then seek to use the churches as a training ground for discipleship. God’s plan is that we seek to make disciples and churches will naturally form from the process. We have much to learn from God in His Word about what ministry really is and what it actually is supposed to look like, even in our modern world that is dominated by the schemes of men.
May the Lord help us follow His model for ministry and for missions!