What Is A Christian And Their Character? By J.N.Wheels


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What is a Christian and their Character?

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The Church in Antioch – Acts 11:19-30

[Pray]

And before we get started I want to ask two questions which apply to all of us:

  1. What character traits define us? (Are we known for something?) &

2. What is our greatest Purpose and calling in life?

We will find in this passage of Scripture, that both of the answers to those questions are found in Christ.

That is the whole sermon.

But the sermon is still worth preaching because id like us to see how these two things work together – our character, and our purpose here on earth.

Ill begin with an illustration:

“When a group of leaders in a distant kingdom, where at a time, going to choose a king – they determined that their election should fall upon the man who should first see the sun on the following morning. So it was put to a test… All the candidates, when the sunrise drew near, eagerly looked toward the east. But there was one, who, to the astonishment of the others, fixed his eyes on the opposite side of the horizon… it was there that he saw the reflection of the suns rays beaming forth upon the distant clouds, even before the sun itself could be seen by those looking the other way. This man knew that the characteristics of the sun – its brightness, light, and warmth – could be seen by what the sun produced and reflected upon, even if the sun itself could not yet be seen with the eye. The choice instantly fell on this man, who had seen the reflection and characteristics of the Sun, and not yet the sun itself. He knew that the characteristics of the sun could be seen elsewhere, and not only in the sun. By the same reasoning, the influence and reality of faith and grace abiding in the human heart, is often identified and observed by the conduct of Gods people, even before that christian has verbally made a profession of their faith.”

In other words, you become known by what you are about even before you open your mouth to confess it. 

And so,

What are we known for? What do people come to know about us, even before we open our mouths. 

What are we reflecting? 

Because even if our words are few, our character is eventually made evident to those within our circle of influence.

You see,

In life, we all develop a reputation. 

We make our character know, or our character becomes known.

 And, 

even though words are important – (we must preach and proclaim) – often times, our actions speak to our reputations or character louder than our words.

Lets turn to our text for today found in Acts Chapter 11 verses 19 through 30 

(Acts 11:19-30):

19 mNow those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen (…Acts chapter 7) traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, 

They went North (some 350 miles to Antioch), and with them, they took their faith.

You, see, we are not always called to make ourselves martyrs in the face of persecution and injustice.

Sometimes, we are called to flee – preserving our life and carrying the hope of the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ with us where we flee too.

Fleeing to save your life, so that you can live to fight another day is not always a cowardice thing to do! 

Paul had fled for his life back to his home town of Tarsus.

As these believers fled – after Stephens death – they stuck to what they knew. 

That Christ was the promised redeemer for the Jews. 

It says, continuing in verse 19 that they were

speaking the word to no one except Jews. 

20 But (verse 20)

I want you to 

Circle this word “But” here in verse 20…

Underline it, highlight it, because its a small word, yet often, so very important in the new testament.

I love the “buts” in scripture!

They are a welcome exception or change in trajectory to what is previously being stated…

Let me show you:

We remember blessed and welcome passages like that found in 

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 which says:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous1 will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: xneither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,2 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And ysuch were some of you. (and here is our word!) But zyou were washed, ayou were sanctified, byou were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

You see! Sometimes just a word can change the trajectory of our entire lives!

And that is what is happening here in Antioch among the greeks – among these unclean gentiles – just as it was happening among the samaritans and how it had happened throughout the household of Cornelius!

You see, the devout jewish Christians were only spreading the good news to their fellow jewish brothers 

But…. but

 there were some of them, (continuing in verse 20 of acts chapter 11) men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists1 also, npreaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And othe hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed pturned to the Lord. 

Man, … this is beautiful. In the context here, Hellenists is referring to greeks or gentiles.

These men (these believers in Jesus as Christ) had come from Cyprus – a island tucked away deep inside the Mediterranean Sea – just southwest of Antioch and west of Israel and another man from Cyrene – a city located on the opposite side of the Mediterranean Sea – on the north side of Africa – west of Egypt!

The gospel has come to the gentiles and God is blessing this work. 

What does this mean?

Why is this significant?

This means that the Good news – The Gospel – is for everybody!!

The church had previously thought that Jesus was for Jews… but they are now realizing that Jesus is for all.

Whether man likes it or not, God is for all men and women and He is demonstrating His saving power over all who would believe – 

“first for the jew and then for the gentile!” >

Wow! So this message of Gods salvation through Jesus Christ alone by which we must be saved and by which we have our hearts and minds made new

Is proving to be nondiscriminatory! The new life in Christ is showing itself to be for all who believe!

And that message, that good news, is being delivered to the world by men and women just like me and you. Note, that It didn’t make its way to Antioch by the hands of an apostle…

It came to, and was proclaimed by unnamed men from Cyprus and Cyrene.

This should encourage us and exhort us to do the same…

To carry the message of Salvation through Jesus Christ wherever we go and to believe and trust this – that just as we see here –

That the hand of the Lord will be with you, and that a great number will believe and turn to the Lord.

People (us/we) preach in obedience to that great commission and God saves…

Do you believe this?

Do you believe that God wants to and will use you in this way? 

There are men and women in our Antioch’s today who are waiting to hear this message and they don’t even know it.

Forever their lives are destined to be changed by the grace of God. 

Are you the deliverer of this Good news?

Will you bring with you, this Gospel message where you go, or wherever you flee to? 

It is worth noting that a man from Cyrene has been mentioned to us before – in the Gospels,

It says in Mark 15:21 – speaking about Jesus’ journey to the hill Golgotha, where He was crucified, that

21 d…they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross.

And here in our text (in Acts chapter 11), we have men from Cyprus and Cyrene preaching and proclaiming the Gospel to those in Antioch.

Back to our text, picking up in verse 22:

22 The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he came and saw qthe grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord rwith steadfast purpose, 24 for he was a good man, sfull of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people twere added to the Lord. 

I pray, that what is said here about Barnabas and his character would one day be said about me:

“he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith.”

It can be an easy chore to be full of faith,

That is, to believe, and put your confidence in the things that we can know about Jesus, and God and the scriptures….

But it is another thing to be filled with both of these:

“Full of faith AND the Holy Spirit.”

One takes knowledge, and the other takes devotion.

Or one is of Doctrine, and the other is of Devotion.

And to have both of these existing in our lives is a good thing – completing our faith. 

To know Him and to love Him.

Barnabas is seeing the grace of God at work here in Antioch and others see the grace of God at work in Barnabas himself.

This is what Barnabas was known for.

This is how his character was remembered.

His Name was Joseph Barnabas and yet, 

He was named and known as “the son of encouragement” – Barnabas – by the apostles. 

And here, he is mentioned as good and faithful and full of the Spirit.

That is what is in this mans heart… so what is in his actions?

He was a jew (a levite!) born in Rome – like Paul, and so he was a fitting choice to go to the gentiles and jews alike.

He was a teacher, an exhorter, and an encourager. A Leader. A Man of God.

And I might add, that he was full of christian charity towards those whom others would be likely, even in the church to reject. 

Charity is the highest form of Christian love. It is how we describe Gods love in us for others.

John Newton Said this of charity:

“For my own part, if my pocket was full of stones, I have no right to throw one at the greatest backslider upon [the] earth. I have either done as bad or worse than he; or I certainly [would have] if the Lord had left me even a little to myself – for I am made of just the same materials as any man – if there be any difference, it is wholly of grace.”

And I love this story about the Rival evangelists George Whitfield and John Wesley, it goes like this:

“Mr. Whitfield,” said one of his ardent admirers, who was bitterly opposed to Wesley, “do you think we shall see John Wesley in heaven?” He replied, [from Whitfield that is, about Wesley] “you ask me whether we – that is, you and I – shall see Mr. Wesley in heaven. Certainly not.” “I thought you would say so. Thank you, sir.” Said the man, “But stop, my friend.” Whitfield continued, “Hear all I have to say about it. John Wesley will be so near the throne, and you and I so far off, that we cannot expect to see him.” 

Thats charity. Thats Gods love in us for others… even for those we may find difficult to love.

Barnabas was know for this sort of thing (his charity toward others)… and this,
likely, is why he was chosen to go to Antioch. 

He gave others the benefit of the doubt.

He was a second chance kind of guy. 

Continuing in verse 25:

25 So Barnabas went to uTarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. 

What Barnabas is doing here for Paul is what the leaders in the church are to do among the body of Christ.

Barnabas is, more than once, raising up leaders in the church, and enabling others to serve alongside himself.

This is discipleship and the true work of ministry (service to one another).

Paul, once rejected by the church, was placed in and enabled in the ministry by his friend and defender Barnabas. Barnabas, a godly and self-sacrificial man (as he had sold a field and given its proceeds to the church before), could see beyond his own purpose and calling and then, search for and see the potential in others.

He multiplied himself.

He raised up men who would prove to be even more qualified or talented or knowledgeable than himself.

Thats not a little thing… thats not an easy thing.

Its too easy for us to watch out for only ourselves first.

To self preserve.

But not so with Barnabas – the son of encouragement.

He saw a bigger picture… He saw his calling and others callings in light of eternity.

He knew that his life’s purpose is not about himself but about the purposes and glory of Christ!

Because of this, he could see the purpose and necessity of discipleship. 

To be about the business of “others”.

To allow others to grow and be used in service to Jesus and His bride, even if it meant their prominence and his obscurity. 

For it would be Paul, not Barnabas who would pen most of the new testament. 

For us to see the value in others’ callings and to help them along is a work most beneficial to the church, eternally and for the Glory of God.

This should be Our Aim… Gods glory.

We are all thankful for Paul, who becomes most prominent among the apostles…

But we so desperately need the Barnabas’s who are behind the scenes, raising up and enabling the work of the ministry in other peoples lives.

We all have a calling like Barnabas upon our lives… to be about the business of helping others succeed. 

Will we see the value of this call?

Will we see and embrace the call to be second, while helping others become first so that Christ may be all!

Back to Verse 26:

…For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called vChristians.

You can summarize the meaning of this word by stating that they were known as “belonging to Christ” – they were slaves to Jesus – they were anointed ones! This is the meaning here – to be called a christian in Antioch.

This was their calling –

To belong to Christ.

This was also their purpose and reputation

That word called” distinguishes their purpose or reputation…

“They were called Christians”

Its like Simon the tanner, or rehab the harlot, or Luke the physician.

Thats what they were know for. Its what they did. Its the business that they were about.

I could easily be called Jeremiah The Home inspector. Or Jeremiah The Podcast guy.

You see, the jews had labeled these people of “the Way” – these Jesus freaks – Nazarenes – to smear them, because the scriptures had previously said that nothing good could come from nazarene.

Other names or titles that the Scriptures give to Christians can be taken from the four cardinal graces so essential to man’s salvation – Saints for their holiness, believers for their faith, brethren for their love, and disciples for their knowledge.

And now, here in Antioch, for the first time, the believers are 

“Called Christians.”

They became known for what they were about – Christ!

What else is there to be known for Christian?

What else are we trying to be remembered for?

What else defines our Character?

It appears to be, that under the discipleship and pastoring of Barnabas and Paul, the believers in Antioch became distinctly know as Christians. Those belonging to Christ! – Thats the meaning…

Jesus Christ became the distinction that set them apart from every other religion, faith, sect or party.

They were not greeks, jews, samaritans, clean or unclean, black or white, rich or poor, democrat or republican, citizen or immigrant, near or far…..

Here in Antioch, they were all, together – Christians!

From all walks of life, found in Christ and about their Saviors business.

Their calling was to Christ, and that marked and defined who they were and what set them apart… and from Antioch,  the Gospel – that Good news of salvation would continue to spread until it reached the world.

Verse 27:

27 Now in these days wprophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 And one of them named xAgabus stood up and foretold yby the Spirit that there would be a great zfamine over all the world (this took place in the days of aClaudius). 29 So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, bto send relief to cthe brothers2 living in Judea. 30 dAnd they did so, sending it to ethe elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.

I began with an illustration so let me end with one: this from the old bishop of Montreal, Ashton Oxenden (1808-1892), of the shaping of character, he says this:

Have you ever watched a sculptor slowly fashioning a human figure? It is not moulded or shaped in a second. It is not struck out at a single blow. It is painfully and laboriously wrought. A thousand blows rough-cast it. 10,000 chisels polish and perfect it, put in the fine touches, and bring out the features and expression. It is a work of time; but at last the full likeness comes out, and stands fixed and unchanging in the solid marble. So does a man carve out his own moral likeness. Every day he adds something to the work. A thousand acts of thought and will and effort shape the features and expressions of the soul. Habits of love, piety and truth, habits of falsehood, passion or goodness, silently mould and fashion it, till at length it wears the likeness of God, or the image of a demon.

And I would add this, we cannot expect to become the person whom God intends us to be, without the help and power of the Holy Spirit. 

Who we are and who we become depends upon who we lean on and learn from. Let us, together, as the church, look to, learn from and lean upon Christ alone – our hope and glory.

Amen

[END]

by J.N. Wheels Jeremiah Wheelersburg

My Book: https://jnwheels.com/a-book-about-assistant-pastors-for-assistant-pastors-by-j-n-wheels/

My Podcast: https://jnwheels.com/the-3m-podcast/

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