Focal passage: Acts 11:19-26
Group behavior is fascinating. I am always amazed when a video emerges in which acts of atrocity are committed on crowded streets. How could those who are passing by fail to act? It is evident that most of us conform to the behavior around us. Yet, when one person has the courage to step forward, others are encouraged to follow their example.
A similar phenomenon is described in Acts. Although Jesus commanded His disciples to be witnesses to the ends of the earth in Acts 1:8, the church only heard half of what He said and stayed around Jerusalem.
Just as in our own day, the early church had difficulty doing evangelism. However, God had a way of fixing the problem when He allowed persecution to come upon the believers and they were “scattered” (Acts 11:19).
Many of these Christians went to Antioch where they began to share Jesus. Still, they were only sharing Jesus with people who were like them. Yet, the only thing needed in Antioch was a little encouragement. When some believers from Cyprus and Cyrene arrived and started sharing Jesus (Acts 11:20), many Gentiles were saved (Acts 11:21). When we encourage lost people to follow Jesus, it encourages unbelievers and believers. Although we don’t even know the names of these believers who first started sharing Jesus with the Gentiles, their testimony encouraged believers all the way in Jerusalem (Acts 11:22).
The church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to go see what was happening in Antioch. The Bible says that Barnabas “… encouraged all of them to remain true to the Lord with a firm resolve of the heart” (Acts 11:24). For the next year, Barnabas and Paul found fulfillment in their work by serving the Lord and serving others in Antioch.
This account in Acts reminds us of the importance of encouraging unbelievers to follow Christ and believers to keep walking with Him. I have been a pastor long enough to know that we find it easier to criticize than to encourage.
I urge you to have the courage to lift up Jesus and build up others at your church and in your daily life. It will quickly change the climate and culture in which you live, work and worship.