The disciples were first called ‘Christians’ at Antioch and one of the characteristics of a Christian is a sympathetic consideration for others who are in any kind of need. Some say that this is a designation they took on themselves and yet others that it was a name given to them in derision. Either way this was the first time the description was used. It Is interesting to note that a year’s ministry under the Spirit of God through Paul and Barnabas resulted in them becoming like Christ in then behaviour. This was recognized in the world outside. The objective of all ministry is to secure the result that the believers become more like Christ than before. Indeed this is the test of the ministry – does it make me more like Christ -or has it no real affect whatsoever?
In becoming like Christ they were ready to respond to any need that they saw and understood. The need and the response to it are clear in this passage before us, viz. Acts 12. 26-30.
Prophets from Jerusalem
The phrase ‘in those days’, v. 27, probably alludes to the one year in which Paul and Barnabas were present. During this time there came down from Jerusalem, as a token of continuing fellowship with the work, prophets – one of whom was Agabus. A prophet is one who foretells God’s plans and/or forth-tells God’s Word. They spoke by direct revelation from God, through the Spirit. They were not attached to any one particular assembly, moved about freely and were held in high regard by the believers. However, they were expected to work as well as to preach. They were not apostles, nor elders, nor teachers. They clearly shared the same priesthood as all believers but were a separate class. They spoke without reference to the Scripture by direct divine revelation. However, with the completion of the divine revelation the work of the prophet has ceased. In the church today there are elders, teachers, evangelists, and all are priests. There are neither apostles nor prophets. Among the prophets at Antioch was a man called Agabus. We are told a number of things about his message and its presentation. In the delivery of the message he ‘stood up’. This implies not only some formality and dignity in its presentation but also the thought of conviction as to its content. It maybe that today few in assemblies have convictions about where they are, and why. Unless one does feel strongly about the truth it will be held lightly both by speaker and hearer alike. In this case Agabus believed passionately in the message and the Christians followed suit. He also ‘signified by the Spirit’. Here the idea is that aided by the Holy Spirit he set the message out very clearly indeed. There was no ambiguity, no difficult words, no phrases that could be misconstrued and no clever delivery. Today we need to see not only conviction in preaching and teaching but also clarity. These come through the operation of the Spirit.
The Agabus Message
His message was succinct: there would be a great dearth throughout all the land. This did in fact shortly come to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar. The interesting point however is the response to the message. This was not a fire fighting operation after the event but a preparation before the event. The Christians at Antioch were exercised about helping by sending money for the relief of the poor saints – not yet starving – at Jerusalem. This fellowship in practical things (as Jerusalem had fellowship with Antioch in spiritual things) would leave them in a better position to withstand the famine, or dearth, once it arrived.
The exercise was collective in its initiation but depended on individuals. Each person was exercised about the need and there was a willingness, a ready mind, to help. They did it each according to his ability. Some were more able than others but all were able to some extent. They determined to do it, and the determination came through in the sending of the gift.
Believers today also need to be exercised about the plight of others. They may perhaps be helped in their exercise by having the extent and focus of the need put before them clearly. This is not only the province of the missionary or full-time home worker, but in the main the responsibility is that of teachers and elders – not only to ensure that the principles of giving are taught, but also that areas of need are understood.
We are taught elsewhere in the New Testament that we should give regularly (on the first day of the week); individually (each one of you); determinedly (lay by in store), proportionately (as the Lord hath prospered him); purposefully (as a man purposeth in his heart); cheerfully (the Lord loveth a cheerful giver); sincerely (showing the sincerity of your faith); and liberally (your liberal distribution). The overriding principle of giving is that if we give bountifully we shall reap bountifully; if we give sparingly we shall reap sparingly.
It is also noteworthy that they chose to send the gift by the hands of two men. It is always good to share the finance and funds of the assembly in the hands of two or more. Not that one may not be trusted but that they may be seen to be trusted. Money, if handled carelessly or in a sloppy fashion, has been the downfall of more than one otherwise good man.
The gift was sent to the elders at Jerusalem – not to the apostles. Here we see for the first time the elders working with the apostles. The latter would soon pass thus leaving to the elders the responsibility for the church.
Ways of Giving
Where are the areas of need today which a believer can help to minister to’? Here are a few: 1) the upkeep of the assembly building; 2) the support of the elderly; 3) the support of home workers; 4) the support of missionaries; and 5) the support of accredited cases calling for relief. We need to have a love for and be supportive in the practical needs of all men but especially those of the household of faith.
There are various ways of giving to the Lord and His work at home and abroad. We need not be concerned about how little we have to give – with God quantity is not an issue. Firstly assembly giving. It is important to remember responsibilities here where the money is used for various matters including missionary support.
Giving as an individual can sometimes be a problem. However there are various organisations associated with the assemblies which operate as channels for the disbursement of funds whether large or small. For gifts to missionaries we can use them as this saves time and money and is most effective. Giving to home workers can mean that to avoid doing so publicly I may need to discover their home address and that will normally be available from the assembly correspondent.
The names and addresses of some organisations involved in the support of the Lord’s servants, active, retired, widowed etc can be found in The Assemblies Address Book which is useful for this purpose. Others will be known to individuals in the assembly.
What we give can be blessed by the Lord in a bountiful way and thus enable His work to proceed to His glory.
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