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Bible Commentaries

Bridgeway Bible Commentary
Acts 14

 

 

Verses 1-28

Other churches in Galatia (14:1-28)

Paul and Barnabas moved on to the town of Iconium, where events followed the same pattern as in Antioch. They preached in the synagogue and both Jews and Gentiles believed. But as the number of converts increased, the people of the city became clearly divided between supporters of the apostles and supporters of the Jewish leaders. Because of the threat of murder, the apostles fled the city and went to Lystra (14:1-7).

When the apostles healed a crippled man in Lystra, the people thought they must have been two of the Greek gods, so prepared offerings for them (8-13). At first the apostles did not know what was happening, as they did not understand the local language (v. 11), but as soon as they found out they corrected the misunderstanding. In the synagogues they had based their preaching on the revelation of God in the Old Testament, but on this occasion their preaching had a different basis. Idol worshippers knew nothing of the Old Testament, so the apostles explained something of the character of God from his activity in the world of nature (14-18).

Again the Jews stirred up opposition and Paul was almost killed (19). Possibly the wounds he later referred to in his Letter to the Galatians were the result of injuries he received on this occasion (Galatians 6:17).

The apostles then moved on to Derbe, where they founded another church (20). Not lacking in courage, they returned through the cities where they had only recently been persecuted, for they knew how important it was to strengthen the young churches and appoint elders. The apostles had given these new converts a solid foundation of teaching, and they trusted God to uphold and guide them (21-23).

After a short time in Perga, which they had missed on the outward journey, the two apostles returned to the church that had sent them out. With thanks to God they told of the work that he had done among the Gentiles through them (24-28).

Elders (church leaders)

The appointment of elders was part of God's plan to give spiritual leadership to the churches. In Old Testament Israel the leaders of the community were known as elders (Exodus 24:1; Deuteronomy 21:1-6; Ruth 4:2-11) and in the Israel of New Testament times people called elders administered Jewish affairs through the synagogues (Mark 15:1; Luke 7:3). In similar fashion there were elders to provide leadership to the new community of God's people, the church.

In the early days of Acts when the Jerusalem church was the only church, the leaders were the apostles (Acts 4:37; Acts 6:2-4). As the apostles' work outside Jerusalem increased, there arose within the Jerusalem church a group of elders that was distinct from the apostles (Acts 11:30; Acts 15:6). Other churches followed this practice, though the New Testament writers did not always give the elders an official title. The emphasis was more on the work they did than the office they held (Acts 13:1; Acts 14:23; 1 Corinthians 16:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; Hebrews 13:7; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1-2).

This truth is evident in the variety of words that the Bible uses for elders - shepherds, overseers, guardians, leaders and bishops. Most of these words come from only two words in the Greek of the original New Testament, presbuteroi and episkopoi. Both Greek words seem to apply to the same person and office. For example (in the words of the RSV), in Act_20:17 Paul sent for the elders (presbuteroi) of the Ephesian church, but when they came (v. 28) he called them guardians (episkopoi). Likewise in Tit_1:5 he told Titus to appoint elders (presbuteroi), then in the same sentence (v. 7) he called them bishops (episkopoi). In reference to any specific local church Paul always used the plural 'elders' rather than the singular 'elder' (Acts 14:23; Acts 20:17; Philippians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:12).

Elders were shepherds who led, ruled, guided and cared for the flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Timothy 3:5; 1 Timothy 5:17; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1-3). They had to have some ability at teaching (1 Timothy 3:2) so that they could feed the church with instruction that was helpful and protect it from what was harmful (Acts 20:28-30; 1 Timothy 6:3-5; Titus 1:9; 2 John 1:7-11). The church on its part was to support financially those who sacrificed their time and income to minister to it (Galatians 6:6; 1 Timothy 5:17-18).

Besides having the right abilities, elders were to be blameless in their character and behaviour (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). They were to be examples to the church, and were never to use their authority to advance their own interests or force their personal wishes upon others (Hebrews 13:7; 1 Peter 5:2-3).

The Bible contains no specific instructions concerning the procedure for choosing and appointing elders. In the case of a new church, it seems that the first elders were appointed by the founders of the church (Acts 14:23). Normally, an appointment was not made too soon after a person's conversion, as time was necessary for spiritual character and gift to develop (1 Timothy 3:6; 1 Timothy 5:22). Although those making the appointment needed to realize that only the Holy Spirit could really make a person an elder (Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 12:11; 1 Corinthians 12:28), they needed to realize also that elders could function properly only if they had the church's respect and confidence (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; Hebrews 13:17). For this reason they probably shared in prayer and consultation with the church before making the appointment (cf. Acts 6:3).

As a church grew, other people developed the sorts of spiritual gifts that directed them towards eldership (1 Timothy 3:1). In addition, existing leaders had a responsibility to train those who possessed the right leadership abilities (2 Timothy 2:2; cf. Acts 16:2-3). No doubt the existing elders were the ones who made the new appointments (1 Timothy 4:14; cf. Acts 1:21-26), but again only in fellowship with the church as a whole (cf. Acts 15:22).

THE CHURCH AND ITS FUNCTION

At this point it may be helpful to look back over what we have learnt of the church so far and add a few more notes concerning how the early churches operated.

God's plan in operation

After the repeated failures that marked the early days of human history, God declared his purpose to choose for himself a people through whom he would provide a salvation for all the world. He began by choosing one man, Abraham, and promising to make from him a nation that would be in a special sense God's people and his channel of blessing to the whole world. The people of this nation, Israel, were therefore both Abraham's physical descendants and God's chosen people (Genesis 12:1-3; Exodus 6:7; Exodus 19:5-6; John 8:37).

This did not mean, however, that all those born into the Israelite race were, on account of their nationality, automatically forgiven their sins and blessed with God's eternal favour. On the contrary the history of Israel shows that from the beginning most of the people were ungodly and unrepentant. Those who, like Abraham, truly trusted God and desired to obey him were always only a minority within the nation (Isaiah 1:4; Isaiah 1:11-20; Romans 11:2-7; Hebrews 3:16). These were God's true people, the true Israel, the true descendants of Abraham (Romans 2:28-29; Romans 4:9-12; Romans 9:6-8).

From this faithful minority came one person, Jesus the Messiah, who was the divinely chosen descendant of Abraham to whom God's promises to Abraham pointed. All God's ideals for Israel and all his promised blessings for the human race were fulfilled in Jesus (Galatians 3:16). Jesus then took the few remaining faithful Israelites of his day and made them the nucleus of God's new people, the Christian church (Matthew 16:18). The church, then, was both old and new. It was old in that it was a continuation of that body of believers who in every age remained faithful to God. It was new in that it did not formally come into being till after the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus (Matthew 16:18; Matthew 16:21; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9).

The word used by Jesus and translated 'church' meant originally a collection of people - a meeting, gathering or community. It was used for the Old Testament community of Israel, and was particularly suitable for the new community, the Christian church, that came into existence on the Day of Pentecost (Exodus 12:6; Exodus 35:1; Deuteronomy 9:10; Deuteronomy 23:3; Acts 2:1-4; Acts 5:11; Acts 7:38; Acts 8:1).

The body of Christ

As the church grew, Christians understood its meaning more fully. They saw that Christ and the church are inseparably united and make up one complete whole, just as the head and the body make up one complete person. Through his resurrection and ascension, Christ became Head of the church. He has supreme authority over it and is the source of its life, growth and strength (Ephesians 1:20-23; Ephesians 4:15-16; Colossians 1:18; Colossians 2:19). Another picture of the relationship between Christ and the church is that of marriage. This emphasizes Christ's love for the church and shows how, in order to gain the church as his bride, he laid down his life in sacrifice (Ephesians 5:23; Ephesians 5:25).

Both the picture of the body and the picture of marriage illustrate Christ's headship of the church (Ephesians 1:22-23; Ephesians 5:23). Both pictures also make it clear that God accepts the church as holy and faultless only because it shares the life and righteousness of Christ (Ephesians 5:26-27; Colossians 1:22).

This view of the church in all its perfection as the body of Christ is one that God alone sees. The view that people in general see is of the church in a world of sin where it is troubled by imperfection and failure (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:2 with 1Co_3:1-3; cf. Ephesians 1:1-4 with Eph_4:25-32). God sees the church as the full number of believers of all nations and all eras, a vast international community commonly referred to as the church universal. People see the church only in the form of those believers living in a particular place at a particular time.

Within what society sees as the visible church are those who are genuine believers and those who are not. People often find it difficult to tell the difference between the two, but God knows all things and he will make the decisive separation on the day of final judgment (Matthew 13:47-50; 1 Corinthians 10:1-11; 2 Corinthians 13:5).

The local church

This leads to the most common usage of the word 'church', and that is to denote the meeting together of a group of Christians in a particular locality. This community is the church in that locality. It is the local expression, a sort of miniature, of the timeless universal church (Acts 13:1; 1 Corinthians 1:2).

The story of the early church in Acts shows that when people repented and believed the gospel, they were baptized (Acts 2:38; Acts 2:41; Acts 10:48). By their faith they became members of Christ's body, the church, and they showed the truth of this union by joining with other Christians in their locality. That is, having become part of the timeless universal church, they now became part of the local church (Acts 2:41; Acts 2:47).

Churches in New Testament times met in private homes or any other ready-made places they could find (Acts 12:12; Acts 19:9; Acts 20:7-8; Romans 16:5; Romans 16:14-15). Their meetings were to be orderly and, above all, spiritually helpful (1 Corinthians 14:26; 1 Corinthians 14:40). The believers were built up through being taught the Scriptures and through having fellowship with each other by praying, worshipping, singing praises and observing the Lord's Supper together (Acts 2:42; Acts 20:7; Acts 20:27; 1 Corinthians 11:23-33; 1 Corinthians 14:15).

From the church, believers went out to make known the gospel to others. They baptized those who believed, brought them into the fellowship of the church and taught them the Christian teaching, so that they too might become true disciples of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:7-8; Acts 8:4; Colossians 1:27-29). They recognized that their responsibilities applied to distant regions as well as to their own localities (Matthew 28:19; Acts 13:2-4; Romans 15:19-20); and besides preaching the gospel they helped the victims of disease, hunger and injustice (Acts 3:2-6; Acts 11:28-29; Acts 16:16-18; Romans 12:8; Romans 12:13; James 1:27; James 2:14-16; cf. Matthew 25:34-40).

Each local church, though having fellowship with other local churches (Acts 11:29; Acts 18:27; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4), was responsible directly to the Head, Jesus Christ, in all things. There was no central organization or head church to control all others, and no set of laws either to hold the churches together in one body or to hold all the believers in one church together. Unity came through a oneness of faith in the Spirit, with Christ as the Head (Ephesians 4:4-6).

Christians thought of the church not as an organization or institution, but as a family. Christ was the Head, and all the believers were brothers and sisters (Galatians 6:10; Ephesians 2:19). The strength of the church came not from any organizational system, but from the spiritual life that each believer possessed and that all believers shared in common (Philippians 1:7; Philippians 2:1-2; 1 John 1:3).

Leadership in the churches

The Bible gives few details concerning how the early churches arranged their meetings and carried out their functions. No set form was laid down. That does not mean that the churches lacked leadership or that they carried out their work without thought and planning. Churches had elders to be responsible for spiritual care, growth and direction, and deacons to look after some of the church's more routine affairs (Philippians 1:1; see earlier notes). People in those leadership positions may have been gifted in various ways, since God gave a range of gifts to build up his people within the life of the body. Among these gifts were apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11-13).

Apostles and prophets seem to have been especially suited to the time of the church's infancy (Ephesians 2:20; see earlier notes). Evangelists were, according to the meaning of the word, those who preached, announced or proclaimed the gospel, or good news. Their chief concern was to make known the gospel to those who had not heard it, and plant churches in places where previously there were none (Acts 8:5; Acts 8:40; Acts 14:21; Acts 16:10; Romans 10:14-15; Romans 15:19-20; 2 Corinthians 10:16; 2 Timothy 4:5).

Pastors were those whose special ministry was spiritual care. In the language of the original New Testament writings there was a close connection between the words 'pastor', 'shepherd' and 'flock', indicating that many of the qualities of the pastor were similar to those we have already considered in relation to elders (John 21:15-17; 1 Peter 5:1-4). Pastors were not a separate group from teachers, for the way they fed the flock was through teaching the Word (Acts 20:27-28; Acts 6:2-4). In fact, where pastors and teachers are mentioned together in Eph_4:11, the grammatical connection between the two words indicates that both words refer to the same people, pastor-teachers.

Teachers, being also pastors, had more than the ability to understand and teach the Word clearly. They taught in such a way that the members of the church were strengthened in their faith and equipped to serve God (Romans 12:7; 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11-12). They helped Christians develop the ability to discern between teaching that was wholesome and teaching that was not, and so grow towards spiritual maturity (Ephesians 4:13-14; Colossians 1:28; Colossians 2:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21; 1 Timothy 1:3-5; 1 Timothy 4:6-8; Hebrews 5:12-14).

From the above data we can see that there was some overlap between the gifts mentioned in the New Testament. People were not divided too sharply into separate categories, and some combined within them several of the gifts; e.g. Paul (Romans 15:20; 1 Timothy 1:1; 1 Timothy 2:7), James (Galatians 1:19; Galatians 2:9-10), Timothy (1 Timothy 4:13-16; 2 Timothy 4:5), Barnabas (Acts 11:22-26; Acts 14:14), Silas (Acts 15:32; Acts 17:10-14) and others.

Responsibilities of church members

God's purpose was not for these specially gifted people to do all the spiritual work in the church, or to be so dominant that the church members became completely dependent on them. On the contrary, they were to use their gifts to teach, train and build up other Christians and so prepare them for fuller Christian service. In this way individual Christians grew to spiritual maturity and the church as a body was built up (Ephesians 4:11-16; 2 Timothy 2:1-2; cf. 1 Corinthians 14:3-4; 1 Corinthians 14:12; 1 Corinthians 14:26).

Paul pointed out to the early Christians that in a local church each member had a gift for the service of God, given by the Holy Spirit according to his will (1 Corinthians 12:11; 1 Corinthians 12:18). He likened the church to the human body: a living organism made up of many parts, all with different functions to perform. Yet with the variety there was equality. The church, unlike ancient Israel, had no exclusive class of religious officials who had spiritual privileges that ordinary people did not have (Romans 12:4-8; 1 Corinthians 12:12; 1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 2:18-20). Many gifts operated in the early churches, but Christians were to use them in dependence upon the Spirit's power and in keeping with the Spirit's teaching (1 Corinthians 12:4-11).

If a local church was to operate properly, all the people in that church needed to find out what gifts the Holy Spirit had either given them or withheld from them, then develop the gifts they had (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Timothy 4:14-16). This would leave no room for pride on the one hand or jealousy on the other, but through the care of the members one for the other the church would be built up (1 Corinthians 12:14-30).

 


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Bibliography Information
Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Acts 14:4". "Brideway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bbc/acts-14.html. 2005.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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