I’m teaching a four week series at The Belfrey at present called Lifting the Bonnet. In the same way that a car is driven by an engine (that’s normally unseen), so I’m suggesting that our mission is driven by four unseen but important values. Although I’ve not yet mentioned the church in Antioch at all during the series, I see the same four values in Antioch: the values of simplicity, generosity, festivity and humility. Let’s look briefly at each.
As you read Acts 11, 13 and 15 it seems that the church in Antioch preached a simple, uncomplicated message. Luke summarises it (in 11:20) as ‘the good news about the Lord Jesus’. That was at the heart of their outreach: a simple message. And out of that simple message God birthed a simple church, marked by an uncomplicated devotion: being taught (11:26) regularly by Paul and Barnabas for a whole year, who taught others to communicate simply (see 2 Tim 4:2 MSG).
At The Belfrey we too need to keep the gospel simple. We mustn’t make the Christian message, or Christian ministry complicated. Because it’s not. But we can easily make it so. We can make discovering God difficult. And joining church a difficult process. That’s why we’re working hard not to be shallow or superficial, but simple.
In Acts11:30 we read that Christians in Antioch gave a generous gift to the church in Jerusalem. Also in 15:34, when the Antioch church sent Judas and Silas back to Jerusalem, we’re told they sent them off ‘with the blessing of peace to return to those who’d sent them’. This is more than just saying ‘farewell’. This is sending them out with a blessing, to bless others. It’s about sending them out to be generous people: to give away that which God had given them. That’s because generosity was one of the unseen but crucial values that undergirded this resource church in Antioch.
Similarly, we need to live generous lives. And be a generous church. We’re grateful for the generosity of all sorts of people over the years which continues today as people give of themselves – their time, talents and treasure. For example, many on the staff team and the volunteers at The Belfrey give their time for free. We’re truly grateful. This weekend at The Belfrey we have a Gift Day coming up. Do pray with us that people are generous in their giving of money, so we stay on target for the year. But generosity is more than just giving more money; it’s an attitude that comes from within – from a heart responding to the rich generosity of God in Jesus Christ. That’s why Proverbs 11:24 MSG says: ‘The world of the generous gets larger and larger; the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller.’ There’s massive influence and impact for those who embrace this at an early age, which is why I said at the weekend that if the under 30’s get this and invest their lives generously in others, they will change the world.
There’s a sense of vitality and fun about the Christian community in Antioch. They seemed to enjoy life, celebrating God’s presence as people came to faith regularly and the Holy Spirit was powerfully at work. Together they enjoyed knowing God and sharing him with others.
We too need to enjoy following Jesus. We need to ‘rejoice always, pray continually & give thanks in all circumstances’ (1 Thess 5:16). We need to smile. To have fun. And to be able to laugh at ourselves, not taking ourselves too seriously. We need to celebrate our achievements. Honouring those who try new things, even if sometimes they don’t work! This is all part of being festive. But ‘festivity’ is more than having fun. It’s also about mourning. It includes singing the song of lament in a way that’s right for the setting. It’s about recognising the love and grace of God even in the midst of loss, sadness, famine, persecution and death. God has placed deep within us a strong desire to appropriately celebrate – to be festive. The church should be a place where this is released as we share the ups and downs of life together in the presence of God.
Finally, the church in Antioch was humble. Submitted to God. We see this in the way they listened to his voice and did what Holy Spirit said. They followed the teaching of his Word. They sent out those God called. And they prayed. Prayer is probably the greatest sign of humility because praying people know they can’t do it on their own. They know they need help. And God honoured the humility of Christians in Antioch by producing more disciples.
We at The Belfrey need to be like that. For God has given us a big vision. Serving his transformation of the North will involve going low, so Jesus can be lifted high. So our praise and worship of him should be strong and Christ-centred. And it’ll mean getting our hands dirty – working in tough situations: with the homeless, the needy and those in difficulty. And it’s about praying. Prayer is so important to us. So please pray with us. As is sometimes said, ‘Humility is like underwear. We should all have it, but not let it show!’
Simplicity, generosity, festivity and humility are good, attractive biblical values that characterised this great missional church in Antioch. I think they should be our values too at The Belfrey, which is why I’m teaching this weekend series at present. But it’s no good just talking about them, or blogging about them, unless they take root and are lived. Lived corporately and individually.
So which of these four values is God challenging you to particularly express in your life today?