In those days some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch.
I. HIS PROVISION FOR OUR TEMPORAL WELL-BEING. The great multitudes of mankind, the hundreds of thousands of millions are fed, year after year, age after age; and many hundreds of millions more might be sustained if all the use were made that might be of the opportunities open to us. God, in his bounty, provides what we want in
(1) fruitful and extensive soil,
(2) multiplying set,
(3) agricultural knowledge (Isaiah 28:26),
(4) materials for implements of husbandry,
(5) all nourishing and ripening agencies.
II. HIS CONSIDERATION OF OUR PIETY. God gives us our bread, our maintenance, in such a way that we are almost compelled to acknowledge his hand in the harvest. Evidently we did not produce the soil nor make the seed; evidently we cannot cause it to fertilize and grow; evidently it is his sun that shines and his rain that falls on our fields. The ordinary processes as by which the seed is multiplied are such as direct our eyes to heaven. And often, in his wisdom, he holds his hand, he withdraws the sunshine or keeps back his clouds, he sends dearth as "in the days of Claudius Caesar" (ver. 28), and then men are constrained to remember that there is work being done in the soil and in the sky which they cannot control, and in regard to which they must look up to God the Giver of all, whose is the earth with its fullness, and ask of him, and plead with him, and, it may be, humble themselves before him.
III. HIS REGARD FOR OUR INTELLECTUAL AND MORAL WELL-BEING.
1. Intellectual. God teaches us (Isaiah 28.), but he leaves much to be discovered by our own mental labor. Agriculture provides a very wide and a very noble field for observation, experiment, contrivance; it tasks and trains the mind.
2. Moral. We cannot secure our harvests without
(3) patience (James 5:7). The abundance, and indeed superabundance, of the earth's yield is such that
(4) there is enough for the supply of those engaged in other pursuits; hence there is room for all kinds of labor beside that of agriculture - for the pursuit of art, and for the teaching of religious truth and training in the religious life. Those who have received the bread of eternal life from the lips of others can furnish, as Antioch now supplied Jerusalem, the bread of this temporal life to those to whom they are under spiritual obligation. The abundance which prevails in some districts - and famine is never universal - gives the opportunity of
(5) showing practical kindness. On this occasion there was sufficient in Syria for its own need and for the distress in Judea, and the Christians of Antioch contributed to supply the wants of those at Jerusalem. We should:
(1) receive God's temporal mercies with the gratitude which belongs to piety;
(2) distribute of our abundance to those who have a claim on us, either on account of the spiritual favors they have conferred or in virtue of their special necessity. - C.
And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch.1. The relation between the old Church at Jerusalem and the new at Antioch was that which St. Paul, writing under parallel circumstances, described in Romans 15:27 (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:12-15). It was a becoming acknowledgment of the vast debt under which all the world must lie to the Jew, but it was no repayment of it, when rich Antioch sent bread to starving Judaea. Jerusalem sent prophets, Antioch sent back corn. Agabus appears once again (Acts 21:10), and again as a predictor of disasters. This is the more noticeable that prediction was not the usual function of the prophetic order of the apostolic Church. They were men whom the Spirit had gifted with persuasive speech, and insight into truth. We have lost the name, but the thing remains.
2. The prediction of Agabus had a practical design. He foretold the dearth that the Church might act upon it, and on the hint they acted. The reign of Claudius was one of disaster; in the opening year it was Italy which suffered from the failure of crops; in the fourth, Palestine; in the eighth and ninth, Greece; in the eleventh, Italy again. It was to the second of these dearths that Agabus pointed which occurred in A.D. 45-46. We are here on sure chronological ground, and know that the want was so great that many were starved to death. A new convert to Judaism, the Queen of Adiabene, was so struck with the condition of things that she sent to Alexandria and Cyprus for supp Josephus tells us, contributed great sums of money to the same object.
3. On such occasions it was usual for the foreign synagogues to remit aid, as at this hour numbers of indigent Jews in Jerusalem are sustained by the charity of their European compatriots. The Church at Antioch, however, did not contribute through the synagogue, and in this separate assistance there is the first historical recognition of the fact that church and synagogue had parted company; that to be a Christian cut off a Jew from the charities of his own people; and that henceforth the tie of fellow Christian was to prove a stronger bond betwixt Jew and Gentile, than any other which bound Jew to Jew or Gentile to Gentile. A new force had entered into humanity, the name of Christian had already begun to dissolve ancient unities and to reconcile ancient feuds and to construct on the ruins of race hatreds a catholic society.
4. It is true to this day that Christianity plants in genuine Christian hearts a brotherhood which can cross the barriers of nationality. When the Reformation revived the primitive faith, the newly-formed Churches of Germany, Switzerland, England, etc., were brought into close and friendly relations. They exchanged famous teachers, sheltered one another's confessors, shared each other's fortune, and leagued their political influence for their common good. The Evangelical Churches of our own day have shown a similar readiness to succour feeble and struggling foreign congregations. If ever that decaying virtue called patriotism is to lose itself in a more cosmopolitan charity, it must be on a Christian, not on a socialistic, basis. It is sad to see the best hearts of Europe groping after the foundations of a new civil order in which all men shall be brothers while they cast off the name of One in whom alone the principles of love and freedom and authority meet. It is sadder still to see a Christian Church so rent by animosity that instead of demonstrating to distracted peoples where to find the true secret of brotherhood, it rather repels from Christ those who are most passionate for peace and fellowship. But when Jerusalem shall not envy Antioch nor Antioch vex Jerusalem, when Churches that are poor in this world are rich in faith, and those who are rich in this world are "ready to distribute," then will men learn that to be a Christian is to be free of a universal commonwealth whose citizens are all equal and all loving.
5. The Gentile Church made its gift more precious by sending it through its most honoured members. It is notable that just before we part with the mother Church, we hear for the first time of its being ruled by presbyters (ver. 30). This official name, the most venerable and Biblical of all ecclesiastical distinctions, frequently recurs, at first associated with apostles at Jerusalem, and afterwards with deacons or alone in the Churches of Ephesus, Crete, Philippi, etc.
(J. O. Dykes, D. D.)I. THE WANT PREDICTED. The prophets' functions were two fold: to forth-tell, i.e., to utter the present truth in forceful and convincing language, and to foretell future events. The latter entered largely into Old Testament prophecy, rarely into the New. The office has survived, and the former and more important function is discharged by the Christian ministry; but what has become of the latter? That the future should be an utter blank, that the Church should live from hand to mouth, that Christians should be mere opportunists, is dead against the doctrine of the Divine presence in and leadership of the Church. What had become of Christianity, not only in great crises, but in its normal developments, if it had lacked "seers," "men who had understanding of the times to know what Israel ought to do"? Inspired prediction has ceased, and men can no longer tell with minute circumstantiality what a century may bring forth. But men are endowed with sagacity, prudent forethought, keen foresight, and in politics, business, etc., often make their calculations with the nicest accuracy, and lay plans which only extraordinary contingencies frustrate. It is this faculty that the great Head of the Church now consecrates and. employs — when the Church places them at His disposal which, alas, is not always the case. It is the duty of Christians to be on their watch tower and to look out for advantages, and not only within the citadel economising resources or strengthening fortifications, e.g., a town Church should anticipate the migration of the surrounding population to the suburbs, and make timely provision for future extension. If, however, it is content with its own immediate work, and with the supply of its present needs, it may find itself, as many a city Church has done, utterly stranded. Again, the home Church should ever keep its eye on emigration to our colonies. How many descendants of Christian people have grown up practically heathen from the neglect of this! Once more, as regards ecclesiastical buildings — churches, schools, etc. — there should always be room for expansion, or, lacking accommodation, adults or children will go elsewhere or go nowhere. Lastly, to recur to the text, how requisite it is that wise and timely provision should be made for the necessities of the poor. The poor we have always with us, and we know from bitter experience that their wants are augmented in winter. Yet we allow winter to come, and when the evil is on us, there is a terrible spasm of effort to collect money, hold sewing meetings, open soup kitchens, etc. How much better to make timely provision in the summer when resources are more ample, and when we might encourage the poor themselves to "put by for a rainy day."
II. THE WANT MET.
1. In the spirit of brotherhood. "Disciples...brethren." They were people of different races, and the Christians at Antioch had been regarded with none too much of charity by the Church at Jerusalem. Tilts, however, was unnoticed. It was enough that "brethren" were in trouble, and "disciples" could relieve them. There were poor at Antioch no doubt; but Christians had not then learned to confine their benefactions to their own communities. How many rich Churches with few or no poor need this example!
2. Universally. "Every man" did something. It is an unhealthy state of things when contributions are confined to the more opulent of a congregation. Christians sadly need teaching the privilege as well as the duty of giving.
3. Conscientiously. "According to his ability."(1) Not according to some arbitrary rule. Tithing in many cases would be far more than the poor could afford, but far less than the rich.(2) Not according to mere inclination. This fluctuates, and at one time impels a man to be unjust to himself and at another unjust to others.(3) Not according to urgent solicitation. Agabus asked for nothing.(4) But according to ability at the time.
4. Delicately. "By the hands of Barnabas and Saul." A gift is enhanced by the medium through which it passes. If you cannot give yourself, see that your gifts are conveyed by those who will not make it disagreeable to receive them.
5. Wisely. To the elders of the Church, who best know the cases to be relieved, and can distribute economically and kindly.
(J. W. Burn.)1. It is impossible for us to read this record without being struck with the spirit and devotion which stamped the character of Divinity upon the religion in connection with which it is shown. It was one of the remarks made by a heathen author in those days, "See how these Christians love one another." Men looked to their opinions, and could not accept them — to the peculiarities of their religion, and were offended by them. But there was an argument which these Christians could adduce, which an unbeliever could not impugn; it was a positive, practical, evident demonstration of the power of God.
2. The history is soon told. Light loves to radiate. For a long time Christian light was centred in Jerusalem, but there came a time when God chose to disperse that central light. Men, imbued with Christian faith and love, were scattered abroad; and among them were some who went as far as Antioch preaching the Word. Christianity is catholic; is also reflex in its operation: it is not one of those lights which fall upon a non-reflecting surface. It is intended that God should shine upon individuals, and that individuals in their turn should shine upon each other. "Let your light so shine before men," etc. Christian light had come from Jerusalem to Antioch, and these men of Antioch necessarily sought for some opportunity of showing their gratitude. They could not send them light, for this they had, perhaps, in a more perfect form than themselves. But they were rich, and the others were poor; for the Christians at Jerusalem had beggared themselves by their liberality in times past. And so, when the occasion arose, the men of Antioch made a bold and a noble determination that "every man, according to his ability, should send help to the saints in Judea." Not that they passed resolutions merely; nor that they went through that parody of benevolence that you find in public meetings, where you shall find men hold up their hands in accordance with some proposition that they never intend to carry out. The men of Antioch determined to do; and as they determined they did.
I. THE OCCASION WHICH PRODUCED THIS LIBERALITY. The destitution assumed two features —
1. It was predicted. There was no exhibition of harrowing details — no picture of widespread distress — held before the men of Antioch. It was a thing to be. Nevertheless, these men acted upon it as though it were, and prepared to meet it. What does this teach us?(1) The simplicity of their faith. They had nothing objective to look to which told them of the existence of distress. They looked, perhaps, at the state of the soil, at the state of the atmosphere, at the circumstances of times past; but there was nothing to create apprehension. All was quiet, except the voice of prediction; and God, who seeth not as man seeth, told them that the famine was coming. And what did they do? Other men might have stood by in silent expectation, or have derided the prediction, but these men took prophecy for fact. In these days, probably, when men walk by sight in place of by faith, they would have said, "Wait till the calamity comes." No, said these men; it has come. "Come where? There is no trace of it!" God has predicted it, and in the simplicity of their faith that was enough.(2) A positive refinement of benevolence. There is a certain vulgarity of benevolence. In these days we have to place before men a picture of calamity, to come down to statistics, to state the absolute startling facts. But these men looked not for facts. They were prepared to act upon the intimation, and they required no appeal to their feelings; they took the fact as given at their hands by God.
2. It was universal. The Jewish historian tells us, it was over the entire world, and that multitudes died on account of it, and therefore these men of Antioch were included in it. What might have happened then? They might have said, When that dark calamity falls, it will touch ourselves; we shall come to the time of high prices, of scant food, of short employment; let us therefore be wise now in the principles of political economy, and lay by for our own destitution. No. Notwithstanding that they themselves stood on the very threshold of the disaster, they passed a resolution which they carried out into action.
II. THE MOTIVES BY WHICH THESE MEN WERE PROBABLY ACTUATED.
1. The smallest and lowest of the dictates of humanity. There are feelings within feelings, and circles within circles, and humanity is not the less practised because Christianity is received. You shall find it among heathen nations. It was one of the noblest sayings of antiquity, "I am a man, and hold nothing that concerns human kind to be strange to me." Those men of Antioch were men. They felt for others. It was not simply that the men at Jerusalem were Christians — they were men, and because they were men, it was in the first place that they determined to help them.
2. But there are principles not built upon the mere instinctive and natural feelings — a love to men, on account of their being brother Christians. The disciples determined to send relief to the brethren. These men had never looked upon each other face to face, nor exchanged a thought. What then? Sons of God in Jerusalem — sons of God in Antioch — members of the same family of Christ looked upon each other as brethren! We oftentimes ask ourselves the meaning of the expression, "The communion of saints." You have an exhibition of it here. Did not the men of Jerusalem feel, "We have sent light to Antioch"? And did not the men of Antioch feel, "We are going to return it after our poor fashion"? What is all that but communion? There is such a link in the natural world, where you shall see the loadstone drawing to it the particles of iron that approach to it, imparting the same quality to the particles which it touches, and thereby drawing these particles the one to the other. And it is the peculiarity of Christian truth, to bind believers the one to the other. Why? Because, first of all, they have been bound to Christ.
3. Gratitude. The very best of blessings which one people could confer upon another, had been by the men of Jerusalem conferred upon the men of Antioch. They had sent to them their spiritual things; it was no wonder that they should reap their carnal things.
4. The love that they bore to Christ, and which constrained them to love one another. And it is that principle, after all, that tells. "He that loveth God will love his brother also."
III. THE MODES IN WHICH THEIR BENEVOLENCE WAS MANIFESTED. We have oftentimes heard the charge of want of judgment brought against Christians. "They have all things but common sense." Now, look at the steps taken by the men of Antioch. The distribution of their charity was marked by three features.
1. Universality and proportion. "Every man" was expected to feel for the brethren, and to show that feeling by contributing according to his means. It was not one of those things which a certain class or section was to take upon them. Now, why need we adopt house-to-house visitation, but because there are multitudes in this world who are content to stand by, and to see others bear the burden, and push it from themselves. Eighteen hundred years ago, that was not the course taken by the men of Antioch. There was no working upon the passions of people and constraining them to give. It was a simple method of giving in proportion to means. The matter was thus left to each man's conscience to say what his ability was. Look at thy means. See whether, in the midst of thine affluence, comfort, and family expenditure, thou mayest not knock off something that is not absolutely necessary, and bring it to the rule of thine ability. Ask thyself not what thou wishest to do, not what thou mayest be seen to do, not what others are doing; but give in proportion to thy means. Is it not a righteous principle? — a principle recognised in Scripture. "Upon the first day of the week let everyone lay by according to his ability." Is it so? If so, then must you learn a lesson from these poor, enthusiastic Christians in Antioch.
2. Promptitude. They did not trust to second impressions, or to second suggestions; and wisely. Upon hearing of a great deal of distress, our first emotions are generous; our second emotions are narrowed. At first, there is a burst of feeling; we draw out our purses, and almost pour out their contents. Second thoughts however come; but these men of Antioch would not trust themselves to second thoughts. No, said they; we had better act at once, before the blessed influence has left us. They put it out of their own power — out of their own hands.
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