And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem to Antioch.…
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.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch.