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The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

~Acts 11:26

Lesson1-image001Materials Needed: Easel or whiteboard.

Notes to the Leader: This study looks at the diversity of the early church. It examines the Biblical principles that call all Christians together. To get the most out of this study, plan on having class members read the various Bible verses that are highlighted throughout the study. If there are multiple translations of the Bible represented within your class, have others share their translations also. Now begin this lesson with a warm up. That is, general open discussion that lets everyone share their opinions. Make sure that everyone is open and neither accepts nor rejects anyone’s opinion.

What makes a gathering of people, a group, comfortable with each other?

  • Respect for each other
  • Similar interests or beliefs
  • Common goals

How does a group become exclusive?

  • Avoiding dissimilar interests
  • Becoming judgmental against outsiders
  • Setting standards that few can meet

When you meet someone new, what makes you comfortable and uncomfortable?

  • Through open discussion, build a list of items that the entire class can see. You may want to start at one place in the classroom and have each person add to the list. This type of non-threatening question is a very good way to let people practice the art of sharing.

What makes us grow as individuals?

  • Challenges
  • Being pushed beyond our comfort zone
  • New experiences
  • New surroundings
  • Fear
  • Faith

Section One: Review God’s Master Evangelism Strategy, Scatter His People So They Tell All

The distances were 150 miles to Phoenicia, 250 miles to Cyprus, and 300 to Antioch. The Holy Spirit’s work can be seen here. People, not skilled in evangelism, nor interested in becoming world travelers were suddenly the evangelists of the day.

Where do you see the Holy Spirit work in your city today?

Make a list on the whiteboard.

Section Two: The City of Antioch

Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman empire with a population of 500,000 people (Only Rome and Alexandria were larger). It was a center of worship for pagan deities, filled with immorality. Trade goods and culture flowed through Antioch from the Mediterranean to the west and the desert to the east. Gentiles that had converted to Judaism were in large numbers. It is thought that Antioch was Luke’s home town.

Have someone read Acts 11:19 to the group.

What was the significance of this milestone in Christian history?

This would be the actual turning point at which the message of the Gospel was preached to the Gentiles.

Have someone read Acts 11:20-21.

As a refresher, what was the reason for the Grecian believers to flee?

  • The stoning and Stephen and Saul’s search and destroy techniques against Christians.

What was the message being spread?

  • The good news about Christ (v. 20).

Can evangelism take place by only demonstrating it through the way one lives and believes?

  • No. While evangelism contains a period of preparation where our visible lives do influence and impact others, eventually, evangelism must contain the message of Christ.

What do you notice about the actual message in verse 20?

  • Share a Hint: Look at how the Grecian believers are describing Christ.
  • They did not talk to the pagans in Jewish terms. Missing from their message was “Messiah.”

How should we use this knowledge to help us relate the message of the Gospel to others?

  • We need to remember to use terms that are understood. Heavy reliance on Scripture verses, etc. can often go right over the heads of those we want to share our faith with. The message of the Gospel is not complex. It is worthy of reflective thought so that each one of us is prepared to share it with others.

Did the pagans in Antioch believe and were they saved before they had the in-depth understanding of Christian terminology?

  • That is the whole point. Salvation comes from the basic acceptance of Christ and our faith placed in His offer to us, not the depth of knowledge in Scripture or theology.

Does this mean that after someone is saved, there is no more to do?

  • Absolutely not. Salvation is separate from the task of leading a productive Christian life. If our salvation and faith our truly complete, it is Christ who changes and directs our lives so that we are productive on His terms, not necessarily our terms.

Re-read Acts 11:21 to the group.

What drew those early pagans to Christ?

  • “The Lord’s hand was with them, and …. people believed.”

Section Three: How One Church Helped Another Through Encouragement

Read Acts 11:22-26.

What was the significance in the appointment and commissioning of Barnabas?

  • It was a break in the pattern of sending out everyone with one of the original apostles. Barnabas went out alone.
  • The qualifications of Barnabas were:
    • He was born and raised a Cypriot from an island about 150 miles west of Antioch.
    • He was a Jew whose native tongue was Greek.
    • Although Barnabas was not a priest, because he was of the tribe of Levi (from which priest were chosen), he would have received rigorous training as a child. He knew the Scriptures.
    • He was raised in a wealthy family but after he believed in Jesus, he sold his land and gave the money to the poor. What does this show? Evidence of complete abandonment to the Lord (Acts 4:36-37).
    • He had experienced the daily life of the original community of believers and had been taught by the apostles for several years (Acts 2:41-47; 4:32-35).
    • The Greek word translated “sent” is from the same root word as for apostle (v. 22); Later he and Paul would be called apostles (Acts 14:14).
    • He was a good man (v. 24).
    • He lived by faith, in the energy of the Holy Spirit (v. 24).

Re-read Acts 11:23.

What was it that Barnabas did when he got to Antioch?

  • He affirmed the work of the Holy Spirit through:
    • Joy – He was personally delighted over the evidence that he could see of the Lord’s hand and showed it.
    • Encouragement – He did not question or criticize the faith of the new converts. He praise and exhorted them.
    • Perseverance – He told the to “remain true to the Lord.”
    • Total commitment – “with all their hearts.”

What was the result of Barnabas’ affirmation?

  • Evangelism at its best (re-read Acts 11:24).

What do you notice about how the early Church went about its evangelism?

  • Usually with teams of people. Teamwork (Acts 11:25-26).
  • Barnabas went out and searched for Saul (the Apostle Paul). What characteristics about Saul made him ideal for evangelism?
  • Saul was multi-lingual.
  • He had a vision for the Gentiles.
  • Saul had demonstrated boldness and effective use of the Scriptures (9:22,28-29).
  • In spite of Saul’s background, what did Barnabas do with Saul?
  • He discipled Saul.

Section Four: The Makeup of the First Christians

Have someone in the group Read Acts 11:26-30.

Who do you think gave the early Christians their name?

  • While it frequently debated as to whether the name was a conscious name created by the early believers, it was not the name they usually went by. Therefore, it is generally thought to be a nickname given to them by the pagans. Possibly even a name to ridicule them.

Read Acts 11:20, 24 to the group.

Think of yourself as an early Jewish convert to Christianity. Who would have had the most difficult transition?

  • Issues like circumcision, ceremonial purification, etc. were all dropped in favor of a focus of knowing Christ. We own these early Jewish believers much for their tolerance.

Read Acts 11:23-24 to the group.

What was it that seemed to be the catalyst for explosive growth?

  • Harmony of believers.

Read Acts 11:26 to the group.

What does it mean to be a disciple?

  • At Antioch, to be a Christian was to be a disciple. Great numbers of people sat under Barnabas and Saul for a year, learning not just the facts of the Gospel, but learning to follow the model of “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit, whose life constantly exudes the grace of the Lord (v. 24).

Have someone in the group read Hebrews 10:25.

What was one of the key habits of the early Christians at Antioch?

  • Fellowship.

What is the tie between becoming a disciple and fellowship?

  • The internet doesn’t cut it here. To fully understand and become the model as described in the Gospel, fellowship is a requirement. We need to spend time together in pursuit of our Lord.

How can we tell if God’s grace abounds at a Church?

Let’s take the Antioch test below. Have someone in the group read Acts 11:23, 27-30.

What was the evidence of God’s grace that Barnabas was able to see in the Church in Antioch?

  • There was a spirit of unity in which Jews and Gentiles accommodated one another in order to fellowship.
  • They showed an eagerness to learn (v. 26).
  • They exhibited evidence of spiritual gifts (vs. 24; 13;1-3).
  • The Gentiles showed generosity in their response to the needs of their Jewish brothers and sisters in Jerusalem (vv. 28-30).

Bible Truth Being Taught

Through the sovereign strategy of the Holy Spirit and the daring of a few pioneering Jewish believers, the Good News about the Lord Jesus spread to the Gentiles.

Our Response

To delight in the church as an exciting mixture of people of all races, nationalities, classes, spiritual backgrounds and gifts, put together by the Holy Spirit.

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