Are you a gardener? Maybe you have some potted plants bringing life to your home. Maybe you have a flower bed? A vegetable garden? We have a vegetable garden with a berry patch, and a few weeks ago that berry patch was in serious need of weeding. So a couple weeks ago, I weeded it, trimmed branches and we put grass clippings around the plants. Those weeds were out of control!
We often use weeds as a spiritual metaphor for the fast growth of sin in our lives and in our society. But not all fast-growing things are bad. Turn with me to Acts 12:24-25, where we read that “the word of God continued to increase and spread.”
“The word of God” is described here almost like a living breathing organism that is growing and spreading. It reminds me of films where there is darkness and rot across a land, but good triumphs over evil, and light starts to break through the darkness, and where the light shines, green growth of grass, trees, and flowers bloom, and clean water flows and animals return. The power of light is victorious over the power of darkness.
When we think about the word of God increasing and spreading, we will see, in a very real sense, the evidence of the power of light having victory over the power of darkness. The word of God spreads as more and more people believe in and trust the story of Jesus as the true story of life. It is when they understand the goodness of God, making their heart and minds more like his. Shifting their priorities more in line with his. In the first century Roman Empire, people were turning away from the story of “the way things are” and turning to the story of Jesus which not only provides hope of eternal life in the future, but redefines the world now.
No longer is “the way things are” acceptable. The Kingdom of God enters the picture and tells the story of a new way, the true way, a life that is believed in our hearts and minds, but also, flowing from that belief, it is lived out in our actual real lives. Here’s how it works: as the word of God spreads, what that means in down to earth, real-life terms, then, is that more and more people were filled with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit then changed them, so that what emanated from their lives, in their thoughts, words and actions, was called the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control, and that brings a new way of life into the real world. That bring justice and righteousness to what is broken. It heals, it repairs, it restores. When the word of God spreads, lives are changed for the good. That’s what was going on.
Acts 12:25 reminds us of a beautiful example of the spread of the transformative word of God when the church, through the financial gift that the daughter church in Antioch (located in modern-day Turkey, very close to Syria) collected and sent to the mother church in Judea, back in Israel. We read that Barnabas and Saul brought the gift (first mentioned in 11:27-30) to Jerusalem. The word was spreading. Now Barnabas and Saul returned to the church in Antioch, and that brings us to chapter 13.
In 13 verses 1-3, we read that there are prophets and teachers in the church in Antioch, and five are mentioned by name including Barnabas and Saul.
What role did Prophets and Teachers play in the life of the church? They are very similar in that they are communicating the word of God. The difference is that, a prophet is one through whom revelation is given, while a teacher is one who explains revelation, helping people apply it to their lives. Both are gifts used by God.
We read in verse 2 that the Christians in the church in Antioch were worshiping and fasting. More than likely they gathered in homes, like many contemporary Christian small groups, and they prayed together, singing, encouraging one another, hearing what the teachers and prophets had to say, discussing it together, all probably taking place around a table meal, that included communion.
Except that in this case, they were fasting. Fasting is the practice of abstaining, primarily from food, for the purpose of heightened dependence on God, usually connected to prayer. Have you practiced fasting? Fasting is an important spiritual practice that we would do well to include as a regular habit in our lives. At the end of this five-part series on Acts 13, we’ll return to some practical suggestions, or you can learn more now, as I write about how to practice fasting here.
Luke writes that, “while they were worshiping and fasting,” the Spirit communicates to them! What did the Spirit sound like? And what did the Spirit say? Check back in to the next post to find out!