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Labour not in vain

January 2006 | by Don Fortner

When Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel at Antioch, Pisidia, the Jews ‘were filled with envy’ and spoke against the gospel, contradicting and blaspheming God. They wilfully and deliberately refused to believe the revelation of God concerning his Son.

Despising Christ, despising the gospel of the grace of God, and despising the messengers of grace, they brought destruction on themselves. But Paul and Barnabas were not discouraged or turned away from their noble work.

Neither the instability of their companion John Mark, nor the unbelief and opposition of the Jews, could deter them from their work. Did the Jews refuse to hear them? Then they turned to the Gentiles and preached the gospel to them instead!

They thus became God’s instruments to accomplish his eternal purpose of grace in saving his elect among the Gentiles (Isaiah 55:11). Consider five lessons clearly taught in this passage of Holy Scripture.

Seizing opportunities

First, all who believe the gospel should seize every opportunity to preach the gospel(vv. 42-44).

When Paul had finished preaching, the Jews walked out in angry protest. But there were some Gentiles present whose hearts were affected by the message. They asked Paul and Barnabas to preach to them through the week and on the next Sabbath – which they gladly did.

They preached in the Jewish synagogue and on the streets – both to the multitudes who gathered to hear them and to individuals as God gave them opportunity. They lookedforopportunities to preach Christ to eternity-bound sinners – and seized every chance God gave them!

In that regard they are examples to all of us. Every gospel preacher must relentlessly give himself to the work of the ministry, to the business of faithfully preaching the gospel (1 Timothy 4:12-16; 2 Timothy 4:1-5). And everybeliever should look for and seize every opportunity to bear faithful witness to perishing sinners concerning the things of Christ (John 20:21; Acts 1:8).

We all make excuses for not witnessing to the people around us, but we are really without excuse. If we refuse to honestly and openly confess Christ to others, it is because we do not care that people are perishing without him, or because we fear their reaction, or because we do not really believe in the power of the gospel.

Many who would gladly preach to thousands who might applaud them refuse to preach to one for fear of scorn!

Meeting opposition

Second, all who faithfully preach the gospel will meet with opposition in this world (vv. 45-46). It is not possible to faithfully preach the gospel of Christ without offending the enemies of Christ.

People who are opposed to Christ will oppose anyone who faithfully represents Christ to them (1 Corinthians 1:22-24). When men and women oppose those who faithfully preach the gospel of Christ, they are fighting against God (1 Samuel 8:7).

The Jews at Antioch did not merely reject Paul and Barnabas. They did not merely dismiss a sermon they did not like. They rejected the Lord Jesus Christ and the message of God’s free grace in him. In doing so they judged themselves unworthy of everlasting life.

John Gill comments: ‘The Jews, by this act of theirs in rejecting the Gospel, did as it were pass sentence upon themselves that they ought not to be saved, since they despised the means of salvation’.

This is a very solemn matter! By rejecting the gospel, these men and women became reprobate. God left them to their just condemnation and hardened their hearts in unbelief (Hosea 4:17; John 12:39-40; Romans 11:8-11).

This should alarm any who hear but refuse to believe the gospel of God’s free grace in Christ. To reject the gospel is to court reprobation and the judgement of God.

Yielding obedience

Third, a man’s faithfulness in preaching the gospel is not determined by his success but by his obedience to God’s commands(v. 47).

When their message was rejected, Paul and Barnabas did not turn away from their work. It never entered their minds to do so. Nor did they compromise and accommodate their message to please their hearers.

It never occurred to them that they might be more successful if they were less dogmatic in their doctrine or more measured in their methods. They simply did what they had always done – they went on preaching the gospel!

They changed nothing – not their message, nor their method, nor their manners. The prophecy referred to in verse 47 (‘I have set you to be a light to the Gentiles …’; Isaiah 49:6) refers to Christ himself, but Paul applies it to all who preach the gospel because all true gospel preachers are labourers together with Christ (1 Corinthians 3:9).

God requires only one thing of his servants – faithfulness. He does not require success, but he does require faithfulness. It is the responsibility of every child of God to faithfully serve the honour of God, the will of God, and the people of God as providence directs and the Holy Spirit leads (1 Corinthians 4:1-2; 2 Corinthians 4:1-7).

Let us ever be found faithful to the glory of God, the gospel of Christ and the souls of men – using the talents we have in the places we are!

Accomplishing objectives

Fourth, as God’s servants faithfully preach the gospel of Christ he sovereignly accomplishes his purpose of grace (vv. 48-49). Some believe and some do not, but God’s purpose is always accomplished.

The Jews did exactly what they wanted to do, but through their unbelief the gospel was sent to sinners throughout the world (Romans 11:22-23,32-36). Christ is the Saviour of Gentiles as well as Jews – and ‘when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed’ (v. 48).

Verses 48 and 49 in fact demonstrate four gospel truths with striking clarity:

1. Unbelief is the cause of eternal condemnation (v. 46; John 3:36).

2. Election is the cause of saving faith (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).

3. All who obey the gospel in time were ordained to eternal life in eternity (1 Thessalonians 1:4-5).

4. The preaching of the gospel always accomplishes God’s purpose and glorifies him (1 Corinthians 2:14-16). God will save his elect. He will glorify himself. He will honour his Word (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Discharging obligations

Fifth, by the faithful discharge of their responsibilities God gives his servants confidence and joy before him (vv. 50-52). When it came to preaching the gospel, Paul had a profound sense of obligation towards the unsaved masses (Romans 1:14-15). But there comes a time in any location when such obligations have been discharged.

When they were thrown out of Antioch for preaching the gospel Paul and Barnabas did not regard it as failure. Rather, they ‘shook off the dust of their feet’ against their persecutors, being free from their blood (Luke 9:5; Ezekiel 33:8-9) – and went on to proclaim God’s saving grace in another place.

And doing so, they were ‘filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit’. They had faithfully discharged their responsibilities as God’s servants. Therefore, they rejoiced before him (2 Timothy 4:6-8).