ON THEIR RETURN
But the question arises, How were these new converts shepherded and instructed? How were the newly-founded churches established? In studying the Word we find that the missionary tour of the apostles consisted of an outward and a return journey. On their outward journey their first concern was to found churches. On their return journey their chief business was to build them up.
Having “made a considerable number of disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, establishing the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith and saying that through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God” (14:21-22). Here we see Paul and Barnabas returning to do some construction work in the churches already founded; but as before on their outward journey, so now on their return, they never settle down in any one place.
It is clear then that the apostles did not just move from place to place founding churches; they also did definite construction work. Merely to found churches without establishing them would be like leaving newborn babes to their own resources. The point to note here is that, while the instruction of the new converts and the building up of the churches was a very vital part of the apostles’ work, they did it, not by settling down in one place, but rather by visiting the places where they had been before. Neither in their initial work of preaching the gospel, nor in their subsequent work of establishing the churches, did the apostles take up their permanent abode in any one place.
Before they left a place where a church had been founded and some construction work done, they appointed elders to bear responsibility there (14:23). This is one of the most important parts of an apostle’s work. (This subject will be dealt with more fully in a subsequent chapter.)
Thus the early apostles worked, and the blessing of the Lord rested on their labors. We shall do well if we follow in their steps, but we must realize clearly that even though we adopt apostolic methods, unless we have apostolic consecration, apostolic faith, and apostolic power, we shall still fail to see apostolic results. We dare not underestimate the value of apostolic methods—they are absolutely essential if we are to have apostolic fruits—but we must not overlook the need of apostolic spirituality, and we must not fear apostolic persecution.
BACK TO ANTIOCH
“And from there they sailed away to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled. And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared the things that God had done with them and that He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles” (14:26-27). On their return to Antioch the apostles “declared the things that God had done with them.” It was from Antioch that Paul and Barnabas had gone out, so it was only fitting that on their return they should give an account of the Lord’s dealings with them to those from whom they had gone forth. To give reports of the work to those who are truly bearing the burden with us, is sanctioned by God’s Word. It is not only permissible, but necessary, that the children of God at the base should be informed of His doings on the field; but we do well to make sure that our reports are not in the nature of advertisements.
In the matter of reporting, we should on the one hand avoid all unnatural reticence and soulish seclusiveness; on the other hand, we must carefully guard against the intrusion of any personal interest. In all reports of the work our aim should be to glorify God and bring spiritual enrichment to those who share them. To utilize reports as a means of propaganda, with material returns in view, is base in the extreme, and unworthy of any Christian. When the motive is to glorify God and benefit His children, but at the same time to make known the needs of the work with a view to receiving material help, it is still far from acceptable to the Lord, and is unworthy of His servants. Our aim should be this alone— that God shall be glorified and His children blessed. If there were this perfect purity of motive in our reports, how differently many of them would be worded!
Each time we write or speak of our work, let us ask ourselves these questions: (1) Am I reporting with a view to gaining publicity for myself and my work? (2) Am I reporting with the double object of glorifying the Lord and advertising the work? (3) Am I reporting with this aim alone, that God shall be glorified and His children blessed? May the Lord give us grace to report with unmixed motives and perfect purity of heart!
(The Normal Christian Church Life, Chapter 2, by Watchman Nee)