October 16, 2022


Passage: Acts 15:30-41

30 So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch, and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. 31 And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. 32 And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words. 33 And after they had spent some time, they were sent off in peace by the brothers to those who had sent them. 35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.
36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
— Acts 15:30-41, ESV

I hope I am not infringing any copyright by claiming this title for my sermon.  “Together for the Gospel,” or “T4G,” was a ministry and biennial conference for Christians that began in 2006 and held its last meetings in 2022.  I attended the first and the last, plus two in the middle.  It was a true blessing to see Baptists, Presbyterians, Independents, and others truly together for the gospel.

It should go without saying that Christians should be together for the gospel, for it is the gospel that brings us together with Christ.  But this text has something to say about Christians together for gospel, Christians separating for the gospel, and the Christian commitment needed to reach other people with the gospel.

Together for the Gospel, Together

In the aftermath of The Jerusalem Council, we find the two key churches of Christendom together for the gospel.  The Jerusalem Church was mostly Jewish, and they are represented here by two of their Elders and “prophets” (preachers), Judas and Silas.  The Antioch Church, largely Gentile, is represented by the eminent Apostles and Elders and Missionaries, Paul and Barnabas.

Soon, one member from one church would get together with a member from the other church to accomplish the greatest missionary journey ever taken, going together with the gospel from the Middle East, through Asia, into Europe.  These true Christians and two Christian churches were together for the gospel on at least three principles found in this text:

Christians should join together with other Christians by being a part of a “congregation,” a plurality of other Christians, a local church.  There is nothing here or elsewhere in Holy Scripture that advocates lone ranger Christianity, nor the nonsensical notion that one can be spiritual without being religious.  Christianity is more than a religion but it is not less.  Inherent in the gospel is a commitment to join together with other Christians by sitting with them on the Lord’s Day for worship and serving alongside them as ambassadors for Christ during the entire week.

Christian churches should be together on the meaning of the gospel and the spiritual and moral implications for the Christian life.  Previous paragraphs record The Jerusalem Council, but “the letter” shows up in this text and continues to be discussed and disseminated.  To summarize, the gospel should be preached and accepted by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  Saved people should be baptized into churches and taught to refrain from idolatry (worship God alone and put the Lord Jesus Christ first place in your life) and immorality (sex is for marriage alone and all other exploitations of it are displeasing to God and destroy the witness of the people of God).  Churches that deny the deity and lordship of Christ and churches that promote deviant sexuality are not true churches at all.

Christians and Christian churches should bow together under the authority and direction of “the teaching and preaching [of] the word of God.”  At this time, God’s word was delivered through inspired Apostles and “prophets.”  Eventually, the key elements of their preaching and teaching were written into 27 books we call the New Testament.  Join it with the Old Testament and you have the inspired, inerrant, infallible “word of the Lord,” thanks be to God!

There was no question in the minds of these early Christians and churches, together for the gospel as they were, that the local, visible, assembled church is the new covenant community of God and is worthy of membership and participation.  They did not doubt one iota the veracity of the perfect life, substitutionary death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that salvation and subsequent holy living is brought to everyone who receives Him as Lord and Savior.  They revered the Old Testament Scriptures as God’s word, and realized I’m sure that God’s hand was upon certain Apostles and prophets to pen a New Testament, the word of God for the people of God, Christians and Christian churches, together for the gospel.

Sadly, most of Christendom today seems to have departed from these principles.  They either downgrade the church, doubt the historicity and orthodox theology of the gospel, and/or deny the authority of Scripture to govern the gospel, the church, and the moral and sexual behaviors of those who confess to be Christians.  God help them.  God help us, to stay together for the gospel, together with other Christians and Christian churches who still believe the gospel and the word of God.

Together for the Gospel, Separate 

We know what to do.  We believe and stand together for the gospel.  We join a church, where the gospel is preached.  We insist upon discipleship, which means we uphold biblical standards for our spiritual and moral lives.  An in doing so we chain ourselves to the word of God, the Bible, for this is what we do.  We are together with other Christians and churches who know what to do, too. But what happens when the one we are together with on what to do, differs with us on how to do it?

Here is a classic case of Christians together for the gospel separating.  Paul and Barnabas were buddies, partners, like-minded Christians.  They knew what to do.  They knew they wanted to continue to do it.  But, Paul could not see how to do it with John Mark, who had turned back during the early stages of the first missionary journey.  Barnabas, the encourager, wanted to forgive and forget, then bring Mark along for the second journey.

They were together on what to do, but they separated on how to do it.  Barnabas took Mark and went one way, Paul chose Silas and went the other.  So who was right, and who was wrong?  Most people side with Paul and blame Barnabas, since Paul is prevalent in the rest of Acts and Barnabas gets no further mention.

But, looking at what is written in the text, instead of focusing on what is not in the text, reveals to me a win-win situation.  Barnabas was right to restore Mark, as validated by the way God used Mark to write the first New Testament Gospel.  Paul was right to insist on high standards for the upcoming journey, and Silas was the more mature man for the job.

All four men believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, and like Christ gave their lives for the church.  All four men were obedient to the word of God concerning their moral habits and spiritual disciplines.  All four men were together for the gospel, they just had a quarrel about how to share the gospel.  But at the end of day, there were all believers all sharing the gospel.  How could any of that be wrong?  It’s not.  It was a win-win for the gospel, the church, and the name and fame of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Christians should be together for the “what” of the gospel, but may separate sometimes on the “how.”  I personally think there should be more congruence in the church at large on reflecting the gospel in worship and sharing the gospel in person, but I’m an old curmudgeon.  I can live and let live, together or separate, as long as Christ is worshiped and the gospel is preached, which brings me to perhaps the main point of this narrative.

Together for the Gospel, For Others

The real tragedy in this story is not that Paul and Barnabas were separated from each other, it is that men, women, boys, and girls all over the world are separated from God.  Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can unite them, save them, and make them children of God.

Remember, the book of Acts is given to show how the gospel spread “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (ref. Acts 1:8).  It did so because Christ’s followers took being “My witnesses” seriously.  So, in light of what the early church went though then, what can we do today to be better together for the gospel, better witnesses for Christ, better at bringing other people into His church?

First of all, make sure you are together in the gospel.  Make sure you have received the gospel, believed the gospel, and changed your life according to the gospel.  Make sure you are so in love with the Lord Jesus Christ, that you would love to introduce other people to Him.

Next, make sure you are together for the gospel, with like-minded believers who desire to worship, be and make disciples, fellowship with one another, minister to others, and spread the gospel all over the world.  Church membership matters, and you should be a part of one that you love so much, you want other people to be members of your church, too.

Then, go out get people together with the gospel.  Do not target other sincere Christians who do things differently than you and your church.  Do go after professing Christians who are trapped in distressing churches, those that deny the exclusivity of the gospel and the veracity of Holy Scripture.  And by all means, reach out to those who have no experience of grace, no evidence of the Spirit, and no hope of salvation apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ.

You may find out the person you invite to Christ and His church is already a genuine Christians, abiding by biblical principles in a church like your own.  Encourage them!  You may find out they claim to be Christian but are involved with a congregation that in no way resembles a true, Christian church.  Warn them!  But you can always find many who don’t have Christ, don’t have a church, and don’t have a clue about the gospel and the word of God.  Share your testimony and invite them to your church, where we are together for the gospel every Lord’s Day!

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