Knowing Your Identity

Dr. Ron J. Bigalke

An article in the Harvard Business Review, titled “Market Myopia,” discussed how some people did not understand the nature of their business. For example, the railroad people did not realize they worked in the transportation business; they imagined they labored in the railroad business. If they had realized their industry was the transportation business, the railroad people would have invested in the airplane. Similarly, the telegraph people believed they worked in the telegraph business, rather than understanding correctly that their industry was the communications business. In 1886 (maybe plus or minus a few years), they could have purchased all the telephone patents for $40,000. Obviously, the telegraph people did not comprehend the identity of their business.

We would rightly conclude that it is foolish not to know the nature of one’s business. Ask yourself though, “What is your industry?” How does that insight affect your perspective toward your Christian witness? What if we asked that question of God’s people as a whole? What is the purpose of the church? Are the people of God to be engaged in entertainment, recreation, or the transformation of souls for eternity? Why did God reveal the Bible? Is the essential quality of God’s inspired Word best understood as devotional, intellectual, or transformational? What difference is there in how a person answers these questions?

God’s people are always in danger of meandering into a maintenance mentality of their identity, when viewing themselves as members of a religious club whose priority is to preserve hallowed traditions. Thereby they neglect the transformational message of God’s Word for individuals, society, and nations. The book of Acts itself is a persistent indictment upon mere maintenance-oriented Christianity; it is an unrelenting goad that encourages and stimulates God’s people to intensify their actions and attitudes to promote God’s glory among the nations.

(Acts 13:1-43) From the initial formation of the nations (Gen 10), God has strategically proclaimed His name and His redemption to all the nations. For instance, God used the prophet Daniel (also one of the greatest statesmen in the Bible) to cause the king to praise Him as sovereign. Not only did Darius personally exalt God, but also he ordered the citizenry of the entire empire “to fear and tremble before the God of Daniel; for He is the living God and enduring forever, and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed, and His dominion will be forever” (Dan 6:26, NASB). The primary business of God’s people is to heed the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20) in promoting God’s glory among the nations.

The fundamental imperative of the Great Commission is to make disciples. The Greek word mathēteusate is an imperative of command, which means literally “to make a disciple of, teach.” Matthew 28:19 in the King James Version of the Holy Bible reads, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations.” The word “teach” means literally to “make disciples,” as in the New American Standard Bible. The Greek word meaning “to make a disciple of, teach” is the only verb in the Commission; therefore, it emphasizes the most important detail of the passage. The words go and baptize in verse 19 and the word teaching in verse 20 are all participles, which means they inform believers how to make disciples (i.e. how to teach). Prior to one becoming a disciple, he or she must first understand the gospel of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, which emphasizes the need for evangelism and is certainly implied in the word go. Biblically, disciples are adherents who receive the teaching of God’s Word that has been communicated to them and make it their standard of conduct.

The Great Commission only has one primary verb, “disciple” (all the other verbs are participles), and there is only one direct object: “all the nations.” Worthwhile to note also is that the Greek word used for “nations” is ethnos (“people groups or nations”), not laos (“people as individuals”). The Great Commission embraces entire nations rather than indicating individuals among them. In other words, Christ’s Great Commission requires His followers to think first nationally, rather than individually. Discipling the nations is the foundational component of the church’s interaction with the world. The church needs to disciple the nations by reaching its leaders.

The narrative in Acts returns to the church at Antioch, where “those who were scattered because of the persecution” in Jerusalem were heeding the Great Commission by strategically targeting capitals of the nations (11:19). “And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord” (v. 21, NASB). Acts 12 ended with Barnabas and Saul returning from Jerusalem, where they had fulfilled their mission in delivering the relief contribution for those affected by the great famine. (John Mark was also with them.)

Acts 13 begins the missionary emphasis of the church, resulting in the planting of many churches in the Gentile world. God equips people devoted to Him. If you want the Lord’s guidance, first serve where He has you currently, and God will make the next venture evident (13:1-3). The first missionary team was sent to Salamis, the largest city of Cyprus (v. 5), and then to Paphos, where the first “king,” Sergius Paulus, was converted to faith in Christ Jesus; thereafter, the team continued to evangelize capitals, based upon Saul’s “capitol commissioning” (9:15). The success was so great that when approximately half of the capital cities of Paul’s missionary journeys were evangelized, the opposition complained, “‘These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also” (17:6, ESV). The gospel message being proclaimed in Gentile territory, and capitals in particular, is the rightful business of God’s people.

Barnabas’ hometown was Salamis, the first city to be evangelized. The ordering of names indicates Barnabas was the leader of the missionary team. Departing from Salamis, the team arrived at the capital of the island: Paphos (vv. 6-12). There “they found a magician, a Jewish false prophet whose name was Bar-Jesus, who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus,” an intelligent man who had authority over the island of Cyprus (vv. 6-7). Sergius Paulus “summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God” (v. 7).

The magician opposed the message (cf. Matt 13:24-30, 36-43; 1 Cor 16:9), was rebuked by Saul, and stricken with temporary blindness (Acts 13:8-11). The proconsul was “amazed at the teaching of the Lord” and believed that message (v. 12, NASB). From this point, “Saul” would be known only as “Paul” (the same “Paulus” by which the proconsul was known). Apparently, the conversion of Sergius Paulus was a momentous occasion in the life of Saul and the mission team. Obeying his capitol commission, Saul had led Jews and Gentiles to faith in Christ Jesus, and now converted his first “king.” Saul then adopted the name Paul, from the first king he led to Christ, and was known by that name for the remainder of his life and ministry.

“Paul and his companions” departed from Paphos “and came to Perga,” the capital city of Pamphylia, “but John left them and returned to Jerusalem” (v. 13, NASB). John Mark was possibly resentful toward Paul’s leadership in place of his cousin, Barnabas, yet there is no reason to make judgment of him (cf. 1 Cor 10:12). Opportunities develop leadership, and the most important aspect of the team effort was God being glorified.

Paul preached his first biblically recorded sermon at Pisidian Antioch, the capital of southern Galatia (Acts 13:14-41). Making the truth known that God is always providing more and more good for His people, which culminated in the giving of His Son (the ultimate Good) (vv. 23-39), was the foundation of Paul’s message. The immediate response proved successful (vv. 42-43).

(Acts 13:44-52) Proclamation of the truth will always result in diverse reactions. Some will receive the truth with readiness (vv. 43-44, 48-49), while others will reject it entirely (Luke 8:12); and still others in their refusal will incite opposition of some kind (Acts 13:45-47, 50). Many believed the gospel message, and it spread throughout their region (vv. 48-49).

Recognize that some people are so adamant in their rejection of truth that it would be foolish to waste any more time in seeking to persuade them otherwise. Invest your time with those who rejoice in truth (v. 48). Sometimes the opposition is so intense that God’s will may be to shake dust from your feet “in protest against them,” thereby indicating that their obstinacy will not be tolerated any longer (vv. 51-52). Envy is a powerful motivating factor in animosity and division against you (v. 45). If the Lord God has called you to the capitol community, with the support of fellow believers, you can proclaim the Word of Truth (John 17:17) anywhere and witness God’s sovereign grace prevail in all contexts.

The emphasis of the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20) is upon discipling people groups, not just individuals among the nations. The commission is not general (i.e. leading as many individuals as possible to trust in Christ as Lord); rather, it is to disciple all peoples of the world. The Great Commission requires a strategy that must include leaders (particularly governing authorities), and places an emphasis upon where the gospel message is to be proclaimed. Heeding his “capitol commissioning” (Acts 9:15), Paul was strategic in ministering to capitals, and then venturing to the synagogue where he would find the Jewish population.

Jesus commissioned Saul through Ananias, saying, “he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel” (9:15). “Gentiles” and the “sons of Israel” included all humanity; yet, in addition, Saul was specifically commissioned to evangelize government leaders (“kings”). Kings were one of the three people groups that God called Saul to evangelize. Therefore, since capital cities were the only locale in which all three groups could be identified, it was only natural for Saul’s ministry to be in capitals. Indeed, the provincial capital of Syria was Damascus, which is where Saul began his ministry (vv. 19b-31).

Acts 1:8 states that every Christian has been given a command to be a witness for Christ. Mark 16:15 affirms that each Christian has been commissioned to make known the gospel message to the unsaved of every generation. Therefore, the greatest reason why believers should witness for Christ is that the Lord commanded it. The Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20) is not a challenge or an option; it is the Lord Jesus Christ’s command to the disciples of every generation!

Midnight Call - 05/2018

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