Bridges and walls
Jesus’ last words were “go and make disciples in all nations” and Paul and Barnabas are doing just that by planting local churches. They travel into a town, see some new disciples made, plant a church and come back to encourage and appoint elders. There’s no concept in the New Testament of lone ranger Christians, not part of a local church. Hopefully that is obvious to you as you read this, but sadly in wider Christendom it isn’t – there’s plenty of mission-less churches and church-less missionary societies around. Churches get so caught up with internal stuff, they forget the mission and the evangelists leave and form mission organisations. As we move into the next part of Acts, the focus is less on Jerusalem and Judea, but how the gospel is spreading through church planting all across the Roman Empire – to the ends of the earth.
In today’s reading Paul reaches Pisidian Antioch, which is a different Antioch to the one earlier in Acts where followers of Christ were first called Christians. They go first to the Jews where Paul engages his audience by building some bridges. When we want to reach out to people we need to build a bridge first, connect with people, find out where they are at, ask questions. Paul connects with the Synagogue Jews by calling them brothers, speaking of ‘our fathers’ and ‘our people’. Then he tells them how the message of Jesus fits in with the Jewish story. But building bridges isn’t always going to bring people to salvation. They already know that stuff.
So Paul has to build some walls too, walls that show how they are actually separated from God. He needs to build some walls to show them that their nominal religiosity doesn’t make them part of God’s people. The law doesn’t justify and Judaism doesn’t forgive them, v.39; they will perish, v.41 quoting Habakkuk 1:5; and they are outside of eternal life, v.46.
Building walls as well as bridges has two results – nominal believers hate you and drive you out, while others come to repentance and belief.
If you have nominal Christian friends, what bridges can you build with them? What walls do they need to see that are holding them back from eternal life?