by Herman R. Rocke

"Yet thus I am ambitious,
to be bringing the evangel
where Christ is not named"
            -- Romans 15:20

THE APOSTLE wrote these words after the completion of his Antioch commission when "in word and work, in the power of signs and miracles, in the power of God's spirit...from Jerusalem and around unto Illyricum," he had "completed the evangel of the Christ" (Rom.15:19). The details of this phase of the apostle's service are described in Acts, chapters 13 through 20. During all those years Paul endeavored to pave the way for heralding justification, of which the first hint is given at the very end of his sermon in Pisidian Antioch.

      This kind of message was quite different from Romans. There justification is apart from law, but in Acts 13:38,39 it is still associated with the law: "Let it be known to you, then, men, brethren, that through this One is being announced to you the pardon of sins, and from all from which you could not be justified in the law of Moses, in this One everyone who is believing is being justified".

      Paul came to Antioch in Pisidia on his first missionary journey. This term is generally used to describe the activities of Barnabas and Saul following their severance from the ecclesia in Syrian Antioch (Acts 13:2). On this trip they went by boat to the isle of Cyprus, passing through the whole island from Salamis in the east to Paphos in the west. From there they sailed northward to Perga on the mainland of Asia Minor, reached the northernmost point of their journey in Pisidian Antioch, proceeded eastward to Iconium, and southward to Lystra and Derbe. Here they turned back, retracing their steps via Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch to Perga. In nearby Attalia they took a boat bound for Syrian Antioch, their home base (Acts 14:26).


      In our own efforts to become imitators of Paul and of the Lord (1 Thess.1:6), we are at times handicapped by our own reasonings. We think that mankind, in the second half of the twentieth century, is more selfish and more pleasure-seeking than at any other time in the past, and hence less interested in the word of the cross. We think, perhaps, that the church to which we belong is so different from the ecclesias which Paul had founded, that even he would have a hard time imitating the Lord if he were among us today. We think, perhaps, that it would be easier to fully follow Paul in his teaching, motive, purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, if he had founded our church, so it would be free from the burden of tradition and un-Pauline theology. Because of such and similar reasonings, it may be well to go back in history into Paul's day in order to become acquainted with the way of life in Syrian Antioch.

      Saul had been called into service outside the holy land, where the law of Moses did not apply. He had received his commissions from the risen and glorified Christ in heaven. As an eye witness to His celestial splendor, Saul was designated to evangelize Him among the nations, even to kings, and also to the sons of Israel among the nations (Acts 9:15). The Lord Himself had made it very clear to Saul (Acts 9:29,30; 22:18) that Jerusalem was not fit to serve as a home base for the apostle to the nations. Hence He provided an ecclesia of believing Jews, both Hebrews and Hellenists (Acts 11:19,20) in Syrian Antioch, 300 miles north of Jerusalem where the Taurus mountain range meets the Lebanon chain. This metropolis on the Orontes River was, at that time, the third greatest city in the world around the Mediterranean, Rome being first in size, and Alexandria in Egypt second.

      In Paul's day, Jewish influence in Syrian Antioch had been curbed after a local Jewish revolt had failed. Hence the Jewish community was anxious not to jeopardize the political privileges which it enjoyed in the midst of a Greek majority. Under the circumstances, the unbelieving Jews and Hellenists in the Syrian capital would abstain from persecuting any minority within their own ranks. Paul would not be in danger among his own race as he had been in Damascus and Jerusalem.

      Antioch's seaport, Seleucia, is mentioned in Acts 13:4 ("They, indeed, then, being sent out by the holy spirit, came down into Seleucia"). From here, ships went to all parts of the West, while caravan routes connected the Syrian metropolis with the East. Antioch, as the melting pot of Eastern and Western cultures, displayed the worst features of Oriental and Occidental religions and traditions and became world famous as the hotbed of every kind of vice and depravity; its immorality and superstition were even worse than Rome's.

      The great German historian Mommsen reported that in no city of antiquity was the enjoyment of life's mundane pleasures as prominent and popular as in "Antioch-upon-Daphne" as this metropolis on the Orontes was occasionally called because of the pleasure garden of Daphne with its dissolute practices. The Latin equivalent for "Daphne morality" was proverbial in the ancient world around the Mediterranean in Paul's day, just as the term "new morality" is the catch phrase of the moral revolution in our day.

      It was in the carnal atmosphere of "Antioch-upon-Daphne" where the ecclesia thrived which later became Paul's operational base during his missionary journeys (Acts 13:3; 14:26; 15:35,40; 18:22). Here Barnabas and Saul served as teachers of a "considerable throng" for "a whole year" together with other prophets and teachers, among whom Barnabas ranked first, while Saul took the last place (Acts 11:26; 13:1). Such an inferior station, subordinate to other teachers, would not have satisfied us, if we were ambitious to evangelize only in such places where Christ has not yet been named.


      "But for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven...a time to keep silence, and a time to speak". With this quotation from Ecclesiastes we want to point out that there is a season when only our heart should speak to other hearts, and our mouth keep silent as far as doctrinal differences are concerned. The unity of the soul should be practiced first before we endeavor to "herald the word, stand by it, opportunely, inopportunely, expose, rebuke, entreat, with all patience and teaching" (2 Tim.4:2).

      As Brother Knoch once said, truth in love is sometimes silent, for fear of offending; truth in love is the key to the approval of God and to the hearts of His saints. Even if we should feel that the time has come to expose error, we must never forget to keep the unity of the spirit with the tie of peace. This unity is a God-given fact. We are never exhorted to make it, or to improve on it, but rather to keep it. On the other hand, the Lord does exhort us to make the unity of the soul a heart-comforting reality.

      It may be taken for granted that Paul, during his sojourn in Syrian Antioch, made an effort "[to] accord [with] the ecclesia [which] is [there]" (Acts 13:1). In the Greek, we have only the preposition kata (Keyword Concordance, page 82, down, according to) which precedes the words, the ecclesia being. The combination of these four words indicates a very specific situation, while Acts 14:23 ("selecting elders...according to [the] ecclesia") reports a general practice.

      In the English language, the term "accord" denotes harmonious correspondence and agreement; however, in the specific situation of Acts 13:1, it suggests much more; its original meaning certainly points in the right direction. For "accord" is composed of the two Latin words "ad" (=to) and "cor" (=heart), reminding us of a "heart to heart" relationship. And this is exactly the approach Paul would have sought under the circumstances.

      As far as we know, he was the only one who had received a special commission from Christ in His celestial glory; both his background and his outlook differed considerably from that of the four other prophets and teachers. They reflected the doctrinal viewpoint of the mother church in Jerusalem. However, if the five whose names are given in Acts 13:1, were supposed to accord with the Antioch ecclesia, such as it was there, they had, first of all, to be in accord with one another.

      This phase in Paul's career lends itself to a comparison with our own status today, even though the disparity of our walk and service when contrasted to Paul's, may be obvious enough. Antioch in Syria was probably the only ecclesia, founded by others, where Paul stayed at least a year, teaching in accord with others who had been there before him. Even if at that time he showed signs of becoming a promising independent leader, we may be sure that he was not disposed to faction or vain glory. He would rather make an effort to look out for the interests of the others, with humility deeming them superior to, and more important than, himself. If Paul had not practiced this attitude himself early in his career, he would not have asked the Philippians, and us as well, to imitate him in showing this disposition "which is in Christ Jesus also" (Phil.2:1-5; 3:17).

      It may well be that Paul learned in those days to accommodate himself to the others so as not to create a gap between the mature and the immature. We have no way of knowing how far he outstripped the others in the race toward the goal, how few were able to follow him, or how many were lagging behind. We do know, however, that we today are inclined to urge the laggards to mend their pace, to catch up with us who are ahead of them. (Are we really?) But the Scriptures offer no exhortation to the immature to hurry, but rather to the, mature to accommodate themselves to them. "In what we outstrip others, there is to be a mutual disposition to observe the same elementary rule" (Phil.3:16).

      The Lord Jesus had said, "A new precept am I giving to you, that you be loving one another, according as I love you, that you also be loving one another. By this all shall be knowing that you are My disciples, if you should be having love for one another" (John 13:34,35).

      It is conceivable that this word of our Lord, or a similar one, was quoted by Barnabas, who had heard it from the twelve. As we have pointed out before, Barnabas was a good man and full of holy spirit and faith; he was not a great sinner, like Saul, hence could not be the chief example of grace. But when the Lord's new precept applied to good men like Barnabas, how much more to the foremost sinner to whom Jesus Christ had displayed all His patience and lavished all His grace.

      Paul, as the chief example of God's undiluted grace, would certainly do his utmost to "love the brotherhood" (1 Peter 2:17), to "bear one another's burdens, and thus fill up the law of Christ" (Gal.6:2). Like him, we also should endeavor to excel others in offering consolation in Christ, comfort in love, communion of spirit, singing hymns and spiritual songs and praying together, so as to bear one another's burden. We do not know any of the hymns which the members of the Antioch ecclesia used to sing, but we are certain that Paul, if he were among us today, would join us in a scriptural song like the following:

Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.
Before our Father's throne
We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one,
Our comforts and our cares.
We share our mutual woes,
Our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows
The sympathizing tear.

At this juncture our thoughts go out to those of our dear friends who, whether by choice, or by circumstances beyond their control, are living an isolated life of faith, where the fellowship with other believers is lacking, where there seems to be no opportunity for singing hymns and spiritual songs together, for sharing mutual woes and burdens in joint prayer with those who are justified in the blood of Christ.

      How often have we failed to make the unity of the soul a heart-comforting reality when we enjoyed the privilege of meeting other believers? To practice this kind of unity, as we are exhorted to do, takes more effort than to expose doctrinal error. There is a season for everything, a time to be joined in soul, and a time to explain how this unity of the soul is an even greater responsibility for those of us who are imitating Paul in displaying the disposition which is in Christ Jesus.

      A haughty holding of the truth which leads to a separation from all who do not see it as we do, is worse than the error which we want to expose. Paul had practiced patient love, or he could not have written, "If I should be perceiving all secrets and all knowledge, and if I should have all faith...yet have no love, I am nothing". Here we might want to interject that we do have love, and that this is why we want others to realize the riches of God's grace which He lavishes on us. But does our love show the following attributes? "Love is patient, is kind. Love is not jealous. Love is not bragging, is not puffed not rejoicing together with the truth, is foregoing all, is believing all, is expecting all, is enduring all".

      Hence "a slave of the Lord must not be fighting, but be gentle toward all, apt to teach, bearing with evil, with meekness training those who are antagonizing...pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace, with all who are invoking the Lord out of a clean heart" (2 Tim.2:22,24,26). In other words, we ought to be "mutually disposed, having mutual love, joined in soul, being disposed to one thing--nothing according with faction, nor yet according with vain glory--but with humility, deeming one another superior to one's self, not each noting that which is his own, but each that of others also" (Phil.2:2-4).

      We have good reason to believe that the circumstances in Syrian Antioch were not so much different from those we find prevalent today; the character of the unbelievers in that town was notorious in the ancient world; their motto was: "Enjoy life". Yet there was also a considerable throng of believers, who were persevering in the teaching of the apostles, and in fellowship, and in the breaking of bread, and in prayers, just as Barnabas and others had practiced it in the Jerusalem ecclesia before (Acts 2:42). For some time he, and others with him, had been the prominent teachers in this pentecostal ecclesia, which was thriving in a metropolis where immorality and superstition were said to be worse than in Rome. Paul joined this ecclesia when Barnabas, the Jerusalem delegate (Acts 11:22), invited him to serve as a teacher. At that time the Antioch ecclesia had grown considerably, and with broad-minded Barnabas in charge, it might easily become a suitable operational base for missionary journeys. We do not know how much of this was discussed between the two, but we are told that Paul, too, was in accord with the ecclesia in Syrian Antioch, such as it was there.

      It may well be that in those days Paul prayed for himself as we should pray for one another...that our love may be superabounding still more and more in realization and all sensibility, for us to be testing what things are of consequence, that we may be sincere and no stumbling block for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that is through Jesus Christ, for the glory and laud of God. Amen.

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