My friend Virginia and I have been Bible study and discipleship partners for many years. We have been using a rather unorthodox methodology recently – but we love it. When we begin a new book and do the overview, I find all the characters and do a thorough background check on them, as much as possible.
Virginia who is an intrepid world traveler, finds all the places mentioned and does a study on the history and culture of the place. We discuss these findings as we go through the book together. Right now we’re in Acts, and Acts is rife with fascinating characters and interesting places. When Virginia describes a place she has traveled or lived herself, I can hear the pigs squealing at birth on a pig farm in the Australian outback, or smell the crusty rolls from a perfectly original bakery on a hillside in Crete. She does the same with the cities where the heroes of Acts have traveled. As always, we discover that not one word, place or person is insignificant in Scripture.
Last week we reached Acts 13, where Paul and Barnabas were sent out from the new church in Antioch. In the context of our present racially sensitive world , I was amazed by the elders and leaders in the church.
Here’s what the elder board looked like at the First Christian Church of Antioch:
Barnabas- a Levite who was living in Cyprus. He probably moved there so he could buy land, which a Levite was not permitted to do in Israel.
Simeon Niger – a black man from North Africa
Lucius -- a Cyrene Greek, possibly from North Africa as well
Manaen – a childhood and lifelong friend of Herod, so part of the Roman elite who oppressed Jews
Saul – a sordid background of murder and terrorism
Now there’s a diverse leadership team if there ever was one! I would probably have had reservations about any one of these men if I was attending the church for the first time. Economic, ethnic, class, race and status diversity would be visible to all. And that was the point. From Pentecost to the founding of His church, our Father has been intentionally diverse. Our challenge in response to the precedent that was set from the founding of the church is to find godly leaders who represent the world wide family of God in all of its unique levels and kinds of diversity.
I’ll leave it up to you to ask Virginia to explain why Antioch was the ideal place to commission the first missionary team.
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