People have a lot of strange ideas about what exactly the “hand of God” is. Often if something goes wrong or right for reasons that are unclear to us, we’ll assign it to “the hand of God”. But in actuality, the bible uses that phrase on several occasions to describe God’s purposes. If God’s hand is said to be with us, it means we are cooperating with His purposes and we are recognizing the results of His work. If His hand is said to be against us, it means we are opposing His purposes and often suffer the frustration (and bruising) that comes from trying to pick a fight with God.
In our ongoing study of the book of Acts, we’ll be reading Acts 11:19-30 this week, and we’ll see that phrase, the hand of God, used in a positive context (v21).
The early church was enjoying the favor of God as they were cooperating with His purposes. How were they cooperating? Well, that’s what we’ll try and unpack.
V19-21 introduce us to some unnamed Christ followers who are planting a church of gentiles in Antioch of Syria. Given all that’s been repeated from chapter 10 through 11, do you find it intriguing that these two no-name people were already doing what God was pushing Peter to do? What observations can you make about that concerning God’s view of church hierarchy and what every believer’s role is? How can we learn to cooperate with God’s purposes from this account?
The church of Jerusalem sends Barney to investigate…maybe to get this all under control, in V22-24. The text says that what he saw made him glad. What did he see (v23)? Given the immoral reputation of Antioch and the wildly diverse cultures that were represented in that city, what could he have seen had grace not been his focus? What can we learn from Barney about cooperating with God’s purposes?
V 26 tells us that the name “Christian” was originally a derisive name coined by the sarcastic people of Antioch. What was happening (v25-26a) in the lives of the Christ followers of Antioch that would cause them to suddenly stand out as different from everyone else…so much so that they got labeled for it? How well do we stand out from the crowd we’ve been placed in? What can we learn about cooperating with God’s purposes from this?
Finally, the section ends with some prophetic dudes warning of a coming famine. V29 tells us about the response from Antioch. What does their action teach us about cooperating with God’s hand?