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Growing Christians

Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the brothers. Acts 15.32.

Apart from what is said in this verse, all we know about Judas Barsabbas and Silas is that they were two of the “leaders” in the Jerusalem church who were chosen by the apostles there to accompany Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch and to deliver the apostles’ letter to the gentile Christians there (Acts 15.22-23). (The letter contained the apostles’ decision that gentiles did not — as some had been saying — need to become Jews in order to be saved.)

The claim to fame of these two men is, however, that they “said much to encourage and strengthen” the Christians in Antioch. To encourage is parakaleo — from which comes the noun parakletos that Jesus uses as a name for the Holy Spirit … the Comforter, the Counsellor, the Helper, the Advocate (John 14.16). He is one called (kaleo) alongside (para) to help, support, defend and sustain, which is the work Judas and Silas undertook for some time in the Antioch church.

To strengthen is episterizo which literally means to stand (sterizo) someone or something firmly upon (epi) something else. It means to confirm or establish, and this also was what Judas and Silas were doing in Antioch.

The words taken together paint a lovely picture of these two men getting alongside these gentile Christians and building them up in the faith, applauding their progress, grounding them in the solid truths of the gospel, showing them how to use their God-given gifts in the service of the kingdom, and gently correcting them where they were in error. It was, in fact, the very work that the Lord Jesus commissioned me to do two decades ago when he called me into the church in which I have stayed to this day. These are the words he gave me — words which I wrote down and then framed so as to be constantly reminded of them —

Fan the ember wherever you see it glowing.
Water the shoot wherever you see it growing.
Clear the stream wherever you see it flowing.
Nurture, cherish, prize …
But never neglect the sowing.

It is a ministry I constantly try to carry out in God’s strength among his people here at St James Church in Bradford, and count it a joy and privilege to do so. As a young Christian, I used to dream of being a great evangelist, addressing huge crowds of people and seeing thousands turning to Christ; but now I am very content to do the work of Judas and Silas — a work of encouragement and strengthening.

Lord Jesus, thank you for the work to which you have called me. Keep me true and faithful in carrying it out, and let it bear fruit for the kingdom. Amen.

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