I had a particular music history professor in college who was notoriously difficult when it came to grades. Not exactly understanding that everyone else was not a genius like he was (with a Ph.D. from Berkeley at age 24), he explained his grading philosophy on the first day of class.
“If you do all of the work I prescribe and do it accurately and well, you will get a “C” grade. A “C” is a good grade – it says you did all of the work you were supposed to do. If you do all of that plus a good bit more, you may be able to earn a “B”. And if you do all of that, plus teach me something that I don’t already know, I’ll give you an “A” … although no student has yet to get one of them from me.”
Y’all know how competitive I am, and I determined to get an “A” from him in one of the five classes I would have to take that only he taught. I think I got a pair of “C” grades and one “B” in the first three semesters. By the fourth semester I had figured out some music analysis patterns that he liked, and in a major paper and presentation on Tchaikovsky I was able to prove to the prof that several melodic themes in two of the composer’s symphonies indeed had roots in Russian folk music rather than merely western influences. I got an “A-” for the semester, though another student a year ahead of me got the first full “A.”
We live in a place and time where persecution for our faith is not terribly profound, though it is true that Christians are increasingly becoming a hated minority. But if we are affected in some way – like being overlooked for a promotion because the boss resents our belief system – we think we are going above and beyond in the Christian experience … surely deserving a “B” or an “A.” However, the actual truth is that opposition, ridicule and persecution are to be seen as normal in the Christian life. Jesus said that just as the world persecuted him, they would persecute his followers. Paul said to the Philippians that it was a sort of gift or blessing to suffer for our faith … Philippians 1:29 – For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him.
We have seen the persecutions suffered by Paul already on this, his first missionary journey. He and Barnabas retrace their steps back toward the sending church at Antioch in Syria. Along the way they encourage their new believers, set them up for success in local church experience, and tell them that they should expect the Christian life to be filled with difficulties and hardships.
The Return to Antioch in Syria
Acts 14:21 – They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. 23 Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. 24 After going through Pisidia, they came into Pamphylia, 25 and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia.
Acts 14:26 – From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. 27 On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they stayed there a long time with the disciples.
What an amazing gathering that must have been back in Antioch, home with the brothers who had sent them out to share the gospel, even while not having much of any idea how to do it or what it might look like. They simply obeyed God’s directive to GO and to be SENT. Imagine the stories that poured out of Barnabas and Paul … like about getting stoned and dragged out of town presumably dead! … or telling how people thought they were Zeus and began sacrificing to them! The most interesting report had to be the fact and manner by which the gospel was massively spreading to the Gentiles.
This was the beginning of the worldwide expanse of the gospel and the church. Over the last 2,000 years, missionaries have been SENT and have been GOING to the corners of the earth with the same message and goal of growing the body of Christ. We do the same. We are involved in much the same sort of worldwide endeavor. Our efforts as a church extend to places like Kazakhstan and Thailand and Togo and Brazil.
It is the most wonderful privilege to have the joy of partnering in this eternal work. There should be a place in the corner of every Christian’s heart for the corners of the earth where the gospel is being preached. After church in just two weeks on the 16th, we are going to have a luncheon to hear about our partnering work in both Spain and Kyrgyzstan. Don’t miss being a part of this. Parts of your giving dollars go to these works, so invest also with parts of your heart. Christians have been doing this for two millennia.