Early in the book of Acts we read about the benevolent spirit of the early saints in Jerusalem, as they helped take care of one another’s material needs. The first time that we read of members of the church sending material assistance to Christians in another area is in Acts 11:27-30. There we read:
(27) And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. (28) Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar. (29) Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea. (30) This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.
- What was the occasion? What necessitated the need to send relief? “. . . there was going to be a great famine . . .” (11:28), and obviously it would have a great influence on people’s daily lives.
- How were the brethren certain that such a need existed? Agabus, a prophet, was guided by the Holy Spirit to reveal the news of the famine (11:28).
- When in history did this circumstance exist? The famine occurred in the days of Claudius Caesar, emperor of the Roman Empire (11:28). He ruled over Rome in the years A.D. 41-54. The warning about the coming famine and the Antioch saints’ generous response to the need for material aid took place in the early 40’s A.D., as the events recorded at the tail end of chapter eleven preceded the beginning of Paul’s first-recorded preaching journey, which most likely began in A.D. 44-45.
- How did each contributor in the Antioch church do his giving? “. . . each according to his ability” (11:29). We are reminded that in our giving, “. . . it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have” (2 Corinthians 8:12). It is not a competition with other disciples: each has an individual ability to give.
- Did the Antioch brethren only talk about taking action, or did they actually do something? The Bible text says that they “determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea” (11:29). At some later point, they did it! (11:30). In some instances, we may discuss carrying out an action. We may make a verbal commitment to do it, write it down, and make an official announcement that such and such is going to happen. There comes a time, however, like Paul reminded the brethren who had made a commitment to participate in a good work, when planning and talking need to cease and we “must complete the doing of it” (2 Corinthians 8:11).
- What kind of “relief” did the brethren send? “Relief” is from the Greek word “διακονία/ diakonia,” which means ministry/service. In Acts 6:4, this idea was “the ministry of the word,” but here in Acts 11:29 the “relief/service” that was sent appears to have been material assistance, either in the form of goods-supplies or funds.
- To what geographic area was the relief sent? To the brethren dwelling in Judea (11:29), which was the territory around Jerusalem in southern Palestine.
- How did the relief get from Antioch to the region of Judea? It was sent “by the hands of Barnabas and Saul” (11:30). Assistance still could be sent in such a fashion today, though such is not necessary, and in many instances there are more convenient, expedient ways of getting the needed supplies or funds to their recipients.
- To which Christians in the Judea area was the relief turned over? It went “to the elders” (11:30). Which elders? Obviously, elders of the church. But, since the Bible does not specify which ones, it is impossible to say whether it refers to the elders of one congregation or the elders of different local churches.
- What eventually happened to the relief that was handed over to the elders? Again, the Bible does not tell us. Yet, since the relief was given by those who wanted it to go to the brethren who were affected by the famine, then we would have to think that famine-affected saints would include more than just the elders who originally received the relief. So, if it got to the intended people, it was distributed to the brethren in Judea who needed assistance.
- Were the saints in Antioch concerned only about people’s physical needs (benevolence), or did they also participate in evangelism as well? They were evangelistic-minded as well, as seen from the labors of Barnabas and Saul, both before and after the relief was sent to Judea (11:24-26; 13:1-3). Although our first thoughts are about teaching or helping those who are close by us, the brethren in Antioch had a spirit that wanted to be helpful to the Lord’s people – it did not matter that those needing help were “not from around here.” They helped them anyway. There are many caring, generous people among God’s children. Thank God for them.
— Roger D. Campbell