Midrand Chapel Icon
Midrand Chapel Baptist Church
Sermon Resources

Fruitfulness in Famine



Main Scriptures
Series: Acts
Book: Acts
Scripture References

Fruitfulness in Famine (Acts 11:19-30)


5 characteristics of a church that is fruitful in the midst of famine:

1.     An Divinely Empowered Church

2.     A Gospel Preaching Church

3.     A Sacrificially Loving church

4.     A Humble Teachable Church

5.     A Christ Saturated Church


The Context of our Country

I’ve entitled this message, “Fruitfulness in Famine…”

We all know that things are not going very well in our country at the moment.

·      Racial and political tensions are rising, unemployment is rising, national debt is rising and the economy us under severe pressure

·      Corruption is rife at every level and whole municipalities are literally bankrupt.

·      Immorality and lawlessness are rampant all around and violence and crime is a daily occurrence.

·      The religious landscape offers no encouragement with the prosperity preachers representing the largest and fastest growing form of religion.

·      Our neighbouring countries are no better off. More than one Zimbabwean has said that this is the hardest time they have had yet, and coming from Zimbabweans that is saying something. Mozambique is recovering from cyclone Idai and Malawi is still one of the poorest countries in the world with 12 million of its 16 million citizens living below the international poverty line.

Humanly speaking the situation is dire and depressing. Humanly speaking there is not much to rejoice over and not many places to lay hold of hope.

But as Christians we need to see as God sees, we need to look at our world through God’s eyes and set ourselves to serve God’s purposes in whatever context He places us.

Second Century Outlook

The situation for first century Christians was a lot worse than ours:

·      Roman power was beginning to unravel as the empire became overextended. The people were caught up in one political power struggle after the other as emperors and governors vied to secure their power base.

·      Immorality was rampant and Roman society was literally being eaten away from the inside out as they gave themselves over to unbridled passion.

·      The gap between rich and poor was far worse – half the citizens are Rome are believed to have been slaves

·      And persecution of Christians was growing. This is the empire that would come up with the Colosseum where Christians would be brutally killed for entertainment.

Into this context God breathes hope by giving Christians a view from His vantage point. That is what the book of Acts is all about – to inspire our faith, our confidence in the gospel message and what God is doing through it. By showing us how Christ is building His church even while the world around is collapsing into chaos.

So from this morning’s text – 5 features of a fruitful church – particularly, a church that is fruitful in famine

1.   An Divinely Empowered Church

2.   A Gospel Preaching Church

3.   A Sacrifically Loving church

4.   A Humble Teachable Church

5.   A Christ Saturated Church


Read Acts 11:19-30


If we are going to be able to see God at work in us and through us despite what might be happening politically or socially or economically – then where must we look and what must we see?

5 features of a fruitful church


In the context of the narrative this passage is showing the next phase in the development of God’s plan to create a church from all nations for all nations.

The first thing to note in the text is that God’s hand is evident in everything that unfolds. The church is not growing and expanding and going to all nations because of the great vision and strategy and program of the early church, but because the hand of God is upon them whatever they do and wherever they go.

·      11:19: It was in response to persecution that the believers were scattered from Jerusalem. They didn’t go in response to the missionary call – but God sent them out anyway and God used them anyway.

·      11:21 The hand of the Lord was upon them

·      11:23 The grace of God was with them

·      11:24 Their leaders were full of God’s Spirit and faith

·      11:25 Saul is a major blessing to the church – but remember He was the church’s greatest enemy until Christ literally stopped him in his tracks and recommissioned him to gospel ministry

This is what God is doing more than what man is doing and that should encourage our faith. God is in control, He is even able to turn persecution into an opportunity for evangelism and missions. The very thing which seemed to be breaking the church down and threatening undo it – was the very thing that God was using to strengthen and expand the church.



God’s Famine for Good (11:28)

Even the sovereign acts of God that appear to us to be acts of judgment, which bring only hardship and difficulty – even these things are being used by God to build and strengthen His church.

11:28: There is going to be a great famine over all the world. As if things were not difficult enough as it is, now God brings natural calamities into the picture as well! Scripture is clear that famine is the product of geological climate shifts which are not merely the product of random chance, or the impersonal whims of mother nature – but are under the direct, sovereign, providential hand of our loving Father.

Why would God bring famine into the land – well God has multiple reasons, but the book of Acts gives us insight into one – for the good of His church. We say, but how is the church going to benefit from this material, physical struggle? Believers will go hungry, the church will lack resources and be financially strapped just putting food on the table…

This information is in the narrative for a reason. What has dominating the last 2 chapters? The church struggling with their prejudice, struggling to accept that God is not showing partiality but is drawing people from all nations and cultures into one body in Christ. Earlier in this chapter we saw how the church was literally forced to accept – they start off rebuking Peter for even associating with the Gentiles and by 11:18 – they finally quieted down and accepted the incontrovertible evidence that Peter gave to show that God had accepted the Gentiles by giving them the same Spirit.

But thenGod sends a famine upon the land and gives these brand new Gentile converts an opportunity to demonstrate genuine, sacrificial love toward their fellow Jewish brethren in Judea.

That outstretched arm of sacrificial love went a long way in the context of famine and struggle to unite the early church into one body – meeting in different places, speaking different languages with different cultural barriers – and yet showing equal love and concern for each other.

What good does God intend to bring about through famine? Here we have some divine insight – He intends to build His church in whatever He is doing.

Application – have hope

We should take courage from this. Christ is building His church and the gates of hell itself will not prevail over her. Though things might seem like they are out of control and God is absent – yet if we are looking in the right places we will see God’s hand at work.

11:23 Barnabas came down and what did HE see? He didn’t see a straggling band of struggling believers who had been beaten down by persecution and had lost all hope and faith in God. Humanly speaking that is what he might have seen – but what He did see was the grace of God, the power of God at work, the hand of God upon them.

Antioch was a significant city in the Roman empire, third in significance after Rome itself and Alexandria. Here, God establishes a growing, thriving church and by Acts 13 they become the first church to send out missionaries to the Gentile world.

What a testimony to God’s power, God’s hand, God’s grace in the midst of difficulty and turmoil – that is where we must look and what we must see….1: A Divinely Empowered Church


2: A gospel preaching Church (11:19-20)

As I mentioned, these believers were not going out in response to the missionary call – they were fleeing persecution. But they did one thing right as they went – The thing:

·      They continued to speak the word. They travelled, they went – that is the finite verb in 11:19 but as they went, wherever they went, as they were going – they spoke. Present active plural participle.

Present = This is what characterized their travels,

Active = this was what they actively did as a pattern of life,

Plural = this is what all of them did – that’s the pattern of life of these first believers – to speak God’s Word

·      In vs 20 we are told what was the focus of that speaking = the Lord Jesus Christ.

o  Some translations say “preach” or “proclaim” but that brings up images in our minds of pulpits and people standing on the street corners with megaphones.

o  The Greek word is “evangelizo.” They evangelized. They brought the message of the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ wherever they went – each of them, wherever they went, whatever they were doing, were active in speaking to others about Jesus.


Application: Does that characterize our churc

Does it characterize your life? It doesn’t characterize mine….lets stop making excuses and repent. Who will you speak to about Jesus this week? Stop now and let God’s Spirit bring a name into your mind.

·      11:19 make the point that they spoke to Jews only. This was probably due to some of the prejudice that God has been breaking down in Acts 10-11. Practically speaking, the first Jewish believers would have had little to nothing to do with those immoral pagan unbelievers. So they were speaking about Jesus to those they had daily contact with.

·      But vs 20 notes – some of them went out of their way. The text notes that these were men of Cyprus and Cyrene. Cyprus was an island off the coast of Judea and Cyrene was down in North Africa. So these men came from regions which were permeated by Greeks and the Greek way of life. They grew up immersed in pagan culture, probably learned the Greek language and adopted many aspects of Greek culture themselves. So because of this upbringing and background they probably bridged the gap more easily than some of the more thoroughly Jewish Jews.

o  And God used them to bring the good news to the Gentiles, not by way of miraculous, supernatural visions and angelic visitors – as we saw with Cornelius, but just by way of ordinary believers evangelizing, speaking about Jesus and sin and salvation as they went about their daily life.

o  And they saw fruit because God was with them as they went about their gospel work

Speak about Jesus

We all need to speak about Jesus wherever we go an whatever we do. In our own little way, our seemingly insignificant efforts are used by God. In this case to light the fire of the greatest mission sending church of the first century.

·      And each of us have a unique background and language and culture and upbringing that God has fashioned because of how He wants to use us.

·      Some of you are much more comfortable at crossing the gaps of culture and language. Some of you speak 5 different languages and relate more easily to people of different economic levels – these are gifts from God to be used to build His church.

·      Make yourself useful! Be fruitful in this famine land!

This is what characterizes the church fruitfulness in famine =

1.   An Divinely Empowered Church

2.   A Gospel Preaching Church


3: A sacricial, LOVING church (11:25)

In 11:22 the church at Jerusalem hears the news about Gentiles coming to faith at Antioch and they are interested and burdened for these believers whom they now know are part of the same body. These are brother and sisters in Christ – so they release resources, they make sacrifices to send the best man for the Job.


Jerusalem loves Antioch

There is reciprocal love between these local churches. Later we will see Antioch sending physical, material help to the churches in Judea – here we see that Jerusalem had spiritual resources which they were prepared to go without and send the best of them.

·      Barnabas was a leader of the church in Jerusalem

·      He was amongst those who had sold his property and given the money to meet needs in the church there.

·      He was from Cyrene – so he was of the first Hellenist converts himself. A man who was familiar with Greek culture and probably had connections with people coming from the same area.

·      Again, his background and upbringing formed part of the picture of how God was going to use him.

·      But he was also according to 11:24 a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith. He had nurtured godliness and brotherly kindness and love by the power of the Spirit and so the fruit of the Spirit’s work could be seen in his life.

·      Often we are not useful to the Lord because we are not spiritually qualified. Our lives are more characterized by sin and fear and selfishness than by goodness and love and faith.

·      Are your cultivating goodness and kindness and faith and love in your life – so that you can be useful to God?

Antioch Love Judea (11:29)

Antioch are like spiritual dwarfs compared to Jerusalem, they don’t have much to offer by way of gifted teachers, they are needing to be taught. But they are part of one of the largest commercial hubs of the first century. They have financial means.

11:20 Each give in proportion to their means. That’s a wonderful picture of how sacrificial love works in the church. We can’t give what we don’t have, but we do give out of what we do have.

·      For some its time, for others its money, for others they give of their abilities and talents.

·      God has given each one a different gift for the good of His church. Different opportunities and means, not so that we can compete and compare and envy and hate – but so that we can complement one another in love.

·      Your abundance can supply my need at this time and at another time my abundance supplies your need.

·      That should be the principles of operation as we relate to each other as individual believers and as we relate across local churches.

So selfish

We can be so selfish as local churches, with the resources that God has given us. I thank God that this church has always been characterized by generosity. This is honestly our testimony. For most of this church’s existence we have given nearly half our budget to missions and church planting and things that don’t benefit or build up ourselves. When we make a need known in the church – people are so generous and sacrificial. Last year when we raised the need in Zimbabwe, money and groceries poured in We raised over R15k of groceries in a few weeks and sent them to a fellow church in need – what a privilege!

May we never lose sight of the grace of God at work among us – God has graced us, given us what we don’t deserve, so that we can be gracious and giving toward others.


4: A HUMBLE teachable CHURCH (11:25-26)

There are 2 things going on here which I think are amazing.




Humility of Barnabas

Firstly, Barnabas comes to this church and rejoices to see the hand of God among them, the grace of God at work. He sees a great door has been opened for effective ministry – and he’s not selfish about it, he is not trying to build his own empire and show what a great mega church he can build.

If ever there was an opportunity to build a large, rich, prominent mega church around one man – this was it. Look at 11:24 – this is the dream of every gospel preacher – great many people were coming to the Lord. The church was growing and expanding and Barnabas could have set himself up as THE MAN. The man of God, the great preacher who had build and founded this growing, influential mega church… but he doesn’t.

He recognizes his own limitations. He knows the superior gifts and calling of Paul and so he sends for him. Saul is from Tarsus which is relatively close to Antioch and Barnabas and Saul had met back in Acts 9. When Paul had come down to Jersualem and was receiving the cold shoulder rather than the right hand of fellowship, it was Barnabas who brought him to the leaders of the Jerusalem church and vouched for his character and conversion.


Antioch are humble

So Barnabas is humble and Antioch are humble, which is shown in how teachable they are. These are people of some prominence and material means. Paul is a Jewish Rabbi, converted and now defamed. Paul is not this famous missionary at this stage- he’s a nobody about whom everyone has question marks. Neither Jews nor Christians know if they can really trust him.

But these believers are teachable. 11:26 for an entire year they soak up every bit of biblical teaching and gospel preaching that they can get. Again, God is going to use this church greatly in His mission, but this church are putting themselves in a place to be useful. They are not just about programs or appearance, or saving face by not appearing ignorant.

The Gentiles didn’t have the same background and Bible knowledge as the Jews who grew up steeped in Biblical traditions and teaching. The average 10 year old Jewish boy would have know far more about God and His Word than any Gentile convert. So they had a lot of catching up to do, but they apply themselves and put themselves in a place to learn and grow.

Are you teachable?  

Are you teachable? Do you hunger for God’s word and put yourselves in a place to learn and be taught? Do you set aside time and make effort to continue learning and growing in the truth? This characterizes those who become useful to God and fruitful in His work.

1.   An Divinely Empowered Church

2.   A Gospel Preaching Church

3.   A sacrificial loving church

4.   A humble teachable church

These are the characteristics of a church that is fruitful in famine, that God will use to build His church in our generation.


5: a christ saturated church (11:26)

Lastly, they were Christ-centered.

11:26 says that disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.

·      Normally believers were known as disciples, or brothers, or saints, but here at Antioch they began to get a reputation and take on a name that would stick and would become the most widely used and accepted designation for believers all over the world – Christians.

·      It was probably first used in a derogatory manner.  Augustinians or Herodians were called as such because of their loyalty and devotion to Augustus or Herod.  That Greek ending designates “little Herods” or Herod’s devotees. There were parties who would parade the streets proclaiming the praises of Augustus, and they would wear his emblems, worship him and even stamp their possessions with his image.  They were Augustus fanatics, Augustus worshippers whose whole life revolved around and was lived for the advancement of Augustus Ceasar.

·      I think that is the idea and intention behind the designation “Christian.” These are people who are fanatics about Christ. He is all they want to speak about. Their whole lives revolve around Christ and are lived for Christ. Their loyalties are toward Christ, their worship is reserved for Christ, and their character is modelled after Christ – they are Christians.

·      What the unbelieving world ridiculed, believers adopted with pride. As their lost family and friends said with disdain, “You Christians!” The believers replied – exactly! Amen!


Don’t you want to be a part of a church, a community a divine plan to turn the world upside down, actually right side up – so that the glory of Christ fill the horizon and captivates the heart of people everywhere? Don’t you want to be a part of something that the rest of the world just cannot ignore because God is so obviously for it and Christ so obviously in it.

Even if this country completely falls apart and life here becomes almost unbearable – I will be rejoicing if I get to be a part of this kind of community and this kind of gospel witness in the midst of the chaos.

Then let us pray and labour to see that these things characterize our lives and our church

1.   God’s Enabling

2.   Gospel evangelizing

3.   Sacrificial love

4.   Humble teachability

5.   Devotion to Christ