By Jimmy R. Mickells
“And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. 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. Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea. This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul” (Acts 11:27-30).
I read an article recently where a brother in Christ was trying to justify one church helping another church in the work of evangelism. He used this passage (Acts 11:27-30) in an effort to prove his point. He said, “What does this prove? It proves that the church in Antioch sent support to the churches in Judea. Does it prove just for what purpose the church needed the funds? Did they have to account for every dime of the gift and show that it was not used in any way to preach the Gospel?” He went on to say, “So what does the passage prove? Just what has already been mentioned, they helped a church in need! What did that need include? We do not know, nor do they (non-institutional churches, JRM).”
Can we not tell from these verses what the need was? Did the church in Antioch send relief to help the brethren in Judea do their work in evangelism? Notice with me some of the things that are mentioned in this verse.
Luke says that there was a prophet, named Agabus, which came from Jerusalem to Antioch. He told these brethren, by the Spirit (under the direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit), that there was going to be a great famine throughout the entire world. The word “famine” is defined as “scarcity of harvest, famine” (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 378). Bullinger says in his word study, “failure, want, esp. of food, hence, hunger, famine” (A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament, p. 207). It sure sounds like the church in Antioch knew exactly why they were sending these funds to the brethren in Judea, to provide the benevolent needs of the saints because of the famine that would be in the land. That’s what the text says.
Upon receiving this information from Agabus, the disciples in Judea were willing and ready to aid their brethren from Judea. In verse 29, the text says, they sent relief to those saints who would be in need when the famine struck. Mr. Thayer defines the word “relief” as “the ministration of those who render to others the offices of Christian affection especially those who succor need by either collecting or bestowing benefaction; the care of the poor, the supplying or distributing of charities; to send a thing to one for the relief of want [A. V. to send relief unto], Acts 11:29” (ibid, p.. 137 & 138).
For one to make a statement that we cannot know what the needs of the brethren were in Judea, then to imply that those needs could have been the work in preaching the gospel, is to simply misrepresent what the text says. Some will go to extremes in an effort to prove what they want to believe .and teach. The needs that these brethren would have when the famine came would be of a physical nature. Relief was sent by the hands of Barnabas and Saul, delivered to the elders, so that these needs could be provided for.
In Acts 12:25, we read, “And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their ministry, and they also took with them John whose surname was Mark.” These men had done the work they had been selected to do in Jerusalem and now returned to Antioch. The word “ministry” that is used in this verse is the same Greek word that is translated “relief” in Acts 11:29. They had taken that which was collected by the brethren in Antioch, traveled to Jerusalem, bringing this relief to supply the needs for the saints when faced with this great famine.
It seems to me that for one to try and justify one church helping another in the work of evangelism, some other verse must be cited to prove that point. This text (Acts 11:27-30) certainly does not teach such.