Acts 11:23, 26 When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.
The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch
Many things about the church in Antioch were significant. For one thing, it was the first place where evangelism was intentionally done toward Gentiles, as verse 20 makes clear. Despite Peter’s testimony to the church in Jerusalem, this still raised enough suspicions that Barnabas was sent to check things out, and this is the result. It was obviously God’s plan that he was sent, since Barnabas was actually a nickname that means “Son of Encouragement.” (Acts 4:36) God didn’t want to squash the Gentile believers, He wanted to encourage them, and that is what Barnabas did. It’s important to note just what he encouraged them to do: remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. New believers are generally pretty “pumped” in their new-found faith (which is why they make the most effective evangelists) but the devil wastes no time in attacking them and seeking to cool them off. All Christians should be intentional in remaining true to the Lord. Obviously the believers in Antioch took Barnabas’ encouragement to heart, because their faithfulness to Christ caused people to start calling them Christians, that is, people of Christ. Evidence is that up until then, believers were simply called “People of the Way.” (That was probably from Jesus’ famous statement that He was the way to the Father (John 14:6) and was probably Jack Hayford’s inspiration for naming his church, Church on the Way.) These believers were so focused on Christ, talking about Him all the time, that it became their collective name. Would we honestly earn that name today? In Iwate Prefecture in northern Japan there is a tale that Jesus came there, married a Japanese woman, and is buried there. I feel very sure that person was a Nestorian missionary from China who talked about Jesus so much that the locals assigned that name to him, very much like what happened in Antioch. We too need to be such “Christ persons” that people can’t know us without knowing about Jesus.
This is both significant and timely for me. With a newly-baptized believer, I need to encourage him just as Barnabas did, and allow him to be a stimulus for all the other believers. At the same time, thinking about the missionary in Iwate, I realize that conversions aren’t automatic, no matter how focused on Christ we are. However many people did believe because of his message, their numbers never reached critical mass to spread out over the whole region and nation. I’ve got to be faithful at every task that is given to me, but at the same time realize that salvation is God’s business, and not get fixated on numbers. I just need to be sure the label, People of Christ, is fully appropriate for all in this church.
Father, thank You for this reminder. If this is to be the foundation for Sunday’s message, show me what You want to say and how You want it said. May we indeed be and say and do exactly what You intend, for the salvation of many and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!