Saul Moves to Antioch. Acts 11:23-26
“23) Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; 24) for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord. 25) And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; 26) and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” Acts‬ ‭11‬:‭23‬-‭26‬
This text tells the story of the starting of the church at Antioch. According to verses 19-21; it was made up of both Jewish and Gentile believers. When a considerable number of Greeks turned to the Lord, the church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas down to help organize the assembly. (Vs 22)
It is significant that Barnabas “witnessed the grace of God among them.” (Vs 23) The church at Antioch could have easily slipped into carnal legalism. Grace, faith and walking in the Holy Spirit go hand in hand. The next verse builds on this premise.
Good churches are built on good leaders. The text says that Barnabas “was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” I am coming to the place of being leery of any movement that minimizes or marginalizes the ministry of the Holy Spirit. He is our teacher, guide and helper.
Barnabas quickly recognized that there was a regional movement or awakening happening in Antioch. Considerable numbers were brought to the Lord. The challenge was to build disciples of the new believers without quenching what God was doing. Barnabas recognized that he needed help.
It was at this time that he recruited Saul. Having been a former Pharisee, Saul understood Jewish tradition. He was an Old Testament scholar and was skilled at using it to defend the gospel against legalism. God also used him to unpack the doctrine of grace. He was the perfect fit for the blended Jewish/Gentile church in Antioch.
The next year was very busy for Barnabas, Saul and the church at Antioch. It was here, in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians” which basically means “followers of Christ.” (Vs 26). The name was the natural outcome of Saul’s central focus on the person and work of Jesus Christ.
I would argue that Antioch is where the foundational doctrines of the Christian faith were hammered out and applied to daily living. This became the launching pad for the man soon to become known as the Apostle Paul.
Let me emphasize that all people are works in progress. Even Barnabas and Saul were growing in faith and in their understanding of Jesus Christ, the Old Testament Scriptures and their walk in the Spirit. Much personal growth happens in the motion of doing ministry.
If I could go back in time and pick one New Testament church to join, Antioch would be at the top of my list. Corinth would be a close second. These two churches brought evangelism, faith, grace and the walk in the Spirit into focus within a local body of believers. They were on the cutting edge of reaching lost and sinful people from very diverse backgrounds and turning them into fruitful followers of Jesus Christ.
They faced huge challenges, but emerged as healthy congregations. It is noteworthy that both Antioch and Corinth are absent from the letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation. Why? I don’t want to stretch that question too far, but both of these works were real, sincere and effective. They were a healthy marriages between evangelism and disciple making.
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global