The Church in Antioch
As we can see in our text today, Luke has directed our attention to the church in Antioch. Now, there are two Antioch’s in the Scripture. There is Antioch Syria and Antioch Pisidia. These are two different cities that share the same founder known as Seleucus Nicanor who named them in honor of his father Antiochus in 300 BC. It was apparently a city of great extent and beauty, with a population of approximately 200,000 people at the time of Paul, but is now described by one source as “a miserable, decaying Turkish town” with about 6,000 people residing within it.
We see that the church was born within this city as a result of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen. Truly, the blood of the Martyrs is the seed of the church. God sovereignly used persecution to propel His gospel and advance His kingdom in Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch. As we can see, however, those who were scattered were speaking the word to no one in these areas except to Jews alone. As Luke says in verse twenty of Acts eleven:
20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus.
There is disagreement here as to whether “the Greeks” here refer to gentiles or to Hellenistic Jews, which we should recall were Jews loyal to Judaism but conformed to Greek way of thought, life, and language. The Greek word used, hellēnistēs, certainly supports the interpretation that these were Hellenistic Jews and not gentiles. There are, however, others who strongly believe these to be gentiles since there is a clear distinction given to whom the gospel was being preached to, and not to mention that Hellenistic Jews were already having the gospel preached to them.
Regardless of whether they were Greeks or Greek speaking Jews, Luke records for us how the hand of the Lord was with the men who preached to the Greeks. That is to say that the power of God was among these men as they proclaimed God’s gospel, and the result was that a large number who believed turned to the Lord, which in turn resulted in the church at Jerusalem hearing about them and sending Barnabas to them.
There are at least two things we should note about Luke’s description of this church in Antioch, and we will look at this somewhat out of order:
- The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
The disciples among this church had the privilege of being called the derogatory title of Chrestus. The implication is that their lives matched up with what their lips were saying. They led lives consistent with the gospel they were taught and believed.
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 among this church demonstrated genuine love for the brethren which manifested itself in generosity.
This is evident in Acts 11:27-30 when Luke says:
“27 Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius. 29 And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea. 30 And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders.”
We are familiar with the teaching of John, “We love because He first loved us.” This is exemplified by the church in Antioch, which will eventually become the great central point in the book of Acts from where the gospel pours forth.
We should understand that these marks were more then just the result of the teaching the church received from Barnabas and Saul for an entire year. I believe the church bore such fruit because they did what Barnabas encouraged them to do, which was to remain true to the Lord.
The Necessity of Encouragement
Now, on a very basic level we see here that Barnabas saw the necessity of encouragement, which is not a surprise since many of us understand that the very meaning of the name Barnabas is son of encouragement. To encourage is to make strong. It is to hearten. It is to fill a person with courage and heart. It is to embolden them to fulfill a duty.
We should understand that genuine encouragement is a necessary work that is vital to the health of every local body of believers, and it is an essential task because discouragement is a frequent reality that plagues the hearts and minds of God’s people. In our fallen state we are prone to experience discouragement. Discouragement comes in all different shapes and sizes. It comes from without the church, but it also sadly comes from within it bringing about great demoralization. Discouragement debilitates the body.
If you ever went to set out to demoralize a church, I will tell you how to do it. If you want to wreak havoc upon the heart and mind of the church, be a discouraging voice and influence. Be an antagonist within it. Stir up contention in strife among people by being a grumbler and disputer. I’m convinced that such people are the reason most men walk away from pastoral ministry. They bring constant chaos into the church and tax the heart and mind of the leadership.
I do not necessarily want to get into the anatomy of such a person, just realize they are generally driven by pride and self-satisfaction though they may not realize it given the pernicious nature of pride. Such people seek to multiply so that they can force their way through number.
If you do not think that even the most minor of antagonisms among God’s people is serious in His eyes, you need to take another survey of the Scripture, especially the Old Testament. Most notably, God’s dealing with Korah, whom he caused to be consumed by the earth along with all who were associated with him.
Being a discouragement to God’s people is a very serious thing to Him who possesses them. Hebrews 10:25 commands us to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together so that we might stir one another to love and good deeds. A grumbler and disputer, however, gathers with people and stirs them to strife. With strife comes both division and discouragement, which is why people would do well to mark such individuals and avoid them.
Please take into consideration the wisdom of the Proverbs. We see its divisive nature in Proverbs 16:28:
“A perverse man spreads strife,
And a slanderer separates intimate friends.”
Its demoralizing tendency is implied in Proverbs 15:4, but before we look at it, think on Proverbs 17:22:
“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.”
Now consider Proverbs 15:4:
“A soothing tongue is a tree of life, but perversion in it crushes the spirit.”
What is a grumbler but a person unrestrained in mind and tongue? With their tongue they crush the spirit of a person causing their bones to dry up. They bring about discouragement and demoralization.
Think on these portions as well. Proverbs 22:10 states:
“Drive out the scoffer, and contention will go out,
Even strife and dishonor will cease.”
“For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down.”
This means that with a whisperer comes contention, and with contention comes strife, and with strife comes discouragement.
It is no wonder the Scripture commands us in Philippians 2:14-16 saying:
“14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing; 15 so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, 16 holding fast the word of life…”
In Hebrews 13:17, a command is specifically given to the church so that the leadership will not be demoralized:
“17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”
Also consider 1 Thessalonians 5:11-15 which says:
“11 Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing. 12 But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, 13 and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another. 14 We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.”
Barnabas saw the necessity of encouragement within the church and so should we. Do not be a person who demoralizes this body. Be a person who puts heart into it.
The Focus of Encouragement
On a deeper level, Barnabas’ encouragement was more than an attempt to lift the moral of the church. It was an exhortation to further lose sight of themselves and to live in Christ. Luke tells us that after he rejoiced at witnessing the grace of God among them, that he, being good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith, began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord. This is an encouragement to fidelity to Jesus.
First, believers must remain true to the Lord because of who He is. He is Christ the Incarnate Deity. He is God clothed in flesh. He is the wise and only Sovereign, the King of kings, and Lord of lords. All things have been created by Him and for Him. The author of Hebrews tells us that:
“He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.”
He is the Head of His body, and the Husband of His bride. He is the true and faithful witness. He not only has the word’s of life, He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He proved it all by rising back to life on the third day never to die again after He rendered Himself as a sin offering for His people. All allegiance belongs to Him. All creatures are to love Him with the totality of their being.
Second, believers must remain true to the Lord because of what He has done for us. He was rich, yet for our sake He became poor so that we through His poverty might become rich. He became a curse for us so that we might have life. He became our sin so that we might become His righteousness. Remember that familiar portion in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 which says:
“14 For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; 15 and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.”
Our lives are not our own. We have been graciously bought with a precious price, which compels us to live to the glory of God out of gratitude for His marvelous grace.
Remain True to the Lord
The church in Antioch was encouraged to remain true to the Lord, and the result was a body of believers that resembled both the life and the love of Christ. So, as Barnabas did with the church in Antioch, I do with you today; remain true to the Lord. It is the greatest endeavor we can ever seek to accomplish for it is our chief aim in life to glorify Him and to enjoy Him forever. Paul said to the Corinthians:
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”
Purpose within yourselves to remain true to Him, for He will always abide with us. Nothing can separate us from His love. He will never leave us nor forsake us. Even when we are faithless, He remains faithful for He cannot deny Himself.
Remember His teaching in John 15, when He says:
“4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”
 Hebrews 1:3
 1 Corinthians 15:58