Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
To end this week’s reflection on trust and generosity, let’s consider the church in Antioch.
We have no “Epistle to Antioch” as we do for some of the other early churches. What we know of these ancient brothers and sisters must be sewn together from various mentions in Acts and elsewhere.
We do know that this foundational Christian community was planted in a thriving Jewish community in one of the largest trade cities of the Roman world. Fleeing intense persecution in Jerusalem, Christ-following Jews spread the good news of Jesus as they left the city and traveled through the region. At first, news of the Messiah was offered only to Jewish communities in these cities. But in Antioch, both Jewish and Greek men and women believed—and the Church of Antioch was born. It was here Jesus followers were first called “Christians” (Acts 11:26).
News of the “Christians” got back to Jerusalem, and the leaders sent Barnabas to encourage them and see what God was doing (Acts 11:23-24). Barnabas went to Tarsus, found Saul (Paul), and brought him back to Antioch where for a year the two men worked with the church.
Given the early diversity of Jew and Greek, it’s no surprise that Antioch is where much of the now-famous conflict over Gentile inclusion took place. Paul and Peter argued over how to handle shared meals (Galatians 2:11-14) and other leaders argued that circumcision of Gentiles was necessary for their salvation. As a result, it was Antioch believers who paved the way for so many of us today to sit at Jesus’ table. And when a region-wide famine was imminent, the Christians in Antioch gathered an offering to send back with Barnabas and Saul.
There is little we know about these men and women first called “Christians.” But we know they were early converts who heard the news of Jesus because of persecution, and built one of the first Jesus-following community consisting of both Jews and Gentiles. As a result, there was conflict—but they continued to press in, to give generously to each other and to the larger church.
Questions for reflection and discussion: What strikes you about the Christians in Antioch? What questions do you have? How do we see trust and generosity in their community life? What can we learn from them?
Church Bible Reading Plan: 2 Samuel 11; 2 Corinthians 4
Saturday, September 16: 2 Samuel 12; 2 Corinthians 5
Sunday, September 17: 2 Samuel 13; 2 Corinthians 6