By J.R. Miller
After the death of Stephen, the believers in Christ were scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. And as they traveled--they preached. Some of the scattered Christians--men of Cyprus and Cyrene--when they reached Antioch, began to tell of Jesus to the Greeks. These men do not seem to have been ministers or men set apart as preachers. They were what we call laymen. But they were men full of the Holy Spirit and who could not repress within them the fire of love for Christ. We must not think that because we are not ministers or elders or Sunday-school teachers, therefore we have no commission to speak the Word of Christ. Every Christian ought to be a witness for the Lord Jesus wherever he goes. "He who hears, let him say, Come!" Every Christian man and woman, boy and girl, who knows of Christ, should go out and tell of Him, and keep telling of Him all the week.
We know that God blessed their labors, for it is said, "The hand of the Lord was with them." The hand is that with which one works. The hand of the Lord means the power of the Lord. Theses men did not go in their own name, with only their own strength. They had faith in Christ, and wherever they went--Christ went with them and wrought in them. When they spoke, His power was in their words. We must not think that this was simply a blessing for the apostolic days; it was as much for our own days as it was for the time in which this story belongs. Jesus commanded His disciples to go into all the world, to preach the gospel to every living creature, and He gave them the promise, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world."
The hand of the Lord did not work in those days, independently of His disciples. It was not an invisible hand that did the mighty acts. Christ wrought through His disciples. The instrument is human--but the power is divine. Paul tells us in one of his epistles that we are coworkers with God. When He bids us do anything, we are to go and do it, and then He works with us. A mother cannot change her child's heart--but if she teaches it the words of Christ--there is an unseen Hand working with hers, in her words and in the influence of her life, which does the mysterious work upon the child's heart. When a young person goes with a few flowers to a sick room, and speaks a few kind words, doing all in Christ's name--Christ Himself goes, too, and His Spirit works through the beautiful flowers and through the kindly words--to comfort and bless and help the sick person. If only we have faith in Christ and do His will--His hand will always be with us to help us.
News of the activity of these volunteer workers, was taken to Jerusalem, and the church there sent Barnabas to inquire about them. "Who, when he was come, and had seen the grace of God, was glad." Barnabas was glad because he saw that God was working in that church. It should always make a Christian glad--to see people listening to the gospel and accepting its message. We should notice here, that the work which pleased Barnabas was not his own--but that which others had been doing. Sometimes people do not rejoice when they find the work of others blessed and prospering. It makes them envious. This is as bad spirit. Barnabas rejoiced when he saw that the blessing of God attended the work of other preachers, even of plain, common men. We should learn this lesson.
Boys and girls in school should be glad when other members of their class succeed, and should never be envious of them. Teachers should rejoice when they see the class of another teacher growing, interested and prosperous. Business and professional men should be pleased when they hear that associates are doing well. The success of others should never make us envious. It should only stimulate us to do better work ourselves if we possibly can.
Barnabas was glad to cooperate with the workers whom he had been sent to investigate. "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." This was good counsel. They had begun well, listening to the voice of the preachers, and accepting Jesus Christ. But beginning well was not enough. They must continue to follow Christ. They must cleave unto the Lord. The words are very suggestive. They must not let go their hold upon Christ. There would be many things, which would try their faith--but they must still cling to Christ.
Mere emotion is of small account in this world, where life is ofttimes so hard. It takes purpose, fixed purpose, to enable one to continue faithful. We have an example of purpose in Daniel--he purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the king's rich food and drink. He made the purpose--and he stuck to it. It is quite important that young Christians should have purpose, purpose of heart, and that they shall cleave to the Lord through all temptation, through all that might loosen their hold or tend to draw them away from Christ.
The passage gives a word of commendation concerning Barnabas. It is not often that the Bible pays compliments. It tells the good things men do--but it says very little about the men in the way of praise or commendation. Here is an exception however. The Book says Barnabas was a good man. Goodness is better than greatness. When Walter Scott was dying, he said to a friend who stood by him, "Be a good man." Many men are great and not good. Their fame is widespread, and their names go everywhere--but they are not good. Goodness is Godlikeness. A good man is patient, gentle, kindly, humble. All the Beatitudes live in him and work out their beauty in him. He is full of gentle ministries--Jesus went about doing good. Whatever else we may be or may not be in this world, we should all try to be good. Thus we shall please God and bless the world.
Barnabas showed his goodness and faith by going after Saul. Together they remained in Antioch, helping the people. For a year they labored. This work was successful. Many believed.
"The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch." Acts 11:26. The lives of the converts were so different from their unbelieving neighbors, that they were called Christians. It is supposed that the name was given them in mockery or contempt by the heathen people of Antioch. The name was so continually upon their lips--that those who heard them began in jest, to call them "Christians." But the name stuck, and is now used universally to describe those who follow Christ. It may not be the very best of names.
Perhaps disciple is better--disciples means learners, followers. We should all be disciples of Christ and should ever be learning of Him, growing in grace and likeness of Him as we follow Him.
Perhaps believers is a better name. It carries in itself the thought that we are saved by believing on Christ. It is faith which works the victories in this world.
Perhaps followers would be better. To follow Christ is to receive Him as Master and to cling to Him in obedience and devotion wherever we may go.
But the word "Christian," given at Antioch as a sneer--is now used everywhere. It is full of meaning. Those who are Christians should be like Christ--"little Christs". They should represent Christ in the world. Those who see them--should see the image of Christ in them!
Matthew Henry says, "Hitherto the followers of Christ were called disciples, that is, learners, scholars; but from that time they were called Christians. The proper meaning of this name is, a follower of Christ; it denotes one who, from serious thought, embraces the religion of Christ, believes His promises, and makes it his chief care to shape his life by Christ's precepts and example. Hence it is plain that multitudes take the name of Christian--to whom it does not rightly belong! But the name without the reality will only add to our guilt. While the bare profession will bestow neither profit nor delight, the possession of it will give both the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come."