Tom Rush, staff evangelist
Liberty Baptist Church, Hartwell
There are two things that should encourage the church – the saving of souls and the planting of new churches – whose purpose is saving souls! The church at Antioch became the center of a great church planting movement. What joy this brought to the Lord and what an encouragement to the church.
Persecution became the catalyst for this great movement. The believing Jews set out to reach their fellow countrymen who had been scattered. The particular locations mentioned in the text had been reached by Philip the Evangelist earlier. Now there was a specific effort to reach out to the Jews dispersed in these areas with the Gospel.
The encouragement of Jesus preaching (vv. 19-21)
A daring venture with divine vindication took place in Antioch. A wicked city in need of revival, much like many of our cities here in America, was blessed to have forward looking and faithful living believers decide to take the gospel to the Gentiles. Peter had set the example in Caesarea (Acts 10). They began “preaching the Lord Jesus” to the “Hellenists.” As such, this location became that of the first major effort at world evangelization.
That God was pleased with this effort is noted in verse 21, “And the hand of the Lord was with them.” Whenever we preach Jesus we can be certain that God will be pleased and that He will be with us. In this case, the Lord greatly blessed with a harvest of new souls for the kingdom, “And a great number believed and turned to the Lord.”
What kind of encouragement would your church receive if more members were obedient to the call of God to preach Jesus and as a result were to see a “great number” of unbelievers saved? When the church wins souls the issues that may have previously caused division will pale in comparison.
The encouragement of a joyful purpose (vv. 22-24)
The church in Jerusalem heard the news of the revival that had broken out in Antioch and other Gentile areas so they dispatched Barnabas to go and check it out. Not a better person could have been selected. He was a man of wisdom with a winsome personality and he was biblically perceptive.
The spread of the gospel to the Gentiles was challenging the early traditions of the church. Because Barnabas was an encourager he was not prone to criticism or protectiveness. He knew that “God [had] granted to the Gentiles, repentance to life” (18:11).
When he arrived he rejoiced at what the “grace of God” had done. He did realize the danger, however, in “easy believism.” He understood that a genuine profession of faith in Christ would be evidenced by a life of holiness and surrender to the lordship of Christ.
He was “glad” at what God was doing and so “encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord” (v. 23). The Christian life is most encouraging when lived with “purpose of heart.” This speaks of dedication. The NAS uses the phrase, “with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord.”
Barnabas encouraged the new believers to come to a whole-hearted devotion to the Lord. He wanted them living with a joyful purpose to their lives! He understood that living a devoted life is not something you have to do, it is something you get to do, with the help of the Holy Spirit. Verse 24 shows that Barnabas was encouraging them to be the very kind of Christian that he was, “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.”
With such a joyful purpose and encouraging outreach to others it is no wonder that, “a great many people were added to the Lord.” When there is solid teaching of the Word the saints will of natural course have a strong witness to others. What could happen in your church if more of the members lived with a joyful purpose?
The encouragement of a justified people (vv. 25-26)
When Barnabas had fully assessed the situation in Antioch he knew that he was going to need help teaching these new converts to the faith. Sadly, if God were to send a great revival to many of our churches they would be totally unprepared to disciple them. We must remember that the Great Commission includes “teaching them to observe all things that [Jesus has] commanded” (Matt. 28:20).
Evangelism and discipleship must go together. Evangelism creates the need for discipleship and discipleship fuels the impetus for further evangelistic efforts. You cannot be successful at one if you are not also doing the other.
So Barnabas seeks out Saul, soon to be given the name Paul. Saul had been commissioned to go to the Gentiles (9:15) and Barnabas was well aware of this. For some time Saul had been back in his home town of Tarsus. The word “seek” in verse 25 carries the idea of a diligent search. It was no easy task but God had laid this man on Barnabas’ heart and he sought for him and then brought him to Antioch.
For a full year these two men of God “taught a great many people.” These people were justified. They had been saved and made right with God. What an encouragement it is when people are getting right with God! Saul and Barnabas took them on the next logical step of the journey, sanctification.
When justified people of God are growing in the grace and knowledge of their Lord they will be encouraged, they will encourage others and they will be real Christians. It is no accident that “the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (v. 26). To be a real Christian and to be recognized as one is most encouraging!
 See John Phillips, “Exploring Acts,” Vol. 1 (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 216-220.