So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. 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. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord. The news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. 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; for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord. And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; 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. Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 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. 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. And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders.”
In this section we see the geographical expansion of the early church. “So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen” refersto the great persecution which occurred in Jerusalem after the martyrdom of Stephen. The real key to the outline of the book of Acts is actually based upon the death of Stephen because it was the event that initially caused the scattering of believers into the regions of the known world to evangelize the lost. Luke starts in Acts 11:19 with the death of Stephen and traces Christianity in its expansion to Antioch which is going to become the epicenter of Christianity. Everything started from the death of Stephen. In this particular case the death of Stephen is traced as the basis of the beginning of expansion. People were forced out of Jerusalem. Usually they were believers who were in business, and because of the tremendous persecution and the economic pressures they could no longer conduct any kind of a business in Jerusalem. In other words, they couldn’t make a living there. It was either stay in Jerusalem and starve or move and find other business opportunities.
These believers went in three different directions. They went to Phoenicia and Cyprus, to which Phoenician trade went and then from Cyprus all over the world. The third area was Antioch. As these primarily grace believers left Jerusalem—the legalists stayed around and compromised with the Jews by observing the Mosaic Law. As they went, they went preaching the Lord Jesus. The word “preaching” in this verse is not a word for preaching at all, it is really a word for witnessing. It is the Greek word “laleo,” which means conversational communication. Each of these areas had a large Jewish population and when these believers left Jerusalem they began by witnessing only to the Jews.
When the first believers arrived in Antioch there were no believers in Antioch. From Cyprus and Cyrene believers came to Antioch staying the Gospel with everyone, Jews and Greeks. The Greek word which is used here for a Greek is ellenas (Hellenistic). It was a word used for a Jew who had accepted Greek culture, or anyone with Greek culture, and it is often translated “Grecian.” In this verse are a group of Jewish businessmen who had accepted Christ as Savior, who had learned Bible doctrine, who had oriented to the plan of God. And having oriented to the plan of God, when they go into a new place, they do not simply confine themselves to witnessing to the Jews, they also talked to Gentiles about Christ.
It became a great revival in Antioch as the Gospel was being shared. It was so great that it was heard of 300 miles to the south in Jerusalem and the apostles sent Barnabas to investigate. Barnabas was a grace-oriented man and when he arrived, he rejoiced at what he observed – the grace of God at work and a large number of unbelievers coming to know Jesus Christ as Savior. (Acts 4:36-37)
It took a grace man to recognize grace. Remember that Jerusalem had turned legalistic. But God had a place for a grace man, and Antioch was going to become the headquarters for grace. Barnabas saw this grace operation based on doctrine and when he did he had a response to it in his soul, which was joy. Encourage is the Greek word “parakaleo,” which means to call from an immediate source. The immediate source is doctrine. So the word came to mean to encourage on the basis of Bible doctrine. He encouraged them by communicating doctrine. Doctrine gives purpose and orientation to the plan of God. He encouraged them to walk under the doctrine of the filling of the Spirit.
Verse 24 – The word for “good” is the Greek word “agathos,” which means good of intrinsic value, divine good. Divine good is the result of being filled with the Spirit. So what does it mean to be a good man? It means to be filled with the Holy Spirit and execute the Christian Way of Life. Morality and self-righteousness is not Christianity. Morality is for the entire human race and is connected with the divine institutions. Note the difference between the Jerusalem church and the church at Antioch: legalism and human good versus divine good by means of the filling of the Holy Spirit. Antioch was dynamic; Jerusalem was dead, spiritually. And of faith means Barnabas’s operated under the Faith-Rest Technique. The result of the encouragement of Barnabas was the expansion local church. Antioch was on its way to becoming a great headquarters for missionary effort.
Barnabas knew that Saul of Tarsus had a better understanding of the doctrine of grace. This didn’t bother him at all. Barnabas was totally relaxed about Paul and what had been revealed to him. Remember that he sponsored Saul (Paul) before the apostles in Jerusalem earlier when Saul returned to Jerusalem. (Acts 9:26-27) When Barnabas finally became the leader of the Antioch church he realized exactly what the church needed. They need a grace-oriented doctrinal teacher not some legalistic believer from Jerusalem. He apparently didn’t deem himself qualified to handle the teaching so he went to Tarsus to find Saul (Paul).
“And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; 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.” Before Barnabas brought Saul to Antioch he had to persuade him. This year in Antioch was a year of stabilizing, of establishing the base which would evangelize the entire world in the first century. This was the development of a grace church, and in that same year the Jerusalem church began to go downhill. The teaching of Bible doctrine made the difference in the church at Antioch. There has to be a stabilized base for missions. That is why the local church is a part of God’s plan for missions, but it must be a doctrinally-oriented local church in order to succeed. The believer cannot fulfill the plan of God as an individual apart from doctrine and neither can a local church fulfill the plan of God for itself collectively apart from doctrine.
The fact that they taught considerable numbers means that they had large numbers of converts and they had large numbers of people who were interested in spiritual growth. They did not have the traditional background in the Mosaic Law like the Jewish church in Jerusalem. So they didn’t have legalism, which hindered the spiritual growth in Jerusalem, they were primarily Gentiles of Roman and Greek origin. Because this was primarily a Gentile church it stayed away from the very things that destroyed the Jerusalem church – the Mosaic Law and Jewish tradition.
“And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” The word “Christian” is an interesting word. It is the accepted word today, but who called these disciples in Antioch Christians? Unbelievers called them Christians in derision. “Christian” is simply the Greek word for anointed one, the Greek word for Christ. Christ and Messiah are the same: Messiah is Hebrew and Christ is Greek. The suffix “ian” is Latin and it means to belong to something—those who belong to Christ. The word is used again in Acts 26:28 as a term of contempt from the mouth of Agrippa II. It is also used in I Peter 4:16 in connection with the persecutions of the Roman Empire. The name originates from the Gentile enemies of Christianity, but today is used as a term for anyone who says they follow the teachings of Christ.
Verses 27-28, the ministry of the prophets in Antioch. Jerusalem was the center of the dispensation of Israel but it was not to be the center of the dispensation of the Church. The Church would be made up primarily of Gentiles even though it had a Jewish beginning. It was fitting that Antioch should be the first real headquarters for the Church because of the grace-oriented apostles who started it. Apparently in Jerusalem the grace-oriented believers were led by the prophets; the legalists were led by legalistic apostles who had not yet grasped the entire doctrine of grace though eventually they would.
“Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 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. 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. And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders.” Agabus was a grace-oriented prophet who warned Paul in Acts 21:10-11 not to return to Jerusalem, because out of it would come something that would bind him up. And he was right. So we know he had the legitimate gift of prophecy.
In those days the gift of prophecy was twofold: foretelling and forth-telling. It was primarily forth-telling that was the teaching of doctrine, but foretelling was foretelling a future event. Agabus prophesied an event that would actually occur in two years. In 46 A.D. there would be a great famine, so this is the great famine message which caused a tremendous response from the people in Antioch. They were so impressed with this that they decided to help the believers in Jerusalem. Remember that basically Jerusalem is a church of legalism; Antioch is a church of grace. Even though grace and legalism would be antagonistic for two years, the people of Antioch gave offerings and saved money to relieve the Jewish believers of Jerusalem.
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. Notice that there were no tithers! Where you find grace you don’t find tithing. They gave out of their prosperity and determined the amount of their gift without coercion from the church. This was a wealthy church and they had the ability. The word to determine means to set aside definite money. It was done in a business-like way. Actually this gift was sent two years later but they started taking the offering at this time so that they would be ready to help at the proper time. This is the application of doctrine to experience, the application of the grace of God. Barnabas and Saul would take this money to Jerusalem at a later time.
In order to properly understand grace giving you must first understand dispensations. A dispensation is a period of time in which God deals with mankind in a certain way to administer His policies. Each dispensation, therefore, has unique characteristics, as well as certain similar functions. Such is the case with giving. In the dispensation in which we live, called the Age of Grace or the Church Age, giving is both different and the same as in the Age of Israel (Old Testament).
Giving is not tithing. Failure to distinguish between the two indicates a person does not know God’s Word and has failed to recognize the differences between the Age of Israel and the Church Age. Giving has always been a legitimate function for the believer, but tithing is only for Israel in the Old Testament. (Leviticus 27:30-34; Malachi 3:10)
The tithe was a form of taxation for Jewish believers and unbelievers alike. The word means “a tenth.” There were several tithes that were levied upon the Jewish citizen: maintenance of the Levites (priests), for national feasts and sacrifices, and for the poor. (Numbers 18:21,24; Deuteronomy 14:22-29)
Giving went beyond the requirement to pay a tithe (tax) because it involved the free will of the giver. Properly motivated giving involves a willingness to honor God with the provisions He has given to us. Unlike the tithe, which was a violation of the Law if not obeyed, giving was voluntary. When properly motivated by a desire to bring glory to God, the believer voluntarily gave over and above the required tithe.
In the Church Age we have no such tithing requirement. We no longer have a Levitical Priesthood; all believers are priests. National feasts and sacrifice worship have ceased and the local church is supposed to take care of its poor. Grace giving by the believer, with the proper mental attitude, will reflect God’s “grace giving” toward him. In other words, the believer with the right mental attitude will use the blessings that God has bestowed upon him to support God’s work. (II Corinthians 9:7) II Corinthians 8-9 gives us a list of principles with regard to our responsibility of supporting the ministry.
Paul used an example of the churches of Macedonia to teach the church at Corinth the doctrine of giving. From verses one and two we learn that the churches of Macedonia were both impoverished and afflicted. In spite of their condition and the fact that they were Gentiles, they found it in their hearts to give to the Jewish believers in Jerusalem. The Macedonians had learned grace orientation (a prerequisite for grace giving) and were advancing in their spiritual lives. This knowledge had resulted in a relaxed mental attitude toward giving though they had little themselves to give. They had learned, believed and applied the principle that God will always provide for His children. This was not an attempt to bribe God into sending blessings, it was a result of their spiritual growth. This was not the case with the wealthy Corinthian believers. They had begun a collection but had never completed it. We can see from these two verses that a believer’s mental attitude, NOT the actual gift is what constitutes proper giving. You will also notice in verse two that the Macedonians were happy to give. (Acts 24:17; Romans 15:25-28; I Corinthians 16:1-5; II Corinthians 8:6; Galatians 2:10)
These believers in Macedonia (like the ones in Antioch) gave according to (and beyond) their ability, voluntarily and willingly, without coercion from Paul or the Apostles. Grace giving is always a matter of a person’s volition and one should never feel pressure to give. GOD DOESN’T NEED YOUR MONEY. Giving is a function of the Royal Priesthood and is a matter of privacy between you and God. The principle is: give as God has prospered you. Grace giving excludes emotionalism, guilt, fear, bribery, personal recognition or gimmicks. If you give in order to get, then you are giving for the wrong reason. The proper motive for giving should come from the application of and appreciation for Bible doctrine. Grace giving is a privilege that God has granted to every believer as a demonstration of His grace. Grace giving excludes any form of self-righteousness, human good or motives of gaining the favor of, gaining reward from or gaining an advantage in standing with God or man. (I Corinthians 16:1-5)