The church at Antioch in Syria, 300 miles north of Jerusalem, was among the first Christian churches established outside of the Jerusalem area and one of the first to have Gentile convert members.
The gospel reached Antioch in the dispersion of Jesus’ disciples due to their persecution in Jerusalem.
There are two interesting statements made about this church found in Acts 11.
First, we are told that when Barnabas, the Apostle, visited this church he witnessed, or saw the evidence of, the grace of God.
The “grace of God” is the undeserved favor of God and therefore unseen, similar to love or hate.
How can anyone “see” the grace of God?
Just as we don’t see hate — we only see the unkind and detrimental effects of it — we see the grace of God manifested in the changed lives of those who have received and believed the gospel message. The gospel proves itself by what it does in the lives of those who receive it.
The second interesting statement concerning the church at Antioch is, “The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.”
Some suggest that the Christian or “little Christ” label was in mocking fashion, but I don’t think so. Regardless, I take it as a compliment.
What was going on in this city, at this church that caused those observing to refer to these followers of Christ no longer as just disciples (learners) of Christ, but now as Christians?
I think the evidence of the grace of God, the transformed lives of those disciples elicited this new label — “Christians.”
So what are some of the specific manifestations of this transformational work in the lives of these disciples at Antioch?
• Gentiles (ethnic outsiders) were accepted as “bona fide” followers of Christ.
• The least likely to embrace Christ as Messiah and most notorious enemy of Christians was accepted and encouraged after his conversion (Saul of Tarsus).
• Generosity for those in need abounded.
• Fellowship and good will flourished.
• Missionaries were sent from, provided for and encouraged during subsequent visits.
• Teaching and preaching was a part of life at this church.
• Prayer and fasting were common.
• Believers were held accountable, even the apostle Peter (Galatians 2).
• Persecution and suffering were endured with dignity and grace and without retaliation.
• Disagreement and debate was engaged and encouraged.
My prayer personally and for my church is that there is enough evidence of the grace of God, enough radical transformation, enough of the stuff found in Antioch, that observers would refer to me and us as little Christs.
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