Acts 11:19–30 (NKJV)
19 Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. 20 But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.Acts 11:19-26
22 Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. 23 When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. 24 For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.
25 Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. 26 And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
The persecution of the church has often been a stimulus for its greatest growth. In the case of the Church in Acts, it spread during the persecution that began about the time of Stephen’s stoning death. The missionary effort of the church was spurred by the cautious migration of Christians from Jerusalem to parts north, such as Antioch. Although many of them seemed determined only to preach the gospel to Jewish people, but others preached to anyone, including the Hellenists in each town. This movement became a call to any and all who would believe. Revival broke out and people were being saved and added to the church. The leaders in Jerusalem sent Barnabus to see what was happening, even as far away as Antioch. He sought out Saul and they taught together in Antioch for about a year. It is credited to Antioch that they first called believers in Jesus Christians.
27 And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar. 29 Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea. 30 This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.Acta 11:27-30
The gifts of the Spirit were in full operation in the church of Acts. In this short passage, the prophetic gift operated. Agabus prophesied of a great famine, which enabled the church to prepare and to help those in Judea who suffered badly from this famine.
The church, in its infancy, was both effective and clumsy. The exclusivity of the Jewish Christians created a mildly discriminatory action. Up until this time, Jews felt that only Jews were eligible to serve God. The only way to break into the kingdom of God was to convert fully to Judaism as a proselyte. Even then, there was a distinction between a naturally-born Jew and a proselyte. Therefore, some only preached Jesus to Jews to begin with. The example of Peter with Cornelius is a great example of how Jesus intended for Christianity to be a worldwide, inclusive movement. When Gentiles believed, it showed that this purpose was valid. The church spread because believers reached out in love and acceptance to all people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. They were Christians, and received that moniker in Antioch, which literally means “like Christ.” If the church is to claim “Christ-likeness,” we must love like Jesus loved and live like Jesus lived. If we do, the church will spread wide and deep. Let’s do it!