Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul:…
Nations and parties often call themselves by one name, and are known to the world by another. These outside names are generally given in contempt; and yet they sometimes hit the very centre, and so by degrees get to be adopted as an honour. So it has been with the name "Christian." It is never used in the New Testament by Christians about themselves. It occurs here in Agrippa's half-contemptuous exclamation, and in 1 Peter 4:16. Consider —
I. THIS NAME GIVEN BY THE WORLD TO THE CHURCH, WHICH THE CHURCH HAS ADOPTED.
1. Observe the circumstances under which it was given. A handful of Jews from Jerusalem had come down to Antioch, and there they preached the gospel to heathen, and their success has for its crowning attestation that it compelled the sarcastic Antiochenes to find out a new name for this new thing; to find out a new label for the new bottles into which the new wine was being put. Clearly the name shows —
(1) That the Church was beginning to attract the attention of outsiders.
(2) That there was a novel element in the Church. The earlier disciples had been all Jews. But here is something that could not be called either Jew or Greek, because it embraces both. The new name is the first witness to the cosmopolitan character of the primitive Church.
(3) That even these superficial observers had got hold of the right notion of what it was that did bind these people together. They called them "Christians" — Christ's men, Christ's followers. If they had called them "Jesuits" that would have meant the followers of the mere man; but it is not Jesus the Man, but Jesus Christ, the Man with His office, that makes the centre and the bond of the Christian Church.
2. Plain lessons lie on the surface.
(1) The Church should draw to itself the notice of the world not by advertising, and ostentation, and singularities. If you are live Christians it will be plain enough to outsiders. What shall we say of leaven which does not leaven, or of light which does not shine? Are the world's names for themselves enough to describe you by, or do you need another to be coined for you? The Church that does not provoke the attention of outsiders is not the Church as Christ meant it to be.
(2) The clear impression made by our conduct should be that we belong to Christ. The eye of an outsider may be unable to penetrate the secret of the deep sweet tie uniting us to Jesus, but there should be no possibility of his overlooking the fact that we are His. He should manifestly be the centre, guide, impulse, pattern, strength and reward of our whole lives. Do you think that, without your words, if you, living the way you do, were put down into the middle of Pekin, the wits of the Chinese metropolis would have to invent a name for you; and, if so, the name that would naturally come to their lips would be "Christians" — "Christ's men." If you do not, there is something wrong.
(3) It is a very sad thing when the world's inadequate notions of what makes a follower of Jesus Christ get accepted by the Church. The name "Christian" ran all over Christendom in the course of a century and a half, largely because it was a conveniently vague name. Many a man is quite willing to say, "I am a Christian," that would hesitate a long time before he said, "I am a believer"; "a disciple."
II. SIDE BY SIDE WITH THIS VAGUE, GENERAL, OUTSIDE NAME THE MORE SPECIFIC AND INTERIOR NAMES, BY WHICH CHRIST'S FOLLOWERS AT FIRST KNEW THEMSELVES.
1. "Disciples," the name employed almost exclusively during the time of Christ's life upon earth, sets forth Christ as being the Teacher, and His followers His scholars, who learned at His feet. Now that is always true. He teaches us still by the record of His life, and by the living influence of that Spirit whom He sends forth to guide us into all truth. But that name is not enough, and so after He had passed from earth, it unconsciously and gradually dropped out of the lips of the disciples, as they felt deepened bond uniting them to Him who was not only the Teacher of the Truth, which was Himself, but was their sacrifice and Advocate with the Father. And for all who hold the essentially imperfect conception of Jesus Christ as being mainly a Teacher, either by word or by pattern, it is worthy of consideration that the name of disciple was speedily felt to be inadequate to represent the bond that knit men to Christ.
2. Teacher and scholars move in a region which, though it be important, is not the central one. And the word that was needed next lifts us into a higher atmosphere. Believers, they who yield not merely intellectual submission to the dicta of the Teacher, but living trust in the Redeemer. We believe a truth, we trust a Person; and that trust is the one thing that binds men to God, and the one thing that makes us Christ's men. Apart from it, we may be very near Him, but we are not joined to Him. By it, and by it alone, the union is completed, and His power and grace flow into our spirits.
3. The name "saints" has suffered perhaps more at the hands both of the world and of the Church than any other. It has been by the latter restricted to the dead, and further restricted to those who excel, according to the fantastic, ascetic standard of mediaeval Christianity. It has been used by the world with a bitter emphasis to mean a pretender to be better than other people, whose actions contradict his claim. But the name belongs to all Christ's followers. It makes no claim to special purity, for the central idea of the word "saint" is not purity, but separation. The New Testament idea of saint has in it these elements — consecration, consecration resting on faith in Christ, and consecration leading to separation from the world and its sin. And that must be the experience of every true Christian. All Christ's people are saints, not as being pure, but as being given up to Him, in union with whom alone will the cleansing powers flow into their lives and clothe them with "the righteousness of saints."
4. Brethren — a name much maltreated both by the insincerity of the Church, and by the sarcasm of the world. An unreal appellation which has meant nothing, so that the world has said that our "brethren" signified a good deal less than their "brothers." But the main thing about that name is not the relation of the brethren to one another, but their common relation to their Father. As society gets more complicated, as Christian people get unlike each other in education and social position, it gets more and more difficult to feel that any two Christian people, however unlike each other, are nearer each other in the very roots of their nature, than a Christian and a non-Christian, however like each other. It is difficult to feel that but for all that it is a fact. And now I wish to ask you whether you feel more at home with people who love Christ, or whether you like better to be with people who do not. The duties of your position, of course, oblige each of you to be much among people who do not share your faith; but for Christian people to make choice of heart friends, among those who have no sympathy with their love to Jesus Christ, does not say much for the depth and reality of their religion. A man is known by the company he keeps, and if you deeply feel the bond that knits you to Christ, and really live near to Him, you will be near your brethren.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: