Acts 11:26 “…..And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.”
What an interesting phrase from Acts 11! Barnabas and Saul stay an entire year teaching and ministering to the believers in Jesus Christ at Antioch. These Christians have arrived from Jerusalem fleeing persecution. These few words from Acts 11 say some rather important things to the church today.
Why were believers called disciples? What was a disciple? Why were the disciples called Christians?
The word disciples in this text does not refer to the twelve. The context of this portion of Acts 11 focuses on the ministry of Barnabas and Paul. The twelve apostles are not mentioned. Thus the name “Christians” was the name given first at Antioch to Paul and Barnabas and those they taught. And so we can see that the term “disciple” is a term given by the author of Acts to all believers at that time.
So what is a disciple? In modern thought the term disciple often simply means “a student of” and one may call themselves a disciple of any teacher they choose. But in ancient times discipleship was different. A disciple was more like an apprentice—a follower-learner. A student who followed their teacher both literally and professionally. The disciple modeled the life and practices of the teacher. Today this practice is largely unheard of in the western world.
Interestingly enough this word “disciples” is used in the text to refer to the growing community of those who believed in Jesus.
The word “Christian” in the Greek is christianos, and literally means “Little Christ.”
This is the title given to the believers in Antioch. Now there is no mention in Scripture as to who first gives the believers this name. There is some speculation that it was given in mockery by the pagans, but this is not specified.
Note the intimate connection of both terms, “disciples” and “Christians” with the Master, Jesus. Indeed, for the disciples to be referred to as “Little Christs,” even if spoken in mockery, shows us the intimate devotion of the believers to their King. The world that gave this appellation could see that these people emulated the very life and manner of their Lord. It is worth noting here that the disciples did not give this name to themselves. They were given this name by outside observers.
Could the same be said of those of us who call ourselves “Christian” today? Would we first be considered disciples of Jesus? Would we be considered followers of our master’s work and way? Would the world associate us naturally with Jesus because we reflect him in every way? In how we think, how we speak, how we love and how we supernaturally live? Would the world today see so much of the likeness of Jesus in those who claim to believe in Jesus, that they would call them “little Jesus?”
It is a question that is needful and necessary for every Christian to ask of themselves. “Does my life point to Jesus?” “Are those who see me reminded of Him?” “If I lived in the times of Acts, would I have been given the same appellation?”
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
1 John 2:3-6
And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
One might rightly ask: “So, how am I to live like Christ?” We may, perhaps, feel the rightness of Scripture’s call to live as Christ, but in our flesh we are tempted to believe that we cannot succeed in doing so.
Christian, if you have trusted in Christ and received Him as Lord, then the very one who in victorious power raised Christ from the dead, lives in you.
Philippians 2: 5 says this: Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.
If we are in Christ, the very mind of Christ, his love, his grace, his forgiveness, his patience, his endurance, his holiness, his loving righteousness, his humility, his service, his peace, all these things and more, are already ours in Christ Jesus. The very life of Christ is to be manifest in the Christian. His abundant life is ready to live through His people.
May we cease our choosing of lives that appear right in our own eyes (Deut. 12:8) but in reality rob us of his life abundant. May we instead take up our cross daily and follow Him. May our lives, by His Spirit, elevate not ourselves and not our concerns; may they instead elevate always, only, Jesus.
In His Love,
Pastor Brian TorresMarch 1, 2023