Things were running smoothly in the church in Antioch until some people came from Jerusalem insisting that Gentile converts should be circumcised. Luke does not indicate whether or not these new arrivals were on an official visit. Whatever the reason for their coming they soon made known their convictions.
Paul and Barnabas realised the spiritual perils hidden in this teaching. It is possible that the people from Jerusalem did not realise the dangers in their view. Instead they may have imagined that they what they were doing pleased God. Yet their behaviour reminds us of the necessity of discernment in church leaders. If Paul and Barnabas had not opposed the wrong teaching the church would have been stunted in many ways.
It is worth noticing the strength of opposition that Paul and Barnabas had towards the messengers with unbiblical doctrines. They confronted the wrong message head on and insisted that it should not be tolerated. This policy may have made others without their discernment wonder what all the fuss was about. Yet we know that poison must be destroyed whether or not others recognise its dangers.
The leaders in the church in Antioch recognised that the wrong teaching was of such a nature that only an apostolic decision could deal with it. It would not have been sufficient for the church in Antioch to throw it out. If they had responded in that way, they would have been guilty of separating themselves from other churches without discussing the matter with them.
So Paul and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem by the church in Antioch. Unlike modern church gatherings where people merely pass through locations on their way to the place of meeting, Paul and Barnabas made their journey into one of encouragement for the churches between Antioch and Jerusalem. In those days the usual way of communication was by personal descriptions of what had been seen by the speakers, which in this case would have brought authenticity and assurance to the listeners about what was said.
It was good for those churches to receive information about the progress of the kingdom of God. Those whose hearts are devoted to the prosperity of the Lord’s cause rejoice to hear about its advances. Luke’s report informs us of the spiritual unity that the information brought about – shared joy. It has often surprised people with information about church progress in other parts of the world to find themselves speaking to a handful of people as they give their updates. But we should not be surprised then to discover that such churches are not overflowing with joy.