So the church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers. (Acts 9:31)
It is understandable why some of the apostles were at first dubious about the genuineness of Saul’s faith. The apostle Paul who would later write most of the New Testament epistles was formerly known by his non-Roman name, Saul. Now this man who was once hostile to Christians just became one. Previously sentencing those who proclaimed Christ to death, Saul himself now proclaimed that Jesus is the Son of God (9:20). Even those who heard him were astounded at this change (9:21). Saul grew in strength and kept disputing with the Jews (9:22).
For people like Saul, conversion might happen instantaneously, but for others, belief happens gradually. It seems that regardless of how one is converted, every new believer needs to be in a Christian community engaging with the body of Christ. But we see this as Barnabas (“the son of encouragement”) takes him under his wing and defends Saul (9:27). We all need a Barnabas, don’t we? We all need someone to defend us and encourage us, especially when our legs are wobbly and need to be strengthened. On two accounts, Saul is protected by Christians and is sent away to be safe. We all need brothers and sisters to protect us, especially when we are new in the faith. Saul already knew the worth of Christ, but he also needed the body of believers to show him love as well.
Because Barnabas and the brothers were encouraging and protective of young Saul, the whole body of Christ had peace, and they grew stronger together. Acts 9:31 is the first time that the Greek word for church (“assembly”) is used beyond a regional sense to suggest a cross-regional assembly of believers. What an amazing testimony! We do not know who will be the next Paul in our lives or if we will be fostering an amazing leader of faith, but we do know that when we embrace new believers into the church, the whole body will have peace and be strengthened. As we live in the fear of the Lord and are encouraged by the Holy Spirit, we will surely grow in peace and be strong.