It was Paul’s pattern to proclaim the word of God first in the Jewish synagogues in the towns he visited. Why? Paul says in Romans 1:16,
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
Paul recognized that he was part of an ongoing story. The good news of God did not begin with him. He did not invent it. The story began with God’s chosen people Israel and so they should be the first to receive the next installment of the continuing story. As N. T. Wright has written:
The earliest apostolic preaching was neither a standard Jewish message with Jesus added on at the end, nor a free-standing announcement of a new religion cut off from its Jewish roots, but rather the story of Jesus understood as the fulfillment of the Old Testament covenant narrative, and thus as the euangelion, the good news or “gospel”–the creative force which called the church into being and shaped its mission and life (The Last Word, p. 47).
If Jesus was the fulfillment of a Jewish story then, Paul figured, the Jews had first dibs on hearing the completion of that story. This in no way denies that the story of Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Covenant is a story for the whole world. Paul was quick to recognize that, as the continuation of his first missionary journey reveals.
Why too, we may ask, did Barnabas and Saul go first to Cyprus to spread the good news? The text does not reveal the answer. But perhaps it was because Barnabas had a concern for his own country; he was from Cyprus, after all. And this reveals, doesn’t it, that we each need to have a concern that our own nation, our own neighbors in fact, should hear the good news of Jesus Christ. Barnabas was never able to let go of this concern for his fellow Cypriots. In fact, when he and Paul parted company in Acts 15:39 we read that Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus once again. That was part of Barnabas’ pattern, a concern for those near to home, while Paul had a concern for the world. In fact, a new pattern for Paul emerges once he parts company with Barnabas; he begins to focus on the major cities of Greek culture and of the Roman Empire: Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, and finally Rome itself. We each need to have a bit of Barnabas in us, as well as a bit of Paul. We need to be concerned for those closest to us that they should hear the good news of Jesus; and we need to be concerned for the world, we need to send and be sent for Christ wherever he wants us to go.