Then some Jews arrived from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowds to their side. They stoned Paul and dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead. But as the believers gathered around him, he got up and went back into the town. The next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe. After preaching the Good News in Derbe and making many disciples, Paul and Barnabas returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch of Pisidia, where they strengthened the believers. They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.Acts 14:19-22
How could Paul and Barnabas returned to towns that had rejected them? Did the people just forget about them?
No, of course the people did not forget about them. Bear in mind the antagonists have pursued Paul and Barnabas from Iconium and as far away as the origin point in Antioch in Pisidia. The Jews in opposition to Paul and Barnabas have been so dedicated to the task of opposing them that they have pursued them over almost 200 kms to the ends of the earth from their perspective. It has only been in Lystra that the opposition has come to the point of stoning Paul. So in summary Lystra, the town at the end of the line has been the only town where stoning took place after Paul and Barnabas addressed the crowd publicly. Bear in mind also that in all of the other places they met with approval and the crowds were responsive to what they had to say. The issue is the Jews from Antioch and Iconium who have stirred up the crowds in opposition. In one sense Paul and Barnabas have done the public relations work and now it is case of working behind the scenes to encourage the new believers. From this point on Paul and Barnabas are not likely to head back out to the streets to preach. Rather they are more likely to work with the new believers, those who responded on the streets of the city to strengthen their faith and encourage them to trust in God.
Is this not exactly what Peter and the disciples did in Jerusalem? It is not a new thing. The most remarkable characteristic of the early disciples was their boldness. Go back and read about it if you have forgotten. The twelve disciples were warned not to speak in the name of Jesus under the threat of death but that did not deter them in any way. They could stand before the Sanhedrin, the highest religious court in the land, and proclaim their intentions to continue preaching no matter what the authorities did to them. That has been the benchmark set but the leading disciples. How then could Paul and Barnabas shrink from the same attitude? And remember it is not a case of Paul and Barnabas following Peter and John. Rather it is Peter, John, Paul and Barnabas following the prompting and leading of the Holy Spirit of Christ within them. Ah there is the key! Not to try to emulate a person but to follow the Holy Spirit. We have experienced that. It is case of knowing “when to hold up and when to fold up” as I have said before. There are many times that Paul was made aware that he needed to escape but there were many more times when Paul knew he had to stand firm for the Gospel and for Christ. Paul and Barnabas are not copying Peter and John. That won’t get them anywhere but dead. Rather they are following the Spirit of the Living God in whom we live and move and have our being. When you can gain that perspective then you have no fear of man. If God be for you who have been against you. These men have learned what it is to prosper in plenty and in lack. They have learned to rejoice in hardship, suffering, imprisonment, beatings and persecution. So what can the opposition do to them to make them stop. Nothing. Paul was willing to go straight back in the town of Lystra after having recovered from the stoning. Yes I believe Paul experienced a miracle outside the city. So he turns around and goes straight back into Lystra. Imagine how demoralizing that must have been to the Jewish opposition from Antioch and Iconium. There is nothing that will stop these guys. Even when they stone him to the point they thought he was dead he comes straight back into the city. This is Rocky Balboa 10. Take your best shot and I will come straight back at you.
I would like to know about the way Paul strengthened them. Can I conclude that the believers live in oppression and must have met secretly to go to church?
Yes it clear that Paul and Barnabas did not go back to strengthen the crowds, they went back to strengthen the believers. They would have done that wisely. You don’t gather the opposition to strengthen them. You show them your willingness to die for the cause but you wisely work in such a way as to protect the new believers and to meet with them hidden from the public eye. That is perfectly possible to do when you have the Spirit of Christ on your side. I have told you before of how the believers in Rome used to meet in the catacombs beneath the city to hold their meetings and how the Holy Spirit would tell them where to go to meet this week. The same thing has been said of the Christians of underground churches in numbers of places (but I have told you specifically of China). The church don’t advertise where they will meet this week. Rather each individual has to be in touch with the Holy Spirit in order to know where church will meet this week. Remember church is not a building; its the people. The building is largely irrelevant in situations like this.
How did Paul strengthen the new believers? Well in the first instance by demonstrating boldness in the face of opposition. It is a major impetus to your faith when you take Christ at his Word and obey His quiet word to your heart only to discover all the resources of heaven are at your disposal when you do that. Or when you see your leaders or those teaching you, practising the very things they are preaching. Remember when Jesus faced those who want to kill Him and throw Him off the cliff. What did He do? He simply turned and walked back through them to get out of there. When you obey God’s leading there are times when the opposition melt before you.
I have experienced it. When I have had a government official ranting and raving and threatening me with prison and I have heard the Lord’s word to my heart to just ignore his threats and call his bluff and walk out of there. Much to the astonishment of the Indonesian Christian colleague with me the official’s bravado crumbled and he acquiesced. You just have to know when to do it – when you have heard the voice of God to take a bold step and trust Him.
Clearly Paul and Barnabas would have also taught the new believers more of the basics of how to hear the Lord’s voice and how to strengthen themselves in the principles of how God works. But remember in the early stages of Antioch, Iconium, Derbe and Lystra they don’t have the New Testament. It will come when Paul starts to write it. And this process continues as Paul comes to understand he must write his advice down for the new believers to follow. But at this stage I imagine he speaks orally what he is about to put into writing later. So you can read between the lines to know the kinds of things Paul is likely to have told the new believers in Iconium, Derbe and Lystra. Much the same things as he wrote in his letters to the churches later. But of first importance must have been to learn to know the voice of the Spirit to your heart. That is the first and most frequent questions Christians ask me. How do I hear the voice of God? I am sure Paul addressed that issue as of first priority. Then he went back again and again to many areas (but not to this one as it was more remote) in order to instill the message in their hearts and minds. It is not surprising that Paul immediately goes back into Lystra and then Derbe and the Iconium and finally back to Antioch. He has trekked with Barnabas to the end of the line only to have to turn around and go back again. I can relate this to moving up to the headwaters of the Rongkong River only to have to turn around and go back down again. What option do Paul and Barnabas have but to entrust themselves to the Spirit of God who is leading them.
How could Paul and Barnabas appoint elders in every church when they didn’t really know the people and didn’t belong to the church or have authority there?
That is a good question. Sorry I don’t remember now who asked it and I don’t want to go back and look it up. How indeed did Paul and Barnabas know who to choose as elders in a church they had hardly met and had no authority over. I will leave you with that question and we will address it in the next Gem when I will also comment on the match between this section and me personally. I.e. the remaining questions. While you may have never thought about this before I am sure you can work it out for yourself. Give it a go; my response is coming.
To have intimacy with God we need to guard our time with Him.Ian Vail
If heaven and hell are not real, the teachings of Jesus are null and void and His death and resurrection are needless.Anon
We are hard pressed on every side but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned. Paul2 Corinthians 4:8
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. Paul2 Corinthians 4:16