Acts 14: Three things critical to the success of ministers and ministries everywhere

Application

Acts 14 picks up Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey in Iconium and tells of the extraordinary events that happened in the latter half of their trip. Before, they had seen some light resistance to the gospel, the worst of which had sent them on their way from Pisidian Antioch to Iconium, but now, as their impact was increasing dramatically, the resistance increased exponentially. At Iconium, we’re told in vs 5 that there was a plot “to mistreat them and stone them.” And after healing a lame man in Lystra, the people tried to sacrifice to the men as gods, but when Paul and Barnabas declined, resistance mounted until Paul was actually stoned, drug outside town, and left for dead. Then, in vs 21, the team started back the way they had come on their way back home. As they went, they made sure to stop at each of the towns and churches they had started on the way, and we’re told starting in vs 22 that, in each of these venues, they did three things which I believe are key.

First, they strengthened the disciples. This was critical because, when we get right down to it, all the believers in these churches were still very new in their faith. Who knew when they would again have the opportunity to rub elbows with men who were spiritually established and mature? No, Paul, Barnabas, and these churches could not afford to take this chance for granted, but how often do we waste similar opportunities? We get together, pat each other on the back a couple of times, and talk about the latest football scores all the time. But when was the last time you met with someone, asked them pointedly how they were doing in their faith walk, and shared with them Scripture and a prayer so that they would be strengthened in the faith? I dare say that we would have far stronger and more effective churches if we would take seriously the opportunities that we have to strengthen each other in the faith. We could help each other, one-on-one, to become the strong, vibrant believers that God intended us to be. And we could help each other, corporately, to make a far greater impact on the world for Jesus. So the next time you meet a fellow brother or sister in Christ, make sure to take the time to strengthen him/her in the faith.

Second, they encouraged them to remain true to the faith. This was no ordinary pep talk, though. We’re told in verse 22 that Paul and Barnabas told them, explicitly, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” and this message was dramatically reinforced by the marks which had undoubtedly been left by their treatment in Iconium and Lystra. Clearly, these men didn’t think that hardship was something to be avoided or lamented; they thought it something which had to be confronted to be effective in our faith. And they truly believed that they had to be effective in their faith to enter the kingdom of God. What kind of impact would our churches have if we adopted a similar attitude? Instead of tolerating sin in our lives because it’s easier or fun, we would resolve to embrace the difficulty inherent in pursuing righteousness. Rather than complaining when our rights are restricted, someone mocked us, or the task became challenging, we would put our heads down and press on. Rather than retreat from the world when we were sued, had our tax-exempt status revoked, beaten, killed, or the world just didn’t go our way, we would keep ministering regardless. If we considered hardship a necessary part of the road to heaven, as Paul and Barnabas did, I would submit to you that there would be no stopping us!

And finally, we discover in vs 23 that “Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church.” The significance of this statement must not be underestimated, especially when it’s paired with the fact that the appointment process included committing these leaders to the Lord with prayer and fasting. I think this is all critical for a couple of reasons. First, the elders were going to provide leadership in the absence of these men who had founded the church. Choosing the right people was therefore essential because no one knew when Paul and Barnabas would be able to return this way again. These elders therefore had to be wise and relatively spiritually mature. They had to be prepared to teach the way of the Lord and cast the vision which He had for the church to pursue. And they had to be strong enough to resist the temptation to veer off this way or that on any given whim. Second, these elders weren’t working for the people. Paul and Barnabas committed them to the Lord. The people were to follow them, yes, but these leaders’ allegiance was first and foremost to God. How would our churches look if our leaders were more concerned about what God wanted than making sure that they were re-elected? And finally, the choosing of these leaders and the role to which they were committed was not taken lightly. Indeed, we’re told that they were chosen and committed with prayer and fasting, which implied a significant level of earnesty, urgency, and solemnity in the whole task. This was no trivial responsibility. These people were tasked with representing the Lord to the people and leading the people to accomplish the vision that He had for them. This task was far greater than any agenda that they might bring with them to the board meetings. It was far more important than any squabble they might have with the next guy. And it was absolutely too big for any one of them to go it alone. These teams of elders – note the plural there – in each church would be the essential to success of their congregation in the eyes of God. We would do well to consider the leadership of our churches in the same light.

So there you have it. Three things that Paul and Barnabas did which I think were essential to their success, as well as the success of the churches that they had started along the way. May we strive to do the same!

Notes

  • (1) To a culture that valued words and ideas, a logical, spoken argument could be highly effective. I suspect that if Paul and Barnabas were ministering in twenty-first century America, Luke would record that they ministered so effectively because our culture values experience far more than words.
  • (2) Effective ministry again meets resistance.
  • (3) This is an interesting statement. They ministered effectively, which stirred up resistance. And so they spend considerable time there. How many of us would see the resistance as a door closing and move on to the next place?
  • (5-6) Only when the resistance reached a point where Paul and Barnabas were in mortal danger did they flee. Really, how often do we flee when the resistance is a couple of stubbed toes and a bruised ego?
  • (6-7) Even when Paul and Barnabas fled, they continued to preach the good news. I find this amazing because I find myself more like Elijah in these instances. When Jezebel went hunting for him after he defeated to 800 prophets of Baal, he retreated to a cave in the desert and pouted.
  • (14-18) I must wonder if I would have had the presence of mind to respond as Paul and Barnabas did. It feels good when people are singing your praise, and I must admit that it would be tempting to let this continue!
  • (20) So was Paul actually dead? I mean, these people weren’t stupid. They knew when someone was dead. Would that mean that he was resurrected?
  • (20) Furthermore, if I was just stoned, left for dead, and then raised again, I really don’t know that I would have gone back into the city or left the next day on a walking journey of two or three days. The resolve is remarkable.
  • (21-22) The lesson recorded here has dramatically more impact coming from Paul and Barnabas considering what they had gone through.
  • (23) I think it amazing that Paul and Barnabas appointed elders on their way back through. They clearly recognized that it took time for spiritual leaders to develop. And even then, they didn’t approach this task lightly. They did so with prayer and fasting. What would happen in our churches if we approached the election or appointment of leaders in the same way?
  • (27) I think there was a profound significance to this report. It showed the church at Antioch that the investment of their beloved leaders and hard-earned resources was not in vain. They had had an impact on the world because they had dared to invest sacrificially in the kingdom of God.
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