Were in a section of the Book of Acts where were watching Paul and Barnabas move from city to city. They only stay for a matter of weeks or months before they are forced to move on. Yet in each place they leave new believers whove been joined together into a spiritual family, who are very aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit among them and who, in the midst of great hostility, possess an almost inexplicable joy. You would think that after the apostles departed these new babes in Christ would quickly be overwhelmed by all the pressures against them, and abandon their faith. You would think that it would be impossible to establish something lasting in such a short period of time, with so little teaching, and in such a hostile environment. Yet as we continue watching these missionary journeys we see just the opposite. We see churches taking root and growing. Pauls letters, that fill up so much of our New Testament, are written to churches that began just this way, and though they are clearly not without their struggles, collapsing and ceasing to exist is not one of them. Instead, Pauls letters are full of the normal pastoral issues that arise in a body of believers.
So, how do we explain the fact that people whod had so little time invested in them were able to endure, and even flourish in their faith? What did Paul and Barnabas do to them that left them with such tenacious faith? Of course, we already know the most important reason, which is that they had been presented with an accurate gospel, and as a result were fully born again, including receiving the baptism with the Holy Spirit. So there was no doubt in their minds that God had come into their lives. The gospel had come to them with power. This was not simply a new doctrine. God was with them. They felt His love, they saw the sick healed and the tormented delivered, and He answered their prayers. This was more than religion. This was reality.
But Paul and Barnabas also taught them well. They laid a foundation of understanding so these new believers would have an accurate perspective on what was happening to them. There are so many things we need to know about God, so many principles and truths that guide our lives. But if you only had a few weeks with someone, and there was no such thing as Christian literature to leave with them, only the Old Testament, and maybe only parts of that, what would you teach them? What truths would they need, above everything else, so they could face the trials ahead? The answer is surprising, and very basic. Paul and Barnabas (and Jesus) taught things many of us today might think of as negative or overly controversial. We might mention these things in passing, but not really hammer it home as truths vital to their survival. But they did, and maybe thats why their disciples, young in their faith though they were, stood firm in the midst of a storm of affliction. Maybe its because they faced a hostile world armed with eternal perspectives.
Typical situations (Ac 13:51-14:7)
DBS (Fri, Sat)
Luke doesnt tell us what topics the apostles taught during the few weeks or months they stayed in these cities, but if we look at Pauls letters to the Thessalonians we can discover what he taught a church facing a similar situation, and we find he prepared that church to expect persecution. And he talked a great deal about the coming of the Lord. He gave them a spiritual perspective on what they were facing and how it would end.
1) He didnt hide from them the fact that they would suffer (1Th 3:1-8).
But he was careful to put their persecution into perspective. He explained that it is a necessary part of a believers life during this season of human history.
2) He also assured them that their suffering would end at the return of Jesus Christ, and all whod died would be resurrected and meet them in the air (1Th 4:13-18).
3) He taught them their suffering had meaning, that they were enduring affliction for the sake of the kingdom of God, that God Himself saw their perseverance and considered them worthy citizens of His kingdom, and that He would justly judge those who afflicted them (2Th 1:3-12).
4) He told them the world is headed into a very dark time. Things will get worse before they get better (2Th 2:1-12).
In other words, during the few weeks he spent in Thessalonica, he taught them about the last days and even what signs to watch for that point to the antichrist. Both Paul and Jesus thought this was essential knowledge for disciples (Mt 24:4-28; Mk 13:5-27; Lk 21:8-28).
5) By one strange prophetic action, which he did as he left the city of Pisidian Antioch, he taught them that people must be warned of the danger of rejecting Jesus Christ.
But shaking the dust from their feet on them they came to Iconium. (literal) (Acts 13:51)
Read: DBS (Sun-Tues)
6) And he taught them that in spite of their afflictions, to keep a positive attitude. He said,
Rejoice always, praying without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is Gods will for you in Christ Jesus. (1Th 5:16-18).
He taught the Ephesian church to stay full of the Spirit by practicing continual worship and by focusing their mind on giving God thanks for all things (Eph 5:18-20)
As we look back over this passage, here are some eternal perspectives these believers must have learned. Paul and Barnabas taught some of these directly, and others they learned as they watched the situation unfold before their eyes.
1) Jesus divides people (Ac 14:4).
When truth and power are present the human heart recognizes Him and choices are made.
Do you suppose I came to grant peace on the earth? I tell you no, but rather division (Lk 13:51).
2) Youve entered a spiritual war, expect persecution.
We must be doing something right...
3) God will judge those who afflict you.
We should have compassion on those who persecute us and pray for them because if they dont repent they will face a terrible justice.
4) People must be warned.
Tell them so they wont forget it. They need to know they are in spiritual danger.
5) The world is headed to a very dark time. It will get worse before it gets better.
But our job is to work to see Gods kingdom break into this earth, now!
6) Jesus will come for us.
When we die, He will meet us.
When He returns well be resurrected.
7) Stay positive.
Stay full of the Spirit by continual worship and deliberate thanks.
We may not face the physical hostility they faced, but we need these truths as much as they did. We face a different kind of assault for our faith, but its very real and getting stronger. We, too, need perspective on the affliction we suffer. We need to know there is purpose in our suffering. Gods kingdom is still at war with the spiritual darkness around us. There will always be a backlash, yet our brothers and sisters in Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe
and Thessalonica have shown us whats possible. We, too, can be continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
1) When trouble comes we often ask ourselves, What did I do wrong? If I did everything right, would I live a life without trouble? Why or why not?
2) There are places in the world where believers are suffering the same physical hostilities as these churches in the Book of Acts. Do you know of any places where believers are openly persecuted? How should we respond?
3) What sort of afflictions do you suffer because youre a Christian?