Paul didnt go looking for trouble, but he did expect it (Ac 14:22). He realized a price had to be paid in order to rescue people for God, and he had decided to pay that price, whatever it might be. But the price he paid for preaching in a small Roman military outpost called Lystra turned out to be enormous. He walked over 150 miles from Pisidian Antioch to get to that remote city of about 2,000 people. Initially a stunning miracle moved the people to try to worship him, but in the midst of that chaos the crowd suddenly turned against him, and watched as he was executed by stoning. Thankfully, God raised him up and restored him so it was possible for him to continue his ministry, but he went through the rest of his life severely scarred by that terrible attack (Ga 6:17), and apparently it left him injured in some debilitating way (Ga 4:13-15; 6:11; 2Co 12:7-10). All for a few disciples. Was it worth it? Yes, of course, every soul is of infinite worth to God. But couldnt that same number of souls be won somewhere else, with much less suffering? And why did God bring Paul to that same, mean city
four times? God alone knows His reasons, but I think one of those reasons was a little boy named Timothy.
What happened in Lystra?
What a terrible personal price Paul paid to reach that city. But God considered Lystra worth that price. He led Paul there in the first place, and then brought him back three more times. Why? What caused Him to focus such attention on this remote outpost in the middle of nowhere? I believe its because someone who lived there would become a fruitful disciple.
Growing Gods Kingdom
Gods kingdom doesnt grow the way we might think. We tend to count numbers to determine what is and is not successful, but God counts disciples, men and women, boys and girls, who become like Jesus Christ. And these dont come in great numbers.
Theres a profound difference between someone who simply believes in Jesus Christ and a true disciple. Yes, theoretically, everyone who fully surrenders to God, trusts Jesus for the gift of righteousness, and receives the baptism with the Holy Spirit becomes a disciple. But in practice that doesnt always happen. Some do and some dont. Some you cant stop and some you cant start. And the obvious question is why? What causes the difference? Jesus gives us part of the answer in the parable of the sower (Mt 13:1-9, 18-23):
1) Hardened soil/birds
Some hear about Jesus but never receive Him. A disciple was never formed.
2) Rocky soil/tribulation
Some are unwilling to suffer for their faith.
3) Weedy soil/money and distractions
Some are so involved in the pursuits of this world they have no energy or time left to pursue Gods work.
4) Good soil/reproducing
Some become disciples who bear fruit for God, but even among these, fruitfulness varies, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.
So this parable leaves us still asking a question: Why do some bring forth a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty? Is it a matter of gifting, or the responsiveness of the culture in which they live, or does it have to do with attitudes and decisions within that person? In other words, is it external circumstances or do we determine the fruitfulness of our lives? Of course its God working through us, we can do nothing apart from Him. But does He limit us or do we limit Him? Who decides whether Im a hundredfold or thirtyfold? Him or me?
Embracing the call
Were all called to be disciples, but not all embrace the call. There is an element that only we can bring to this process and that element determines our fruitfulness for God. Its not outward appearance. Its not intelligence or talent. Its not being in the right place at the right time. I believe its simply desire. Some people want to be fruitful and therefore they do whatever it takes. They set their eyes on the goal and start moving toward it. Its a desire that arises out of deep attitudes of the heart. Within every fruitful disciple there is:
1) A strong love for Jesus
I do this because I love Him. Its a gift I want to give Him.
2) A perspective on life
I get it that life is short, and God and people are the only things that matter.
3) A commitment to fulfill my calling
God has asked me to do certain things, and I must obey.
4) An abandonment of my rights
I will not set boundaries on how God can use me. I will give up my comfort, safety, financial security and even health when they stand in the way of obeying God (Ro 1:1
a bondservant of Christ Jesus).
5) A coveting of spiritual fruit
I desire to maximize my potential Lord, I know I have limitations, but I want to be as fruitful as I am capable of being.
6) A confidence that I can do this
Because of grace and the indwelling Holy Spirit, my life will change the eternal destiny of others. God will work in and through me!
Undergirding all of this is Gods faithful care of us, guiding, healing, comforting, teaching, encouraging, forgiving, and convicting just as a father cares for the child in whom he delights (Pr 3:12). But we must provide the desire.
How God measures fruitfulness
Theres an old saying that goes something like this: Its easy to count the seeds in an apple, but only God can count the apples in a seed. Thats because the reproductive power of a seed continues on long past a human lifetime. Seeds grow into trees and trees grow apples that are full of seeds
generation after generation after generation. And the same thing happens with a disciple. One real disciple produces fruit for God that no one can number because the impact of that life goes on long past the persons death. People they bring to Christ bring others to Christ, who bring others to Christ
generation after generation after generation.
Abraham is a wonderful example of this. God promised to make him into a great nation (Ge 12:2). He said he would have so many children he couldnt count them all (Ge 15:5). But when he died Abraham left a total of eight children (Ge 25:1, 2), only one of whom was the child God gave him to fulfill this promise. One son is hardly an innumerable nation. But the promise didnt stop working when Abraham and Sarah died. Isaac was the seed God planted which has kept on reproducing even to this day. We who have faith like Abraham are children of Abraham. And the number of his children keeps on growing.
Jesus promised we would be fruitful as well. Listen:
My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. (Jn 15:8)
You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain. (Jn 15:16)
Toward the end of His ministry Jesus tended to run away from crowds at times. He even healed secretly so a crowd couldnt gather. He spent more and more of His time teaching and ministering to those with a disciples heart. Apparently there were about 500 of them (1Co 15:6), men and women. And its because of these, not the multitudes that numbered in the tens of thousands, that the kingdom of God continued to grow after He ascended. These were the seeds that would carry the church into the next generation.
Which bring us back to Timothy.
Timothy was probably a teenager when Paul first came to Lystra. His mother was Jewish but his father was a Greek (Ac 16:1), so he was what the Jewish community called a mumzer, the child of a forbidden marriage. That made him an outcast from the synagogue. He would never be welcomed there. His grandmother and mother taught him the Bible from the time he was a baby (2 Tim 3:15). And he may well have been in the crowd when Paul was attacked (2 Tim 3:10, 11). He and his grandmother and mother all became believers while Paul was there or soon afterward.
It was during Pauls third visit to Lystra (Ac 16:1-3) that he invited Timothy to be his disciple. Here was the great rabbi Shaul (Saul), trained under Gamaliel, one of the greatest rabbis in history, inviting this young outcast to follow him. He saw in him the heart of a disciple. He saw in him the desire to be fruitful
and he did become fruitful. He went on to pastor one of the largest churches in the world, and he became a loyal friend to Paul, a spiritual son (1Tim 1:2, 18; 2Tim 2:1). When Paul was awaiting execution in Rome, Timothy was one of the few who came to be with him (2Tim 4:9-13, 21). In other words, a precious treasure was hidden in Lystra, one that only God could see when He first sent Paul there, someone worth much more than the price Paul paid!
God is looking for disciples, real disciples, and He knows where they are. They may be hidden in forgotten places or dangerous places. They may come from troubled families. They may be outcasts. But He doesnt look at their circumstances, He sees their heart (1Sa 16:7) that is, He sees the heart that will be there. He sees a future seed, full of fruit, and Hell send you or me to the ends of the earth to find them.
1) Has God ever put you in a very difficult situation, for one person? If so, tell us about it.
2) Did God send someone after you? What were your circumstances when God found you?
3) Do you have the heart of a disciple? Is there something missing? Would you like to pray and ask God to change your heart?