Perils of Ministry – Acts 14
Read the Passage: Acts 14
Acts 13 records the beginnings of Paul’s first missionary journey, which occurred in 48 AD. This journey took Paul and Barnabas first to Crete and then to Pisidian Antioch. While Paul had ministerial success in these locations, Acts 13:42–52 records the first significant conflict Paul faced during his missionary work, as certain Jews grew envious of Paul’s success and opposed his message. Nevertheless, God used the difficulties Paul experienced to further His divine plan of bringing the gospel to the Gentiles. Indeed, the opposition of the Jews, and Paul’s subsequent defense of his message, led to God saving “as many as had been appointed to eternal life” (Acts 13:48). However, once certain Jews “stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men” (Acts 13:50) of Pisidian Antioch, Paul and Barnabas were forced to leave the city for their own safety.
After their ministry in Pisidia, Paul and Barnabas traveled ~80 miles southeast where they began preaching Christ at the Jewish synagogue in Iconium. As at Antioch, so in Iconium Paul and Barnabas experienced both ministerial success and persecution at the hand of certain Jews. However, unlike at Antioch, in Iconium Paul and Barnabas “stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord” (Acts 14:3). Further, Luke reports that God “was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands” (Acts 14:3). The text does not record what signs and wonders were done, but they presumably entailed healings and other acts of restoration. Over time, though, persecution by both Jews and Gentiles became great, forcing Paul and Barnabas to flee 18 miles south to the Roman province of Lycaonia, specifically to the cities of Lystra and Derbe.
Being a smaller town, Lystra presumably had no synagogue, for Luke doesn’t mention Paul teaching there. Yet, apparently Paul was speaking in a public place where he took note of and healed a man who was born crippled. This miracle is reminiscent of Jesus’ healing of a man who was born blind (cf. John 9:1–41) and Peter’s healing of a man who was born lame (cf. Acts 3:1–26). Upon seeing this miracle, the citizens concluded that Paul and Barnabas were the gods Hermes and Zeus. Note that this is a great example of how miracles can lead one away from faith, as opposed toward faith. Once they realized the peoples’ misunderstanding, Paul and Barnabas stopped the people from offering a sacrifice. In Acts 14:15–17 Paul gave a brief sermon to the people, attempting to draw them away from the worship of false gods and toward “the living God” (Acts 14:15).
Soon after Paul and Barnabas were able to correct the misunderstanding of the citizens’ of Lystra, certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium arrived. As they had done earlier, these men stirred up dissension and succeeded in stoning Paul. Note that they had intended to do this earlier in Iconium (cf. Acts 14:5). This attack may have resulted in Paul’s death, for the Jews “dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead” (Acts 14:19). While not all agree that Paul will killed in this attack, for the language used here is imprecise, at the very least he was severely injured, being knocked unconscious. Following this, in a divine miracle of either healing or resurrection (or both), Paul “rose up and went into the city” (Acts 14:20). In light of the persecution, the text records that the very next day Paul and Barnabas embarked upon a 40-mile journey, traveling southeast to the city of Derbe.
Acts 14:21–28 summarizes the balance of Paul’s first missionary journey, including his return trip to Syrian Antioch. Of note is the fact that Paul and Barnabas apparently did not face significant opposition in Derbe, but made many disciples there (cf. Acts 14:21). After leaving Derbe, Paul and Barnabas retraced their steps, again visiting the new churches in Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch. While visiting these churches, Paul and Barnabas appointed elders (or pastors) in each church. Presumably, enough time had passed so that those earlier converts with the spiritual gift of pastor/teacher had arisen and were evident in each church. As is usually the case, when God allows a church to form, he provides shepherds to tend to His flock. Luke writes that Paul and Barnabas eventually arrived back at their home church in Syrian Antioch and gave a report about their work.
- What are some of the dangers faced by those in Christian ministry? Have you ever faced opposition because of the gospel of Jesus Christ?
- How do we explain the presence of signs and wonders in the ministries of Peter and Paul, yet the lack of Christians performing miracles today?
- How can we discern when it is best to defend the gospel and when it is wiser to flee opposition (cf. Matt. 7:6; 15:14)?
- Why does Paul appeal to the Old Testament in his sermon in Acts 13:26–41, but he appeals to nature in his sermon in Acts 14:15–17?
- After his divine healing, why do you think Paul went back into Lystra? What effect would Paul’s healing have had upon the citizens of Lystra?