Monday, March 15, 2010

Acts 14: Persistence through trials

The ministry of Paul and Barnabas in Iconium and Lystra is a model of how to live the Christian faith in a fickle and hostile environment:

"Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands." (14:1-3)

When they meet with opposition to their message, Paul and Barnabas do not back down. On the contrary, it is precisely this opposition that prompts them to speak the more boldly. But, "When an attempt was made ... to mistreat them and to stone them, they learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe ... and there they continued to preach the gospel" (14:5-7).

Like Paul and Barnabas, we too must be prudent. Though any of us might be called to martyrdom, we need not recklessly endanger our lives.

Their stop in Lystra seems, to me, reminiscent of Christ's final week in Jerusalem. Initially Paul and Barnabas are worshiped as gods, but some disgruntled Jews turn the crowds against them, and Paul is stoned and left for dead.

But the very next day he is up and traveling to preach in a new city. And when they return to Antioch in Syria and gather with the church there, Paul and Barnabas do not dwell on their trials; rather, "they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles" (14:27).

(Image: Nicolaes Pietersz. Berchem, "Paul and Barnabas at Lystra," 1650)

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