Continuation in the Practice (κατὰ τὸ αὐτὸ, Acts 14:1)
Not every translation brings out the fact that Paul and Barnabas stay with the practice of going to the Jews first. (E.g., in the NKJV the κατὰ τὸ αὐτὸ is not rendered in English at all. FF Bruce in his commentary draws attention to Luke’s words and translates them “in the same manner”. The NET Bible, NIV, and NRSV all bring out the similarity in engagement style to prior attempts to reach the populace of a city. Even The New Living Translation says “the same thing happened” when referring to the approach taken by Paul and Barnabas.)
The Greek (κατὰ τὸ αὐτὸ) could be construed like ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ and translated “Paul and Barnabas together entered the synagogue.” The NIV rendering “as usual” is preferable. Luke was pointing to their general pattern of going first to the Jews.
Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Prior problems might have moved other missionaries to do things differently and change the target audience. That is, with a recent history of hostilities from the same demographic they could hardly be blamed for being reluctant to start with that group again. But not these guys. Instead of changing things up and going with the Gentiles first, they continue with the practice of starting with the Jews (Acts 13:5, 14; 14:1).
If there is any change it seems to be in the manner of their speaking. While Luke does not say specifically how their speaking differs from previous occasions he does indicate that the manner won a multitude:
and so spoke that a great multitude… believed. (Acts 14:1, NKJV)
In the “so” their is a subtle but certain setting apart of their address to the Jews; for them it is singular. Maybe, with recently received revilings in mind, they don’t waste as much time with niceties and get straightway to the point.
They go to the Jews first and they speak not so as to entertain or to merely engage. They go to the Jews first and aim to convince and compel. For them it is not enough that they be heard; given their druthers every listener would heed the call to believe. And many did – a multitude. Their words come out of them with an intensity that comes from being surrendered to the Spirit, from an intentionality that issues from deep-seated concern for their brethren (Romans 9:2; 10:1) and convictions about the importance of the message (Romans 1:16), and from an expertise that can be expected from a man that has been taught by the Lord Himself (Galatians 1:11-12).
If there is any lesson for you and I in this one verse it is this:
As a missional community we cannot let detractors determine the demographics that we will endeavor to reach… or not reach; that direction comes from our Lord. And it can never be the case that persecutions pry us from the plow of presenting the gospel, from the principles of making disciples, or from the narrow and difficult path of living holy (Acts 13:47).
In three words
Stay the course (Matthew 7:13; 2 Timothy 2:3; 3:12)!
Continuation in Conflict with People (Acts 14:2)
“but the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren” – This is a pattern now. It started with a sorcerer that attempted to contradict the things spoken by Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:6-8). In the city of Antioch of Pisidia it is seen again as envious Jews contradict and speak falsehoods concerning God and His work through Christ (Acts 13:45). Some Jews have received the message and now place their faith in the Messiah – Jesus Christ. However, there are unbelieving Jews that work to remove these preachers by promoting ill will toward them. The dispositions of the Gentiles toward Paul and Barnabas have been darkened by damaging words from Jews that just won’t believe. Luke says that the efforts embittered the souls of the city’s Gentiles toward men of God bringing only a message of grace. The irony is tremendous.
The greatest opposition to truth-telling comes from people who will (1) not hear the truth and (2) not let others have it. Believers must be watchful but not worried when dealing with them. These malefactors, motivated by an ancient malevolence, will stop at nothing to stay the advance of the Church, stop the work of winning people to Jesus, and start anti-movements aimed at ousting the men and women of God. And where some of these detractors are clearly outside the flock. Others are sheep with loose-fitting coats and remarkably sharp teeth.
Paul and Barnabas are not just presenting the truth. They are also armed by it. They know who they are. The Bible says that the feet of those who bring the gospel are to be reckoned as beautiful (Isaiah 52:7; Nahum 1:15; Romans 10:14-15). Though they are covered with the dust of ordinary roads, the body dirt that is created in a closed shoe, and the animal dung encountered when wearing sandals – because they bear up the men and women who preach a full pardon through Heaven’s Prince, they are magnificent.
And if the feet are beautiful what are we to say of the bodies borne by those feet? They are most excellent temples of the Most High God; His Spirit indwells them. They are BEAUTIFUL sanctuaries saying the words of salvation.
Confirmed by Christ with Power (Acts 14:3; 1 Peter 1:14-16)
The therefore of verse Acts 14:3 seems to be at odds with the statement of Acts 14:2. But let us reckon their outlook. Paul and Barnabas know and believe their feet are beautiful and that the need is literally a matter of life and death. Led by the Spirit of the Lord and knowing who they are in Christ leads to a lingering that would have been impossible for a missionaries not firmly established in their faith. Like Jesus they are led by the Spirit and operate in ways that are sometimes enigmatic, contrary to human reasoning, and sometimes beyond founding out (John 3:8; 11:5-6; 1 Corinthians 2:15).
Verse 3 is in deliberate tension with the preceding and emphasizes the power of the Christian witness and the divine enabling behind it.
Polhill, J. B. (1992). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 311). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
These men are spiritual and they are rugged. They will not be run off by the first sign of trouble. And notice what the Lord does. He confirms them with a signs and wonders to be done by their hands. Where they will have to They were emboldened as the Lord demonstrated through them the power of their ministry and the veracity of their preaching.
When Christ is no longer supporting attempts to reach the region it is time to move on. But when the power of God to prove the message is present do not pack it in. In three words, although it may mean conflict:
Stay with Christ!
Culmination of Conflict (Acts 14:4-7)
The arrival of the gospel brings a number of benefits to any society that receives it. When the message of heaven’s help for a broken world is believed women are treated better, slaves are freed, education increases as hospitals are built, and orphans and widows receive better care. But there will be reprisals from the gates of hell. Expect that there will be the conflict that comes from the competing interests of contrary kingdoms. There will not be peace but a sword. Neither king will relent in seeking after souls.
Verse four (Acts 14:4) says that the city was divided. The conflict in the synagogue has spread to the general populace; this shows the increasing reach of the gospel in Iconium. Some sided with the Jews and some sided with the apostles (Paul and Barnabas). It gets so bad that a violent attempt by an angry mob was made by the combined forces of Gentiles and Jews to hurt the apostles. In obedience to the command of Christ these men flee in faith to continue the work in Lystra, Derbe, and cities of Lycaonia. They did not run and seek seclusion – a fear based response. They ran and kept preaching the gospel – a faith based response.
- The Promise of Our Persecution – 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. (Matthew 5:10-11, NKJV)
- The Sense of Our Suffering – 12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. (1 Peter 4:12-16, NKJV)
The passage we have looked at is a study in dogged determination, in the willingness of God to back His messengers, and the need for retreats. The retreat is not a falling back on account of failing faith. It is a moving on so that ultimately, in three words, we can…
Do it again!
In His grip by His grace,
Roderick L. Barnes, Sr.