Acts 14 (AD 48) – Part 1
Verses 11-12: “When the crowd saw what Paul had done [healed a lame man], they shouted…’The gods have come down to us in human form!…the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.”
Verse 21: “They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples.”
There is a lot of inappropriate, even ungodly reverence and praise paid to preachers and evangelists who appear to be ‘successful’ in their gospel campaigns. They are treated as if they had an unusual brilliance or godliness that was the reason for people being saved. Their presence is seen as the key to a successful meeting, and people perceived as less successful are
In an attempt to avoid that error, many Christians have developed an aversion to the kind of language that Luke used in verse 21. The prefer to minimise all reference to human involvement in people becoming Christians. They won’t even give decent credit for a job well done, regardless of results, because in their eyes to give someone praise is to tempt them to conceit. That’s like saying being kind to someone is tempting them to idolise comfort and ease. The worse we treat people, the more they’ll rely on God rather than on people. Right? Of course not.
This aversion to credit-where-credit’s-due means that for many Christians (preachers, teachers, children’s ministry workers, evangelists and so on), their work for God is as thankless as it is tireless. When something goes wrong – or appears to – it was their fault. When something goes well, it was nothing to do with them.
“I don’t want you to get a big head about it, so I won’t say too much”, you might have heard from someone, just after they told you that you weren’t awful. Words like that have an almost unique way of turning what was supposed to be a positive moment into an insult. What it’s saying is I thought you did a good job, but I only want to convey to you that you did a tolerable job. If I said you did any better than that, you’d become hopelessly conceited. I don’t trust you with praise or compliments so I’m not going to give you any.
But if Luke could say it, you can. Paul and Barnabas were just guys, and they didn’t ‘win’ people any more than you do. Which is to say they absolutely did win people, and so do you if you witness to someone and they become a Christian. Bear in mind, Luke used the word translated ‘won’ (μαθητεύω – mathēteuō), just a verse after he recounted the tale of Paul and Barnabas being called ‘gods’, when people tried to make sacrifices to them. Luke knew far better than you or me the dangers of overstating human importance, but he still used mathēteuō to describe what they did.
Does that mean Paul, Barnabas or you get the credit for someone’s salvation, taking some of that credit away from God? No. You didn’t save them, you ‘merely’ won them.
But is anything better than the feeling of ‘winning’ someone for God? ‘Winning’ them away from death and into life, off the road to hell and on a road with God towards eternal life with God?
Don’t be afraid to speak in this way. Of course we must be careful not to overstate things, but let’s not be Pharisaically paranoid.
Did someone preach, teach, evangelise, counsel, nurture, disciple, reason, care or support well?
Then thank them and tell them what a great job they did.
Did their work end in someone becoming a Christian, or moving into a closer walk with God?
Then thank them, tell them what a great job they did, and rejoice that they ‘won’ somebody to life.
And pray to God for the joy of winning converts for him through your own witness.