Acts 14 (AD 48) – Part 2
I keep re-reading how Paul and Barnabas responded to the slander and opposition in Iconium – what a witness for how to serve God:
“…the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the other Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord…” (v.2)
But they couldn’t stay as long as they wanted: “There was a plot afoot among both Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. But they found out about it and fled…” (v.5). And it’s always the right time to preach the gospel, which they got right back to doing in and around Lystra and Derbe (v.6-7).
Notice what Paul’s Jewish opponents did Iconium, in a moment of near unparalleled hypocrisy and irony. In order to be rid of the man who preached that the gospel of Jesus needed to go to the Gentiles, they collaborated with violent Gentiles to try and have him killed (v.5). After slandering Paul’s name to the Gentiles to try and persuade them not to believe what he was saying (v.2).
And they weren’t done – they followed Paul and Barnabas to Lystra, where Paul healed a man who had been lame all his life. The crowd responded in two ways. First, they tried to make sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas because they figured they must be gods. But then, after the Iconiumites “won the crowd over” (v.19), they tried to stone Paul and Barnabas to death.
How did they ‘win them over’? Most likely by persuading them that Paul was insulting their culture and their pagan religion, trying to destroy their way of life. Whatever they said, it didn’t take much, and it doesn’t speak well of the people of Lystra that they were so easily persuaded to go from one idolatrous extreme to an opposite, murderous one.
I love how Paul was saved from death by the Christians in Lystra, who “gathered around” (v.20) Paul after he was knocked to the ground by the rock-throwing. They took blows for him, protected him, and helped him flee from there, too, and on to Derbe.
Then comes another tidbit I typically miss when I’m reading this passage:
“They preached the gospel in [Derbe] and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. ‘We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,’ they said.” (v.21-22)
Paul was an apostle. An evangelist, apologete, preacher and teacher whose role was not pastoring a church.
But this is a tremendous example of Paul’s pastoral heart. His devotion to helping people at great risk to his life. He fled when necessary. But ‘necessary’ for him seemed to mean, ‘I know exactly when I’m going to be killed’, or ‘They’re literally killing me right now’. Anything less than that and he stuck around to help people. This pastoral element was adjacent to his primary calling to preach the gospel to those who didn’t have it. It was vastly important, epoch-makingly significant work, but like all pastoral work it didn’t feel like it. And yet there he was.
May all of us have that kind of love for other people’s souls, that level of devotion to seeing people walk closer with God.