But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. - Acts 14:19
Fear is essential in our witness, but having our fears realized is something for which we must be prepared. The mistakes we make are also essential, teaching us to continue growing in our abilities to relate the gospel. Hoping for a fear-free and mistake-free evangelistic encounter is what we desire, but that desire actually keeps us from engaging with those who have yet to trust in Christ.
As I've continued to read through Acts 14, I have also been convicted about my desire for a suffering-free evangelistic lifestyle.
Having my fears of persecution actually become reality keeps me from wanting to share the gospel. Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey would enter a city, go into the synagogue on the Sabbath, and share the gospel. Some people would come to genuine saving faith, whereas others would be more and more hardened against the gospel. This hardening resulted in the potential for persecution, whether it be women of high standing and men of the city driving them out of their district (Acts 13:50), or being mistreated and finding out about a scheme to have them stoned (Acts 14:5), or actual stoning (Acts 14:19).
Fears becoming reality only encites more fear in my heart. But, where the gospel goes, persecution follows. Kingdom expansion is messy, but glorious, work. It's empowered by the Spirit, working in and through his people, to deliver the message of salvation through faith in Christ alone. Inherent in this message is the offense that man cannot save himself and is in greater need than they think. In coming to faith, most of us, if not all, were offended at this thought in some way, shape, or form. It goes with the gospel territory.
This understanding of suffering for Christ is found in Acts, but also in Jesus' and Paul's teaching as well.
- John 15:18-27
- John 16:33
- 1 Thessalonians 3:3
- 2 Timothy 3:12
Suffering is part of our ongoing witness for Christ, and according to Paul and Barnabas, we ought to embrace this as part of kingdom expansion.
Paul was stoned, and to the point where he looked like he was dead. But, he rose up and went back into Lystra. They went onto Derbe where they proclaimed Christ and many disciples were made. They then traced their steps, going back into Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch in order to encourage and strengthen the disciples.
Their encouragement included the truth that "through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God." (Acts 14:22)
It's not a denial of the realities of suffering in the mission field, but an understanding of their purpose they were hoping to communicate. As we've discussed, these tribulations put us in a position to trust God who raises the dead. And, it contributes to the strengthening of the saints who are on the front lines. Paul himself experienced the realities of persecution in various forms, and he was the one who got up, went back into the city, and continued to preach.
Suffering is essential in our witness because we actually see the strength of the Lord in us, and we are able to be used of him in strengthening others. When we fear persecution, we have the conversation in our head about God's faithfulness and strength. When our fears in persecution are realized, we get to actually see the Lord working in us and through us for his kingdom's expansion.
We are not to expect suffering-free evangelistic lifestyles, but rather we are to expect strength that is not our own to be present in us and in those around us. This, in turn, continues to empower a gospel witness that transcends fear, mistakes, and actual suffering.
In Christ, we can suffer for his kingdom while it expands. This lends credence to our message, and encourages those around us to continue.
Lord willing, we will embrace our fears, learn from our mistakes, and go forward despite the suffering inherent in this work. May we look to our God for strength, and actually find it as we share the greatest message ever told.
But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on wth Barnabas to Derbe. When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. - Acts 14:20-23