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Bible: What Does Acts 14 Teach Us About The Ministry of Paul and Barnabas?
The Apostle Paul
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Spiritual Status of Pagans
Are pagan people--people who have never heard the gospel-- lost?
Acts 14: Paul and Barnabas' Witness in Southern Galatia
Ministry in Iconium
Luke records the vacillating reactions to the apostolic witness in Iconium (vv. 1-7).
Not only does the historian report that Paul and Barnabas saw a great harvest of Jewish and Greek souls (v. 1), but he also indicates that unbelieving Jews fed misinformation to Gentiles there, agitating them against the apostles (v. 2).
So effective and miraculous is their ministry in this city that the missionary team decided to stay there for an extended period (v. 3).
[The “signs and wonders” authenticated the truth of “the word of His grace.”]
Work in Lystra and Derbe
However, their work essentially divides the city’s population in two: one-half supports them, and the other half opposes them (v. 4).
When their enemies conspire to murder them (v. 5), Paul and Barnabas escape to Lystra and Derbe in Lycaonia, where they continue their ministry of the word (vv. 6-7).
Reminiscent of the healing Peter performed among Jews in the Jerusalem temple (cf. 3:1-10), Paul’s good deed toward a lame man also stirs up an unforeseen controversy among the pagans in Lystra (vv. 8-18).
[See the table in this hub for a demonstration of the similarities and differences between both miracles].
The Lycaonians mistake Paul and Barnabas for the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes, respectively, whom they perceive to be visiting them in human form (vv. 11-12).
After learning of the city’s plan to sacrifice animals to them, the “apostles Barnabas and Paul”—interestingly,
Luke designates Barnabas an apostle and places him first—signify their dismay at this action by tearing their robes and remonstrating vigorously, confessing to the people their common humanity (vv. 13-15a).
[Whether Paul, Barnabas, or both men address the natives here, is unknown.]
The apostles stress the Lycaonians’ need to desist from sacrificing animals to Greek gods (“turn from these useless things”) and turn toward worshiping the living Creator of the universe.
This God, Paul asserts, once permitted undeserving Gentiles to survive while providentially showering His common grace upon them as a witness to His goodness (vv. 15b-17).
Paul’s explanation of their identity and of the gist of their apologetic message to Gentiles barely succeeds in preventing these pagans from carrying out their idolatrous plans (v. 18).
Comparing Acts 3:1-10 and Acts 14:8-10
Acts 3: 1-10
A certain man lame from his mother’s womb (v. 2); and fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, “Look at us.” And he (Peter) took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple . . .
. . . a certain man without strength in his feet was sitting, a cripple from his mother's womb, who had never walked (v. 8); . . . Paul, observing him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, said with a loud voice . . . And he leaped and walked (vv. 9-10).
Now the spokesman undergoes a near fatal experience, as Jewish opponents (trailing him from Pisidian Antioch and Iconium) induce “the multitudes” in Lystra to follow them, opening the way for them to stone the apostle to death (or so they presumed) [v. 19].
[Paul may be referring to this stoning as the event that led to his being caught up to the third heaven (cf. 2 Cor. 12:1-5)].
While he lay “dead” outside Lystra’s gates, and Christians gather (in prayer?) around him, Paul miraculously revives and re-enters Lystra where he stays until the next day when he and Baranabas travel east to the town of Derbe (v. 20).
Retracing Their Steps
Luke traces the apostles’ journey from Derbe (where they reach many people for Christ) back to the cities in which they had already ministered—Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch—in order to strengthen and exhort the saints there (vv. 21-22).
As apostles, they possess Christ’s authority on earth; therefore, they appoint elders in every church planted in that region—having made those decisions after praying and fasting—and then commend them all to the Lord’s care (v. 23).
From Pisidia, they head south toward the coast until they reach Perga and Attalia in the region of Pamphylia, where they again zealously preach the gospel (vv. 24-25).
At last, the apostles sail from Attalia back to Antioch of Syria—their home church; there they report the effects of their ministry among the Gentiles and stay for an extended period of time (vv. 26-28).
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