Jun 22 2013 - Acts 14:8-28 – I will build my church
In Lystra a man who had been lame from birth listened eagerly to Paul’s preaching. Seeing his faith, Paul told the man to stand up. Like the man healed at the Beautiful Gate of the temple in Acts 3, the man did not drag himself to his feet, he “jumped up and began to walk” (Acts 14:10). The crowd who witnessed it thought that Paul and Barnabas must be gods come down to earth. Paul had scarcely managed to stop them sacrificing to them when Jews from Antioch and Iconium turned the crowd against him. Paul was dragged outside the city, stoned and left for dead. However, when the crowds had dispersed, he got up and went back into the city before leaving with Barnabas for Derbe the next morning.
Having preached in Derbe and gained many disciples for the Lord, Paul and Barnabas retraced their steps, returning to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch. In every town they encouraged the new believers, strengthening their hearts and telling them that the way of the kingdom passes through many trials and persecutions.
Imagine these Christians. They had been believers for only a few months. In every town (with the exception maybe of Derbe), they had seen how the followers of Jesus faced persecution and they knew that they could expect the same. How would these young churches survive?
Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in each of the churches as they passed through, choosing those they believed most able to care for the others. But the elders themselves must have been new to the faith. How would they be able to cope with their responsibilities? We read that with prayer and fasting, Paul and Barnabas laid their hands on them and committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. Paul knew that the future of these churches lay not only in the hands of these inexperienced pastors but, more importantly, in the hands of the Lord. He would build his church, and even trial and persecution would not destroy it.
In 2010 I spent a short time in Madagascar, joining in the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the translation and publication of the Bible into the language of that island. The church there went through a period of severe persecution in the nineteenth century. Missionaries had to flee the country and Christians were hunted down and imprisoned. Some were even stoned to death or thrown to their death from cliffs. Yet, far from destroying the church it was strengthened and grew. Without the missionaries, Christians learned to rely on the Lord in whom they had believed. The same remarkable growth of the church occurred in China after the expulsion of Western missionaries in the twentieth century.
Paul's missionary methods deserve continual study. They may have been driven partly by necessity, but they also became part of his strategy for promoting the spread of the gospel and the growth of the church.
In our ministry, are we creating a culture of dependence upon ourselves or of dependence upon the Lord? Are we ready to allow Christians who are young in the faith to take on areas of responsibility, teaching them to look to the Lord for their help, or are we determined to retain control in the fear that it will otherwise all fall apart?
Lord Jesus, help us to trust that you will build your church by your own power and by your own Spirit. Thank you that you use us in the work of the kingdom. Keep us passionate and devoted in the work to which you have called us. But keep us also from the deceit that it all depends on us.