SERMON: Lessons from Paul and Barnabas

This sermon was preached at Providence Reformed Church on January 11,2015. For full audio, visit ProvRef.org.

READ Acts 13 and 14.

January is the time of year that we consider being resolute. In our minds, it’s a fresh start, it’s a new beginning, it’s an opportunity to make a change. This why the gym goes from being empty in December to being a fire-code violation in January. People tend to have a resolve in January that this year is going to be different.

There’s nothing wrong with that. The tough part is sticking to it. In the Christian life, there are a number of resolutions that we should all have, not just in January, but in every day of our new lives. We should be daily resolved to be wholly devoted to God in everything that we do. We should be resolved to share the gospel of Jesus Christ as often and as passionately as we can. We should resolve to be unashamed even under persecution. These aren’t January resolutions. These are lifelong resolutions that started as soon as we realized that Jesus paid the price of sin for us.

Some of the most resolved Christians in history are the two featured men in our passage this morning, Paul and Barnabas. We’ve just read the account of the first missionary journey, and from it, we’ll see their admirable and exemplary resolve. We’re going to learn from their example, and we’ll resolve together to follow them as they follow Christ, and we’ll pray that God would help us to stick true to our resolutions.

From our passage, we can learn 6 lifelong resolutions from their example. First,

1. Paul and Barnabas were diligent

After the Holy Spirit called Barnabas and Saul (later referred to as Paul), and after the church fasted, prayed, and laid hands on them, they (along with John Mark) set out for Seleucia, about 16 miles to the southwest. From there, the trio sailed to the island of Cyprus. Barnabas was a Cyprus native and probably had a strong desire to share the gospel there.

To give a picture of where they went, Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, at 140 miles long and 60 miles wide. The men came ashore at Salamis, a large port city on the eastern shore of Cyprus, about 120 miles southwest of Seleucia. After they shared the gospel there, they crossed the whole island from east to west, probably following the southern coast.

There, they shared the gospel, including with Sergius Paulus, the proconsul (or Roman governor) of Cyprus. Then, they boarded another ship and headed northwesterly for 170 miles. From there, they travelled to Pisidian Antioch, where they preached the gospel some more. In Pisidian Antioch, they were run out of town and headed 60 miles southeast to Iconium. The unbelieving Jews there stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against Paul and Barnabas, but nonetheless, they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord. Eventually, an attempt was made to mistreat and to stone them, so they fled to Lystra.

Now in Lystra, not only are they mistaken for gods, but then they are taken out of the city and Paul is stoned, seemingly to death. Despite that hardship, they continued on and went another 30 miles southeast to Derbe. After sharing the gospel there, they retraced their steps, which we’ll discuss later.

Reading this account is incredibly convicting. No, not everyone is called to international missions like Paul and Barnabas were, but we’re called to their level of diligence:

1 Corinthians 15:58 says, “my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

It’s said of the early church in Acts 5:42, “And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”

Can it be said of us that we are “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord”? Will Christians a hundred years from now, Lord willing, look back and remember a church that worked hard for the Lord?

What in our lives is keeping us from this kind of diligence? How can we better commit ourselves to the work of the Lord? Barnabas and Paul were diligent. Secondly,

2. They shared the gospel with whomever they could

In Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. In Paphos, they shared the gospel with the Roman governor Sergius Paulus. In Antioch, they went to the synagogue and preached both to the Jews and the Gentile converts (“you who fear God” v16). In Iconium, they did the same. When they fled from Iconium to Lystra and Derbe, they continued to preach the gospel.

Whether the people were common folk or politicians, whether they were Jews, proselytes, or Gentiles, Paul and Barnabas sought to share the gospel with them. This should be our attitude and our actions as well.

Sometimes, we like to choose whom to share the gospel with. We make assumptions that some are more savable than others. We don’t have to make that determination; God has done that from eternity past. Even though it’s been determined in eternity past, Scripture is clear no one is saved without the gospel, so our job is to share the gospel with all peoples, and God will do the saving. May we, like Paul and Barnabas, not discriminate in any way, whether by gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, vocation, or any other way. May our gospel be preached to every tribe, tongue, and nation.

So, Paul and Barnabas were diligent, they shared the gospel to whomever they could, and

3. They were known Christians

When they were in Paphos, they were summoned by the Proconsul Sergius Paulus. What they were doing was probably causing quite a stir, and it was his civic duty to investigate the matter. What’s notable about this is that Paul and Barnabas had a clear reputation of being Christ-followers. It was well-known in the area, to the point that the Proconsul caught wind of two Christians causing a stir in the city.

Las Vegas is a city of two million citizens plus millions of visitors, so Mayor Goodman might not even be aware that you’re alive. But among the people who know you, do they know that you’re a Christian? One of the saddest things that someone could hear from a long-time acquaintance or friend is, “I didn’t know you were a Christian.” Our walk and our talk should make us a distinctly different people, namely followers of Jesus the Lord. If not, something has to change.

This doesn’t mean that we should try to be notorious for the sake of being notorious. But by His grace, we should live and love as the Savior did, including sharing the gospel at every opportunity. And that should cause a stir. That should be distinct. People should know we are Christian.

The Apostles were diligent, they shared the gospel with whomever they could, they were known Christians, and they

4. They persevered through opposition

Again and again in this passage, we see that the Apostle’s efforts to share the gospel faced constant opposition.

First, when Paul and Barnabas were summoned by Sergius Paulus, the Proconsul of the island of Cyprus, “they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus” (13:6). Paul and Barnabas had been summoned to share with Sergius Paulus what they were preaching. “But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith” (13:8). You have to imagine that Elymas the magician’s job was on the line if Sergius Paulus repented and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. There isn’t a huge market for sorcerers within Christendom.

Later, in Antioch, after Paul and Barnabas spoke in the synagogue, although “the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord…when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him” (13:45). That word, “reviling”, means “insulting, abusing, or scorning”. Out of jealousy, they were reviling him and contradicting what he was saying.

Then, they “incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district” (13:50). They didn’t want to hear any more of the word of God. So, they rallied up the mob and drove out the Apostles.

Then, in Iconium, after Paul and Barnabas preached in the synagogue there and “spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed” (14:1), “the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers” (14:2). That’s the easiest way to stir people up—poison their minds. We, then see that the people of the city were divided, some siding with the Jews and some siding with the apostles. Here, both Jews and Gentiles tried to mistreat them and to stone them (14:4-5).

Later, in Lystra, Jews came all the way from Iconium (20.5 miles away from Lystra) and Antioch (even farther), and they persuaded the crowds to stone Paul. As we can see, Paul is the more outspoken of the two, and so they stoned him and dragged him out of the city, thinking that he was dead. They traveled miles and miles for this purpose.

So, in just these two chapters, we see constant persecution, from vitriol to violence. Barnabas and Paul may have been tempted in this persecution to give up. But as Paul would write to the Corinthians, no temptation had overtaken them that is uncommon to man (1 Corinthians 10:13). They were experiencing the kind of persecution that we could easily experience in our time. They were experiencing the kind of persecution that brothers and sisters all over the world face today. They were experiencing the kind of persecution that Christians have endured for two millennia. And they did not falter.

We all experience persecution for the sake of Christ in some way. 2 Timothy 3:12-13 tells us that “indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” If you are living a godly life, which includes sharing the gospel of Jesus, you are a fragrance from death to death to those who don’t believe. And you will be persecuted.

You may not be driven out of town, Lord willing, and you may not be stoned and left for dead, Lord willing. But you will be persecuted. Maybe you’ll be ridiculed. Maybe you’ll be told to shut up. Maybe you’ll be treated like an idiot. Who knows? Maybe one day, you’ll be arrested for speaking out against sin or saying that there’s only one way to God.

Brothers and sisters, the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel isn’t true today, and it certainly wasn’t true for Paul and Barnabas in chapters 13 and 14. And so we need to prepare our minds for true Christianity. And we need to press on.

But why? If sharing the gospel or standing for Christ is going to lead to this kind of persecution, why not just be a secret Christian? Why not just make Christianity a personal matter? Because, friends, we’ve been commanded to be public Christians. We’ve been commanded to make disciples of all nations, and if we love Jesus, we will obey His commandments. Being a secret Christian isn’t an option. Now, whether missionaries in hostile countries should keep their faith secret is another question, but they’re not doing so in order to live an easy life. They do so in order to keep sharing the gospel. But if a believer pretends that they’re not Christian solely to avoid any kind of hardship, it’s clearly unbiblical, and it’s dishonoring to God.

Now, we’re not necessarily to seek persecution. In fact, in 14:6, when they learned about the plot against them in Iconium, they fled to Lystra and Derbe. They weren’t trying to have large stones hurled at them. But they were willing to face that if it came down to it. Our passion is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Not only are we commanded to, but we love Jesus so much that we can’t help it. And we love people so much that we want to see them come to know Jesus. And we need to be willing to face the consequences of this passion.

Paul and Barnabas were diligent, they shared the gospel with whomever they could, they were known Christians, they persevered through opposition, and

5. They made disciples

One notable aspect about Paul’s and Barnabas’s missions work is that they actually made disciples. In other words, they didn’t just make converts and abandon them to navigate this new life on their own. In Antioch, after the meeting at the synagogue broke up, many Jews and proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, and they urged them to continue in the grace of God. So, there was some immediate follow up to their conversion.

Later, after Paul was stoned and left for dead in Lystra, Paul got up. By the way, this is nothing short of a miracle. He was stoned and left for dead. He might’ve actually died and been raised by the Holy Spirit. Even if he wasn’t actually dead, he was stoned and assumed dead. And Luke, very matter-of-factly, says that Paul “rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.”

So, miraculously, Paul gets up and continues the mission to Derbe. Once they’re done there, they go back to Lystra! The place Paul was stoned and left for dead! Why? 14:22 tells us that it was to strengthen 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. Verse 23 tells us that they appointed elders for them in every church. And they did this not just in Lystra, but in Iconium and Antioch as well.

Reading the rest of Acts and then Paul’s letters, we see that Paul was committed not just to sharing the gospel but also to discipling believers. He had a passion to see people come to Jesus and also to feed His sheep.

There are some ministries that are wholly committed to evangelism and bringing people to Christ, but don’t really focus on discipling those who are Christian. On the other hand, there are some ministries that are passionate about the selective edification of believers, but don’t care much for evangelism.

Church, making disciples implies both. We need to share the gospel so that people will believe and follow Christ. But then we also need to teach them to obey all that Jesus has commanded us. That’s discipleship. Take an honest evaluation of this ministry and your role in this ministry. Are we well-balanced? And what can we do to be more balanced? Now, this doesn’t mean that we need to do less of one and more of the other. It means that we need to do more of what’s lacking and keep up what’s thriving.

Paul and Barnabas were diligent, they shared the gospel to whomever they could, they were known Christians, they faced opposition, they made disciples, and lastly,

6. They were zealous for the glory of God

In Lystra, as Paul was speaking, he saw a man who was crippled from birth and had never walked. By the power of the Holy Spirit, he said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet”, and the man sprang up and started to walk. When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they thought that he was a god, and they started worshiping Barnabas and Paul as Zeus and Hermes. When Barnabas and Paul figured out what was happening, they “tore their garments” (14:14). This was a sign and action of deep anguish. And they rushed out into the crowd saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them” (v15).

When glory was not given to God but was instead given to them, they were despaired. And they immediately gave glory to God.

Later, when they returned to the brothers in Antioch, they gathered the church together and “declared all that God had done with them, and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles” (v27). Notice that it doesn’t say, “and they shared their great adventures, and how Paul rebuked Elymas the magician and made him blind, and how Paul made a cripple walk, and how Paul was stoned and left for dead, but they still had the courage to carry on, and how caring they were to the new converts.” Neither did they pretend, in false humility, that none of that stuff happened. They “declared all that God had done with them”.

This is a great example for us. When people give us the glory, we should be thankful for their encouragement, but ultimately, we should give glory to God. At the same time, we can take the opposite extreme and feel like we’re just utterly useless. That attitude is actually disrespectful to God, too, because He’s the gift-giver. If He has given you gifts so that you’re useful, don’t insult Him by acting as if you’re useless. And always remember that all the good that you do with those gifts are from Him.

Conclusion

As we think about being resolute this year and for the rest of our lives, may we like Paul and Barnabas strive to live every moment diligently for God, sharing the gospel with whomever we possibly can, being known as godly Christ follower, persevering through opposition, and being always zealous for the glory of God.

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