Paul and Barnabas got in plenty of trouble in their day, but I was recently struck in particular by the chronology of their troubles in Antioch as recorded in chapter 13 of Acts. It’s not that different from some of our modern-day troubles. One of the encouraging things about this episode is though we sometimes see trouble as simply trouble, we are actually supposed to see some troubles as signs of true success. You might want to take the time to read the entire context (Paul’s sermon is Acts 13:17-41), but this is what happens as a result of his faithful preaching of “glad tidings.”
Things are looking promising. The crowd is growing, and people are begging for more.
- Paul declares the glad tidings (vs. 32) in the synagogue.
- “So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath. Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.” (vs.42-43).
- “On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God.” (vs. 44).
But now the “trouble” begins. Someone is not all together happy about the success of the ministry.
- “ But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy (vs. 45a).
- “And contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul” (vs. 45b).
- Then Paul and Barnabas spoke with more boldness (vs. 46).
- “Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was being spread throughout all the region” (vs. 48-49).
- “But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region” (vs. 50).
At this point, some of us may think the persecution was a success. After all, Paul and Barnabas got kicked out of town. But read on. The story is not really over.
- So Paul and Barnabas dusted off their feet and headed to Iconium (vs. 51).
- “And the disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Spirit” (vs. 52).
So here are a few take-way lessons for us.
- Successful ministry breeds envy. In this case, the envy was among the religious leaders of the Jews.
- Envy stirs up controversy, and the ensuing controversy has two effects:
- It causes more boldness in the preachers themselves; it causes some of the chief men and prominent women to join the wrong team.
- Sometimes the result looks like failure because the preachers are chased out of town (or out of their pulpits), but the actual result in the church is joy and the Holy Spirit.
We don’t know the names of those chief men and honorable women who were “stirred up” to join in the persecution, but we do know Paul and Barnabas, and we know that the ministry in Antioch continued to flourish. Pity those women who were deceived into joining the wrong team, especially since they were prominent women in the community. They were women of influence, and they used their influence to run Paul and Barnabas out of town. But they did not succeed in stopping the spread of the “glad tidings” of the gospel. They did not stop the Holy Spirit from doing His work.