“After they had preached the gospel in 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, ‘Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.’ (Acts 14:21-22).”
People who sell pet food say the young animals need a richer diet, one loaded with protein and certain vitamins. Obstetricians make a similar observation about human babies.
It’s true of babies in Christ also. They need nurturing, tender instruction, and careful preparation for all that is ahead in this new life they have chosen and for which they were chosen.
At the apogee of what we refer to as their first missionary journey,* Paul and Barnabas decided that instead of blazing new trails into pioneer territory with the gospel of Jesus, they should retrace their steps and do followup with the people they had already led to the Lord. So, they turned around and went back, right into the towns and cities where they had been “tarred and feathered,” so to speak, and warned never to return.
In this case, however, they were no longer standing in public squares proclaiming the gospel to the disinterested and hostile, but meeting quietly with bands of believers to assist them in their spiritual growth and in becoming effective churches.
“And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed” (Acts 14:23).
The new believers would be needing solid churches with stable leadership, so the little missionary team selected and appointed (and ordained? I think so) elders in each place. Later, the churches would be choosing their own leaders, but at first, someone had to show them how to do this.
“I don’t like organized religion.” Ever heard that? The answer should be, “The alternative is disorganized religion, friend. You can’t have it both ways. And God is not the author of confusion.” (See I Corinthians 14:33)
Paul said to young Pastor Timothy, “I write so that you may know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (I Timothy 3:15). He said this immediately after laying down rules and principles concerning the selection of pastors and deacons.
Paul and Barnabas gave the new believers in these fledgling churches three kinds of instructions and teaching…
1) They strengthened their souls.
They would need grounding in the Word. They need to be taught to read Scripture for themselves, to study it and memorize it, and to teach it to others. In doing so, they are “becoming established” and sinking their roots deeply into the word.
2) They encouraged their hearts.
They would need to be surrounded by God’s people. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are a source of constant encouragement to us, particularly certain ones of them. (Some are discouragers of the first order; avoid them as much as possible.)
One of the earliest church leaders urged other disciples not to forsake regular assembling of themselves together, “as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more, as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25).
We think of “going to church” as all about worship–and it is!–but a major component, one often neglected, is the nurturing encouragement believers give to each other.
“I can worship just as well on the creek bank as in church.” “I worship in front of my television listening to (fill in the blank with one’s favorite TV preacher).” Ever hear this? It’s possibly true, incidentally.
What that individual cannot do on the creekbank or in front of the television set is encourage other believers and receive encouragement from them. For that, they must get together. And when believers assemble to worship and encourage one another, we call that “church.”
Young believers will be needing fortitude and determination to stay by the program when times get hard, the fruit becomes sparse, the efforts all uphill, and their environment turns hostile. “Where is God then?” they may wonder.
Only if they are part of a nourishing, strengthening and encouraging group of believers will they be able to endure.
3) They told them to buckle their seat belts.
On the intercom, the pilot’s voice can be heard. “Folks, this is the captain speaking. Looks like we’re going to have some rough flying for a few minutes, so I suggest you remain in your seats with your seatbelt securely fastened. Flight attendants, take your seats.”
“Between here and Heaven, we’re going to have trouble,” Paul and Barnabas told the young Christians. “You’ll need to get prepared now.”
As a follower of Jesus Christ, you have chosen to swim upstream in a downstream world. This is not the easiest path you could have chosen. The world will not cooperate with your plan to spread the gospel of Jesus, but will resist with everything it has.
We thought you ought to know this in advance. “In this world, you will have tribulation,” Jesus told the disciples. “But take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
The simple fact is God does not mind allowing His children to experience tribulation in this life. If that seems strange to you–it always does to young believers who have not learned to study the Word–then consider several things….
1) When we want to build a muscle, how do we do it? By putting stress on it.
2) In order to get the message of Jesus to certain people in high places (and thus insulated from what’s happening on the streets), it might be necessary for some believers to be arrested and made to explain in a court of law what they are preaching. Jesus said, “Men will deliver you up to their courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles” (Matthew 10:17-18). Why would He allow His people to be so mistreated? In order for those governors and kings to hear the gospel. (They’re not coming to your revival meeting, friend. So we have to go to their place.)
3) Affliction and persecution drives us closer to Christ, gets the attention of the watching world, and puts the gospel on center stage. Paul was facing his second trial before Caesar, and told Pastor Timothy, “At my first defense, no one supported me, but all deserted me…. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, in order that through me the proclamation (i.e., the gospel) might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear…” (II Timothy 4:16-17).
4) And, one more: The Lord may have purposes in your suffering/tribulations you know nothing of. Years ago, when a football player from Mississippi State University received a severe injury and eventually died, his family literally lived in the ICU ward of our local hospital as long as their beloved son lived. When God took him to Heaven, and before the family returned home, the father told me, “I had no idea there was so much suffering in these waiting rooms. God gave me a ministry to a lot of people while we were camping out here. When we get home to Tennessee, I’m going to see if I can’t volunteer to hang out in a waiting room there and minister to hurting people.”
Writing of our suffering in this world, the Apostle Paul put it into perspective. “For our momentary light affliction is working for us an exceeding weight of glory, far beyond all comprehension” (II Corinthians 4:17).
And so, we teach the newbies to trust the Lord, to hang tough, to stay with other believers and to stay in the Word.
The day will come–and it won’t be as long as you might think–when you will look back and be so glad you took the road less traveled, the path of righteousness, even though it was more difficult. And you will say, again with the great apostle, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
You’ll be so glad you got this right.
(*My wife and I had a discussion about my use of “apogee,” which means the farthest point in an orbit. She wonders why I didn’t say “at the far end of Paul and Barnabas’ second missionary journey,” instead of using a word most people will not know. And, honestly, I have no good answer. A common rule in writing is to never use a hard word when a simple one would suffice, a principle I adhere to 99 percent of the time. Except this one. After all, as I said to her, once in a while, it’s all right for the preacher to use a word he knows, one which fits, and one which it wouldn’t hurt his audience to have to look up. She doesn’t buy that, and I’m not real sure I do either. But, there it is. Smiley-face goes here.)