At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed. But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders. The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. (verses 1-4)
This is a slice-of-life in the expanding mission of Jesus in Asia Minor.
The dynamics are absolutely intriguing. Arriving in Iconium, Paul and Barnabas follow their usual custom, going to the local synagogue and declaring good news to the Jewish community, salvation coming “first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Romans 1:16). Wonderfully, at first hearing, a great number of Jews, together with Gentiles, believed. Clearly there was a fertile field among some Jews who were longing for more of the Lord. Clearly, too there was an open door into the lives of some eager non-Jews who were already attending the synagogue, seeking spiritual meaning.
But opposition arises. It’s a result of human nature – jealousy and threat motivate hostile response. But we know that behind the scenes there is also the activation of spiritual forces of evil seeking to thwart the good news (Ephesians 6:12). Interestingly, from the human side, the target of the unbelieving Jews is to hinder non-Jews from placing faith in this new message. One would have thought their focus would have rather been on halting the spread among their own people. Why did they care about the response of the pagan world around them? The volatility of human emotions and the hostility of spiritual evil have combined in opposition.
Facing such poisoned antagonism, Paul and Barnabas do differently than I would have expected: they “spent considerable time there” (verse 3). They had sights set on kingdom goals, so skirmishes on the ground didn’t faze them. And the Lord intervened with signs and wonders, which must have tipped the balances further in kingdom directions, clarifying the good news for those willing to listen.
If there was a mixed response then, it shouldn’t surprise us if we encounter the same now. If opposition raged in those early days, why would we be surprised at flare-ups now? And if the good news of Jesus was able to capture open hearts then, with yearning and hope and perseverance, then we, too, should press on to see similar responses today, and tomorrow, and the day following. “Speaking boldly for the Lord” and watching for his confirming works – this should be our stance.
To the glory of Jesus.
O Lord, help me this day to be an agent of your Kingdom’s good news. Strengthen me to be bold and loving as you open doors of opportunity. Help me to press on, even when there is resistance. May you use even me to effectively deliver the message of your grace.
To the glory of Jesus.
Pray and watch: Having prayed the prayer above, walk into this day (and the next) watching for the Lord’s answer. Be ready to step into open doorways.