Paul and Barnabas display humility, perseverance, and boldness
Based on Acts 14:1-28
1, 2. What series of events unfolds while Paul and Barnabas are in Lystra?
CHAOS reigns in Lystra. A man lame from birth leaps about with joy after two strangers heal him. People gasp in wonder, and a priest brings garlands for the two men whom the crowd believe to be gods. Bulls snort and bellow as a priest of Zeus prepares to slaughter them. Cries of protest rise from the throats of Paul and Barnabas. Ripping their garments apart, they leap into the crowd and beg not to be worshipped, barely restraining the adoring throng.
2 Then, Jewish opposers arrive from Pisidian Antioch and Iconium. With venomous slander, they poison the minds of the people of Lystra. The once-worshipful crowd now swirl around Paul and pelt him with stones until he is unconscious. Their anger spent, they drag Paul’s battered body outside the city gates, leaving him for dead.
3. What questions will we consider in this chapter?
3 What led up to this dramatic incident? What can present-day proclaimers of the good news learn from the events involving Barnabas, Paul, and the fickle inhabitants of Lystra? And how can Christian elders imitate the example set by Barnabas and Paul as those faithful men persevered in their ministry, “speaking with boldness by the authority of Jehovah”?—Acts 14:3.
“A Great Multitude . . . Became Believers” (Acts 14:1-7)
4, 5. Why did Paul and Barnabas travel to Iconium, and what happened there?
4 Not many days earlier, Paul and Barnabas were thrown out of the Roman city of Pisidian Antioch after Jewish opposers stirred up trouble for them. Instead of becoming discouraged, however, the two men “shook the dust off their feet” against the city’s unresponsive inhabitants. (Acts 13:50-52; Matt. 10:14) Paul and Barnabas peacefully departed and left those resisters to the consequences that would come from God. (Acts 18:5, 6; 20:26) With undiminished joy, the two missionaries continued their preaching tour. Trekking about 100 miles (150 km) southeast, they reached a fertile plateau cupped between the Taurus and Sultan mountain ranges.
5 Initially, Paul and Barnabas stopped at Iconium, an enclave of Greek culture and one of the principal cities of the Roman province of Galatia.* This city sheltered an influential Jewish population and a large number of non-Jewish proselytes. According to their custom, Paul and Barnabas entered the synagogue and began preaching. (Acts 13:5, 14) They “spoke in such a manner that a great multitude of both Jews and Greeks became believers.”—Acts 14:1.
6. Why were Paul and Barnabas effective teachers, and how can we imitate them?
6 Why was the manner in which Paul and Barnabas spoke so effective? Paul was a storehouse of Scriptural wisdom. He masterfully linked references to history, prophecy, and the Mosaic Law in order to prove that Jesus was the promised Messiah. (Acts 13:15-31; 26:22, 23) Barnabas radiated concern for people. (Acts 4:36, 37; 9:27; 11:23, 24) Neither man relied on his own understanding but spoke “by the authority of Jehovah.” How can you imitate those missionaries in your preaching activity? By doing the following: Become thoroughly familiar with God’s Word. Select Scriptural references that are most likely to appeal to your listeners. Look for practical ways to comfort those to whom you preach. And always base your teaching on the authority of Jehovah’s Word, not on your own wisdom.
7. (a) The good news produces what effects? (b) If your family is divided because of your obedience to the good news, what should you remember?
7 However, not all in Iconium were happy to hear what Paul and Barnabas had to say. “Jews that did not believe,” continued Luke, “stirred up and wrongly influenced the souls of people of the nations against the brothers.” Paul and Barnabas discerned the need to stay and defend the good news, and they “spent considerable time speaking with boldness.” As a result, “the multitude of the city was split, and some were for the Jews but others for the apostles.” (Acts 14:2-4) Today, the good news produces similar effects. For some it is a force for unity; for others, a cause for division. (Matt. 10:34-36) If your family is divided because you are obedient to the good news, remember that opposition is often a reaction to unfounded rumor or outright slander. Your fine conduct could become the antidote to such poison and may eventually soften the hearts of those who oppose you.—1 Pet. 2:12; 3:1, 2.
8. Why did Paul and Barnabas leave Iconium, and what lesson do we learn from their example?
8 After some time, opposers in Iconium hatched a plot to stone Paul and Barnabas. When these two missionaries were informed of it, they chose to move to other witnessing territory. (Acts 14:5-7) Kingdom proclaimers use similar discretion today. When faced with verbal attacks, we speak with boldness. (Phil. 1:7; 1 Pet. 3:13-15) But when violence looms, we avoid doing something foolhardy that would unnecessarily endanger our lives or the lives of fellow believers.—Prov. 22:3.
“Turn . . . to the Living God” (Acts 14:8-19)
9, 10. Where was Lystra located, and what do we know about its inhabitants?
9 Paul and Barnabas headed for Lystra, a Roman colony about 20 miles (30 km) to the southwest of Iconium. Lystra maintained strong ties with Pisidian Antioch but, unlike that city, did not have a prominent Jewish community. While the inhabitants likely spoke Greek, their mother tongue was Lycaonian. Possibly because the city contained no synagogue, Paul and Barnabas began preaching in a public area. While in Jerusalem, Peter had healed a man born disabled. In Lystra, Paul healed a man who was lame from birth. (Acts 14:8-10) Because of the miracle Peter had performed, a great crowd had become believers. (Acts 3:1-10) The miracle Paul performed led to a drastically different outcome.
10 As described at the outset of this chapter, when the lame man leaped to his feet, the pagan crowd in Lystra immediately drew the wrong conclusion. They referred to Barnabas as Zeus, the chief of the gods, and to Paul as Hermes, the son of Zeus and spokesman for the gods. (See the box “Lystra and the Cult of Zeus and Hermes.”) Barnabas and Paul, however, were determined to make the crowd understand that they spoke and acted not by the authority of pagan gods but by the authority of Jehovah, the one true God.—Acts 14:11-14.
11-13. (a) What did Paul and Barnabas say to the inhabitants of Lystra? (b) What is one lesson that we can learn from the statements made by Paul and Barnabas?
11 Despite the dramatic circumstances, Paul and Barnabas still sought to reach the hearts of their audience in the best way. With this incident, Luke recorded an effective way to preach the good news to pagans. Note how Paul and Barnabas appealed to their listeners: “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are humans having the same infirmities as you do, and are declaring the good news to you, for you to turn from these vain things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all the things in them. In the past generations he permitted all the nations to go on in their ways, although, indeed, he did not leave himself without witness in that he did good, giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts to the full with food and good cheer.”—Acts 14:15-17.
12 What lessons can we learn from these thought-provoking words? First, Paul and Barnabas did not consider themselves superior to their audience. They did not pretend to be something that they were not. Instead, they humbly admitted to having the same weaknesses as their pagan listeners. True, Paul and Barnabas had received the holy spirit and had been freed from false teachings. They had also been blessed with the hope of ruling with Christ. But they realized that the inhabitants of Lystra could receive these very same gifts by obeying Christ.
13 What is our attitude toward those to whom we preach? Do we view them as our equals? As we help others learn truths from God’s Word, do we, like Paul and Barnabas, avoid seeking adulation? Charles Taze Russell, an outstanding teacher who took the lead in the preaching work in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, set an example in this regard. He wrote: “We want no homage, no reverence, for ourselves or our writings; nor do we wish to be called Reverend or Rabbi.” Brother Russell’s humble attitude reflected that of Paul and Barnabas. Likewise, our purpose in preaching is not to bring glory to ourselves but to help people to turn to “the living God.”
14-16. What second and third lessons can we learn from what Paul and Barnabas said to the inhabitants of Lystra?
14 Consider a second lesson we can learn from this speech. Paul and Barnabas were adaptable. Unlike the Jews and proselytes in Iconium, the inhabitants of Lystra had little or no knowledge of the Scriptures or of God’s dealings with the nation of Israel. Even so, those listening to Paul and Barnabas were part of an agricultural community. Lystra was blessed with a mild climate and fertile fields. Those people could see ample evidence of the Creator’s qualities as revealed in such things as fruitful seasons, and the missionaries used this common ground in their appeal to reason.—Rom. 1:19, 20.
15 Can we likewise be adaptable? Although a farmer may plant the same type of seed in a number of his fields, he has to vary the methods he uses to prepare the soil. Some ground may already be soft and ready to accept the seed. Other soil may need more preparation. Similarly, the seed we plant is always the same—the Kingdom message found in God’s Word. However, if we are like Paul and Barnabas, we will try to discern the circumstances and religious background of the people to whom we preach. Then we will allow this knowledge to influence the way we present the Kingdom message.—Luke 8:11, 15.
16 We can learn a third lesson from the account involving Paul, Barnabas, and the inhabitants of Lystra. Despite our best efforts, the seed we plant is sometimes snatched away or falls on rocky soil. (Matt. 13:18-21) If that happens, do not despair. As Paul later reminded the disciples in Rome, “each of us [including each individual with whom we discuss God’s Word] will render an account for himself to God.”—Rom. 14:12.
“They Committed Them to Jehovah” (Acts 14:20-28)
17. After leaving Derbe, where did Paul and Barnabas travel, and why?
17 After Paul was dragged outside Lystra and left for dead, the disciples surrounded him and he got up and found shelter in the city overnight. The next day, Paul and Barnabas began the 60-mile (100 km) journey to Derbe. We can only imagine the discomfort Paul felt during this arduous trip, having been pelted with stones just hours earlier. Still, he and Barnabas persevered, and when they arrived in Derbe, they made “quite a few disciples.” Then, rather than taking the shorter route back to their home base in Syrian Antioch, “they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to [Pisidian] Antioch.” For what purpose? To strengthen “the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to remain in the faith.” (Acts 14:20-22) What an example those two men set! They placed the interests of the congregation ahead of their own comfort. Traveling overseers and missionaries in modern times have imitated their example.
18. What is involved in the appointment of older men?
18 In addition to strengthening the disciples by their words and example, Paul and Barnabas appointed “older men for them in each congregation.” Although “sent out by the holy spirit” on this missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas still prayed and fasted when “they committed them [the older men] to Jehovah.” (Acts 13:1-4; 14:23) A similar pattern is followed today. Before recommendations for appointments are made, the local body of elders prayerfully reviews a brother’s Scriptural qualifications. (1 Tim. 3:1-10, 12, 13; Titus 1:5-9) The length of time he has been a Christian is not the main determining factor. Instead, the brother’s speech, conduct, and reputation give evidence of the degree to which holy spirit operates in his life. His meeting the requirements for overseers as set out in the Scriptures determines whether he is qualified to serve as a shepherd of the flock.—Gal. 5:22, 23.
19. Elders know that they have what accountability, and how do they imitate Paul and Barnabas?
19 Appointed elders know that they are accountable to God for the way that they treat the congregation. (Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 5:1-3) Like Paul and Barnabas, elders take the lead in the preaching work. They strengthen fellow disciples with their words. And they are willing to place the interests of the congregation ahead of their own comfort.—Phil. 2:3, 4.
20. How do we benefit from reading reports about the faithful work of our brothers?
20 When Paul and Barnabas finally returned to their missionary base in Syrian Antioch, they reported “the many things God had done by means of them, and that he had opened to the nations the door to faith.” (Acts 14:27) As we read about the faithful work of our Christian brothers and see how Jehovah blessed their efforts, we will be encouraged to keep on “speaking with boldness by the authority of Jehovah.”
See the box “Iconium—City of the Phrygians.”