An Inspired Pattern of Christian Missionary Work
“Become imitators of me, even as I am of Christ.”—1 CORINTHIANS 11:1.
1. What are some ways in which Jesus set an outstanding example for his followers to imitate? (Philippians 2:5-9)
WHAT an outstanding example Jesus set for his disciples! He gladly left his heavenly glory to come down to earth and live among sinful humans. He was willing to undergo great suffering for the salvation of mankind and, more important, for the sanctification of his heavenly Father’s name. (John 3:16; 17:4) When on trial for his life, Jesus boldly declared: “For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.”—John 18:37.
2. Why could the resurrected Jesus command his disciples to continue the work he had started?
2 Before his death, Jesus provided excellent training for his disciples so that they could continue the work of bearing witness to Kingdom truth. (Matthew 10:5-23; Luke 10:1-16) Thus, after his resurrection, Jesus was able to give the command: “Go . . . and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.”—Matthew 28:19, 20.
3. How did the disciple-making work expand, but in what regions was it mainly concentrated?
3 For the next three and a half years, Jesus’ disciples obeyed this command but restricted their disciple making to Jews, Jewish proselytes, and circumcised Samaritans. Then, in 36 C.E., God directed that the good news be preached to an uncircumcised man, Cornelius, and his household. During the next decade, other Gentiles were brought into the congregation. However, much of the work seems to have been confined to regions of the eastern Mediterranean.—Acts 10:24, 44-48; 11:19-21.
4. What significant development took place about 47-48 C.E.?
4 Something was needed to motivate or enable Christians to make disciples of Jews and Gentiles in more distant regions. So, about 47-48 C.E., the elders of the congregation of Syrian Antioch received this divine message: “Of all persons set Barnabas and Saul apart for me for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13:2) Notice that Paul was then known by his original name, Saul. Notice, too, that God named Barnabas ahead of Paul, perhaps because at that time Barnabas was viewed as the senior of the two.
5. Why is the record of Paul and Barnabas’ missionary tour of great value to Christians today?
5 The detailed record of Paul and Barnabas’ missionary tour is of great encouragement to Jehovah’s Witnesses, especially to missionaries and pioneers who have moved away from their hometowns to serve God in a foreign community. Further, a review of Acts chapters 13 and 14 will surely motivate yet more to imitate Paul and Barnabas and enlarge their share in the all-important work of making disciples.
The Island of Cyprus
6. What example did the missionaries set in Cyprus?
6 Without delay the missionaries sailed from the Syrian port of Seleucia to the island of Cyprus. After landing in Salamis, they were not sidetracked but “began publishing the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews.” Following Christ’s pattern, they were not content to settle down in that city and wait for the islanders to come to them. Instead, they worked their way “through the whole island.” No doubt this involved a lot of walking and many changes of accommodations, since Cyprus is a large island, and their tour took them over the length of the largest section of it.—Acts 13:5, 6.
7. (a) What outstanding event took place in Paphos? (b) This record encourages us to have what attitude?
7 At the end of their stay, the two men were rewarded with a wonderful experience in the city of Paphos. The ruler of the island, Sergius Paulus, listened to their message and “became a believer.” (Acts 13:7, 12) Paul later wrote: “You behold his calling of you, brothers, that not many wise in a fleshly way were called, not many powerful, not many of noble birth.” (1 Corinthians 1:26) Nevertheless, among the powerful who responded was Sergius Paulus. This experience should encourage all, especially missionaries, to have a positive attitude about witnessing to government officials, even as we are encouraged to do at 1 Timothy 2:1-4. Men of authority have sometimes given great help to God’s servants.—Nehemiah 2:4-8.
8. (a) What changed relationship between Barnabas and Paul appears from this time onward? (b) In what way was Barnabas a fine example?
8 Under the influence of Jehovah’s spirit, Paul played the major part in the conversion of Sergius Paulus. (Acts 13:8-12) Also, from this time onward, it appears that Paul took the lead. (Compare Acts 13:7 with Acts 13:15, 16, 43.) This was in harmony with the divine commission Paul had received at the time of his conversion. (Acts 9:15) Perhaps such a development tested Barnabas’ humility. However, instead of viewing this change as a personal affront, Barnabas likely lived up to the meaning of his name, “Son of Comfort,” and loyally supported Paul throughout the missionary journey and afterward when some Jewish Christians challenged their ministry to uncircumcised Gentiles. (Acts 15:1, 2) What a fine example this is to all of us, including occupants of missionary and Bethel homes! We should always be willing to accept theocratic adjustments and give our full support to those appointed to take the lead among us.—Hebrews 13:17.
The Tableland of Asia Minor
9. What do we learn from Paul and Barnabas’ willingness to travel up to Pisidian Antioch?
9 From Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas sailed north to the continent of Asia. For some undisclosed reason, the missionaries did not stay in the coastal region but made a long and dangerous journey of about 110 miles [180 km] to Pisidian Antioch, situated on the central tableland of Asia Minor. This involved climbing over a mountain pass and descending to a plain some 3,500 feet [1,100 m] above sea level. Bible scholar J. S. Howson says: “The lawless and marauding habits of the population of those mountains which separate the table-land . . . from the plains on the south coast, were notorious in all parts of ancient history.” In addition, the missionaries faced danger from natural elements. “No district in Asia Minor,” adds Howson, “is more singularly characterised by its ‘water floods’ than the mountainous tract of Pisidia, where rivers burst out at the bases of huge cliffs, or dash down wildly through narrow ravines.” These details help us visualize the kind of journeys the missionaries were willing to undertake for the sake of spreading the good news. (2 Corinthians 11:26) Likewise today, many of Jehovah’s servants brave all sorts of obstacles in order to reach people and share the good news with them.
10, 11. (a) How did Paul maintain common ground with his audience? (b) Why were many Jews likely astounded to hear of the sufferings of the Messiah? (c) What kind of salvation did Paul hold before his hearers?
10 Since there was a Jewish synagogue in Pisidian Antioch, the missionaries went there first in order to give those most familiar with God’s Word an opportunity to accept the good news. On being invited to speak, Paul stood up and gave a masterful public discourse. Throughout the talk, he kept a common ground with the Jews and proselytes in the audience. (Acts 13:13-16, 26) After his introduction, Paul reviewed the illustrious history of the Jews, reminding them that Jehovah had chosen their forefathers and then delivered them from Egypt, as well as how he had helped them to conquer the inhabitants of the Promised Land. Then Paul highlighted Jehovah’s dealings with David. Such information was close to the hearts of Jews in the first century because they were expecting God to raise up a descendant of David as a savior and everlasting ruler. At this point, Paul boldly announced: “From the offspring of this man [David] according to his promise God has brought to Israel a savior, Jesus.”—Acts 13:17-23.
11 However, the type of savior many Jews were awaiting was a military hero who would deliver them from Roman domination and elevate the Jewish nation above all others. Hence, they were doubtless astounded to hear Paul say that the Messiah had been handed over for execution by their own religious leaders. “But God raised him up from the dead,” Paul boldly declared. Toward the end of his talk, he showed his audience that they could attain a wonderful kind of salvation. “Let it . . . be known to you,” he said, “that through this One a forgiveness of sins is being published to you; and that from all the things from which you could not be declared guiltless by means of the law of Moses, everyone who believes is declared guiltless by means of this One.” Paul concluded his talk by urging his audience not to be classed among the many who God foretold would neglect this wonderful provision of salvation.—Acts 13:30-41.
12. What resulted from Paul’s discourse, and how should this encourage us?
12 What a well-delivered Scripture-based discourse! How did the audience respond? “Many of the Jews and of the proselytes who worshiped God followed Paul and Barnabas.” (Acts 13:43) How encouraging for us today! May we likewise do our very best to present the truth effectively, whether in our public ministry or in comments and talks at our congregation meetings.—1 Timothy 4:13-16.
13. Why did the missionaries have to leave Pisidian Antioch, and what questions arise concerning the new disciples?
13 The newly interested ones in Pisidian Antioch could not keep this good news to themselves. As a result, “the next sabbath nearly all the city gathered together to hear the word of Jehovah.” And soon the message spread beyond the city. In fact, “the word of Jehovah went on being carried throughout the whole country.” (Acts 13:44, 49) Instead of welcoming this fact, jealous Jews succeeded in having the missionaries thrown out of the city. (Acts 13:45, 50) How did this affect the new disciples? Did they become discouraged and give up?
14. Why could opposers not stamp out the work that the missionaries had started, and what do we learn from this?
14 No, because this was God’s work. Also, the missionaries had laid a solid foundation of faith in the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. Evidently, then, the new disciples viewed Christ, and not the missionaries, as their Leader. Thus, we read that they “continued to be filled with joy and holy spirit.” (Acts 13:52) How encouraging this is to missionaries and other disciple makers today! If we humbly and zealously do our part, Jehovah God and Jesus Christ will bless our ministry.—1 Corinthians 3:9.
Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe
15. What procedure did the missionaries follow in Iconium, with what results?
15 Paul and Barnabas now traveled about 90 miles [140 km] southeast to the next city, Iconium. Fear of persecution did not hinder them from following the same procedure as in Antioch. As a result, the Bible says: “A great multitude of both Jews and Greeks became believers.” (Acts 14:1) Again, the Jews that did not accept the good news stirred up opposition. But the missionaries endured and spent considerable time in Iconium helping the new disciples. Then, after learning that their Jewish opposers were about to stone them, Paul and Barnabas wisely fled to the next territory, “Lystra and Derbe and the country round about.”—Acts 14:2-6.
16, 17. (a) What happened to Paul in Lystra? (b) How did God’s dealings with the apostle affect a young man from Lystra?
16 Courageously “they went on declaring the good news” in this new, virgin territory. (Acts 14:7) When Jews in Pisidian Antioch and Iconium heard of this, they came all the way to Lystra and persuaded the crowds to stone Paul. With no time to escape, Paul was pelted with stones, so that his opposers were convinced he was dead. They dragged him outside the city.—Acts 14:19.
17 Can you imagine the distress this caused the new disciples? But wonder of wonders, when they surrounded Paul, he stood up! The Bible does not say whether a young man named Timothy was one of these new disciples. Certainly God’s dealings with Paul at some time became known to him and made a deep impression on his young mind. Paul wrote in his second letter to Timothy: “You have closely followed my teaching, my course of life, . . . the sort of things that happened to me in Antioch, in Iconium, in Lystra, the sort of persecutions I have borne; and yet out of them all the Lord delivered me.” (2 Timothy 3:10, 11) About one or two years after Paul’s stoning, he returned to Lystra and found that young Timothy was an exemplary Christian, “well reported on by the brothers in Lystra and Iconium.” (Acts 16:1, 2) So Paul chose him as a traveling companion. This helped Timothy to grow in spiritual stature, and in time he was qualified to be sent by Paul to visit different congregations. (Philippians 2:19, 20; 1 Timothy 1:3) Likewise, today, zealous servants of God are a wonderful influence on young ones, many of whom grow up to be valuable servants of God, like Timothy.
18. (a) What happened to the missionaries in Derbe? (b) What opportunity was now open to them, but what course did they choose?
18 The morning following his escape from death in Lystra, Paul left with Barnabas for Derbe. This time, no opposers followed, and the Bible says ‘they made quite a few disciples.’ (Acts 14:20, 21) Having established a congregation in Derbe, Paul and Barnabas had to make a decision. A well-traveled Roman road continued from Derbe to Tarsus. From there it was a short journey back to Syrian Antioch. Possibly that was the most convenient way to return, and those missionaries could have felt that they now deserved a rest. In imitation of their Master, though, Paul and Barnabas sensed a greater need.—Mark 6:31-34.
Fully Performing God’s Work
19, 20. (a) How did Jehovah bless the missionaries for returning to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch? (b) What lesson does this provide Jehovah’s people today?
19 Instead of taking the short route home, the missionaries courageously turned back and revisited the very cities where their lives had been in danger. Did Jehovah bless them for this unselfish concern for the new sheep? Yes, indeed, for the account says they succeeded in “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to remain in the faith.” Appropriately, they told those new disciples: “We must enter into the kingdom of God through many tribulations.” (Acts 14:21, 22) Paul and Barnabas also reminded them of their calling as joint heirs in the coming Kingdom of God. Today, we should give similar encouragement to new disciples. We can strengthen them to endure trials by holding before them the prospect of everlasting life on earth under the rule of that same Kingdom of God concerning which Paul and Barnabas preached.
20 Before leaving each city, Paul and Barnabas helped the local congregation to get better organized. Evidently, they trained qualified men and appointed them to take the lead. (Acts 14:23) No doubt this contributed to further expansion. Likewise today, missionaries and others, after helping inexperienced ones to progress until they can shoulder responsibility, sometimes move away and continue their good work in other places where the need is greater.
21, 22. (a) What happened after Paul and Barnabas had completed their missionary journey? (b) What questions does this raise?
21 When the missionaries finally returned to Syrian Antioch, they could feel deeply satisfied. Indeed, the Bible record states that they had “fully performed” the work that God had entrusted to them. (Acts 14:26) Understandably, the relating of their experiences caused “great joy to all the brothers.” (Acts 15:3) But what about the future? Would they now sit back and rest on their laurels, as the saying goes? By no means. After visiting the governing body in Jerusalem to get a decision on the circumcision issue, the two set out again on missionary journeys. This time they went in different directions. Barnabas took John Mark and went to Cyprus, while Paul found a new partner, Silas, and journeyed through Syria and Cilicia. (Acts 15:39-41) It was on this trip that he chose young Timothy and took him along.
22 The Bible does not disclose the results of Barnabas’ second journey. As for Paul, he continued on to new territory and established congregations in at least five cities—Philippi, Beroea, Thessalonica, Corinth, and Ephesus. What was the key to Paul’s outstanding success? Do the same principles work for Christian disciple makers today?
Do You Recall?
◻ Why is Jesus the outstanding example to imitate?
◻ In what way was Barnabas an example?
◻ What do we learn from Paul’s discourse in Pisidian Antioch?
◻ How did Paul and Barnabas fully perform their assignment?
[Picture on page 15]
The apostle Paul’s endurance of persecution made a lasting impression on the young man Timothy