For the Love of God, Volume 1/July 27

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By D.A. Carson About Devotional Life
Chapter 210 of the book For the Love of God, Volume 1


Judges 10; Acts 14; Jeremiah 23; Mark 9

PAUL HAD BEEN EVANGELIZING for fifteen years or more, probably largely around the Tarsus area, before this “first” trip is recorded. Doubtless he built up extraordinary experience evangelizing Jews and Gentiles alike, so that by the time he emerges on the scene as a church-planting apostle he is not a young man finding his way, but a mature, seasoned worker.

(1) It has often been said that everywhere Paul went he started either a revival or a riot, and sometimes both. That’s not quite true, of course. Moreover, a riot is not necessarily a mark of authenticity: as much depends on the context and the hearers as on the preacher and his message and style. But there is at least some truth to the observation, and it is tied to the apostle’s sheer boldness.

(2) In the early years of the church, the persecution Christians suffered was almost entirely sponsored by Jews. Later, of course, far worse persecution was generated by the Roman Empire, until at the beginning of the fourth century the Emperor Constantine switched sides. But in the beginning it was not so. It is hard to bring this up in our historical context, living as we do this side of the Holocaust. But facts are persistent things. One can understand why it was this way. At the beginning, all of the Christians were Jews; for quite awhile, the majority were Jews. In both cases, synagogue discipline was possible within reasonably closed communities. Moreover, in at least some cities influential Jews were well-placed to influence pagan authorities to exert pressure on people that many Jews saw as debasing the Jewish heritage and culture.

(3) In Lystra (Acts 14:8-20) there is a spectacular example of the fickleness of a mob. At first the pagans try to honor Paul and Barnabas as, respectively, Hermes (the god of communication) and Zeus (head of the Greek pantheon), owing to the healing they had performed in Jesus’ name. Only with great effort could Paul and Barnabas restrain the crowd—which then shortly turns on them when they are stirred up by Jewish opponents who are beginning to dog their steps. The apostolic response was stunning both ways: they do everything they can to turn aside the acclaim (14:14, 18), and they accept the persecution as something only to be expected by those who enter the kingdom (14:22).

(4) On the swing leg home, not more than a few months later, Paul and Barnabas return through the cities where they have already planted churches and appoint elders in each of them (14:23). Clearly, what is meant by a “mature” elder is entirely relative to the age and maturity of the congregation.

Reflect on the relevance of these points in your own context.

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