The book of Acts starts with Jesus giving His disciples a commissioning:
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
At first, there were some remarkable moments of immediate success. But as they walked out the commissioning, it got complicated quickly. But in spite of the chaos, this theme has been building:
But the word of God continued to spread and flourish. (Acts 12:24)
With imperfect people, imperfect understanding, imperfect responses, and imperfect situations, still the word of God continued to spread and flourish.
In Acts 14 there is a recurring theme of persistence. It is easy to see and understand, yet incredibly difficult to live out. Because of the complexity of persistence, we are going to take some time to build background and perspective before we jump into chapter 14.
The first thing that we are going to do is build a cumulative list of common short-term painful things that people choose to endure. Now, there are short term pains that people don’t choose, but are often experienced–a stubbed toe, a headache, exhaustion because of sleepless children. These are pains, yes, but these pains are not necessarily chosen. They just happen, and we endure.
But let’s talk about common short-term painful things that people choose to endure, whether physical, emotional, mental, or relational. Here’s an example. Maybe you are a person that experiences heartburn when you eat spicy food, and yet you love spicy food. You might choose to eat spicy foods knowing that it will give you heartburn.
What are some common short-term painful things that people choose to endure?
Now using this list, let's talk about this for a few minutes.
What pain(s) would you never choose to endure? Why? What pain(s) would you willingly endure? Why?
To some degree, almost anything can be endured for a little while as long as there is some degree of benefit, reward, or return. I can endure the pain and side effects of a shot if it helps me and others. I can endure the pain of a workout if it helps me feel better or live better. I can endure the pain of a burning mouth if it comes with amazing curry. I can endure the pain of having a bone set after a break if it spares me the pain of losing use of my leg. I can endure the pain of insecurity if it allows me to make new friends and helps me not be isolated and alone. I can endure the pain of speaking up if it brings justice, peace or what is right.
But what about pain that doesn’t have an endpoint? What about pains that are not so short-term? What about pain that may never end? Again, we’re not talking about pains that just randomly happen, but about chosen pain: the pain of education or of commitment or of justice; the pain of helping or of relationship or of service… Doing hard, challenging, even painful things for a long time–it takes grit.
Grit is perseverance and passion for long-term goals.
Let’s process this before we get into Acts 14, a chapter with a recurring theme of grit, or persistence.
When you are facing a path of pains, struggles, hardships, challenges, or obstacles, what does it take for you to choose to go down that path? When you know this is going to be hard for a long time and you will face endless obstacles–that takes grit. But even grit has limits.
And then there’s the other side of it too. What are the deal breakers for you? What are the things that keep you from going down that path?
What does it take for you to choose to go down a path of guaranteed challenges, pain, and/or struggle?
What causes you to absolutely avoid going down a path of guaranteed challenges, pain, and/or struggle?
We have been focusing on the person with or without grit, but what about the impact of not being gritty on others? What is the impact of giving up early or not following through? What is the impact of quitting when things get hard? What is the impact on others of not going down that road of struggle or challenge? This is a complicated question because the impact is so varied depending on the situation. And in all the complexities, there are probably moments where someone should give up some things. Some situations call for an end, for someone to leave what they are doing and to move onto something else.
But with all the endless complexities, the impact of giving up when things get hard is immense. The impact of not going down roads of struggle, challenge, or even hardship is huge.
What are some of the impacts, personal or in relation to others, of giving up when things get difficult?
There is a theme in chapter 14 that appears six times. This theme can be verbalized several different ways: Commitment over time. Resilience and persistence for an extended period of time. Playing the long game. Patience to process. Persistence through opposition. Setting up for the future.
At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed. But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the other 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 perform signs and wonders. The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. There was a plot afoot among both Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, where they continued to preach the gospel.
In Lystra there sat a man who was lame. He had been that way from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.
When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.
But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.
Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.
They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. After going through Pisidia, they came into Pamphylia, and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia.
From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they stayed there a long time with the disciples. (Acts 14:1-28)
Feel the theme as I summarize:
- Opposition was stirred up, so Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there (vs 2-3)
- The people saw Paul and Barnabas as deity, but Paul and Barnabas persisted in declaring that they were humans as them, but Jesus is God with us (vs 14-18)
- Paul was stoned and dragged out of the city, but after the followers stood around him, he got up and went back into the city (vs 19-20)
- They went back to where they had faced resistance to encourage them to stick with the truth (vs 21-22)
- They set up system for long term success (vs 23)
- All the way back to Antioch and they discipled the people there again for a long time (vs 26-28)
In living out Jesus’ commissioning, persistence over time, through opposition and challenges is important. Grit is important.
Here is a question to process. Why is it difficult to consistently participate in Jesus’ invitation to make disciples? Anyone can do anything hard one time. What does it look like to consistently choose participation in something that is really difficult? This question is pleading with you to do some of the foundational work as well around what the commissioning is and what it means to make disciples.
Why is it difficult to consistently participate in Jesus’ invitation to make disciples?
And now, the next step: We are the church. It is not just some organization. The commission is to us, not just to the apostles in the past.
Think about our earlier conversations as you discuss this: chosen short-term and long-term pains that you are willing to endure and not endure; the value of grittiness; and the cost of not having grittiness.
What is the long-term impact of the church (us) not being persistent?
We already asked what it takes for you to choose to go down a path of guaranteed long-term challenges and even struggle. Now let’s look at what was happening in this text. How did Paul and Barnabas choose the path of challenges and struggle? How did they stay persistent? Why didn’t they give up? Why did so many followers of Jesus choose to persist even to the point of death?
What about me?
What about you, or us?
We all have varied experiences. Maybe you have found developing or establishing grit to be doable, even if difficult. Maybe you hear the word grit and you think you couldn’t be further from what grit looks like.
And in our culture, grit can often be equated with moving in the directions we want to go. The goals we want to achieve. The success we want to experience. The things we want to accomplish for ourselves. These drives aren’t wrong, but I don’t think they fully encompass the drive we see Jesus and His disciples having.
Their drive/grit/determination led them into all kinds of pain, hardship, suffering, and death. So their grit wasn’t necessarily focused on what they could get, but on a goal that was much larger than their natural inclinations. They had so much security in who they knew Jesus to be and the message they were carrying that they were willing to take it all the way to the point of death.
We end with a processing question, and one that doesn’t have a quick resolution:
What are you challenged to process as you see and feel the call to consistently participate in being Christlike in your local?
Take It Deeper Questions
- Read Acts 14.
- What causes have you been an activist for? What did you do?
- What hardship that Paul and Barnabas faced would have been the most discouraging to you?
- Why do you think Paul and Barnabas were endlessly persistent?
- How are you challenged, focused, encouraged, challenged, and/or frustrated by Paul and Barnabas’ experience?
Bible Reading Plan
- Deuteronomy 31
- Deuteronomy 32
- Deuteronomy 33
- Acts 9
- Acts 10
- Acts 11