Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.Acts 14:1-2
The Gospel, faithfully preached, will never fail to pierce darkness and bring life. No matter how dark a culture, no matter how blind a mind or how dead a heart, the gospel opens spiritual eyes, bringing light and life everywhere it goes.
In the soul of every human being there is a God-shaped hole, an eternal void, that only Christ can fill. This is what it means to be made in His image. This is what Augustine referenced when he declared to God, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.” (emphasis added)
Augustine understood well the emptiness of pursuing and even of possessing the pleasures of the world, yet none of them brought him peace. Only the gospel can turn a heart to Christ and only Christ can fill a heart.
While many have responded by faith in the gospel, hearing and believing – receiving life, hope, and peace – yet, not everyone will accept the truth about Jesus.
The gospel might bring light, but darkness fights back. Paul is seeing “a great number” coming to faith in Jesus, but, at the same time, the unbelieving Jews are poisoning the minds of others. Literally, they are “embittering the souls” of the Gentiles towards Paul and Barnabus.
We see in our culture today souls embittered toward the truth of the gospel and minds poisoned toward those who hold fast to its truth. In just two decades we have seen a moral revolution take place at unimaginable speed, turning even the foundational institution of marriage upside down.
Public opinion has risen against God’s truth and public policy is increasingly seeking to punish and expunge all dissent. What is Christ’s Church to do?
As we look to Paul in Iconium, we can see in his ministry at least four traits that helped him handle opposition and persevere in conflict.
So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. (Acts 14:3, ESV)
- We must stay dedicated to our mission. In the face of deliberate, intentional, targeted, and even dishonest opposition, Paul and his companions “remained for a long time.” I don’t know how long “long” is, but we see the picture of a determined effort to keep preaching the gospel and to keep representing Christ.
- We must grow bold in our witness. Conflict is not for the faint of heart. Personal attacks hurt, being misrepresented is painful, and being rejected is discouraging. The persistenceof lies, comments, rejection, and loss can (if we let it) leave us feeling hollow, weak, and depressed. Paul and his friends stayed true to their mission, “speaking boldly for the Lord.”
- We must stand strong in His grace. Ours is a message of what God has done in Christ to reconcile sinners to Himself. While the gospel requires an understanding of sin and a warning of judgment, it is a message of grace. God so loved the world… Jesus came to save sinners… and it is His kindness that leads us to repentance. (John 3:16, 1 Tim 1:15, Romans 2:4) It is our job to declare this message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18) and trust that the Holy Spirit will bring conviction concerning sin, righteousness, and judgement (John 16:8). God showed up in Paul’s ministry as he “bore witness to the word of his grace.”
- We must offer compassion to our neighbors. The old adage rings true: people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Ears are more attentive when the belly is full; and hearts are more receptive when minds are at ease. Throughout the gospels and here in Acts, we see Jesus and his followers perform miracles and meet needs. These acts of compassion and ministry paved the way over which the gospel traveled. The Lord granted “signs and wonders to be done” throughout Paul’s ministry as a witness to the truth. Likewise, we should seek to do good so that others will see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16), coming to know Christ as Savior and Lord.
We live in ever-changing times and hostility to the gospel in growing. This should not surprise us; Scripture tells us more than once that wickedness will increase and that the love of many will grow cold. Our Savior warned us that in this world we will have tribulation; betrayal, trial, and hardship are unavoidable.
O Church, let us not be paralyzed by lament, caught off guard, or surrender to bitterness. While there is an appropriateness to seeking the protection of our religious liberties, at the same time, our energies need not be centered on maintaining our comforts and securities. The focus of our efforts and the desire of our hearts must be in maintaining faithfulness.
Whatever comes our way, whatever opposition looks like, whatever faithfulness costs, let us decide now to continue in the grace that has been given us. Let us continue to stand steadfast on His truth. Let us never cease from offering the gospel to our neighbors and to the nations. From now until Christ returns, we are to hold out to others the hope of the gospel of His grace. Let’s labor so that when our Savior returns, He will find us faithful, and we will hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servants.”
For more information on the challenges facing Christ’s Church you can find information about the moral revolution in these presentations from Dr. Albert Mohler (an interview 6 years ago and a presentation last year), also a summary of the imposing ‘Equality Act’ from the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.