Lesson 32: Paul's 1st Missionary Journey (Continued/ Return to Antioch of Syria/ Arrival of False Teachers)

Acts 14:21-15:2

Here we go, Acts Lesson # 32. Don't forget to follow the text with your eyes. We are in Acts 14:21. Paul and Barnabas were at Derbe, (that's city # 21). They preached the gospel, MANY were taught. We don't know how long they stayed. But the fact that MANY were taught means they planted a church at Derbe. Thus, they succeeded in establishing a congregation in Iconium, possibly a small congregation at Lystra, and definitely a congregation at Derbe. Preachers may be stoned, but God's word will accomplish what He pleases, (Isaiah 55:11). If you think of a CHURCH as a great stone edifice, you've missed the point. These congregations were little bands of disciples, baptized INTO Christ. The Lord had added them to His church. Some of those disciples, no doubt had to sever family ties, lose business associates, and give up close friends to serve the Lord. It takes fortitude and conviction to be a Christian. Jesus said: "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household." (Matthew 10:34-36). Thus, it must have been in southern Galatia. Perhaps, I should call your attention to Gal. 1-2. Galatians was written by Paul (at a later time) to THOSE churches of Galatia. Notice the book was written to "Churches" (plural) Gal. 1:2. Paul was writing to these very brethren, little bands of disciples called churches. The reason I mention this is this. I emphasized before that knowledge of the book of acts is the KEY to understanding those books that follow the book of Acts in the New Testament. The book of Galatians was written at a later time because certain false teachers entered those churches, causing internal problems. They taught, the Galatians disciples must be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses to be saved! Paul wrote the book of Galatians to refine that doctrine. In Galatians 1:6 Paul said: "1 marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ." Much more could be said on this subject. But, it is ONLY when you KNOW the book of Acts and you are able to dovetail it with the other books of the New Testament, that the New Testament really takes on meaning. Maybe, I have beaten this point into the ground AND a 1000 more examples could be given. But, until I understood that point the N.T. was a hodge-podge of mish-mash to me and I could see very little rhyme or reason in it. And in my humble opinion, this lack of understanding (perhaps I should call it ignorance) accounts for much of the religious division, as well as false doctrine and confusion in our big religious world today. Now, if you will look on your map, it is approximately the same distance from Derby to Tarsus, Paul's hometown (city # 7) as it is back to Antioch of Pisidia. Then, it's a shorter distance from Tarsus to Antioch in Syria (city # 10) where Paul and Barnabas 6tarted this missionary journey. If you have kept your map posted, and haven't read ahead: you might assume they are headed back to where they started, Antioch of Syria. This turns out to be essentially what they do, BUT they don't follow the route you would anticipate. One good reason is likely the Tarsus Mountains between Derbe and Tarsus. Undoubtedly, that was very rough and uncivilized territory. Possibly another reason that figured in heavily was Paul's health, after that traumatic stoning. Let's read, VERSE 21, starting in the middle of the verse: "they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God." This was the reverse order of their mission down through Galatia. "They returned again." That's interesting, since Paul was stoned at Lystra. In Antioch the fare was not much better. That was like walking back into a hornet's nest. You will remember some Jews came from these cities (Antioch and Iconium) to help stone Paul at Lystra, according to verse 19. Now, it took guts and real motivation to retrace their steps through those heathen cities. "Supposing he had been DEAD" in verse 19 leaves the impression some were laboring under misconception. And, that may have been to Paul and Barnabas' advantage. They must have used every precaution to prevent detection and exposure to their enemies. Yet, they KNEW there were babes in Christ in those cities "Who desired the sincere milk of the word, that they may grow thereby" as Peter said in I Pet. 2:2. Paul's attitude was, "woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!" I Cor 9:16. They took their religion seriously. It was NOT just some place to go on Sunday. They may have met at night OR in inconspicuous places to exhort the brethren. Notice the words "confirming, and "exhorting" in verse 22. Barnabas was an exhorter (Acts 11:2;-). That word means "to encourage." The disciples needed encouragement. Strong says the word translated "confirming." could be translated strengthen." And, undoubtedly they need that also. It takes courageous men to conduct such classes and impart real strength and encouragement in the face of such disheartening harassment. How many times do you suppose they repented "it's not easy to be a Christian? Their speeches must have been similar to the material found in Heb. 11. Example after example of faith as found in the Old Testament characters like Abraham, Joseph, Moses and the prophets. Read verse 22 with a lot of expression! You can almost feel their curriculum. Let's read verse 23. "And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed." They tried to give structure and organization to those little bands of disciples called churches. They ordained elders in EVERY church. Up until now, we have not discussed elders. We ran across elders before (you will remember) in Acts 11:29. The Antioch church in Syria "determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judea: which also they did, and sent it to the ELDERS by the hands of Barnabas and Saul." Thus, the churches in Judea had elders. Undoubtedly the Antioch church (that largely predominately Gentile congregation in Syria) must have had elders also; though it is not specifically stated. The word "elder" or "elders" is used many times in the Bible. In the Old Testament the word simply means an older man in the community who is highly respected for his wisdom and experience. After Synagogues came into being, the rulers of those Jewish synagogue institutions came to be known as elders, also. The idea of a generally respected woman was still part of the thought, I'm sure. Thus, in the Old Testament the word "elder" always means just a respected person. In the new Testament., beginning with Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the first few chapters of this book, (Acts) the word may mean either: a man of wisdom or a synagogue ruler depending upon the context. However, in the Lord's church the term takes on a new meaning. The men that Paul and Barnabas ordained in every church (like those who received the relief goods in Judea by the hands, of Paul and Barnabas, 11:29) were LEADERS or OFFICERS in the church. In the rest of the New Testament (following the passage under consideration) the word is most frequently used this way...i.e. as an officer in the church. Elders are called "overseers", in Acts 2O:28 Shepherds, bishops, Presbyters, and Pastors are also words used synonymously with elders. All. these NAMES refer to the same office. Preachers may or may not be elders. The word pastor means elder... not preacher. The qualifications for elders are outlined in I Tim. 3 and again in Titus 1. Likewise, the qualifications for deacons (another office in the church) are outlined in the same chapters. The word "deacon" is not used in the book of Acts, SO we shall NOT discuss it here. Although, it is generally agreed that the word can be applied to the seven appointed to serve tables in Acts 6. The qualifications for elders are many, including: desiring the office, not a novice or beginner, he must have a good reputation and be well reported of by them which are without i.e. non-Christians, he must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, given to hospitality, apt to teach, not a striker, etc. Now. the question comes up: HOW could Paul and Barnabas find men in these little bands of disciples that had been in existence only a few months or a year or two at the most...HOW could they find such qualified men at Lystra. Iconium and Antioch? Well, first of all; the question overlooks the fact that Paul was an apostle and could have passed on spiritual gifts if need be to overcome some of these deficiencies. Secondly, remember some of those converts were Jews. Some, may have known the Mosaic law AND were the cream of the crop, so far as reputation is concerned. They may have been teaching for years. Some Gentiles may have been just a knowledgeable. With a little more information and training after becoming a Christian; they could well qualify. A close look at verse 23; shows, they did NOT take the matter lightly. They "prayed with fasting." That doesn't mean some quickie ceremony. That means, they prayed and taught and worked on it SO HARD that they did not eat properly. Their desire to complete the task, and do it right, was stronger than their desire for food. You will recall we discussed "fasting" in connection with Acts 13:3. That's where Paul and Barnabas were selected for this mission at Antioch by the Holy Spirit. Thus, the selection and appointing of elders should NOT be taken lightly. These men give leadership, oversight, and stability to a congregation. Before Paul and Barnabas left the area this had been accomplished. The congregations were strengthened, organized, working, and spreading the kingdom, teaching prospects, edifying the members and carrying on benevolent activities. Those churches were NOT fancy buildings with decorative little domes, steppes. Stained glass windows and crosses everywhere you look. Rather, those churches were obedient PEOPLE, blood bought disciples, living vibrant human beings; NOT brick and mortar. They probably met under trees, in dwellings, any place they could get IN out of the rain. They were interested in the message, NOT the architecture. The souls of men and women, boys and girls were their real concern. It was NOT a big organization with hundreds or even thousands on the roll books; and a handful of well dressed, high classed socialites meeting occasionally when it didn't interfere with their golf game, their bowling schedule, or their occupation. It was their life! Their hope! AND their destiny! It's the answer to the crime rate, drug addiction, broken marriages, and lower taxes. Why do WE lean on a broken reed? (lsa.36:6). Paul told the people at Ephesus: "Walk worthy of the VOCATION where in ye are called..." (Eph. 4:1). It's a VOCATION, not a hobby! Christianity is NOT something just for kids and old fuddy-duddies. It's not a social club! If Paul told the Ephesians Christianity is a vocation; what do you suppose he told these Antiochers? They were exhorted to continue in the faith. VERSE 22 says, that with much tribulation we must enter in. Christ selected 12 apostles; fishermen (just plain old country folks) and they went OUT and changed the world. Christianity has had more impact upon civilization, than all the guns that have ever been fired in war, than all the navies that ever floated upon the waters, than all the textbooks that have ever been written. But it has to start in the playpen, NOT the state pen because Christianity is a way of life, not an aspirin for a hangover. Paul and Barnabas were willing to hazard their lives to help these recent converts, young in the faith, mold their lives for a life of service that leads to eternal bliss. And, as they headed down the valley, form that plateau, toward the sea; they must have thanked God for those disciples, elders, and converts they were leaving behind. Firm and long handshakes, a few embraces, and many tears must have marked their departure. Let's read verse 24. "And after they had passed through Pisidia they came to Pamphylia." Pisidia and Pamphylia are territories (not cities) you will remember. Now, verse 25-26, lets read: "And when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down into Attalia: and thence sailed to Antioch, from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled." Notice, they did some preaching in Perga, (city #17). This is where they entered Asia, and apparently where John Mark left them and went back to Jerusalem. We are told nothing about their success of preaching in Perga. Most likely they preached during only that time IN WAITING for a ship with a destination that matched theirs. Perga was not located on the Mediterranean sea; but, a few miles up a river that may have been served by sea going vessels. The other city mentioned here, Attalia (city #22) was on the Mediterranean. Attalia was perhaps served by more and larger vessels than was Perga. Thus, Paul and Barnabas went by land to Attalia, where they sailed for Antioch of Syria (city # 10). We are told nothing about their voyage. How long it took, whether the sea was calm or rough, whether the winds favorable or unfavorable, we know not. Perhaps they docked at Seleucia (city # 14). They did not revisit Cyprus, the Mediterranean Island where we met Sergius Paulus. Rather, they by-passed Cyprus and sailed directly to Antioch, where that big Gentile church was located. That is where Paul and Barnabas had spent a whole year and taught much people according to Acts 11:26. That is where this first missionary journey began (Acts 13:2). Let's read verse 27-28 "And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles. And there they abode long tinie with the disciples." I sense a happy and enthusiastic occasion. Possibly these missionaries had been gone two or three years. Whether they had communicated during the interim, we do not know. But, there was a lot to tell. It's unfortunate they didn't have slide projectors or movie cameras in those days. Some of their stories MUST have stirred heart-pounding emotions in those disciples AND others must have brought tears. There were stories of many conversions, shaking the dust off their feet, ordaining elders in every congregation AND being stoned and left for dead. From the humorous to tears in one sentence. What a "long time" means in verse 28 is anybody's guess. Perhaps a few months! Possibly a year or more. That's a lot of chicken dinners. A lot of fellowship, from house to house.

They were confirming the disciples. Teaching much people. It can be SO refreshing and so invigorating, yet so disappointing. One wolf can scatter many sheep. Let's read verse 1-2 in ch.15, "And certain men which came down from Judea taught the brethren, and said, "Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved". When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question." Internal problems! False teachers! "Certain men" {verse 1) with more zeal to teach THAN mastery of truth. The word disciple means "learner" NOT teacher." Of course, disciples are to teach, but we must be learners first and foremost. One cannot come from a place where he has never been. One cannot teach that which he has not learned. Doctrines and commandments of men! It happened then! It's happening now! Well-meaning men! Who want to help out God by improving on his system! God's ways are not men's ways. There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the ends thereof are the ways of death.' (Prov. 14:12). False teachers are sometimes hard to deal with. We'll pick up here in lesson #33.

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