“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. 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. But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles.” (Acts 14:1-4)
The preaching of the gospel will always accomplish its intended purpose. Soemtimes the fields are slow to yield anything. We need to keep at it and trust the Lord for the growth. But sometimes the results are seen immediately, as in Acts 14 where a great number of Jews and Gentiles came to faith in Christ after the apostles proclaimed the gospel to them in Iconium. How exciting when this happens!
But along with this immediate burst of growth came an immediate response from the enemy. Spiritual warfare in the shape of stirring up strife and the poisoning of minds is said to have been the tactic used here. This probably means that lies and jealous striving were used to incite the Gentiles against the new Christians. It’s interesting that the non-believing Jews who would normally have nothing to do with Gentiles were now willing to feign concern for the Gentiles so long as they could accomplish their desire of persecution.
What I want to point out is what verse 3 says, “so they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord.” The “they” of verse three refers to the apostles Paul and Barnabas (13:50). In response to the attack against the new church in Iconium, the apostles did what any mother would do when her baby is attacked—they stayed longer to defend and care for her.
This “holy stubbornness” is a response of love and courage. Paul and Barnabas weren’t willing to proclaim the gospel, see people receive Christ, and then move on. The goal wasn’t to impress their buddies with evangelistic growth statistics. Their goal was to make disciples of Christ, and that meant that they needed to stay as long as necessary in order to ensure that their brothers and sisters in Iconium were protected from the wolves there.
Accompanying the apostles’ stay was the presence of God who gave to them bold speech that was empowered by Christ. It was Christ working through the apostles who bore witness to the word of His grace. This along with signs and wonders that accompanied the powerful Word confirmed the gospel and these messengers as being from God. This would go a long way to both strengthen the Church and warn the enemy.
Sometimes we think of evangelism in rosy, romantic terms that ignores what it really is—an incursion behind enemy lines to snatch away from the devil those who once were his, but now belong to Christ. And the enemy will not stand by idly and allow this to happen. We can expect him to fight back.
And this is where holy stubbornness is needed. Since we belong to Christ, we do not need to fear the enemy. Christ is for us, so who can be against us? But that truth does not remove the reality of spiritual attack, hardship, and persecution. We might feel the heat of warfare increase as the battle rages in our community and all around us.
Be encouraged. The devil doesn’t mess with the sleepers. He doesn’t want to rouse a church that is deep in apathy. But once you begin raiding the smoldering sticks from his fires, he will rage and seek to stop you. This might come as discouragement, personal attacks, division, distraction, or many other of his numerous schemes. Don’t give up! Don’t stop making disciples. Don’t become distracted. Don’t move on.
Dig in. Be stubborn. Refuse to relent. God is with us. We have the victory!