Text: Acts 14:1-28, 2 Timothy 3:10-12, Colossians 4:2-4
I have a friend who understands the illusion of fame well.
One summer, he was on stage in front of thousands of teens. As he walked behind a group of girls before a performance, he overheard them talking about how much they loved him. In a bold move, he approached the girls and entered into a conversation with them. Realizing they didn’t recognize him, he even offered to introduce them to that “guy on stage.” They giggled and talked excitedly, never knowing they had just been talking to the “star” himself.
It’s part of human nature to look up to those we admire. Obviously, that’s not all bad, but we can easily inflate and blow that admiration out of proportion. Paul and Barnabas learned this lesson nearly two thousand years ago.
They were empowered by the Holy Spirit; their words were eloquent and cut to the heart. Scripture tells us that when Paul and Barnabas preached, they “spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed” (Acts 14:1). They were certainly well-known, and in today’s culture we might even say they’d grown “famous.” And like most prominent people, they evoked two common—though extreme and unhealthy—responses: they were either loved or hated.
We see the first example of this in Iconium. The Jews were piping mad at the apostles’ powerful message. In response, they made personal attacks, threatened physical violence, and stirred up as much trouble as they possibly could (Acts 14:2).
But the people of Lystra had a different destructive response to Paul and Barnabas: they went absolutely gaga for them! The people were so taken with the message they preached that they began to idolize them. I know—garlands and animal sacrifice sound a bit extreme (Acts 14:18), but don’t let their pagan cultural response blind you to the modern implications.
Think about the famous teachers of our time. More often than not, they teach—verbally or through written word—in ways that move us deeply and stir our hearts toward God. We are drawn to gifted teachers and come to admire, respect, and learn from them. But because of our sin nature, we’re also tempted to idolize them.
As for Paul and Barnabas, they weren’t having it. The apostles refused to receive the people’s misplaced accolades.
“Men! Why are you doing these things? We are men also, with the same nature as you, and we are proclaiming good news to you, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything in them.”
We will always be tempted to worship gifted people with powerful messages. So we must guard our hearts against worshiping the messenger instead of the God to whom we all belong. At the end of the day, the gospel will flourish because of Him, just as it thrived in those early days of the Church.
That’s what I love most about the close of Acts 14. Despite the misguided responses of Jews and Gentiles alike, the good news was preached, and souls were added to the Kingdom. God can and will use the power of earthly fame for His purposes, but He alone is worthy of our praise and adoration.
Jessie Minassian is an author, blogger, and speaker, who prefers to be known for her ability to laugh at herself, a weird obsession with nature-ish stuff, and a penchant for making up words. Learn more about Jessie and her ministry at LifeLoveandGod.com.