Acts: Day 22

Growth and Persecution in Iconium

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Today's Text: Acts 14:1-28, 2 Timothy 3:10-12, Colossians 4:2-4

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.”
-Acts 14:15

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.

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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.

  • Horribly behind (!) but still loving these Acts thoughts. Loving the simplicity and TRUTH that even though we are sinful and often blind, and God wants to use us to spread His Gospel, it will still be spread, even if we mess up.
    http://www.thegirlontheverge.com

  • So much to learn in this devotion. Sometimes (in my darkest moments) I can be like a Pharisee from the early church thinking I am better because of things I do, or don’t do.
    I am so glad that outward appearances does not matter to God, instead ‘circumcision of the heart does.’ We serve such a wonderful God, and I am really embracing more every day how we all- no matter intellect, hair/eye/skin color, or any other trivial thing that we might have a problem with- matter the same to him. None of us are unclean, because he has washed us with the precious blood of the lamb!!!
    This really makes me want to preach!!!☺ Even though we are taught all of our lives that God loves us all the same….these reminders are much needed. Thanks!!!

  • I love verse 7 of this chapter: “And there they preached the gospel.” Right after the Jews and Gentiles planned to attack them, they relocated and STILL preached the gospel! Don’t let anything get in our way sisters. May you all be blessed this week (:

  • Reminds me of Isaiah 6 when King Uzziah died. God reminded Isaiah that his eyes needed to be on Him. Sometimes, we forget where our hearts should be focused on. Now more than ever, we need to be looking up instead of what’s behind us or in front of us. We must remember to rely on God and put no others before Him.

  • This is my first SRT study and every day I am amazed and so grateful for this community. I love coming on here and reading that women from far and wide are experiencing the same things. I love reading Christian women’s books, and one of them mentioned that we spend more time reading ABOUT Gods word, than the word itself. This really opened my eyes… Though I still read books… The Bible is where I want to be… Where I need to be. I love the humility and humbleness of Paul and Barnabas, this reminds me that I need to give way more credit and glory to God than taking it for myself. I couldn’t have done it with out him. Lastly, I love the 2 Timothy verse here. It states as a fact… We WILL be persecuted if we want to live godly lives… Praise God for who He is and we can do anything and get through anything through Him. I love that this statement does not deter faith, but makes me realize I need God that much more.

  • What are some modern day examples of how the Church idolizes or adores others?

    • Nikravesous

      If you mean “the Church” to be believers, the general body of Christ, I can think of two examples, though of course not everyone falls into these. The first is seen in the division of the church especially about doctrine; for example, I first came to faith under a staunchly Calvinistic influence and after a time realized I was placing full confidence in teachers like R. C. Sproul and John MacArthur without bothering to see what Scripture says about the lines they draw. I’m not saying this is the experience of every Calvinist nor do I have a beef with either of these men, I just think people can get so caught up in a certain strain of doctrine that they potentially idolize the spokesmen for it. Secondly, and especially important in this election season, believers can fall into the temptation of idolizing candidates, inadvertently heralding them as messiahs. I think we all know in our heads that this is bad, but it is easy to get emotionally caught up in politics and “accidentally” slip into idolatry. No matter who wins or what happens, we serve the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who is the author of creation. We need to keep our eyes on Him and listen and act according to His Spirit in us–the hope of glory!

  • Paul and Barnabus’ journey makes me think of all the refugees currently fleeing from the places God sent His people. With exception of the Romans, all people God used in the bible are what we’d call “middle eastern” today, and these are the people so many live in fear of. I admire how Paul and Barnabus went where they were called, and reached their hearts out to people who they suspected would turn them away. They risked their lives to help lead others to a much better life, filled with Christ.
    I pray that we (and particularly those in the UK right now) can always keep in mind that all people are God’s people. That we, as believers, are to shine a light into the darkness, not hide from it. That we wouldn’t give into idols in the media who entice fear & hatred, but instead look to our Lord and how he has used His people to shine a light in the dark.

    • Jeanne

      This also makes me think about many Christians I know who are blindly following a particularly hateful presidential candidate. They’re not looking at his words and actions and asking, “is this Godly? Is this just? Is this love?”, but instead they idolize him. They post horrible memes on facebook full of misogyny, racism, and hate, but yet they are believers of Christ. It bewilders me, and breaks my heart. The only explanation is that they’ve idolized this man to such an extreme, that they’re blind to how damaging his words are. They’ve put him on the same level as Christ, believing he (a mortal man) can save us and do no wrong. We often wonder how so many could have followed Hitler, but it’s becoming clearer just how quickly the mass can latch onto a false idol.

      • churchmouse

        The USA is in trouble if the main candidates from each party are the best we can do. Where are the statesmen? I won’t vote for a candidate who supports abortion or who looks a grieving military family in the eye and lies to them about the cause of the death of their loved one or who was willing to risk national security for personal convenience. Shameful of both candidates for their reprehensible rhetoric and actions. BUT GOD remains in control. His purposes will not be thwarted. Like Israel of old, we may get the “king” (whatever the gender) we desire. The political climate drives me to my knees. “My hope is not in the politics of man but in the promises of God.” (Rick Warren)

      • Brittany

        Yes, we are in difficult times and many are more to come. I opposed this election from the very beginning. But God tells us to pray for our leaders whether it be a man or a woman. We still have a responsibility to vote and to pray God changes their heart along the process at sometime . But always remembering that this has always been God’s will. God knew this would happened from the very beginning & we may suffer or strongly dislike these candidates. But where then lies our faith that God can’t bring us out of this chaos? Has He not overcome other leaders that had stone cold hearts?

        • Sam

          YES! YES! It is our right, our RESPONSIBILITY as citizens of this great country to VOTE! I do not like either candidate but I will not allow myself to get mired in the minutiae that is politics–as much interest as I do have in it. God is in control. It is as simple as that. I am called to be obedient to my government and make the most informed vote I can. I will “do my best & let God do the rest.” And I will stand before Him one day and hear those sweet words, “She was faithful.” Sisters, don’t be lukewarm, don’t allow satan to render your hearts hardened to the point of not casting a vote. Do your part. We aren’t perfect, nor are we called to be–but He is.

  • Caroline harries

    Such a good reminder! It’s so easy to get caught up in the speaker, but what a reminder that it’s all about JESUS

    http://www.in-due-time.com

  • Erin Conley

    YES. I go to a very prominant mega church, and though I love it, every church has shortcomings– this is one of them. Specifically volunteering with impressionable High School students, I see this a lot, but would be lying (and missing the point) if I said it was just them. I’ve realized that it’s not only idolitry and over-glorifying teachers or public figures that’s distructive for us, but also for them! I’ve seen time and time again how this hurts our leaders: either inflating their egos to the point of misuse of power, or making them feel as if people don’t really know them, and that they aren’t allowed to be normal people. It’s why (both for the sake of leaders and congregation) it’s so important that we remember their humanity, and that if we really respect those who teach and ourselves, that means relating to them as we would any other person– and of course, knowing the God is the only one who deserves our praise.

    It may sounds silly, but I try to challenge myself in this (when I’m sitting in a service surrounded by thousands) by focusing on connecting with God through what I learn, and not thinking about the vessel he’s using. I find that many teachers, worship leaders, etc. actually prefer, and feel freed from pressure when we do so.

  • 1) I’m not sure I would have had the boldness and courage to return to Lystra as Paul and Barnabas do. After being stoned to the point where people think you’re dead… The thought of going back to that hostile environment would be very scary! Thankfully perfect love casts out fear and they were able to return to finish setting up the church for success! I’m in awe of their dedication.

    2) At the end of their missionary journey they return to their home Church (Antioch) and report all the things and they stayed with the disciples for a long time.

    They needed to be refreshed! To have some time off to recover. Praise God that he knows after seasons of hard work and ministry, you need a break sometimes! :)

  • Keri Underwood

    I struggle with this sometimes. There is one well-known pastor who’s teachings and books my fiance and I really like. We really love the way he teaches and we learn so much from him. It’s so easy to listen to his sermons or read one of his books and get caught up in his words more than that of the Gospel. While I think it’s okay to listen to pastors and teacher, it’s definitely not okay to focus more of their words that God’s! we have to be intentional about spending more time in Gid’s word than this pastor’s.

    http://www.littlelightonahill.com

    • Sydney

      I am guilty of the exact same thing! I love listening to Kyle Idleman and his books are amazing. I needed to read this devotion today, as a reminder who is truly the one deserving admiration (God).

  • It’s easy in today’s busy world to idolize not only people, but oth r workday things. Hectic work schedules, phones, or that 237th episode of that show you binge watch and just have to see. Yes, the world has many great things to offer. However, we can’t let it stray us away from the greatest One, who GIVES us love, who GIVES us forgiveness. He doesn’t offer, he gives. No strings attached. No $10 a moth fee. I hope everyone has a wonderful stress free week! And remember to slow down and hear God, there’s no telling what he might be trying to say, if we just open our hearts and listen.

  • churchmouse

    In my early days as a Christian, I listened to a well know Bible teacher on the radio. He was faithful to expository preaching from the Word. I was hungry and so I listened to him diligently. I learned so much. I devoured the books he wrote. Then one day, I realized I was reading more from him than the Word itself. The Holy Spirit convicted me right then and there. Learning from that man was valuable and his Bible teaching was solid but that was for a season in my life. The Holy Spirit led me to close man’s books and focus on the Word alone, listening for God’s still small voice as I read. There was a long season of just me and the Bible. Eventually, the Lord led me to include commentaries and sit under additional teaching at various retreats. Blessing upon blessing! I learned that I need to walk in the Spirit, that there are seasons in my life but that no one takes the place of God Himself. Thankful for the confirmation in the devotion today !

    • Keri Underwood

      This has been my problem too! I find myself learning so much from one pastor or teacher or writer that I will tend to focus too much on that one person! It’s so easy to do especially if we really are learning a lot from them. We really DO need to be so careful about this. If we are spending more time in their words than God’s Word, it’s a big problem!

      http://www.littlelightonahill.com

  • Kristine L

    There are some amazing Christian women writers/bloggers/authors out there. They have quite a following (myself included!) due to their wit and wisdom. And it’s good to have people who inspire us. Today’s reading was a good reminder to me, however, to remember that these women are still human, their words and opinions are just that, and I still need to weigh carefully what they are saying instead of blindly elevating their every statement to the same level as God’s Truth. It is so easy for my worship to shift from God to His messengers. I appreciate how humble and transparent all the SRT staff and readers are. The focus here is always to point away from self and straight towards Heaven.

    • Christine

      Yes yes yes! It can be genuinely difficult to keep the ego in check when you are in ministry and people look to you for a message or an ‘experience’. I’m always saying He>I, I don’t do anything by my own power, but people still put you up on this pedestal as if you are somehow closer to God! We have ALL sinned and fallen short of His glory! I just love Him and do my best to let Him use me, use my story (that He wrote!). In the end all praise for me belongs to Him.

  • I think the message I got out of this morning’s reading was the message of hard times are a for sure thing for someone who serves Christ. We cannot expect our lives to be trouble free. Paul and the disciples experienced persecutions but along with that also saw many lives changed because of what they shared not only in word but in deed. Their actions were as important as their words. The verses that stuck out to me “But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me.” 2 Timothy 3:10-11
    Persecutions come in life of a Christian but so does RESCUE.

    • churchmouse

      So true, Gina! Persecution come. But so does the strength to endure in the days before the rescue. Grateful for your reminder. Hope is right there.

    • Nancy

      I was also struck by the emphasis here–we all want to enjoy the “good life” & are so shocked & disappointed when trouble or sorrow come. We must stand firm in faith no matter what! And trust His promise of eternity spent with Him, where there will be no more tears, trouble or pain. I try to take the long view of life–this earthly existence is the short part!!

  • This also reminds me that we need to give the glory to God when he speaks through us or uses us to bless someone. Instead of taking the credit ourselves we should acknowledge that it is by God’s power and we should take the opportunity, like Paul and Barnabas did, to point people to Him.

    • Kelly Smith

      Yes! As writers, the struggle to embrace the role of messenger (rather than become the message) is real! The enemy would like nothing better than for us to replace God’s message with our own words and to take the credit for the message God speaks through us. Lord, keep our eyes fixed on you!

  • Really great message. It is all too easy to put admiration and adoration on those God uses to speak to us.

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