Towards the end of Acts 13 Paul and Barnabas are in the middle of their 1st missionary journey. They are following their normal protocol, going first to the synagogue of each new city they visit to proclaim the gospel. Another normal pattern is asserting itself also. Wherever the gospel is preached, opposition follows. In Acts 14 these two leaders enter the city of Iconium. Per usual, they enter the local synagogue to proclaim the gospel-and the text tells us that many Jews and Greeks believe. The story goes on to tell us that there were some unbelieving Jews who “poisoned their minds against the brothers.” The solution for Paul and Barnabas was to stay put and speak even more boldly about Christ and the gospel.
Some leaders cut and run at the first sign of trouble. Some leaders become self absorbed and attempt to defend their reputation when slander comes their way. Paul and Barnabas see a critical need to correct a lie and reassert the truth. They take no concern for their reputation or the possibility of stirring up more trouble. They stay and and restate their position more plainly and more boldly. God moved powerfully through these saints by granting them miracle powers. Yet, the end result was a city divided-some siding with those who dispensed poisonous slander and some siding with the apostles. A plot was being hatched to corner these leaders and get rid of them forever-through stoning. There is a time to flee a situation. Paul and Barnabas decide to leave Iconium, not out of fear-but I would suggest they do so out of wisdom and stewardship. Their mission is not yet over. There were other communities that needed to hear of the life changing power of Christ. Notice that this threat did not stop them in their proclamation. They simply continued on to the next city to declare the gospel. When you feel threatened as a leader there is the need to both take a stand for the truth and continue to steward well the mission.
When Paul and Barnabas arrive at Lystra, they continue to preach the gospel. But Paul notices a man who has been crippled since birth. Paul sees the man’s infirmity and he sees the man’s heart. Paul commands the man to walk-and he does! The crowd goes berserk and declares Paul and Barnabas as gods. The crowd takes it a step further and want to offer sacrifices of worship. Now it’s time for Paul and Barnabas to go berserk. They strongly deflect the worship of men and point these Lystrians toward the only worthy object of worship-the one, true, living God.
Some leaders love the lime light. Some leaders secretly or overtly court the praise of men. Some leaders believe they absolutely deserve the sacrificial actions of others on their behalf. Success and praise are a powerful twosome that feed the ravenous animal of pride. Paul and Barnabas go to extremes to ensure that people accurately discern their true nature and pay homage to the Creator of the universe. These leaders remind the people of Lystra that the marks of this Creator are all around them-pointing them toward salvation. Paul did not escape harm this time. The poisonous slanderers from Iconium had tracked Paul to Lystra. They stoned him and left him for dead. Sometimes doing the right thing will cost you dearly. The world is a jealous suitor. If you uniquely claim Christ you will find yourself in unique circumstances that promise both blessing and badgering. When you are faced with “worship” as a leader there is a need to deflect the praise and point people to a legitimate witness of the grace of the gospel.
Leaders always receive more criticism and praise than they usually deserve. That is just a fact of leading. But how you handle these two subverters will make the difference.