Acts 14:21-23 (ESV)
21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
I have written on this passage before, especially focusing on the amazing truth that Paul, who had been left for dead after the people stoned him, got up and returned to the very city where they tried to kill him. This was amazing, faithful, and fruitful. Remember, it was Lystra where Paul was stoned by the people, and it was in a later trip to Lystra where Paul struck up a friendship with Timothy, a key follower of Christ.
What has my attention this morning, however, is what Paul did as he and those with him returned to the cities where they had faced such opposition. We see first that Paul strengthened the souls of the disciples. What a great ministry this was. Paul made sure that a key element to how he served was to give strength to the people. This means that his ministry was certainly not focused on always bringing guilt and condemnation. No, Paul worked to encourage people in the faith. He wanted to help people b stronger in their faith.
How do you strengthen the souls of others?
Another thing that Paul did was to encourage people to continue in the faith. Added to this is the truth that it will be through many tribulations that we enter the kingdom of God. Yes, Paul wanted their souls to be encouraged. However, he did not lie to them. They lived in a world where it would be hard to be a Christian. Socially, it was not acceptable to be a follower of Jesus. Socially, it was completely out of place not to take part in the worship of the Greek gods or to be a part of Roman emperor worship. The Christians were thought of as atheists, people who did not have any visible gods to worship. They were considered anti-social. Like Christians today, they were considered to be on the wrong side of history.
Paul knew that this would be a hard road to follow, and he told the Christians so. He let them know that they will face difficulties. He encouraged them to stay the course. He helped them to steel their courage as they looked toward the potential of coming persecution.
How might you encourage someone to press on in the faith, even in the face of hardship?
Finally, Paul and his followers appointed elders in every church for the people. What a kind gift this was. Paul knew that the church should be led by competent men—more than one—who could shepherd and oversee the flock, teaching the word of God faithfully. Paul did not set up the churches to be run by any single individual. He set up multiple elders, giving us an example of accountability and strength in numbers. This would not have made congregational decisions obsolete, but would have set up a church where godly leaders do what they are to do and the congregation is called to participate and to affirm that leadership. Yet, as we see in Paul’s writings, the congregation is called to act as a whole and is the final line of authority in key matters such as church discipline or restoration.
What Paul did for these churches was very kind. It would be good for any church to have a plurality of men, godly men, who are gifted and able to spiritually lead the congregation. When multiple men are involved in this leadership, the decisions are not made at the whim of any one person’s preferences. Also, when one leader is weak, perhaps going through a difficult season in life, the others are there to pick him up and help him through. There are countless other reasons why this model of church leadership works. What is nice to see, however, is that Paul was kind enough to the church to arrange it this way for them before he left them to head back home to Antioch.
Do you help in the faithful ordering of the church?
God is very good to his people. He has given us great examples to follow. He calls us to strengthen one another’s souls, to encourage each other to stay the course, to be ready to face hardships together, and to have strong churches. May we learn from these things for God’s glory and for our good.