Paul and Barnabas take their message to the Jews first and then to the Gentiles.
In every town their audience is divided between believers and unbelievers … an emotional hotbed for all.
At Lystra, Paul heals a man lame from birth, causing the people to believe he and Barnabas are the Greek gods Hermes and Zeus.
Paul and Barnabas must make clear to the Gentiles that they are humans, not gods. They must flee stoning by the angry Jews and some of the Greeks.
Throughout their journey, Paul and Barnabas appoint presbyters, or elders, and possibly deacons and deaconesses as well. The elders and presbyters are to teach and lead, while the deacons and deaconesses are to serve the needs of the people. This may well have been the beginning of the leadership structure in the Church we have today.
Arriving back in Antioch of Syria, Paul and Barnabas encounter Jewish Christians proclaiming that the converting Gentiles must first become Jews by being circumcised. So disconcerting is this issue that Paul and Barnabas go to Jerusalem to address the issue with the Apostles and the Jerusalem Church.
After debate and prayer, and listening to both Peter and James, a decision is made NOT to impose Jewish ritual law and tradition on the converting Gentiles.
This meeting came to be known as the Council of Jerusalem. It was the first of many “councils” the church has held in which prayer, discussion, and reliance on the Holy Spirit provides guidance. (Vatican Council II was just such a meeting.)
Upon Reflection …
One of the key insights for me in these chapters is revealed in the role played by prayer, fasting and discerning. Did you notice how much they were a part of the decisions of the early church?
That is, Paul and Barnabas and the entire Council in Jerusalem repeatedly turn their questions over to God.
How often do we need to be reminded of our own need to do this? Our decisions would be much wiser if we turned things over to God first, and relied on prayer and the Holy Spirit to guide us.
Indeed, our egos can often get in the way of doing God’s work.
How about you? What method do you use to handle decision-making, conflict, differences, and uncertainties???
For Closer Study…
1. Paul is pursued by Jews wanting to destroy him. Yet, what he is teaching is how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophesies; the very thing the Jews were awaiting! What seems to be the stumbling block for the Jews?
2. When Paul and Barnabas are lauded as “gods” in Lystra by the Gentiles, what is the error in their thinking? What stumbling blocks get in your way as you try to follow Jesus?
3. Is there a lesson for us in the fickleness of the Gentiles who want to worship Paul and Barnabas one moment and the next are ready to stone them?
Next week: Chapters 16 -18