For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2001 James Melough

14:1.  “And it came to pass in Iconium, that they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spake, that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed.”

Their going into the synagogue continues to remind us that it was still a Jewish age in which the millennial kingdom was being offered to Israel; but the conversion of a multitude of Greeks (Gentiles) reminds us also that the Jewish age was drawing to a close, and that God was reluctantly turning from unbelieving Israel, to offer to the Gentiles even better blessings than those which Israel rejected.

14:2.  “But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles, and made their minds evil affected against the brethren.”  

Where the truth is preached, Satan isn’t far behind with his opposition and poison for men’s minds.  As noted already, the Jews, his primary agents, hiding behind the cloak of religion, had others carry out their evil plans.

14:3.  “Long time therefore abode they speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands.”

The length of time isn’t specified, but their remaining for a long time declares the truth that there has to be persistence in refuting wrong doctrine, and courage in preaching the gospel.

Their speaking “boldly in the Lord,” has been defined as their speaking “in dependence on the Lord,” JFB.

“... the word of his grace” indicates the nature of the gospel.  It is a message of pure grace, for by it God offers blessing which man doesn’t deserve; and His validating their ministry by enabling them to perform miracles confirms that it was still a Jewish age, for miraculous manifestation is associated with Israel, not with the Church.  The confirming testimony to the power of the gospel today is the convert’s transformed life. 

Relative to signs and wonders, William MacDonald writes, “The word ‘sign’ simply means that the miracle conveys a lesson, whereas the word ‘wonder’ suggests that the miracle creates a sense of awe.”

14:4. “But the multitude of the city was divided: and part held with the Jews, and part with the apostles.” 

The gospel is the great divider of men, the Lord Himself declaring, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.  For I am come to set a man at variance with his father, and the daughter against her mother .... And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household,” Mt 10:34-36.

14:5.  “And when there was an assault made both of the Gentiles, and also of the Jews with their rulers, to use them despitefully, and to stone them,”

14:6.  “They were ware of it, and fled unto Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and unto the region that lieth round about:”

Nothing provokes the hatred of the natural heart like the gospel, that hatred being as venomous in the heart of the irreligious, represented here by the Gentiles, as in the heart of the religious but unconverted, as represented by the Jews.  The “rulers” were the magistrates or city authorities, reminding us that all too often those same authorities are also the willing instruments of Satan to oppose the gospel, and persecute those who belong to Christ, a fact all too well attested by history.

“... to use them despitefully” means to ill-treat, molest, assault, abuse; and “ stone them” was literally to kill them.  As the enemy would be satisfied with nothing less than the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, neither will he be satisfied with anything less than the death of those who are His.

“They were ware (aware) of it....”  God takes care of His own, but not always by miraculous means.  Having warned them of the planned attack, He expected them to use common sense and escape.  It behooves us to walk in such close touch with Him that we will be able to discern His will.  In the present instance, in His sovereignty He used the evil designs of men to bring the gospel to Lystra and Derbe and the surrounding area.  Nothing is beyond God’s control, and we would enjoy a fuller measure of His peace if we walked in the confident enjoyment of that knowledge.

14:7.  “And there they preached the gospel.” 

That was their primary business, and it is ours also, the Lord’s command to each one of us being, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature,” Mk 16:15.

14:8.  “And there sat a certain man at Lystra, impotent in his feet, being a cripple from his mother’s womb, who never had walked.”

It is instructive to find that as there was a lame man in Acts 3, so is there here also a lame man.  The first represents Israel; this second, the Gentiles, for both are lame spiritually: the one as much as the other being unable to walk right before God; and as they had been born lame, so have all men been born as sinners, as it is written, “...for there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,” Ro.3:22-23. 

14:9.  “The same heard Paul speak: who stedfastly beholding him, and perceiving that he had faith to be healed,”

14:10.  “Said with a loud voice, Stand upright on thy feet.  And he leaped and walked.”

Confirming that the two men appear to represent Israel and the Gentiles respectively, is the fact that the cripple in Acts 3 was healed by Peter the apostle to Israel; this second, by Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles.

Both men had to obey a command: stand up.  The gospel is a command, refusal to believe it being disobedience of God.  Both men “leaped.”  This speaks of the abundant life that is found only in Christ, as He said Himself,  “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly,” Jn 10:10.  And each man “walked.”  This speaks of obedience, and it is to be remembered that obedience is the ultimate expression of worship, as it is written, “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?  Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.  For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.  Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee....” 1 Sa 15:22.

14:11.  “And when the people saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, the gods are come down to us in the likeness of men.” 

14:12.  “And they called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercurius, because he was the chief speaker.”

Impressed by the miracle, but ignorant of the One through whose power it had been accomplished, they imputed divinity to Paul and Barnabas, even though their concept of God was limited to the mythological figures invented by their own darkened minds.  In this is demonstrated the complete inability of the natural man to have any right knowledge of God, as is declared in 1 Co 2:12, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

14:13.  “Then the priest of Jupiter, which was before their city, brought oxen and garlands unto the gates, and would have done sacrifice with the people.”

“... which was before their city” is literally “whose temple was at the gate, or just outside their city.”

Convinced of the deity of God’s servants, this heathen priest attempted to lead the deluded people to present worship to mere men.  One doesn’t have to look far to see the same error being practiced today under the guise of Christian worship, for the adulation accorded the Pope and Mary is no less idolatry than was what the priest of Jupiter attempted that day in Lystra.

14:14.  “Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out,”

14:15.  “And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things?  We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein:”

When it has to do with salvation, man is always more ready to work than to believe, and when it comes to what he mistakes for worship he must have what is sensual rather than what is of the Holy Spirit.  He must have oratory, music, vestments, ritual, art, architecture, etc., for he knows nothing of what it means to worship God “in spirit, and in truth,” Jn 4:23.

“unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth and the sea.”  The god’s invented by man’s imagination have need that man make images of them.  They themselves are incapable of creating anything, even a figure of themselves.  Not so with God.  He is the Creator, creation itself being the eloquent testimony, not only to His existence, but also to His power.  We who are His new creation are responsible to reveal Him to others just as did the Lord when He was here on earth, declaring to Philip, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father,” Jn 14:9.  It is God’s desire that men should see Christ living His life in us.  Our thoughts, words, and deeds are to be similar to His when He was here as Man.

14:16.  “Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways.”

Man, made in the image of God, is a creature of intelligence, emotion, and will, and within the limits of His permissive will God permits man to use his free will, not only to choose to obey his Creator, but also to disobey Him.  The results of that freedom are catalogued in Ro 1:14-32, raising the question, Why does God permit man this freedom when it has produced such disastrous results?  The answer is that were man denied the exercise of his will to choose, he would be a mere automaton, and therefore incapable of holding communion with God - the very purpose for which he has been created.  It is God’s desire that man, given the freedom to choose, might learn by experience what a terrible thing sin is, and out of that experience turn again by his own free-will choice to God Who alone can deliver him through the redemptive work of the Man, Christ Jesus.  He, however, who will not turn to God acknowledging himself a sinner, and trusting in Christ as his Savior, must perish, that is, die the second death, which is to enter the lake of fire to endure eternal torment.

What God permits is not always what He would direct, and he is a wise man who walks, not according to what God permits, but what He directs, for His directive will produces nothing but blessing for man.

14:17.  “Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”

The rain, the seasons, and a fruitful earth providing for man’s health and happiness, are some of the proofs of God’s existence: an ordered creation implies the existence of an intelligent Creator.  But it is the Bible which reveals the moral nature of that Creator: He is a God of absolute holiness and justice, but also of love, His love impelling Him to provide for the redemption of man, who as a fallen creature in Adam, cannot attain to the holiness required of those who would enter God’s heaven.   Man, seeing the Creator God revealed in creation, is responsible thereafter to search out more about that God; and the earnest seeker is never disappointed.  But the vast majority of men refuse to accept the evidence spread before them in nature.  They will not seek after God, but seek rather to deny His existence. 

14:18.  “And with these sayings scarce restrained they the people, that they had not done sacrifice unto them.”

Few things are more difficult than to convince unconverted men of the error of mere religion; and a further truth demonstrated in the desire of the citizens to worship the apostles is that though man is anxious to dismiss God from his thoughts, he is equally ready to elevate mere man into the place of God, a tendency that will reach its climax in the Tribulation as an unbelieving world acclaims the Roman beast as God and accords him worship.

14:19.  “And there came thither certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who persuaded the people, and, having stoned Paul, drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead.”

Unbelieving Jews dogged Paul’s steps, as intent upon undoing his work, and destroying him as they had been His Lord, and as always, having others do their evil work.  And again the fickleness of man is revealed.  As the multitude, which at the beginning of the week hailed Christ as their Messiah, condemned Him to death at the end of that same week, so was it here.  The very people who had been ready to worship God’s servants, now attempted to slay them.  In spite of the miracle, they stoned Paul. 

14:20.  “Howbeit, as the disciples stood round about him, he rose up, and came into the city: and the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe.”

Nothing in Scripture indicates that this was a resurrection of Paul.  It seems that his enemies had mistaken unconsciousness  for death.

Questions that present themselves here are, Why did God permit Stephen to die, but save Paul?  Why permit John to die by the hand of Herod, but deliver Peter out of his hand?  The answer is that He is sovereign, ordering or permitting the events of our lives to accomplish His own purposes, and working all of them together for our eternal blessing.

14:21.  “And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch,”

14:22.  “Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”

They had already preached the gospel in Derbe, see verse 6, but availed themselves of the opportunity to continue that good work on this second visit; nor should we miss the fact that the preaching of the gospel was followed by their teaching   the converts.  It is essential that believers be instructed in sound doctrine.  Their teaching “many” indicates that they had won many converts to the Lord.

It seems clear that their return to Lystra was at the leading of the Holy Spirit Who still had work for them to do in that city.  It is to be feared that we have become so caught up in the present day frenzy of the world’s activity that we have become largely insensitive to the Spirit’s leading, with resultant loss of power in our preaching and teaching, so that there are few converts, and many untaught Christians.

“Confirming” means simply “strengthening and reassuring” so that they would continue strong in the faith even in the midst of much tribulation.  Our failure to fervently preach a clear biblical gospel has preserved us from tribulation, but with resultant lack of power and joy in our preaching and living, for tribulation is God’s instrument to strengthen faith and expose false profession.  The successful Christian life is mainly one of steady perseverance rather than of spectacular achievement.  Absence of tribulation indicates absence of faithfulness.  The lives of Paul and Barnabas lent weight to their words.  They practiced what they preached.  Their doctrine was no mere abstract theory.  It was a living reality.

It is necessary to note that this reference to entering the kingdom appears to refer to that day when we will reign with Christ in His kingdom, for initial entry into the eternal kingdom is by faith, the tribulation coming after conversion, and as the result of bearing a faithful testimony.

14:23.  “And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.” 

It is to be remembered that the Apostolic age was unique in many ways.  It was a period when Israel was still being offered the millennial kingdom.  There were two streams of Christianity: one Jewish; the other Gentile, the divine order governing the life of Jewish converts being different from that which governed the lives of their Gentile brethren; nor was the canon of Scripture complete. 

Eph 4:11 makes it clear that pastoring, shepherding, overseeing (they all describe different aspects of the work of an elder) is a spiritual gift, just as is evangelizing or teaching.  Scripture knows nothing of the individual prominent in Christendom today, and known as “the pastor,” hired by the elders (themselves pastors!), to do virtually all the teaching and preaching in the local church, his chief qualification being a theological education received at a Bible School or Theological Seminary.

The scriptural order is a far cry from this religious travesty.  The scriptural elder (pastor, shepherd, overseer) has been given the spiritual gift of shepherding God’s people, and when he is exercising his gift it eventually becomes evident to all.  In the early apostolic age when churches were being formed in many places, it is clear that the Apostles - having had revealed to them by God, the men in those congregations who had the gift of shepherding - pointed out, rather than ordained or appointed the gifted men. (See ordained and appointed in Vine’s Expository Dictionary).  But as the apostolic age drew to a close, and the canon of Scripture was completed, the normal order for the remainder of the Church age has been that as the gifted men use their spiritual gift, the other believers recognize them as elders (pastors, overseers, shepherds).  Scripture is silent as to the practice of having existing elders invite “into the oversight” a brother who becomes recognized as having the gift of oversight; nor does Scripture say anything about appointing elders.  It is the Holy Spirit Who appoints them, as He appoints every man to the work for which God has fitted him, see 20:28, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”

It should be recognized also that in shepherding, as in everything else “practice makes perfect.”  It isn’t to be expected that the younger elder should have developed his gift to the same degree as the man who has had twenty or thirty years experience in doing the work of an overseer (elder, pastor, shepherd).  Since each believer receives his spiritual gift at the moment of conversion, a man has the God-given ability to be an elder, evangelist, or teacher from that same moment.  Each man, however, is responsible, not to neglect his gift, but to develop it by using it, and as he does, it will soon become evident that he has that gift.  It is to be feared that many, devoting themselves, not to the exercise of their spiritual gift, but to the pursuit of money, fame, pleasure, etc., fail to develop their gift, so that their possession of it never becomes known - with resultant loss to God’s people, and eternal loss to the men themselves at the Bema.

Relative to their having “prayed with fasting,” it has to be recognized also that fasting was for Jews, and with the passing of the apostolic age, has no place in the life of the Church-age believer.  The far more important spiritual equivalent for believers is to abstain from the fleshly things which hinder the running of the heavenly race.

14:24.  “And after they had passed throughout Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia.”

14:25.  “And when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down into Attalia:”

14:26.  “And thence sailed to Antioch, from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled.” 

There is great need for men today to fulfill the work to which they have been called by God, and commended by their brethren.  Note that they had been “recommended to the grace of God.”  That was all they needed.  Note also that they were not directed by those who commended them, to do a specific work, but “to the grace of God.”  No Christian (individual or group, even the elders) is authorized to dictate the work of another.  That is the Holy Spirit’s prerogative.  Scripture offers no support to the formation of committees or organizations to direct missionary work.  God the Holy Spirit uses individuals whom He equips and calls to do His work, nor has He delegated that authority to any man, organization, or church.  The present trend of “short term” commitment to the Lord’s work is without Scriptural authority.  There is no such thing in Scripture as “trying out the job.”  Such methods may be necessary when the “work” has originated in the minds of men, and is under human direction, but the Holy Spirit has no need of such tactics.  He is God.  He knows the end from the beginning, and all He needs for the accomplishment of His purposes are obedient believers.  Relative to the Lord’s work it is written, “No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God,” Lk.9:62.

14:27.  “And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.”

14:28.  “And they abode long time with the disciples.”

Their calling together “the church,” that is, the believers who constituted that local assembly, should surely disclose the error of Christendom in regarding the building where people meet, as being “the church.”  A scriptural church is a called out company of believers living for the most part in the same general geographic area.

This gathering together of the church to hear the report of the work to which the believers had first commended Paul and Barnabas, reminds us that in that early day there was a genuine common interest in the work of God.  Sadly, that same interest in God’s work is seldom found today.  All too many Christians are too busy with the things of this world to have much interest in what pertains to the world to come.  

It is instructive to note also that all the focus was on  what God had done with them, they being simply instruments in His hand.  It was He Who worked, and Who deigned to use men as His agents.  There was no glory-seeking on the part of Paul and Barnabas.

Israel’s day of grace was drawing to a close.  God’s patience was about to end.  Clearly He was now turning from rebellious Israel to offer the Gentiles the riches refused by the Jew.  And in this we are reminded of His warning to all men, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man,” Ge 6:3, and again, “He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy,” Pr 29:1.  Nor are these warnings confined only to the unbeliever.  They are addressed also to the disobedient believer, the only difference being that the unbeliever will lose his soul; the disobedient believer, his eternal reward.

The length of time spent with the believers isn’t indicated, but is generally believed to have been from one to two years, and undoubtedly it was a time of mutual blessing.

This may not be taken to justify a resident “pastor” or “full-time worker.”  The elders are the only resident workers in any local church.  Evangelists and teachers have an itinerant ministry.

[Acts 15]



     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough