Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. (Galatians 6:9)
If you’ve ever uttered the words “wasting my breath,” then you’ll find it natural to ask the question, “Why?” when you read this account of Paul and Barnabas in Iconium and in Lystra.
Why would Paul and Barnabas continually subject themselves to mistreatment?
Why would they persistently preach Christ when it seemed many of their hearers not only refused their message but actually wanted to kill them?
Yet despite the contrariness and the perversion of the human mind, Paul persisted in preaching the gospel of Christ. Why?
Because God provided for His preachers as He worked miracles in the hearts of some of Paul’s hearers.
And that’s why you and I are called to be faithful witnesses to the Word amid an unbelieving, and even hostile, generation: in saving souls, God always provides an eternal payoff for the persistent preaching of the gospel.
Right off the bat, you’re bombarded with the persecution of Paul and Barnabas by unbelievers with sin-perverted minds.
No matter where they ventured, it seemed, Paul and his fellow servants faced opposition from unbelieving Jews and from easily provoked Gentiles. Those Jews who refused Paul’s message likely did so because Jesus wasn’t the sort of Messiah they had expected or wanted; they wanted political prowess for the state of Israel, not redemption from their sins and right standing with God. Thus when Paul preached Jesus, those calcified Jews attacked his person (physically and verbally) and stirred up some of the Gentiles to help them stone Paul and Barnabas.
It’s quite a harrowing testimony to these Jews’ hardness and spiritual perversion that, as we learn later in the chapter, when they didn’t get a shot at Paul’s life in Iconium, they rounded up a religious posse and traveled 100 miles (100 miles – in those days!) to attack him in Lystra. Now that’s persistent wickedness!
To add to the preachers’ woes, many of the Gentiles in Lystra also sought Paul’s life after he refused to be treated as a god. Paul, operating under the power of the Spirit of God, had healed a man who was crippled from birth; yet these spiritually perverse Lystrans misinterpreted Paul’s work. They immediately sought to make sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas as they molded Christian preaching to fit their own, foolish, worldly religion. Rather than question their previously held beliefs, they held those beliefs as a standard to which Christianity needed to conform.
Matthew Henry speaks of the sin-perverted thinking of the unregenerate human heart as he notes that when the true God came among men, they made Him the sacrifice; but when mere men came preaching about this one, true God, these same people tried to make sacrifices to them. How warped!
Even today you and I live and work with unbelievers who have heard the Bible read and preached – yet have their own “Personal Jesus” (to borrow from a popular song). They refuse to accept a God who condemns sinners outside of Christ, so they try to make the Lord Jesus conform to their image of who he ought to be. And if you tell them otherwise – if you speak to them biblically – they will run you out of town (at best) or attack you personally (at worst).
Paul and Barnabas and you and I face opposition to the truth of Scripture because sin has distorted the human mind. There is no one righteous, there is no one who seeks after God, and man-made religion always seems to garner a bigger following than does biblical Christianity. Sinners don’t like the one, true God getting close to them and making a claim over their lives, which Paul and Barnabas knew right well.
Yet we note, secondly, Paul’s persistence in preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Regardless of prior events, Paul preached the Word.
The Greek in verse 1 stresses the habitual nature of Paul and Barnabas’ preaching ministry: their practice was first to visit the synagogue when they entered a new town and go next to the Gentiles. In fact, Luke tells us they labored long in Iconium and spoke boldly in the Lord; and when they were forced to flee to Lystra, they picked right up preaching the Word in that city.
If you were to experience some trauma as a result of your work, chances are you would request removal from that assignment – or at least avoid the same steps in the future.
Not Paul and Barnabas. Their focus was on preaching the saving message of God in Christ.
Perhaps the most-revealing moment of their preaching ministry, though, came in Lystra when the pagans sought to make sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas. Instead of allowing sinful pride a foothold in their hearts, these messengers of Christ immediately ripped their clothes – an Old Testament response to blasphemy of the Lord – and began evangelizing the masses anew. It’s as if they said, “We’re not gods; we’re men like you: feeble, frail, and once walking in spiritual darkness. But the same longsuffering God who revealed Himself to us and saved us can save you, too, from your idols!”
Paul’s concern was the spiritual and eternal welfare of the people of Lystra, not his own popularity within the Roman Empire. That’s why he preached to them of God’s existence and goodness instead of accepting their sacrifices and scurrying down the easy road. He wanted them to know personally the Living God, who made all things and who even blessed sinners with rich mercies such as tasty food and gladdened hearts.
Whether to Jews or to Gentiles, whether lambasted or lauded, Paul and Barnabas persisted in preaching the Word of God. Even when it seemed to cost them.
Again you and I ask, “Why?”
The answer lies in God’s provision for His faithful preachers.
This same Paul wrote the words in the opening chapter of the letter to the Romans, in which he lamented the sin-warped human mind – a mind that could see the evidence for a good and great God yet chose to worship idols instead of the Lord. This same Paul knew how many of the Jews would react to the gospel: with abject bitterness and anger. This same Paul had endured threats on his life before and surely expected to face further threats.
Still he preached Christ.
He preached Christ because he understood that God works spiritual miracles through the preaching of His Word to sinners. Paul knew that God caused a spiritually dead man to rise in Lystra, and that physically crippled man’s ability to walk was only an outward sign of the inward change that God had wrought in his heart. Paul knew that the Lord would provide signs and miracles to support him as he preached this life-changing message of Jesus. Paul knew that even though the city of Iconium was divided about the gospel, that nonetheless meant some of the townspeople believed on Jesus – because God was at work.
To be sure, Paul also experienced the providential protection of God, delivering him from a murder attempt in Iconium and causing him to recover after the stoning in Lystra. Paul was well aware of God’s protective mercy toward him.
But despite the contrariness of the sin-ravaged souls to whom he preached, and despite all the obstacles he faced, Paul ministered the Word.
Because some – by the miraculous work of God through His Word – did believe.
You might not face the threat of stoning anytime soon, but if you speak to others about Christ, you will face some type of opposition. People in Greene County might not resort to mob violence anymore, but just as in Paul’s day, their minds are just as warped by sin and just as unreceptive to the claims of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The more you bear witness for Christ, and the more you take a Christian stand at work or at home, the more opposition you’ll encounter. Sometimes people will reject you and your message; other times they’ll try to twist what you’ve said to fit their own vain religion.
And it will seem like your breath is being wasted, because part of those folks won’t believe.
But that also means part of them will believe, because God still works miracles through preaching about Christ. And He still supports you as you stand for His truth.
… So that’s what Paul meant when he said, “Weary not in well doing, for one day we will reap.”