Acts 14:5-7 There was a plot afoot among the Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to ill-treat [Paul and Barnabas] and stone them. But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, where they continued to preach the good news.
There are three things we learn from what Luke wrote to Theophilus here.
Firstly, it was Gentiles as well as Jews who opposed the proclamation of the Gospel in the early days. It is easy to get the impression from Acts that the main opponents were the Jewish leaders who were opposed to it because it both challenged their own authority over their people and it implied a condemnation of their unjust treatment of Jesus. But it appears from what happened at Iconium that there were pagan Gentiles who joined in the attack. We ought not be surprised by this because of what we face today. Our opponents include both people of other religions (whose power-base is threatened by the claims of Jesus) and people of no religion (whose lifestyle and humanistic culture is similarly threatened). In the case of the Jews, we are reminded of Jesus’ scathing attack on the hypocrisy of the ‘Scribes and Pharisees’ throughout the Gospels and prophecies like Isaiah 6:9-10 and 29:13; and in the case of the Gentiles we are reminded of Psalm 2:1-3 – “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One [Messiah]. ‘Let us break their chains,’ they say, ‘and throw off their fetters’”.
Secondly, that there is a case for ‘flight’ as well as ‘fight’ in the face of violent opposition. Jesus had spoken strongly about standing firm and trusting him (Luke 12:11), and not being ‘afraid’ or ‘ashamed’ of him (Mark 8:38). But he also spoke about “sending [us] out like sheep among wolves … and be[ing] as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
Thirdly, even while fleeing, Paul and Barnabas took whatever opportunity presented itself to ‘preach the Good News’. Paul wrote of other times when he had suffered greatly because he had chosen the ‘fight’ option (cf eg 2 Corinthians 4:8-12; 11:24-27), and he would later write from prison of the importance standing firm and fearless in the faith as an evangelistic strategy (Philippians 1:27-30).
Let us learn from all this to expect the attacks that come against us from various sources and for various reasons, to depend wholly on God to help us with how to respond, and to look for, and take, whatever opportunities might come our way as the Apostle Peter says: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
– Bruce Christian