Today in our Noon Bible Study we reviewed Acts 14, the second part of Paul & Barnabas’ first missionary journey. After the team had traveled to various cities in Galatia to preach the gospel, they returned to the cities they had previously visited to reconnect with the disciples that had been made. Luke records this in Acts 14:21-23:
After 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, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” 23 When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
They encouraged the disciples to continue in the faith. Paul did this by specifically telling the believers of this region to anticipate tribulation (troubles, challenges, etc.) as they lived waiting for the kingdom of God. Paul had just been stoned (to death probably) in Lystra and been faced with many people contrary to the message. He had experienced first hand some of these tribulations – and he was just getting started!
The reason why I highlight this “encouragement” from Paul is because it teaches us something important about the Christian life and our call to help disciple others. Knowing something ahead of time, even if that something is a difficult thing, is good.
Imagine for a moment that it is a Wednesday at 1pm. You needed to be in Providence for an important meeting at 5pm, a drive that typically takes 20 minutes. You receive a call from a friend that traffic is backed up to Providence for miles and miles and he informs you that construction is planned for the rest of the afternoon for the very route you need to travel later in the day (not too hard to imagine this scenario is it?!). Your friend tells you that it took him and hour and a half to make the same trip you have scheduled.
What is your attitude towards this news? Are you annoyed and irritated about it? Perhaps slightly. But the prevailing thought is that you welcome this news because it arms you with the information that will help you make the meeting on time! You know ahead of time that there will be challenges and you are able to prepare and adapt. You will be able to make your critical meeting on time, only now you know you need to leave earlier to make it.
When we know ahead of time that there will be trouble or tribulation in this life, we will not be surprised when it comes. And we can keep the right focus and perspective that is based on faith, and not our circumstances. Jesus said:
John 16:33 – “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
Paul tells this new church that there will be tribulation ahead. But he wants them not to forget that the journey, though filled with challenges, is to the kingdom of God! The tempering perspective to these trials is that we are heading towards the time when all that is wrong with the world will be made right. Paul’s encouragement is not a pessimistic prediction – it is a realistic view of the present with an end goal of hope.
In other words, it is good to know that there will be challenges in this life ahead of time. If we don’t know this ourselves or help prepare those we disciple with this reality, we will set ourselves up for disappointment and potentially crush the new faith of a new disciple. Let’s be sure to help each other see that there are going to be some difficult days and encourage each other to keep our eyes on the prize!
So my final encouragement to you today is the same as Paul’s was in Acts 14 – We will go through trials in this life – but the kingdom of God is coming! Be strengthened in your soul and keep the faith. Continue to pray and seek the Lord. Know that it is within his hands that we are held.
With a sober-minded anticipation of hope, Pastor Victor