They strengthened the believers. They encouraged them to
continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many
hardships to enter the kingdom of God (v.22).
In February of 2011, Andrew Wilson, an Australian
fisherman was fishing off the coast of New South
Wales when he was thrown from his boat by a large
wave. Without a life jacket, but filled with adrenaline and
tenacity, Wilson braved the shark-infested waters and
simply kept swimming. “I wasn’t going to stop, so I just
Wilson survived the ordeal with minor injuries. One
local rescuer opined: “Lucky he was a strong swimmer.”
The same could not be said for the disciples in Lystra,
Antioch, and Iconium; in a way they were new swimmers
and needed mentors—Paul and Barnabas—to strengthen
and encourage them to keep going.
After experiencing a near-death stoning in Lystra at
the hands of a violent mob (incited by Jews from Antioch
and Iconium) and preaching the gospel in Derbe, Paul
did the unexpected. He and Barnabas returned to Lystra,
Iconium, and Antioch—the very cities where their lives
had been in danger!
Why would they return to those cities of potential
harm? They could have taken a less arduous route and
kept traveling southeast and visited Paul’s home in Tarsus.
But Paul and Barnabas weren’t thinking of themselves;
they were concerned about strengthening some “new
believers” to keep going and not give up. They wanted
to make sure the new disciples were spiritually healthy
and had solid spiritual leadership.
We too have a responsibility to new or inexperienced believers in Jesus. By the
power of the Holy Spirit, let’s strengthen their souls, help them to depend on God
in the face of pain, and to keep going in the midst of the dangerous waters of
uncertainty, trial, and suffering. And let’s remind them that endurance is a hallmark
of true Christian faith and it brings spiritual rewards.
How does your church strengthen and encourage new
believers? What younger Christian will you strengthen and
encourage this week? How?