The fourteenth chapter of Acts tells about Paul’s ministry in an area of Turkey called Galatia. There has been a great deal of debate about how the term “Galatia” is used in the New Testament. The debate does not affect where Paul traveled, of course; Luke, who became Paul’s traveling companion later in the journey, makes clear that Paul went to Antioch in Pisidia, then to the three cities of Iconium, Lystra and Derbe.
Acts 14 contains a repetition of the missionary pattern. We have already seen this pattern worked out at Antioch. Now we see it in each of these three cities of Galatia. Luke suggests this by his use of the words “as usual” in verse 1. “As usual” suggests a pattern. It is worth reviewing this pattern, because we are going to see it again and again.
1. Preaching. Today people are so interested in things that are spectacular that some insist that if Christians are to be effective in their evangelistic work, the one thing they must do in a targeted community is miracles. Then, after they have gotten the attention of people by doing miracles and have an open door, they can preach the Gospel. From time to time in these early days, God did work miracles through the apostles. It was how God authenticated them as His messengers when there was no New Testament. But it is interesting to note that even the apostles did not just go into these cities, do miracles, and then preach. Rather it was the other way around. They went to preach. Then, sometimes there were healings.
The miracles proved that the apostles were God’s true messengers. That is why verse 3 says, “The Lord… confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders,” and why Paul in another place speaks of “signs, wonders and miracles” as “the things that mark an apostle” (2 Cor. 12:12).
2. Division. When the Word is preached it always produces a division. This happened in Jesus’ and Paul’s ministries, and it happens when the Gospel is preached today. This is because when the Word of God comes into a dark area, whether it is a dark human heart or a darkened environment, it does what light always does. Either it causes things to grow—in the case of the Gospel it produces a warming of the heart and a bringing forth of the fruit of the spiritual life God has already put there—or it causes the creatures of the dark to scatter. Jesus said that some people would not come to the light “because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).
3. Persecution. The third thing we notice in this pattern of Gospel preaching in Acts is persecution. A division comes first. Then, on the side of the rejection of the message, there is a quickly developing opposition that becomes so intense that it results at last in the persecution of the messengers. We find this again and again. We find that Gentiles from this or that area (or Jews from this or that city) got so stirred up that they moved against Paul and his associates. He had to flee from city to city, and they even pursued him to new cities to create opposition there.
4. Growth. We also see a fourth thing. It is that, in spite of the division and consequent persecution, the apostles always left a growing church behind. We know it was growing in this area because after Paul and Barnabas had passed through the cities of Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe the first time, been thrown out of each of these cities, and then moved on, when they went back to visit those they had left they found the church prospering in each case. How can that be?
The apostles had left behind only a tiny core of believers, and these had hardly been taught anything, since the apostles had been there at best for only a few weeks. How could this little group survive? The answer is obvious. It survived because the work was actually being done by God. The church was His church. Therefore years later, in spite of persecution (and perhaps even neglect, since there were not many workers in those days), we still find these churches thriving.