Calvary Road Baptist Church

“A DIVISIVE MINISTRY”

Acts 14.1-6

 “Can’t we all just get along?” Those words were first spoken by Rodney King, a petty criminal who was set upon by police officers and thoroughly beaten, in full view of a man who was trying out his new video camera. The rest is history, resulting in Rodney’s plea following trials and a citywide riot, “Can’t we all just get along?” It captured a nation. His were timely words that gripped us all. Of course, we just want to get along. The last thing most people want in their lives is conflict, especially Christians. We do not want conflict with God, and we certainly do not want conflict with our fellow man. However, things in this life are not always the way we want them to be. This tendency we all have to desire peace and tranquility can sometimes produce a uniformity of conduct or belief that is taken by many as a substitute for unity. However, those of us who know Christ as our personal Savior must realize that when unity is referred to in the Word of God, it is always a unity that is based and built upon truth.

The Apostle Paul wrote about unity more than any other New Testament writer did. However, when Paul encountered doctrinal error being propagated by one of the apostles of Jesus Christ, he threw unity to the wind for the sake of truth. Galatians 2.11 is where Paul refers to it: “But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.” We need to understand, that even among the brethren, unity must take a second place to scriptural truth. In other words, no matter how much you and I might want peace and tranquility, there are some things worth contending for, there are some things worth enduring strife for, and there are some things of such importance that one must be willing to endure conflict rather than compromise.

Consider, for example, the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The gospel is what Jesus died for. The gospel is what so many early Christians were martyred for. What say you then when Jesus commands you to preach the gospel to every creature, but so many demand that you remain silent, insist that you speak not the truth in love, and require you to conform to ideals and conduct that they foist upon you by social convention and then by persecution? The gospel of Jesus Christ, being truth to the nth degree, divides men with an impassable chasm, an uncrossable gulf, an unfordable void. Does the gospel of Jesus Christ actually divide men? Yes, I say to the ecumenical modernist who associates with the National and World Council of Churches. Yes, I say to the Great Whore that sitteth upon the seven mountains. Yes, I say to the Charismatic Movement, which seeks unity at the expense of the Great Doctrines of the Bible. Yes, I say to family and friends who for some reason expect me to compromise my personal convictions to accommodate their schedules and their wicked preferences.

The gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ divides men who cannot agree upon the person and work of the Son of God. The gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ divides men from our fellowship who may agree with us about the person and work of our risen Savior, but who will not walk separated from the lost and the heretical of this world. They will give up church on Sunday for the sake of football, for the sake of basketball, for the sake of some other distraction, and wonder why we do not do the same. Yes, I maintain that the gospel of Jesus Christ is not unifying. Yes, I maintain the gospel to be divisive. It was divisive in Paul’s day, and it is divisive in our day. Paul knew that choices had to be made and that no one can have it all.

Nothing has changed in our day. Men are everywhere still the same. They reason the same and they respond the same to the same message. In Acts 14.1-6, we see illustrated how the gospel of Jesus Christ is a divider of men. Please turn to that passage and read along with me:

 1      And it came to pass in Iconium, that they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spake, that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed.

2      But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles, and made their minds evil affected against the brethren.

3      Long time therefore abode they speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands.

4      But the multitude of the city was divided: and part held with the Jews, and part with the apostles.

5      And when there was an assault made both of the Gentiles, and also of the Jews with their rulers, to use them despitefully, and to stone them,

6      They were ware of it, and fled unto Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and unto the region that lieth round about.

 Four observations:

 The first OBSERVATION IS RELATED to the preaching of the Word of God

 In verse 1, we ought to note both Paul’s method of presentation, and the sinner’s means of deliverance:

“And it came to pass in Iconium, that they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke, that a multitude of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed.” I want to call to your attention the words which Luke used, the words “so spake that.” By these three words, Luke wants to communicate to his readers that Paul and Barnabas spoke to the crowd in a particular way. That is, they had a specific method of presenting the gospel that differed from other oral presentations that might have been heard in their day. What did Paul and Barnabas preach and how did they preach it? That question is pretty much answered in Paul’s own description of the way he preached to the Corinthians. Turn with me to First Corinthians 1.17-18, 23:

 17     For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.

18     For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.

 

21     For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.

 Notice that Paul did not mince words with people when it came to presenting the gospel. He preached the cross of Christ. He preached a crucified Christ Who died for our sins, Who was buried in a rich man’s grave, Who rose from the dead after three days, and Who ascended and now sits at the right hand of His Father on high, having sprinkled His own blood on the altar in heaven as a propitiation for our sins. He did not alter his message to fit the mood of the listeners. He did not try to overcomplicate his message to appeal to the sophisticated crowd. He just preached the gospel, telling the story the way it was and the way it actually happened, and then challenging his audience to respond. Barnabas certainly did the same.

What then is the sinner’s means of deliverance? What must happen in the heart of every sinner that will result in the instantaneous salvation of his wicked and depraved soul? Must you be baptized? No. That is not referred to here. Must you take first communion? No. That is not referred to here, either. Must you do good works? Luke mentions not even that here. No, the only word which can possibly be connected to the deliverance experienced by the sinner when God saves him from the penalty, power and future presence of sin is the word “believed.” “. . . a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed.” This fits well with the declaration made to the Philippian jailor, in Acts 16.31: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” Then there is Romans 10.10: “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness.” Is that not what father Abraham’s experience teaches us? Romans 4.3 declares, “For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” The means of deliverance, then, is to believe, to simply trust, to have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. My, how wonderfully this fits into the four places in the Word of God where it is declared that “the just shall live by faith.”[1] Is it any wonder to folks, that a free grace gospel of salvation would be divisive among a world full of religions that are not only not faith and free grace oriented, but which have no Savior in which to place our faith? Yes, whether it is Romanism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Hinduism, Mohamedanism, or Mormonism that is the dominant religion, Biblical Christianity will be a divisive force. Why? Because the gospel divides men, that is why.

The second OBSERVATION IS RELATED TO the presence of the enemy

 In verse 2 of Acts chapter 14, Luke writes, “But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and made their minds evil affected against the brethren.” First, we see their description, then their determination.

Their description comes to us in the word “unbelieving.” Usually when we see the word unbelieving used in the Word of God we think of someone who simply has not trusted in Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. Everyone is born in this spiritual condition of unbelief and must come under the sound of the gospel for this tragedy to be remedied. Until an individual comes to Christ, he is an enemy of God, an enemy of the gospel, and will be opposed to the plan and purpose of God even if his opposition is not open or blatant to himself or to others.[2] However, here we have a somewhat different form of the word than is generally used. The word here may mean more than simply not having faith in Christ. Here it may mean refusal to believe rather than just unbelief.[3] There are some who stubbornly rebel against the truth, who do not want to respond to the gospel.

This description is born out in the determination that the enemy shows. In this particular example, we notice that it is the unbelieving Jews that stirred up the predominantly Gentile crowd in the city. They did something to make the minds of the Gentiles evil affected against the Christian brethren. That is, they said and did things to make the unsaved Gentiles prejudiced against the Christians who had responded to the gospel they chose to not only reject but to prevent others from hearing and responding to.[4] The objects of their attacks were, in this case, the average among the believers and not the leaders, Paul and Barnabas. Somehow, the opposers of the gospel were able to harm the believer’s reputations, to hurt their credibility, to damage the opinions others had of them in the community. This same kind of tactic is used today wherever the pure and unadulterated Word of God is preached. Either the enemy can be outside the church or they can be wolves in sheep’s clothing. As well, the objects of their attacks can either be individual Christians or church leaders and pastors. The tactic used is to stir up anyone who will respond to their lies and innuendo so that their minds are evil affected against believers. When asked why they do such things, these enemies of the gospel will put forth a variety of reasons. Sometimes they will even deny they are enemies of the gospel, insisting they are disinterested bystanders who only offer an occasional opinion about something they see or hear. However, you can be sure that when anyone acts like an enemy of the gospel, when anyone meets the description of being a refuser to believe divine truth from God’s Word, and when anyone goes about trying to stir up people to be evil affected against a Christian, then he is behaving like the enemy. The enemy around us and in our midst shows us that the gospel is divisive, because these same people do not seek to harm those their attacks are leveled against until they embrace the gospel message and become Christians. It is only when you become a Christian that a liar will turn up his nose at you and refuse to have anything to do with you for not believing his lies. Liars never pull those kinds of stunts with unsaved people. It is the gospel that is divisive.

THE third OBSERVATION IS THE PERSEVERANCE OF THE MISSIONARIES

 Read Acts 14.3-4 with me once more:

 3      Long time therefore abode they speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands.

4      But the multitude of the city was divided: and part held with the Jews, and part with the apostles.

 Here is noted the perseverance of the missionaries. Their perseverance is seen in several ways:

It is first seen in the duration of their stay. “Long time therefore abode they. . . .” Frequently, someone will point out that staying a long time in Iconium was a sign that things were going very well for Paul and Barnabas. Why would they stay for a long time unless things were going very well? Consider that we have just read in verse 2 that there was persecution against Christians in that city. Thus, things were actually quite difficult there. The spiritual babies Paul and Barnabas had guided to Christ and were equipping for service were under constant attack. Therefore, it is important to recognize that the reason Paul and Barnabas stayed a long time was the difficulties encountered, not just owing to the fruitfulness of their ministry there. Thus, perseverance is shown in their determination to stay as long as it took to bring those young Christians to sufficient maturity, particularly those who were selected to serve as pastors, so that they could get along without Paul and Barnabas’ constant oversight.

The second way perseverance is seen has to do with the boldness with which they spoke in the Lord. I dare say that you folks have no real idea what kinds of unrelenting pressures are brought to bear in the life of a preacher. Talk to my wife or a pastor’s or missionary’s wife and ask her what it is like to be in the ministry. Then consider that their husbands carry an even heavier ministry load than their wives have seen, because we are too seasoned to expect our wives to bear our burdens. We do not unload our entire burdens on our wives. Therefore, let me educate you a bit. A portion of the unrelenting pressure a preacher faces is attempts by various means to force him to modify his delivery of truth ever so slightly. However, whatever the pressure Paul and Barnabas felt to alter their message, it was more than compensated for by the constraining love of Christ that pounded in their chests, moving them to preach the unadulterated truth of God’s Holy Word.[5] Luke’s special mention of those men’s boldness here indicates that perseverance was needed in this instance, and perseverance was demonstrated.

However, more boldness without the proper message would be useless in their situation. Verse 3 points out that their boldness testified to “the word of His grace” which Paul and Barnabas preached. In addition to the pressure they certainly felt to tone down the boldness of their preaching, there must also have been Satanic attempts to force them or tempt them to alter the content of their message, perhaps to try to get them to add a little works to the pure faith alone which saves the believer in Christ. The question must be, did Paul or Barnabas alter their message in any way? No. They would not foist law upon folks to whom grace had been provided. They preached “the word of His grace,” and they preached it forcefully. Grace, grace, God’s grace. Grace that will pardon and cleanse within. Grace, grace, God’s grace. Grace that is greater than all our sin. Paul and Barnabas preached salvation by grace through faith in Christ, which showed their faithful perseverance. However, in spite of their perseverance, in spite of signs and wonders that God was pleased to perform by their hands, the multitudes of the city were still divided. Divided, not racially, not economically, not educationally, and not culturally. They were divided on the Christ question. The perseverance of the missionaries would not have been called for had the gospel of Jesus Christ been a unifying force, instead of a divisive one. It is because the gospel is so divisive, separating the saved from the lost, the redeemed from the damned, the heaven-bound from the Hell-bound, the saints from the sinners, those who want to please God from those who could care less, that perseverance was so important.

THE FINAL OBSERVATION IS THE PREPARATION FOR THEIR MURDER

 Acts 14.5-6. In these verses, we see more evidence of the divisiveness of the gospel. How is it seen? It is seen in the preparation of their murder:

 5      And when there was an assault made both of the Gentiles, and also of the Jews with their rulers, to use them despitefully, and to stone them,

6      They were ware of it, and fled unto Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and unto the region that lieth round about.

 The enemy perceived what was to them an unpleasant situation existing in the city. There was a church being grown in their midst. There were people whose lives were being transformed. Folks, who now had a desire to serve the true and the living God instead of carousing, committing adultery, and things such as that, were proving to be an irritation. Such behavior and changing of lives was living testimony to the sinfulness and wickedness of the unsaved, and they did not like it one bit. The wicked want to ignore God, commit sin, and live selfishly. When their friends, neighbors, and family members turn to Christ, they can become enraged by their conversions. When my friend at work turned to Christ, I immediately wrote him off. When I came to Christ, my friends at work immediately wrote me off. I know how unbelievers react because that was how I initially reacted to the gospel’s impact in other’s lives.

The opposition then came up with a solution to their problem. Rather than respond to the gospel message, they chose instead to attempt murder. The word assault refers to the fact that they gathered together as a mob and rushed en masse to where the men of God were, so that they might despitefully use them and then finally stone them to death.[6] In other words, they wanted to abuse and humiliate them before killing them. The stoning, an unusual thing for Gentiles to do, reveals that behind the whole thing were the Jewish people who were so opposed to the gospel. For Jews to stone men to death was not unusual. In fact, it was the prescribed manner of execution for those worthy of death under the Mosaic Law, and they felt Paul and Barnabas were both worthy of death.

Thankfully, Paul and Barnabas discovered the plan of the mob and fled the city. Were Paul and Barnabas afraid for their lives? I certainly hope so. Did they flee because of fear for their lives? I doubt it. You see, they would soon go back to that city, when things cooled off. They fled simply because it was not necessary for them to stay and die, though they would have been willing to die had the need arisen. Their young converts were able to fend for themselves and resist the rising persecution, which is probably why the persecution was now directed at Paul and Barnabas, instead of the new converts. However, do not lose sight of the very important fact that the gospel of Jesus Christ was so divisive that it provoked men beyond the point of shunning and ostracizing new converts, beyond the point of persecuting new converts and physically abusing them. Christianity is divisive to the point that men will even kill rather than listen to the truth that they are condemned sinners in need of a Savior. Elsewhere in the world, even in our day, Christians are being persecuted even unto death because the gospel is divisive.

 Can there be any doubt in your mind that the gospel is divisive as to its effect on the relationships between the saved and lost, even in family units? Is it any wonder that Christ uttered these words? . . . . “He that is not with Me is against Me. And he that gathereth not with Me, scattereth.”

So, to the ecumenical crowd, which seeks to bring all men together at the expense of gospel truth, we must say no to unity with them. To the evangelical crowd, which seeks to be so much like the world at the expense of gospel truth, we must again say no to unity with them. To the lost crowd, which seeks to take our Christian young men and women into mixed marriages of lost and saved, we must say no to unity.

The gospel does not unite men unless they are Christian men. With respect to saved and lost, the gospel can only divide those who are disagreed about it. Therefore, to any who would try to lure us by deceitfulness and subtlety into an unholy alliance, be it an unholy ecumenical alliance, be it an unholy pragmatic alliance, be it an unholy romantic alliance, we must remember that they are enemies of the cross of Christ and say no to them, one and all, who will not embrace our Savior and yield to our gospel message.

What we have seen, by way of a Biblical example, is the truth that the gospel makes a clean cut between the saved and the lost. It delineates life and death, with absolutely no gray in between. Are you reconciled to God through faith in His Son Jesus, or not?

Therefore, to answer Rodney King, no, we cannot all get along. We must obey our Lord and Savior and seek your conversion by peaceful means, by faith.



[1] Habakkuk 2.4; Romans 1.17; Galatians 2.16; Hebrews 10.38

[2] Romans 5.10

[3] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of The Acts Of The Apostles, (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), page 560.

[4] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 295.

[5] 2 Corinthians 5.14-15

[6] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 295.



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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org