The email Bible study I sent to the new converts at Rose Creek Village today:
This is a short study of Acts 14:21-23. It is prompted by my wondering what to tell a new Christian.
Acts 14:21 lets us know that Paul and Barnabas are finishing their first missionary journey, though Luke (the author of Acts) does not call it “first missionary journey.” We modern Christians call it that.
Now that their first journey is over, they want to go back and strengthen the churches. Obviously, they did not swing through and say only one sentence, but the Bible only records one sentence of what they said. It seems to me that sentence must be awful important!
Verse 22 gives the sentence: “It is through many tribulations [troubles] that we must enter the Kingdom of God.”
Here’s what I have to give you from verse 22. Remember, this is the only sentence that Luke thought important enough to write down from their visit to three churches.
1. Your Christian life is not meant to be easy or trouble-free; it is meant to be lived in the power and peace of Jesus, overcoming tribulation (cf. Jn. 16:33).
2. The Kingdom of God is what we are trying to eventually enter. You will find out, if you have not already, that we are already in the Kingdom of God (Col. 1:13). We are in the kingdom here, and by faith we can obtain and use its power, just as Jesus did, but on the Last Day we will inherit the kingdom (Matt. 25:34-40). At that point, the Kingdom of God will be the only rule on the earth, and we will be among the rulers if we suffer (2 Tim. 2:12). Don’t worry, though, God has promised to grant us suffering (Php. 1:29)
Those two points introduce you to several ideas. Also, if you are not familiar with Bible abbreviations, you will get used to them. Again, ask me if you do not understand any of those abbreviations.
Finally, verse 23 tells us that Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in those churches they visited. This means that for a while, those churches functioned just fine without elders. It probably took a little time (in this case a few weeks) to have some standout people who could be trusted to preserve what Paul and Barnabas had taught them and to shepherd the flock.
Compared to modern Christianity (including RCV), it appears to me that Paul and Barnabas were more willing to trust the Holy Spirit to handle the disciples. On the other hand, they did not have all the counterfeits that we have today. They also checked on the churches regularly. Paul liked to write letters to them, which is to our benefit.
The churches founded by Paul and Peter were all led by a group of elders. Those elders were also called overseers. Nowadays, as a quirk of language, “overseer” has become “bishop.” Those first churches had many bishops, all also called elders. We will go more into that some time in the future.
For now, I want to encourage you with Paul and Barnabas that it is through many tribulations that we enter the Kingdom of God. Don’t lose heart. Fight your way forward. Equip yourself with the Word and fight valiantly.
With that exhortation, I guess the next email should be about the armor and weaponry of our spiritual warfare!