Paul and Barnabas Encourage the Churches

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!
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5 Responses to Paul and Barnabas Encourage the Churches

  1. Jon says:

    Hi Paul

    Thanks for the honesty there. I would say this. You have put this post on a public online blog that is, presumably, read by many people including many strangers. I expect I am not alone in the question that I asked and I expect there others who have the same reaction to teaching about trials in the Christian life.

    Are you honestly saying that you have nothing to say in reply to such a crucial question, apart from a vague and tentative “somewhere you need to get right with God”? It’s exactly this kind of response that feels like a door being slammed in the face.

    I am sorry Paul, I am normally hugely grateful and helped by your replies, but on this occasion I found your reply to be lacking in pastoral sensitivity to a question which surely naturally arises for some in reaction to what you wrote.


    • paulfpavao says:

      Hi Jon,

      “Pastoral” is not really something I can be over the internet. In a real pastoral situation, I know the person. Advice can be something other than vague. On the internet, I can only teach, not pastor.

      That said, I did ask my son how he would answer. He said he would ask whether or not you were expending effort in affecting co-workers or others that are around you, perhaps not directly with evangelism, but certainly with prayer, getting to know them, and in some way trying to influence them toward Christ. He said the next thing he would ask is about circumstances because some folk just shrug off what others would call suffering.

      I see you didn’t like “you need to get right with God,” but I didn’t really say that. I said that *if* I had nothing to lean on but Scripture, that is what I would say. I do have something beside Scripture. I don’t know you well enough to give you a good answer, and even my son’s answer is questions, but I do know you well enough electronically to know that answer would do you no good at all even if it were correct.

      If I were standing in your shoes, with all my own personality quirks, upbringing, and experiences in Christ, and if I felt that I had not experienced any significant suffering in my life, I would wonder if I needed to do more than I am doing. I would wonder if I was saved because he disciplines his sons. I would then set about finding out if I needed to change or if maybe I just needed to be patient because suffering would make its way to me in due time.

      That’s how my mind would process. As always, with a question like you asked, I want to send you to people who know you.

      • Jon says:


        Thanks for replying again – I apologise for the tone of my reply, these matters do tend to put me a little on edge. I was a little mean so I am sorry.

        Thanks for asking your son for his thoughts to. I only have more questions to your further thoughts – in fact I have a question for just about every sentence!

        I will not further the discussion here as I think there is a risk of going round on circles, and you repeating things you’ve said many times before. I may PM you with a possible request, though.

        Thanks again


  2. Jon says:

    Hi Paul

    What would you say to those who don’t think they have actually been through many (if any) tribulations?

    I am in my early 30s, but I have had very little trouble, suffering or hardship (apart from my internal spiritual angst of course). I wouldn’t say I consciously avoid suffering or difficulty, it just hasn’t happened, either to me or my immediate family (very much). What would you say to someone in my position? I’ve always found the NT’s teaching about growing through suffering to be puzzling because of this.


    • paulfpavao says:

      Hi Jon,

      There are a few subjects for which I jut have to say, “I don’t know.” If I just leaned on Scripture, I would have to say that somewhere you need to get right with God. I am very, very slow to say that to a stranger, though. You are not a stranger, but as far as giving advice about your Christian life, though, I just cannot, even if we have communicated a lot by email, blog and FB. I can be very scriptural and very strict when I see the need for it in the life of someone I know. I can be very scriptural and very merciful and helpful when I see the need for it in the life of someone I know. I just don’t know you well enough to answer that question, Jon.

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