Acts 14 reminds us why Paul would in later days write to Timothy that ‘everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.’ (2 Tim 3:12) In Iconium, Paul encountered Jews who refused to believe the gospel and who then stirred up Gentiles, poisoning minds with their slander and opposition. (Acts 14:2) Later, the plots against the missionaries became so severe (plots to mistreat and stone them) that they were forced to flee (Acts 14:5), and life didn’t get much easier when they arrived at Lystra, with Paul actually being stoned there (Acts 14:19). We might wonder at both the strength of opposition and at the strength and courage of Paul to endure such persecution and even to rejoice in it, because, as Tom Wright says, ‘the journey of the gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth is unstoppable, but uncomfortable.’ (‘Acts For Everyone Pt 2’, P 31)
Opposition came because the message Paul proclaimed challenged the worldviews held by both Jews and Gentiles alike. Some were excited by the message and responded favourably; some were incensed by the message and could not cope with the ramifications this meant to their dearly held beliefs. We need to understand that the gospel message will always elicit these responses: indifference surely means we have not communicated the message effectively enough!
Paul’s response to opposition echoes Jesus’s words that we are blessed when we are persecuted. (Matt 5:10,12) He did not minimise the pressure such opposition created (see 2 Cor 1:8-10) and certainly did not forget the problems (see 2 Cor 11:23-29), but his perspective looked beyond temporary pain to eternal glory: ‘We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed,’ he wrote to the Corinthians (2 Cor 4:8-9), going on to say, ‘our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.’ (2 Cor 4:17) The only truly Christian response to suffering and persecution is to see our lives as part of the bigger picture God is creating for His glory and to understand that God is always working for the good of those who love Him. (Rom 8:18-28)