19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. 21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. 24 Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. 25 And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia, 26 and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. 27 And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they remained no little time with the disciples.
Dave Howard tells an amazing story about a Colombian pastor he worked with named Lupercio Taba.
One Sunday Taba was preaching from his pulpit when a man appeared at a side window of the church, aimed a pistol at him, and ordered him to stop preaching. The congregation, seeing the danger, dove to the floor and hid under the pews. Taba, however, went right on preaching the gospel. The man then fired four shots at him. Two shots went past the preacher’s head, one on one side, one on the other, and lodged in the wall behind him. Two shots went past his body, one under one arm, one under the other, and also lodged in the wall. The would-be assassin then dropped his gun and fled. Taba, still unmoved, continued his sermon.
There is something surprising and intriguing about a preacher so intent on his sermon that he does not have time to duck when shot upon. That, friends, is focus! I think that kind of unflinching resolve is settled upon years before in the past when a man or woman decides that obedience to the Lord God is simply more important than life itself. That is to say, endurance arises from a clear vision of the priority of things and a determination to lay down one’s life for the first things.
Lupercio Taba did this. Stephen did it is well, you might recall, when he was being stoned in Acts 7.
54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
Stephen also was marked by an intensity of focus that rendered him unable to panic in the face of persecution. What makes his focus all the more amazing is that he actually died! But he died without ever once taking his eyes off of Jesus.
Singularity of focus is the mother of determination. Those who are fixated on one great good cannot be bothered with anything that would distract them from it! To the extent that the Church is focused on Christ, the Church models endurance. A weak focus on Christ walks hand in hand with a lack of endurance. A radical focus on Christ walks hand in hand with astonishing endurance!
Jay Adams once wrote, “In counseling, week after week, I continually encounter one outstanding failure among Christians: a lack of what the Bible calls ‘endurance’; they give up.” In the light of the example of the early believers, this is quite an indictment!
We cannot, we dare not give up!
Perhaps the patron saint of endurance and singular focus was Paul. Watch his example in Acts 14:19-28.
Paul demonstrated a God-focused endurance and determination to spread the gospel.
Luke begins with a note of jarring, understated, blunt violence.
19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead.
Paul was a man who knew what it was to suffer for the gospel. Here is his testimony of suffering from 2 Corinthians 11:
21b But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?
In Galatians 6:17, Paul moving writes, “From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” And he did! This most unlikely convert bore beatings and stonings and whippings and imprisonment because Christ and His Kingdom were worth it! Here, in our text, he is stoned and presumed dead. They drag him out of the city and dropped his broken, bloodied, bruised body in a heap of dirt and dust and left him for dead. And when his persecutors left, his friends gathered around to look at the corpse of their friend. But God said, “Not yet!” Watch:
20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.
Luke, again, understates something very jarring. In doing so, he heightens the almost bewildered humor of it all! Imagine the disciples gathered around. They are looking at the lifeless body of their friend. “He was a good friend,” Barnabas said. “He was nothing but kind to me,” said another. “Could be a little gruff at times, but nobody could deny that he was a work of grace,” said another. Then they pause, encircling Paul’s body, and softly weep.
Then all of a sudden: “What are you guys standing around moping for! We’ve got work to do! Ouch, I’m gonna feel that in the morning! Let’s go back into the city!”
I love it! I absolutely love it! What most of those who stoned Paul must have thought of seeing him walking back into town! Ha! What a wonderfully delicious thought!
Why does Paul go back into the city? To chastise and rebuke his persecutors? Nothing in the text suggests that this is why he returned. Undoubtedly he returned to strengthen the believers there again before moving on with Barnabas to Derbe.
The great John Chrysostom captured the heart of Paul well when he said this to his ancient congregation so many years ago:
Believe me, it is possible to suffer things now worse than what Paul suffered. Those enemies pelted him with stones, but it is now possible to pelt with words that are worse than stone. What then must one do? The same that he did. He did not hate those who cast the stones. After they dragged him out, he entered their city again, to be a benefactor to those who had done him such wrongs…He was announcing a kingdom, he was leading them away from error and bringing them to God. Such things are worthy of crowns, worthy of proclamations by heralds, worthy of ten thousand good things, not worthy of stones. And yet having suffered the opposite, he did the opposite to what was expected. For this is the splendid victory.
It is a victory! There is victory in not giving up, in not quitting, in being willing to pay the price!
Paul called upon the Church to be ready to demonstrate a God-focused endurance and determination to spread the gospel.
Had Paul simply demonstrated this amazing capacity for focus and endurance in his own person, he would be forever enshrined as a singular hero but one beyond our grasp. On the contrary, though, what he did next was to call the churches to the same focus and endurance that he himself had exhibited.
21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.
It is a sobering thought, and one that seems oddly out of tune when placed beside modern sermons about self-esteem and happiness and success: “encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”
Paul is not saying that by tribulation we earn entry into the kingdom. Rather, he is saying that the road of the Kingdom and to the Kingdom is, on this side of Heaven, marked by certain hardships. Sometimes these hardships are intense, such as those suffered by Paul. At other times they might be less so. Regardless, it is a fact that that those seeking to live obediently to Christ will pay a price. Another great Christian from yesteryear, Basil the Great, the 4th century bishop of Caesarea, put it well when he said this:
The just person’s entire life is tribulation…God does rescue the holy from affliction, but he does so not by rendering them untested but by blessing them with endurance….Whoever rejects affliction deprives himself of approval. Just as none is crowned who has no rival, so none can be pronounced worthy except through tribulations.
We may be encouraged by Paul’s own example of endurance as well as by his call for the Church to be prepared to accept suffering. We need not be caught off guard, and we need not buckle when trying times come. Christ is with His suffering Church in the midst of her pangs. It is the presence of Christ that enabled Paul to walk back into that city and it is the presence of Christ that enables us to be able to walk back into that board room or that living room or that school room or that church building after we have paid the price for being faithful to our King.
Paul and Barnabas organized the churches for disciple making, stability, and mission.
And it is compelling to see that Paul and Barnabas do not merely proclaim an ideal, they organize the churches for disciple making, stability, and mission. On his return journey, heading back to Antioch, here at the end of this missionary journey, Paul strengthens and organizes the churches.
23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
Paul and Barnabas appoint elders in every church. What does this mean? As for the word (“elders”) itself, it needs to be recognized that it is used interchangeably with a few different words in the New Testament, all of which point to the same position in the Church. Mark Dever explains.
It is striking that in the New Testament the words “elder,” “shepherd” or “pastor,” and “bishop” or “overseer” are used interchangeably in the context of the local church office. This is seen most clearly in Acts 20, when Paul meets with the “elders” of the church in Ephesus (v. 17). Several verses later, Paul tells these same elders to keep watch over themselves and over the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made them “overseers” (another translation for “bishop”). In the very next sentence, he exhorts these elders, these overseers, to “be shepherds [from the same root as ‘pastors’] of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood” (v. 28). In the space of twelve verses, the same men are referred to as elders, overseers, and shepherds…Clearly, the New Testament refers to elders, shepherds or pastors, and bishops or overseers in the context of the local church interchangeably.
So these elders would essentially be what we would refer to as pastors today. As for Paul and Barnabas “appointing” them, does this mean that they simply unilaterally informed the young congregations as to who their elders would be? Perhaps not. T.C. Smith has made an interesting observation about this language of appointment.
The word which is translated appointed is cheirotonesantes, which really means “choosing by a show of hands.” This implies a popular vote on the elders, though it seems more likely that the apostles guided the selection…We suppose that an elder held the position of overseer in the congregation and that the office was patterned after the zekenim (elders) the Jewish structure.
There is some ambiguity in the actual wording of the passage as to how exactly these elders were appointed. Perhaps there was a combination of congregational affirmation and appointment by the disciples. Regardless, as John Polhill points out, “In the letters of Ignatius around the turn of the first/second century and in Didache 15:1, it is clear that the congregations elected their leadership.” So very early on in Christian history we see congregational involvement in the choosing of leadership and we find it elsewhere in the New Testament as well (as, for instance, in the choosing of deacons in Acts 6:1-6).
A friend of mine recently told me that he was at a pastor’s meeting and a met a local pastor for the first time. In the course of discussing their churches, my friend mentioned that the church he pastored would soon be voting on a new minister. To his surprise, this pastor he had only just met rebuked him and said the practice of the church choosing its ministers was wrong and unbiblical and sinful. I would like to suggest that this is extremely wrongheaded, and the evidence would suggest that at least some measure of congregational involvement in the choosing of local church leadership is biblical.
The greater question than these technical considerations is why were these missionaries establishing elders in the churches? It is because they knew that the local churches would require good, solid leadership to help them remain on course and faithful in the midst of very trying times. Paul did not intend to leave the churches that God used him to plant to their own devises in the midst of ravenous wolves. He appointed elders and organized for effective growth and continuance.
And Paul also encouraged the churches to keep pressing on!
24 Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. 25 And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia, 26 and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. 27 And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they remained no little time with the disciples.
Celebration time! Paul and Barnabas return from their first missionary journey with tales of mighty moves of God and astounding displays of His power and grace. They came home with soul-stirring accounts of what God was doing in the wider world and, in so doing, they gave the people a taste of what God had in store for His Church.
But let us remember Paul’s appearance as he stood before the church that sent him and Barnabas out: he stood with tattered cloak and a battered and bruised body.
But he stood thus with a fire in his eyes like a champion in the midst of the arena. He had conquered. But he had not conquered by sword and spear. He conquered in the name of Jesus. He had conquered with the cross of God’s mercy and forgiveness and love. He had gone forth in the name of the Lamb and born in His body the marks of the Lamb.
He was alive.
He was free.
He was a champion of the gospel calling the gathered Church to rise up and do likewise right where they were.
May we thank God for the focused, enduring, proclaiming passion of Paul and Barnabas and all the great men and women who have gone before us.
What an example!
What a privilege!
What a calling!
 R. Kent Hughes, Acts. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1996), p.188.
 Jay E. Adams. Godliness through Discipline. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1972), p. 18-19.
 Francis Martin, ed. Acts. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. New Testament, vol.V. Thomas C. Oden, gen. ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), p.177-178.
 Francis Martin, ed., p.179.
 Mark Dever, By Whose Authority? Elders in Baptist Life. (Washington, D.C.: 9Marks, 2006), p.15-16.
 T.C. Smith, “Acts.” The Broadman Bible Commentary. Vol.10. Clifton J. Allen, gen. ed. (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1970), p.89. Also, Witherington: “The term is not unusual…and was probably originally borrowed from the Jewish usage of the term, during a time when the Christian church was still in close contact with the synagogue (cf., e.g., Acts 4:5; 11:30; 15:6; 1 Tim. 5:17; 1 Pet. 5:1-2; 2 John 1; 3 John 1; and especially compare our text to Titus 1:5.)” Ben Witherington III, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), p.429.
 John B. Polhill, Acts. The New American Commentary. Vol.26. David Dockery, gen. ed. (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1992), p.319.