A Leader Worth Following

Acts 14:1-28     |    Sermon Resources     |     21 June 2020


Acts 14 records the final segments of Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey with the pair returning to Antioch having travelled well over 1000 miles from start to finish.  Scores of people – including many Gentiles – will come to faith.  Churches will be planted.  A witness for Jesus will be firmly established in many new cities around the Roman empire.  As we study the passage this week, I want to take a closer look at the apostle Paul and consider what made him such a great leader.


#1 He knew when to stand and when to run.

Having been driven out of Pisidian Antioch, Paul and Barnabas travelled some 85 miles to the town of Iconium where they promptly visited the Jewish synagogue and led a great number of both Jews and Greeks (v.1) to faith.  Predictably this led to jealousy on behalf the unbelieving Jews who opposed their work and poisoned the minds (v.2) of the new converts.  In this situation Paul and Barnabas took a stand.  Luke specifically tells us that it was because of this opposition that they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord (v.3). Even though Paul was new in town, he knew that this was a time to take a stand.  However, when opposition reached a feverish pitch so that an attempt was made to stone them (v.5), Paul and Barnabas quickly fled (v.6) town. Paul, in particular, will demonstrate a willingness to suffer and even die for the gospel, but he has enough wisdom to know when to stand and fight and when to turn and run.


#2 He was attentive to the needs of the marginalized.

From Iconium they arrived in Lystra where Paul encountered a man crippled from birth (v.8).  We are not given many details about this man, but he almost certainly led a painful existence—relegated to the edge of society and forced to sustain himself off the goodwill of others.  He would have been an easy person for others to overlook and yet Paul looked intently at him (v.9).  And seeing that he had faith to be made well (v.8), Paul healed him.  His healing in reminiscent of the man crippled from birth whom Peter had healed in Jerusalem (c.f. Acts 3:2-6).  In the midst of all the “important” work that both Peter and Paul had to do, they did not overlook the needs of others.


#3 He was not led astray by what others thought of him.

Back in Jerusalem, Peter’s healing of the crippled man led some to faith and others to jealousy.  Here in Lystra, the healing the crippled man led to a very different response.  When the crowds saw (v.11) the miracle, they concluded that Paul and Barnabas must be gods.  Paul and Barnabas were unaware of what was going on as they were speaking in Lycaonian (v.11) and arranging for a sacrifice (v.13) to be made to Barnabas, who they called Zeus (v.12), and to Paul, who they called Hermes (v.12).

It’s so easy to be led astray by what others think or say about us.  Sometimes we are led astray by criticism but here Paul and Barnabas faced the opposite issue.  The crowd adored these men.  They idolized them.  This so often is the more dangerous trap for a leader –to lose touch with reality by the extravagant praise of others.  Remember what happened to Herod Antipas (c.f. Acts 12:22-23) when the crowd began to worship him?  And see how quickly Paul and Barnabas go from being idolized to being demonized.  On one day the crowd wanted to make a sacrifice to them, on the next they were ready to sacrifice them.  Let this passage serve as a warning to those who allow themselves to be idolized.  No leader, not matter how great, can ever live up idolized expectations.


#4 He didn’t give up.

Paul and Barnabas scarcely restrained the people from worshipping them and no sooner had this problem ended, then another began.  Some zealous Jews travelled all the way from Antioch and Iconium (v.19) to stir up trouble.  The same crowd who had earlier attempted to worship Paul, now turned to stone him.  At the end of the ordeal his body appeared lifeless, as we are told they dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead (v.19).  When the crowd dispersed, the disciples gathered about him perhaps to hold a funeral service, but Paul rose up (v.20).  This is not to imply that he rose from the dead, although certainly the hand of God was involved in his healing.  This incident was in all likelihood what Paul would refer to 2 Corinthians 11:25 where he says, “once I was stoned.”

What is most remarkable is that upon getting up, he went back into the city of Lystra (v.20).  Such was the godliness of Paul to overlook a serious offense, that he would return to the very city that tried to kill him.  He then moved onto Derbe (v.20) before returning again Lystra, Iconium and Antioch (v.21). His message was clear that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God (v.22).


#5 He didn’t work alone.

The final item we must see here is that Paul did not work alone.  He was set apart by the Holy Spirt and sent out by the church in Antioch with Barnabas.  These two men work hand in hand through the duration of their journey.  Sometimes we have a “lone ranger” view of Paul but in passage after passage we see Paul actually had many ministry partners.  Notice how Luke recounts their return to Antioch: And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them (v.27).  Paul did not work alone.


Discussion Questions

  1. What do we learn about the leadership qualities of Paul in this passage?
  2. What are some of the challenges Paul and Barnabas faced during this final leg of their journey? What would have been the most difficult challenge for you?
  3. Spend some time discussing each of these leadership qualities listed below. How do we see each one in the passage? Which one is most relevant for you?  What steps can you take to be developed in that area?
  • Paul knew when to stand and when to run.
  • Paul was attentive to the needs of the marginalized.
  • Paul was not led astray by what others thought of him.
  • Paul didn’t give up.
  • Paul didn’t work alone.

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