The word of the day is “work .” We often concentrate on the spectacular events of the scriptures. We focus on the miracles, the visions, the outpourings of the Spirit. And we highlight the disputes, the persecutions, and the trials of the faithful. But the day-to-day work of ministry is the primary way that the Gospel reaches and nurtures most of us.
Today in our reading of Acts 14:20-28; 14:1-4, we hear of the everyday work of Paul and Barnabas in the region of Lycaonia, Galatia, and of Phrygia. They must have carried out their missionary efforts over many months. Immediately before today’s reading, Luke reports that Paul was stoned and dragged out of the city (Acts 14:19-20). But rather than flee the region, Luke says that Paul and Barnabas preached the Gospel in the nearby town of Derbe (vs. 20-21). They then returned to Lystra, where Paul’s opponents had almost killed him. Additionally, they went back to Iconium and Antioch of Pisidia, the hometowns of those who stirred up trouble for the apostles in Lystra (vs. 21). Everywhere that the apostles went in the region, they labored in the Gospel, “strengthening the souls of the disciples and exhorting them to continue in the faith” (OSB vs. 23).
The Everyday Ministries to Believers: Preaching and Discipling
Today, in our assigned reading, we will identify the everyday activities that brought many souls to Christ and nurtured their newborn faith. And we will note that these activities are still primary ways that believers are given birth, grounded and sustained in the New Life of Christ.
First, Paul and Barnabas preached the Gospel. Luke does not record any sermons here. But we can suppose that the apostle preached and taught the Word of Christ continuously. We can make this conclusion because he instructs his protégé, Timothy, to preach the Word and to be ready to proclaim it “in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2).
Second: the apostles made disciples (vs. 22). The Greek text uses the word for enrolling pupils in instruction (Strong’s #3100, 154). This “discipling” was not content to bring people to Christ. It was also intended to set them on the path of following the Lord as well.
Strengthening, Exhorting, Delegating, and Commending
Third, they “strengthened the souls of the disciples” (NKJV vs. 22). The Greek term “strengthened” comes from the idea of “leaning on” something (Strong’s #1991, 99). Thus, the term refers to the ministry of support and confirmation. As the disciples in the region became spiritually stronger through this nurture, they developed their ability to stand by themselves. And they, in turn, bolstered the faith of others (Galatians 6:2).
Fourth, they engaged in “exhorting them [the disciples] to continue in the faith.” The Greek term is derived from words meaning to “call near” or “to call to one’s side”(Strong’s #3870, 190). In today’s passage, it means to call someone to a specific task or for a particular outcome (Strong’s 3870, 190). Accordingly, the apostles appealed to the new disciples to “continue in the faith” (vs. 22). And Paul and Barnabas made sure that their flock was not discouraged in a time of trial. Therefore, they prepared the new converts to face inevitable tribulations (vs. 22) in order to “enter the kingdom of God” (vs.22).
Fifth: the apostles ensured their ministry would continue. Thus, Paul and Barnabas “appointed elders in every church” (vs. 23). The Greek term is “presbyters,” that is, “elders” (Strong’s #4245, 209-10). The Orthodox Study Bible comments, “Elders are presbyters (priests) ordained by the apostles to nurture and lead the churches they established… These presbyters are men of mature faith who have responsibility for the souls of those entrusted to them” (OSB comment on vs. 23).
Finally, the apostles “commended” the members of their churches to the Lord. Doctors do not heal their patients but provide strength and support for their bodies to become well. Even so the apostles were not the healers of the souls of those they served. But the Holy Spirit used them to bring spiritual well-being to the members of their flocks. Therefore, they could put their congregations and their members in the hands of the Lord.
Most of us are not ordained ministers of the Word. Yet all of us benefit from their ministrations. In this age of individualism, many think that they can be their own minister. These spiritual mavericks disdain organized religion of any kind and insist on their own “spirituality.” Yet, in the light of today’s reading, we realize how much those who nurture us in the way of Christ bless us.
The blessings these servants of Christ give us include: the precious opportunity to hear the Word of God; the call and instruction to be a disciple of Christ; the support of one’s faith in all circumstances; the encouragement to grow in faith and love despite trials and setbacks; mature spiritual advisors and guides to keep us on the narrow way of salvation; and finally faithful spiritual caregivers who are concerned about us and who pray for us.
Those who dismiss “organized religion” and those who claim no religion at all do not realize what they lack. Claiming to be “spiritual” but not religious,” they are liable to be spiritually lost and susceptible to religious charlatans who would prey on their ignorance of the things of the Spirit.
We should not only give thanks to God for all that He provides for us through the church’s ministers. But we should pray for opportunities to share these blessings with the lost souls of this generation.