Within Paul’s first missionary journey to the Gentiles in Acts 13–14, Luke gives two quick accounts in Acts 13:44–52 and Acts 14:1–7 to show the play-by-play of how events usually transpired in the cities that were evangelized.
First, Paul would attend a synagogue on the Sabbath and preach the word of the Lord (Acts 13:44; 14:1). There was something of a method to this in Paul’s statement, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you” (Acts 13:46), that is, to Jews. Perhaps Israel’s special calling by God among the nations inclined Paul to preach to his own people first.
Second, though some Jews would believe, many would not and would even verbally contradict Paul in the settings where he spoke (Acts 13:45–46; 14:2). This included attacks on both the content of the message and the messenger himself.
Third, instead of backing off and finding a more receptive response elsewhere, Paul and Barnabas responded by boldly preaching God’s Word (Acts 13:46; 14:3). Since the opposition was not yet a threat to their lives, they stayed on and preached all the more.
Fourth, many people believed as a result of the bold witness of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:48; 14:1, 4). Some people believed when the gospel was preached initially, and others came to believe later as it was boldly preached in the midst of opposition.
Fifth, opposition to the gospel became organized and violent (Acts 13:50; 14:5–6). Whether leading the city’s elite to expel Paul and Barnabas or even execute them by stoning, Paul and Barnabas eventually did leave these cities out of fear for their lives. But it was not without a rebuke—“they shook the dust form their feet against them” when they left from Antioch to Iconium (Acts 13:51).
Sixth, the work of God continued in the disciples left behind and with the messengers who journeyed on (Acts 13:51–52; 14:7). Though their evangelists were forced away, the disciples in Antioch “were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:52). After leaving Iconium, Paul and Barnabas “continued to preach the gospel (Acts 14:7). God is powerful to use persecution as a means of spreading His Word.
From the above, we can learn from Paul and Barnabas. We must preach the gospel and preach it boldly, even when opposition comes. Then, should a persecution come that threatens one’s very life, while men can hurt our bodies but not our souls, we do not unnecessarily put ourselves in harm’s way. Finally, even when organized persecution targets Christianity’s leaders and somehow removes them from a work, God will continue the work that they left behind, and those leaders take the gospel with them wherever they might go.