1] Now it happened in Iconium that they went together to the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed. 2] But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren. 3] Therefore they stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.
4] But the multitude of the city was divided: part sided with the Jews, and part with the apostles. 5] And when a violent attempt was made by both the Gentiles and the Jews, with their rulers, to abuse and stone them, 6] they became aware of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycanonia, and to the surrounding region.
In our last post, we saw that Paul and Barnabas had been chased out of Antioch in Pisidia and had fled to Iconium. Antioch of Pisidia was one of several cities named Antioch. This particular city was in Galatia. Iconium was the capital of Lycaonia in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Today known as “Konya,” it’s the seventh largest city in Turkey.
Having arrived in Iconium, as was their custom Paul and Barnabas went to a synagogue. Scripture records that they so spoke that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed, v. 1. The title for our post is found in the first verse: “they so spoke.”
I believe we’ve lost sight of the importance and purpose of preaching. It isn’t just so men can get a name for themselves, or for the feeling that comes from being the focal point for an audience. I understand why aging athletes or movie stars find it hard to “retire.” I’ve never preached before thousands, but even so – there’s just something about being in front of people that I can’t describe.
Nor is preaching something to be “staged.” I’ve known of preachers who would rehearse their sermons and make notes about when to gesture or raise their voice or do other things. There’s may be nothing wrong with rehearsing if it’s a part of careful preparation, but preaching is not about “theatrics.”
On the other side, there are preachers who make no preparation at all, but stand before their people and wherever their Bible opens, that’s where they “preach.” They call this being led by the Spirit. This goes too far the other way. We must indeed have the blessing of the Spirit if our words are to do any lasting good, but that blessing and leading goes into our study as well. I don’t think God is honored by careless or haphazard preparation.
What’s done from the pulpit affects eternity more than any other form of teaching. If I teach something wrong about, say, math or geography, that is important, but it will probably affect only this life. If something is taught from the pulpit that is wrong, that has eternal repercussions reaching down through the ages.
At the same time, it isn’t just about the preacher. He is important, but Scripture says he is only an instrument in the hands of God. Paul put it like this to a church which had focused on human personalities, I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase, 1 Corinthians 3:6, 7.
Those who heard Jonathan Edwards, a man used of God in great revivals in the true sense of that word, describe him as preaching in a monotone, and holding his notes close to his face because he was near-sighted. Not a man whom we would expect to be “successful” in preaching, yet he was. He was an instrument in the hand of the God who created everything, that God who started with nothing. I believe that until we understand that we are “nothing” compared to God when it comes to eternal things, we can’t really expect God to do anything with us.
We who preach or teach or write, for that matter, may plant and water, as it were, but we can’t give the increase. Only God can do that. And though we recognize that this particular promise deals with the future of Israel, yet He said, “So shall my word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it, Isaiah 55:11.
The Word always has an effect: God’s preachers are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God we speak the things of God in Christ, 2 Corinthians 2:15-17, emphasis added.
The most serious place in the world is behind a pulpit. Because Paul and Barnabas understood this, “they…so spoke….”