Expect many hardships (Acts 13-14)
We continue with this theme of suffering, but return to the Book of Acts for a different perspective on the matter. Our reading today is Acts 14, but for the sake of completeness, we will also include Acts 13. This chapter represents an important turning point in the Acts’ narrative. The church at Antioch commissions Barnabas and Saul (i.e. Paul) to undertake a missionary journey to take the Gospel to the (Gentile) nations. This journey is commonly referred to as Paul’s ‘first missionary journey.’
Towards the end of this journey in Acts 14, Paul retraces some of his steps, returning to a number of cities he had already visited to strengthen the disciples there and encourage them to remain true to the faith. At this point, Paul makes the following statement: “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). In the context of Paul’s missionary journey, this statement is hardly a surprise. Paul has experienced intense persecution: some of the Jews opposed Paul’s ministry in Pisidian Antioch, stirring up persecution against him and Barnabas, and expelling them from the region (13:45, 50). At Iconium, they needed to flee for their lives to escape a plot to mistreat and stone them (14:5-7), and in Lystra, Paul is stoned and left for dead (14:19). Many hardships, indeed!
But Paul speaks of “we…” In the historical context, he is addressing regular believers like you and me. So, while Paul and his ministry companions are included in the reference to “many hardships”, you and I are not exempt. Interestingly, Paul makes this declaration as a word of encouragement, that all disciples may remain true to the faith (14:22). Forewarned is forearmed! Are you experiencing hardships in your life and relationships right now as a Christian, because you’re a Christian? Paul would say to you, “I told you so! In fact, you can expect much more of the same.” So where’s the encouragement in that? Paul would add, “Don’t be surprised when the going gets tough; that’s the way it’s meant to be. We live and serve in a fallen world, opposed to God. But the good news is that these hardships will not deter you from entering the Kingdom of God, any more than the persecutions and opposition I encountered in my first missionary journey derailed the purposes and plans of God” (cf. Acts 13:48-52; 14:26-28).