Paul’s first missionary journey was a large circuit, covering over one thousand miles. The evangelical explorers traversed the island of Cyprus and visited major cities in the Roman province of Galatia (modern-day central Turkey). Let’s consider this mission and see how we can draw principles for evangelism today.
Henry Martyn, an 18th century English missionary, said, ‘The Spirit of Christ is the Spirit of missions’. We see gospel oriented Christianity in our passage. Paul and Barnabas are taking the gospel to places ‘where the name of Christ has never been heard’, Rom. 15. 20 NLT.
The missionary journey begins at Antioch. There is great diversity in this congregation, including five men with contrasting backgrounds, Acts 13. 1. There is a lot of activity in Antioch. A variety of prophetic and teaching gift is in evidence, v. 1. The equivalent English word for this service is liturgy, v. 2, indicating its priestly nature. The local church shows sensitivity, hearing the Holy Spirit’s command, v. 2, and responds immediately, v. 3. The believers are prepared to let Barnabas and Saul leave, sacrificing the potential benefits of their fellowship at Antioch. However, the church does not forget these missionaries. Notice how the believers retain an interest in the mission, from the initial prayer meeting, v. 3, to the final report meeting, 14. 27.
There are two lessons for us:
This is not a one-man mission. Barnabas and Saul are the nominated missionaries, 13. 2. John Mark is their ‘minister’, v. 5. So there are at least three members of the ‘company’, 13. 13. Paul always works with other believers, such as ‘those women which laboured with [Paul] in the gospel’, Phil. 4. 3. Most importantly, the mission is not about any human leader or representative. As Paul reminds the Colossians: ‘That in all things he [Christ] might have the pre-eminence’, Col. 1. 18.
Barnabas demonstrates humility. Although he has been a believer for longer than the others, he is ready to take a less noticeable role among ‘Paul and his company’, Acts 13. 13. SPURGEON1 wrote: ‘It needs more skill than I can tell, to play the second fiddle well’. Barnabas displays this gracious humility. For instance, he maintains a dignified and supportive silence at Lystra, 14. 12, while Paul preaches.
John Mark intends to help, 13. 5. He was probably a younger man, Col. 4. 10. However, he was unable to stay the course, Acts 13. 13. BARCLAY2 quotes CHRYSOSTOM, suggesting ‘the lad wanted his mother’. Whatever the reason, Mark deserts the team. We are encouraged to learn of a subsequent restoration to Paul, 2 Tim. 4. 11. Despite past failures, we can be recommissioned by God for useful service.
This is an adventurous journey, including hazardous Mediterranean voyages in flimsy ships, road journeys across bandit territory, and country treks through fever-infested lowlands. Paul and Barnabas press on to new places where hostile crowds speak unfamiliar dialects. They are certain of the Spirit’s call and the Lord’s presence. Paul is often comforted by the Lord’s presence, Acts 18. 10; 2 Tim. 4. 17.
The locations they visit are strategic. First, the missionaries head to Cyprus, the home of Barnabas, Acts 4. 36. Then they move to the South Galatia region, where there are some Jewish communities. There are no social or national barriers in the church, Gal. 3. 28; Col. 3. 11. Therefore, Paul addresses a wide variety of people – Jews and Gentiles, rulers and commoners, men and women – when he preaches.
The narrative establishes parallels between the experiences of Peter and Paul. See the table for details.
|preaching to Jews||Acts 2 (Pentecost)||Acts 13 (Pisidian Antioch)|
|preaching to non-Jews||Acts 10 (Cornelius)||Acts 14 (Lystra)|
|confrontation with magician||Acts 8 (Simon)||Acts 13 (Elymas)|
|help for a lame man||Acts 3 (Jerusalem)||Acts 14 (Lystra)|
|beaten||Acts 5 (Jerusalem)||Acts 14 (Lystra)|
|report to local church||Acts 11 (Jerusalem)||Acts 14 (Antioch)|
In the two summarized sermons at Pisidian Antioch and Lystra, Paul presents the message as ‘glad tidings’, 13. 32, 14. 21 JND. We too must be ready to share this message of hope in our day. Paul shows cultural sensitivity, presenting a covenant-keeping God to the Jews, 13. 17, and a faithful creator God to the non-Jews, 14. 15.
Preaching the gospel always produces results. There is persecution of the missionaries, 13. 50; 14. 19, and joy as souls are saved, 13. 48. Local churches are established and taught, 14. 22-23, with shepherds appointed. Paul provides ongoing prayer support, v. 23. He refers to this as ‘the care of all the churches’, 2 Cor. 11. 28. We often hear that lack of blessing today is because we don’t preach like Paul did. Maybe another reason is that we don’t pray like Paul did. First century missionary work was enveloped in prayer. Let’s ensure that 21st century gospel work is conducted in the same atmosphere.