Stay or Go

August 8, 2013

In Acts 14:2, we see Paul and Barnabas facing great opposition to their gospel ministry in Iconium. “So,” the next verse tells us, “they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord.” Opposition leads to endurance.

In Acts 14:5-6, we hear of a clandestine plot by Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to kill Paul and Barnabas. When they learn of this plan, the apostolic tandem flees to Lystra and Derbe. The threat of persecution leads to leaving.

So which is it: when opposition grows, do Christians stay or go?

This is one of the real difficult questions that Christians on the mission field and in hostile lands have faced throughout church history. To what lengths can we go—or should we go—to avoid persecution? Can we press charges or go to court or claim our rights? (Didn’t Paul claim his Roman citizenship?) When is it cowardly to go? Is it always the right thing to stay? Why did Paul and Barnabas stay for a long time in Iconium in verse 3 but then flee to Lystra and Derbe in verse 6?

There is no simple answer to the question, and no obvious solution to the dangerous predicaments in which Christians find themselves. But John Calvin points us in the right direction.
And though they fly, lest they throw themselves headlong into death, yet their constancy in preaching the gospel does sufficiently declare that they feared not danger. For Luke says that they preached the gospel in other places also. This is the right kind of fear, when the servants of Christ do not run willfully into the hands of their enemies, of them to be murdered, and yet they do not abandon their duty; neither does fear hinder them from obeying God when he calls; and so, consequently, they can afford, if need be, to go even through death itself to do their duty. (Commentary on Acts of the Apostles)

In other words, we ought to pursue the course of action we think will best serve the cause of the gospel.

Of course, this biblical principle will not make all our decisions easy ones. It can be hard to discern when the cause of the gospel is best advance by living to preach another day and when, like Stephen, we might be called to give our finest sermon in the face of certain death. But it seems that Paul and Barnabas may have reasoned something like this: “If we have people who hate us, fine. If folks are getting agitated and stirred up, so be it. All the more reason to stay-this place needs the word of God. But to die by a secret plot here in Iconium doesn’t seem best for the mission God has given us. We have been here awhile; we have other cities to see. Let’s keep preaching the gospel elsewhere, and maybe we can come back later when things have cooled down.” They made their decisions not in aversion to risk, but in an effort to fulfill their duties.

As you think about hardships you may face as a Christian—in your school, in your business, in your neighborhood, in your country, on the field—you have to ask yourself and pray through this question: “How can I best serve the cause of the gospel?” Sometimes it is by moving on to the next thing. Often it is by staying in your hard situation.

DeYoung

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