Acts 14

Acts 14: Let’s Go Fishing!

Throughout my career, I have been an observer of successful people. I look at what they do and how they do it.  In doing so, I am able to tell others of the principles and best practices they utilize. I find their genius is not so much in their intellect as in their practical common sense approach and developing a pattern that works.

In this chapter I want us observe the pattern of Paul and Barnabas as they achieved great success in witnessing. I believe these principles can be implemented today and if we follow the pattern of these pioneers, we can achieve the same success they achieved.  You cannot improve on the method the Lord has established and the Word of God teaches.  We may think we have better methods than these old time methods- but I agree with the song writer who wrote- ‘ give me that old time religion- give me that old time religion, it was good enough for Paul; it’s good enough for me!’

Here we will observe Paul and Barnabas on their mission trip to three different cities. The population and circumstances are different in each city. They provide us with a case study of how to be effective witnesses in each situation. Let us observe the pattern set by the greatest missionary of the church age- the Apostle Paul.

We will observe the: Pattern- for God’s word provides us with instructions and guidance; Preparation- I know when it says ‘Paul spoke effectively’ that can only mean he was not only prepared- but shaped his message to fit the audience; and thirdly, we will see he and Barnabas were Persistent. When we follow the pattern, are prepared in season and out of season plus have the kind of  persistence that gets up when  knocked down and combine those three P’s with the Power of the Holy Spirit we will turn the world upside down also.  As our football coach used to say- ‘ luck is when preparation meets opportunity.’

The first city they visit is Iconium. It is a pagan city with a largely Gentile population. However, there are enough Jews living there so they have a synagogue. This is where Paul and Barnabas will go first. “ At Iconium, Paul and Barnabas went as usual to the synagogue. They spoke so effectively that a great number of  Jews and Gentiles believed. But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of His grace by enabling them to perform miraculous signs and wonders. The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews , others with the apostles.” (Acts 14:1-4)

We need to understand why Paul always went to the synagogue first. Here is the first rule of witnessing and a principle that when followed will result in success.  Paul started where he knew he had a natural contact, a natural connection. These are his people, they share a common heritage. Also they have some degree of knowledge about the Scriptures. These people were interested in God and Word of God. If we would desire to influence someone, we first must get their attention.  To get their attention, we must connect to something they are interested in and feel is important to them. Then we link that feeling to what we want them to see, do or feel. This is not a form of manipulation, it is starting where  there is a natural interest or concern. You find the Apostle Paul did this routinely.  If we observe the Lord Jesus’ ministry, we see He used the art of story telling( Parables) to get their attention. He also used the commonplace natural contact, as He did with the woman at the well discussing living water versus regular water.

Most people are looking for something, but they really don’t know what they are looking for. It is that search we need to tap into.  The Lord Jesus told the disciples if they followed Him, He would make them ‘ fishers of men.’ Fishing can involve various methods from casting nets to using bait. Let us remember it is  the Heavenly Father who draws them. If you ask a person what they want in life- the answers are fairly predictable- good health, more money, success in marriage, business, their family, peace, etc.  Elvis Presley was once asked what he wanted in life. He responded with three desires- three wants:  wanted someone to love, someone to love him and something to look forward to.  I believe there is not only great truth in Elvis’ reply it also reveals an empty heart. A heart that had searched for something to make him feel whole – but his search and his accomplishments had not satisfied him. And of course you see there is one who can fill all three of his desires- the Lord Jesus. Charles Stanley often opens the door to witnessing by asking a person- if there was one thing you could ask God for- what would it be? The answer will be quite revealing – just like Elvis’ answer.

Paul and Barnabas enjoy great success, but also attract considerable adversity. They divided the city and we must not forget that effective witnessing and preaching of the gospel will always enjoy success and draw adversity. Paul and Barnabas flee Iconium to avoid a plot to mistreat and stone them.

In the next city, Lystra, we see another principle of effective witnessing. There is evidently no Jewish synagogue. Let us observe what Paul and Barnabas do.  They begin to preach in the open market. It would be like someone preaching and witnessing at the Farmers Market on a busy  Saturday morning. It says they continued to preach the good news. Watch what happens:

“ Now at Lystra there sat a man crippled in his feet,who was lame from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul  looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, ‘Stand up on your feet!’ At that the man jumped up and began to walk.”

There is no synagogue to make their initial contact. So what do Paul and Barnabas do? They go fishing. They are fishers of men. So they go where there are men, just as a fisher of fish goes where there are fish. Into the busy marketplace, they boldly cast the gospel net.  We do not know how many days Paul and Barnabas preached there- but there was some type of contact made between Paul and this crippled man.  If you are fishing with a cane pole and a float with a hook and bait- the first sign of a fish’s interest is a nibble which will cause the float to bob in the water. Paul feels the tug and he sets the hook. He has been looking to see where the Lord was working and by placing himself and Barnabas in position and doing what he knew to do- witnessing , he will see the Lord work.

There is the second principle for effective witnessing. Lacking a synagogue where to make that natural connection, Paul and Barnabas had no idea what they were going to do. They walked right into the marketplace, for it looked like a good place to fish. And they waited for the fish to start biting. They trusted the Lord to prepare certain people’s hearts to receive the gospel. Did not the Lord Jesus tell Peter and them that morning after they had fished all night and caught nothing –‘to put out into deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”

*Jesus then said to them ‘ follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ We talk about inviting Jesus into our lives, but it is truly Jesus who invites us into His Life! Can there possibly be any more exciting way to live?

Dr. Luke who records this story, heard the story from Paul. In his description, we see this hopelessness of this man’s condition. He was born crippled and everyone in the marketplace knew this man’s story and condition. This man  was listening to Paul with such an intensity that Paul saw the faith this man had, faith to make him whole. The unhindered flow of the Holy Spirit resulted in a dramatic miracle. We may not see miraculous physical healings as were done by the Apostles through the power of God. But we see miracles in the turned around lives of lost people in bondage to sin.

I know of that healing. For fourteen years I was in bondage to alcohol. I came to loath that which I once loved – but could not break free from the crippling affects of alcohol.  I was as powerless to quit drinking as this man was powerless to walk. My healing and being made whole was no less a miracle than his. The power “ to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think “ comes to all believers at salvation.( Ephesians 3:20)

If we trust the Lord and obey His commands, we, too can be fishers of men. First principle look for the natural contact or connection.

Second principle we observe in Lystra is let down the gospel nets for a catch.Trust the Lord to send the fish into the net. It is like casting the seed. The seed is the Word of God. It is good seed. It is incorruptible seed. The soil is the heart. Some of the hearts are like the soils in the parable- hardened to the penetration of the Word of God;shallow, with a stone underneath prevents it taking root; crowded with the concerns of the world; and the good soil that receives and brings forth a hundredfold. Our responsibility is to cast the net to cast the seed, trusting the Lord, not our abilities for the  catch. Why? Because the Lord said to!

Paul’s faith is rewarded with the miracle of this man’s healing and something unexpected happens. Verses 11- 13 describes an unusual occurrence. These pagans believe Paul and Barnabas are gods in human form. The pagan priest of Zeus  calls Barnabas- Zeus and Paul – Hermes. They bring sacrifices to these two men and a great crowd is drawn to them.

Now they have a natural connection. These pagans are polytheists, believing in many gods. Gods of water, gods of trees, gods of fertility, etc.;. When talking with people who are non-religious, who are not interested in the gospel, Scriptures or church here is the way to witness. Talk to them about nature and creation for as Paul would write in Romans 1, God has revealed himself to man through nature and creation. So Paul and Barnabas found the natural connection in nature and creation for it is something that has been revealed to all mankind.

First Paul and Barnabas deny they are gods, only men like them. But they use this event to proclaim the good news of the Gospel. Paul tells them there is only One God and He created heaven and earth and the seas and everything in the handiwork of the one true and living God. Since these people were not acquainted with the Scriptures, Paul uses their interest in creation and nature as the connection. He further tells them these ‘gods’ they worship are powerless and worthless. All things were created by God and for God and are held together by the True and Living God. Paul is saying this nature you worship is like the Jews who knew of the God of Abraham , Isaac and Jacob, Paul proclaimed to them the Living God who made the heavens and the earth and the seas and everything in them.  ( Do you see why the enemy has attempted to destroy the word of God with the theory of evolution? Evolution attempts to explain the existence of everything without a  Creator, or moral law giver. Whereas logic and reason says there has to be a creator of intelligence to design such a complex creation, men suppress the truth in unrighteousness and their foolish hearts become darkened.)

Paul then explains that this Living God, Creator of all things has created man with free will and thus free choice. Paul says God allowed men, nations to walk in their own way. In order to permit free will and choice, God must allow evil.

I cannot fully explain or comprehend that sovereignty of God and the free will of man. God is King- King of Kings. As King of Kings, Almighty Sovereign God orders all things and controls all things for His eternal purpose.

God is also Judge. Which means by the very nature of this office, He judges and holds men accountable and responsible for their choices.

The matter of human will and divine election is so incomprehensible to my finite mind that I must believe both and trust a Just God as to how they fit together.

All I know is if we cannot fully comprehend it- we must not emphasize one truth at the expense of the other or else we commit doctrinal error.

Paul goes on to say that the Living God has not left Himself without testimony; He has shown His kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in season; with plenty of food and fills your heart with joy. God will not allow evil to go too far. History has shown us time and time again how evil man is. God restrains the evil.

Verse 19 tells us the enemy has his faithful followers also come from Antioch and Iconium to oppose the Paul and Barnabas and persuade the people to stone Paul. They drag Paul to the outside of the city where the  leave him for dead. But Paul survives and they head next to Derbe.

Their efforts there are rewarded with a large number getting saved. So we see another principle of successful witnessing- Persistence.  There is nothing more common among successful people than persistence. The ability to keep on keeping on. The ability to take failure as part of life and learn from it. As Thomas Edison said when questioned about the invention of the electric light bulb: did he ever get discouraged in the process which went  through over 1000 combinations for the right elements?  No, he said, inventing a light bulb is a 1001 step process.

Brother Earl Tapley was one of my favorite people and  20th century hero in the faith. A persistent witness, Brother Earl could be found on a busy Saturday morning outside Kroger with a stack of tracts, his Bible and a jug of water. He met everyone for years just inside the entrance to the West Tennessee Fair to share the Gospel. A true fisher of men.  His son, later had his father’s autobiography published. The title?  A Million Souls for Christ.  That was his goal here on earth.  In his latter years, Brother Earl  moved to a small town in Florida where his son was in a medical practice. Unable to physically get out and witness as he had all his life, Brother Earl refused to give into failing health. Living in a small town, he took the telephone directory and supplied with envelopes, tracts and stamps, wrote a personal note and sent a tract to everyone in the phone book. Persistence!

Do not miss this last element that completes the pattern for spreading the gospel: discipleship. Having been kicked out of Antioch, threatened in Iconium and stoned and left for dead in Lystra, Paul and company went right back into those cities to disciple and strengthen the new believers. They did not leave them on their own.  They trusted God to protect them, convinced that He who had begun a good work would complete it.  That is why God has told us not only to baptize believers –but to make disciples teaching them, strengthening them so they can grow up in the faith as mature believers.

Notice the good news not only means God has wonderful plan for your lives. Part of that plan is tribulation.  Paul explains: ‘ We must go through many hardship to enter the kingdom of God.” ( Acts 14:22)

We cannot help but observe their mission was not always smooth sailing. Many who heard believed. Many who heard rejected the same gospel. There was joy and sorrow. As we anguish over loved ones for whom we long to know Jesus as Lord and Savior, can you imagine the sorrow the  Lord Jesus experiences? No wonder He is called a Man of Sorrow.

As this chapter ends, we see Paul and Barnabas return to the church at Antioch to give a report of what has occurred.  This is the church that sent Barnabas and Paul out on the mission to the Gentiles.

Let’s look again at the call of Jesus to his disciples and us:  “ Follow me.( That is our responsibility). And I will make your fishers of men.( That is his promise to us- what He will do for us and through us.) In addition there is another commandment the Lord issues in speaking to Simon Peter after they had hauled in a record catch. “ Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” ( Luke 5)

Ever been afraid to witness to someone?  I have.  But the Lord has told us time and time again- fear not, I am with you. He has invited you and me into His life.

He has invited us to go fishing with Him. I promise you based on the word of God it will be a memorable and rewarding trip.

Copyright © 2010 Linda Benthal
Last modified: 08/12/14