A Commentary by John Stott

Acts 14:21-28 6. Paul and Barnabas return to Syrian Antioch

They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. ‘We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,’ they said. Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord in whom they had put their trust. After going through Pisidia, they came into Pamphylia, and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia.

From Attallia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. And they stayed there a long time with the disciples.

All Luke tells us about the mission in Derbe is that the missionaries preached the good news there and won a large numbe3r of disciples. Perhaps the converts included “Gaius from Derbe’ (20:4). Then they retraced their steps, revisiting (in spite of the danger) the same three Galatian cities which they had evangelized on their outward journey – Lystra, Iconium and Pisidian Antioch (21). It was a ministry of strengthening (episterizontes) and encouraging (parakalountes). Both verbs were almost technical terms for establishing and fortifying new converts and churches. But encouragement did not exclude warning, for we have to pass through many hardships, the missionaries said, if we are to enter the kingdom of God (22). It was Paul’s own suffering ‘in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra’ which led him later to assert that ‘
Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted’.

In addition to encouraging the converts to remain true to the faith (22), Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them (23a), who would continue to teach them the faith. Then, just as the missionaries had been sent forth from Antioch with prayer and fasting, so with prayer and fasting the elders of the Galatian churches were committed…to the Lord (23b).

After their return visit to the Galatian cities in which they had planted churches, the missionaries now headed home. They crossed the pass over the Taurus mountains and climbed down to the coastal swamps of Pamphylia (24). This time they did not bypass Perga, but preached the word there, and them went on to Attalia (25), the port from which they sailed back to Antioch, having completed the work for which they had been committed to God’s grace (26).

On arrival they gathered the church and reported what God had done through them, literally ‘with them’, ‘in conjunction with them, as his instruments, his agents, his co-workers’. In particular, they reported the great innovation, how God had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles (27). If by any chance the Western text of 11:28 is correct, reading ’when we were gathered together’ and indicating Luke’s presence on that occasion, then Luke will probably have been present on this occasion too and heard the missionaries’ exciting report. They will have been away for the best part of two years. So they stayed there in Syrian Antioch a long time with the disciples (28).

Tomorrow: 7. Paul’s Missionary Policy

The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.