A trend begins developing in the first missionary journey (Acts 13-14): Paul & Barnabas begin preaching somewhere, experiencing good success; some Jews get mad at them for preaching and incite opposition; the threats of persecution become imminent and sometimes realized; then Paul & Barnabas simply move on to the next town, preaching the same gospel that got them into trouble in the first place. The trend holds true in Antioch of Pisidia (13:50-51), Iconium (14:5-7), and Lystra (14:19-20). If that’s not enough, on their way back home, they travel through those exact cities again, still preaching the same message (14:21).
So when these men preached that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (14:22), they not only meant it—they lived it! Standing for truth will not make you popular in a fallen world. But deterrence from the mission is not an option to a faithful disciple. Think about some of the most pressing temptations for one in the position of Paul and Barnabas…
With tribulations comes the temptation to give up. Putting myself in Paul’s shoes, I can easily imagine myself thinking, “if preaching the gospel is going to be this thankless and punishing, I’ll do something else with less stoning and a 401k plan!” Yet I know of no passage that indicates Paul ever even countenanced such a thought; he is undeterred in his mission.
With tribulations comes the temptation to change the message. “Maybe we could accommodate some of our Jewish brethren who follow Moses, but reject Jesus. We could emphasize Jehovah, whom we all worship, and deemphasize the controversial part—Jesus.” People today make similar concessions on all kinds of issues seeking to lessen the offense of the gospel. A watered-down gospel would certainly offend less people and keep more rocks firmly planted on the ground. But a watered-down gospel saves no souls.
With tribulations comes the temptation of self-pity. Paul almost dies in Acts 14:19. But in v20 he gets up, travels to Derbe, and keeps preaching. There are no pity parties, no “woe is me,” no martyr complex, no picking at the scabs of past wounds (pun intended), no “spurned preacher syndrome.” Past mistreatment and harm did not poison Paul’s future attitude. We can still have an optimistic attitude toward the kingdom and its work, even if we must enter it through many tribulations.
We all have our wounds and scars. We have all encountered difficulty of some kind in serving the Lord. Every teacher of truth will clash with falsehood. But if, “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God,” then how we endure those tribulations is of eternal importance. Don’t be deterred. “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life” (Rev 2:10).