By the time we get to Acts chapter 11, Paul (Saul at the time) is reintroduced into the story. It was really a turning point in his ministry because after the Jews sought to kill him, Paul headed back to his hometown of Tarsus (Acts 9:29-30). We know that he went to Syria and Cilicia (Galatians 1:21) but it was five years from the time he left for Tarsus and we pick up in Acts 11. Some scholars call this the missing years of Paul. Let’s consider what might have happened during this time.
God told Ananias that He would show Saul how much he must suffer for His sake (Acts 9:16), and God began to bring this into focus right away. Paul writes about his life of hardships (2 Corinthians 11:23-27); prison, floggings, five times he received 40 lashes, beatings, a stoning, lost at sea, constantly on the move, danger in the city, the country, at sea and from false brothers, gone without sleep, been hungry, thirsty, cold and naked. God wasn’t kidding about the suffering. A lot of the persecution is not recorded in the book of Acts so perhaps these sufferings took place during these missing years.
Persecution scattered the early believers and those in Antioch were faithful, so much so that many people came to faith in Christ (Acts 11:21). When God desires to do a new thing (Isaiah 43:19), He generally seeks out a remnant of righteous followers who usually don’t conform to what others might expect. These types don’t really care about popularity or tradition. The news from Antioch eventually reached the leaders in Jerusalem (Acts 11:22) and when they came to see for themselves, they saw evidence of God’s grace (Acts 11:23).
One of my favorite characters in the New Testament, Barnabas, encouraged the believers to remain true to the Lord (Acts 11:23); to basically plan in advance to remain faithful to Christ. It is a practical reality that the most effective time to resolve to be obedient to Christ is in advance of the persecution or difficulty. It’s hard to make up your mind to be faithful in times of trouble or temptation at the time you’re going through it. A conviction ahead of time settles the issue and allows us to remain strong when the world around us tells us to compromise.
Application: People may not be trying to kill you, beat you or otherwise harm you, but it would make many people happy to see someone who claims to be a follower of Christ stumble and fall to a moral failure, or compromise in some area that required integrity, or give in to some vice or habit that is left over from the old way of life. How will you stand when those around you fall? We stand tall when we are on our knees (in prayer).
As we seek God and strive to follow His direction in life, we can determine ahead of time how we will respond to temptations, how to flee from the trap set by the enemy (1 Peter 5:8). That’s what conviction is all about. After I was able to develop a settled faith, no one has been able to sway me into compromise or to consider that Christ is not the ultimate reality in my life. It’s not that I am immune to personal failure (I’m only human and I know the darkness that lurks within), but I have certain convictions of right and wrong that do not cause me confusion in the midst of these temptations. Heeding the encouragement of Barnabas, I have resolved to be obedient to Christ in advance of the persecution, difficulty or temptation. By God’s grace I am able to trust that He will provide a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). How about you? Do you need someone to whom you will be accountable to remain pure? It’s imperative that you enter into relationships with godly men who will hold you accountable and encourage you when you are ready to give in or give up.