Acts Part 12

Notes on Acts

Part Twelve




Read chapter 14.


After they had proclaimed the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch,

22     strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”[1]


Observe that they both proclaimed the gospel and they made disciples. Only some contemporary Christians are proclaiming the gospel, but even fewer are making disciples. We must do both. Making disciples necessitates that we are not selfish with our time. This is because discipleship is time-consuming. It entails investing your life in someone! Yet, isn’t this what Jesus did? Isn’t this what Paul did?


Dawson Trotman, the founder of the Navigators and a great man of God wrote this:


“It is my desire to be used of Him to train men to live for Him, and who will work out with a willingness to lay down their lives for Him. I know he will grant this desire of my heart. He is partially granting it now.”[2]


What Dawson describes is just discipleship. The Lord granted his desire as the group he founded has become the premier para-church organization advocating and equipping people in discipling others.


In the book, Dawson Trotman in His Own Words, the authors write this:


“Daws understood that it takes time and effort, toil and struggle, to bring baby Christians to maturity.  Simply stated, making mature disciples is hard work. Children in Christ must know that they need to be taught, and teachers in Christ must know what they need to teach.”[3]


Because discipling others is time-consuming and hard work, those who have not been born again but just attend church will not do it. We have reviewed the challenges to being in a discipling relationship previously. There is the challenge of being selfish with our time. It requires us to give up our entertainment time and our comfort time.[4] And, not all professors of faith will make themselves available to be discipled. Those who do not demonstrate that they likely have not experienced regeneration. We only need to be faithful to offer to disciple those (and then do it, of course). Those who have a hunger for God will gladly be discipled.


Returning to Acts 14:22, Paul and Barnabas then visited the cities they had previously visited and strengthened the souls of the disciples there. This is something that should be on all of our hearts. We can strengthen the souls of other disciples. We do this by speaking the oracles of God, that is, sharing with them truths from the Scriptures. Talking to them about the news or politics is not going to strengthen them. Not only can every disciple do this, it is so very much needed because the media bombards us with thoughts and ideas contrary to truth.


They strengthened them and the encouraged them! Paul and Barnabas are positive examples for us. We, too, ought to encourage our brothers and sisters. Why do some get discouraged? Because of tribulations. Tribulations are hardships, troubles, afflictions, difficulties. Most often, these come from our proclamation of the gospel or our stand against sin (exposing it and naming it). The less we do these things the less tribulation we will have. But this also means the less fit we will be for the kingdom of heaven. However, even if we seldom proclaim the gospel or seldom expose sin, we will still have some tribulation because they are used by the Lord to transform us. As human experience has shown us, troubles can come from anywhere and it does!


Even so, tribulations can discourage us. So we need encouragement ourselves. And, we need to encourage others. We must encourage others “to continue in the faith.” This doesn’t mean to continue believing the facts of the gospel (of course we must do that, and all true believers will). It means to continue living the life of faith: giving ourselves wholly to the Lord, not holding back, and pursuing Him.


Do you wish to enter the kingdom of God when it comes in its fullness? Then expect to experience “many” tribulations. These are Paul’s words!


Read chapter 15:1-35.


Two matters were settled at the council. First and foremost, salvation is by the grace of God through faith, not by law-keeping. Second, fellowship and harmony between diverse ethnic groups, in this case Jews and Gentiles, is essential. (The application of this principle extends to all ethnic groups; i.e., we need to have fellowship and harmony with those unlike us.) The second problem was resolved by instructing the Gentiles to abstain from certain things:


“For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials:

29     that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell.”[5]


The purpose of this command was not to reduce the laws of God to only four. This directive was for harmony between the groups. Jews would be very offended by any of these four matters, since they continued following the OT dietary laws. A closer examination of these laws would show that the first three, idol offerings (for eating), blood, and strangulation, are not moral laws and, therefore, no longer binding upon God’s new covenant people.[6]  The fourth command, to abstain from fornication, is essential to please God. However, even a casual reading of the New Testament will show that there are a multitude of moral commands to be obeyed, not simply fleeing fornication. (e.g., divorce is strongly condemned, incest is condemned, sensuality, idolatry, jealousy, divisions, and drunkenness are all condemned. And, love for spouse, training our children in the ways of the Lord, moral purity, joyfulness, kindness, goodness, and generosity are all promoted.)


What we can take away from this letter from the church in Jerusalem is that we should avoid those things that offend other members of the household of faith. Likewise, we ought to recognize that others will have habits or traditions that we do not like. We may either think they are foolish, wasteful, or simply offensive. Unless they are sinful, we should not allow those things to disrupt our fellowship and oneness with other disciples. Notice what was not listed in the elders’ letter: eating pork. This, of course, was forbidden by OT law and would have offended the Jews. But there was an expectation (by virtue of it not being listed) that Jewish believers fully accept their Gentile brothers and sisters in this.


We should strive to keep the unity of the Spirit (Eph. 4:3) with all disciples, even with their offensive habits!


Read 15:36–41.


“After John Mark’s earlier failure (13:13), Paul had no confidence in him. The tough, battle-hardened soldier of Christ had no use for deserters. On the other hand, gentle, encouraging Barnabas insisted on giving his cousin (Col. 4:10) a second chance. Eventually, there arose such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another. Their partnership dissolved not amicably but with violent emotions and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus.”[7]


Paul “was an apostle, Barnabas was not. Therefore, Barnabas should have submitted to Paul’s apostolic authority. Also, Paul and Silas, not Barnabas and Mark, were commended by the church (v. 40). Finally, Barnabas should have realized that it would have been unwise and difficult to have Mark along if Paul did not trust him.”[8]


Witness Lee agrees with MacArthur:


“The responsibility  for the problem should rest with Barnabas, because after this incident he no longer appears in the divine record in Acts of the Lord’s move in God’s New Testament economy. The reason for his failure may have been his natural relationship with Mark, his cousin (Col. 4:10), who had left Barnabas and Paul in their first ministry journey in a negative way (13:13).”[9]


The good news is that both Mark (Philemon 24; 2 Tim 4:11) and Barnabas (I Cor. 9:6) were fully reconciled to Paul later.


Two things can be learned from this brief account. First, see how easy it is for co-laborers in the Lord to have a disagreement and have it disrupt the work! Paul and Barnabas were both fully dedicated. They both loved the Lord. Yet, they divided. Except for unrepentant sin, God’s children must stay in unity (Eph. 4:3). God loves the oneness of his people (John 17:20-23) and hates division (I Cor. 1:10; Gal. 5:20). We must always be on guard against division. We should make it a point to be one with each member of our local church but, also, we ought to always seek fellowship and unity with those of other denominations and non-denominations…every genuine disciple. We do not allow our differences to divide us. Rather, we focus on the goodness and enjoyment of Christ, which every believer has in common.


The second matter to learn is that our familial relationships can get in the way of our service to the Lord and to our mutual fellowship. Remember that Jesus addressed the priority of our new family over against our family of blood:


While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. 48 But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” [10]


“This familial view of discipleship and the nature of the new community being formed around Jesus is vividly expressed in this little paragraph by contrast with the mother and brothers from Nazareth who now apparently from no part of the Jesus circle. The result is that on the one occasion when Jesus’ natural family appear in the narrative outside the infancy stories they are dismissed in what many have taken to be an unfeeling manner. The Jesus who in 15:4-6 upholds the OT command to honor one’s father and mother here seems to treat his mother and brothers with scant respect. He is putting into practice what he taught his disciples in 10:37, that even the most important earthly ties cannot be allowed to stand in the way of loyalty to the kingship of God.”[11]


The truth of the priority of our spiritual kinship must be received and owned. The temptation to prioritize our natural relationships is always with us. It predominates in youth and in the elderly, but is always present. Young people living with their parents can be hard pressed to maintain their faithfulness if their parents are not Christians. Likewise, elderly Christians may listen to their unbelieving adult children who will not allow them to meet with the church for fear of an exaggerated pandemic or for any number of reasons.


Even more common is neglecting either fellowship or the Lord’s work because our spouse may object. Even in marriages where there is a lack of love this is still a problem because if one spouse is a disciple and the other is not, the Lord’s servant will be tempted to either curtail church activities or forsake them in order to keep peace or even to save the marriage (in their thinking). This is the wrong approach.[12] We must put Christ first, above our natural relationships. Putting him first includes placing his Body first. We are called to be with God’s children. Let us follow the example of our Lord and Paul in this matter.


When we are with those who desire to fulfill the will of God it is a great encouragement to us. There is a deep joy in being with those who love the Lord. Those who do not follow the Lord closely will often persuade us to simply waste our time in entertainment or frivolous activities. This is especially true of family members with whom we feel comfortable. Sadly, the same thing can be said about spiritually immature Christians. There are many Christians who have one foot in the world and one foot in the church. If you spend time with these you will end up doing the same frivolous things that you would have done with family members. A wise course of life is to align oneself with those who are faithful and consecrated. This is discipleship.







[1] Legacy Standard Bible (2021). (Ac 14:21–22). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[2] in his review of a book about Trotman.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Not completely, of course. We all need a little. But, it is obvious that contemporary would-be disciples spend far too much time on their own comfort than on the Lord’s work.

[5] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Ac 15:28–29). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[6]  Although, it is unwise to drink blood for health reasons alone. And, it is easy for our conscious to be bothered when participating in anything that has to do with idols.

[7] John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Acts, Vol. 2 (Moody Publishers, Chicago, IL; 1996), p 82.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Witness Lee, Life-Study of Acts, Message 43 (Living Stream Ministry, Anaheim, CA; 2022)

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 12:46–50). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[11] France, The Gospel of Matthew, 496.

[12] Besides being contrary to our Lord’s teaching, experience has taught us that capitulating to an unbelieving spouse (or a spouse who is a Christian in name only) seldom makes the marriage any better and often just causes the unbeliever to lose respect for the wishy-washy commitment of their husband or wife.