Did you see the recent video of the white woman in New York City’s Central Park, yelling at an African-American man who had requested that she leash her dog, as they were in an area of the park that required dogs be on leashes? He started recording her because she became so belligerent, while he remained calm and composed. She retaliated by calling 911, lying to 911 that the man was threatening her. She later apologized, but eventually lost her job.
Then in Minneapolis, there was black man, George Floyd, arrested by white police officers who restrained him on the ground by placing a knee on his neck, despite his repeated attempts to tell them he couldn’t breathe. He died later that day. Just a few weeks ago the killing of Ahmad Arbury was in the news.
There has been a renewed public outcry for people to speak about not only these injustices, but also specifically for whites to speak up about injustice toward minorities. Should we speak up? Many are concerned about drawing attention to ourselves, or we don’t like public speaking, or we don’t want to be in the spotlight and face the examination it might bring. Maybe we hate conflict and we are concerned that speaking up might bring us in conflict with people. It probably will. So we stay silent.
And yet, Christians are called to be people who speak up. Have we been silent? And isn’t silence a form of communication? Silence communicates, doesn’t it? What does silence communicate? Apathy? When we are silent about something, what are we saying about it?
Last week in Acts 13 and again in Acts 14, we have been following Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journey, and they have not been silent. In fact, their speaking up got them into conflict. In the previous series of posts on Acts 13 we learned that Paul and Barnabas spread the word of God on the island of Cyprus, confronting the false prophet and sorcerer, Bar-Jesus. Then they preached in Pisidian Antioch, and the Jews were not happy with them. Now their story continues.
Their next stop is the city of Iconium. In verse 1 we read that they went, as usual, into the Jewish synagogue, and they “spoke effectively.” A great number of Jews and Gentiles became followers of Jesus because Paul & Barnabas spoke up. Unfortunately, in verse 2 we read that some Jews refused to believe, and worse, those Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. Keep note of this. There is trouble brewing for Paul and Barnabas.
How do Paul and Barnabas respond to the opposition? Leave? Head to a new town, hoping for a more positive reception? In verse 3 we read that Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time in Iconium, even after the Jews were so negative! They are not deterred, and in fact they just keeping speak up boldly for the Lord.
It is important that we take notice of how Paul & Barnabas’ communication has been described so far? First, we read that their speaking was effective (verse 1). Second, it was persistent (beginning of verse 3) and, thirdly, it was bold (end of verse 3). Their pattern of speaking up for the Lord is an example for us: when they speak up, it is effective, persistent and bold.
Then God confirms the message by enabling the apostles to do miracles. Sadly even the miracles do not convince the Jews, who remain opposed to the message of Jesus. In verses 4-7, we read that the people of the city are divided, some siding with the Jews, some for the apostles. Those opposed to Paul and Barnabas start a plot to mistreat and stone the apostles. If you were threatened with your life, how would you feel? The apostles find out about the plot and leave, but as we will see in the next post, they are undeterred from their mission to preach the good news. Their speaking up was effective, persistent and bold, and it got them in trouble, but they kept at it anyway!
What will it look like for you to speak up effectively, persistently and boldly? Each of the remaining posts in this series will examine this further as the apostles continue their journey.