With few exceptions, every chapter in the Book of Acts contains some reference to persecution of the early church. In Acts 14:1-7, Paul and Barnabas were preaching the Gospel at Iconium, and many Jews and Gentiles responded positively. Immediately this caused persecution to arise from the unbelieving people of God, the Jews. But they hid their hand by inciting the Gentile authorities against Paul and Barnabas. Please note that the apostles were not causing political unrest or performing civil disobedience. Their action was wholly in the realm of the heart, and it would have benefited the society and government if only those whose religious prejudices were offended had not acted with stealthy manipulation.
What was the missionaries’ response? To stay and preach more boldly. And God also responded, defending His Gospel message with greater grace and more signs and wonders. It was not until there was a credible threat of violence by the authorities that the apostles fled to another city. And when they got there they started preaching the Gospel there, too. And they didn’t stay away from the places where persecution drove them out. They came back time and again, risking injury and death to nurture the infant churches and establish local leadership. In verse 22, Paul, on his return to Iconium told the new churches, “It is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” They didn’t like persecution, but they knew it was their seal of authenticity.“In fact, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 2 Timothy 3:12 CSB" Click To Tweet
Our response to persecution is very important. We cannot simply run away or quiet down when persecution arises. The answer must be pressing into God as the apostles did in Acts 4. We must preach more boldly, and let God tend to the success of our foolish preaching by producing the wonders and signs He said would follow us. When we do run, as Jesus said we would in Matthew 10, it is to prevent the misuse of government power to cause unjust bodily injury and death. And wherever we go we start preaching again with the same boldness.
Gospel preaching produces fruit along with persecution. Persecution should produce boldness and greater grace.
If we are truly preaching as Christ called us to, we should expect to see unbelievers manipulate government to produce social unrest, fines, imprisonments, and continual opposition.
If we don’t see this, we may be hiding our lamp under a basket.
But our bold gospel preaching ought to also produce miracles. When God recognizes His Gospel in our preaching, He answers with signs and wonders along with more saving grace. If we are not regularly seeing signs, wonders, and salvation decisions we have somehow fallen off the Gospel track.
Sometimes, opposition becomes so strong and united that the government itself misuses its God-ordained power to bodily punish and kill God’s messengers. When this happens, we are not to protest or fight, we are to move to the next city. We will leave behind a godly influence and culture change that will not soon be extinguished, and we will start spreading the Gospel message again in fresh soil.
This is what the forceful advance of the Kingdom looked like in Acts. This is actually happening in Iran right now. And there is no reason why it should not look that way everywhere the true Gospel is preached. Let us pray for boldness to do what the church is designed to do.