*As we survey the life of Paul, there was a hiatus from Acts 9:32 to 13:1. In that period, God was moving in Peter to reach out to the Gentiles with the gospel, see them receive Jesus as Savior, identify with Him in baptism, and become part of the church. Suddenly Saul (later called Paul) appears at Antioch and is set apart by the Holy Spirit with Barnabas to proclaim the gospel of grace in cities of Cyprus, Pamphylia, Pisidia and Galatia, ending up at Derbe (Acts 14:6).
Why didn’t they continue from Derbe to cities in Cilicia (Tarsus where Paul was from – 11:25) and complete the circuit and return by land to Antioch?
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There is a very clear answer to this question. “When they had preached the gospel to that city [Derbe] and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (14:21-22). As new believers and newly planted churches, this was a critical, but calculated move of Paul and Barnabas. These men knew that opposition and persecution would quickly come from both Jews and Gentiles who were bent on mistreating and if possible, stoning them (14:5). The strengthening and encouraging factor is so important in any culture and at any time in history so new believers are strengthened.
Paul’s method did not include staying in one place for years until a human determination is made that it was time to leave. Notice though how these ministers of the gospel left the new believers on their second visit: “They committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed” (14:23).
This is a very significant principle that is overlooked in most church planting today. If God has worked in hearts to receive the gospel of His Son, He is also able to take care of their growth by the Holy Spirit! As we will see later, Paul returned for two more visits in order to continue the process of making them strong in faith and steadfast in biblical practice.