1Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. 2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. 3So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. 4But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles. 5When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, 6they learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country, 7and there they continued to preach the gospel.
The first word of verse 3 is “so”. In other words – the reason Paul and his companions kept on preaching and the reason they stayed in Iconium was because of the opposition. The Jews stirred up the Gentiles against the brothers SO they remained for a long time preaching the Gospel.
This is marvellous. And it is condemning. This is how we should respond to opposition – perseverance, holy intransigence, commitment marked by tenacity. What a great lesson for us to learn in these days. May we learn it well.
But note this also – when the opposition got to the point of an attempted stoning, Paul ran away (14:5-7). Tenacity is not foolhardiness. There comes a time when you need to cut loose. The preachers left there and went to the next city to preach. They did not go back home. They knew they were to preach and the opposition will not stop them from doing that. But they will not attempt to preach where their lives are being threatened. It is better to leave off those who will not respond and go preach elsewhere than to stay and never preach again.
And finally, what happened to the great number of Jews and Greeks (v.1)who were saved under Paul’s preaching and who did not have the luxury of running away from those who were trying to stone Paul? We are not told, but we can safely assume that things did not go well for them.
We should remember and pray for and help in any way that we can, those believers in very difficult situations who cannot escape from their opposition and who may very well lose their lives because of their faithfulness to the Gospel.