“But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren” – Acts 14:2

Our world is divided, but what is worse, the church is divided. It seems like everything divides us, puts a wedge between us, keeps us apart. We are divided athletically by the teams we cheer for and now, by the gender of participants involved. We divide geographically based on the four points of the compass, the climate of where we live, by where we live whether in cities, suburbs, farmland, or open spaces. We are divided ecologically between green folk and gas using folk. We are divided politically between red and blue, left and right, conservative and liberal, constitutionalist and unconstitutionalist, nationalist and globalist. We are divided culturally by race, riches, and education. In the Church, we are divided between worldly wokers versus those who rely on the word of God. Ultimately we will be divided by those who bow to Antichrist versus those who bow to Jesus Christ. We are divided up and down, sideways, in all ways. Divided.


Yes, we are divided by many things. Sometimes we need to divide. The Bible states:

  • Romans 16:17–20 (NKJV) –  Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.  For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil.  And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.

There is a time to take a stand and divide. But division can also be a poison. Division can be a poison bitten into the body of Christ by the serpent Satan. The serpent’s poison is divisive, but it also had other devilish characteristics. That can be fatal to the growth of the church. That is what we will see in Acts 14. What is the antidote to such poison? Let’s see.

The first missionary journey continues and comes to an end in Acts 14. As the apostles come around the final turn of the first missionary journey we see how the Spirit acts to strengthen the church made up of those who have responded to the gospel. In the first few verses we see Paul and Barnabus opposed in Iconium by unbelieving Jews who poison the minds of the Gentile seekers against the gospel. In these verses we see the poison that threatens to prevent church and spiritual growth.
In Lystra Paul and Barnabus are used by the Spirit to work a miracle of healing. The response of the people is to worship and exalt the apostles as Greek mythological gods. The apostles are quick to point out that they are merely humans like the people around them and that the miracle is something God has done. In other words we see in the apostles the exact opposite attitude to that which we viewed in King Herod in Acts 12:20-25. Rather than take glory to themselves, the apostles serve the Lord humbly and point the people to God giving glory to Him. What we therefore see in Acts 14 is how the Spirit acts to strengthen the church through humble servants. Finally, as the chapter draws to a close along with the first missionary journey, we see the Spirit through the apostles moving to strengthen the churches that had previously been established.

Acts 14:1- “Now it happened in Iconium that they went together to the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed.

The apostles now come to Iconium where they preach the gospel so effectively that “a great multitude . . . believed” (14:1). Iconium was a wealthy rural town smaller than Ephesus or Smyrna. This town was likely made up of a mixture of Jews and Greeks and perhaps others, but all very likely were able to converse in the Greek language that the apostles spoke in. The main religions of this area were apparently Judaism and pagan. The main pagan deity of the area was Cybele a Phrygian mother goddess but there were also other mystery cults that required secret initiations to join. Archeological inscriptions indicate that Christianity did take hold in this area making it an eventual major center of Christianity in Asia Minor.  [1]

The Poison That Prevents Church Growth

Acts 14:2-7 – “But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren.3 Therefore they stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.4 But the multitude of the city was divided: part sided with the Jews, and part with the apostles.5 And when a violent attempt was made by both the Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to abuse and stone them,6 they became aware of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding region.7 And they were preaching the gospel there.”

In verse 14:2 the word “poisoned” from the Greek term KAKOO is used (Strong’s # 2559 κακόω [kakoo /kak·o·o/]).  This word occurs six times in the New Testament being translated as “entreat evil” twice, “make evil affected” once, “vex” once, “hurt” once, and “harm” once.” 1 This word means, “to oppress, afflict, harm, maltreat. . .” 2 . . . “to embitter, render evil affected.”  [2] The root word of KAKOO is KAKOS (Strong’s #2556) and refers to something that is rotten or bitter (51 occurrences; “evil” 40 times, “evil things” three times, “harm” twice, “that which is evil” twice, “wicked” once, “ill” once, “bad” once, and “noisome” once.)  [3] It only takes one bad apple to infect a basket of apples with rottenness. One rotten response to the gospel or ministry in a church can curtail the salvation of souls and in a church can curtail and hinder greatly the growth of the church. This is why Satan often poisons a group of seekers or a ministry with a rotten apple, a person (or persons) who respond cynically, negatively, or bitterly to the work of the Spirit. That is what was happening in these verses.

The Target of the Poison – The Soul (Mind)

It is the mind or soul (terms which are interchangeable in Scripture) that the enemy targets with his poison. The Greek term which is translated “mind” is PSUCHE (Strong’s # 5590 – yuchv – psuche – soo-khay´) which is variously translated, “breath, . . .  spirit, . . . heart . . . life, mind, soul . . ..” [4] The human being is made up of three parts, three compartments so to speak consisting of the physical body, the conscious mind or soul, and the part which has capacity to respond to God, the spirit. The technical term for this is that human beings are made up of a trichotomy.

The Bible refers to the human being as trichotomous in the following verses:

  • 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 – “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.24 He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.”
  • Hebrews 4:12 – “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

God created humans as three compartment beings with the priority of Spirit/Soul/Body. Once sin entered into the world the spirit of humanity died so that now humanity consists of Soul/Body/ Empty dead spirit compartment (Ephesians 2:1-3). The soul/mind (heart) is where people think and make decisions; it is where a person acknowledges the gospel and receives Jesus as Lord and Savior. This is why Satan seeks to inject his poison into the minds of people to prevent them from responding to Jesus as their Savior.

The Poison of The Snake Satan

Satan is pictured as a snake (Genesis 3) and when he bites, he injects poison into a person. If we look at the venom or poisons of snakes we see they attack various aspects of bodily functions. Some poisons attack the respiratory system preventing the lungs from bringing the breath of life into the body. Other poisons attack the nervous system preventing the body from sensing danger to the heart. And still other poisons blind a person so that they cannot see. Some poisons deaden the body and make it incapable of movement paralyzing it. There are probably a great deal of other effects of poisons we could mention but if the church is likened to a body in the Bible, then poison is something that is injected into the body that hinders it greatly from functioning normally.

If you look at these verses you see the impact of this poison of the enemy on those the Spirit is trying to reach.

First, the enemies’ poison stirs up people (14:2). The words “stirred up” (Strong’s # 1892 – epigeiro – ep-eg-i´-ro) convey the thought of, “to rouse upon . . . to excite against. . . raise, stir up.” [5] When the poison of the enemy is injected in people’s minds it agitates them and stirs up excuses and opposition to the gospel message the Spirit is trying to bring to them. This poison brings static to the lines of communication so that it becomes more difficult to hear the voice of the Spirit and the gospel message. Such poison can also be injected into the church body and brings agitation and oppositional attitudes to church meetings. The Spirit wants peace, but the poison of the enemy makes people want to pick a fight.

Second, the enemies’ poison divides (14:4). The poison of the enemy brings confusion and division to those the Spirit is trying to reach.   This is what we see happening in Iconium. When the poison of the enemy is injected into the church, it brings division to the body of Christ so that the members of the body fight one another instead of bearing one another’s burdens and fulfilling the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2-5). Where there is division, you can be sure someone has been bitten by the enemy and injected with his poison.

Third, the enemies’ poison brings violence (14:5). When the enemies’ poison has its full effect, it leads to violent opposition to the work of the Spirit and violence even within the body of Christ. When there is violence, you can be sure the enemy has bitten someone.

These are the three indicators that the enemy has bitten someone. But there is one deadly venom that rots the soul more than any other. The early church leader Jerome made the following insightful comment:

“You cannot understand the antidote until you first understand the poison.”

If we are to guard against being bitten by the enemy and injected with his poisonous venom and if we are going to be able to prescribe an antidote to those who have been bitten by him, then we need to study the poison. Let’s look at this deadly poison of the enemy.  

The Poison That Grieves the Spirit – Divisive Bitterness

One of the ways Satan seeks to impede the work of the Spirit and the spread of the gospel is to use divisive bitterness. Bitterness is like poison to the soul seeking salvation. Bitterness in believers grieves the Holy Spirit. Bitterness is a deadly poison to the soul and spirit because it infects like cancer in the body of Christ getting the members of the body fighting against each other rather than working efficiently together. This is seen in the following verses:

  • Ephesians 4:30-32 – “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.”

In the above verses we see that bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor and evil speaking “grieve” the Holy Spirit. The word “grieve” is translated from the Greek term LUPEO (Strong’s # 3076 – loo-peh´-o; from LUPE Strong’s # 3077) which means, “to distress; . . . to be sad . . . cause grief, grieve, be in heaviness, (be) sorrow (-ful), be (make) sorry.” [6]  It grieves and brings sadness to the heart of the Spirit when bitterness creeps into the heart of believers or those seeking the Lord. When bitterness is present, it hinders the desired work of the Spirit.

The Cause and Cure for the Poison of Divisive Bitterness

What is the cause of bitterness and what is its cure? Further insight into bitterness is found in the book of Hebrews, which states:

  • Hebrews 12:14-15 – “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord:15 looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled;”

Here we see bitterness is associated with falling short of God’s grace, causing trouble and defiling others spiritually. Therefore we can say the following about bitterness according to the passage in Hebrews.

First, the cause of divisive bitterness is falling short of or not receiving and living in God’s grace. A person who lives in their own strength is doomed to a life of frustration and failure and that produces struggle and strain in their lives. As they struggle and strain they resent and become embittered against those who do receive God’s grace and are living in it.

Second, the result or effect of divisive bitterness is to cause trouble and defile many. The person who is bitter is cynical, negative, proud, self-centered, selfish, worldly, and basically carnal if they are saved at all. All these things are the cause of much trouble such as divisions, defeatism, gossip, rebellion against authority, and general disruption in the church. It’s easy to see how such bitterness could defile many in the body of Christ.

Now that we see what this poison is all about, we can take the antidote God prescribes for it in His word. How can bitterness be combated? These verses tell us that too.

The Five Curing Antidotes to the Poison of Divisive Bitterness

There are five antidotes God prescribes in Hebrews 12 to cure those bitten with the poison of bitterness.

First, the antidote to divisive bitterness begins with receiving and relying upon God’s grace. To rely on God’s grace means we understand that the antidote to bitterness does not come from within us, it comes from God. Secular psychology will direct the bitter person to look within or look back and rehash memories. They see the answer to bitterness and such problems as being within the person. But the antidote to bitterness ultimately comes when we give up to God whatever it is that has been causing us to be bitter. It means we stop trying to defend ourselves and let God defend us. It means we stop trying to get even or inflict pain on those who have caused us pain and put the entire situation in the hands of God. It means we rely on and live in the grace of God. If we are to be cured of our bitterness, we must begin by going to God for help.

If bitterness is to be cured, we need to be a disciple who depends on the grace of God. Receive God’s grace for yourself, live in it, and show it to others. Starting with and depending upon the grace of God is the only sure way to do away with bitterness. The apostle Paul was inspired to say:

  • 1 Corinthians 15:10 – “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”
  • 2 Corinthians 9:8 – “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.”
  • 2 Timothy 2:1 – “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”

God’s grace is God’s provision and strength for life; it is the very source of life. God’s grace replaces the deadness and rotting caused by bitterness with life and hope.

Second, the antidote to divisive bitterness involves sharing God’s grace with others. Paul says elsewhere that the believer’s words should be seasoned with grace; we should speak graciously to those around us. Paul said:

  • Ephesians 4:29 – “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.”

When a person is bitter, they want to inflict pain in response to their own pain they are feeling. One way they do this is to speak bitterly toward others. One of the best ways to cut off and stop the poison of bitterness from spreading is to stop spreading bitterness in the words we speak to others. Speak graciously to others and you will put out the poison from your system.

Third, the antidote to divisive bitterness involves growing in God’s grace. The apostle Peter was inspired to exhort the readers of his second epistle to grow in God’s grace:

  • 2 Peter 3:18 – “but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.”

A big part of the antidote to bitterness is to grow, mature and develop in God’s grace. How can we do that? Peter tells us in that verse. When we grow in the “knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” we will also grow in God’s grace. To grow in God’s grace means to live and learn more and more what it means for Jesus to be the Lord of your life. It means to respond to acts of hurt against you not with bitterness but with a desire to learn more about the nature of Jesus from them. For instance, if a person discriminates against you or acts unjustly toward you, rather than respond with bitter poison, prayerfully respond, “Jesus, you were discriminated against and unjustly treated, teach me about your nature from this situation.” Let Jesus direct you and call the shots. Let Him defend you and protect you in life. Call on the Holy Spirit to show you the way out of bitterness. When the Spirit points out your part in the sinful poison of bitterness, confess it to your Savior Jesus and let His blood cleanse you of all the poisonous sin (1 John 1:9).  When we do this we will find that God can bring good from even the most painful situations (Romans 8:28).

Fourth, the antidote to divisive bitterness is to receive the peace of Christ and live in it with others. In Hebrews it tells us to “pursue peace with all people.” There is a peace we receive from Jesus by His grace. When we stand in that grace of God and receive His peace, we will have peace to offer others. Paul put it like this:

  • Romans 5:1-2 – “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

If you aren’t living at peace with God, you aren’t going to be able to live at peace with others. That lack of peace with others often takes the form of the poison of bitterness. But if you are at peace with God, you will, by His grace, be able to live at peace with others and bitterness will be dealt a fatal blow. Indeed, you will be of a mind and heart to actively pursue peace with others; you’ll become an antidote to bitterness around you.

Fifth, the antidote to divisive bitterness is to pursue holiness. “Holiness” (Strong’s #38 – hag-ee-as-mos´) means, “purification, . . . a state of purity; . . . holiness, sanctification.” [7] What is “holiness”? What does it mean to live in holiness?

First, holiness is that condition where God purifies your heart of those things that fight against God, (such as bitterness). Holiness is the state of being where the love of God has been allowed to come into your heart and life in a way that it crowds out the defiling aspects of bitterness and other things which soil your soul.

Second, holiness is loving God with all you’ve got. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment of God was He said:

  • Mark 12:30 – “‘And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment.”  (Matthew 22:37-38)

These words of Jesus are the best description of what it means to live a holy life. If you love the LORD your God with “all,” then there won’t be room for bitterness and other defiling things. We can only live such a holy life by the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us (Romans 8:26-29; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24). When you love God in the Spirit with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, there’s no room for the poison of bitterness to get in or infect you.

Holiness is a state of heart where you love God so much for all He has done for you through His only Son Jesus that your loving appreciation for God compels and guides you to live for God not yourself. Some of the most important words of Scripture are those spoken by Paul who was inspired to write:

  • 2 Corinthians 5:14-15,21 – “For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died;15 and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. . . 21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

Such love is not something we manufacture but something the Holy Spirit provides to us as Paul was further inspired to write:

  • Romans 5:5 – “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

Living in holiness means you have come to the realization of God’s great grace and holy love toward you so that you come to see that the only reasonable and right response to such grace and love is to present yourself to God in holiness (Romans 12:1-2).

Third, to be holy means literally to be distinctive, unique. God is holy in that there is none like Him, He is supreme. No one loves like Him or is just and merciful, all-knowing, all-wise, all-powerful like Him. God is holy and He wants us to be holy too. Peter was inspired to write:

  • 1 Peter 1:13-16 – “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ;14 as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance;15 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”    

To “gird up your loins” is an expression that calls on the image of a man dressed in the long flowing garb of Biblical times who when he needed to run, would pull up the back portion of the robe like garment and tie it in the belt in front of him so he could run without getting all tangled up. In the same way we need to prepare our minds to run from bitterness to God. We do this by putting our hope entirely on God’s grace in Christ, by obeying Him and not the ways of the world around us (which more often than not is telling you to get even, to go on the attack). Just as God is unique and like no other, He desires that His children follow His unique ways of handling such poisons as bitterness and anything else that comes our way in life. To be holy, therefore, means that we are separated from the world and its bitter ways and separated unto the Spirit for His use.

Fourth, holiness is a state of God’s grace received by faith (Acts 15:8-9). This state of holiness is closely associated with the baptism with the Holy Spirit. The empowerment of the Spirit for service involves the heart in that a person relinquishes all resistance to the Spirit’s will. This is a product of the compelling love of the Spirit mentioned above. When Peter was describing the work of the Spirit amongst the Gentiles he said:

  • Acts 15:8-9 – “So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us,9 “and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.”

It is the Spirit who purifies our heart, who works within us to remove the bitterness and impurities that hinder the Spirit’s work in us (Philippians 2:13).

Now when a person is pursuing the life of holiness in the Spirit in this way, it crowds and pushes out bitterness and other attitudes of the flesh that cause trouble in the believer and the body of Christ. I remember watching an old western movie in which one of the characters is bitten by a snake. Immediately the hero went into action cutting and lancing the spot of the wound and sucking out the poison. If he hadn’t acts quickly and thoroughly got the poison out the victim would have died. That’s what the Spirit does, He takes the sword of the Spirit (God’s word (Hebrews 4:12; Ephesians 6:17), cuts into the bitter wound and cleanses out the poison. When you are living in His grace, pursuing His peace and holiness you will be loving toward others, you will, “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). That is the antidote that cures the poison of bitterness.

The Spirit Strengthens the Church Through God-Glorifying Servant Hearted Disciples

Acts 14:8-20 – “And in Lystra a certain man without strength in his feet was sitting, a cripple from his mother’s womb, who had never walked.9 This man heard Paul speaking. Paul, observing him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed,10 said with a loud voice, “Stand up straight on your feet!” And he leaped and walked.11 Now when the people saw what Paul had done, they raised their voices, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!”12 And Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker.13 Then the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of their city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, intending to sacrifice with the multitudes.14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out15 and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them,16 “who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways.17 “Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”18 And with these sayings they could scarcely restrain the multitudes from sacrificing to them. 19 Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there; and having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.20 However, when the disciples gathered around him, he rose up and went into the city. And the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe.”

Who are the people the Spirit uses to build up and strengthen the church? In this account in the ministry of Paul we see a picture of the people the Spirit uses to build and strengthen the church. People tend to exalt the messenger rather than the One who sent them. These people of Lystra thought Paul and Barnabus were incarnations of their pagan gods (14:8-14). One commentator states:

“Zeus was the chief god and Hermes the messenger equivalent to the Roman gods Jupiter and Mercury, respectively. Why then would Barnabas be referred to as Zeus when Paul was the leader? The answer is that Paul was the spokesman and would therefore be called Hermes and Barnabas, the more retiring of the two, would be seen as Zeus, the dignified, behind-the-scenes god. In one spontaneous movement the priest of Zeus . . . brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates so the people could offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas. The wreaths were woolen garlands placed on the sacrificial animals.”  [8]

Paul and Barnabas are quick to try to redirect attention and worship away from themselves toward God but to no avail. The opponents of the gospel take this situation as an opportunity to try and destroy Paul by stoning him (14:15-19).

Here in these words we see a picture and example of the people the Spirit works in and through. Paul and Barnabus are looked upon by these people as if they were gods come down from the sky. They are quick to reject such an attribution from these people and humbly declare they are humans just like them but know a living God who needs to receive the glory for the miracle that was done. This tells us the Holy Spirit works in and through humble servants willing to give glory to God always and never take it for themselves.

The apostles did not even entertain for a moment taking any credit or glory form God. They were quick to point the people to God and give Him the glory. They weren’t looking to be famous or the center of attention. They had no hidden agenda. Some who claim to speak for God, when put on a pedestal as a god by people, allow such accolades to exalt them instead of putting the glory where it belongs, with God. To such people who are willing to receive and even steal the glory from God I would only remind them of the account of Herod. One day Herod presented himself in royal array and sat on his throne proudly. Those gathered before him began to shout, “the voice of god and not a man!” (Acts 12:20-24). Because he tried to steal God’s glory, an angel came and struck him and it states, “he was eaten by worms and died” (Acts 12:23). Now those who steal God’s glory may not be eaten by worms, but rottenness will enter their bones and soul and they will become like Herod an enemy of Christ.

God Will Not Share His Glory

The Bible clearly testifies that God will not share His glory with another. Through the prophet Isaiah God states:

  • Isaiah 42:8 – “I am the Lord, that is My name; And My glory I will not give to another, Nor My praise to carved images.”
  • Isaiah 48:11 – “For My own sake, for My own sake, I will do it; For how should My name be profaned? And I will not give My glory to another.”

The quickest way for a potential servant of God to be shelved and taken out of ministry is to allow God’s glory to be put on them in some way. That person may remain in a ministry position, but they will remain there without the power of the Spirit to work in and through them.

The people the Spirit works in and through are those who give God the glory in all things and never take it to themselves. Humility and a willingness to give God glory and draw attention away from themselves to God is a common practice of the disciple used by the Spirit. We see this humble attribute over and over in Acts and throughout the Bible (Acts 3:12-13; 10:26; Joseph – Genesis 41:16; Daniel – Daniel 2:28-30; 4:2). Most importantly this was a characteristic of Jesus as well (John 7:18).

The People the Spirit Uses Find Their Sufficiency in God, Not Themselves

The Corinthians church was a church filled with carnal fleshly self-centered believers (1 Corinthians 3). Their carnality led to a great deal of trouble in that church body such as divisions, compromise with immorality, lawsuits among brethren, disregard for those weaker in faith, and irreverence during the Lord’s Supper, not to mention a loveless misuse of spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 5; 6; 8; 11; 12-14). On top of all of this there were those in the Corinthian congregation that had either attacked Paul and his ministry outright or were at least entertaining the accusation of others against Paul (1 Corinthians 3-4). Paul’s words to these carnal believers reveal the heart of the person the Spirit uses. Paul is inspired to say:

  • 2 Corinthians 3:4-6 – “And we have such trust through Christ toward God.5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God,6 who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

Paul would never think of taking God’s glory to himself because he knew that all he was and any success he had in ministry was due to God, not his own strength. Paul knew his sufficiency was in God not himself or someone else. And so to the carnal Corinthians he was moved by the Spirit to say:

  • 1 Corinthians 10:31 – “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

Such is the rallying cry of those the Spirit works in and through.

The Spirit of Acts to Strengthen the Church

Acts 14:21-28 – “And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch,22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”23 So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.24 And after they had passed through Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia.25 Now when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia.26 From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had completed.27 Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.28 So they stayed there a long time with the disciples.”

Notice the characteristics of the church described in these verses. When we consider the nature of the ministry of the Spirit we can understand why the early churches that were started were strong. What do we see here that will help us understand how the local church can be strengthened?

The Spirit’s Six Steps to Strengthen the Church

There are a number of things we see the Spirit doing here to strengthen the church.

First, the Spirit strengthened the local church by moving the apostles to focus on making disciples. It states as the apostles preached the word they, “made many disciples” (14:21). What is a “disciple”? A “disciple” is a learner (Greek MATHETES – Strong’s # 3101 μαθητής – mathetes /math·ay·tes/] “a learner, pupil, disciple.”) [9] The early church was strong because the ministry of the Spirit through the disciples MADE DISICPLES. The work of the Spirit in the early church was to assemble those who sought in the Spirit to learn more and more about Jesus.  

Second, the Spirit strengthened the local church by moving the apostles to use accountability and repetition.  The apostles returned to the where they had ministered and were led by the Spirit in a ministry of “strengthening” (14:22 – Strong’s # 1991 – επιστηρίζω [episterizo /ep·ee·stay·rid·zo/]. There are four occurrences of this word in the New Testament. Three times the word is translated, “confirm,” and “strengthen” once.  This Greek term means literally, “to establish besides, strengthen more. . . .to render more firm, confirm.” [10] In other words, the apostles returned to those who had received Jesus as Savior at their previous preaching and held them accountable assessing their growth in the Lord. They CAME ALONG SIDE THEM TO SUPPORT THEM. On this return visit the apostles WENT OVER or REPEATED what they had previously taught. The key to making and being a strong disciple is ACCOUNTABILITY and REPETITION. Accountability and repetition are a good means of learning and embedding God’s word in your heart. Are you a lone wolf or do you discuss regularly your progress in the Lord with someone else? Are you regularly studying the word of God? Do you take notes during teaching and then go over them to imbed God’s truth in your heart and mind? These are things you should be doing to grow as a disciple.

Third, the Spirit strengthened the local church by moving the apostles to exhort the believers. The word “exhort” here is translated from the Greek term PARAKALEO (14:22 – Strong’s # 3870 – παρακαλέω – parakaleo /par·ak·al·eh·o/) which is found 109 times in the New Testament. 43 times it is translated “beseech,” 23 times, “comfort,” 21 times, “exhort,” eight times, “desire,” six times, “pray,” three times, “intreat,” and four times it is miscellaneously, and once, “besought.” [11] Parakaleo is a very full word in terms of its meanings. The idea of the word is a fervent encouragement or prayer, as well as a word of comfort.

But what did the Spirit move the apostles to exhort the believers about? The Spirit moved the apostles to exhort the believers to continue, to persevere in their faith (14:22). It is not how you start but that you finish well in the faith that determines your mettle as a disciple. The entire message of Jesus’ parable of the Sower makes this point (Matthew 13). It is a question of fruitfulness; does spiritual fruit abide in your life? (John 15).

Fourth, the Spirit strengthened the local church by moving the apostles to make sure the believers had a balanced and realistic understanding of what being a Christian involved i.e. they informed them about “tribulations.” The gospel preached today is often packaged in a deceptive promise that Jesus will heal all your diseases, fix all your problems and mend all your broken relationships. He may do some if not all of those things, but that is not the primary reason to accept Jesus as your Savior. The gospel is salvation from wrath of God which is due all those who live in sin (Romans 3:23; 6:23; 5:1-2). Jesus stated very clearly that we would encounter tribulations in this world (John 16:33). The word “tribulation” occurs 45 times in the New Testament (Strong’s # 2347 – θλιψις –thlipsis /thlip·sis/) and is translated, “tribulation” 21 times, “affliction” 17 times, “trouble” three times, “anguish” once, “persecution” once, “burdened” once, and “to be afflicted once.” “Tribulation” literally means, “a pressing, pressing together, pressure. . .. oppression, affliction, tribulation, distress, straits.” [12] While Jesus brings peace with God into our hearts and lives, we will encounter opposition from Satan and the world while we live on in this life. That is something believers need to understand. The Spirit moved the apostles to make sure that believers had a realistic and true view of what it meant to be a Christian. Being a Christian means counting the cost and following Jesus NO MATTER WHAT.

 Fifth, the Spirit strengthened the local church by moving the apostles to appoint leaders. It states the apostles, “appointed elders” (14:23) The word, “appointed” (CHEIROTONEO – Strong’s # 5500 – χειροτονέω – cheirotoneo /khi·rot·on·eh·o/) means, “to vote by stretching out the hand. . .. to create or appoint by vote . . .  one to have charge of some office or duty. . .. to elect, create, appoint.” [13] This was not a congregational vote, but a prayerful decision made by the apostles. The word “elders” (PRESBYTEROS – – Strong’s # 4245 – πρεσβύτερος – presbuteros /pres·boo·ter·os/) refers to one who is mature in their faith, one qualified for spiritual leadership [14] (see 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1). This was no democratic vote by the people, the apostles took the responsibility of “appointing” elders or overseers to shepherd the flocks that had been established. Strong leadership is very important to the health of the local church.

Sixth, the Spirit strengthened the local church by moving the apostles to testify to what God had been doing.  They “reported all that God had done with them” (14:24-28). The word, “reported” (ANAGGELLO – Strong’s # 312 – αναγγέλλω – anaggello /an·ang·el·lo/) is found 18 times in the New Testament and translated as, “tell” six times, “show” six times, “declare” three times, “rehearse” once, “speak” once, and “report” once.”   “Reported means literally, “to announce, make known. . ..  to report, bring back tidings, rehearse.” [15] To “report” meant they shared and discussed what the Spirit did through the apostles by going over the details of the ministry in other areas where they had ministered. When the details of what the Spirit had done in other areas was shared it was very encouraging.  They were mutually encouraged to share what God had done with them on the first missionary journey.

These six things that the Spirit moved the apostles to do should still be done in the local church of today. Following the Spirit in these things will lead to a spiritually healthy and growing church of disciples.


Someone has said, “What you plant, you will harvest.  Your life is a Garden.” The local church the Spirit seeks to build is a garden too. The following is a recipe for a healthy garden of a church that I received from an unknown author over the Internet. The following is good advice for those in the local church:

PLANT six rows of squash:

  1. Squash gossip
  2. Squash criticism
  3. Squash indifference
  4. Squash prejudice
  5. Squash bitterness
  6. Squash selfishness (SARX – the flesh)

PLANT seven rows of peas:

  1. Prayer
  2. Purity
  3. Preparedness
  4. Patience
  5. Promptness
  6. Perseverance
  7. Politeness

PLANT ten rows of LETTUCE:

 Let us depend on the Holy Spirit

  1. Let us search the scriptures.
  2. Let us have a servant’s heart.
  3. Let us be faithful to duty.
  4. Let us be unselfish and loyal.
  5. Let us not be weary in well-doing.
  6. Let us be obedient in all things.
  7. Let us be truthful.
  8. Let us love one another.
  9. Let us not complain.

NO GARDEN is complete without turnips:

  1. Turn up for church.
  2. Turn up for meetings, in prayer, and Bible study.
  3. Turn up with a smile, even when things are difficult.
  4. Turn up with determination to do your best in God’s service.

AFTER PLANTING, may you, “Grow in Grace and in the knowledge of our Lord.

And Savior Jesus Christ” (II Peter 3:18).

Satan is a rat that wants to rob your garden. Satan is a snake who seeks to bite and inject his poisonous venom of bitterness that will grieve the Spirit and hinder His work in the disciple and the church. But this also provides an antidote to the snake’s poison, God’s grace. And by God’s grace the Spirit strengthens the church.



[1]Keener, C. S. 1993. The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Ac 14:1). InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, Ill.

[2]Strong, J. 1996. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship: Ontario

[3]Strong, J. 1996. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship: Ontario

[4]James Strong, New Strong’s dictionary of Hebrew and Greek words [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1996.

[5]James Strong, New Strong’s dictionary of Hebrew and Greek words [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1996.

[6]James Strong, New Strong’s dictionary of Hebrew and Greek words [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1996.

[7]James Strong, New Strong’s dictionary of Hebrew and Greek words [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1996.

[8]Walvoord, John F., and Zuck, Roy B., The Bible Knowledge Commentary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Scripture Press Publications, Inc.) 1983, 1985.

[9]Strong, J. 1996. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship: Ontario

[10]Strong, J. 1996. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship: Ontario

[11]Strong, J. 1996. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship: Ontario

[12]Strong, J. 1996. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship: Ontario

[13]Strong, J. 1996. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship: Ontario

[14]Strong, J. 1996. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship: Ontario

[15]Strong, J. 1996. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship: Ontario

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