Have you ever been mistreated while doing ministry?
Two guys in the Bible by the names of Paul and Barnabas were severely mistreated while ministering. The Bible says, “And the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region. But the Jews incited the devout women of prominence and the leading men of the city, and instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district.” Paul and Barnabas were not even ministering to the Jews when this took place. They had been at Antioch in Pisidia ministering on the Sabbath, but some jealous Jews showed up and contradicted everything that was being preached (see Acts 13:44-45). Paul essentially said, “No problem! We’ll turn to the Gentiles.” And sure enough, they did. The Gentiles received the Word with great eagerness, but it wasn’t long until this angry religious spirit rose up against Paul and Barnabas once again. This time the Jews incited such a commotion that Paul and Barnabas were driven out of the district. Before we continue, let me pause long enough to say that religious spirits will do everything possible to stifle and squelch the spread of God’s Word. I’ve been sobered over the years by the number of people who pop their heads up in churches and denounce the work of the Lord because of jealousy, insecurity, fear, and pride. Like these Jews we read about in this passage, religious spirits will create such opposition and persecution that many pastors and leaders are forced to resign (and leave their districts). I’m saddened by the number of calls that I receive from pastors who tell me the same lament; they describe a few people who are bound by old wine skins that prevent the fresh outpourings of the Holy Spirit. Paul warned us that a time would come when people would hold to a form of godliness, but they would deny, reject, and resist the power of the Spirit (see 2 Tim. 3:5). The question becomes what will you do if and when that happens to you?
The next verse says Paul and Barnabas “shook off the dust of their feet against them and went to Iconium” (Acts 13:51). There were two symbolic meanings behind this act. First, it was a form of protest not against the persons as much as directed toward the spirit of unbelief. When Jesus deployed His disciples, He said if a city didn’t heed your words then shake the dust off your feet (see Matt. 10:14). This act stated, “You are left to your own disbelief. My hands are clean.” It wasn’t to be done in anger or vindictiveness; rather, in contrition over the fact that God’s Word wasn’t received. Think about how Jesus mourned over Jerusalem for her rejection of Christ. Jesus tearfully said, “Behold, your house is being left to you desolate” (Matt. 23:38). Please do not get the idea that I’m advocating a violent protest in front of the church that you might be leaving. It should break our hearts that people spurn the Word of God and the move of the Spirit. The second meaning behind this act of shaking off the dust was to state a declaration: “I’m not going to carry the dust of this offence with me beyond this point.” That is a mighty big statement, and it would do many of us good to make the same declaration. Too often we pack our suitcases with the hurts and offenses of past events, and we crate them from place to place unpacking them from time to time. Those rejections and mistreatments become our identity. Ask us how we’re doing and we’ll be sure to rehearse what’s been done to us. If we’re not careful, we will cease doing ministry in fear of opposition and mistreatment someplace else. Others make a silent decree that they’ll never trust anyone. My exhortation to you is to shake the dust off your feet! Clean your shoes and move on to your next assignment. Remember, the “gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29). Like God did with Paul and Barnabas, He will open new doors and new opportunities for you if you refuse to carry the baggage of persecution with you. Besides, our desire should be obedience to Lord rather than avoiding persecution—which will probably always occur in our lives if we’re godly and holy people (see 2 Tim. 3:12).
The way this ends is so inspiring. The Bible says, “And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:52). The verb tense for “continually filled” states that it didn’t stop once it started. In other words, they had the blessing of being filled over and over again. What were they filled with? First, they were filled with joy. Rather than becoming cynical and bitter over their mistreatment, they were constantly filled with joy. Joy is the attitude that fills a mind that is trained to think from a kingdom perspective. Paul and Barnabas kept their minds focused on eternal matters and not on earthly issues. Paul later wrote, “Set your minds on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). When our minds are consumed by heavenly thoughts we’ll constantly be filled with joy. Second, they were filled with the Holy Spirit. They experienced a download of the Holy Spirit many times over; and you can experience more of the Holy Spirit, too (see Luke 11:13; John 3:34). As you continue to read about Paul and Barnabas, you will note that they faced much opposition in other cities. Yet, they continued ministering without carrying the dust of hurts, rejections, and persecution from others; and they did so with constant outpourings of joy and the Holy Spirit.
So let me ask you, are your shoes clean?
Lord, I choose to shake the dust off my feet right now. I will no longer carry the rejections and persecutions from other people. Fill me with joy and with the Holy Spirit today, and lead me to my next assignment in Jesus’ name, amen.