In the foreground, on the left side of the image, Jesus is seen hanging from His cross. To the right, a dirt path through fields continues on for what appears to be quite far off. It goes on up to the horizon.

Facing Persecution as a Follower of the Way, and Still Strengthening the Disciples

In the last couple of articles I discussed the idea of the Bible speaking of two different ways or paths. As I did so, it reminded me that the Body of Christ was called by different names in the New Testament. In some translations, this body of believers is spoken of as the “Church.” Other versions describe them as the Congregation or Assembly. In the Book of Acts, people who were Christians were sometimes spoken of as being followers of a specific Way.

With our study of various paths, or ways, I thought it would be appropriate to take a detour. I want to study the few instances where the Way is mentioned, and see what we can learn from such passages.

In the book of Acts, the first time that the idea of the Christian Way is mentioned is near the beginning of chapter 9. This is where Saul’s persecution of the saints is described. The first two verses read, “But Saul, still breathing threats and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, 2 and asked for letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:1-2).

In the above, the saints are described in two different ways,

  • Disciples of the Lord
  • Any who were of the Way

Being a disciple indicates that they were being taught. They were willing to learn and grow, and become more like their master. As they learned, they were traveling along the Way of Christ, and did not deviate from it. They were considered a distinct group of people and were known as those of the Way. This path was separate from others, and did not include those who were going through the broad way.

One impressive thing about them was that they were willing to be persecuted by others for their faith. They were threatened with great hardship, and some were even being slaughtered (vs 1). Despite their terrible treatment, many were willing to be bound with chains and sent to far off cities for the name of Christ.

The information gathered here is also repeated later. In chapter 22, the apostle testified of his past, “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women” (Acts 22:4). This persecution by Saul would later come to an end. He would become a follower of the Way that he once hated, and be known as the Apostle Paul. 

Responding to Persecution in Ephesus

Paul preached to both Jews and Gentiles, but ended up preaching primarily to the latter as his apostleship developed. One of the cities he preached at was Ephesus. There, “He entered into the synagogue, and spoke boldly for a period of three months, reasoning and persuading about the things concerning God’s Kingdom” (Acts 19:8). 

The verse that follows explains how some responded. The text tells us, “But when some were hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus” (Acts 19:9).

The above gives us a number of details about sharing the Way with others.

In it, some in the synagogue hardened their hearts when they heard the words of Paul. He was teaching people of God’s Kingdom that had come with power (Acts 2), but they did not want to go through the narrow gate and travel along the Way. They spoke evil of it. Not just among themselves, but before the multitude. They were trying to teach against it, and to discourage people from following along that good path.

We find that today too, don’t we?

Jesus has called us, chosen us, and commanded us to preach the Good News. The apostle obeyed that command in the first century, and we need to do the same. We must not be discouraged when individuals reject our invitation to obey God. As hard as it is, we should be strong in the faith even when groups of people reject us.

Sometimes the appropriate course of action is simply to leave the people we are trying to reach. I know that sounds bizarre. Doing so may make us feel like failures. I don’t doubt that at all. We may even think that we are being ashamed of Christ. That isn’t necessarily so. 

There are various times when the Scriptures demonstrate godly people departing from those who do not want the Gospel. One such example is the verse above. After some of the people spoke evil of the Way, Paul departed from them. He did the same thing in the city of Corinth. Notice the words,

“When Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul was compelled by the Spirit, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. 6 When they opposed him and blasphemed, he shook out his clothing and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am clean. From now on, I will go to the Gentiles!’ 7 He departed there and went into the house of a certain man named Justus, one who worshiped God, whose house was next door to the synagogue” (Acts 18:5-7).

Additionally, 1 Timothy 6:3-5 gives us Biblical grounds for departing from certain people based on specific criteria. By the way, the passage in 1 Timothy is rich in content, and would deserve its own study (or more). I encourage you to read it if you haven’t recently.

Turning back to Acts 19:9, the mention of Paul departing from people needs to be discussed in connection with the rest of the verse. The second half of it reads, “[H]e departed from them, and separated the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus.”

Paul departed from those in the synagogue, but stayed close to the disciples in the city. He took them under his wing, and separated them from negative influences that could destroy their faith. For us today, If you are a relatively new or weak Christian, there is no shame in protecting yourself from those who mean to do you harm. Dangers may take the form of ungodly friends, media, or online material that maligns truths found in the Bible. Separating yourself from such people, and things, is strongly advised in such situations.

If one is mature in the Lord, guiding others is a great means of serving the Body of Christ, and edifying the saints. This can be done in the form of small group Bible studies, setting time aside for weekly or monthly meals with some Christians, and more. These events can be done outside the context of when the saints assemble to worship God. As the text teaches us, Paul reasoned with the Christians daily in the school of Tyrannus. This was separate from when the church came together to partake of the Lord’s Supper and give back as they had prospered on the first day of the week.

Now, there may be the question. Was all this effective? The next verse tells us the answer.

This continued for two years, so that all those who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.

Acts 19:10

Earlier in the chapter, some of the Jews in the synagogue were furious with Paul. They were hardened, disobedient, and spoke evil of the Way. That did not stop the Word from spreading! The apostle continued teaching for two years, and all those who lived in Asia heard the Word.

They were able to hear of God’s Kingdom, Jesus Christ, and the Way of Truth.

Again, the persecution didn’t stop the spread of God’s Word, and it doesn’t stop it today. We should be encouraged by that! There are times when we don’t have to be preaching to people who hate to hear what we are saying. Instead, we can teach, encourage, and nurture new and weak Christians so they can grow to be strong in the Lord. While doing so, the Word will continue to be manifested in the lives of believers, and the world will have more opportunities to obey the Gospel.

Image Used

Wayside Cross of Christ by Didgeman from Pixabay.

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