The same thing occurred in Iconium, where Paul and Barnabas went into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks became believers. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who testified to the word of his grace by granting signs and wonders to be done through them. But the residents of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles. And when an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to maltreat them and to stone them, the apostles learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country; and there they continued proclaiming the good news.
Here we see demonstrated the power of speech, for good or for ill.
Paul and Barnabas speak in such a way that a great number become believers. Powerful speech indeed! They speak from deep conviction, personal experience and the imperative laid upon them when the church at Antioch (in Syria), inspired by the Holy Spirit, sent them out on this journey.
But those who were not persuaded also had the ability to use speech in a powerful way. They stirred up the people and poisoned their minds against the brothers.
As a consequence, far from being silenced, Paul and Barnabas stay in Iconium for a long time and again use their powers of speech boldly.
There is a beautiful phrase in the text at this point, “the word of his grace”. The apostles spoke a gracious word. We have read their typical message in chapter 13. They spoke about Jesus, crucified and risen. The Saviour who forgives and brings freedom from sin. Their speech was authenticated by ‘signs and wonders’.
In our day too, speech has power. Speech has power for good or for ill. We have multiple ways of communicating, but still the contrast is as stark as it was back then between words of grace and words which poison minds.
I would like to be more intentional about speaking the word of Christ’s grace. I hope that this short account of Paul and Barnabas in Iconium will prompt me today to do that. Our cultural context feels much more complicated in terms of communicating Christian faith. It’s a challenge to find words that are appropriate and authentic, and which convey our rootedness in God, not just our loving affirmation of others.
Gracious God, We recognise the gift and the power of speech. We rejoice in the ability to communicate. Help us to speak words of your grace.
We too are on missionary journeys. We too need courage and conviction. We too need steadfastness in the face of opposition. Supply these our needs, we pray.
So may communities and individuals experience forgiveness, freedom and joy through your grace in our words today. Amen
The Rev’d Gwen Collins, retired minister, member of Avenue St Andrews