Times Of Peace
After Stephen's murder (he was stoned to death by the same Sanhedrin who sentenced Jesus to death – Acts 7:54-60), a wave of persecution erupted in Jerusalem and Saul extended this to Jews in other countries who believed in Jesus (Acts 8:1-3). Saul's sudden conversion was a shock to him, and the newly formed churches and to the unbelieving Jews. It was a sort of religious earthquake which forced everybody to consider who Jesus is, and how they wanted to relate to Him. The believers were strengthened in their faith and witness; while those who resisted Jesus, wanted to kill Saul – he was now their prime target.
It was time for Saul to withdraw from public view in Jerusalem. People from the church moved him to the coast where he boarded a boat to his home town in what is now southern Turkey. His ministry was not over by any means. He was still being prepared for his great work as the Apostle to the Gentiles and to endure serious persecution (Acts 9:15-16).
But then the Lord gave a period of peace to the church. He stopped the religious authorities persecuting the believers; and the three areas of the Holy Land which Jesus had commanded the apostles to evangelise, saw gospel fruit (Acts 1:8). The church grew and became more confident in Jesus and in the four great pillars of faith (the apostles' doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers – Acts 2:42). The Holy Spirit encouraged them to keep on trusting Jesus, and keep on witnessing. More and more people wanted to follow Jesus.
The pattern of persecution being followed by church growth has continued throughout history. It is true at a personal level too. The Lord knows how much His people can withstand and He will eventually bring them, or their children, to a time of peace so that His church can become established. It is right to pray for that (1 Timothy 2:1-4). However, it is also easy to throw away spiritual privileges and move away from the pillars of faith during a time of peace. So the church, and each of us, is at any time either in persecution or peace. It is what we do with them which counts. The Lord allows both so that His kingdom and our souls may grow through our trust in Him. But we can waste both opportunities.
© Dr Paul Adams