Life and Death
in the Tongue
Every person wants his or her life to have an impact upon the world. This desire runs from the superlative to the mundane, from the completely self-serving to the genuinely altruistic. But God is the final judge of each person’s words and actions and their authentic impact.
Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.
There is no doubt that both the Apostles and the Religious leaders have had an immediate impact on the local communities of Antioch and Iconium. But what is of greater consequence is that both the Apostles and the Religious leaders have had an eternal impact.
“They are essential to our lives.
They can build up or tear down.
They can convey understanding, or they can confuse.
They can encourage or they can depress.
They can expose or they can conceal.
They can show vision, or they can offer despair.
They express our thoughts, our ideas, our feelings,
our desires, our very heart of hearts.
By them we can instruct.
By them, our requests are made known.
By them, the Truth is known.
By them, a lie is given life.
By them we communicate.
They can motivate either to good or evil.
They can set you free or bring you into captivity.
They will nurture life, or they will nurture death.
They are words.” 1
Paul and Barnabas were aware of the impact unbelievers had upon other unbelievers and so they moved on from Iconium, seeking refuge in Lystra.
They were ware of it, and fled unto Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and unto the region that lieth round about: And there they preached the gospel.
What gospel did they preach?
But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.
There are different Gospels that have different messages. Paul’s message was the Administration of Grace and a powerful identification in Christ, with immediate results.
In Antioch, Paul and Barnabas went to the synagogue. In Iconium, Paul and Barnabas went first to the synagogue. In Lystra, Paul is preaching at the city gates.
Why the city gates?
Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets: She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words, saying, how long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge?
The city gates were closed at night for protection, but during the day the city gates were the social hub for many cities. The city gates were for local trade and commerce, public announcements were heralded at the gate, the elders would sit to judge at the gate.
And when he that doth flee unto one of those cities shall stand at the entering of the gate of the city, and shall declare his cause in the ears of the elders of that city…
Lystra appears to be a city of Gentiles, having no synagogue, but they did have a Temple of Jupiter, whom they worshipped. Since Paul and Barnabas had a public announcement concerning the gospel of grace, Paul preached or heralded his message of grace at the city gates.
And there sat a certain man at Lystra, impotent in his feet, being a cripple from his mother's womb, who never had walked: The same heard Paul speak: who stedfastly beholding him and perceiving that he had faith [pistis = believing] to be healed, said with a loud voice, Stand upright on thy feet. And he leaped and walked.
First, we have the spoken Word of God by Paul, then you have the miracle of healing. You cannot believe until you first hear.
How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, how beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace and bring glad tidings of good things!
Once the lame man heard the words of God, he had the believing to be healed. What did Paul say that gave the lame man something to believe? We do not know. Verse 9 tells us the man heard Paul speak. Then with a “loud voice” Paul said to the lame man, “Stand upright on thy feet.”
The boldness and freedom to speak clearly and openly, the parresiazomai of verse 3, is still working in Paul’s life. Believers should declare God’s Word with conviction, trusting God to produce the results (Isaiah 55:11, Numbers 23:19).
And when the people saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, the gods are come down to us in the likeness of men. And they called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercurius, because he was the chief speaker.
Paul was an educated man, but he obviously did not understand the language of the Lycaonia, or he would have responded more quickly to being identified as a god. Some think the language of Lycaonia was a form of the Assyrian language, but no one is absolutely sure.
Why would the people of Lystra think Paul and Barnabas to be gods?
For that answer we turn to the ThoughtCo. and their synopsis of the story of Philemon and Baucis.
“According to ancient Roman mythology and Ovid's Metamorphoses (8.631, 8.720.), Philemon and Baucis had lived out their long lives nobly, but in poverty. Jupiter, the Roman king of the gods, had heard of the virtuous couple, but based on all his previous experiences with humans, he had serious doubts as to their goodness.
Jupiter was about to destroy mankind but was willing to give it one final chance before starting over again. So, in the company of his son Mercury, the wing-footed messenger god, Jupiter went about, disguised as a worn and weary traveler, from house to house among the neighbors of Philemon and Baucis. As Jupiter feared and expected, the neighbors turned him and Mercury away rudely. Then the two gods went to the last house, the cottage of Philemon and Baucis, where the couple had lived all their long-married lives.
Philemon and Baucis were pleased to have visitors and insisted that their guests rest before their little hearth fire. They even lugged in more of their precious firewood to make a greater blaze. Unasked, Philemon and Baucis then served their presumably starving guests, fresh fruits, olives, eggs, and wine.
Soon the old couple noticed that no matter how often they poured from it, the wine pitcher was never empty. They began to suspect that their guests might be more than mere mortals. Just in case, Philemon and Baucis decided to provide the closest they could come to a meal that was fit for a god. They would slaughter their only goose in their guests' honor. Unfortunately, the legs of the goose were faster than those of Philemon or Baucis. Even though the humans were not as fast, they were smarter, and so they cornered the goose inside the cottage, where they were just about to catch it.... At the last moment, the goose sought the shelter of the divine guests. To save the life of the goose, Jupiter and Mercury revealed themselves and immediately expressed their pleasure in meeting an honorable human pair. The gods took the pair to a mountain from which they could see the punishment their neighbors had suffered -- a devastating flood.
Asked what divine favor they wanted, the couple said that they wished to become temple priests and die together. Their wish was granted and when they died, they were turned into intertwining trees.”2
According to the Ovid this encounter with the gods took place in Phrygia. Iconium was in Phrygia. Evidently, the people of Lystra thought the gods had come to visit the area once again because the lame man had been healed.
Then the priest of Jupiter, which was before their city, brought oxen and garlands unto the gates, and would have done sacrifice with the people.
The word before is the Greek preposition pro meaning it was before the city gates or just outside of the city.
Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out, and saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein:
As Paul and Barnabas caught on to what was taking place, they immediately stopped the sacrifice. Thinking back to the parable of the sower and the seed in Matthew 13 we can see here an attempt by the Adversary to bribe Paul and Barnabas. The Adversary tried pressure in Antioch and again in Iconium, maybe an offer of deity could get Paul to be quiet.
Would you like people to consider you a god? What would they be willing to do to please their god? Gifts, adoration, gold, sex, this would be the ultimate key to a city!
But what was the response of these two apostles?
“…we are men of like passions with you…” Consider those words for a few minutes.
The humility and meekness of two men to not only refuse deity, but to place themselves alongside those who wanted to make them gods. The compound Greek word is homoiopathes. Homo meaning the same, and pascho meaning to be affected or have been affected. Together Lexicons define homoiopathes as, of like feelings or affections, similar passions, feeling, or infirmities.
It is used one other time in God’s Word.
Elias [Elijah] was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.
We are men of like passions…
Do you consider yourself to be a believer like the Apostle Paul?
Do you consider yourself to be a believer like the Prophet Elijah?
Most will immediately answer No!
For we view them as mighty men of God.
Yet God’s answer would be, I consider you like my son Christ!
What is God saying to you by including these words in His Word?
Paul’s preaching was to turn people from “these vanities.” We have looked at this verse before, but let’s do it again…
To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God…
Vanities, mataios, is vain, ineffectual, unproductive, useless, or godless activities. In the context, worshipping false gods like Jupiter and Mercury. Paul is turning them to the Living God.
So, Paul brings their minds back to the Living God verses gods of stone and rock.
…preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein: Who in times past suffered [allowed] all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless, he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness. And with these sayings scarce restrained they the people, that they had not done sacrifice unto them.
In Antioch and Iconium Paul spoke God’s Word because people attached to a synagogue would know God’s Word. Here we have another indication that this is a Gentile city as Paul speaks of God and the realms of the world as seen through Greek eyes.
The Living God made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and everything that is in them. The witness of His goodness is that He sent His rain and provided fruitful seasons. In Roman mythology Jupiter was considered the god who provided rain and Mercury was considered the dispenser of food. Paul is telling them there is a Living God who provides these things, not Jupiter and Mercury.
And there came thither certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who persuaded the people, and having stoned Paul, drew him out of the city, supposing [thinking] he had been dead.
What could they have possibly said to turn the hearts and minds of the people in Lystra?
Well to begin with, you know the priest of the Temple to Jupiter felt pretty foolish for calling for a sacrifice and then it blows up in his face. The city was already on edge, emotions dealing with a miraculous healing, emotions dealing with old myths and new found gods, and into the middle of all of this come men, with fire in their eyes and enough misguided zeal in their hearts that they have followed Paul and Barnabas about one hundred and fifteen miles from Antioch. It would not be an exaggeration to say Lystra was an emotional powder keg.
Punishments were swift in those days, and it seems without the benefit of a trial. The accusers show up at the beginning of verse 19 and then verse 19 closes with the “death” of the Apostle Paul.
Why were they “supposing” or thinking, Paul was dead? Well, because they stoned him and these cultures, both Judean and Gentile, were very good at carrying out a stoning. When you stoned someone, that person died, period.
2 Cor. 11:24-25
Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep.
I think Paul died because 2 Corinthians 11 states “once was I stoned” and again, to be stoned is to die.
Howbeit, as the disciples stood round about him, he rose up, and came into the city: and the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe.
What disciples? Were they in Lystra long enough to have disciples? Are these disciples from either Antioch or Iconium? We have to conclude that these are some disciples either from Iconium or Antioch, or both. Remember disciples follow the teacher and his teachings, and they also endeavor to live with their master to see and learn from day-to-day situations.
The phrase “stood round about” is the Greek word kykloo and means to encircle. There is no indication of these disciples praying, although you imagine they would be praying. So, what happened with Paul that he got up?
In Acts 14:19 we have Judeans coming from Antioch and Iconium with death in their hearts and on their lips. Then the verse ends with them dragging (drew is syro and means to drag) Paul's lifeless body outside the city. Acts 14:20 begins with the Greek conjunction de to set verse 20 in contrast with verse 19. Verse 19 was about death, while verse 20 is about life.
2 Timothy 3:10-11
But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me.
My emphasis using the bold.
While the disciples encircled Paul, he rose up, went back into the city, and left for Derbe the next day. After being pounded by stones you do not simply rise up and walk into the city. Bones would be broken, skin would be torn and ripped, muscles would be at least bruised. Our Lord, who promised to rescue him in Acts 26:17, raised Paul perfectly whole.
Can you imagine the look on the face of the priest of Jupiter as Paul walked past that Temple and went back into the city?
Or the elders, who would have needed to sanction the stoning, and others at the city gates? Asking themselves, “didn’t we just kill that guy, how can he be walking around, and he doesn’t have a mark on him.”
Were the Judeans, from Antioch and Iconium, still in the city? It would seem like it. Perhaps enjoying their victory and savoring their jealousy. What would happen when they saw Paul? Now that they used their ultimate weapon, death, what weapons are at their disposal? What are they going to do to a guy they already killed but is walking around and healthy?
Verse 20 does not speak of Paul teaching when he re-entered the city, but he did not leave for Derbe until the morning. What an opportunity to preach the resurrected Christ.
It would be safe to say many people had very little sleep that night in Lystra. The Christians, or the worshippers of Jupiter, or the worshippers of the Jewish religion, all had a quicker heart rate that night.
And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.
Paul and Barnabas followed the same route going home, so they could “confirm” the disciples. They wanted to make sure the disciples were solid and established in the Gospel of Grace.
And after they had passed throughout Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia. And when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down into Attalia: And thence sailed to Antioch, from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled. And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles. And there they abode long time with the disciples.
In returning to Antioch in Syria, Paul and Barnabas had much to share and teach. And they lived there a long time with the disciples.
1. D.S. Edwards, Sounds That Move Men’s Hearts, 2005
2. The Story of Philemon and Baucis (thoughtco.com)
© Auxano Ministry 2022