Have you ever had a good day turn bad? Elon Musk can empathize. Musk, the entrepreneur behind Tesla Motors and SpaceX, celebrated his 44th birthday on June 28. The day started off great, I’m sure. Who doesn’t like birthdays? Yet that morning one of his SpaceX rockets, destined for the International Space Station, exploded after launch. What started as a great day quickly turned sour.
Paul and Barnabas had one of those days, too. Luke tells us the story in Acts 14:8-23.
Upon arriving in the far-away town of Lystra, Paul and Barnabas miraculously healed a crippled man — and the residents loved them for it. They thought the traveling evangelists were Zeus and Hermes in the flesh, and they were ready to start performing sacrifices (Acts 14:8-13).
But angry Jews from nearby cities turned the crowds against them. And the same residents who had loved them moments earlier now hated them. They stoned Paul and left him for dead (Acts 14:19).
Talk about a good day turned bad. One minute you’re treated like a god, the next you’re running for your life. That makes Elon Musk’s day seem like a cakewalk.
Yet Paul and Barnabas’ response to both situations was remarkably similar. When the crowds loved them, they didn’t soak it up or let it go to their head. They pushed back! They said they weren’t that good…
“We also are men, of like nature with you” (Acts 14:15)
…but they pointed to a God who was that good:
“you should turn from these vain things to a living God” (Acts 14:15)
And when the crowds hated them, stoning Paul nearly to death, they didn’t quit their calling or hate their enemies. They returned to the city to repeat the same message.
“But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city” (Acts 14:20)
Did you catch that? When people loved them for their faith, they pointed them to Jesus. And when people hated them for their faith, they pointed them to Jesus.
Different situations, same response.
So why does this matter? Because people love and hate us for our faith every day.
Sometimes people love you for your faith. You may not miraculously heal anyone or be worshiped as a god, but you may receive praise for uncommon acts of character, such as helping a neighbor in need, respecting your boss, or remaining faithful to your spouse. In other words, God will do something good through you, and you will receive the credit.
And it’s so tempting to soak it up. To pat yourself on the back. To think, “I am pretty awesome.”
Similarly, sometimes people will hate you for your faith. No, you may not be stoned by an angry mob, but you may be hated for convictions you hold dear.
And it’s so tempting to respond with anger, hatred, or fear.
But, as Paul and Barnabas model for us, the best response is to point people to Jesus. When people love us, we tell them about the One who has inspired us to live differently. When people hate us, we hold strong to our convictions, and we go back anyway.
Both responses are hard. Countercultural. Even strange. But both responses can change lives.