“But the multitude of the city was divided: and part held with the Jews, and part with the apostles.” (Acts 14:4, AV)
We who live in the United States have experienced unity. Our unity was severely tested during the Civil War. Yet, as a nation we survived the trial and remained the United States. The unity we have has been largely maintained by adherence to the freedoms and self-governance given to us in our Constitution. We basically love unity. However, it has been very alarming and stressful in recent years that philosophically we have become a very divided nation. This disunity troubles our hearts.
Most of us desire unity and harmony with others. I imagine that this desire stems from our make-up as Christians. Unity and harmony are at the heart of God, however, a sin broken world has resulted in division. We should not be surprised at this division for philosophical divides will result in disunity.
Here Paul and Barnabas are in Iconium and have preached the gospel in the synagogue. I cannot say with certainty, but Paul’s hope must have been that all those in attendance, the Jews, proselytes and God-fearing Gentiles, would believe. Likewise, this hope would have been for everyone in the city. Yet we see that “unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and made their minds evil” against the believers (v2).
We should not be surprised at this division. Jesus clearly indicated that division would come. “Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division” (Luke 12:51, AV). While it is our hearts desire that all would believe, that all would come to repentance, and we would experience true unity, we know that this will not be the case. Jesus also said, “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14, ESV).
Moreover, this division will also result in conflict and persecution. The result for the believers in Iconium was exactly that. The opposition rose against the apostles in an attempt to mistreat and stone them (v5), which resulted in their flight to Lystra and Derbe where they continued to preach (v6-7).
Here is the point. It seems that, due to our great desire for peace, unity and harmony, that we, in contemporary Christendom, may have a tendency to compromise. This can come in the form of softening the message and not calling people to true discipleship. It can come in a muddying of the message by presenting a form of religious syncretism, which is accepting the validity of all religions including non-Christian ones as a means of a relationship with God. It can come in the form of churches taking an unbiblical liberal view of certain moral issues. Often our silence on issues can be a form of compromise.
We need to be vigilant, looking to the example of Paul. Regardless of the persecution or struggle, Paul never compromised the message. He did not soften it. He did not muddy it. He never failed to preach it. He continued as a faithful servant regardless of public sentiment, struggles or persecution. Do not be surprised at division, realize that it is the result of a sin fallen world and proclaim the real message of Christ without compromise.