Paul’s Approach to the Great Commission in Acts 14:21-23 -- By: David F. Detwiler

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 152:605 (Jan 1995)
Article: Paul’s Approach to the Great Commission in Acts 14:21-23
Author: David F. Detwiler

Paul’s Approach to the Great Commission in Acts 14:21-23

David F. Detwiler

[David F. Detwiler is Worship and College Pastor, Community Baptist Church, Manhattan Beach, California.]

In anticipation of the Cross, Jesus declared to His Father, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” (John 17:4).1 On reaching the end of their days, in this world, followers of Christ should be able to say the same words, knowing that they have done their part in completing the work God has given them to do, namely, to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19).

But what is involved in fulfilling this task? How are believers to carry out this “Great Commission” of the Lord Jesus Christ? This article explores the possibility that Acts 14:21–23 serves as an outline of—and brief commentary on—the discipleship process Jesus has called His followers to pursue in their own lives and to encourage in the lives of others.

The passage briefly describes the latter part of Paul’s first missionary journey:

They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

Commentators assess the importance of these verses variously. A few, such as Stott, feel a pattern or policy for fulfilling the

Great Commission is evident in the passage.2 Others focus on the emphasis given to the role of suffering in the Christian life (v. 22). Marshall, for example, says of the passage, “Its importance lies in its teaching about the way in which the church must live in a hostile environment and equip itself accordingly.”3 Still others seem primarily interested in what verse 23 reveals about elders in the local church.4 While none of these emphases is necessarily incorrect or unimportant, this study seeks to draw these strands together into a unified whole in Luke’s summary of Paul’s remarkable ministry in souther...

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