After all that took place in Antioch in Pisidia (13.13-52) the narrative now moves to Iconium. In 14.1-7 we see a contrast.
Paul and Barnabas first arrive, visit the synagogue, and they spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. Some, however, take issue with what is being preached and stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. In the face of this challenge, Paul and Barnabas remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord. This is met with a bold witness from the Lord and signs and wonders were done to evidence the power being proclaimed.
These miraculous manifestations don’t convince everyone and there is still a divide among the residents of Iconium (v.4). This takes a turn for the serious and an attempt is made to stone Paul and Barnabas (v.5). This time, in contrast to their choice in the face of hardship previously (v.3) we read that
“Paul and Barnabas learned about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and the surrounding region. There they continued to proclaim the good news”.
(Acts 14.6-7, NET)
There is no singular right choice in the face of persecution and hardship brought on by your faith. Sometimes it is right to stay and persevere and sometimes it is right to leave and in doing so preserve life. There is no stock right answer when religious persecution is being discussed. Sometimes people stay and witness and speak boldly for the Lord. Sometimes people move on and continue to preach the gospel where God would have them. There is no singular right answer when life-threatening persecution is concerned.
Most of us read these accounts and glaze over the fact that Paul and Barnabas had to leave town in order to preserve their lives (v.5). This is so far detached from the comfortable and safe lives that we live that it’s hard to really empathise with what is going on. We can be quick to criticise Christians who leave in order to preserve lives, but that is to contradict the explicit examples of Scripture. Spare a thought and a prayer today for those who have been presented with this choice, whatever decision they made.