The Secret of Strength
1. A wonderful New Testament term results from the combination of two words that mean “upon” and “a support.”
a. “To make to lean upon” is usually translated “strengthen.”
b. When we visualize it, a particular kind of strengthening comes to mind, one in which an object or a person serves as a prop.
2. The thought is so precious to us that we have sung about it and prayed for it many a time.
In fact, one of our favorite hymns begins:
“Be with me, Lord–I cannot live without Thee,
I dare not try to take one step alone,
I cannot bear the loads of life, unaided,
I need Thy strength to lean myself upon.”
3. As if to endorse that petition, in the middle of Acts we often find the servants of the Lord occupied with the task of strengthening.
a. Acts 14:22 – “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”
b. Acts 15:32 – “And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words.”
c. Acts 15:41 – “And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.”
d. Acts 16:5 – “So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.”
e. Acts 18:23 – “After spending some time there, he departed and went from one place to the next through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.”
4. Why is strengthening so necessary? The circumstances out of which this work grew may answer the question.
a. The kingdom must be entered through many tribulations.
i. Many of the places where Paul went to strengthen souls were places where he had already enduring much suffering.
ii. It would take strength to persevere in something that brought difficulty upon you.
iii. Observe that faith is not merely a crutch for a time of trouble; it is something which itself requires strength.
b. Enthusiasm for a new course, particularly if it does not bring immediate gratification, wanes with time.
i. A new believer can be like a plant without deep roots when the hot, dry times come along.
ii. It’s no wonder that we find new believers being exhorted to stay with it.
(1) Acts 11:23 – “When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose.”
(2) Acts 13:43 – “And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God.”
c. There were always some at work to draw people away from the faith.
i. Some would contradict the truth out of jealousy (Acts 13:45). Some insisted that the grace of the Lord Jesus could not save unless the customs of Moses were added to it (15:1, 11). Some were wolves who just wanted a following for themselves (20:29, 30).
ii. If a person was to continue in the faith, both personalities and plausible arguments would have to be dealt with successfully.
iii. To do that, anyone would have to be grounded and strong.
5. In spite of these circumstances, disciples could be strengthened. The actions of the Lord’s servants in these same sections of Acts gives us a view of how it may be done.
a. Teaching that encourages people to continue in the truth they have believed is basic to strengthening souls.
i. Strength cannot be imparted through wishful thinking.
ii. Believers are encouraged and strengthened either by being instructed in, or by being reminded of, words that are true (14:23; 15:31-32; 16:4-5).
iii. Strength is present when a believer is able to apply the word to distinguish between good and evil (Heb. 5:14), and when he loves the good.
b. Mature examples are an important element in strengthening.
i. Aside from what he said, what must it have meant to the disciples at Lystra when Paul, having been stoned there and dragged out of their city and left for dead, came back to strengthen them (16:19, 21-22)?
ii. What did it mean to the elders from Ephesus when he could say that he had shown them that by working hard we must help the weak (20:35)?
iii. The New Testament never says that examples will convert a single soul; it does say that we must be examples to each other of what a believer is (1 Tim. 4:12).
c. Awareness of what the Lord is doing through his people strengthens.
i. When Paul and Barnabas had fulfilled the work to which they had been sent, they came back, gathered the church together, and “declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles” (14:26-27).
ii. A similar pattern is followed in Acts 15:3, 12; the Lord even did this kind of thing for Paul himself in Acts 18:9.
iii. Is it possible to be strong without hearing of positive things happening?
d. Being together is a source of strength for the soul of an individual and for the heart of a church.
i. This section of Acts shows the church being gathered to receive workers home and to send them out, to come to one accord about what had to be done, to remember the Lord and to reinforce each other.
ii. Acts 20:7 is an example of several of these things.
iii. None of us can remain strong enough by ourselves (1 Thes. 3:13).
e. Prayer, of course, is crucial to strengthening the brothers.
i. It is how the Lord’s people are “committed...to the Lord in whom they had believed” (14:23).
ii. It occurs in some remarkable scenes through this part of Acts.
(1) Acts 16:25
(2) Acts 20:36-37
(3) Acts 21:5-6
iii. Not surprisingly, Paul often expressed his prayers for the strengthening of the churches in his letters (Col. 1:11; Eph. 3:15-16).
6. The secret of strength is to be made to lean upon him who strengthens us to do whatever we should (Phil. 4:13).
7. “But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me...” (2 Tim. 4:17).