Episterizo: Paul’s Roadside Pursuit

Word of the Week

May 11, 2024

Epistērizō: Paul’s Perpetual Pursuit


And after spending some time there, he left and passed successively through the Galatian region and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.

Acts 18:23 NASB2000


When we drive across country, we don’t deviate much from the direct route.  We stop for gas or restrooms, but we hit the road again and head for our target destination.  For us, it’s “Birmingham or Bust”!

However, when the apostle Paul started a road trip, he purposefully planned to make meaningful stops along the way.  He had a clear destination in mind – perhaps Ephesus or Rome.  He was flexible, listening to the guidance of the Spirit, who sometimes changed the plan.

What did Paul do when he was on the Roman road?  He didn’t stop to check out the tourist attractions or lounge by the pool.  No, he had a strategy that governed the steps along the way.

Four times in the book of Acts, we encounter a Greek word that sums up Paul’s agenda between his major destinations.  The word is epistērizō [eh-pee-stay-RID-zoh].  It is usually translated as “strengthen,” and it was one of Paul’s favorite pastimes.

It is an intensive form of a verb built on the Greek word atērix, which means a prop or support, something that helps something bear a heavier weight.

We could use it to describe installing a bracket to provide support for a shelf, but in the New Testament, epistērizō is something you do for people, not shelves.  You do what is necessary to help people stay strong in the face of difficulties and opposition.  It is the process of building grit, the tenacity that keeps going even when the hill is steep and your energy is waning.

Psychologist Angela Duckworth’s book Grit argues that the greatest indicator of success is not talent, but the combination of passion and persistence that she calls “grit.”

The apostle  Paul knew that there were fledgling clusters of Christians who needed to develop that kind of staying power.  As a result, his travel plans always left room to visit groups of young believers so that he could help them grow stronger.

We can see this as we follow Paul on his travels:

  1. First missionary journey – Paul and Barnabas preached in several cities in Galatia (south central Turkey) winning many converts and many enemies. They were expelled from more than one town, and once Paul was stoned and left for dead.  Courageously, they continued preaching the gospel until they ended up in a town at the east end of the region.  They had accomplished their goal of preaching in this region, and they could have just kept going east,, back home to Antioch where they would receive a warm welcome.  But that’s not what they choose.  Paul makes a U-turn and heads back west, retracing his steps, back through the towns where he had so much trouble.

What does he do there?  He strengthens them.  Acts 14:22 says he went to each town “strengthening the souls of the disciples.”  Specifically, he encouraged them to continue in the faith, telling them “It is through many tribulations that we must enter the kingdom of God.”  These new believers faced opposition, and Paul went there to stiffen their resolve, to help them continue strong in the faith.

  1. The Law controversy – Between journeys, Paul found himself in Jerusalem arguing against those who wanted to drag Gentile converts back under the bondage of Jewish law. After a long debate, the church leaders agreed that salvation was a matter of God’s grace alone.  Gentiles were free from the Law’s restrictions. The council wrote up the decision and sent it back to Antioch and the other churches populated by Gentile believers.  Along with the letter, the Jerusalem leaders sent a couple of trusted emissaries, Silas and Judas, to confirm Paul’s account.

Once the letter was delivered, these men had accomplished their errand. They could have simply returned to Jerusalem.  But like Paul, they knew how they wanted to maximize their ministry.  As long as they were here, they would contribute to strengthening the church.  Acts 15:32 says that both men were prophets, so they gave a lengthy message to encourage and strengthen the church in Antioch.

3.  Second journey – Paul and Silas left on another church-planting trip. Their original destination was Ephesus, but the Holy Spirit rerouted them to Greece.  To get there, they had to travel through their home province of Syria and the neighboring province of Cilicia.  This could have been a time to take it easy, saving their strength for the major evangelistic thrust ahead of them.  However, that’s not what they did.  Acts 15:41 tells us that they used that first leg of the trip to strengthen the churches in those two provinces.  Far be it from Paul to simply pass through town!  As long as he was here, he was going to contribute to the churches he encountered.  He aimed to leave every believer stronger because of his contact with them.

  1. Third journey – Veteran of two major missions campaigns, Paul has enjoyed a time of rest, but now he is primed for a third trip. This time he aims for Ephesus, the city he missed onan earlier trip.  This is a crucial project, one which will last two years and will result in the gospel spreading to the entire province.  Surely it is a project that could demand your full attention.

However, as he begins his journey, his path takes him through the regions where he had started churches on his first trip:  Galatia and Phrygia.  And rather than rushing to his ultimate destination, he takes the time to linger.  What is he doing?  “Strengthening all the disciples” (Acts 18:23).

Some of us are goal-oriented.  Once we lock onto an objective, it is hard to divert our attention to other priorities.  Paul seems to be a very purposeful person.  But he knew that the goal was not just to multiply believers.  It was to produce churches filled with people who were growing stronger in their faith and in their walk with the Lord.  People who would be faithful, who would stay strong in spite of the difficulties.

It’s a good reminder for us.   We may be keenly focused on a big objective, but we will be most like our Lord if we plan to do what we can along the way to help others to grow strong.


Study Hint:

Our word this week is an intensified form of a Greek verb that is definitely worth studying separately.  The word is stērizō, which also means to set up, establish, strengthen, support.  It occurs 13 times in the New Testament.  It was used to describe Christ’s decision to “set his face” toward Jerusalem, inflexibly committing Himself to go to the cross (Luke 9:51).  And it was also used to describe the great gulf “fixed” between Lazarus and the rich man in Christ’s parable (Luke 16:26).  Most of the verses use it to describe the moral strength that refuses to be moved or discouraged.


Coming Up

James 5 says that we have heard of the “patience of Job,” yet he doesn’t always sound patient.  The book of Job records a long string of discourses where Job is complaining about his fate.  Next week, we will look at this verse more closely to find out whether it is OK to complain about our fate.

©Ezra Project 2024




One Response

  1. As believers, we encouraged by the word and Christ to be strong and not get discouraged as we go about our days doing the will of God. And we’re to encourage others in our pursuits.

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