In the previous chapter we left off at the scene where the Apostles and elders in Jerusalem had defused an extremely divisive situation at the church in Antioch by sending a letter instructing these brethren that, contrary to certain incorrect teachings, Gentile converts to Christianity did not need to be circumcised before they could become Christians. This idea had been promoted by Jewish Pharisees who themselves had converted to Christianity but wanted to impose their former Jewish legalism on Gentile proselytes. Their idea was that in order to become a Christian, which was an offshoot of Judaism, you needed to keep the Jewish Law and the most obvious sign of this was the rite of circumcision. This false idea was repudiated by the leaders in Jerusalem and they informed the brethren of their decision in a letter delivered by Paul, Barnabas, Silas and Barsabbas.
Their decision also confirmed and approved the work that Paul and Barnabas had done among the Gentiles and gave it legitimacy among the brotherhood, otherwise there would not have been a second or third missionary effort. After delivering the letter to the church, Luke writes that Paul, Barnabas and now Silas remained in Antioch teaching the church there, probably reinforcing the ideas sent in the letter and undoing some of the doctrinal confusion caused by the teachers of the circumcision. This issue, however, would continue to plague the early church (Paul speaks of it in Galatians 5:12 and in the letter to the Colossians 2:11-17).
Paul's Second Missionary Journey - Acts 15:36-18:22
After a time in Antioch, Paul proposes that he and Barnabas return to the field in order to strengthen the churches they planted on their previous journey. Barnabas and Paul have a disagreement over bringing Barnabas' cousin, John Mark, with them. The issue is settled as Paul chooses Silas to work with him, and Barnabas takes John Mark under his wing and returns to the work in Cyprus, his previous home.
This is only speculation, but it seems that Paul had outgrown the mentor-student relationship that he had with Barnabas. Silas, referred to as a prophet in verse 32, was a more suitable partner for him now. John Mark, on the other hand, still affected by his failure to keep up on the first journey but willing to try again, was in need of a good teacher and mentor like Barnabas. Through God's providential care an incident that threatened to break up one team of missionaries actually produced two teams, and we know that John Mark went on to serve both Paul and then Peter in later years (writing the Gospel of Mark which was primarily a summary of Peter's experiences with Jesus).
Timothy is Recruited
41And he was traveling through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
1Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, 2and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. 3Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4Now while they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe. 5So the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily.
- Acts 15:41-16:5
We see that at the beginning of their journey their objectives were twofold:
- To read and explain the letter sent by the Apostles to the churches concerning circumcision.
- To strengthen the faith of young Christians in the churches that Paul and Barnabas had originally planted.
Timothy joins their mission and was given the tasks originally done by John Mark. Note that despite championing the right of Gentiles to become Christians without the obligation to be circumcised, Paul does circumcise Timothy (whose father was Greek and a non-believer). This was necessary, not for Timothy to become a Christian as he was already a member of the church, but required to enter synagogues where the uncircumcised were not permitted, and where Paul often preached. In addition to this, it was known that Timothy's father was a Gentile.
The Spirit's Guidance
6They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; 7and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; 8and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. 9A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." 10When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
- Acts 16:6-10
From their starting point of Antioch in Syria, the distance to the city of Troas is approximately 785 miles (1,263 kilometers). Luke describes the trip in a few verses, but their overland route could have taken them several months. The Roman road system permitted fairly safe travel and people like Paul walked some 15-20 miles per day (24-32 kilometers), staying in inns, homes of friends or synagogues.
Aside from the work in the churches that they had established on their first trip, much of their journey turns out to be a failed attempt to go eastward. The "Spirit preventing them" could mean a variety of setbacks or obstacles that kept them from preaching the gospel in that region. For example, washed out bridges, no available synagogues, illness or insufficient finances could explain their lack of success. Once they arrived at the coastal city of Troas, however, Paul has a vision that finally provides the direction they were seeking. The dream is general in nature (come to Macedonia), but no details of who to contact or where to go specifically are provided. Paul's faith, however, is strong enough to act based on this limited instruction.
In his vision, Paul sees a man of Macedonia calling out to him for help. The Apostle and his companions set out from Troas and head for Philippi, which was a leading city in the Macedonian region. Once there, they seek out a place where Jews might gather and thus provide him with an opportunity to preach.
13And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled.
14A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. 15And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us.
- Acts 16:13-15
In the following verses (Acts 16:16-24) Luke describes an incident that resembles what took place in Cyprus during the first missionary journey. There Paul struck blind a sorcerer who was trying to hinder his work. In Philippi he casts out an evil spirit from a girl who had been following them and drawing attention to their ministry. Paul, not wanting a witness from a girl possessed of an evil spirit, quiets her by casting it out. This led to a riot stirred up by the girl's handlers who made a living using her occult skills. Paul and Silas are dragged before the judge, beaten and then put into prison with their feet locked in stocks. The only difference here is that their imprisonment was not caused by the Jews this time.
25But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; 26and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were unfastened. 27When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!" 29And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, 30and after he brought them out, he said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"
31They said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." 32And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. 33And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. 34And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household.
- Acts 16:25-34
Notice that the jailor had some knowledge of the faith because the earthquake and the fact that none of the prisoners escaped moved him to ask the same question that the crowd on Pentecost Sunday asked of Peter, "Brethren what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37).
Luke records only a summary of what Paul taught him. Notice, however, that the very first thing the jailor does after confessing his faith in Christ is submit to baptism, just like the crowd in Jerusalem on Pentecost Sunday. Luke does not mention Paul teaching the jailor and his household about baptism, but the fact that this is the first thing he does after acknowledging his belief tells us that baptism was part of the gospel message.
35Now when day came, the chief magistrates sent their policemen, saying, "Release those men." 36And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, "The chief magistrates have sent to release you. Therefore come out now and go in peace." 37But Paul said to them, "They have beaten us in public without trial, men who are Romans, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they sending us away secretly? No indeed! But let them come themselves and bring us out." 38The policemen reported these words to the chief magistrates. They were afraid when they heard that they were Romans, 39and they came and appealed to them, and when they had brought them out, they kept begging them to leave the city. 40They went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.
- Acts 16:35-40
An interesting postscript here is that when the magistrates sought to release Paul and his co-worker quietly, he reminds them of his Roman citizenship and the illegal manner in which they were treated, and thus refuses to go unless publicly set free by the judges themselves. He did this to guard against someone, in a future attack, accusing him of escaping from jail instead of his lawful release. And so, he and Silas leave the jail publicly and legally. They then pay a farewell visit to Lydia and move on to another location in order to preach the gospel.
1Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2And according to Paul's custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ." 4And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women. 5But the Jews, becoming jealous and taking along some wicked men from the market place, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar; and attacking the house of Jason, they were seeking to bring them out to the people. 6When they did not find them, they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, "These men who have upset the world have come here also; 7and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus." 8They stirred up the crowd and the city authorities who heard these things. 9And when they had received a pledge from Jason and the others, they released them.
- Acts 17:1-9
Do we see a pattern here?
- Paul arrives at a city and finds a place where he can preach.
- Some believe and others do not.
- Those who believe follow Paul and receive more teaching, those who disbelieve cause trouble.
- Paul leaves or escapes, and the cycle repeats itself in another location.
Despite the trouble, however, a church is planted in Thessalonica.
Berea (Acts 17:10-14)
Berea is the exception to this cycle that proves the rule. The Jews in this place are eager to hear Paul and consider everything according to Scripture. Many Jews are converted along with Greek proselytes to Judaism. Unfortunately, this fruitful work is upset as the familiar cycle is repeated. This time, however, it is not the Bereans who cause the trouble, but Jews from Thessalonica who come to disrupt Paul's ministry among the Bereans. The brethren there spirit him safely out of town leaving Timothy and Silas to continue the work in Berea for a time.
Athens (Acts 17:15-34)
15Now those who escorted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they left.
16Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. 17So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present. 18And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, "What would this idle babbler wish to say?" Others, "He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,"—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, "May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? 20For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean." 21(Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.)
- Act 17:15-21
What is interesting about Paul's time in Athens is that no church was planted upon his arrival and early work preaching in the synagogue. Luke only records that Paul "reasoned with the Jews and Gentile converts," but there is no mention of anyone believing or being baptized, and there is no record of any response as a result of his preaching in the public square early in his ministry there.
Instead, Luke records the invitation and speech Paul delivers at Mars Hill. This was significant because it was his first and most direct contact with the elite philosophers and thinkers of that day.
First, a little background information:
- Mars Hill is a Roman name for a hill located in Athens.
- In the Greek it was called Hill of Ares, the god of war (known to the Romans as Mars) and thus the name Mars Hill.
- The Areopagus was the supreme council or "upper council," a body of elected officials (elected for life like the Supreme Court Justices in the USA), who met at this location.
- These men were the great and famous of Athens who gathered to judge only those cases dealing with homicides. They also traded the newest ideas in philosophy, religion and other areas of human thinking and knowledge.
And so, on that day they were gathered to hear about this new "religion," this new "teaching" as befitting the rich and powerful who are, in every generation, the first to come into contact with new ideas. This is Paul's first speech to a large, influential and completely pagan audience. He will not argue his case from the prophets or Scriptures as he has done previously with his Jewish audiences.
22So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. 23For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.' Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. 24The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; 26and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, 27that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we also are His children.' 29Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. 30Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead."
- Acts 17:22-31
Note that Paul bases his speech on their notion of God, which was pantheistic since they had many gods. His first objective is to move them from the concept of many gods to the idea of one God. Next, he explains that this one God is the source of everything that exists and is not dependent on man, nor is His nature human or material. His following point is that God requires certain things from His creation which includes man, and at some point will judge the world (something that his audience of judges could relate to). Finally, he introduces Christ and His resurrection but is not able to finish because they cut him off at this point.
32Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, "We shall hear you again concerning this." 33So Paul went out of their midst. 34But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.
- Acts 17:32-34
Up to the moment where he introduced the resurrection of Jesus, Paul's speech was well received since the points he made demonstrated a logical and superior way to think about divine beings. For example, one God versus many gods; an all-powerful God versus the demi-gods of Greek myth; a God who creates man versus man creating his own god; and finally, a righteous God dispensing justice versus weak and imperfect men dispensing justice. Of course, they balked at the idea of the resurrection of Jesus because although they believed in an afterlife for the soul, they considered the flesh evil and a hinderance to the journey of the soul which was released when the material body died. The concept of a human body resurrecting from the dead (something accepted by faith) seemed ridiculous and useless to them since their afterlife belief centered on the soul leaving the body in which it was trapped. They dismissed Paul but not before two prominent people and other individuals believed and followed after him for more teaching, showing that God's word and message never return empty.
Corinth (Acts 18:1-22)
1After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth. 2And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them, 3and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working, for by trade they were tent-makers. 4And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.
- Acts 18:1-4
Luke includes a fascinating glimpse into the every day life of Paul, how he got around, how he financed some of his travel, and the conditions in which he lived.
Aquila and his wife, Priscilla, are introduced here and we will see them again later on in the narrative. Note also Luke's attention to historical detail mentioning not only the city the three of them are in (Corinth) but also a time marker (Claudius expelling Jews from Rome - Claudius reigned from 44-54 AD).
5But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. 6But when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said to them, "Your blood be on your own heads! I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles." 7Then he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God, whose house was next to the synagogue. 8Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized. 9And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, "Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; 10for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city." 11And he settled there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
- Acts 18:5-11
Paul remains in Corinth for 18 months after the Lord encourages him to stay and preach. Several prominent Jews are converted as well as Gentiles, but when the unbelieving Jews resist and blaspheme, Paul shifts his efforts exclusively to the Gentiles. He is also preaching full-time now that Silas and Timothy have come to help him.
12But while Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him before the judgment seat, 13saying, "This man persuades men to worship God contrary to the law." 14But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, "If it were a matter of wrong or of vicious crime, O Jews, it would be reasonable for me to put up with you; 15but if there are questions about words and names and your own law, look after it yourselves; I am unwilling to be a judge of these matters." 16And he drove them away from the judgment seat. 17And they all took hold of Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and began beating him in front of the judgment seat. But Gallio was not concerned about any of these things.
- Acts 18:12-17
After a long period of uninterrupted ministry, the old cycle of opposition from the Jews begins again and Paul is arrested. The judge releases the Apostle seeing that this is not a civil case but a religious dispute.
18Paul, having remained many days longer, took leave of the brethren and put out to sea for Syria, and with him were Priscilla and Aquila. In Cenchrea he had his hair cut, for he was keeping a vow. 19They came to Ephesus, and he left them there. Now he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20When they asked him to stay for a longer time, he did not consent, 21but taking leave of them and saying, "I will return to you again if God wills," he set sail from Ephesus.
22When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and went down to Antioch.
- Acts 18:18-22
Luke writes that Paul continued to minister once acquitted at trial, but after a year and a half felt that it was time to return home. He brings Aquila and Priscilla with him and leaves them in Ephesus where he spends little time but promises to return. Paul finishes his second missionary journey by greeting the church at Caesarea where the port of entry was located and then makes his way north to his home congregation of Antioch to report on his mission and rest from his travels.
It is possible to have a dispute without a division.
The disagreement between Paul and Barnabas is rather typical in the church: two brothers really invested in the work disagree about how to proceed. Here is a situation where Satan could have driven a wedge between these two men leading to a division in the church. Note, however, that there was no division, and no one left the church.
I believe that they brought their problem to the church leadership for resolution. In Acts 15:40 it says,
But Paul chose Silas and left, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord.
Luke mentions this to underscore the fact that the church was aware of and blessed the resolution that these men had come to.
My point here is that we should bring church matters to the elders when there are disputes and offenses. This is both a good way to seek resolutions and to guard against divisions which often lead to the breaking of fellowship between brethren over petty things.
You do not need to know the last step before you take the first step.
Paul was looking for direction after the door of opportunity closed for his preaching in the eastern regions. His prayer for direction was eventually answered by the vision of the man calling for help in Macedonia.
At that time Macedonia was a region of 10,000 sq. miles (29,500 sq. kilometers) with its main city, Philippi, having a population of 10,000-20,000 people. Talk about finding a needle in a haystack! However, Paul knew that the direction was west and not east, and the territory was Macedonia. He trusted the Lord for further direction when this would be needed. For now, he demonstrated his faith by leaving Troas and heading to Macedonia. We have just read that he eventually found the city, the people and the work when he needed to.
Some people will not take the first step in following the Lord unless He shows them all the following steps to reach their goal. This is called "walking by sight" not "walking by faith." Usually the first step is a step of faith and God will not show us the next step or the final step unless we take that first step of faith. We like to play it safe and not launch out unless success is guaranteed at the starting gate. However, a life devoted to Christ often requires that we take a first step of faith before He reveals the next step or the final goal.
If the Lord calls you to something you can be sure of two things:
- If He is the one calling, you will have to walk by faith in order to answer the call.
- If He is the one calling, He will provide everything you will need in due time.
- Explain in your own words why circumcision is not necessary to become a Christian today.
- Write a paragraph describing what a typical day in heaven will be like.
- In your opinion, what is the most difficult thing about Christianity for non-believers to accept? Why?