December 12, 2015.
Daily reading: Acts 15-18.
Background: Acts 13-14.
Concepts and Connections.
1. The Jerusalem counsel: As Paul and Barnabas return from their first missionary journey and proceeded to tell the Jewish believers in Antioch all that God had done for the Gentiles through them, there were some men who were of the circumcision party who came down from Judea saying that everyone had to be circumcised to be saved, including the Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas debated this teaching sternly with the circumcision party and a decision was made to go to call a counsel in Jerusalem with the Apostles and Elders (with the whole church, see v. 22) to come to a conclusion on the matter. This counsel is important as it is one of the earliest known counsels that is called in Christianity when a large problem or question arises. Paul and Barnabas declared all that and been done among the Gentiles when they got to Jerusalem, but some Pharisees (who were believers in Jesus) declared that the Gentiles must be circumcised. Even in Jerusalem there was much debate, which culminated in Peter silencing the crowd with his testimony of bringing salvation to the Gentiles with the example of Cornelius (see Acts 10-11) and telling those of the circumcision party that they were putting a yoke on these believers that God had accepted just as He had accepted them, a yoke that not even them or their Jewish fathers had been able to bear. Peter focuses then on his trust in the grace of the Lord Jesus which is able to save the Jew and the Gentile alike.
After Peter silenced the crowd, Paul and Barnabas were able to relate more of everything that God had done through them. James, the brother of Jesus and a strong leader in the Jerusalem church (see Galatians 1:18-20), stood and concluded the matter, commenting on Peter’s work with the Gentiles and quoting a prophecy of Amos that confirmed that it had always been the plan of God to include the Gentiles in salvation (see Amos 9:11). He concludes that they should not trouble these Gentile converts with the burden of circumcision (or most of the physical tenants of the Law for that matter, which implies the Jewish Christians continuance in these at least to some degree), but only that they abstain from things offered to idols, sexual immorality, what has been strangled and from eating blood. Note here that the apostles, elders and the whole church were in agreement with James’ words here, and a letter was written to the Gentiles concerning their judgment, sending Judas (called Barsabbas), Silas, Paul, Barnabas and other men to deliver the letter. This is one of the earliest records of a Christian letter we have. When they read the letter in Antioch, the believers rejoiced because of it, and the men stayed for some time to encourage the people. Paul and Barnabas stayed even longer after these men returned to Jerusalem, to preach and teach the word of the Lord.
2. Paul and Barnabas’ disagreement: Eventually, Paul and Barnabas decided to go on a second missionary journey, returning to the places they had preached the word on the first missionary journey to see how the brethren were doing. However, as they were deciding how to proceed, Barnabas wanted to take John Mark with them, who had only gone part of the way on the first missionary journey before returning (see Acts 13:13). Whereas Barnabas had faith in John Mark to give him a second chance (as seems to be his character throughout the book of Acts, believing in people when no one else does, see Acts 9:27), Paul was unwilling to take John Mark with them because of what had happened on the first missionary journey. They came to a sharp disagreement about this subject, even to the point where they separated and went different ways, Barnabas with John Mark and Paul with Silas. Many see this example as showing that it is okay to disagree on some things and still be brethren, though it is not explicitly said here that this contention was considered good by the Lord. Fortunately, there is some evidence to suggest that Paul and Barnabas eventually made peace, as Paul would later commend John Mark, requesting his presence and saying that he is very useful to him (see II Timothy 4:11). Paul also mentions Mark in his letter to the Colossians, perhaps implying even that he was currently with him (see Colossians 4:10-11). It seems that Barnabas made the better decision about John Mark, providing him an opportunity to grow in the Lord.
The beginning of the second missionary journey: As Paul and Silas set out on the second missionary journey, they god to Lystra and meet a young man named Timothy who would become very important to Paul as time went on, even calling him his child in the faith (see I Timothy 1:2). Paul asks Timothy to join them on their journey and, interestingly, circumcises him because everyone knew his father was a Greek. Even though the Jerusalem counsel had established that this was not necessary for the Gentiles, it seems that Paul might have wanted to avoid the argument with Jewish believers all together as this was not the focus of his teaching. Or perhaps Timothy would not be allowed into the synagogs where they were going to preach the good news about Christ to the Jews who were not believers yet. Regardless, Timothy is circumcised and accompanies Paul and Silas on their journey.
They continued on their way, teaching the decisions of the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, and when they were in Troas Paul received what is sometimes referred to as the Macedonian call, a vision calling them to go over and help the people in Macedonia. Paul decides that this is the Spirit calling them to spread the gospel in Macedonia, so they set sail and eventually wind up in Philippi, a major city of Macedonia. Notice the pronoun change here from “they” to “we,” implying that Luke, the author of Acts, joined the missionary group in Troas and began traveling with them. It seems that Luke traveled with them to Philippi and then he goes back to using the pronoun “they.”
On the Sabbath day, they went outside the gate to the “place of prayer” and spoke with the women that had gathered there to pray. Amongst the women was one named Lydia, a seller of purple, of whom the Lord opened her heart to listen to Paul, and when she believed and was baptized, she asked the missionaries to stay in her house for some days. They stayed with her and continued back out to the place of prayer. As they were going out, a slave girl who was possessed with a spirit of divination (who was very lucrative to her owners) followed Paul and those with him, crying out that they were servants of the Most High God and proclaimed the way of salvation. Though these statements were true, Paul became greatly annoyed with her cries and rebuked the spirit from her. This would get him in trouble as when the owners saw that he had rebuked the spirit and they would no longer be able to make money off of her, they got very angry and dragged them into the city, proclaiming to the magistrates that these men were disturbing the city and teaching unlawful customs. Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown in the inner prison, fastened in stocks.
The Lord would use this bad turn of evens for His glory, however, as a He caused a great earthquake to come in the middle of the night when Paul and Silas were singing and praying to Him, shaking the foundations of the prison, opening the doors and loosening the chains of the prisoners. When the jailor say that the doors were open, he drew his sword to kill himself, as he would certainly face this fate or worse from the Roman government for letting the prisoners escape. Before he kills himself, however, Paul cried out to him, telling him to do no harm to himself, for they were all still there. The jailer springs in with a light and immediately asks what he must do to be saved. He had likely heard Paul and Silas singing and praying and put this together with the earthquake. Paul tells him that He has to believe in the Lord Jesus to be saved, and then goes to preach this Jesus to him and his household. It is important to note here that Paul doesn’t say much about anything else that the jailer would need to do to accept the grace of Christ most probably because the jailer and his household didn’t even know who Jesus was yet. After Paul and Silas teach him and his house the ways of the Lord, they are immediately baptized and began to rejoice. Note the joy that the gospel brings with it.
On the next day, the magistrates of the city who had thrown Paul and Silas in the prison sent the police to release them. But Paul was not going to leave without making a point. They had thrown them in publicly, and he wanted them to come get them out publicly as well. Then he subtly (though undoubtedly intentionally) mentions that they are Roman citizens. When the magistrates hear this, they are very afraid because they had thrown Roman citizens in prison, and they come and apologize to them and ask them to leave the city. They go out and visit Lydia, encourage the brothers and then depart on their way to their next destination.
Thessalonica, Berea and Athens: Continuing on, Paul, Silas and Timothy find there way to Thessalonica where they go into the synagogue of the Jews on the Sabbath days as was their custom, reasoning from the Scriptures about the death and resurrection of the Messiah, and how the Messiah was Jesus. Some of the Jews believed them, as did some devout Greeks and leading women, and joined them. The other Jews, however, got jealous and stirred up the crowds agains them, causing a scene. They couldn’t find Paul and his company, so they dragged out Jason and some of the other believers in the city and set them before the authorities. Before things got too out of hand, Paul and his company were sent by night to Berea.
In Berea, they had more success as the Jews in Berea were said to be more noble than those in Thessalonica, eagerly receiving the word and studying the Scriptures daily to see if the things that Paul and Silas were saying were true or not. We can take lesson from these nobel Jews as we too should study the Scriptures daily to see if what we are being taught is indeed true. Many Jews, Greeks and leading women in Berea believed. However, when the Jews from Thessalonica heard that Paul and Silas were teaching in Berea, they came to Berea and once again stirred up the crowds against them, causing Paul to be sent off to Athens. Silas and Timothy stayed in Berea for some time, however, until Paul called for them again from Athens.
Athens was a city full of philosophers and idols. As Paul was waiting on Timothy and Silas, he did what he was accustomed to and reasoned with the Jews, devout people and really anyone he could to spread the gospel. Some of the philosophers began to talk with him and get interested in what he was saying, for he was teaching something new. The people of Athens were constantly listening to new things and talking about different gods and ideologies. They brought Paul to the Areopagus (sometimes called Mars hill), which was a meeting place of the court of Athens where many decisions were made. Paul was convicted to teach them about Jesus there, and he begins with what he noticed from their culture. This is an important thing to notice, as it shows that Paul was culturally aware when he spoke to different groups, and he even quotes from their own poets here, showing that he had knowledge of their belief system and thoughts (verse 28 likely contains a couple of quotes from Greek poet/philosophers they would have known). He takes opportunity in their altar made to the “unknown god,” which he preaches to them as the God who made the world and everything in it. Since He is sovereign and made everything through His own power and will, Paul explains that He does not live in the temples made by men, nor is He served by men’s hands. He is the giver of life, and He does not require anything from us. He made us. With this in mind, Paul is making the case that the Creator is not like any gold, silver or stone image formed by the creation. He says in the previous times, God overlooked this ignorance, but now He commands all men everywhere to repent, for the day of judgment was coming when the righteous would be resurrected. Some mocked him when he spoke of resurrection, but others said they wanted to hear him speak again. Still, some people from Athens believed and joined Paul.
The end of the second missionary journey: From Athens, Paul travels to Corinth, where he would meet two Jews named Aquila and Priscilla and stay with them in their house, for he was of the same trade as them (they were all tentmakers). The city of Corinth would become very dear to Paul, as he would hold the church that he would start here very dear to his heart. As usual, Paul continually went into the synagogue every Sabbath, attempting to persuade both Jews and Greeks that Jesus was the Messiah. Silas and Timothy rejoin Paul at Corinth and find him occupied with this teaching. Many Jews opposed and reviled Paul, and with this he symbolically shakes his garments and says that from that point on he would go to the Gentiles. He proclaims his innocence as he had expounded to them the whole truth, but they had rejected it. He stayed with a man named Justice who lived next to the synagogue, and the ruler of the synagogue and his house believed and were baptized. Many Corinthians believed and were baptized at Paul’s teaching, and the Lord assured Paul in a vision that he should continue boldly proclaiming the word, for there were many in the city that where His and He would protect Paul. Thus, Paul stayed a year and a half in Corinth, teaching and strengthening them.
Eventually the Jews once again made a united attack against Paul and brought him before the tribunal accusing him of teaching things that were contrary to law. But when Gallio heard their complaint, he stopped Paul from even making a defense because he did not care about their law and was unwilling to make a judgment by it, and he drove them from the tribunal. Sosthenes, the chief leader of the synagogue, was seized by the mob and beaten, but Gallio didn’t even care about this. Paul stayed in Corinth for many days longer before he returned to Antioch, accompanied by Aquila and Pricilla (at least to Ephesus). It is interesting to note that Paul is under a vow during this time, perhaps a Nazarite vow (see Numbers 6). Paul continued on after going to Antioch, traveling through the region of Galatia and Phrygia to strengthen the disciples.
While Paul traveled on, there was a Jew in Ephesus named Apollos who was competent in the scriptures and had been taught in the way of Jesus, but only knew about the baptism of John. When Priscilla and Aquila heard his bold teaching, they took him aside and explained the way of God more accurately (see Acts 19:1-7). This is a good model of how to correct a brother in Christ, not doing so in a condescending way, or publicly embarrassing them, but rather taking them aside and reaching truth together. Apollos was a great asset to the disciples at Achaia, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public and showed that the Christ was Jesus by way of Scripture. He is a great role model for boldness, study and application.
Tomorrow’s Reading II John.
Study the Scriptures.