bible-wornThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (also here).

Acts 18:5-11

5 When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue. 8 Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” 11 And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

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Last week’s entry introduced Corinth, a corrupt, vice-filled centre of trade and government.

My post also provided information about Priscilla and her husband Aquila, fellow tent makers with whom Paul lodged during his lengthy stay in Corinth. Aquila was a converted Jew. Scholars are unclear as to whether Priscilla — full name Prisca — was a converted Jew or Gentile. The couple were exiled from Rome along with other Jews, by edict of the emperor Claudius.

Some will ask if there really was a church in Rome at that time. Scholars say that there was, and that it could have started after Roman visitors to Jerusalem for the first Pentecost returned and told their fellow Jews about Christ. This led to dissension among Roman Jews over ‘Chrestus’. Dissension turned into riots, and that is why Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome. Paul and Peter later gave the church in Rome a defined structure with strong doctrinal foundations. See my post for more detail.

Last week’s post also discussed Paul’s stay in Athens, where Silas and Timothy met up with him as instructed. It is thought Paul sent them back to shepherd the churches in Philippi and Thessalonica, respectively.

At this point, Paul sent for Silas and Timothy to be with him in Corinth, where he had been preaching to the Jews in the synagogue that Christ was Jesus — the Messiah (verse 5).

Their reunion was a happy one indeed, as both brought Paul good tidings. Timothy reported that the church in Thessalonica was growing. Silas also brought with him a monetary gift from the Philippians. John MacArthur explains that Paul mentioned both in his letters. Paul wrote to the Philippians and the Thessalonians during his time in Corinth (emphases mine below):

Look at Philippians chapter 4. Now he’s writing to the Philippians. Now, you Philippians know, also, that in the beginning … “When I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me as concerning giving and receiving but you only.” Now, wait a minute. Stop right there. The Philippian church sent him money, didn’t they? No church supported me but you Philippians. How did that money get to them? Go to 2 Corinthians 11:9.

This is exciting. Watch this. He said, “When I was present with you, and lacked, I was chargeable to no man. For that which was lacking to me, the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied. And in all things, I have kept myself from being burdensome.” The brethren who came from Macedonia brought him this. Now, apparently, Silas and Timothy, verse 5 of Acts 18: When Timothy and Silas were come from Macedonia, they’re a friend. I have some brethren from Macedonia.

So Silas had gone to Philippi, and the Philippian church had taken a love offering, and he brought that, and Timothy brought news that the Thessalonians were moving out and growing. Listen, now you know why that was a joyous reunion. It was terrific.

In 1 Thessalonians 3:6, listen to this. Now watch, here’s some more historical notes. As soon as Timothy arrives, he says, “Paul, the gang in Thessalonica is growing, and they’re comforted, and they’re strong.” And he was so excited. Paul sat right down and took out his little whatever he wrote with, and he wrote 1 Thessalonians. 1 Thessalonians was written right there in verse 5 of Acts 18:5. when Timothy and Silas arrived, Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians.

You know what he says to them? Listen to this: 1 Thessalonians 3:6, “But now when Timothy came from you unto us, and brought us good tidings of your faith and love, and that you have good remembrance of us always, and are engrated to see us as we all sort of see you; therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you an all our affliction and distress.” He was hurting ____ the comfort game when he heard Timothy’s words about the Thessalonian Christians. And I love verse 8. He says, “For now, we live if you stand fast in the Lord.”

Thanks to the donation from the Philippians, MacArthur says that Paul was able to stop his day job making tents and fully devote his time to preaching:

He quit making tents, and completely devoted himself to the Word. Now you see how God comforts a disheartened saint: with companionship. What a joyous time.

The Jews in Corinth were angry at what Paul preached, so the Apostle shook their dust off his garments and told them that he would go preach instead to the Gentiles (verse 6).

We have seen throughout Acts how angry Paul’s Jewish audiences were. Although many Jews who heard him in the synagogue converted, just as many took against him and, where there were Gentiles, stirred them up against him, too.

Yet, wherever he went, Paul addressed the Jews first and usually in the synagogue.

In Corinth, he had had enough. Verse 6 says that the Jews ‘opposed and reviled’ him. Older versions say ‘opposed themselves’ and also include ‘blasphemed’. Matthew Henry’s commentary breaks it down for us. Note the etymology of blasphemy:

they opposed themselves and blasphemed; they set themselves in battle array (so the word signifies) against the gospel; they joined hand in hand to stop the progress of it. They resolved they would not believe it themselves, and would do all they could to keep others from believing it. They could not argue against it, but what was wanting in reason they made up in ill language: they blasphemed, spoke reproachfully of Christ, and in him of God himself, as Revelation 13:5,6. To justify their infidelity, they broke out into downright blasphemy.

MacArthur looks at ‘opposed’:

And the word oppose means they had an organized opposition. It’s the word that indicates organized resistance. They came to a deliberate and ultimate final decision that this was wrong; that Jesus was not Messiah. They organized themselves. They set themselves against, and they blasphemed Christ.

Paul shook his garments at them, returning their dust to them. Remember the New Testament passages about shaking the dust from one’s feet. MacArthur walks us through the reasoning behind this gesture:

You know, the Jews had a saying about shaking the dust off your feet. And it was used in reference to Gentile countries. Whenever a Jew traveled in a Gentile country, when he left he would shake the dust off his feet because he didn’t want to take any Gentile dust to soil the dust of Israel.

And you see, the idea of the shaking of dust was the Jews’ way of sort of casting degrading statements toward the Gentiles. Well, you know what Paul does? He turns it around, and he takes his cloak off, and he just starts shaking all the dust out of it in the faces of all those Jews, and saying in effect, “You don’t like Gentile dust on your shoes. I don’t want Jewish dust on my cloak.” And he shook it right out in their face.

Now you know if they weren’t mad by then, they were really hopping when that was done. That flagrant kind of insult must’ve absolutely torn them to pieces. He was done with them. Shook out his whole cloak.

Then, he said, ‘Your blood be upon your heads! I am innocent’. Oh, man alive, that was the ultimate, especially since he followed with ‘From now on I will go to the Gentiles’. Whoa!

Blood being upon one’s head is an expression that runs through the Bible. Paul had preached eloquently and truthfully to the Corinthian Jews, but most would not accept what he said. So, he told them that he was innocent — i.e. he did all that he could to exhort (encourage) them to turn to Christ as Messiah. Since they were engaging in crude and blasphemous behaviour, Paul told them he had no choice but to devote his energy to the Gentiles.

MacArthur explains the significance of this and adds that Paul’s statement points to individual spiritual responsibility:

He said, “Your blood be upon your own heads.”

That’s again a statement that the Jews made. It’s in Joshua 2:19, 2 Samuel 1:16,, 1 Kings 2:37, and perhaps elsewhere. And do you remember in Matthew 27:25? “That the Jews, when Jesus was being crucified, cried out ‘His blood be upon us and our children.'” They wanted to accept the responsibility for Christ’s death. The phrase means we accept the responsibility for His death. And Paul is saying here, Your blood is on your own hands. I’m clean. Why? I fulfilled my responsibility. I delivered the Gospel. I presented it clearly. You are responsible for what you do.

People say to me, “John, do you believe the bible teaches individual responsibility?” There it is, my friend. If you die without Jesus Christ, your blood is on your own head. And I can say to you this morning what Paul said: “I’m clean. I presented you the Gospel. What you do with it will determine your eternal destiny, and the responsibility is your own.”

After Paul left the Jews, he went to the house next door to the synagogue — yes — where a man named Titius (Titus) Justus lived (verse 7). Titius Justus was a ‘worshipper of God’, meaning that he was a Gentile who took part in Jewish worship and probably certain Mosaic customs without full conversion.

Oh, how God’s plans work. Paul leaves the Jews to their synagogue and goes next door to a God fearing Gentile’s house to continue preaching.

Just as important was the fact that Crispus, the synagogue leader, also converted to Christianity (verse 8).

MacArthur says that Titius Justus is the Gaius whom Paul refers to in his letters. Paul also mentioned Crispus:

Titus Justus. That’s interesting. It’s a Roman name. He was a Gentile, god fearer, who attended the synagogue. And you know, he’s the same apparently as the man called Gaius, G-A-I-U-S, in Romans 16:23. And in 1 Corinthians 1:14, Paul says, “I baptized only two; Gaius and Crispus.”

Apparently, this is Gaius, and his Roman name, and there were often three names, would be Gaius Titus Justus. So this man became a Christian. They had a church in his house next door to the synagogue. Kind of like we are right here with the temple about three doors down. And he began to bear fruit. Now if you think that was something, look at verse 8, absolutely thrilling. “And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord and his entire household.” Can you imagine that?

So, we have Titius Justus, Crispus and his household — and many more Corinthians — who converted when they heard Paul speak (verse 8).

Henry reminds us of the wicked nature of the Corinthians, yet, they converted:

Many of the Corinthians, who were Gentiles (and some of them persons of bad character, as appears, 1 Corinthians 6:11, such were some of you), hearing, believed, and were baptized.

Note how conversion — and salvation — occur:

First, they heard, for faith comes by hearing. Some perhaps came to hear Paul under some convictions of conscience that the way they were in was not right; but it is probable that the most came only for curiosity, because it was a new doctrine that was preached; but, hearing, they believed, by the power of God working upon them; and, believing, they were baptized, and so fixed for Christ, took upon them the profession of Christianity, and became entitled to the privileges of Christians.

MacArthur says the same thing:

… verse 8: “Hearing, believed and were baptized.” Notice the sequence, would you? That’s the order of salvation. You hear the Gospel. You what? You believe it. You publicly proclaim it in baptism.

Also here:

… many of the Corinthians, imperfect tense verbs, were hearing, were believing, and were being baptized; showing a daily sequence of growth.

Despite this, the crisis that had occurred with the Jews must have upset Paul, because the Lord came to him in a vision (verse 9). MacArthur says that this only happened when Paul was unsure as to what to do next. Acts 18 was not the last time. Acts 22, 23 and 27 also recount visions. Looking at the previous ones:

God has special times for Paul when Paul just got against the wall and was just about at the end of his rope. I think the first time was he had tried to go to Asia Minor. The Spirit said no. He tried to go to Bithynia. The Spirit says no. He can’t go backwards. He’s been there. He walks the little thin line. He finally gets to the sea and he’s at the end of his rope. God says, “No, no, no, no.” He doesn’t know what to do, and immediately what happens? He comes to the edge of Macedonia, chapter 16, verse 9, “And a vision appeared to Paul in the night.”

He was at the point where he didn’t know what to do, where to go; at the end of his rope. And God comes to him and sends the man to Macedonia. He said, “Come to Macedonia and help us.” And he gets direction from God, and he takes off. The next time he had a vision is in chapter 18

So here again, at the end of his rope, not knowing where to go, God comes personally and speaks.

God told Paul not to be afraid and to speak freely and boldly (verse 9):

Now this implies that Paul was getting kind of a little tentative about whether he ought to keep preaching. The thing was getting so hot, he figured maybe I’ll cool it a while.

God says, “Paul, don’t stop.”

The Lord reassured Paul by telling him no harm would come to him in Corinth because He had many people there to be saved (verse 10). Henry explains:

He gave him a prospect of success: “For I have much people in this city. Therefore no man shall prevail to obstruct thy work, therefore I will be with thee to own thy work, and therefore do thou go on vigorously and cheerfully in it; for there are many in this city that are to be effectually called by thy ministry, in whom thou shalt see of the travail of thy soul.”

That verse points towards the concept of election:

Laos esti moi polys–There is to me a great people here. The Lord knows those that are his, yea, and those that shall be his; for it is by his work upon them that they become his, and known unto him are all his works. “I have them, though they yet know me not, though yet they are let captive by Satan at his will; for the Father has given them to me, to be a seed to serve me; I have them written in the book of life; I have their names down, and of all that were given me I will lose none; I have them, for I am sure to have them;” whom he did predestinate, those he called.

The first two purple highlights in that paragraph come from John 17, verses 6, 9 and 12 — coincidentally read on May 13, Exaudi Sunday.

So Paul stayed in Corinth for 18 months (verse 11).

In closing, MacArthur explains the paradox between election and personal spiritual responsibility:

You say, “John, do you believe in election?” Well, how else would you explain that verse? “I have many people in this city.” You say you believe that God chooses people to be saved? Of course. That’s what it says in Ephesians 1:4, “According as He hath chosen us in Him when before the foundation of the world.” You say, “John MacArthur, you believe that you are chosen to be saved before the foundation of the world?” Yes, that’s because the bible says that. You say, “Oh, but wait a minute.” Well, you wait a minute. Revelations 13:8 says, “My name is written in the Lamb’s book of life before the foundation of the world.”

You say, “Well, what about human responsibility?” Oh, I believe that, too. Sure, look at verse 6, “Your blood be upon,” what? Your own heads. Listen; if you come to Jesus Christ, you know why you came to Him? Because you were chosen before the world began. If you reject Jesus Christ, it’s your own responsibility. You say, “Those two don’t go together.” Right. But I’ve told you before, and I say again, you must allow in the scripture for the paradox of sovereignty and responsibility. Realize that we have little pea brains, and God is the God bigger than the universe. And when God reduces His mind to the little pea brain, there’s got to be some spillage. So we are not rattled because we can’t justify sovereignty with responsibility. We just let the two exist, because you see, that paradox exists in every other major doctrine.

I’ll ask you this? Who wrote the book of Acts? You’ll say Luke. And then I’ll say the Holy Spirit. And which one is right? and yet it wasn’t Luke and the Holy Spirit working together. No, sir, every word was chosen by the Holy Spirit, and yet Luke himself had all those words in his own vocabulary. It was a perfect paradox. You say, “Who lives a Christian life?” I do. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Without me, you can do. He does. No, I do. He does. No, we both do together. No, he does and me. Well, that’s sort of it. It’s a paradox. What was Jesus Christ; God or man? Both. That’s a paradox; 100% God, 100% man. You can’t be 200% of something. That’s a paradox.

You see, in every major biblical doctrine where God reduces Himself to human terms, there is paradox. And I say this, “If a man goes to hell, it is his own responsibility for rejecting Christ.” The bible says, “If he goes to heaven, it is because he was chosen before the foundation of the world.” I’ll tell you what I love, though. I love the fact that the bible closes with these words, “Whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely.”

Only God knows who the elect are. Therefore, we should approach everyone as if s/he is elect — even unbelievers who might not yet have understood or received the Good News.

Forbidden Bible Verses will return in a few weeks’ time.

Next time — Acts 18:12-17

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