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Bible GenevaThe 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.

Acts 19:21-22

A Riot at Ephesus

21 Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” 22 And having sent into Macedonia two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.

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Last week’s entry discussed the deep faith and further conversions that came about after two of the Sons of Sceva saw their fake exorcism foiled by the demon in the man they were hoping to notionally heal. The incident left the converts of Ephesus in awe. They extolled the name of the Lord Jesus, and those who were still practising the dark arts voluntarily came out in public to burn their rare and esoteric books, which were very expensive.

The principal verse in that reading is verse 20:

20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.

I will come back to that at the end of the post.

For now, Luke — the author of Acts — took pains to tell us that Paul was planning another visit to places where he had established churches and then journey southward once more to the poor church in Jerusalem, after which he wanted to go to Rome (verse 21).

There are several points to make about verse 21.

First, Luke wrote: ‘Paul resolved in the Spirit’. Students of Acts will remember that the Holy Spirit did not allow him, Silas and Timothy to travel eastwards in Asia Minor (Luke 16:6-10). They went westward instead and ended up in Troas where they met Luke for the first time. Luke was with them for a short time, as they all went to establish the church in Philippi, where Lydia, the purple goods seller, was their initial point of contact and first convert on European soil (Luke 16:11-15).

Secondly, Achaia was the province where Corinth was located, so Paul would have wanted to visit the church he had established there. Corinth was where he met his friends and fellow tent makers, Priscilla and Aquila.

Thirdly, after visiting the Christians in Jerusalem, he wanted to go northwest to Rome. Recall that Priscilla and Aquila — along with other Jews and Jews who became Christian — had been exiled from the city by edict. Matthew Henry’s commentary says that, by the time Paul was thinking of visiting:

it was upon the death of the emperor Claudius, who died the second year of Paul’s being at Ephesus … because while he lived the Jews were forbidden Rome, Acts 18:2.

Therefore, it was finally safe for Paul to visit the heart of the Roman Empire.

Verse 22 tells us that, for the meantime, Paul remained in Ephesus while he sent the aforementioned Timothy and Erastus, about whom we know little other than it was a common name in that era, to go to Macedonia. Our commentators say that he wanted them to go to Macedonia in order to collect money for the church in Jerusalem, which can be cross-referenced in his letters to the Corinthians. While the men were in Macedonia, Paul stayed in Ephesus to preach and teach not only there but in the area surrounding the city.

Henry’s commentary tells us:

He sent Timothy and Erastus into Macedonia, to give them notice of the visit he intended them, and to get their collection ready for the poor saints at Jerusalem. Soon after he wrote the first epistle to the Corinthians, designing to follow it himself, as appears 1 Corinthians 4:17,19, I have sent to you Timotheus; but I will myself come to you shortly, if the Lord will. For the present, he staid in Asia, in the country about Ephesus, founding churches.

MacArthur says:

The church of Jerusalem was very poor. And Paul wanted to take a love offering from his churches as a gift to the church at Jerusalem. The reason he wanted to go to Macedonia and Achaia was to collect his offering. And I think that’s kind of an exciting reason, really if you want to know. In several places in Corinthians he alludes to this offering just to maybe I can point out one or two of them. Chapter 9, verse 1 “is touching the administering to the saints that is superfluous for me to write you for I know the readiness of your mind for which I boast of you to them of Macedonia and Achaia.”

The riot in Ephesus to which the title of today’s passage refers starts in my next entry. For now, MacArthur has a great explanation of Acts 19:20, which I cited above and how important the church in Ephesus was to Asia Minor.

At this point, we are reading about Paul’s ministry in the port city after he had been there for around two-and-a-half years. MacArthur says (emphases mine):

He has been there for nearly three years teaching. He knows they know enough. There are elders there of quality enough to lead the church. The Christians are grown up, they’re mature. The work has matured.

There are churches elsewhere in Asia Minor. Also of note is this:

… we think that at least all seven churches [in] the book of Revelation possibly could have been founded during this three year period while Paul was in Ephesus.

MacArthur tells us that Paul had a grand plan, in accordance with the Lord:

Now just keep this in mind. Paul was a strategist and he wanted to reach as far as he could reach with the gospel. And Paul’s plan was this. To plant the gospel in key cities on a line from Antioch to Rome.

By the way, there already was a church in Rome, possibly started by Jews — later converts — who had been in Jerusalem to witness the first Pentecost, but it was not very well organised at the time.

MacArthur continues:

And if you follow the ministry of Paul, he just stops all the way along at key points on the great road from Antioch to Rome. And he’s planting the churches in the key centers. And from there they spread to the province. If Paul could knock off the capital of the province, he felt he had a running start on the province. And so he wants to go one step further to reach Rome. And incidentally that wasn’t the end of it either as you’ll see in a minute. Now after he had planted the church in Ephesus, he realized that the line of witness would then begin to spread from Ephesus. And so he would go to Rome, plant the witness there, there was already a church there, but perhaps he could enhance the witness. And then it would begin to spread.

And then as all these centers began to spread, they would sort of cross-pollinate and the whole area would be saturated with the Gospel. And he believed in the process of reproduction of evangelism by reproduction. Where you would win some people to Christ, establish a church, that church would grow, send out others to establish other churches and by multiplication you would conquer an area. Not by the superficial sweep and so this was his plan. Now when he got to Rome, that was only a step on the way to somewhere else.

Paul’s intention was to keep travelling west to what is now Spain. That would have been one amazing journey. MacArthur says:

So he could go all the way from Jerusalem, Antioch and straight out as far as he could go to reach Spain with the Gospel. This was in his mind to do. He was a strategist planning his conquests. He writes to the Romans in chapter 1 verse 13 of Romans. “I would not have you ignorant brother in the off times I purpose to come unto you but was prevented thus far that I might have some fruit among you even as among other Gentiles. I am better to the Greeks, to the Barbarians, to the wise, to the unwise so much as in me as I am ready to preach the Gospel to you that are at Rome also.”

From this point on, even though Paul doesn’t attain his objective until the end of Acts — chapters 27 and 28 — his goal is Rome:

But he doesn’t get there in the way that he thought he would get there. But he gets there. From here on out, his sights are set on Rome. And he’s going to make it. And man is it an exciting trip getting there.

Next week the story of the riot in Ephesus begins. The Artemis-worshipping craftsmen felt deeply threatened by Christianity, as it was diminishing their trade.

Next time — Acts 19:23-27

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