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Bible readingThe 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 20:1-6

Paul in Macedonia and Greece

20 After the uproar ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, he said farewell and departed for Macedonia. When he had gone through those regions and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece. There he spent three months, and when a plot was made against him by the Jews[a] as he was about to set sail for Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia. Sopater the Berean, son of Pyrrhus, accompanied him; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and the Asians, Tychicus and Trophimus. These went on ahead and were waiting for us at Troas, but we sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we came to them at Troas, where we stayed for seven days.

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The ‘uproar’ referred to in verse 1 was the riot in Ephesus (Acts 19:35-41).

Now it was time for Paul to go on another grand missionary tour, his third.

He sent for members of the church in Ephesus — ‘the disciples’ — and encouraged them in their faith. Some translations use ‘exhorting’, which means the same thing. Exhortation does not mean criticism, but rather encouragement — a building up.

With that, Paul bade them farewell and left for Macedonia.

From Ephesus, which was in Asia Minor (also note smaller map boxed in black), he travelled northwest to Macedonia, which is the northern part of modern-day Greece and is distinct from the Republic of Macedonia.

He visited the Christians in Macedonia — principally Philippi and Thessalonica — and gave them much encouragement.

St Luke, the author of Acts, documented Paul’s stay and conversion of the first European on European soil — Lydia — in Acts 16. Paul also landed in prison there.

Acts 17 has the story of Paul and Silas founding the churches further south in Thessalonica and Berea, which was relatively nearby.

Following his stay, Paul then travelled south to Greece (verse 2). Paul had already spent time in Athens (Acts 17, discussed here and here). From there, he founded the church in Corinth (Acts 18, discussed here, here and here).

Matthew Henry’s commentary describes these return visits (emphases mine):

1. He went first to Macedonia (Acts 20:1), according to his purpose before the uproar (Acts 19:21); there he visited the churches of Philippi and Thessalonica, and gave them much exhortation, Acts 20:2. Paul’s visits to his friends were preaching visits, and his preaching was large and copious: He gave them much exhortation; he had a great deal to say to them, and did not stint himself in time; he exhorted them to many duties, in many cases, and (as some read it) with many reasonings. He enforced his exhortation with a great variety of motives and arguments. 2. He staid three months in Greece (Acts 20:2,3), that is, in Achaia, as some think, for thither also he purposed to go, to Corinth, and thereabouts (Acts 19:21), and, no doubt, there also he gave the disciples much exhortation, to direct and confirm them, and engage them to cleave to the Lord.

Paul spent three months in Greece. He was originally going to set sail for Syria from there, but when it became clear that disgruntled Jewish leaders were plotting against him, he went returned north to Macedonia to sail from there (verse 3). He was going to Syria in order to visit the church in Antioch, which Barnabas founded and Paul strengthened (Acts 11). Earlier, whilst in Ephesus, he had intended to make a return visit to those congregations, along with the aforementioned churches in Macedonia and Archaia, home to Corinth (Acts 19). Then the riot in Ephesus took place.

Henry explains more about the plot against Paul in Greece, possibly assassination:

The altering of his measures; for we cannot always stand to our purposes. Accidents unforeseen put us upon new counsels, which oblige us to purpose with a proviso. 1. Paul was about to sail into Syria, to Antioch, whence he was first sent out into the service of the Gentiles, and which therefore in his journeys he generally contrived to take in his way; but he changed his mind, and resolved to return to Macedonia, the same way he came. 2. The reason was because the Jews, expecting he would steer that course as usual, had way-laid him, designing to be the death of him; since they could not get him out of the way by stirring up both mobs and magistrates against him, which they had often attempted, they contrived to assassinate him. Some think they laid wait for him, to rob him of the money that he was carrying to Jerusalem for the relief of the poor saints there; but, considering how very spiteful the Jews were against him, I suppose they thirsted for his blood more than for his money.

MacArthur also thinks the plot was murderous:

Well, he found out about the plot. So what do you think you’re going to do? Well he [looked?] after his life. And he knew that the whole world was after his life. At least the world he was going into.

Paul had companions with him from the churches in that part of the world (verse 4). Sopater, the son of Pyrrhus, was from Berea, home to discerning readers of Scripture. Henry tells us:

Sopater of Berea, it is likely, is the same with Sosipater, who is mentioned Romans 16:21.

There were two men from the church in Thessalonica: Aristarchus and Secundus. Neither commentator says anything about them, but we can be assured that if Paul chose them, they were worthy disciples.

In any event, those three were from Macedonia.

There was Gaius from the church in Derbe, and Timothy, who had been leading the church in Macedonia then went to Ephesus, replacing Paul. Some scholars say that Timothy’s hometown could have been Lystra, which was not far from Derbe and Iconium (Acts 16).

Of Timothy’s reassignment, as it were, Henry tells us:

Timothy is reckoned among them, for though Paul, when he departed from Ephesus (Acts 20:1), left Timothy there, and afterwards wrote his first epistle to him thither, to direct him as an evangelist how to settle the church there, and in what hands to leave it (see 1 Timothy 1:3,3:14,15), which epistle was intended for direction to Timothy what to do, not only at Ephesus where he now was, but also at other places where he should be in like manner left, or whither he should be sent to reside as an evangelist (and not to him only, but to the other evangelists that attended Paul, and were in like manner employed); yet he soon followed him, and accompanied him, with others here named.

Finally, there were two men from Asia, which, at that time, meant the eastern part of Asia Minor. They were Tychicus and Trophimus.

One might wonder why Paul took these good evangelists out of their present church assignments. Henry explains that Paul needed not only help but also personal enhancement, even though he was a powerful teacher and church planter:

1. That they might assist him in instructing such as by his preaching were awakened and startled; wherever Paul came, the waters were stirred, and then there was need of many hands to help the cripples in. It was time to strike when the iron was hot. 2. That they might be trained up by him, and fitted for future service, might fully know his doctrine and manner of life, 2 Timothy 3:10. Paul’s bodily presence was weak and despicable, and therefore these friends of his accompanied him, to put a reputation upon him, to keep him in countenance, and to intimate to strangers, who would be apt to judge by the sight of the eye, that he had a great deal in him truly valuable, which was not discovered upon the outward appearance.

One could think of them as a religious, yet personal, public relations team of sorts to smooth rough waters when necessary.

Note that Luke returned to the fold, having accompanied Paul in Macedonia. The two of them returned to Troas, thought to have been Luke’s hometown; at the very least, it was where they first met (Acts 16). The other evangelists named were already there to meet them (verse 5).

Luke says that he and Paul celebrated the Feast of the Unleavened Bread in Philippi (verse 6). MacArthur says:

The Feast of Unleavened Bread was, of course, the feast which lasted seven days immediately after Passover.

Whilst Henry says Paul had already put away his Jewish customs …

The days of unleavened bread are mentioned only to describe the time, not to intimate that Paul kept the passover after the manner of the Jews; for just about this time he had written in his first epistle to the church at Corinth, and taught, that Christ is our Passover, and a Christian life our feast of unleavened bread (1 Corinthians 5:7,8), and when the substance was come the shadow was done away.

… MacArthur says that Paul was still partially rooted in them:

He originally wanted to be in Jerusalem for Passover, but when the plot came up, he couldn’t make it. So now he had to put his plans off and hope to get there by Pentecost which was 50 days after Passover … And he’s missed the Passover [with the others in Troas], though he did celebrate it in Philippi and he [Luke] makes a note of that because it tells us again that Paul was still very Jewish in his heart and his attitude.

Either way, Paul loved Jesus Christ, he loved God and he loved people, especially his converts. Paul made his intense, arduous and dangerous journeys in service to all three.

Next time — Acts 20:7-12

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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

Before my next Forbidden Bible Verses entry appears, it is useful to know what happened in the first half of Acts 17.

Yesterday’s post discussed Paul’s establishment of the church in Thessalonica, the recipient of his letters to the Thessalonians.

Today’s post will look at the next destination for him, Silas and Timothy — Berea:

Paul and Silas in Berea

10 The brothers[b] immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. 12 Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. 13 But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Berea also, they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds. 14 Then the brothers immediately sent Paul off on his way to the sea, but Silas and Timothy remained there. 15 Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they departed.

Paul, Silas and Timothy had to leave Thessalonica immediately. The converts there sent them to Berea, which was about 60 miles away. Upon their arrival, they made their customary visit to the synagogue (verse 10). That was nearly always Paul’s starting point for preaching and teaching.

Luke, the author of Acts, thought it important to say that the Bereans were more noble than the Thessalonians. That was not a reference to lineage but to the fact that they studied the Scriptures in a deep way for their edification (verse 11). Some translations use ‘search’ instead of ‘examine’. John MacArthur explains (emphases mine below):

The word for search is “to examine.” It was a word to speak of judicial investigation. They sifted the evidence carefully. You know what I believe? I believe that a man who honestly sifts the evidence of Scripture is gonna come to the right conclusion. I think Scripture can defend itself, don’t you?

Jesus had said in John 5:39, He says, “Search the Scriptures for in them you think have eternal life.” And watch, “They are they which testify of Me.” He says, “You go ahead. Study your Old Testament. You know what you’re gonna find? Me.” In verse 46, the same chapter, John 5, “For had you believed Moses, you would have believed Me, for he wrote of Me.” And says, “How shall you believe Me, if you don’t believe him.” Over at chapter 7, verse 17, he says, “If you really want to do God’s will, you’ll know the truth.”

So if someone encourages us to be Bereans, this is what is meant: study the Bible not only regularly but also carefully.

Because the Bereans understood Scripture, they eagerly received Paul’s message. See how that works?

Note the contrast Luke used in the number of new believers. There were ‘many’ in Berea compared with the ‘some’ in Thessalonica (verse 12).

Once again, Luke mentioned the prominent women who converted, just as he did in the account of Thessalonica.

However, the unfortunate persecutors of Paul, Silas and Timothy were on their way from Thessalonica to Berea to wreak the same violent havoc (verse 13).

So the new converts in Berea helped Paul leave. Silas and Timothy stayed behind to minister to the new church (verse 14).

The brethren in Berea took Paul all the way to Athens. Paul received a divine command to ask that Silas and Timothy to join him there (verse 15). Athens challenged Paul deeply, and that will be the subject of tomorrow’s Forbidden Bible Verses instalment.

Sadly, this is the only time Berea is mentioned in the Bible. It would have been interesting to learn more about the people there and how they developed such a love for Scripture.

However, Paul had a special love for the church in Thessalonica. MacArthur tells us:

You never hear another word about Berea in the Bible, but you hear a lot about Thessalonica. And Thessalonica became the most beloved church that Paul ever wrote to. He just loved those people. And of all the churches that are written to in the New Testament, they seem to be the most like Christ wanted the church to be.

Now, watch this. Isn’t it interesting that with Berea, oh, they were so noble, so wonderful, but when they got saved, you never hear another thing about ’em? Thessalonica, they had to be persuaded, they weren’t so noble, but when they got saved, man they went wild. They became what God wanted the church to be. You say, “What’s that supposed to prove?” It is to prove that salvation is the equalizer. It doesn’t matter what you were before you were saved – at the moment of salvation it becomes an issue of what you do with the resources that become yours, do you see? People say, “Well, so and so, before he was saved, was, uh, uh, uh, you know, he was into dope, and into, oh, Satan and into __ __ __. We can’t expect much.”

Oh, believe me, you can expect just as much as you can expect out of Citizen Number 1A. The finest guy that ever was, when he gets saved. Why? Because the resources are the same, you got it? And Thessalonica may not have been noble as Berea, but once salvation happened, the resources were the same and they tapped them in Thessalonica. Now, I don’t know that Berea didn’t; I’m just showing you that there’s no reason to assume that if you come in barely or with all kinds of problems, you don’t get there is. That’s a lot of baloney. Salvation isn’t gradual, it’s instantaneous – you believe that? It’s all yours. You’re complete in Him.

And that’s something that I think we have to remember because I think sometimes we don’t expect enough out of certain people. Because we say, “Oh well, they’ve had such and such a background.” Salvation is the equalizer, beloved – it’s the equalizer.

The strong faith of the Bereans thanks to their examination of Scripture is an important lesson for all Christians. MacArthur gives this analysis:

It’s all in the Old Testament. “They searched the Scriptures and, believe me, God reveals himself.” Paul said to Timothy, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine for correction, for instruction and righteousness that the man of God maybe be mature, thoroughly furnished” – all good words. “You study the Old Testament,” he said to Timothy, “and you’ll find the truth of righteousness there.” And so these noble folks didn’t need to be publicly persuaded. They sought it out themselves. They were such noble people.

I notice, beloved, I close with this. The Gospel we preach must have two things. It must have qualities that can be open to public questioning. That’s Thessalonica. And it must have quality that can be opened to private research. That’s Berea. Do you have that kind of content? Can you present a message to this world and stand on your feet if the case needs it and defend that message biblically. Secondly, can you present such a message that sends them to the Scripture and find its defense there? … it behooves us to know the Book, to know the Book.

People that make a difference in the world, people who turn it upside down, people who affect this world, are people who know the Word of God. I believe that with all my heart. And are people who can stand on their feet eyeball-to-eyeball with people and defend what they believe and there are people who can take people where they’re at and say, “Here’s what I believe. You take it to the Scripture and let stand the test of Scripture and you’ll find it confirmed.” If you give men answers that you can defend on your feet and answers that you can defend through the Word of God, then you’ve given them answers.

MacArthur goes on to tell us how we can accomplish that in four steps:

If you’re gonna have content, one, confess and repent of all sin. That’s where you start. You don’t start by Bible study. You start by confession. You say, “Why?” 1 Peter 2:1, “Laying aside all malice, guile, hypocrisy, envy, and evil speaking, as newborn babes, the desire the sincere mild of the word.” Before you can ever get into the Word to grow by it, you have to lay aside sin. Purify, that’s point one.

Two, study. You’ll never know the Bible. There’s no shortcut. There is absolute – believe me, if there’s a shortcut, I’d found it a long time ago. There’s none. Paul said to Timothy, “Study to show thy self approved unto God.” What does that mean? Be such a good student that God is excited about the fact that you know the truth.

You know the thing that haunts you all the time when you’re a preacher, when you’re a teacher? The fact that this is supposed to be approved by God, not by you. We can get away with murder with people. You can’t get away with anything with God. So one, purify, confess sin. Two, study. There’s no shortcut, absolutely none. Study the Word. Three, personalize the Word. What does that mean? Translate what is academic into your own life, into your own life.

The things that you’re gonna be effectively teaching other people are the things that you have learned by your own living, right? For me to put something on a piece of paper and teach it to you is one thing. For me to teach you what God has been doing in my life is something completely different.

“What do you mean by that?” Paul says, “Be renewed in your mind.” In Galatians and in Romans 12:2 he says, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” In other words, you know the word and it changes your life and you speak out of experience. So you confess sin. You learn the word and then you personalize it.

I’ll give you the last one. Share it. You say, “I’m gonna learn it and when I get it all learned, then I’m gonna come out of my room and say it.” So somebody, “Oh, that’s ridiculous.” You[‘ll] be talking about it as you’re learning it. There’s no better way to learn than to teach, right? We who teach find out that what we teach we learn.

Let us resolve to be more Berean in our Christian journey. Let us also learn from the Thessalonians who became the strong believers God wanted them to be.

Before I post the next entry of Forbidden Bible Verses, it is important to know where Paul and Silas went after they left Philippi.

The first half of Acts 17 is in the three-year Lectionary but needs explaining. The next post will be about Berea, so this one will be about their first stop in Thessalonica:

Paul and Silas in Thessalonica

17 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. 5 But the Jews[a] were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.

Philippi was to the north (see this map of Thrace). Paul and Silas — along with Timothy — travelled south (see map of Thrace, indicated by red dots) to Thessalonica, an important port city from ancient times to the present. Until the Second World War, Thessaloniki (present day name) always had a sizeable Jewish population.

John MacArthur describes Paul and Silas’s journey from Philippi (emphases mine):

When they had passed through Amphipolis, now that was 33 miles from Philippi, they went from Amphipolis to Apollonia that was 30 miles from Amphipolis. And then they went to Thessalonica, which was 37 miles from Apollonia, which was 30 miles from Amphipolis, which was 33 miles – and don’t you ever forget it – from Philippi.

What’s the significance of that? The significance of that is that they had minds set on Thessalonica. They probably stopped for the night in Apollonia and Amphipolis. If they went that way and did cover 30 miles a day and stayed overnight at those two places, which were perfect points – it is as some scholars tell us, evidence that Paul didn’t walk everywhere he went. He probably hired horses, which is an interesting thought. Nevertheless, they just stopped overnight at Amphipolis and Apllonia, likely, that isn’t in the text. That’s a likely conclusion. “And they came to Thessalonica.” Now, watch. “Where there was a synagogue of the Jews.”

As we have read so many times in Acts, every time Paul starts preaching in the local synagogue, he makes a lot of converts, then the Jews who disagree become angry and rile the Gentiles. The angry mob then persecutes Paul and, beginning in Acts 16, Silas.

MacArthur summarises the pertinent persecution points:

Every time he got near a synagogue, wham, he got it. And that’s right. He did.

Chapter 13, verse 6, they had gone to – they met a sorcerer. In verse 6 of chapter 13, the first place they went, the island of Cyprus, they met a sorcerer who was a Jew. Every time they got close to the Jews, they got persecuted and confrontation with Satan.

Go to verse 45. It says that when they came into the area of Galatia, the whole place came together to hear the word, verse 44, “When the Jews saw the multitudes filled with envy, spoke against these things as were spoken by Paul and contradicting and blaspheming.”

Look at verse 50. “The Jews stirred up the devout and honor of women. The chief thieves raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, expelled them out of their borders.

Chapter 14, verse 1. “They went to the synagogue of the Jews. There were some Jews who believed that just stirred up trouble.”

Verse 2. “The unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles.” They tried to stone them in verse 5. They fled in verse 6.

Go down to verse 19. They threw him out of the city of Lystra. Stoned them there. It was always the Jews, the Jews, the Jews, who persecuted Paul in his ministry.

The same thing happened in Philippi.

However, Paul always began his holy work in synagogues. He would not go near a pagan temple.

Note that Luke, the author of Acts, thought it was worth mentioning that prominent women of the city also converted (verse 4). Recall that Lydia, the purple goods merchant, was the first convert in Philippi. Therefore, women had considerable autonomy at this time.

A man named Jason was among the converts (verse 5) and, perversely, the angry Thessalonians ambushed his house (verse 6). MacArthur describes what happened. Satan was working through these miserable individuals:

Boy, I mean they turned the city up. They got a riot going all through town, they were crying in this blowtorch kind of oratory. “These men are seditious and they are revolutionaries,” and they got everybody all stirred up. Well, they knew they were staying with Jason – who must have been a new Christian there – and so it says, “They all assaulted the house of Jason.” Here comes the whole town, down to Jason’s house. “And they sought to bring them out to the people.” But you know what? God is so far ahead. Paul and Silas and Timothy are gone – they’re gone. And old Jason is there. Well, they didn’t find them, in verse 6 “And when they found him not, they drew Jason and certain brethren under the rulers of the city.”

So, they took Jason and the other Christians instead. “And they hauled them off.” You know, it’s amazing what Satan can do with lazy people. It’s amazing too, what the Lord can do with lazy people who get busy for Him. I was thinking that lazy people must have been a problem in Thessalonica. I don’t know if they had a welfare program or what there, but there was a lot of laziness. These guys were lazy, but later in, 2 Thessalonians 2, in verse 11, he says, “For we hear that there are some who walk among you, disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.” You know, some of the Christians were loafing around. I don’t know whether that was a common thing but Satan can always use laziness.

Poor Jason. He and the other Christians were accused of disloyalty to the Romans (verses 6, 7). That stirred up the authorities, in addition to the mob (verse 8). Everyone in the Roman world believed there was only one ruler: Caesar.

MacArthur reminds us of Pontius Pilate’s words to our Lord:

Remember Pilate questioned Him, “Are you a king?” And the Jews all cried out, “No, He’s not our king. We’ll have no king but Caesar.” Well, it was the whole issue of His Kingship, and here Paul had been preaching the Kingship of Jesus Christ, and so they grabbed on that, the same thing that the crowd used to execute Jesus, they were gonna use again, to execute Paul.

Jason had to pay a bond in order for him and the others to be left alone (verse 9):

Boy, that’s smart. You know, what they did, they made Jason come across with a bond, to guarantee that Paul and Silas and Timothy wouldn’t trouble them anymore. So, they had Jason on the spot.

Once again, Paul had to leave a newly established church. MacArthur explores Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians:

Paul reflected back on this, in 1 Thessalonians 2:17, he says, “We brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavor to more abundantly to see your face with great desire.” Paul says, I tried to come back and see you, but he says, “Satan hindered us.” This whole setup, with the security, the bond, guaranteed by Jason – and Jason did it for their sake – meant that there was never a way he could get back in there, as long as those magistrates were there.

So, the conflict came. Believe me, that’s a good thing. Conflict is a good thing. You know, that that wonderful little church in Thessalonica, became the best church, and probably one of the reasons was it existed in terrible persecution. Paul couldn’t even get back to see them. “We went to Berea” – and what happened there? – You say, certainly, those noble guys wouldn’t give him trouble. You’re right, they didn’t. But guess what? Verse 13, “The Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the Word of God was preached by Paul at Berea, and they came there also.” – and did the same thing. So, here comes a gang, 60 miles away, from Thessalonica, and they stirred up trouble.

Boy, Satan if he doesn’t have local people, he imports ’em. “And they dogged his steps.” Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16, talks about how the “Jews have dogged his steps all his life. And they stirred up” – the word, stirred, at end of verse 13, is like a wind, shaking, just shook the whole city. Well, Paul had to leave again. You know, I really think, just as a little insight into Paul; I think was the low point in Paul’s life, up to point, as a Christian.

Let’s look at what happened to Paul’s entourage. In Philippi, he was with Luke, Silas and Timothy, but:

He had left Luke at Philippi.

That was so Luke could shepherd the church there.

The next post will be about Berea, where Paul left Silas and Timothy for a while to minister to the new church.

Yesterday’s post about Acts 16:1-5 introduced Timothy, whom Paul invited to minister with him.

The post also discussed Timothy’s mother Eunice and grandmother Lois.

History’s Women has a good article, ‘Lois and Eunice: Passing Down a Godly Heritage’. Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

On Lois (image of Rembrandt’s Timothy and His Grandmother from 1648 courtesy of Wikipedia):

The name Lois means ‘agreeable’ or ‘desirable’. And she appears to have lived up to her name! The Apostle Paul praises her in his second letter to Timothy as one who passed on the mantle of faith to both her daughter and her grandson. While their are numerous grandmothers mentioned in the Bible, 2 Timothy is the only place where the term ‘grandmother’ is actually used.

Lois was a devout Jewess who had obviously instructed her daughter and grandson in the Old Testament Scriptures. The Scripture is silent about Lois’ husband, yet we do know that she gave her daughter a Greek name, which might indicate that he himself was Greek.

As for Eunice (image of Henry Le Jeune’s The Early Days of Timothy from the Victorian era courtesy of Wikipediafull image with Lois at Art.com):

She has a Greek name that is derived from the name Nike, which was the Greek goddess of victory. Her name actually means ‘conquering well’ and was a name expressive of a good or happy victory. Eunice, too, lived up to her name. She had victory over the immoral society in which she lived by raising a devout son.

Both of these women had a tremendous spiritual effect on Timothy:

The compelling feature of the Scriptural record of Eunice and Lois is their religious influence on Timothy. Since his father is not mentioned in connection with Timothy’s faith, it is apparent that these two godly women trained him up so that he both knew and loved God’s word. The name Timothy means ‘one who fears God’, a name obviously picked by his faithful mother. Grandmother and mother had no doubt been the teachers of his youth. His fitness to be the companion and co-worker of Paul’s finds its explanation largely in the home training and pious example given him by these two noble women. It was from them also that the young Timothy derived his first impressions of Christian truth; for Paul calls to remembrance the earnest faith which first dwelt in them.

It is important for parents to pass on solid Christian teachings to children today:

The record of Timothy demonstrates the value of positive Christian training in the home. Lois and Eunice took the responsibility to pass on their faith very seriously and as a result they raised up a young man to become a servant of Christ. For this, they have gone down in history as outstanding mothers and great women of faith.

The world needs more Eunices and Loises — not to mention Timothys — today.

Bible readingThe 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 16:1-5

Timothy Joins Paul and Silas

16 Paul[a] came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the brothers[b] at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.

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Last week’s post discussed the point at which Paul and Barnabas went their separate ways after a heated quarrel over whether to take John Mark with them. Paul did not want to make the same mistake twice. The post mentions the verses from Paul’s letters wherein he wrote, some years later, good words about both John Mark and Barnabas. Outside of that, we read no more of Barnabas or John Mark, both of whom went to Cyprus to strengthen the churches there.

Acts 16 is rather exciting as we read of Timothy and Lydia for the first time. Paul and Silas ended up in prison, Paul drove an evil spirit out of a woman and a jailer converted.

Paul and Barnabas had established churches in Derbe and Lystra (Acts 14, also see here). Timothy was from that area (verse 1). He was the son of a Greek Gentile and a Jewish woman who converted. Her name was Eunice, and her mother’s name was Lois. Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

Paul speaks of them both with great respect, as women of eminent virtue and piety, and commends them especially for their unfeigned faith (2 Timothy 1:5), their sincerely embracing and adhering to the doctrine of Christ.

If, like me, you are puzzled by a Jew and Gentile marrying so long ago, Henry explains (emphases mine):

The marriage of a Jewish woman to a Gentile husband (though some would make a difference) was prohibited as much as the marriage of a Jewish man to a Gentile wife, Deuteronomy 7:3. Thou shalt no more give thy daughter to his son than take his daughter to thy son; yet this seems to have been limited to the nations that lived among them in Canaan, whom they were most in danger of infection from.

The congregations at the churches in Lystra and Iconium — also in the area — spoke highly of Timothy. Timothy was another part of God’s plan to increase the Church. John MacArthur tells us:

What a perfect choice. Here’s a guy that’s from the Roman Empire. He’s got an in with the gentiles and he’s got the potentiality of having an in with the Jews. He’s the perfect man, the kind of the man of the world that can go both ways, and again God’s selection of personnel is just remarkable as he selects out this one young man.

Now people say, “How old was Timothy when this started?” The best guess would be between 16 and 25 years old. He was a young man and I think Paul enjoyed the opportunity to disciple young men. He hadn’t had great success with John Mark. I think he looked forward to success with Timothy. I think this is a great way to teach incidentally.

Henry has more:

he was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium; he had not only an unblemished reputation, and was free from scandal, but he had a bright reputation, and great encomiums were given of him, as an extraordinary young man, and one from whom great things were expected. Not only those in the place where he was born, but those in the neighbouring cities, admired him, and spoke honourably of him. He had a name for good things with good people.

Paul wanted Timothy to minister alongside him and had him circumcised because everyone knew him as a Greek Gentile (verse 3). That verse made me pause. Acts 15 was all about the Jerusalem Council, which determined that converted Gentiles did not need to be circumcised.

Both Henry and MacArthur emphasise that Timothy was half Jewish and half Gentile. In order for Timothy to minister effectively to Jews as well as Gentiles, he would have to have a sign that he was indeed Jewish, even if he was seen to be a Gentile because of his patrilineal side.

MacArthur breaks this down for us:

You know what? Some people have read this and Ramsey in his book just goes bananas at this point and accuses Paul of all kinds of things. He says, “Paul was a Judaizer here. Paul has fallen into the circumcision air. He was down there in Jerusalem and the circumcision came and said, ‘Well you’ve got to be circumcised’ and what does he do? He goes and circumcises some guy. That isn’t necessary for salvation” but beloved, that isn’t the point. It doesn’t say he circumcised Timothy so he could get saved. It says he circumcised him because of what? The Jews in those quarters.

Now watch this. Timothy was a half-Jew and half-gentile. IF he was not circumcised the Jews would assume then that he had accepted his gentile identity. True? Because circumcision was the very mark of Judaism. So the Jew would’ve assumed that he accepted gentile characteristics, and so Paul recognizing that the key to reaching the Jewish people and that was the first place he went in every new town wasn’t it, the Synagogue? The key was that Timothy had all this Jewish character. He had been brought up in a synagogue situation. All he needed to do was just get circumcised and he would have full entrance and full acceptance among the Jews and it wouldn’t hinder his work among the gentiles. And so it was for expediency’s sake; it was not for salvation’s sake. It was just to allow the ministry to function more smoothly.

Paul explains this manner of thinking in 1 Corinthians 9. MacArthur tells us Paul wanted to reach Jews and Gentiles on equal terms, which is why he wrote:

To the Jews I became as a Jew. To those that are under the law as under the law though I myself am not under the law.” He says, “I become all things to all men that” what? “That by any means I might win some.” Now that’s 1 Corinthians 9:19-20 and following. Paul is looking at expediency.

However:

Titus came along and Paul forb[ade] Titus to be circumcised. Absolutely no, and some people are confused why he let Timothy get circumcised and not Titus simple answer. Titus was a gentile. To circumcise a gentile would then have been to impose legalism but to circumcise a Jew already a Jew was simply to allow him the liberty to be more effective. He would’ve been wrong to circumcise Titus. He would’ve been wrong not to circumcise Timothy for the sake of effectiveness.

MacArthur explains that this principle of being all things to all men still applies today. Some mistakenly look at it as meaning wishy-washy unity at all costs. No, it means the ability to reach people on their own cultural and/or religious terms when giving them the Good News:

If you’re going to witness to Jews you’re going to need to know be able to know a little bit about Judaism. If you’re going to witness to somebody who’s in the Roman Catholic church you ought to be able to know a little bit about them so that you can approach them on a tactful basis and the same is true with other religions and other systems of religion and so forth. If you’re gonna talk to a man who happens to be a fanatic on this and this, maybe if you know a little about what he knows about you can gain an entrance into his heart.

Henry posits that Paul confirmed Timothy in the Holy Spirit after his circumcision:

It is probable that it was at this time that Paul laid his hands on Timothy, for the conferring of the gift of the Holy Ghost upon him, 2 Timothy 1:6.

Timothy joined Paul and Silas as they travelled to the churches in the various cities. Remember that Paul wanted to go back and visit the churches that he and Barnabas established (Acts 15:36):

And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.”

Also important during these visits was to show each church the decision about circumcision that the Jerusalem Council reached (verse 4). Recall that the Judaisers had followed Paul and Barnabas after they established churches and gave the Gentile converts false teachings about having to be circumcised. Now Paul returned to prove to them that that the Judaisers were wrong. MacArthur reminds us:

The decision of the Jerusalem Council, and what did they decide? Go back to verse 11, chapter 15. Here’s their message. “We believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved.” That was their message wasn’t it? Salvation by grace through faith, but there was something else to it. Oh yes. You remember they had said, “We want to add this, that you abstain from blood and things strangled and fornication and things offered to idols.” Why? So you don’t offend.

As a result of these visits, the churches were strengthened in the faith and their numbers grew (verse 5).

We shouldn’t confuse that increase with the modern day false teaching of ‘church growth’. These churches grew because they maintained purity in doctrine, worship and behaviour. They were Spirit-filled. They did not need to have coffee mornings or children’s playtime in the afternoon. These were people who, first and foremost, loved God through His Son Jesus Christ. They had the love, they had the doctrine and, because of these things, through the Holy Spirit, it grew from there.

Churches with pure doctrine do not need growth gimmicks or formulaic programmes! John MacArthur’s is a case in point.

It is apposite at this point to find out more about Timothy. MacArthur explains the use of ‘was’ regarding Timothy’s father in verse 1:

As an interesting footnote the particular imperfect tense that is used in relationship to Timothy’s father indicates that Timothy’s father was perhaps dead. It would be that he was a Greek with the emphasis on the “was” indicating that perhaps at the point it was written he was dead, so he may have been just the son of a widow, but Paul saw something good in him, something potential.

He also gives us an interesting insight into verse 3 — Paul’s desire to have Timothy join him — and what happened years later:

The last time Eunice and Lois saw Paul you know where he was? He was blood-soaked and he was lying on the city dump. He had just been stoned. And here he was saying, “I’d like to invite your son to come along on our missionary efforts. How about it, Mom?” That’s quite a sacrifice, right? They don’t know what’s gonna happen but they let him go, and you know they had a little official meeting? They sure did.

1 Timothy 4:14 this gives us a little indication of that meeting. Paul says to Timothy, “Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given to thee by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the presbyters or the elders.” In other words they had a little commissioning and they laid their hands on them. Here Paul was reminding Timothy not to forget that they had ordained them. Same things in 2 Timothy 1 verse 6 he says, “I want to put you in remembrance. Stir up the gift of God which is in thee by the putting on of my hands” so they had a little commissioning service ordaining him, laying hands on him, praying for him, standing behind him, and they sent him out as a representative of the church right there in Lystra and Derbe, and the Lord had filled up the ranks of his team – Paul, Silas, Timothy.

If Timothy’s father was dead, Paul stepped in as spiritual adviser and mentor. He loved Timothy as if he were family:

Paul called Timothy, “My true child in the faith” verse Timothy 1:2. He called him “My son” he called him “my beloved and faithful child in the Lord” 1 Corinthians 4 and he called him “my beloved child” in 2 Timothy 1. Now many people for many years have read those and have said, “Now that means that Paul led Timothy to Christ” but you know something? You cannot find that in Scripture. Nowhere does it say that Paul led Timothy to Christ. You say, “But he calls him his spiritual son.” Ah, but watch this beautiful fact. I just love this.

2 Timothy 1:5 he says, “I’m running to you, Timothy. I call to remembrance the unframed faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother, Lois and your mother, Eunice and I am persuaded that it’s also in you” which indicates that he really did not necessarily know about Timothy, all the facts. You know who I believe Paul led to Christ? Lois and Eunice the first time through. You know who I believe led Timothy to Christ? Lois and Eunice.

Looking at all of those verses together, we see that another beautiful part of God’s plan came to fruition. What blessings for Paul, Timothy, Eunice and Lois.

More to come next week.

Next time — Acts 16:6-10

Bible and crossThe 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 14:19-23

Paul Stoned at Lystra

19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. 21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

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My last post on Acts, three weeks ago, was about Paul and Barnabas’s ministry in Iconium, which turned divisive, with the Jews trying to poison the Gentiles’ minds against the two preachers. Once they learned of a plot to assault and stone them, Paul and Barnabas left for Lystra.

In Lystra, also discussed in my post, the crowd listening to them nearly worshipped them as gods — Zeus (Paul) and Hermes (Barnabas) — and nearly offered them sacrifices. Paul and Barnabas had a most difficult time trying to convince the people that their blessings came from God, not false deities.

However, the Jews in Iconium were still furious with Paul and Barnabas. Jews from Antioch in Pisidia were equally enraged. Groups from both places — in Asia Minor (Anatolia), by the way — went to Lystra to stir the crowd up against the two men. They stoned Paul, because Barnabas was less of a threat, and ‘supposing’ he was dead, dragged him out of the city (verse 19).

John MacArthur tells us a bit about the author of Acts — St Luke’s — use of the Greek word for ‘supposing’ (emphases mine):

Now the word “supposing” is the word “namidsoe”. Now this word is an interesting word. It has two meanings. The first meaning is to have a custom, like it was a custom to do this or it was a custom to do that, but the second meaning is to suppose something. It is very obvious when it is used to mean accustom and when it is used to mean supposing. It is obvious from the context of any passage where it appears. Now it is used to mean supposing many times in the New Testament. Far and away the vast majority of those times – get this – it means to suppose something that is not true. Got that one? That’s the key to the interpretation. Far and away, in fact I think only two or three times, it is used otherwise. It is used far and away to mean to suppose wrongly and that is its use in the Book of Acts.

What happened to Paul in Lystra is interesting for two reasons.

First, it partially parallels what happened to Stephen, the first martyr, at the end of Acts 7. The Jews were so outraged at his apologetic for Jesus that they stoned him. They took him out of the city first, whereas they stoned Paul within the city limits then removed him.

Secondly, who was behind Stephen’s stoning? Saul of Tarsus — this same Paul who was stoned. Then, Saul had his Damascene conversion (Acts 9), discussed here, here and here. After Saul had been blind for three days, the Lord appeared to someone who did not know him, a Christian Damascene by the name of Ananias. The Lord told Ananias where to find Saul and to lay hands on him so that he would regain his sight. Ananias knew that Saul was a chief persecutor of Christians and he told the Lord of Saul’s fearsome reputation:

15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

Now Paul had experienced what Stephen went through, albeit not fatally.

Another aspect of this stoning shows how fickle people can be. A short time before, they called Paul Zeus and wanted to worship him. Matthew Henry’s commentary puts it this way:

they were irritated to such a degree that the mob rose and stoned Paul, not by a judicial sentence, but in a popular tumult; they threw stones at him, with which they knocked him down, and then drew him out of the city, as one not fit to live in it, or drew him out upon a sledge or in a cart, to bury him, supposing he had been dead. So strong is the bias of the corrupt and carnal heart to that which is evil, even in contrary extremes, that, as it is with great difficulty that men are restrained from evil on one side, so it is with great ease that they are persuaded to evil on the other side. See how fickle and mutable the minds of carnal worldly people are, that do not know and consider things. Those that but the other day would have treated the apostles as more than men now treat them as worse than brutes, as the worst of men, as the worst of male-factors. To-day Hosanna, to-morrow Crucify; to-day sacrificed to, to-morrow sacrificed … Popular breath turns like the wind. If Paul would have been Mercury, he might have been enthroned, nay, he might have been enshrined; but, if he will be a faithful minister of Christ, he shall be stoned, and thrown out of the city. Thus those who easily submit to strong delusions hate to receive the truth in the love of it.

Some disciples — converts — followed the men taking Paul out of the city. Paul stood up (verse 20). They all re-entered Lystra. The next day, he and Barnabas went on to the nearby town of Derbe.

That Paul stood up and continued as normal demonstrates that a restorative — healing — miracle had taken place. Henry tells us (addition of a definition mine):

Though he was not dead, yet he was ill crushed and bruised, no doubt, and fainted away; he was in a deliquium, so that it was not without a miracle that he came so soon to himself, and was so well as to be able to go into the city. Note, God’s faithful servants, though they may be brought within a step of death, and may be looked upon as dead both by friends and enemies, shall not die as long as he has work for them to do. They are cast down, but not destroyed, 2 Corinthians 4:9.

MacArthur says that we can be sure that Paul had not died, that he was instead, as Henry describes, seriously injured:

the Holy Spirit is not in the business of minimizing resurrections. If this was a resurrection of the Apostle Paul I think you would have a lot more said about it that is said there, especially in the Book of Acts. The Book of Acts is dominated by a careful explanation of miracle after miracle after miracle. For the Holy Spirit to do a miracle like that and not make it clear means that the very purpose of the miracle is disallowed. What is a miracle for? A sign that points to the truth, but the sign there is so small you can’t even read it, and the Holy Spirit is in the business of making billboards. If this was a resurrection of Paul you’d have a lot more information about it than just there, and Luke is in the business of making clear cut, precise statements about miracles.

Derbe appears to be a footnote. Luke did not write much about it other than to say that Paul and Barnabas preached the Good News and made many disciples (verse 21). Paul did not write about Derbe, either.

Henry has an interesting detail about Derbe:

And it should seem that Timothy was of that city, and was one of the disciples that now attended Paul, had met him at Antioch and accompanied him in all this circuit; for, with reference to this story, Paul tells him how fully he had known the afflictions he endured at Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra, 2 Timothy 3:10,11. Nothing is recorded that happened at Derbe.

Derbe was also their final destination. After facing all the physical and mental persecution, they retraced their steps back to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch!

How dangerous was that? Most people would have said, ‘We don’t want to get killed. We went, we made disciples. They’ll be okay.’

MacArthur explains the determination of these men:

They went all the way back. Why? Because the Great Commission is not to make people Christians, it’s to make them what? Disciples. So it was dangerous to return. I mean they’d been kicked out of every town they’ve been in and it was taking their life in their hands but they believed so much in follow-up that they took their life in their hands.

They went back to the town where they’d been stoned, they went back to the towns where they’d been thrown out and their lives had been threatened. They went back fearlessly because they believed in follow-up. Sure it was dangerous. It was dangerous to go back but it was more dangerous for those new babes not to have meat and milk so they went back. I love that verse 21 ’cause that teaches follow-up. Don’t ever lead anybody to Jesus Christ that you’re not willing to nurture.

Verse 22 lists what follow-up entails: strengthening the disciples, encouraging their faith and telling them of the trials and tribulations of believing in Jesus Christ. (There is one final step in verse 23: organisation of the local church.)

The Cross offends. Even Baby Jesus offends! Everything about Christ offends those hostile to His everlasting Light.

Taking the follow-up steps one-by-one, strengthening — in some translations, ‘confirming’. MacArthur explains the Greek word for ‘confirming’:

Now the word “confirming” comes from a Greek word that really is made up of two wordsIt’s made of “epi” which means a pawn and “sterics” which means a prop or a support, and when they went back they went back to prop up the disciples.

You know a new babe can’t stand up, right? It’s like a new little baby. They just flop and lie there, and when you start to teach them to walk you’ve got to lift them and prop them up and hold their little arms and wiggle them around and get them to kind of get the feel of what it’s all about and away it goes after a while but that’s exactly the way it is as a Christian. You’ve got a baby and the baby is gonna have to be propped up. This word … is used four times in the Book of Acts to talk about propping up new believers. Acts 15:32, 15:41 and 18:23 in here, and it talks about each case of propping up the new believers. So they went back to prop them up. Literally it means to strengthen them, to help them to stand on their own, to be strong, and that’s the goal for every Christian minister, isn’t it?

The props — support — entailed:

Teaching doctrine, teaching principles, giving them props. That’s basic.

The next step is to encourage the new disciples in their faith. This is where exhortation — encouragement (not criticism) — comes in:

Now you can give them the doctrine but you don’t stop there, right? You don’t say, “Well we’ve had our doctrine for this morning. Goodbye.” You say, “What are you going to do about it?” And then you whammo and you get in there with the charge and all that, and that’s what’s in verse 22, “Confirming the souls of the disciples and then exhorting them.”

You know what exhorting means? It means to push a person toward a certain kind of conduct. It means to say, “Now here are the facts. Now go do it!”

That sounds a bit abrupt, but MacArthur reminds us that Paul was kind and patient:

Listen to what Paul says, 1 Thessalonians 2, “We were gentle among you.” That’s a good thing to remember in your exhortation. You don’t want to be like a bull in a china closet. “Gentle as a nursing mother and we being affectionately desirous of you we were willing to impart unto you not the Gospel of God only but our own souls.” We just gave ourselves. That’s part of it, isn’t it? Follow-up, giving yourself. Verse 9 he says, “We labored and travailed, laboring night and day” and the idea here is a painful work, just excruciating, agonizing in follow-up, and verse 11, “As you know how we exhorted and encouraged and charged every one of you as a father does his children that you should walk worthy.” That’s not teaching; that’s exhortation. Exhortation is teaching’s companion. Here’s the doctrine, now go do it! That’s exhortation. Exhortation is important, isn’t it?

The final point is setting the expectation for trial and tribulation. Think of what happened to the preachers in Acts. When they did not die or were stoned and otherwise persecuted, Satan was there with sorcerers to fill in the gaps. Imagine these converts witnessing the events that took place in their respective towns and cities. They must have been verbally and physically abused, too. Belief in Christ is costly.

MacArthur says:

In fact, Jude said, “You’re really gonna have to earnestly contend for the faith. Fight for it.” New babes, Satan tries to rip it away. The second thing he says, not only exhorting them but continue in the faith, this is beautiful, “We must through much tribulation enter the Kingdom of God.” A guy is going along in a pretty happy go lucky life, just winging it. All of a sudden he gets saved and he realizes he’s in a war. He’s saved, he’s come to Christ, there’s peace and joy, blessedness, and the guy gets saved and wham, smash, bam. I mean Satan belts him from every angle and problems that he can’t even believe and all kinds of things begin to trouble him and the guy doesn’t know what’s going on so immediately when dealing with a new Christian you must exhort him to anticipate … tribulation, trouble.

Get ready, my friend. You got saved, Satan’s coming, and he’s gonna unload, and I don’t think we’re fair with a new believer unless we tell him that. They need to be exhorted about the fact that tribulation is part of it. All that live Godly are gonna be suffering persecution and you’re gonna contend for the faith. You’re gonna fight for it

The whole system is against the Kingdom of God and when you enter the Kingdom you are one of the enemy of Satan and his hosts, and so people need to be exhorted to hang on and continue in the faith. From God’s standpoint salvation is secured eternally by sovereignty. From the human’s viewpoint it is secured visibly by continuance and so he says, “Get ready for trouble. It’s gonna come.” But I’ll tell you something, and I’ve said it before, if you don’t have trouble you don’t have victory, right? And who wants to live a life where there’s no victory? What a dull life. You say, “Yeah but there’s no battles.” That’s dull. I mean everybody wants to win. There’s got to be a contest if there’s gonna be a winner.

After the completion of these three steps — strengthening, encouragement and setting expectations for trouble — one more remains: organising the local church (verse 23). Paul and Barnabas appointed elders — senior leaders. MacArthur explains:

Organization. Now notice the interesting thing here, the ordained elders. Now elders are to rule in the church. Often the question is, “What kind of church government do you believe in? I believe in the kind of church government where the elders rule the church. You say, “Well does that mean that they just dictate?” No it doesn’t. It means they’re sensitive to the people and answerable to God.

Other translations of ‘appointed’ include ‘ordained’, which is a more straightforward verb. Paul and Barnabas ordained the elders. MacArthur gives us the ancient Greek ritual of ordination, which involved a consensus of raised hands among the congregation:

“ordained”, very interesting word in the Greek.

The term originally meant, “to select by a vote of raised hands.” Now people have always said, well, should a church vote on its leaders? The word progressed from that meaning and by the time Paul wrote this it meant simply to appoint or choose but it had a lingering significance of the raised hand idea, and incidentally it is used one other place in 2 Corinthians 8:19 and there it definitely does mean the idea of a congregation selecting. So the word means “to choose then with approval of the people by raised hands.” You know that’s probably how they did it.

It is likely that Paul and Barnabas chose the nominees, and the congregation voted with raised hands.

The second part of verse 23 is profound. Paul and Barnabas prayed and fasted after ordaining the elders. Henry says:

It is good to join fasting with prayer, in token of our humiliation for sin, and in order to add vigour to our prayers.

MacArthur says:

Boy, that’s a serious business, you know? Remember what Josiah said? “Like people, like priest. Nobody ever goes higher than its leadership” so they prayed with fasting, concentrated prayer, and I think people when you talk about fasting that’s where fasting really becomes what I think God intended it to be when you’re so lost in prayer over some spiritual battle or some spiritual issue that food becomes insignificant, and they poured out their hearts before God in prayer because they knew they had a critical decision in every town they went to. If they chose wrong leadership Satan could destroy what they had begun. Prayer and fasting.

Finally, Paul and Barnabas committed the elders to the Lord. Henry has a succinct, beautiful explanation of this:

When we are parting with our friends, the best farewell is to commend them to the Lord, and to leave them with him.

MacArthur tells us that Paul and Barnabas had done all they could humanly do:

You know I’ve spent myself on some people and I get down to the last and I say, “God, I’ve done everything I can do.” I’m giving this one over to the head of the church, Jesus Himself. You have to do that, don’t you? … I’m glad that that’s the final knot on the string of follow-up, aren’t you, that it’s God’s?

He tells us what Paul and Barnabas did next:

You say boy, they must’ve been tired. Tired? How about bruised? How about weary? How about overdone physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually? How about wiped out? I mean they had had it. It’s just unbelievable what they had gone through, and this had been going on for at least a year and a half untiringly. Now they’re going back home. They finished. They’re going home. Gonna have to cross the Taurus Mountains again with all the robbers and all that stuff and fast rivers. Oh, brother.

Their story continues next week.

Next time — Acts 14:24-28

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