This is another extremely long entry; it looks at topics such as THE HOLY SPIRIT WORKING, THE EMERGENCE OF PAUL, PERSECUTION, FREEDOM IN CHRIST, FALSE DOCTRINE, SALVATION BY FAITH, BOUNDARIES, SOWING AND REAPING, BOASTING IN THE LORD, CONFLICT RESOLUTION, BEING AN ENCOURAGING LEADER, HOW PERSECUTORS WORK, GODLY MOTIVATION, GREAT RELATIONSHIPS, NOT BEING IDLE, and THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST.
Note to the reader: We are following Dr F LaGard Smith’s chronological Bible, called THE NARRATED BIBLE (also known as THE DAILY BIBLE) published by Harvest Press and available through Amazon and many Christian bookstores. Dr Smith inserts the letters of Paul and others as they occurred historically in the book of Acts, so it is really like getting a history lesson and a Bible lesson all in one go! Have fun!
Many have said that those who formatted the Bible originally and called the fifth book of the New Testament “The Acts of the Apostles” could have just as easily called it “The Acts of the Holy Spirit”. We have seen the Holy Spirit do AMAZING things in the early church, including coming down in tongues of fire, and raising someone from the dead. Now, we will see that the Holy Spirit didn’t stop there – He also gave specific direction for mission work! I have a feeling that if the leaders hadn’t been so spiritual, and been in the habit of praying and fasting and worshiping together, the Holy Spirit may not have given such clear directives. Don’t we wish today that the Spirit would be so specific? Perhaps if we are really in the word and having great prayers, we will feel the Holy Spirit’s leading a bit more... It isn’t good to be TOO convinced of this, after all, it could just be indigestion! But at the same time, God speaks to us in many ways…Listen for God’s messages. You never know! I certainly feel way more confident about something if I have read and prayed loads about it before it happens!
In Acts 13, Paul & Co are sent out on their first missionary journey. When I was 19 and two years old as a Christian, I went on a mission team. The mainline church of Christ that sent us out had elders, and we all got on the stage in front of the whole congregation, and the elders laid their hands on us. Wow! That felt special…
It is great to see that the leaders were getting along here in Acts. We will later see that Saul/Paul and Barnabas disagreed over the issue of John Mark’s leadership, which I will discuss in chapter 15. However, at this point, they were one in heart about bringing the young leader with them on their travels around what is known today as Cyprus and central Turkey.
This is a significant chapter of the Bible’s history because it marks the emergence of Saul/Paul as the dominant leader, as well as chronicling his name change. It seemed natural for Luke to suddenly begin to write about Saul as Paul, following the conversion of the Roman official, Sergius Paulus. Perhaps Sergius suggested to Saul, who himself was a Roman citizen, that he would do better converting Gentiles if he had a more Latin name, instead of a Jewish one. Who knows? We just know that after this encounter, we only read of Paul, not Saul.
Paul’s leadership qualities showed up in a big way – he was the one who took exception to the sorcerer’s sin and then rebuked him, he was the one who quite naturally preached the sermon, and by the end of the chapter, Luke was no longer writing about Barnabas and Saul, but rather Saul and Barnabas. Paul had matured quickly and “come of age” as a leader.
The sermon Paul gave in Pisidian Antioch at the synagogue has remnants of Stephen’s sermon to The Council. I wonder if Paul had been paying attention that day to what Stephen had said? Maybe that’s how he learned to give such a sermon. Maybe he felt a bit guilty because of what he allowed to happen to Stephen? Paul had a healthy view of grace, but he also would later write that the grace God showed to him motivated him to work harder than everyone else! He also imitated the way that Peter had preached at Pentecost – challenging the leaders of Jerusalem for crucifying Jesus.
(It is also in this sermon that we read the famous quote about David – that he was a man after God’s own heart. What a great quality for us to pray about for ourselves…to have the heart of God…) Paul also put in a quote from the Old Testament about scoffers listening, that God would do something they wouldn’t believe. For Paul, that had certainly been true – he had been a scoffer, and worse, and then God did something that he couldn’t believe!
This first sermon was well received, but when a huge crowd came out the next week, the jealousy of the religious establishment was too much and they stirred up persecution against Paul and his companions. (This should make you feel good about yourself if you have ever had people speak abusively about you because of your Christianity! Of course, that doesn’t mean we should seek out persecution. If we live like disciples, it will come!) The godly men obeyed Jesus’ words in Matt 10 re shaking the dust off your feet, and they preached the word to the Gentiles, who were receptive. Then they moved on to more open pasture, or so they thought. In Iconium, they had some success, but again, the jealous Jews poisoned the minds of the listeners, and divided the city into “for” and “against”. Isn’t it frustrating when all you are trying to do is tell people about the good news and some negative types “poison people’s minds”? I hate that!
God protected them from any major mistreatment so far, but when they got to the next city, persecution broke out in a big way. It started out well enough, with the pagan audiences about to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas as Hermes and Zeus! Ha! Talk about fickle! The same people who wanted to offer a bull on an altar for them decided to listen to the Jews who came over from the previous two towns and instead began to stone them! Good grief! If Paul’s initial hardships in Damascus and later in Pisidian Antioch had been the appetizers, Iconium was the main course – a real baptism of fire! God really protected Paul, even though everyone thought he was dead, and the next day he made his way to another city. Undaunted, Paul kept preaching, and afterwards, he and Barnabas returned through all the towns they had just been persecuted in to strengthen the disciples. These were probably closed door “by invitation only” meetings, instead of free-for-alls at the synagogue. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. Another understatement! Paul and Barnabas appointed leaderships in all these churches with prayer and fasting. They truly relied on the Holy Spirit to lead them! What a great example for us of how we need to trust in and rely on the Lord in all that we do for him! Finally the two brave men returned to Antioch and told everyone what they had experienced on their first missionary journey, and especially how they helped to convert Gentiles. Luke ends in a simple way:
And they stayed there a long time with the disciples.
According to Dr. Smith’s chronology, Paul’s first missionary journey through ancient Asia Minor ended around AD 47. He and Barnabas didn’t enjoy much of a rest, however, because by AD 48, there was trouble in the church: the Jew/Gentile Controversy. Jewish disciples had continued to keep the Law of Moses, even after their conversions, since they “Jesus as the Messiah” was the fulfilment of a Jewish dream come true. Therefore, they felt that, in addition to repentance and baptism, Gentile believers in the Lord should also be circumcised, in order to fulfil the Law. The men promoting this doctrine were known as “Judaizers”. They came down from Judea to Antioch trying to force the Gentile disciples to be circumcised, and when Paul and Barnabas heard about it, they argued with them head on. This event prompted the church in Antioch to send Paul, Barnabas, and some other disciples to Jerusalem to speak directly with the apostles and elders there about this contentious subject. Wouldn’t you know it was the Christian Pharisees who were trying to push obedience to the Law of Moses! It was obviously such a potentially divisive issue that the apostles and elders met alone to debate the idea, and this meeting is often referred to as “The Council at Jerusalem”.
Luke recorded the main arguments from this historic meeting, quoting Peter directly as Peter stood up for the Gentiles, arguing that they should be able to become Christians without facing additional burdens, and that salvation comes from grace through Christ, not from obeying the Law. Paul and Barnabas did their part by sharing about all of the Gentile conversions and the miracles done through them. James, the brother of Jesus, who was at this time apparently an important leader in the church, rounded out the discussion by quoting scripture. He reminded them that it had always been God’s intent to bring the Gentiles into his kingdom, and now that the Old Testament was being fulfilled before their very eyes, they shouldn’t make things difficult for their Gentile “brothers”. Rather, he suggested, they should write a letter to all of the new believers, “telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.”
At the end of the day, no one could top his reasoning, so the leaders and the whole Jerusalem church got behind the idea. They sent some of their own members, including Silas, along with Paul and Barnabas, to bring a letter to all the Gentile believers. In its usual understated way, the Bible says that the disciples were glad for its encouraging message…I reckon the grown men who discovered that they wouldn’t have to be circumcised to go to heaven were especially fired up! The fruit of fighting for unity was obvious – the Jewish Christians were satisfied, the Gentile disciples were happy, Paul and Barnabas kept preaching with much success, and the friendship struck by Paul and Silas continued on for many years.
We do not know the exact time that Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia were written, but it so closely parallels the things debated in Jerusalem that many scholars assume it was probably written around AD 50, in the years just following the conference. Another reason that I personally agree with the date of this letter is the fact that it is the only letter of Paul’s that doesn’t begin with some encouragement. Even the Corinthians got some praise. So my assumption is that Paul was still relatively young as a leader, and he hadn’t quite understood the idea that one doesn’t just launch into a rebuke before one has barely said “hello”. He obviously did learn that lesson, because the rest of his books all begin with a more encouraging tone.
Galatians 1 Paul’s opening line was a defence of his apostleship, which apparently the Judaizers had called into question. He then sharply rebuked all who would insist on following the Law of Moses in addition to salvation through Christ, saying that in doing so, they were deserting Jesus and turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. (Remember that “gospel” means “good news”.)
Paul wasn’t going to have a bar of it (as they say in Australia) – anyone who preached salvation by any other means than faith in Jesus should go to hell! Whoa baby! When Paul got mad, he didn’t mind letting them know!
Galatians 2 Suspicious that some of the Galatian Christians had sided with the Judaizers in a “seeking approval” sort of way, Paul asserted that the only One whose approval we need is God! He then reminded them of his “resume” – that he had been a Jew among Jews, and a persecutor at that! But that Jesus had appeared to him with the charge to preach to the Gentiles, and he hadn’t felt the need to back up God’s direction with any approval from the leaders at that time. God’s word is God’s word!
Paul was obviously fuming with anger over the idea that the message of salvation, and his preaching about that message, might be nullified by those with an not-from-God agenda. He used strong words such as “false brothers”, “infiltrated”, “spy”, and “slaves”.
We are only just halfway into the second chapter, but it is clear that God hates false doctrine, and “salvation by works” teaching. Paul then referred to the Jerusalem Council Meeting and the way it worked out well, (he included a detail left out of Luke’s account – in addition to not eating blood or food sacrificed to idols, the Gentile Christians should continue to remember the poor. Isn’t it great that, even in turbulent times, we can usually agree to remember the poor!??!!)
Another detail that is not found in other letters (presumably because it was so unflattering) is the story of Paul’s public rebuke of Peter. I would assume, at least with my nature, that Peter was trying to be “sensitive” to those he considered to be “weaker in the faith”. However, this had a negative impact (hey – even great leaders make mistakes, amen?!) and Paul had felt the need to let Peter have it in front of the other disciples so that no one could would get a even a hint of legitimacy from Peter’s actions. Paul ended his recounting of that confrontation with a verse that has become a great memory verse for many:
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
This is a great verse to remember not just in this context but anytime we are hit with temptation!
Paul continued with:
I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!
Chapter 3 He kept up his tone in the next paragraph, calling them fools who had been bewitched. Paul used rhetorical questions to make the Galatians think! He was a seasoned debater, and he knew how to appeal to their sense of logic, which he does as he continues on throughout the chapter:
What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator. A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is one. Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ (NASV Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ) that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law (NASV no longer under a tutor). You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Gal 3:19-29)
Besides helping to underline Paul’s argument against legalism, this is a beautiful visual of what happens to a person when they are baptized – “clothed with Christ”. I like to think that I have on a T-shirt that matches Jesus’ T-shirt and when God looks at me he just sees Jesus – sounds good anyway! Also, the idea that “all are one in Christ” is awesome – not just re the Jew and Gentile controversy, but even for women! There was certainly no other ancient religion that taught that!
Chapter 4 Back to the topic, Paul tried to appeal to their sense of “belonging” by discussing “Son-ship”. Everyone wants to be able to cry out to God, “Abba, Father”. He showed them that this was not possible under the law, but only under grace. He reminded them of how much they had cared for him when he was ill and was preaching the gospel of them, and ended with a question for the ages, Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?
Paul, the apostle, didn’t have children, as far as we know, but he thought of the people he had converted as his children:
My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!
So Paul did know what it was like to have teenagers!
Galatians 5 is full of some real gems that are almost like theme verses for the whole book:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
We shouldn’t get confused between wanting to be committed for Jesus and demanding a certain standard of behaviour. Yes, we absolutely want to be Jesus’ disciples, deny our selves, take up His cross, and walk as Jesus walked. But the minute we start scripting exactly what that looks like, we get close to what the Judaizers were doing – adding an additional burden on to what it means to be saved.
You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
We have to see that we are saved by the grace of God through our faith in Christ and what His blood/death did for us. We reach that blood at baptism (more on this later) but we are not saved by the act of baptism, or by how much we evangelize, or how well we repent. In our desire to not imitate the cheap grace of some churches, we must make sure we don’t swing to the other side and be works-driven.
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
A good guideline is – am I doing this because of love? You know the old adage – people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care!
As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!
I just like this one cause I think it is funny! Don’t tell me Paul didn’t have a sense of humour.
You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.
If there is any mistake that many people have made as they have tried to sort out their Christian walk, it has been in throwing off all kinds of restraints and guidelines under the guise of “freedom in Christ”. Yes, we are free. No, we shouldn’t let others make us feel guilty for not sticking to a certain schedule or whatever. However, we are NEVER to justify sin or lukewarmness because of so-called “freedom in Christ”.
The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
No explanation needed!
If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
These are great verses for us to remember at all times about our relationships with each other. Unity is crucial to what we do, otherwise the world will not be called higher by our love. Good for raising kids, too.
And just before the fruit of the Spirit is listed out, Paul reminded them of the acts of the sinful nature! Never hurts to read that again!
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
I learned a tune to these verses when I was in college and I still sing it sometimes in my prayer. Great song to calm me down or point me in the right direction.
The teaching from Galatians 6 is especially good for understanding discipling relationships and boundaries; it begins with a command for us to help those caught in sin.
Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.
If Paul were writing this today, he might have put it in bullet point form:
Helpful Hints for restoring those caught in sin:
- • Be spiritual yourself
- • Do it gently
- • Watch yourself so you aren’t tempted.
Now the problems I see with this teaching being practiced is that either people are nervous about assuming that they are spiritual enough to help anyone else, so they don’t say anything, or when someone does try to help someone else, the person they are helping sometimes gets defensive and says, “are you so spiritual?” Then there are those who forget about the gentle part…So difficult to be like Jesus!
Let’s forget about the fear and insecurity, let’s try to be spiritual, let’s admit our own weaknesses and shortcomings, and let’s help each other when we are struggling!
As it says here, in a gentle way (speaking the truth in LOVE, right?), and not getting tempted ourselves. Now maybe that means that if we are helping an alcoholic, and we used to be addicted to drinking, to be careful that we don’t join them at the bar. Maybe it means that when we are counseling a married couple with problems that we shouldn’t empathize too closely with the opposite sex lest one of us stumble and make their marriage even worse. Or maybe Paul meant beware of harshness and self-righteousness…who knows?
Well, that’s enough on one verse!
In the Cloud and Townsend book called Boundaries, the authors state that this passage sounds like a paradox when you first read it, but when you see the Greek words, it makes more sense. We fulfil the law of Christ by carrying each others’ burdens, but each one should carry his own load. What does that mean? They say that the burden is like a huge boulder that no one can carry alone, but the load is like a knapsack, which everyone should carry by themselves. If people don’t even like to do what they should do for themselves, there is little chance you can help them. But if we callously ignore someone who needs help with their boulder, we are not loving. Hope that makes sense (get the book!)
Stuck in the middle of that is another warning against pride! Can’t get too many of those! By the way, people who are arrogant usually don’t have good boundaries, and they often expect people do all sorts of things for them that they should do themselves. That is also known as “entitlement”.
I couldn’t resist putting this comic strip in – one of my favourites! It is about a teenage boy named Jeremy, and it is called ZITS.
Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.
Another thing we will do if we are humble is to share with others what we have learned from them. For those of us who struggle with thinking we know everything, it always helps to remember that we didn’t make up our “wonderful” insights and to thank others for their input!
The Boundaries guys use the next part of this chapter to teach what they say is The Law Of Sowing And Reaping. In their opinion, just as there is a natural law of gravity, there is a natural law of sowing and reaping. Many people mess up their lives because their parents didn’t give them limits and boundaries growing up, so they didn’t “reap” what they “sowed”. They were not made to face the consequences of their actions. When the principal called, the parents blamed the teacher, and moved their child to another class or another school. When their child broke the neighbour’s window for the fifth time, the dad paid and said that boys will be boys. Etc etc.
For more info on this, read Boundaries For Kids! You will not regret reading either of these books. They have helped me more than I could ever say! I use these principles daily! (Other great parenting books which help to stamp out Entitlement and to encourage Limits and Personal Responsibility are TEENPROOFING by John Rosemond, I Refuse To Raise A Brat by Marilu Henner, and of course, our Good Enough Parenting.)
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel weary. Half the time it is my own fault, cause I didn’t go to sleep early enough, or I have been packing my life with too many activities and not enough exercise. And sometimes it is because I didn’t have good boundaries and have been trying to help too many people or help people who should be carrying their own backpack. (see above!) However, sometimes it is because helping others is tiring. I appreciate this exhortation to not become weary, but to keep rejoicing in the Lord, since there is the assurance that the harvest will come. Amen! One more warning: sometimes we make terrible mistakes as leaders when we are weary and therefore do things in a hurry…beware!! (That’s why team leadership works well – trade the burden!)
Paul said that the only reason people were preaching false doctrine was to avoid persecution from the Judaizers, who just wanted to boast about their flesh, but he wanted to be known for only boasting in Jesus.
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Back to Acts…Luke’s wonderfully detailed first hand account of Paul’s time in Philippi and beyond is only marred by the notion that Paul and Barnabas had a fight beforehand. Too bad Luke hadn’t been there to witness that – he might have played mediator, or at least he could have shed a bit more light on their argument!
However, since we are allowed to use our imagination when reading the Bible, I will speculate about what may have happened. We know that John Mark (JM) had left Paul and Barnabas during their earlier journey (Acts 13:13). There is no explanation as to why he left. Only in Acts 15 do we see that Paul was actually not happy about it. Perhaps Paul had already been betrayed by so many persecutors that he was afraid to trust someone who had deserted him. Perhaps he suspected that JM’s links with the Jerusalem church caused him to be anti-Pauline or anti-Gentile. Perhaps he just thought that JM was a wimp who needed to be disciplined for chickening out at a time when Paul almost lost his life! Perhaps he was just hurt – leaders get hurt, too! We will only find out the real reason in heaven. What we do know is that Paul felt so strongly about it that he was willing to break up his preaching partnership with Barnabas, his long-time friend and mentor, and go on with Silas instead. If we assume that there was no hatred involved, but that the two agreed to disagree, so to speak, we can see that it worked out for the good of the kingdom in several ways: (1) there were now two mission evangelist teams preaching to the Gentiles instead of one; (2) Barnabas helped JM to grow – more on that later; (3) Silas helped Paul to write letters, and (4) Paul and Silas met Timothy and trained him as well.
While we are on the topic, reading about Barnabas is fun and inspiring! What we know about him is that his real name was Joseph, he was a Levite, and he was from Cyprus, so he knew how to get around among both the Jews and the Gentiles. We also know that he was “sold-out” and sacrificial, because he sold a field and gave the money to the apostles to use as they saw fit. What we know about him above all is that he was so encouraging as a disciple that the apostles nicknamed him Barnabas, which meant “Son of Encouragement”! I figure a guy’s gotta be pretty encouraging to get a nickname like that from the apostles of Jesus! And we remember that, when Paul was a young Christian, the only disciple who stood up for him and took care of him was, guess who, Barnabas! Barnabas saw the good in people when no one else could. I figure that he had “raised up” Paul to the extent that he knew Paul would be ok if he left and worked on someone else for a while, someone else that needed some “believing in”. Barnabas took JM to Barnabas’ hometown, probably to get some nurturing and more encouragement! (There’s nothing like mama’s home cooking when you need nurturing!) It looks like he did a good job, too, cause we know that Paul would later request for Timothy to being John Mark to him (2 Tim 4:11) and of course, the generations have benefited by getting the GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MARK!
If you know two brothers (or sisters) who need to get their relationship restored, find out the facts and the history, and then encourage them to practice the whole of Matt 18, focusing on humility, compassion, openness and forgiveness.
Enough about conflict – let’s check out chapter 16! Timothy, half Jew, half Greek, had become a Christian in the church at Lystra. It seems that he had been brought up as a disciple since young, (based on what Paul would later write in 1 and 2 Tim). His mom and grandma had presumably become disciples after the mom had married a non-believer. That is all speculation. It could be that his mom had not been a very strong Jew and married a Greek and then was converted to Christianity. Or it could be that his mom and dad met at church, one a Jew, one a Greek, but that the father passed away early on and that is why he is not mentioned as having helped Timothy with his faith. Either way, Timothy seemed to be a “fired-up young disciple”, eager to learn and showing much potential, so Paul and Silas brought him along to train up as a leader. Timothy was so eager to learn from Paul that he was circumcised so as to not offend any of the Jewish Christians to whom they would later be preaching. Wow! That’s what I call practicing “to the Jew I became as a Jew”, which Paul wrote later to the church in Corinth! Remember they were still very much in the middle of the Jew Gentile Controversy that had been semi-settled at the Jerusalem Council, so Paul had to be careful about Jewish sensitivities while he was delivering the decisions from that meeting in Jerusalem. (No gmail in those days!)
The churches were getting strengthened and growing when Paul got a vision to go to Macedonia. That’s why we sometimes refer to the urge to do mission work in a certain place as “the Macedonian call”. Notice how directed by the Holy Spirit Paul’s efforts were. This is good for us to remember as we make plans and go places – don’t keep the HS out of your work! (I remember back in 2008, our church staff decided to make our calendar for 2009 by Nov 2008, but then to take the whole month of December to pray about our plans, and we told the church that our final draft would only come out at the end of the month, fully expecting that the Holy Spirit would put new things on our hearts during the prayer times, which He did – best calendar ever!)
The conversion of Lydia is a compelling story of an influential businesswoman becoming a disciple. (I’ve always been partial to her cause my favourite colour is purple!) The church ended up using her home as a base – reminds me of Linda and Tedja’s house in Jakarta! In Sherwin and Steve’s musical, Upside Down, they put in a love story and had Lydia fall in love with Luke! After all, he is writing in the first person when they get to Philippi, but switches back to 3rd when Paul left the city. Does that mean he stayed on with his new love?
Notice that Paul found Lydia when he was looking for a place of prayer. And he did the same thing with the servant girl situation. What insight do we get here? Maybe that we should be more prayerful! Maybe that open people hang out at places of prayer! Or maybe that when something works the first time, do it again!
At any rate, the story of the demon possessed slave girl is bizarre. In Asia, we have heard of things like this happening, and my husband saw something like this when he was a child in Malaysia (a servant girl who was believed to have been demon possessed used to tell the future, etc). Praise God that the power of Jesus is stronger than the dark forces of this world! Isn’t it sad, though, that there are always evil people who will take advantage of the weak? Imagine, the people who knew the girl weren’t happy that the demon left, they were mad that they lost their chance to make money! Disgusting! And who did they take it out on? Paul and Silas. (Have you ever heard the saying, “don’t shoot the messenger?”) False allegations, mob violence – people haven’t changed much in 2000 years, have they? Of course, God used this as a situation to bring much glory to Him and His church, and many were converted through the whole affair. The story of the jailer is so encouraging! Amen! Lesson – if you’re ever in jail for being a Christian, make sure you sing in prison! (If you’re a reader of Hot News, you may remember the story at the beginning of 2008 about the brothers in Bangalore, India who did just that!)
Note – why was the jailer baptized in the middle of the night? Cause he knew that was how he would get his sins forgiven and be saved – and he thought that he might not live after the next day when the head of security found out that the prisoners had escaped!
Paul was honourable and didn’t escape anyway, and he used the whole event to make a scene!
But Paul said to the officers: “They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.” The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city.
This passage always brings a smile to my face – Paul certainly understood what it meant to be innocent as a dove but shrewd as a snake!
After hanging out at Lydia’s house and encouraging the church, Paul and his team went to Thessalonica. Paul taught Jews in the synagogue there, for about two and a half weeks, and helped many to become Christians. Unfortunately, the same kind of jealous Jews who had killed Jesus began to follow Paul around and persecute him. “They rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city.” Will we ever learn? Lies, lies, lies, but people still listened, at least long enough to start a riot!
The grateful disciples secretly sent Paul and Co away to Berea, where they found the Jewish community to be more open and “noble”. The signs of their noble character?
They received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. No surprise that again, many people came to know the Lord. However, the disgusting persecutors from Thessalonica were so committed that they travelled around the region, stirring people up against Paul. The disciples wisely sent him to Athens for safety reasons, with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible.
The events in Athens are fun to read about, and if you happen to visit the city, you can actually see the marketplace mentioned here! How many of us have been inspired in our own search for God by Paul’s s words to the Athenian crowd?
The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
After helping some to become Christians, including a member of the Areopagus, Paul went onto Corinth, where he met a Jewish couple named Aquila and Priscilla. They were disciples who made tents for a living, and Paul lived and worked and preached side by side with them for quite a partnership. Paul apparently made tents during the week, and on the weekend went to the synagogue to try to persuade both Jews and Greeks to become Christians. Once Silas and Timothy arrived, presumably with some financial support, Paul went back to “full-time”, and he then got persecuted for his hard-line preaching. I have always found it humourous – in verse six, he rebuked the Jews and told them that he would now only go to the Gentiles. But two verses later, Paul somehow managed to convert the synagogue ruler and his whole household. Lesson – expect the unexpected! God comforted Paul with more conversions and a positive vision of safety, so Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.
Sometime during this year, Paul wrote the two letters to the church in Thessalonica. I will briefly go through them, highlighting my favourite parts:
1 Thessalonians 1 Unlike in his letter to the Galatians, Paul began this one in a very encouraging way (maybe he was making up for Barnabas!) and he included Silas and Timothy in the opening lines, and kept the letter in the plural first person.
We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father…
Paul also focused on the motivation of the Christians, and praised them for their:
work produced by faith,
labour prompted by love,
endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
When faith hope and love are our motivation, work, labour, and endurance are not far behind.
Paul assured them of God’s love and power, and commended them for their example to others, which was “ringing out” the message all over the region.
In 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul talked again about motives, this time about HIS motives. Bottom line – please God, not men! He reminded them of WHY they (his team) had done what they did, partly out of a kind of “motherly love”, partly out of a “fatherly” concern. This is a true example for all of us who would be leaders. Love our people, and care for them, live righteously, and lead in an unselfish way.
Once more Paul commended the Thessalonians, this time for their deep conviction, and how it showed in their “willingness” to be persecuted. Then, in one of the sweetest passages of all of Paul’s letters, he told them how much he and his team longed to see the disciples in Thessalonica, and encouraged them that they were his glory, joy, and crown.
In 1 Thessalonians 3, Paul told them how Timothy had brought word to them that the Thessalonian disciples were doing great, in spite of all the persecution. And he was so encouraging!!! He asked God to increase their love and strengthen their hearts – who wouldn’t be fired up to be led by a leader like that?
In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul gives them specific instructions for how to live in order to please God, which included keeping away from all sexual immorality, and loving one another more and more. He also admonished them to lead lives that would win the respect of outsiders, and threw in a bit of doctrinal encouragement about the second coming of Jesus. And he told them to talk to each other about this and encourage one another with these words! He segued from there into the idea that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night, and as sons of the light, they should be alert and self-controlled. He told them to wear spiritual armour (a theme he develops in his letter to the Ephesians) and once more pleaded with them to encourage one another!
1 Thessalonians 5 Paul then mentioned how they were to look at their leaders:
Respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.
Paul’s final instructions were a bit more detailed and specific:
Live in peace with each other.
Warn those who are idle,
Encourage the timid,
Help the weak,
Be patient with everyone.
Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong,
Try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.
Be joyful always;
Give thanks in all circumstances
Do not put out the Spirit's fire;
Do not treat prophecies with contempt.
Hold on to the good.
Avoid every kind of evil.
That’s a great list! It helps us know how to treat everyone, and keeps our focus narrowed. And isn’t it great to know that even Paul struggled with always being kind? (Notice that he said to TRY to be kind… ha ha) After a very loving ending, Paul & Co signed off.
According to Dr Smith’s reasoning, some of the young disciples had taken his teaching about the second coming the wrong way, prompting Paul to write a second letter soon afterwards. Other scholars surmise that they had been poisoned by people teaching false doctrine. Either way, Paul and his team did write the second letter to the church in Thessalonica.
In 2 Thessalonians 1, Paul was just as encouraging as he was in his first letter. And he was still boasting about their love and their perseverance during trials. He reminded them that he was praying for them and that Jesus would be glorified in them.
In 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul talked about the second coming, false doctrine and people that were opposing the truth. He reminded them that of what he preached in person, and how some people will perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Again Paul was very encouraging to them as a church.
2 Thessalonians 3 He ended the letter in chapter three by asking for prayers that the message may spread rapidly and be honoured, and with a warning against idleness. Remember what he wrote in Galatians? All of us must carry our own load! God is hard-line against laziness!
Paul ended in an especially sweet way:
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write. 18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
May we all learn the lessons of these wonderful stories and letters!