Posts Tagged 'Paul'

Your Amazing Faith, Part 2

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Faith is an amazing gift from God. How amazing is faith? It’s so amazing only Christians have it. Non-Christians don’t have faith. Like so many other things of God, the world has a version of faith, but it’s a pale imitation of what Christians have been given. The world has positive thinking, but only the Christian possesses faith. That’s what we learn from Romans 10:17 –

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17 | NIV84)

It’s unfortunate that the average Christian doesn’t grasp the profundity of this idea. He glibly takes his faith for granted; utterly clueless of its value or it’s power. Your faith comes from hearing the Gospel. Never underestimate the power of the Word of God, nor the power of the faith it implants in your heart. So the basis of our faith is not what we think or what we feel or what we wish; the basis of our faith is the Gospel.

If the basis of faith is the Word, then what is the object of our faith? Paul gives us the answer in Acts 27:25 –

So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. (Acts 27:25 | NIV84)

Let’s take a look at why Paul said that, and let’s begin by considering this, one of the most exciting chapters in all the New Testament.

Context

The last two chapters of Acts are exciting and make for fun reading. They are full of nautical terms, which is significant given that the author of Acts, Dr Luke, was a landlubber! Notwithstanding, his account of Paul’s journey to Rome is considered to be masterpiece because it sheds some light on how sea voyages were made in those days. James Smith, a Scotsman who is considered to be the father of yachting, is often associated with these chapters. His lifelong devotion to and studies of geology and conchology are considered legendary, but it was his love of yachting that led to his writing a book detailing Paul’s seafaring adventures. In 1844 he retraced this voyage as Luke recorded it, and Smith concluded:

Luke, by his accurate use of nautical terms, gives great precision to his language, and expresses by a single word what would otherwise require several.

His estimation of Luke’s record testifies to the integrity and authenticity of the Biblical record.

When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment. We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us. (Acts 27:1-2 | NIV84)

Three times in those two verses we read the word “we,” which includes Paul, Luke, and a fellow by the name of Aristarchus. The last time we read “we” in the books of Acts is back in chapter 21 when Paul and his friends finally arrived in Rome. That was about two years before the incidents in chapter 27. What was Dr Luke doing for those two years while Paul was held as a prisoner in Caesarea? Remember the other document the good Doctor wrote – the Gospel of Luke? It was here in Rome and the surrounding areas that he did his research for it.

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled a among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus… (Luke 1:2, 3 NIV | 84)

Luke was nothing if not thorough! But why was he allowed to travel with Paul the prisoner? For that matter, why was Aristarchus there? Paul was a special case; he wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill prisoner, and he was treated with slightly more consideration than were other prisoners. In all probability, Luke was Paul’s personal physician and Aristarchus was one of Paul’s best friends.

But what got Paul in such hot water that he was being transported to Rome a prisoner? Back in chapter 25, we read that Paul had been hauled before Agrippa and Festus to face charges brought against him by some troublesome Jews –

A few days later King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus. Since they were spending many days there, Festus discussed Paul’s case with the king. He said: “There is a man here whom Felix left as a prisoner. When I went to Jerusalem, the chief priests and elders of the Jews brought charges against him and asked that he be condemned.” (Acts 25:13 – 15 NIV | 84)

Paul faced both Agrippa and Festus and he shared his conversion experience with the king. This was Paul’s habit. If you read the whole book of Acts, you’ll read Paul’s testimony several times. The fact is, if an unbeliever stood still long enough, Paul would share it with him! Agrippa’s response to Paul’s evangelistic efforts and Paul’s response is a classic exchange –

Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.” (Acts 26:28, 29 NIV | 84)

Everybody agreed that Paul was not guilty of any crime, but he was determined to get to Rome at all costs. In a mark of his frustration with Paul and the Jews in general, Agrippa remarked –

This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.” (Acts 26:32 NIV | 84)

Agrippa stands as a most tragic character. He had no desire to persecute Paul. Meyer Lenski, one of the great New Testament scholars, notes ;

Agrippa had felt Paul’s touch upon his heart, and from this strange and unexpected power he “left the room.” It was his hour of grace, and when he “left the room,” he left salvation behind him.

Sad for Agrippa. He was presented with a the chance of a lifetime: the chance to have his sins forgiven and a home in heaven guaranteed. And he walked away from it. He’s not alone, unfortunately. Countless others have done what he did.

Bound for Rome

Nobody onboard that ship was thrilled to be there this time of year. A sea voyage such as this one was not looked forward to by the ancients, but it was particularly perilous this time of year. Paul left the area in late August and didn’t arrive in Rome until March! It was a miracle that he got there at all, having not only lost all his belongings, but also his ship!

The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs. (Acts 27:3 NIV | 84)

But it wasn’t all bad, at least at first. As a Roman citizen, Paul was treated with respect and “presumed innocent,” at least until he faced Caesar. He was allowed to visit some friends, but time was passing and the weather was changing fast. Paul wasn’t sailor, but he was no dummy – he knew they were in trouble.

Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Fast. So Paul warned them, “Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.” (Acts 27:9, 10 NIV | 84)

Just like Agrippa, nobody on the ship would heed Paul’s warning, so instead of finding safe harbor, they pressed on.

The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along. (Acts 27:15 NIV | 84)

In other words, their fate quite literally was “hanging on the wind.” If that isn’t a metaphor for life, nothing is. So many people honestly think that they are in control of their lives; that they shape their destiny; that they can plan their lives around a desired outcome. It’s not like that, though. Don’t get me wrong. It’s good to be careful and live prudently. But it’s downright foolish to think for a moment we control our lives. Other times it may seem as though outside forces are doing that; that we are at the whim of our employers or our government or our health. But that’s not accurate either. It’s God who is control of our lives, and it’s not a passive control. But at the same time, you and I as believers in God shouldn’t allow ourselves to be “driven along” by the winds of this world. The world should never, ever direct the course of a Christian! Paul knew back in verse 10 that trouble was coming, and it was.

When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved. (Acts 27:20 | NIV84)

All hope was lost. They had reached the point of no return – the absolute end of their resources. And that’s when Paul said this:

Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ (Acts 27:23-24 | NIV84)

Those verses grab your attention. Most people are hooked at “an angel of the God whose I am…stood beside me,” but what is most astounding, to me at least, is that God had a plan for Paul’s life (to stand trial before Caesar – not a great plan from the human perspective!), and therefore Paul’s life would be preserved. Not only that, because of the importance of Paul’s life, the lives of all those associated with Paul would also be preserved! Never underestimate the importance of a single Christian life! A single Christian life can change the course of history.

That word from the God sustained Paul through this storm. It didn’t matter how bad the storm was or how terrified the sailors were, Paul knew things would be fine because he knew what God’s Word was and his faith was in God and His Word. Paul’s faith was completely objective, and that Object was God. That’s why he could make this declaration –

So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. (Acts 27:25 | NIV84)

His faith wasn’t in the sailors’ skill or the boat’s sturdy construction. This wasn’t positive thinking speaking. Paul’s attitude was the logical outcome of his faith in God and God’s Word. There’s nothing like the worst circumstances of life to bring out the best aspects of faith.

Paul lived an exciting life, and this incident highlights a couple of things. First, God’s will for those who serve Him can never be stymied, not by nature or man. Second, God’s people are able to hear the voice of God in the midst of terrible storms. Maybe nobody else, but God’s people can hear God’s voice, and His voice brings personal assurance and strength.

From Persecutor to Preacher

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We first meet Saul, who would later become Paul, as a bystander in Jerusalem. He was watching the stoning of Stephen, the very first martyr of the young Christian church. Saul would become a great threat to the future of the church.

But Paul, threatening with every breath and eager to destroy every Christian, went to the High Priest in Jerusalem. (Acts 9:1 TLB)

Acts 9 provides an account of Paul’s conversion. In all, there are three accounts of the event. More space is devoted to Paul’s conversion experience than to any other subject. Clearly this was a seminal event in the life of the Church, not to mention an event that forever changed Paul’s own life.

But before this life-changing event, Paul was on a rampage; he was a man on a mission, and that mission was to destroy the church.

Paul was like a wild man, going everywhere to devastate the believers, even entering private homes and dragging out men and women alike and jailing them. (Acts 8:3 TLB)

Paul’s whole being; indeed, his whole reason for living, was the destroy the church of Jesus Christ any way he could. His mentor was the much more reasonable Gamaliel, who urged caution and restraint in dealing with this new religious movement. This advice didn’t sit well with Paul, and he parted company with his rabbi to strike out on his own. Paul may or may not have actually killed any Christians, but he certainly approved of it. He was blinded by his mission. Paul didn’t know it, but had fulfilled something Jesus had said to His apostles:

For you will be excommunicated from the synagogues, and indeed the time is coming when those who kill you will think they are doing God a service. (John 16:2 TLB)

How bad was Paul? The persecution of the Christians in Jerusalem had effectively shut the church down in that city, or at the very least driven it underground. Many, though certainly not all, of the believers had fled Jerusalem. This would have pleased the religious leaders, but not Paul.

He requested a letter addressed to synagogues in Damascus, requiring their cooperation in the persecution of any believers he found there, both men and women, so that he could bring them in chains to Jerusalem. (Acts 9:2 TLB)

He was determined to chase down and ferret out any and all Christians, wherever he could find them. His goal was to stamp out the church of Jesus Christ.

As Joseph discovered, Christians were soon to discover: What was meant to harm the church, God turned around to benefit the church! The persecution not only caused the Christians to leave Jerusalem, taking the Gospel with them enabling them to start churches wherever they went, John Piper notes another benefit of persecution:

The suffering of sickness and the suffering of persecution have this in common: they are both intended by Satan for the destruction of our faith, and governed by God for the purifying of our faith.

This purification was certainly necessary for the early church, and it’s necessary for us, too. A little persecution can help keep our focus where it should be: on God.

Acts 9:4 – 9

Someone once remarked:

The flesh must be broken. Only then may the Lord use us.

Paul was persecuting Christians right and left with great relish, but the Lord had other plans for Him.

As he was nearing Damascus on this mission, suddenly a brilliant light from heaven spotted down upon him! He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Paul! Paul! Why are you persecuting me?”

“Who is speaking, sir?” Paul asked.

And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city and await my further instructions.” (Acts 9:3 – 6 TLB)

This story is recounted two more times in Acts, but Paul probably never tired of giving his testimony to anybody who would stand still long enough to listen. He told it to regular folk, and he told it to King Agrippa. It’s the story of how God is able to change a life. When God sets His sights on a person and gets ahold of that person’s heart, he doesn’t stand a chance! God is in the life-changing business and He is an expert at it.

We can imagine how confused Paul must have been. Here he was, doing the work of God, so he thought. Jesus informed him of the truth: when you persecute a member of the church, you are persecuting the Head of church. What a solemn warning to anybody – whether part of the church or from outside of the church – of how unwise and dangerous it is to mess with the church of Jesus Christ! He takes it very personally!

Those who were with Paul were speechless. Apparently they knew something weird had happened on this dusty road to Damascus, but they didn’t comprehend it. To his credit, Paul heard and understood and did exactly as he was told.

This conversion experience gives us the template for all conversione experiences:

First, consider how the KJV translates verse 5:

And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

It seems that deep down inside his heart of hearts, Paul somehow knew he was wrong. The reason for his intensity was that he was trying to deaden the conviction of the Holy Spirit.

Second, at that moment of recognition, Paul was converted. He recognized who was speaking to him.

Third, there was an almost immediate act of consecration: Paul asked what he could do.

And finally, there was communion and fellowship for the three days he was without sight, food and water.

Acts 9:10 – 19

Now there was in Damascus a believer named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, calling, “Ananias!” (Acts 9:10 TLB)

We know nothing about this particular Ananias except his name, which means “the Lord is gracious.” Though we don’t know anything else about him personally, we know that this man might well be the reason you are a Christian today! Had he not been obedient to the voice of God, Paul might never have regained his sight and become an apostle. So, we’re grateful for Ananias’ obedient spirit.

In all, God give two reasons for calling Paul. First, he was chosen by God to take the Gospel far and wide.

For Paul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the nations and before kings, as well as to the people of Israel. (Acts 9:15 TLB)

Paul was to take the Gospel to three groups: the nations, or to the Gentiles. In fact, he would become known as “the apostle to the Gentiles.” Then the Lord indicated that Paul would bear witness before kings. We know he witnessed to Agrippa, but he may have also shared his faith Nero. And finally, Paul would preach to his own people.

Secondly, God called Paul to show him how much he would for Christ. He was, in effect, called to suffer.

And I will show him how much he must suffer for me. (Acts 9:16 TLB)

Who suffered for Christ more than Paul? We can’t answer that question, but here was a man specifically called to suffer for God.

So Ananias went over and found Paul and laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Paul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you may be filled with the Holy Spirit and get your sight back.” (Acts 9:17 TLB)

Any fear or apprehension Ananias might have had obviously didn’t keep him from doing what God wanted him to do. He went and found Paul, prayed for him and Paul not only got his sight back, but was filled with the Holy Spirit! Paul had the passion, he had Scriptural knowledge, but he lacked the energizing power of the Holy Spirit. Sam Storms was right when he said,

God’s Spirit resides within us to encourage, energize, and enable us. 

That wasn’t end of Paul’s experience. Before the events of the rest of Acts 9, this happened to him:

I didn’t go up to Jerusalem to consult with those who were apostles before I was. No, I went away into the deserts of Arabia and then came back to the city of Damascus. It was not until three years later that I finally went to Jerusalem for a visit with Peter and stayed there with him for fifteen days. (Galatians 1:17, 18 TLB)

Almost immediately after his conversion, Paul spent some three years in Arabia before going to Jerusalem to visit with the apostles. This period of time isn’t covered in Acts, although it is hinted at in verse 23. We’re not sure exactly where Paul was in Arabia. It’s interesting how the Lord has dealt with His people over the years. He trained Moses in the desert. He put Abraham in a very difficult place to teach and train him also in the desert. Elijah also spent a lot of time in the desert. David spent a long time on the run from King Saul, hiding out in the caves of the desert. God must like deserts.

What Paul was doing out in the Arabian desert for those three years we don’t know. No doubt he had a lot of thinking to do. He had to sort out his beliefs and theology in light of what Jesus had told him. He had been trained in Gamaliel’s school for rabbis, so he was well-versed in the Scriptures. Yet God considered that Paul wasn’t quite ready to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The soon-to-be apostle Paul still needed three more years before he would be ready.

Back to Damascus, Paul’s testimony was even more powerful after his time with the Lord out in the desert.

After a while the Jewish leaders determined to kill him. But Paul was told about their plans, that they were watching the gates of the city day and night prepared to murder him. So during the night some of his converts let him down in a basket through an opening in the city wall! (Acts 9:23 – 25 TLB)

It’s hard to argue with someone who is motivated by the Holy Spirit. The Jews couldn’t stop Paul from preaching about his new-found faith, so they sought to kill him. One way or another, this renegade rabbi would be stopped. The parallel passage for this incident is found in 2 Corinthians, and it sheds some important light on the subject:

For instance, in Damascus the governor under King Aretas kept guards at the city gates to catch me; but I was let down by rope and basket from a hole in the city wall, and so I got away! What popularity! (2 Corinthians 11:32, 33 TLB)

The ruler of Damascus was not a Roman but a Nabatean Arab – a king. The Jews of Damascus were able to persuade this Arab to put out an arrest warrant for Paul. How were they able to do this? It is entirely possible that during his three year stint in the desert of Arabia, Paul preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Nabateans, and maybe even to the king himself. It this is true, even at this early point in Paul’s ministry, the Gospel was already getting him in trouble. Just as God told him it would.

And so the great persecutor of the church became it’s greatest preacher.

Tychicus, The Essential Bit Player

eph tychicus journeying to ephesian church

TYCHICUS, AN ESSENTIAL BIT PLAYER


Tychicus is a true bit player in Scripture.  In the movies, a bit player is a character who is always in the background.  They may or may not be important in the development of the main story, but often they do serve a purpose.  The Bible is chock full of bit players, and we’ve looked at three of them so far:  Namaan, Gehazi, and Lazarus.  These three men are bit players because their stories occupy just a few verses, yet they are important because we are able to look at them and learn something applicable to our lives.  Every word in the Bible is important—every story and event is important and vital for us to know.  Otherwise, they wouldn’t be in the Bible!

These things that were written in the Scriptures so long ago are to teach us patience and to encourage us so that we will look forward expectantly to the time when God will conquer sin and death.  (Romans 15:4  TLB)

Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.  (1 Corinthians 10:11, 12  NKJV)

The last bit player of Scripture we will look at is man with the odd name of Tychicus.  His name means “chance” or “fortuitous,” so it may be an odd name, but it’s a good one.  Wouldn’t you want to have a friend whose name means “Lucky?”

Tychicus is mentioned a grand total of 5 times in the New Testament.  His first mention is in the book of Acts.

1.  First mention

Several men were traveling with him, going as far as Turkey; they were Sopater of Berea, the son of Pyrrhus; Aristarchus and Secundus, from Thessalonica; Gaius, from Derbe; and Timothy; and Tychicus and Trophimus, who were returning to their homes in Turkey, and had gone on ahead and were waiting for us at Troas.  (Acts 20:4, 5  TLB)

All the men listed here were believers who had come to Christ under Paul’s ministry.  We could call them missionaries, but maybe a better name for this group would be “bodyguards.”  During his travels, Paul had received substantial monetary gifts for the members of the hurting church in Jerusalem, and these men, representatives of some of those generous churches, went along with Paul.   Given the great apostle’s estimation of those churches, we can infer that Tychicus and the others mentioned were thoughtful and generous Christian men.

Though they have been going through much trouble and hard times, they have mixed their wonderful joy with their deep poverty, and the result has been an overflow of giving to others.  They gave not only what they could afford but far more; and I can testify that they did it because they wanted to and not because of nagging on my part.  (2 Corinthians 8:2, 3  TLB)

Carrying all that money was risky, so these men not only helped Paul in his ministry, but also helped keep him safe.

2.  Second mention

Tychicus, who is a much-loved brother and faithful helper in the Lord’s work, will tell you all about how I am getting along.  I am sending him to you for just this purpose: to let you know how we are and be encouraged by his report.  (Ephesians 6:21, 22  TLB)

Here, bit player Tychicus is called by Paul a “much-loved brother” and “faithful helper.”  The loyalty of Tychicus in serving both the Lord and Paul created a powerful bond of friendship between the two of them.  As a “much-loved brother” who was “faithful,” this man was completely trustworthy.  Whatever Paul would ask of him, Tychicus could be depended upon to do.

These two verses indicate that Paul wanted his loyal friend to do two things.  First, he was to carry this letter (we have to come to call it Ephesians) to the church at Ephesus.  While he didn’t write the letter, he did get to where it needed to be, and that was pretty important.  And, assuming this letter was also a “circular letter,” a letter meant to be read in other churches, Tychicus’ mission was vital.  He didn’t write it, but he did play a part in transmitting the Word of God to God’s people.  Kyle Beshear’s excellent article makes this observation:

Paul, who had just completed the big task of writing the Book of Ephesians, entrusted Tychicus with the small task of delivering it. And Tychicus followed through. He was faithful with the small thing God gave him through Paul, which turned out to be a big thing after all.

A lot of Christians don’t like the thought of being a bit player.  But as far as Jesus was concerned, in the Kingdom, there really isn’t any such thing:

He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much.  (Luke 16:10  NKJV)

If we look at how the Living Bible translates that verse, we see something very interesting:

For unless you are honest in small matters, you won’t be in large ones. If you cheat even a little, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.  (Luke 16:10  TLB)

If you don’t take care behind the scenes in your service to the Lord, you’re essentially cheating Him, and the thing you want the most—to be in the forefront—will elude you.

The second thing Tychicus was asked to do was to pass along some information about Paul’s present state.  This was an important thing to tend to.  No doubt the Ephesians were worried about Paul, and it was up to Tychicus to allay those fears; to encourage the people in the Ephesian church.  This is what brotherly love is all about!  The Ephesians were concerned about Paul, Paul was concerned about the Ephesians, and it was on Tychicus’ shoulders to make sure both parties were comforted and encouraged.

Would people who know you call you an encourager?  Do you take the time to encourage others, particularly other believers?  A word of encouragement can make a person’s day.  Let’s face it, the world is a cold, uncaring place, full of people who don’t think twice about you unless they’re thinking of ways to take advantage of you!  Take time to encourage others!

Third mention

Tychicus, our much-loved brother, will tell you how I am getting along. He is a hard worker and serves the Lord with me.  I have sent him on this special trip just to see how you are and to comfort and encourage you.  I am also sending Onesimus, a faithful and much-loved brother, one of your own people. He and Tychicus will give you all the latest news.  (Colossians 4:7—9  TLB)

From verse 7 to the end of chapter 4, we have a list of bit players.  These were all real people; they were remarkable people.  These people were first century Christians who lived in very pagan world yet remained faithful to Christ and the Gospel.

We could subtitle this group of verses “the camaraderie of Christians” because these people all loved the Lord, loved and respected each other, and worked together to advance the Gospel.  They were all independent members of the body of Christ, yet were consumed with a common passion to serve the Lord and that’s what bound them together.  Paul gives us insight into the character and spirit of these men:  they were faithful (verse 7); full of love (verse 9); practiced forgiveness (verse 10); practiced prayer and devotion (verse 12); and full of zeal (verse 13).  They were called (verse 17); sent (verse 8); they were deacons (verse 12); and they were willing to risk their very freedom for the cause of the Gospel (verse 10).

What’s interesting is that this is a very disparate group of men.  Some were physicians, preachers, givers, messengers, servants, but they were all sufferers and pray-ers.

Tychicus was part of that group.    He was the messenger carrying this letter as well as a verbal report.  Some think he was actually the pastor of the church in Ephesus.  That may or may not have been the case, but he was certainly a close friend of Paul’s whom Paul could depend on.  Paul was not the loner some think he was.  He was close to few, and Tychicus was one.  The relationship between them was based on their relationship with Christ.  They were both “in Christ,” and therefore had a common salvation and a common task.

They say a person is known by the company he keeps.  Tychicus was part of Paul’s “inner circle”; his “right-hand-man”; his “go-to guy.”  What does that say about Tychicus?  We all know Paul.  We should know Tychicus.

Fourth mention

I am planning to send either Artemas or Tychicus to you. As soon as one of them arrives, please try to meet me at Nicopolis as quickly as you can, for I have decided to stay there for the winter.   (Titus 3:12  TLB)

By now, Paul is an old man.  After all he had been through, no wonder he wanted to spend the winter in a warm place!  But we see that faithful Tychicus was still with him.  We have no idea about Artemas was.  This is his only mention in the New Testament.  He’s not even a bit player; he’s a walk on!

After all those years and ups and downs, Tychicus was still working with Paul; toiling away in the background.  This leads us to his final mention.

Fifth mention

 Please come as soon as you can, for Demas has left me. He loved the good things of this life and went to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.  Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you when you come, for I need him.  (Tychicus is gone too, as I sent him to Ephesus.)  (2 Timothy 4:9—12  TLB)

The end was near for Paul these verses are a little melancholy.  He’s in prison, he’s cold, and wants some reading material, and he’s lonely.  His “inner circle” has all but left him.  Some left for the wrong reasons.   Demas, presumably, couldn’t take the heat and left Paul for a better life in the world.  Crescens, of whom nothing is known, was off to Galatia, probably preaching, and Titus was off doing ministry work in Dalmatia.  Dr. Luke, Paul’s friend and physician, has stayed with him, caring for him.

And here Tychicus is mentioned once again.  He’s not with Paul because Paul sent him back to Ephesus.  As was mentioned earlier, some scholars think Tychicus was the pastor of the church at Ephesus.  If he was not, he certainly had a close relationship with that congregation.  It was important for Paul that Tychicus not be stuck in Rome with him indefinitely.  There was work to be done in Ephesus and since Paul couldn’t be there, he sent the next best preacher he could think of:  Tychicus.

This man, of whom so little is known, was a true, loyal friend of Paul’s, of the church, and of Jesus Christ.  He was brave, thoughtful, considerate, spiritual, intellectual, and hard working.  Tychicus had a “stick-to-it” quality missing in many believers.  He stuck with Paul through the years.  He continued the work of the ministry (and that of a bit player) to which he had been called.  Paul got the credit, yet we know about Paul due in large part to the behind-the-scenes work of Tychicus.  God used this unassuming man and we are blessed today because of the faithfulness of this bit player of Scripture.

PAUL: ANOTHER MAN OF PRAYER

Paul, in prison praying.

We don’t often think of Paul as a man of prayer. When we think of Paul, we think of the great apostle, an able missionary, a powerful preacher, the man who started many churches, but we seldom think of him as a man of prayer. Most of us aren’t able to make a list of Paul’s prayers. Yet, Paul was a great man of prayer, and we can learn about effective praying by looking at the prayers of Paul

1. The characteristics of Paul’s prayer

They were motivated by good news, Ephesians 1:15

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints…

More than once, it was good news that moved Paul to pray. For most Christians, the thing that drives us to our knees is bad news, not good news. We pray when we are in trouble, or when we’re sick, or when we’re faced with some kind of crisis. A lot of Christians use prayer like they would use a life preserver: for emergencies only.

Paul often prayed during times of trouble, and so should we. The Bible tells us we should! But Paul also used good news as excuses to pray. When we start to do that as well, we’ll begin to notice something interesting: we’ll be praying more often. And we’ll be looking for good news!

Paul heard the good news about his friend’s faith, and that good news moved him to pray!

They were intercessory, Ephesians 1:16; 3:16

I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being…

Paul prayed for others; he prayed on behalf of others. Now, Paul also prayed for himself. The Bible tells us to that, too. In 1 Corinthians 12 we read about how Paul was so desperate to have his “thorn in the flesh”removed, that he essentially begged God repeatedly to remove it. So, Paul definitely prayed for himself. But, most of his prayers were like those recorded in Ephesians: on behalf of others.

The thing about intercessory prayer is that any Christian can do it. Most of us will never travel to foreign countries, teaching and preaching the Gospel. Most of us will never stand behind a pulpit or write a book about the Bible. But all of us are able to pray, and all of us ought to be praying for the needs of others, like Paul did. Intercessory prayer might well be the greatest ministry any member of the church may engage in!

They were brief

Both prayers recorded for us in Ephesians were brief. In fact, it may surprise you know that all the prayers in the Bible are short. William Shakespeare may have said, “Brevity is the soul of wit,” but Jesus said this:

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. (Matthew 6:7)

Moses, who we know was a tremendous man of prayer, once prayed a powerful prayer that was a mere four verses long (Deuteronomy 9:26—29). Elijah prayed the prayer of his life and it was only two verses long (1 Kings 18:36, 37). Martin Luther thought that the shorter the prayer the better the prayer.

God is willing to listen to all our prayers. He is never so busy that He wishes we’d hurry up and get to the point when we pray. However, when we pray we are taking up God’s time. When we pray, we need to learn how to pray properly and intelligently. It’s interesting that some of us will read, re-read, re-write, proofread, and have proofread an important e-mail,  letter, or term paper, or whatever, but we so often pray sloppy prayers. We choose our words carefully when we are being interviewed for a job or when we are trying to make a good impression, but we pray like we are the sixth grade.

They were submissive, Ephesians 3:14

For this reason I kneel before the Father…

“Kneeling” in prayer is what we call the “posture of submission.” It’s not so much a physical posture, although it certainly can be, as it is a posture of the heart. When we pray submissively, we are praying that God’s will would be done, not ours. We are recognizing God’s sovereignty.

Most of us aren’t real good at that. We pray—we use many words—with the intention of changing God’s mind or convincing Him that we are right about something instead of acknowledging His sovereignty.

2. The content of Paul’s prayers

They were full of thanksgiving

Giving thanks for something was a big part of Paul’s prayers. He thanked God for all kinds of things:

I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. (Ephesians 1:16)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)

What do you think Paul meant when he used the curious phrase “with thanksgiving?” Does Paul mean that after you’ve prayed for people and things, you should thank Him for past answers to prayer? Does He mean that you should divide your prayers into two parts, one part thanksgiving and one part requests? Or does Paul mean to suggest that you should thank God for answering the prayer you just prayed?

We need to understand a very simple thing: there is NO such thing as an unanswered prayer. God always answers your prayers, so when you pray and when you present your needs to Him, present them with thanksgiving; expect Him to take care of your requests and thank Him in advance for doing that.

The reason why we think God doesn’t answer some of our prayers is that He answers them in an unexpected way: He answers them HIS way, not our way. By the way, given human nature, and given the immaturity of so many Christians, NO is probably the most common answer God gives in response to our prayers.

So, God is going to answer that prayer. Start thanking before you say “Amen.”

They were directed to the Father

This seems like a minor point and maybe an obvious one, but it is important. Paul prayed directly to God, the Father. He did not pray to God, Son or God, the Holy Spirit.

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. (Ephesians 1:17)

For this reason I kneel before the Father… (Ephesians 3:14)

Paul was doing precisely what Jesus said we should do:

In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (John 16:23, 24)

Jesus made it clear that we should not pray to Him directly. Jesus is our great Intercessor; that is His ministry today. It is Scriptural to pray to God the Father, not to God the Son. When we pray to God the Father, God the Son will act as our intercessor; we will be the recipients of a wonderful ministry Jesus performs on our behalf.

They were for spiritual understanding

Paul, highly educated in all things theological, often prayed for deeper spiritual insight, for himself and also for his friends. He prayed for other things often, too, but it’s significant that he wanted to know more about God, Jesus, and the Gospel and he wanted those he was praying for to have that same kind of supernatural revelation.

It’s very difficult for believers today to pray for spiritual understanding. We are inundated with secularism day and night. We are prone to be materialistic, not spiritual. We even judge spiritual success by material standards! We so often confuse God’s blessings with success and material prosperity. Paul didn’t always pray for those things, he often prayed for spiritual understanding:

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17—19)

Notice what was important to Paul. He wanted the people he was praying for to have deeper understanding and a firmer grasp of spiritual things. This was something he wrote about earlier in his letter:

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints… (Ephesians 1:17, 18)

This kind of illumination is something we all need no matter how spiritual we think we are. It’s all well and good to pray for good health or for peace or for success for ourselves and for others, but we should never forget the vital importance of spiritual growth. Spiritual understanding surpasses anything else we may be praying for.

However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” — but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. (1 Corinthians 2:9, 10)

The reason why the church needs spiritual understanding so badly today is that there is so much false teaching floating around and finding a home in it. It’s hard to believe how many churches and once trustworthy ministries have fallen prey to false teachers and their teachings.

He prayed for spiritual power

…and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength… (Ephesians 1:19)

Paul prayed for his friends to have spiritual understanding and spiritual power. What is this spiritual power?

...which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms… (Ephesians 1:20)

That’s what we call “resurrection power!” Paul once said that he longed to know that power (Philippians 3:10). But what is “resurrection power,” exactly? It is the power that raised Christ from the dead, took Him off the earth in a resurrection body and placed Him at the right hand of God the Father. We are to pray that that power is operating in us. We need to pray prayers backed with that kind of power. Our church services should be full of that kind of power. We should pray as Paul did: for more that resurrection power.

STUDIES IN ACTS, Part 10

The Most Noble of All, Acts 17:10—15

As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. (Acts 17:10a)

Jason found himself in a pickle. He had posted bail for Paul and Silas and got them out of jail in Thessalonica. Had Paul and Silas been found in Jason’s home, he would have forfeited the bail. So he did what he had to do: Jason and his friends sneaked Paul and Silas out of town and sent them in the direction of Berea.

So far, Paul’s second missionary journey was nothing like his first. Unlike the first trip, Paul’s second missionary journey began with an argument with his partner, Barnabas, which resulted Barnabas going his way and Paul going his. There was no supernatural leading here. Paul’s new team traveled literally hundreds of miles with no clear direction as to where they should go. And do you know what got them to set sail to their first port of call? A weird vision of a strange man from Macedonia, who, when they finally landed in Macedonia, was nowhere to be found! When Paul and his friends reached the first town of any population in the area, they couldn’t find a single synagogue anywhere to preach the Word from. Their early efforts produced no great revivals, unlike the first missionary journey did. And when the Spirit of God finally did move in Thessalonica, a girl was delivered from demonic possession, which resulted in Paul and Silas being tossed in the clink.

So Paul and Silas, in addition to being missionaries, were now jailbirds and bail-jumpers! This was a very inauspicious way to work on the mission field. It’s a good thing that our two missionaries did not let their circumstances dictate their level of faith! In spite of this awful start to the famous second missionary journey, our two intrepid missionaries did not grumble or complain, nor did they blame God or assume they had made some terrible mistake. Paul and Silas remind us of those two other warriors for Jehovah, Jonathan and his armor-bearer. Facing the mighty Philistine forces all by themselves, they were confronted with a choice: to fight or hide. Surely the exchange between the two must have gone down in history as one of the greatest statements of faith ever recorded:

Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised fellows. Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few.” “Do all that you have in mind,” his armor-bearer said. “Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul.” (1 Samuel 14:6, 7)

That’s what faith looks like sometimes: a definite maybe; a “you never know, we could be right and maybe God will come through and help us out.” Sometimes you can sit around praying for leading all day when the best for you to do is stand up and do something for the Lord. One thing is certain, if you heart is right and your motives are pure and your desire is to glorify God, just get up and do it! If you are wrong, the Lord will direct you and straighten you out. It’s easier to steer a moving ship than one that is still. Paul and Silas were moving, and whether or not it was clear to them at the time, they were definitely being led of the Lord.

The LORD makes firm the steps of those who delight in him. (Psalm 37:23)

1. On to Berea, verse 10b—12

On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue.

Instead of going to a major city, Paul and Silas travelled some forty miles to an out-of-the-way town called Berea. Paul is true to his calling; upon arriving at Berea, he sought out and found a synagogue from which to preach and the Gospel.

What a difference between the people of Berea and those of Thessalonica! Here is how Luke describes the two:

[T]hey rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. (the Jews is Thessalonica, 17:5)

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (The Berean Jews, 17:11)

After their terrible experiences in Thessalonica, Paul and Silas were blessed to run into people of honor and integrity. What set apart the noble Bereans from the people of Thessalonica was their approach to the Scriptures. The Bereans tested the truthfulness of Paul’s preaching against the standard of Scripture, whereas the Thessalonians judged Paul’s words by political and cultural standards. Whenever Christians study the Word objectively rather than subjectively and are not influenced by the notions of others or by the culture around them, they are Bereans. For Bereans, the Word of God stands by itself. It is the first and last Word; it is the foundation of their faith and conduct; it is completely relevant and entirely precious. How the Church of Jesus Christ needs faithful Bereans today.

Of these wonderful people, Dr. Luke makes two main points:

  • They were noble. Luke shows how the Bereans were noble-minded by comparing their behavior to that of the Thessalonians. As far as Luke was concerned, just being open to the Word and not dismissing it out of hand is being “noble-minded.” The Berean Jews, however, were already predisposed to receiving the truth of God’s Word because they valued it as part of their Jewish faith. When they heard the Gospel, something inside of them knew what Paul was saying was just as much God’s Word as was their precious Old Testament. The more Paul preached, the more the Bereans poured over their Scriptures. It’s not that they were questioning what Paul was saying; the preaching of the Word caused them to honestly analyze and compare the Apostle’s words with the Word. They were eager to learn. Their eagerness was revealed; their hearts were opened to the Gospel.

  • They had genuine faith. Not all the Thessalonians were bad. Like the Jews in Thessalonica, the Jews in Berea had an excellent relationship with Gentiles and especially Gentile converts to Judaism. Many God-fearing Gentiles in both cities came to faith in Christ and, particularly in Berea, Gentile women were prominent in the Church. Luke gives us the impression that by the time Paul and Silas left Berea, the church they started there was strong and flourishing. Did Paul ever revisit Berea? We have no record that he did. Perhaps he didn’t have to.

The result of all this eager, honest study of Scripture day by day was that the faithful Bereans discovered all that Paul preached was truth, and they did the natural thing when people discover the Gospel is true:

Many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men. (verse 12)

Interestingly, the Greek word for “prominent” means “wealthy, influential.” Once again, we see that the early Church was not made up of only the poor and sick and social outcasts. The Gospel certainly attracts all people. Thank God for “wealthy” and “influential” Christians! Without them, the work of Christ would take on a whole different dimension.

2. Here comes trouble, verse 13

But when the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, some of them went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up.

You can be sure that if you are a “producer” for the Kingdom of Heaven, you will face problems. In Berea, Paul’s problem took the form of those pesky Thessalonian Jews. Not content with causing problems for Paul in their city, these disreputable people took their beef with Paul to Berea.

Luke doesn’t say so, but we can assume that Paul and his team worked for, perhaps, a few months in Berea. The Greek word translated “agitating” indicates that the unbelieving Thessalonian Jews kept on causing problems among the population of Berea by misrepresenting the words and actions of the Christian missionaries until their goal had been achieved: the silencing of Paul.

Here we see what Jesus had promised years before:

Remember what I told you: ‘Servants are not greater than their master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.’ (John 15:20)

Jesus also gave this piece of advice to His followers:

When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. (Matthew 10:23a)

Some brave Bereans were about to step up and help Paul to do just that.

3. On the run. Again. verses 14, 15

Winning any battle is more than just the ability to fight. Sometimes in order to win a battle, one needs to know when to leave. Some 400 years before the days of Paul, in August of 338 B.C., the Athenian orator and statesman Demosthenes was an infantryman at Chaeronea, where a decisive battle took place between the Athenians and the Macedonians. The Macedonians were victorious, and 3,000 Athenians died. Demosthenes fled from the battlefield and was subsequently censured because of his desertion. To anyone who later called him a coward, Demosthenes would respond, “The man who runs away may fight again.” This is exactly what we see happening in Berea:

The believers immediately sent Paul to the coast… (verse 14a)

Sometimes you have to stay and fight, other times a strategic withdrawal is the only solution. In order to save his life, some Berean believers secreted Paul out of town and sent him on his way “to the coast.” Actually, they didn’t really. They just looked like they were taking Paul “to the coast,” but in reality they were heading to Athens. This was a long trip, over 200 miles! These brave and faithful Bereans were committed to Christ, the Word, and to Paul’s safety. Once again, Paul was forced to leave a fledgling congregation for his own good. We may well imagine how much Paul would have liked to remain in Berea, where his preaching and teaching were yielding such tremendous results. For Paul, God had other plans.

For some reason, the Thessalonian thugs had a hate-on for Paul, but not the other Christian missionaries:

…Silas and Timothy stayed at Berea. (verse 14b)

Thank God for faithful co-workers in the ministry! Paul was fortunate to have two men, one very young man, in whom he could entrust his ministry. We aren’t told how long Silas and Timothy worked in Berea; Luke was never overly concerned with providing details about “minor characters” in the story. What we do know was that Paul knew he would need his comrades in Athens:

Those who escorted Paul brought him to Athens and then left with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible. (verse 15)

It appears that Timothy and Silas rejoined their friend Paul at Athens, and that he later sent Timothy back to Thessalonica:

So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we are destined for them. (1 Thessalonians 3:1—3)

That short paragraph is telling. The persecution that Paul had endured at the hands of those despicable unbelieving Thessalonians hadn’t diminished his love for the Christians he left behind in Thessalonica. The “we could stand it no longer” refers to his longing to see them again.

For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way. (1 Thessalonians 2:18)

So while Paul never again went back to Berea, he had an ongoing special relationship with the Thessalonians. In some sense, both the churches of Corinth and Thessalonica took up a lot of Paul’s time and concern because to varying degrees, they were both troubled churches that needed demanded Paul’s attention.

In Athens, Paul quickly realized what a monumental task it was going to be, reaching the highly educated Athenians for Christ. Here again we see the ups and downs of the second missionary journey. From unwarranted persecution in Thessalonica to a fantastically successful stay in Berea to banging his head against a brick wall in Athens, working for the Lord is certainly never boring!

What do we learn from the incident with the Bereans?

In America, the Bible continues to be the highest selling book of all time, in any form. Electronic downloads of the Bible are now out-pacing downloads of any other book. And yet, the Bible has the dubious distinction of being the most neglected book of all time. Just owning a Bible or two proves nothing. If the desire to own the Book is not matched by the desire to know what’s in it, then don’t waste your money. Buy a tank of gas instead.

The Bible, as the Bereans knew full-well, is a book unlike any other book. It is powerful and it changes everything. During the reign of King Josiah of Judah, his high priest discovered the long-lost Book of the Law, which had been hidden in a dark corner of the Temple. Because this Book of the Law had been neglected and forgotten, the people of Judah fell into idol worship. However, once that precious Book of the Law was hauled out of its hiding place, dusted off, and read aloud, the course of Jewish history changed. Josiah read the Word to the people; the people saw the error of their ways and pledged obedience to the forgotten Covenant.

If you are a Christian and you are reading this, hopefully you are reading the Word daily, with your family, if you have one. Families that grow up around the Word of God are strong families. We should study the Word together, we should memorize it, and we should be obedient to it. God’s Word is as relevant today as the day it was written. In our churches, the Bible should be central, not only in our preaching and teaching, but in our worship as well.

Why is reading the Bible so important? It is because when we read the Word of God, we are communing with God; He hears us, we hear Him, and He honors our devotion to that Word. The Word tells us how we should live, how we should think, and what we should do in any given circumstance. If God’s will for you is a mystery, the problem is with you. You need to take your Bible off the shelf, crack it open, and start reading it. God will speak to you. Put Him to the test in this and be amazed.

God’s Word changes everything.

A plaque at modern-day Berea, Veria, courtesy of Dan and Cindy Bratton, missionaries with YWAM

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

FORCEFULLY ADVANCING: The Church in Acts, Part 6

Paul, Festus, Agrippa

Testifying About Christ, Acts 26:1—32

The events of Acts 26 really begin at Acts 25:23, where Paul is called to defend his faith before King Agrippa.  In all, Luke the physician-historian has recorded five such defenses in Acts, with this one being the longest and most carefully constructed.  Winn has observed,

This is the last major speech in Acts, and Luke intends it to be the climax.  He carefully paints the scene.

In Luke’s account, Paul is painted as the one who is the center of attention, assuming that position with a kind of quiet dignity.  Here we see Paul in his element:  preaching to a captive audience.  Festus had dragged Paul before King Agrippa, but Paul was in charge, doing what he did best.

Despite the fact that he knew he was in God’s will, and despite the fact that God was accomplishing things through the current ministry of Paul in Caesarea, Paul remained a prisoner for almost two years in this city which headquartered the Roman government which oversaw Judea.

A mere handful of days after Festus became governor of Caesarea, the miserable Jewish officials in Jerusalem appealed to him to send Paul to them to stand yet another trial.  However, these despicable Jewish leaders had in mind to ambush Paul along the way and kill him; a most effective way to silence a man they perceived as a troublemaker and a threat to their religion.  Festus instead invited these men to come to him and accuse Paul in his presence.  This they did, trotting out the same tired old charges without a single witness or any evidence that Paul was guilty of any kind of crime.  The new governor, anxious to keep the peace by pleasing the Jews, tried to convince Paul to go back to Jerusalem with his accusers, but Paul would have none of it.

As a Roman citizen, Paul claimed his rights and demanded to stand trial before Caesar.  This would accomplish two things.  First, he had already been a prisoner in Caesarea for two years, and standing before Caesar would allow for a final decision concerning his case.  Second, it would get Paul to Rome, which was where he wanted to be in the first place.  To his demand, Festus said this—

“You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!”  (25:12)

Within days, while waiting to be sent to Rome, Paul found himself standing before King Agrippa and his wife, who had come to welcome Festus as the new governor.  Agrippa was curious about Paul, and Paul took advantage of his curiosity to testify, not about himself and his innocence so much, but about God.

1.  The scene, 25:23—27

Festus said: “King Agrippa, and all who are present with us, you see this man! The whole Jewish community has petitioned me about him in Jerusalem and here in Caesarea, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. I found he had done nothing deserving of death, but because he made his appeal to the Emperor I decided to send him to Rome(verses 24, 25)

Festus was a weenie to be sure.  Not only had he exaggerated the accusations against Paul, but he could have set Paul free himself, instead, he is seen pawning Paul off to somebody else.   Festus had nothing to charge Paul with, and he was hoping Agrippa, after questioning the man, could come up with some charge worthy of his being shipped to Rome.

When Agrippa and Bernice walked into the hall, Luke says this—

Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp… (verse 23)

The Greek word is phantasia, which means “show, showy appearance, display.”   The contrast between the prisoner and the potentate is skillfully brought out by Luke in a series of contrasts:

  • Agrippa came, Paul was brought;
  • Agrippa entered with great pomp, Paul entered in chains;
  • Agrippa was accompanied by Bernice, Paul stood alone.

But the contrasts had another side:

  • Agrippa was a slave to sin, Paul was a free man in Christ;
  • Agrippa was accompanied by a perverse and wicked woman, Paul was escorted by his unseen God.

Luke himself, in casting Paul as the main character is this drama, carries the contrasts even further, giving only summary statements from and about Agrippa, while yielding center stage to the apostle.

2.  Life before conversion, 26:1—11

Paul was not intimidated either by his chains or by the fact that he was standing before the regally robed leader of both the Romans and the Jews!  Here was his golden opportunity to share his faith, and despite his manacles, he motioned with his hand and began testifying.

(a)  Nothing to hide, vv. 1—5

I beg you to listen to me patiently.  (verse 3b)

In a way, this was the kind of situation Paul must have longed for.  After two long and bleak years in prison, he finally had a chance to speak to somebody in authority; Agrippa not only had authority, but he was also an expert in all things Jewish, so he would have listened eagerly to every work Paul spoke.

Paul began fervently but respectfully, expressing his appreciation for the opportunity of speaking.  Never have we seen Paul as polite as we do here!  His choice of Greek words also shows that Paul was a highly educated individual.

The apostle began by say that he had absolutely nothing to hide; his life was an open book to the Jews.  He was a Pharisee and there was not a soul alive who could accuse him on trampling on the law.  We may have thought it strange (or at least extreme) that Paul insisted on the circumcision of Timothy for example, and of his own continued, though voluntary, devotion to the Jewish faith, but here we see his great foresightedness.  He could in good conscience, stand in confidence knowing that he had done nothing against his Jewish heritage.

(b)  Once a persecutor, vv. 6—11

I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth.  In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.  (verses 6a, 9b)

Paul insisted that he was being persecuted for proclaiming the very hope that the Jews continued to hold on to:  the coming of the Messiah.  God had given Abraham and the fathers of the Jewish faith this great promise and both he and the Israel still clung to the possibility of its fulfillment.   Furthermore, the Jews also clung to the hope of resurrection when the Messiah appears.

Against that backdrop of a common faith, Paul adds this—

Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?  (verse 8)

A remarkable double-whammy:  Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, and He rose from the dead!  The Jews had been so busy looking for the fulfillment of the Promise, they missed it entirely.  And so they hated those who believed it and persecuted them; among those who hated and persecuted Christians the most was none other than Paul.

3.  An encounter with Christ, 26:12—18

Here is another version of how Paul found Christ, and it differs slightly from the account he gave to the Jews in Jerusalem (chapter 22).  Given the two different circumstances and two different audiences, it makes sense that Paul would tailor his own story to fit them both.   In all, Paul recounted his conversion story three times in Acts, showing how important it was.

(a)  Christ reveals himself, vv 12—15

While Paul was doing his best to stamp out Christianity, the meeting that changed his life happened.   When the risen Christ confronted Paul and his traveling companion on the road to Damascus, He spoke to Paul in Hebrews—

Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.  (verse 14b)

The phrase “kick against the goads” was  well-known proverb in the Mediterranean world and Agrippa would have been familiar with it.  What it means involves three points:  Saul was kicking against the goads of—

  • A decent human conscience, that must have told him that his cruel treatment of Christians couldn’t be right;
  • The godly lives of the Christian community, which must have impressed him;
  • The face of Stephen and his prayer of forgiveness; that memory must have haunted Saul relentlessly.

Paul always looked back to this singular experience as the great turning point in his life and the source of his authority to speak the Word of God.

(b)  Christ commissions Paul, vv. 16—18

When Christ commissioned Paul, He spoke to the new apostle as He spoke to the prophets Ezekiel, Isaiah and Jeremiah:

He said to me, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.”  “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day.  (Ezekiel 2:1, 3)

You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.  (Jeremiah 1:7—8)

I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.  (Isaiah 42:6—7)

Paul’s mission was definitely a prophetic one that was to continue the commission originally given to the prophets and to Jesus Christ.  Christians today are similarly commissioned to carry on this ministry.

After his calling, Jesus warned Paul that he would face difficult times, especially opposition from both Jews and Gentiles, as was happening at this very moment. Paul was standing before a Gentile king, in front of Jewish accusers.  These words of Christ must have been the reason for Paul’s amazing courage—

I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles.  (verse 17a)

3.  Obedience to the call, 26:19—29

(a)  Following the vision, vv. 19—23

Verse 19 is one the most powerful declarations obedience in all the Bible—

I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.

In spite of the dangers Paul knew were coming, he never wavered in his obedience to God in carrying out the commission given him by Christ, and now it was on account of His obedience to God that he was being accused for no reason by Jews who were opposed to his preaching.  In trying to muzzle Paul, the Jews were, in reality, opposing God.  Verse 21 must have stung the Jews severely—

That is why the Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me.

Paul is basically accusing the Jews of opposing the very the very things they claimed to believe in!  So prejudiced against the Gentiles, they were blinded to the fact that the message of Paul was genuine and not so far removed from their own.

No matter how bad things had gotten for Paul, his present predicament notwithstanding, God stood by Paul, both protecting him and enabling him to boldly proclaim the Gospel.   The word translated “help” in verse 22 comes from a Greek word meaning “aid” or “assistance given by an ally.”  God was Paul’s Ally in his ministry.  With God on his side, Paul could “stand,” or “continue” in his work, even while standing before Agrippa!

And what was Paul saying to Agrippa?  Verses 23 and 24 declare in the simplest terms his message to Agrippa and the assembled Jews—

“I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen—that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”

Paul’s teachings were nothing new; there were based squarely on the Word of God; the exact same Word of God the Jews preached.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all preachers today did what Paul did?

(b)  A reprimand and a challenge, verses 23—29

To Festus, a Roman, such talk about sufferings and resurrections seemed like nonsense.  Thinking Paul’s statements were offensive to Agrippa, he shouted out loud, bringing Paul’s very sanity into question.   He thought that Paul had driven himself mad studying such things.  One commentator observed—

Paul has been talking to Agrippa as one Jew to another, and naturally the Roman Festus thought that anyone who had [Messianic] expectations in mind must be mad.

The fact is, many educated people think like Festus; talk of the Second Coming of Christ and of the resurrection make little sense.  However, to both Christians and Jews alike, this kind of eschatological preaching is central to their faith.

Paul remained respectful as he answered Festus, insisting he was far from mad and that, unlike Festus, Agrippa was very familiar with these teachings.  These verses show clearly that, even though shackled and restrained, Paul was in control and dominating the proceedings.  Then he did something unthinkable:  he challenged Agrippa!

King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.  (verse 27)

What a question!  The king could not deny that he was at least very familiar with “the prophets.”  Certainly the king was at least somewhat familiar with Christian teachings since there were not “done in a dark corner.”  As far as Paul was concerned, if a person gave mental assent to “the prophets,” that could inevitably lead him to a firm belief in Christ.  So the prisoner now becomes the inquisitor and asks the challenging question.

This question posed a real dilemma for the king.  If he gives a negative answer, he will offend the Jews; if he answers positively, he loses face if Paul asks him to believe the Gospel.  Before the king can respond, Paul answers for him:  I know you do.

Variations abound of Agrippa’s response to Paul, probably due to variants in the Greek text.  Here is a sampling of what Agrippa may have said—

You almost persuade me to become a Christian – NKJV

You with a few words are trying to persuade me to become a Christian – MLB

In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian – NASB

Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to become a Christian – NIV

In a short time you think you can make me a Christian – RSV

What was Agrippa trying to tell Paul?  Even before meeting Paul in person, Agrippa held no animus toward the apostle.  In fact, some scholars have noted that Agrippa was “kindly disposed” to Paul.  It is unlikely, then, that Agrippa is trying to ridicule or make fun of Paul.  He is simply being evasive because he knows that no matter how he answers, Paul will keep on probing. Not wanting to lose his influence over the Jews and not wanting to be identified as a Christian, he simply ignores the question and considers the matter closed.  He had no desire to keep going because he considered Paul guilt of nothing.   Lenski comments:

Agrippa had felt Paul’s touch upon his heart, and from this strange and unexpected power he withdrew.  It was his hour of grace, and when he left the room, he left salvation behind him.

Everyone agreed that Paul was innocent of any crime, and verse 32 is Agrippa’s verdict—

“This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”

With one short sentence, Paul was completely vindicated and Festus was found guilty!  The spineless Festus refused to release an innocent whom he knew was innocent, and now everybody knew what kind of man he was.

Conclusion

Paul took advantage of an unusual opportunity to witness for Christ.  Our opportunities to share Christ come to us daily, and we are not imprisoned as Paul was.  Do we make the most of every opportunity to testify about our relationship about Christ?

The events of Acts 26 happened roughly 20 years after Paul’s conversion.  Yet he was still empowered by that one experience.  He was still excited about the Gospel and about how it changes lives.  Hopefully our faith has not grown cold.  Hopefully we are as much in love with Christ today as we were when we first found Him.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

FORCEFULLY ADVANCING: The Church in Acts, Part 2

414050

For Everyone, No Strings

Acts 15

As we approach Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey has ended.  Thanks to the work of these two great missionaries, Christian churches were now flourishing all over Galatia.  In the face of opposition from people and the elements, the church of Jesus Christ was forging ahead into new territory thanks to this dynamic duo of Christ’s disciples.  You would think that the mother church back in Jerusalem would be thrilled to see this happening.  Yet the opposite was true:  all these Gentile converts in Galatia caused a controversy in Jerusalem.  Many of the converts in Jerusalem were Jews, and some were Pharisees who believed that Gentiles needed to convert to Judaism before they could become Christians.  In other words, to them, salvation included faith in Christ and observance of the Mosaic Law.   Today such thinking seems ridiculous, but in the very early years of the church, this controversy could have torn it apart.

The convening of the first church council occurred sometime around 49 AD, and although since then there have been many, many church councils that decided things like the inspiration of Scripture, the nature of God, and other doctrinal issues, the Jerusalem Council was one of the most important events for the early Church.  It was of vital importance to answer this question:  “Are Gentile Christians required to keep the Jewish Law?  The fate of the Church depended on a correct answer, for if the answer was “Yes,” then Christianity would have forever been viewed as just another sect of Judaism; if the answer was “No,” then the Church would be able to advance it’s Great Commission, free from any encumbrance.

1.  Troublemakers cause trouble, 15:1—12

(a)  The problem, verse 1

Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.”

This is the crux of the issue and the reason behind the Jerusalem Council.  Of course, the question really had nothing to do with circumcision but rather what was involved with salvation.   The troublemakers were identified merely as “some men.”  They were Jewish Christians, probably Pharisees, who went to Antioch with no apostolic authority to impose their own style of Christianity on the believers there.

While these men clearly had a grasp on the teachings of Jesus, they clung to their old religion.  What they did, in addition to adding to the Word of God, was to dismantle what Paul and Barnabas had achieved in the Gentile world.  They had preached the Gospel faithfully and all of a sudden for some unknown men to march into a church and begin to contradict the Word must have been confusing, given the fact that believers did not possess a written Bible yet!

(b)  The delegation, verses 2—5

This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question….Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.”  (verses 2, 5)

The phrase “sharp dispute” is probably Luke’s polite way of describing Paul and Barnabas’ attitude to these men and their destructive teaching!  In fact, to be demanding that Gentile believers adhere to and fulfill the Law of Moses in order to be saved showed that they while they believed Christ to be the Messiah, they viewed the Law from a Jewish, not a Christian viewpoint.  Really, these Judaizers were practicing a form of racial discrimination within the Church.

The Antiochean believers showed great wisdom by appointing the apostles to go to Jerusalem to seek advice about this.  Decades before Paul would write his “Pastoral Epistles,” the leaders or overseers of this church were practicing Paul’s brand of pastoral theology—

[Qualification of elders]…not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.  (1 Timothy 3:3)

And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.  (2 Timothy 2:24)

Jerusalem was the center of the early Church; those who had lived and worked with Jesus personally were there and they had ultimate authority.  Jerusalem would remain the headquarters of the Christian church until 70 AD, when the base of power and operation shifted from the east (Jerusalem) to the west (Rome).  One always either “came down from” or “went up to” Jerusalem.

Luke does not tell us who the “other believers” were who made up the Antiochean delegation.   In Galatians 2:1, we have a clue, though, as to the identity of one of them—

Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also.

Since Luke never mentions Titus’ name in Acts, some scholars have thought Titus was Luke’s brother, and out of modesty the physician-historian-author refrains from mentioning him by name.  As they traveled “up to Jerusalem,” the group continued to the work of the Lord by testifying everywhere what God had done.  The result:  This news made all the brothers very glad. Obviously the only people who had a problem with the work of Paul and Barnabas were the Judaizers.

(c)  The debate, verses 6—12

A group of Christians had accused other Christians of adding something to the Gospel, and so the elders and apostles came together to discuss this divisive issue.  The “discussion” was likely hot and furious and Peter was the first to rise up and address it.  Considering the subject matter, it was obvious Peter should be the one to talk about it.  We cannot be sure how it had been since Peter’s experience in Caesarea, but it could have been over a decade since his experiences with Cornelius and his family.

Still, Peter was not the central figure of the Jerusalem church at this time; James had assumed a much larger role in leadership, but Peter’s word carried some weight among the Jewish converts.  Peter’s argument was that the conversion of Cornelius (though he doesn’t name him by name) had been a precedent established by God of His decision to reach out to the Gentiles.  Because of this, Paul and Barnabas’ approach was exactly according to God’s will.   In fact, in regards to the Judaizers teaching, Peter makes the amazing statement—

Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?  (verse 10)

That sounds a lot like something Paul would write, but it was Peter recognizing that God was doing a radical thing.  Furthermore, he reaches a conclusion that seems obvious to us but it was new to them; all people are the same before God, their Creator.

2.  Wise counsel, swift resolution, verses 13—21

(a)  Prophecy fulfilled, verses 13—18

James, our Lord’s brother, presided over the Jerusalem Council was the next to speak.   Down through church history, James was known as “James the Just” because of his piety and because of the fact that, though a follower of Jesus Christ, he carefully observed the Law.   Naturally, the Judaizers thought they could depend on him to support their cause.  What they found was that James, far from having a narrow view of things, was broadminded enough to realize that what Peter said was true; God does accept repentant man for who they are, and in fact, He always has.

He quotes from the book of Amos, applying the text to the conversion and acceptance of the Gentile Cornelius, affirming to all the Gospel includes all—

“In that day I will restore David’s fallen tent. I will repair its broken places, restore its ruins, and build it as it used to be, so that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations that bear my name,” declares the LORD, who will do these things. (Amos 9:11—12)

As James interpreted the passage, the first part refers to the death and resurrection of Jesus and verse 16 of Acts 15 relates Christ’s death to the phrases “David’s fallen tent” and “it’s ruins.”  His resurrection is illustrated in the phrases “I will rebuild” and “I will restore.”

Clearly in James’ mind, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was the singular event that changed the direction of humanity; Christ was lifted up to draw all people unto Himself—

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up.  (John 3:14)

But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”  (John 12:32)

The “all men” included Gentiles, which James indicated was part of God’s plan from then very beginning, verse 18.

(b)  Agreement, verses 19—21

Despite James’ devotion to the Jewish Law, he did not side with the Judaizers.  Verse 19 literally reads:  “Therefore I, for my part, judge…”   James’ words carried weight and authority in the early Church.  His decision was wise and simple:  the Gentile believers were to be free from keeping the Jewish Law.  In his decision, James uses a very rare verb translated “not make it difficult” which means literally, “stop annoying.”   The false teachers were pestering and bothering genuine Christians with their ideas.

Charles Erdman writes that James’s decision included three key points:

  • Liberty, verse 19
  • Purity, verse 20
  • Co-operation between Jews and Gentiles, verse 21

It is interesting that James said, “We should write to them…” That is exactly what Paul did.

3.  Affirming the Gospel, verses 22—35

Curiously, Luke does not describe the Council’s reaction to James’ proposals, but given the context and the collection of Paul’s letters, it seems clear that they agreed with and supported his ideas.

(a)  Letter of reconciliation, verses 22—29

In the letter sent to Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia, some new men are mentioned by name;  Silas would become Paul’s partner in his next missionary journey.   Of this letter, some 200 years later Clement of Alexandria remarked that is was “the Catholic epistle of all the Apostles” and that is was conveyed by the faithful hands of Paul himself.”  What we read in these verses is most likely an exact, verbatim copy made by Luke, incorporated in his history.

This phrase is significant—

It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…(verse 28)

This shows us two important aspects of church leadership.  First, there must be co-operation between God and man in the decision-making process.   Even though the Council was made up of human leaders, the true Head of the Council was Jesus Christ and He guided the men by His Holy Spirit.  Second, these human leaders set aside their own ambitions and agendas and spoke with one voice of solidarity:  it seemed good to US.  They were able speak in unity because they all paid attention to the Holy Spirit.

God sees all people as the same in Christ Jesus; and these men exemplified this desired unity be acting in unity.

(b)  The wonder of unity, verses 30—35

The entire congregation at Antioch, and maybe many of the outlying assemblies, gathered together to hear the letter read.  One can only imagine the scene of joy as the people heard confirmation of what they already knew, yet began to doubt because of the meddling of false teachers.  They must have also been relieved to know that they did not need to learn a whole new set of rules to live by.

There is freedom in the Gospel.  There is encouragement in the Gospel.  The Gospel is never a burden to anyone.  But the Law, and the rules of man, bring only confusion and condemnation.

The two new men, Judas and Silas, were preachers who jumped in to encourage the believers in Antioch.  Obviously, Paul and Silas worked well together, and some time later the two men would work even closer together.

It’s amazing how the Lord uses circumstances to lead people in and out of our lives to accomplish His eternal purposes.

Conclusion

There are many lessons to be learned here.  From the importance to discerning and obeying the leading of the Holy Spirit to discerning and overcoming our prejudices; may we all learn to see other people as God sees us.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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