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Acts 16-18a (2nd journey)

Following their success at the Jerusalem Council, Paul is ready to begin his second missionary journey.  This time Paul will be joined by Silas and Luke.  While they plan to visit a few of the places that they stopped at during the first journey, they decide to travel by land rather than sea.  Let us turn to Luke's narrative:

"Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek. The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek."

Why do you think Paul would want to return to Derbe and Lystra?  Almost immediately, Paul meets a new Christian named Timothy.  Paul wants Timothy to join his team but he asks that he be circumcised.  This might seem an odd thing to do, especially so soon after the Jerusalem Council’s ruling on circumcision. But this was not done for Timothy’s salvation. This was done so he could minister in the synagogues and temple of the Jews.  As it is written in Ezekiel 44:9, Thus saith the Lord GOD; No stranger, uncircumcised in heart, nor uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter into my sanctuary, of any stranger that is among the children of Israel.  If you were asked by a stranger, what would you tell them IS essential to Salvation?  Furthermore, if you were asked to make three suggestions to a new believer about what would be helpful for their spiritual growth, how would you answer?  Continue reading at verse 4:

As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey. So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.  Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.

We are never told why the Holy Spirit did not want Paul to travel in the region of Asia minor.  What we are told is that Paul's group veered to the north of Asia minor (including the city of Ephesus).  Can you think of a time when God has closed the door in your life?  Continue reading at verse 7:

When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them."

Macedonia is quite a distance from where Paul traveled on his first missionary Journey.  In fact it is beyond the Black Sea - the beginning of the Europe.  From this narrative we learn that the Holy Spirit can send his word to us via dreams and visions.  Of course this method is in addition to the many other forms including:  His Word, angels, and communing with our spirit.  One more important note.  In verse 10 Luke uses the pronoun "we" for the first time in Acts.  Clearly, Luke is part of this journey.  It is time for Paul to board a boat for Macedonia, let us continue reading at verse 11:

11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days. 13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

In addition to being merchant, Lydia was very hospitable.  She and her family may well have been the first Christians in all of Europe.  Paul mentions this same Lydia in his letter to Timothy.  If God had told you to go to Europe, what strategies would you have used?  Why do you think Paul went to the river to pray rather than the synagogue?   Let us continue with Luke's narrative at verse 16:

16 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.  19 When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”  22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks."

Paul may very well have saved the life of this slave girl but that did not matter to her owner.  Rather than be grateful, he claimed that Paul's healing resulted in a loss of income.  Many in the community then turned on Paul and Silas and they were beaten and then locked in prison.   Have you ever been ostracized or belittled for your faith?  One would expect them to be discouraged, but they were joyful instead.  Continue reading:

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”  29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household."

What a turn of events.  Beaten, put in prison, an earthquake, and then the opportunity to share the Gospel with the prison guards.  The obedience of Paul and Silas resulted in another household accepting Jesus!  Which do you find most surprising, Paul's actions in verse 25 or verse 28?  Continue reading at verse 35:

35 When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: “Release those men.” 36 The jailer told Paul, “The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace.”  37 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.”  38 The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. 39 They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city. 40 After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and sisters and encouraged them. Then they left."

Can you think of someone that you have offended because of your faith?  If you were evaluate the ministry of Paul and Silas, how do you think that Paul and Silas performed in chapter 16.   Let us turn now to chapter 17 as Paul and Silas continue on their second Missionary Journey:

"When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women."

How would you describe Paul’s strategy in Thessalonica?  Was this strategy effective?  Paul seems to have greater success with the God-fearing Greeks than with the Jews.  Odd, since Paul's background was as a Pharisee.  Continue reading at verse 5:

But other Jews were jealous; so they 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. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go."

Could Paul have prevented the riots?  What recommendations could you have made to Paul and Silas?  Note the map below as we continue reading at verse 10:

10 As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11 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. 12 As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men."

How would you describe the Berean Jews?  In what ways are you like the Bereans?  Paul is about to encounter a problem similar to what he experienced during his first missionary journey.  Continue reading at verse 13:

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. 14 The believers immediately sent Paul to the coast, but Silas and Timothy stayed at Berea. 15 Those who escorted Paul brought him to Athens and then left with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible."

16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)

What do you know about Athens?  Who were the Epicureans and the Stoics?    Continue reading at verse 22:

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.  24 “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 human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’"

How would you summarized Paul’s message at the Areopagus?  In one sentence, how would you summarize Paul’s words in verse 24-28?  Continue reading at verse 29:

29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

Why might Paul’s statement in verse 31 destroy his credibility with his listeners?  What do we learn from Paul as he ministered in Athens?  Continue reading at verse 32:

32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others."

While this concludes chapter 17 it does not conclude Paul's second Missionary Journey.   We need to continue reading through Acts 18:1-20:

"After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks."

Paul has traveled to Corinth.  What do you know about Corinth?  As you continue to ready, try to identify the three phases (parts) of Paul's ministry in Corinth:

When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. But when they opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”  Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. Crispus, the synagogue leader, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized.  One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” 11 So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God."

Why would the vision of verse 9 be a comfort to Paul?  How long did Paul remain in Corinth?  This was a substantial portion of the entire journey!  Note that Paul wrote both letters to the Thessalonians during this time.  Continue reading at verse 12:

12 While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews of Corinth made a united attack on Paul and brought him to the place of judgment. 13 “This man,” they charged, “is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.”  14 Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to them, “If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. 15 But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law—settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.” 16 So he drove them off. 17 Then the crowd there turned on Sosthenes the synagogue leader and beat him in front of the proconsul; and Gallio showed no concern whatever."  18 Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sisters and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchreae because of a vow he had taken. 19 They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined."

Why do you think the Jews turned to Sosthenses rather than Paul in verse 17?  How important is Christian fellowship in a non-Christian culture?  Where does Paul go after Corinth?  What is your impression of Apollos?  Who was very helpful to you when you were a young Christian?  The map below illustrates the complete second journey of Paul:

 21 But as he left, he promised, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” Then he set sail from Ephesus. 22 When he landed at Caesarea, he went up to Jerusalem and greeted the church and then went down to Antioch."

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Acts 15

This is one of the most interesting chapters in the entire book!  Paul and Barnabas have just returned from the first missionary journey and they have much to share with the Antioch church.  They encounter a problem, but I'll let Luke explain:

"Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” 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. The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them."

A group of Jews from Judah come down to Antioch, perhaps to hear the report of Paul and Barnabas.  When they hear that Gentiles are being saved, the topic turns to circumcision.  The Jewish visitors to Antioch expect that Gentile converts to the Way (Christianity) follow all of the laws of Moses.  While the obvious concern is circumcision, they have many concerns.  Paul argues in opposition to this suggestion.  However, the leaders of the Antioch church decide that this ruling must be made by the Elders in Jerusalem.  They send a delegation up to Jerusalem.  This meeting would be know as the Jerusalem Council.  We continue with Luke's narrative:

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 keep the law of Moses.”  The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

The pharisees argue that the Gentiles must follow all of the law, including that they be circumcised.  Peter argues against this requirement - mentioning the message (dream) he received from God.  Peter defends his position by noting that even the Jews have not been able to adhere to the law of Moses.  Now it is time for Paul and Barnabas to speak.  Continue reading at verse 12:

12 The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. 13 When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. 14 Simon (Peter)  has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. 15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:  16 “‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent.  Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, 17 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things’—18 things known from long ago."

The James that Luke mentions here is the brother of Jesus, and the author of the Book of James.  After hearing the Pharisees, Peter, and Paul (Barnabas), James stands to offer his thoughts.  He begins by quoting Amos 9:11-12.  This had to have the effect of cold water on the Pharisees.  However James is not finished yet.  Let's return to Luke's narrative:

19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21 For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”

James recommends to the Council that Gentiles are to do three things:  1) Abstain from foods polluted by idols;  2) Abstain from sexual immorality;  3) Abstain from blood.  We need to consider these three recommendations.

1) Pollution of idols:  Exodus 20:3-4, “You shall have no other gods before me….”  In 1 Corinthians 8 Paul gives detail to this command.  Paul makes a distinction between “it is ok to eat anything” and “it is not ok to take part in idolatry.”

2) Sexual Immorality: Leviticus 18.  1 Corinthians 6:15-20, “Have nothing to do with sex sins! Any other sin that a man does, does not hurt his own body. But the man who does a sex sin sins against his own body.”

3) Blood:  Genesis 9:4, “But you must not eat meat that has its life blood still in it.” 

It is interesting to note that these same three requirements remain common ground between Christianity and the Jewish religion to this day.  Continue reading at verse 22:

22 Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders among the believers. 23 With them they sent the following letter:  The apostles and elders, your brothers, To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:  Greetings. 24 We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. 25 So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul— 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. 28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell.

30 So the men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and delivered the letter. 31 The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message. 32 Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers. 33 After spending some time there, they were sent off by the believers with the blessing of peace to return to those who had sent them. [34]  35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord.

Note about verse 34.  Many Bibles do not insert verse 34 because it is not found in many of the most reliable early copies.  When it is included, verse 34 reads, "But Silas decided to remain there."  The Jerusalem Council was satisfied with the three rules.  The church at Antioch was satisfied with the three rules.  In fact, for 2000 years the Church has been satisfied with these same three rules - proposed by James, the brother of Jesus!  One would think that this would be the end of the chapter, but it is not.  Let us return to the final paragraph of Acts 15 at verse 36:

36 Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. 39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. 41 He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

There was a second issue that needed to be settled.  Paul was ready to depart on a second missionary journey.  Barnabas was ready as well, but he wanted John-Mark to be on the team.  Paul was still upset with John-Mark for leaving them during the first journey.  Paul and Barnabas went their separate ways.  Paul teaming up with Silas, and Barnabas teaming up with John-Mark.  While this may have resulted in the doubling of efforts by sending two teams, we never hear anything about the Barnabas journey.  Luke appears to have joined Paul's team but we will leave that story for next time.

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