Things to watch for as you read these chapters.
Monday, March 3, Chapter 16
At the end of 15, Paul and Barnabas argued and split up. I like that because it reminds us that even the most saintly of the saints acted like the rest of us from time to time. Even with the power of the Holy Spirit delivered in a blinding light and rush of noise, Paul could be petty-minded.
Silas is a prophet. He supports and encourages the preachers and teachers, but mostly those who have just come into the faith. He also interprets the Word of God when needed. Questions from recent gentile converts who knew little of the scriptures filled his days.
Young Timothy is waiting for them in Lystra. He is already filled with the Holy Spirit and Paul wants him on the journey, but he is uncircumcised. No problem for Paul; he carried the argument against requiring circumcision while in Jerusalem. The problem is asking Timothy, uncircumcised, to witness to the Jews in the region. They already knew Timothy was the son of a Greek, so refused to listen to him. Paul would not let anything stand in the way of presenting the Gospel, so he asked Timothy if he would go under the knife.
Verse 10 uses the word ‘we’ for the first time. It is notable because Luke is writing himself into the account. We do not know just where he and Paul meet, though Antioch seems likely. (That is the Antioch in the center of modern Turkey, not the Antioch of the church headquarters in northern Syria.) No details are given before Troas where ‘we’ first appears.
‘The Macedonian Call’ is today a common image associated with missionaries. The truth is we all have Macedonian Calls. God chooses a particular person because he or she is suited for a particular mission. Paul was a young, highly educated Hebrew raised in the Greek world. Timothy was literally both Greek and Hebrew. God wanted him to help Paul bridge that gap, which is probably why God had Paul circumcise Timothy. And then, God added the fully Greek Luke to continue the transition to a Greek Gospel. They were then ready to cross into Macedonia and from there south to Greece.
Going to the river to worship in Philippi is necessary because so few Jews lived there; they could not afford a building. They spoke only to women. In order to have an ‘official’ worship, ten men made a quorum, a minyan. Apparently there were not enough Jewish men to qualify, and the men chose not to join their wives.
Lydia was not just a woman who dyed clothes; she was a wealthy woman who had a business dying clothes. We know that because she dealt in purple cloth used only by the elite and royals. The dye came from boiling thousands of Bolinus brandaris snails for days, done well away from the city because of the prodigious stench.
Verse 16 tells us that our four missionaries got into the habit of going to the river on Shabbat to meet with the women. On one such visit, the slave started advertising for them, but not in a good way. Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, commanded the spirit to leave her. There is no magic in the words Paul spoke. The power of the Holy Spirit forced the evil spirit to leave the girl.
Sometimes we get the notion that if we say, “In the name of Jesus…” that whatever we say will happen. No, only if the Spirit leads, and only if the Spirit wants to do the thing.
Besides, this time it put Paul and Silas in prison. Why? So the Spirit could do even greater things. Last time Paul was in prison, the angel opened the doors and led him out. This time the earthquake opens the doors, but Paul stays in his cell. This was a non-prison break to save the souls of the guard and many others.
Just for good measure, Paul plays the Roman citizen card, encouraging his fellow believers before leaving town.
Tuesday, March 4, Chapter 17
Paul achieved success at the synagogue in Thessalonica, using the scriptures to show that the Messiah was promised from Genesis through Chronicles (the last book of the Hebrew Scriptures) and that the promise included death and resurrection. Many Jews believed, and many prominent women, probably women who owned and ran their own businesses and were leaders in the city.
Because of agitation against them which put the believer Jason in danger, the men left for Berea. The Berean ministry was successful among both the Jews and Greeks until the agitators from Thessalonica found them again.
Notice that Luke mentions the many women who came to believe. Paul is often accused of being against women, but we neither see that in Acts nor in Paul’s letters. He often names and complements women leaders in the churches.
Athens gives Paul the chance for a new approach to win the Greeks. Verse 22 has Paul speaking to the Areopagus. Ares was the Greek god of war, like the Roman Mars. The men of the temple had once ruled the politics of Athens, but by Paul’s day were in charge of vetting foreign religions as well as preserving the morals of the city.
Paul did not seek their permission to practice his foreign religion, he used their own philosophical arguments to present the Truth of the Gospel. The return was small in numbers but mighty in the Spirit.
Wednesday, March 5, Chapter 18
Corinth is located in southern Greece about 50 miles from Athens, and about two miles south of the narrow isthmus that forms a land bridge between the main landmass of Greece and the Peloponnesus. The isthmus is less than four miles wide. Corinth controlled the two major harbors and thus command of the trade routes between Asia and Rome. In ancient days small ships were dragged across the isthmus on a paved road; larger ships unloaded their cargo, which was then carried across the isthmus and reloaded on other ships.
A famous temple to Aphrodite had stood on the summit of Acrocorinth in the Classical Age… It had fallen into ruins by Paul’s time, but successors to its 1,000 cult prostitutes continued to ply their profession in the city below. Many of them were no doubt housed in the lofts above the 33 wine shops uncovered in the modern excavations. Corinth was a city catering to sailors and traveling salesmen. Even by the Classical Age it had earned an unsavory reputation for its libertine atmosphere; to call someone ‘a Corinthian lass’ was to impugn her morals. It may well be that one of Corinth’s attractions for Paul was precisely this reputation of immorality.
Paul works with Aquila and Priscilla making tents. It was common for young men of even the wealthy families to learn a trade in case bad times come. Paul uses his skills in two ways. He is able to pay his own way, and he gets to talk with costumers and people passing by.
One reason Paul stayed so long in the city was because even the converts had a hard time changing their life styles. Paul’s letters to the church speak to their problems.
Notice in verse 17 that Crispus is replaced by Sosthenes. Sosthenes is included as an author of the first letter to the Corinthians, but we cannot be sure it is the same man.
Paul leaves Silas and Timothy to continue the work in Corinth while he travels with Priscilla and Aquila to Ephesus. Note that Priscilla is listed first, perhaps because she is the stronger Christian. Paul continues to work well with women. He leaves the two of them there to work as missionaries to the growing church. Paul goes on to visit and strengthen churches along his earlier route.
Luke gives us a rare look at the work of someone other than Paul when Apollos arrives in Ephesus. The key point about him is his baptism, a crucial issue when he moves on to Corinth. Paul deals with the issue in his first letter to Corinth.
Thursday, March 6, Chapter 19
Meanwhile, Paul deals with the same issue when he returns to Ephesus, the issue of John’s baptism. We read in the third chapter of Matthew about the baptism of Jesus; how the Holy Spirit came from Heaven like a dove and landed on Jesus. The image in Acts 2 is stronger and Luke states that the disciples were ‘filled’ with the Spirit. Jesus was already filled; God simply pointed him out. The rest of us need to be filled with the Spirit, we need the baptism of Jesus.
Today, we combine the baptism of John with that of Jesus. No baptism can occur without repenting our sins. As we saw with Cornelius, the Spirit may fill us at any time, but we should follow his example and receive the baptism of Jesus.
Why did I not come out of the water speaking in tongues? Paul writes in Romans, ‘We have different gifts,according to the grace given us.’ I have tried speaking in tongues and can now say ‘thank you’ in seven different languages, unlike people I know who can learn an entire language in a few months. The Holy Spirit gives each of us the power to use the gifts, the talents, God gave us, and to use them for God’s work.
Paul ends up spending most of his 2+ years in Ephesus using the building of the teacher Tyrannus. In that climate, classes were held in the morning so that they did not have to sit through the heat of the day. Paul, however, had to teach in the afternoon because the building was open then. No doubt, he spent the mornings working on tents, perhaps with Priscilla and Aquila. Luke calls Christianity ‘the Way’, the most general name among believers in the first century.
Luke must have smiled as he wrote verses 13-16. Again, the name of Jesus is not magic.
In verse 22, a new missionary is listed as working with Timothy in Corinth. Paul adds in his letter to the Romans that Erastus is the director of public works in Corinth.
Rooted in money, the riot in Ephesus inflamed passions. Paul was kept out of the fracas, though he was eager to join it. Luke does not credit the Holy Spirit, but get to see how the Spirit can use people even to control Paul. In the end, it was the most powerful city official who appealed to the rule of law and brought a peaceful end to the melee.
Friday, March 7. Chapter 20
Paul rejoins Timothy and Luke somewhere in Macedonia, probably Philippi. He leaves after 3 months, sending Timothy and 6 others overland to Troas. Paul and Luke sail to Troas from Philippi. We can only guess why, but most likely Paul wanted to stay through Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Passover itself could only be celebrated inside the walls of Jerusalem, but Jews throughout the Empire spent that day much as they do today.
The first day of the week is Sunday and followers of the Way have already started to hold it as a special day, though the Sabbath is still Saturday for Jewish Christians. Paul preaches to a receptive crowd, even as Eutychus falls asleep before falling to his death. No problem, Paul holds him as the Spirit heals the man and continues his preaching until morning. Please note that Paul did not sleep in the back of a car or even a cart; he walked. The other 8 men sailed down the coast to Assos and gathered Paul there.
Luke gives us no hint about why Paul chose to walk alone to Assos, a short day’s hike. Yet he gives us the itinerary for the next few days with no other details.
The crucial stop is Mitylene, a day’s walk south of Ephesus. He spent more time in Ephesus than any other city, and he loved them more than any other church. Yet, he could not stop there because it would cause trouble, so he sent for the church leaders to come see him.
His speech of support and blessing brings tears to all eyes and for Paul to stand on the ship the next day and watch the people he loved fade away for the last time must have been heart breaking.
Be righteous and do good.