Paul and Silas were on the move through Syria and Cilicia, preaching, teaching, and encouraging the churches Paul had already planted. When they arrived in Lystra they encountered a young man named Timothy. His mother Eunice was a Jewess and his father was a pagan, but his mother had been teaching him the scriptures since he was young and believers spoke highly of him. Paul wanted Timothy to travel with he and Silas and Paul had Timothy circumcised, not because it was needed to believe but because people in the area knew him as the son of a Jewess and being circumcised would have a great influence on potential Jewish Christians. Paul was prepared to use any legitimate means to communicate the Good News to various audiences. As Paul, Silas, and Timothy traveled they communicated the decisions of the Jerusalem council. The wisdom of the decision was indicated as the churches were strengthened in their faith and grew larger every day.
God directed the missionaries travels. The Holy Spirit had prevented them from going westward into Asia and the Spirit of Jesus prevented them from going to Bithynia. Instead God gave Paul a vision of a man from Macedonia who was begging Paul to go there and teach. The Spirit guided them in many ways and that in dwelling of the Holy Spirit helped them to accomplish their mission to be Christ’s witnesses. Troas was a major port on the Aegean Sea, and one of the more significant cities in the Roman Empire. Paul’s strategy was often to visit principle places like Troas, Athens, Corinth, and Ephesus. When the Christian faith had been planted in major centers, local Christian workers could carry it into out laying areas. In verse 10 Luke makes a change from “they” did this or that to, “we” did these things. Luke accompanied Paul from Troas to Philippi and then later joined up with them in Philippi and sailed with them to Troas and back to Jerusalem. After Paul’s two year imprisonment in Caesarea, Luke traveled with Paul to Rome. Luke, ever the historian gives us a detailed account of everyplace Paul and his traveling companions went.
From verses 13-36 Luke gives us three short stories of lives touched by the Good News of Jesus Christ in Philippi: a wealthy woman, an exploited slave girl, and a middle class officer. The Jewish community at Philippi was too small to have a synagogue, which required ten adult males to be present. Instead they met for prayer in an open place by the Gangites, now Angista River. This space afforded privacy, quiet, and water for Jewish purification rites. The first person changed by Christ was a wealthy, successful businesswoman from Thyatira, a city famous for its woolen fabrics, weavers, and linens. Thyatira was well known for purple dyes and cloth dying. Purple dye had to be gathered drop by drop from certain shellfish. Because it was so expensive purple dye was used on garments worn by royalty. As an artisan in purple dyes, Lydia was a wealthy woman who had come to Philippi to practice her trade. Paul may have preached the gospel but it was the Lord who opened her heart. Lydia responded to the message and she and her household were baptized. One of Lydia’s first acts as a true believer in the Lord was to extend hospitality to the visiting missionaries. Hospitality is an important Christian virtue. The second story of a life changed is of a slave girl who had a spirit that enabled her to tell the future. The men who owned her were continually growing richer because of this gift. The demon in her knew who Paul and Silas were and she followed them around announcing that Paul and his companions were indeed servants of the Most High God. While it was true, Paul, like Jesus, didn’t permit the demon to proclaim the Christian message. The Lord had commanded that the gospel be proclaimed by His disciples, not by opponents. Just like in the ministry of Jesus, sometimes the Good News threatened commercial interests. Once the slave girl had been released from the demon, and her owners realized she would no longer make they money, they drug the missionaries before the authorities as criminals. They also resorted to racial bias…these Jews… and appealed to the Philippians pride in being Roman citizens. The illegal customs they accused the missionaries of performing was that by law, Jews were not permitted to make converts of Romans. A mob formed and Paul and Silas were severely beaten and tossed into prison. They were considered dangerous criminals so the jailer put them in the inner jail and locked their feet in the stocks. All reasonable security measures had been taken to ensure Paul and Silas didn’t escape after they had been stripped and beaten with wooden rods. However, like at Christ’s tomb human effort didn’t prevent divine intervention. The men were joyful, singing hymns and praying. The word translated listening here means to listen with pleasure, as if listening to beautiful music. It is in times of darkness that the light of Christian witness shines the brightest. The other prisoners were listening. You might even say Paul had a captive audience! And then there was a tremendous earthquake, just like at Jesus’ resurrection. The third story involves the Philippian jailer. When the earthquake struck, all the doors flew open and every prisoner’s chains fell off. Because an escaped prisoner would mean death for the jailer, he got out his sword and was going to kill himself. But Paul assured him that all the prisoners were accounted for. As a result of this the jailer took Paul and Silas to his house, fed them, washed and treated their wounds and asked what he needed to do to be saved. Paul told him to repent and believe. The man confessed his sins, repented, was baptized and then reached out in hospitality to Paul and Silas. The jailer and his whole household were saved and there was great rejoicing. God had touched this jailers heart.
Paul and Silas directed the jailer to faith that brings blessing both to him and his family. The whole household received Christian instruction and their response was expressed in baptism. The following morning the city authorities sent their officers to the jail to order Paul and Silas to be released but Paul was angry. Both of them were Roman citizens which made the beating illegal. When the officials learned this they were terrified. They had committed a crime with the beating. Paul made the officials come to the jail to release them and clear their names. Luke intended to show that Christianity should enjoy the same status as Judaism in the Roman Empire as a permitted religion. Paul made use of his rights as a citizen and was ready to use the privileges of citizenship to advance the cause of Christ in a hostile world. Once they were released, they went to Lydia’s home. This meeting bolstered the spirits of the Philippian Christians.
After traveling through Macedonia to Thessalonica Paul preached to the Jews first, in the synagogue. Here as elsewhere there was a mixed response. Paul was able to preach for three successive Sundays explaining the scriptures and showing their fulfillment in Jesus. One of the things that Luke consistently does is highlight the women who come to faith in Jesus Christ. However, once again the enemies of the Christian faith saw it as a disruptive threat. It is ironic that they were the ones who gathered some trouble makers and then accused Paul and Silas of causing trouble by disturbing the peace and committing treason against Caesar. Paul and Silas were a threat to the stability of the Roman Empire they said. The charges didn’t hold up under scrutiny so the officials released Paul and Silas after Jason posted bond. Luke contended that Christianity was politically harmless to the Roman Empire and should therefore be recognized as a permitted religion and not subject to political attack. But in light of all the trouble in Thessalonica the believers sent Paul and Silas to Berea, some 20 miles west. The missionaries had a better reception there. Many Jews came to faith as well as many of the prominent Greek women and men. The Bereans were open minded and eager to learn, good listeners, diligent Bible students, and thoughtful people. Their resulting faith had a very strong foundation.
The same Jews who caused trouble in Thessalonica made their way to Berea and began stirring up trouble there. The believers wasted no time, sending Paul all the way to Athens. Silas and Timothy stayed behind and continued to teach and preach. One of the things we see in chapter 17 is Paul presented as a model witness for Christ, engaging the thinkers of the day and challenging them with the Christian message. Paul quoted writers his audience would be familiar with and showed the relevance of the gospel by dialoguing with them, critiquing their assumptions, and offering Jesus as a constructive alternative. Paul reminded these proud intellectuals that there is a living God to whom all human beings are answerable; that they will be judged by Him through Jesus whom God raised from the dead; and they should therefore repent and put their faith in Him.
Athens, like Alexandria and Tarsus, prided itself on its intellectual sophistication in examining ideas and considering the different philosophies that were current at the time. There were many different kinds of scholars in Athens, including the Epicureans. Epicureanism was a popular school of Greek philosophy, founded by Epicurus (351-270 BC). They believed that the aim of life was to secure happiness. They thought of pleasure not in terms of sensual indulgence, as their critics charged, but in terms of tranquility. Their contemporaries often called them atheists. In their view there were no gods to fear, and death simply marked the end of human existence. They sought their security in organized communities where they could live in contentment apart from society. Stoicism was founded by Zeno of Citium and became the most influential philosophy in the Greco-Roman world. It viewed the universe as permeated by reason which was sometimes referred to as god or providence. Stoicism saw divine reason as expressed in human reason and held that as humans made progress, they could advance from ignorance to true knowledge. They developed extensive lists of virtues and vices and produced detailed household codes to guide family behavior. Paul’s teaching resembles that of the Stoics in his use of household codes and lists of virtues and vices. But, Paul’s message of good News, focusing on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, was strange and foreign to these Greek philosophers. The air of superiority with which they addressed Paul as this babbler indicates their arrogance.
Paul’s remarkable sermon in Athens reveals his versatility in preaching the Good News. While Paul’s audience didn’t know the Scriptures or have a tradition of monotheism as the Jews did, they did have a rich intellectual heritage. Paul established a point of contact on the basis of the Athenian inscription to an unknown God. Then Paul explained God’s nature as creator, followed by God’s purpose as the redeemer. As he did elsewhere in his own writings, Paul made use of the Greek poets, quoting several of them. The allusions to their own poets established connections to his audience. Paul was then able to present the singular nature of God and he stressed the coming judgement of Jesus Christ, whom God had raised from the dead. This message, while touching in Greek culture and philosophy, had a clear focus in Jesus Christ that presented the challenge off Christ to a cultured and intellectual but idolatrous people. Pul was also particularly fervent to overcome ignorance. The message of Good News overcomes ignorance and summons all who hear it to repent of their sins and turn to God. The Athenians listened carefully until Paul began to speak about the resurrection of the dead. Then they began to laugh and mock him. This notion of being raised from the dead seemed like foolishness to the Greeks. It is not unlike the Jews who listened to Paul until he mentioned that God accepted the Gentiles just as He did the Jews. Both of these are good examples of how the message of the Good News can offend people because of their prejudices. However, some did join and become believers. There were two prominent converts: Dionysius and Damaris. Luke often placed a man and a woman in juxtaposition. Dionysius was a member of the council of the Areopagus, the highest governing body of Athens.
Paul spent 18 fruitful months preaching and teaching in Corinth, first in the synagogue and then next door in the house of Titus Justice. Then in court Paul won a significant victory over his enemies. Corinth was a powerful, prominent, commercial city. It was notorious for its prostitution, immorality, and drunk ness. You could get anything you wanted in Corinth including several communicable diseases. Paul invested much time and effort establishing a Christian community in Corinth. In 49 AD emperor Claudius deported all of the Jews from Rome, including a devout couple named Priscilla and Aquila. They earned their living as tent makers, as did Paul, who probably lived and worked with them during his year and a half in Corinth. Paul would have been trained as a tent maker as a young man. It was a Jewish custom to provide sons with a manual trade, including young men who intended to become rabbis or other professionals. Paul never wavered in how he approached a new city to share the good news in. He went first to the Jews and then later he reached out to the Gentiles after he met with rejection and opposition. It is quite likely that Paul wrote his letters to the Thessalonian Christians after Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia with a report on how things were going there. Titus Justus was a Gentile who worshiped God. Paul had experienced real opposition in Corinth and apparently was afraid of being attacked again, so the divine message was a comfort to him, encouraging him to persist in his public ministry and promising God’s protection. Centuries earlier God had spoken to Joshua telling him to be strong and of good courage because the Lord would be with him wherever he went. That promise is for us today too.
The governor of Achaea was Gallio, the older brother of the Roman philosopher Seneca who was a tutor to Nero. He was governor around 51-52 AD which helps date Paul’s visit to Corinth. As we have seen before there were Jews who came to where Paul was and stirred up trouble, bringing him to the governor for judgement. However, Gallio ruled that the charges were unjustified. The Roman government had nothing to fear from acknowledging Christianity as a legal religion. In a peculiar turn of events, after the ruling the Jews grabbed Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, in front of the court. It is not clear whether the Greeks beat him seeing the occasion as an opportunity to vent their feelings against the Jews, or the Jews beat their own synagogue leader because he was unsuccessful in presenting their case. Either way this is unfortunate behavior. When Paul left Corinth he went to Cenchera, a seaport on the Aegean Sea. Here Paul shaved his head according to Jewish custom, which means he had made a Nazarite vow. See Numbers 6 for the details on this type of vow.
Paul made a quick stop in Ephesus, the most important city in the Roman province of Asia. There he left the others behind, including Priscilla and Aquila. He sailed to Judea, landing at Caesarea and then he went to Jerusalem, visited the church there, and returned to Antioch. This was the end of his second missionary journey. Again Paul reported to the church what God had done through him and his colleagues, Sharing the excitement and challenges of their work with the home church. Some time later Paul began his third missionary journey, traveling by land and revisiting believers who he had led to Christ on previous trips. It was of great importance that these young converts not be left to flounder in their faith. He spent significant time in Ephesus on this third journey, remaining there for two years. Alexandria was the second largest city in the Roman Empire. They were famous for their rhetorical tradition and the philosophical work of Philo. Apollos was an eloquent speaker with an amazing grasp of the scriptures. But his knowledge about Jesus and the Holy Spirit was inadequate. He didn’t understand that believers could experience and enjoy the power of the Holy Spirit as a present energizing reality. Fortunately Priscilla and Aquila took him aside and corrected his spiritual understanding.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W