Beheaded Home (The Life Of Paul)

In 2009 the Pope announced that the remains of the apostle Paul had been discovered.

Bone fragments were recovered after a tiny probe was inserted into the tomb which lies in a crypt beneath the Basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls in Rome – a church long held to have been built on the site where Paul was buried.

The tomb itself was discovered by Vatican archaeologists in 2006. The fact that it was positioned exactly underneath the epigraph Paulo Apostolo Mart (Paul the Apostle and Martyr) at the base of the altar convinced them it was Paul’s tomb.

After the fragments were carbon-dated to the correct time period, the Pope announced: “This seems to confirm the unanimous and uncontested tradition that the bone fragments are the mortal remains of the Apostle Paul.”

It’s interesting but not definitive.  The last few years of Paul’s life, and even his death, are somewhat of a controversy if not a mystery.

In the Spring of 63AD Paul, under house arrest in Rome, was acquitted of the charges against him and set free.  Probably none of the Jews from Jerusalem who had precipitated his arrest many years earlier appeared to give testimony.

After his acquittal he traveled from Rome to the isle of Crete (Titus 1:5) and began his last missionary journey.

Paul left Titus in Crete and went to Nicopolis in Macedonia (Titus 3:12).  From Nicopolis he wrote the books of FirstTimothy and Titus.

We lose track of him until he is rearrested in Rome, about 67AD.  There’s a lot of speculation – and that’s all it is, really – on his final travel itinerary.

This would have been the most opportune time for Paul to travel to such places as Spain, Gaul, which later became known as France, and on to Ludgate Hill which is the present site of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, England.

There’s evidence Paul went to Spain.  Cyril of Jerusalem wrote,

[Paul] carried the earnestness of his preaching as far as Spain, undergoing conflicts innumerable, and performing signs and

Chrysostom also wrote about Paul stating, “for after he had been
in Rome, he returned to Spain…”

There is also an interesting fragment of a papyrus manuscript discovered in the Ambrosia Library (Italy) in 1700 by Domingo M. Muratori.  The document, written in Latin, seems to date around the year 140AD, judging from its content.  Among the important references to the four gospels, Paul’s letter to the Romans, and other documents, there appear five lines which end with the words “when he (Paul) went to preach the Gospel in Spain.”

Why do we think Paul might have gotten as far as England?

George F. Jowett, in his book The Drama of the Lost Disciples, records a statement by the Greek theologian, historian and Bishop of Cyrrhus, Theodoret (AD 390-458), “Saint Paul brought salvation to the isles in the ocean.”

A more specific reference to Paul in Britain was made by Capellus in his History of the Apostles.  He wrote, “I know scarcely of one author from the time of the fathers downward who does not maintain that St. Paul, after his liberation, preached in every country of the West, in Europe, Britain included.”

R.W. Morgan cites the testimony of Greek theologian and historian, Theodoretus in 435AD as saying: “Paul, liberated from his first captivity at Rome, preached the Gospel to the Britons and others in the West.”

Paul was again arrested by the Roman authorities in 67-68AD and was returned to Rome for a second imprisonment.  On what charges?  Likely he was rounded up as a leader of the Christians following the burning of Rome.

Rumors spread that Nero was responsible, seeking opportunity to reshape the city as he wished. In order to divert suspicion from himself, he accused the Christians of the crime and initiated inquisition and outrageous persecution.

His final imprisonment was rough.  He said of himself,

2Timothy 2:8  for which I suffer trouble as an evildoer, even to the point of chains; but the word of God is not chained.

The “chains” he referred to here were not the halusis of being chained to a Roman guard in his own rented house.  He was in a prison; in a dungeon, really.

The Mamertine prison in Rome – according to tradition, the prison in which Paul was held – was subterranean.  It was located near the Forum and dated back to the seventh century before Christ, to the reign of the fourth king of Rome, Ancus Martius.  Before that, it was the site of a stone quarry.

The prison itself was essentially two large rooms on different levels with iron shackles fixed to the walls.  The lower chamber was the Tullianum, or the Tullian dungeon.  The Roman historian Sallust, writing a century before Paul, said of this dungeon, “[It] is sunk about twelve feet under ground.  Walls secure it on every side, and over it is a vaulted roof connected with stone arches; but its appearance is disgusting and horrible, by reason of the filth, darkness and stench.”  Lighting was indeed poor, primarily coming from torches or oil lamps.  The guards might have had fires to provide heat in the winter or to cook food.

These guards were usually soldiers.  Being a prison guard was not an appealing job and was often given to the poorest soldiers. Some of the guards were cruel; and prisoners, particularly ones not Roman, were defenseless.  Under Roman law, if a prisoner escaped, the guard was executed.  This tended to make the guards cautious about their wards, to say the least.

Prisoners were manacled using different lengths of chain, probably reflecting the security risk, the nature of the accusation, and the attitude of the guards.  A short chain could hold a prisoner continually upright, dependent upon others for everything.  A longer chain might permit a prisoner to take a step or two from the wall and to sit or to lie down.  Some prisoners were placed in stocks, their ankles held apart.  These persons were forced to sit on the same filthy spot continually.

A few prisoners might have friends or paid guards to provide them clothing, blankets, food, and water.  These persons would also change the bedding straw and clean away the human waste. Other prisoners had no such provision.

Those final days were comparatively lonely.

2Timothy 4:10    for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica…

2Timothy 1:15    This you know, that all those in Asia have turned away from me, among whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes.

Of his old companions, only Dr. Luke was with him (Second Timothy 4:11).  A few new names appear:

2Timothy 4:21    … Eubulus greets you, as well as Pudens, Linus, Claudia, and all the brethren.

A verse in Second Timothy more than any other captures the feeling of those final days.

2Timothy 4:13    Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come – and the books, especially the parchments.

Frank J. Goodwin writes,

A prisoner who is being hurried from place to place by unsympathizing keepers is little able to look after his property.  But now the apostle is settled again, though his home is but a prison, and he feels that it will be his home for life. Winter is coming on, and winter in a Roman prison, as he knows by experience, may be very cold.  He wants to get back his rough traveling cloak.  It was one of those large sleeveless garments which we should call an ‘overall’ or ‘dreadnaught.’  Perhaps St. Paul had woven it himself of the black goat’s hair of his native province.… ‘And the books, but especially the parchments,’ the biblia – the papyrus books – few, we may be sure, but old friends.

It was during this time that he wrote the second epistle to Timothy and indicated his willingness for imminent departure from this mortal life.

2Timothy 4:6    For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand.
2Timothy 4:7    I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

2Timothy 4:8    Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.

The most accepted tradition puts his death by beheading as taking place along the Ostian Way outside of the city.

As to his beheading, A.T. Robertson writes:

The details are all wanting.  Tradition supplies only a few, which may be true or not.  The story is that Paul was beheaded on the Ostian Road.  It was customary for criminals of prominence to be executed several miles out of the city so as to avoid the crowds. We may picture the event in a possible manner.  One day in late spring or early June the executioners came to Paul’s dungeon and led him out of the city.  Paul, as a condemned criminal, would be the victim of the rabble’s sport.  He would have no defender. We do not know if Luke was with Paul to the very last.  We may at least hope so.  If he could, he would surely walk along as near Paul as would be allowed.  But no band of Christians followed with him now.  He was going out of Rome on his way to the true Eternal City.  He knew Rome well, but his eyes were fixed on other things.  Outside the city the busy, merry life of the time went on.  The crowds flowed into town.  Some were going out.  Paul was only a criminal going to be beheaded.  Few, if any, of the crowds about would know or care anything about him.  At a good place on the road some miles out the executioners stopped.  The block was laid down.  Paul laid his head upon it.  The sword (or axe) was raised.  The head of the greatest preacher of the ages rolled upon the ground.

Tradition says that a Roman ‘matron named Lucina buried the body of St. Paul on her own land, beside the Ostian Road.’  Be that as it may, no Christian can come to Rome, especially by the Ostian Road, without tender thoughts of Paul, the matchless servant of Jesus (A.T. Robertson, Epochs In The Life Of Paul, pp. 316-317).

Paul would have been 66 years old.

Rather than come to our own conclusions, or make our own comments, about Paul, let him speak for himself as his life comes to an end.

2Timothy 1:12    For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.

He called it “that day,” without anything further to designate it, because it is the great day; “the day for which all others days were made.”

It seems to have been so much the object of thought and conversation among the early Christians, that the apostle supposed that he would be understood by merely referring to it as “that day;” that is, the day which they were always preaching about, and talking about, and thinking about.

It’s the day you see Jesus Christ face-to-face.  It’s the day all sorrow ceases; all suffering either makes sense or is understood.  It is the day any sacrifice you made seems so minor compared to the glory of knowing Him who loved you and died for you.

Here at the end of our studies about the life of Paul I can only hope that we all hold “that day” to be the preeminent day of our lives; that we look for it, long for it, and live for it.

Chained Reaction (The Life Of Paul)

It’s an obvious illustration but we sometimes refer to a seemingly stifling situation as though we are “chained” to something.  For example, someone might radically change careers and say, “I didn’t want to be chained to a desk anymore.”

MSNBC recently filmed a documentary series titled, Chained to My Ex.  It’s about divorced couples who, for one reason or another, must still live together.  One of the taglines says, “being married and living together can be unbearable, but being divorced and living together?  That can be true hell.”

What if you were literally chained to someone?  That’s the situation Paul found himself in for two years in Rome.

When we last saw Paul he was under arrest, on his way to Rome to appeal his case to Caesar Nero.  The ship he was on was wrecked.  Everyone on board survived and made it to land, to the island of Melita.  While gathering sticks to make a fire Paul was bitten by a deadly snake.  He shook it off and showed no signs of illness let alone death.  More than that, God used him to heal many of the sick on Melita.

We’re rushing through arguably one of the most exciting episodes of Paul’s life.  That’s because we already know it so well.  It’s like a favorite scene from a favorite movie.  We want to find out some new things about Paul; or at least things that are a little more obscure.

We pick up the story, then, with Paul arriving in Rome.

Acts 28:16    Now when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard; but Paul was permitted to dwell by himself with the soldier who guarded him.

“Dwell by himself” means Paul was not in a prison; not in a cell.  He was in a house he rented under what we would call house arrest.

Paul wrote several letters during that first Roman house arrest – Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon.

In Philippians he made this fascinating statement:

Philippians 1:12    But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel,
Philippians 1:13    so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ;

The “palace guard” was the Praetorian Guard, the Imperial Guard of Rome.  This guard was an elite corps of soldiers, established to guard the Emperor of the Roman Empire.

The body was instituted by Augustus and was called by him praetoriae cohortes, praetorian cohorts, in imitation of the select troop which attended the person of the praetor or Roman general. Augustus originally stationed only three thousand of them, three cohorts, at Rome, and dispersed the remainder in the adjacent Italian towns. Under Tiberius they were all assembled at Rome in a fortified camp.  They were distinguished by double pay and special privileges.  Their term of service was originally twelve years, afterward increased to sixteen.  On completing his term, each soldier received a little over eight hundred dollars.  They all seem to have had the same rank as centurions in the regular legions.  (Marvin Vincent, Word Studies In The New Testament, Vol. III, p. 420).

Paul had been delivered to the Praetorian Guard to await trial before the Emperor.  Paul said of himself that he was “bound in chains,” where the Greek word halusis is used (see also Acts 28:20 and Ephesians 6:20).  The halusis was a short length of chain by which the wrist of a prisoner was bound to the wrist of a soldier who was guarding him so that escape was impossible.

Was Paul really chained 24 hours a day to a Praetorian Guard?  Probably not.  It would make sleeping weird if not difficult!  He wasn’t really much of an escape risk, either.  I’m sure he was chained a lot – sometimes to a Praetorian Guard, other times to his bedpost.  His overall situation was that of being chained and he was literally chained a great deal.

Think of it.  In the course of two years one by one Praetorian Guards would be on duty with Paul.  These guards were therefore under the constant influence of Paul and the Gospel.

For one thing, Paul had a lot of visitors in Rome.  The guards could not help overhearing what Paul taught others.

I wonder who was guarding him the day Paul wrote Ephesians chapter six about taking up the whole armor of God?  Do you suppose he questioned his guard to get the uniform exactly right?

Then there was the whole matter of Onesimus, the runaway slave.  Paul had led his master, Philemon, to faith in Jesus.  Whether Onesimus came to Paul for help, or Paul saw him in Rome, Onesimus, too, was saved by Paul’s sharing.  After serving Paul for a time, the apostle sent Onesimus back to Philemon to ask forgiveness.  It must have blown the minds of the Praetorian Guards.

Paul’s imprisonment had opened the way for preaching the Gospel to the finest regiment in the Roman army.   All the Praetorian Guard knew why Paul was in prison – and many of them were touched by the Gospel.  No wonder Paul declared that his imprisonment had actually been for the furtherance of the Gospel.

The news spread from guard to guard, to the families of the guards, and then to Caesar’s household.  Paul ended the Philippian letter by saying, “All the saints greet you, but especially those who are of Caesar’s household” (4:22).  “Caesar’s household” means his servants and attendants – all those surrounding him in the running of his life and the government.

We might ask, Was Paul chained to a Praetorian Guard, or was a guard chained to him?

Paul’s perspective was that God had arranged it so that they could be chained to him for the furtherance of the Gospel.

Our problem is we find it hard to make the comparison between Paul’s halusis and our own.  It seems almost glorious to be chained to a Praetorian Guard and to thereby evangelize Caesar’s household.  We always seem chained to someone or something much less dramatic or important.

I don’t know who or what you are chained to but unless you are out of the will of God, you need to adopt Paul’s perspective and realize it is chained to you for the furtherance of the Gospel.

Speaking of the furtherance of the Gospel, what happened to Paul with regard to his appeal to Caesar?

Reading what he wrote in the letters he penned during the two year house arrest and comparing them to his later letters, written just before his execution, gives us some help with the disposition of his case before Nero.

In his letter to the church in Philippi Paul indicated that he was prepared for whatever happened and had come to terms with the possibility that he could be put to death.

Philippians 1:19    For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,
Philippians 1:20    according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.
Philippians 1:21    For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Philippians 1:22    But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell.
Philippians 1:23    For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.
Philippians 1:24    Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.

At the same time he was optimistic that he would be released.  In Philippians 1:25-26, he wrote, “I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.”  In Philippians 2:24 he added, “And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.”
In his letter to Philemon Paul was confident that he would be able to return to Asia Minor to see Philemon.

Philemon 1:22    But, meanwhile, also prepare a guest room for me, for I trust that through your prayers I shall be granted to you.

We can contrast Paul’s optimism in Philippians and Philemon with his certainty of being near death in his second epistle to Timothy. In Second Timothy 4:6, he wrote “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure.” These words were probably written during a second Roman imprisonment.

One indication of this is given in Second Timothy 4:16-17,

2Timothy 4:16    At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them.
2Timothy 4:17    But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. Also I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.

One way to interpret these verses is to see the “first defense” as Paul’s 62AD trial before Nero and his deliverance from the “lion’s mouth” as his release after that trial.

Scholars today believe it is more likely that the “first defense”’ was a preliminary hearing before a later second trial.  Under either interpretation, Paul was acquitted at his first trial.

Some later Christian sources support the case that Paul was acquitted and then took the Gospel to the furthest reaches of the Roman Empire.  Clement of Rome, in his epistle to the Corinthians written in the 90’s AD, made the following statement about Paul in the fifth chapter:

After preaching both in the east and west, he gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the west, and suffered martyrdom under the prefects.

For a first century Roman “the extreme limit of the west” was Spain.  Paul expressed a desire to travel to Spain in Romans 15:24 but he does not seem to have had the opportunity to do so before 62AD.  Clement’s statement supports a scenario in which Paul was released after a first trial in Rome and then made a trip to Spain before his second imprisonment.

This scenario was favored by Eusebius of Caesarea, the fourth century bishop and historian whose Ecclesiastical History is an invaluable compilation of early Christian history.  In Book 2, chapter 22 of this work, Eusebius wrote:

Festus was sent by Nero to be Felix’s successor.  Under him Paul, having made his defense, was sent bound to Rome. Aristarchus was with him, whom he also somewhere in his epistles quite naturally calls his fellow-prisoner.  And Luke, who wrote the Acts of the Apostles, brought his history to a close at this point, after stating that Paul spent two whole years at Rome as a prisoner at large, and preached the word of God without restraint.  Thus after he had made his defense it is said that the apostle was sent again upon the ministry of preaching, and that upon coming to the same city a second time he suffered martyrdom.

In support of his conclusions Eusebius cites some of the same evidence we have been considering, including Second Timothy 4:16-17 and the fact that Paul’s trial occurred before the time when Nero became a persecutor of Christians.  On this second point, Eusebius commented,

It is probable indeed that as Nero was more disposed to mildness in the beginning, Paul’s defense of his doctrine was more easily received; but that when he had advanced to the commission of lawless deeds of daring, he made the apostles as well as others the subjects of his attacks.

Cyril of Jerusalem wrote,

[Paul] carried the earnestness of his preaching as far as Spain, undergoing conflicts innumerable, and performing Signs and

Chrysostom also wrote about Paul stating, “for after he had been
in Rome, he returned to Spain…”

There is also an interesting fragment of a papyrus manuscript discovered in the Ambrosia Library (Italy) in 1700 by Domingo M. Muratori.  The document, written in Latin, seems to date around the year 140AD, judging from its content.  Among the important references to the four gospels, Paul’s letter to the Romans, and other documents, there appear five lines which end with the words “when he (Paul) went to preach the Gospel in Spain.”

Whether chained or free, Paul remained the prisoner of The Lord and went about his daily business furthering the cause of the Gospel.

Romeward Bound (The Life Of Paul)

“I’m not an expert.  But I did stay at a Holiday Inn.”

I sometimes feel a little that way when, as a Christian, I give people answers or advice.  Except I’d have to say, “I’m not an expert.  But I did attend a Calvary Chapel.”

You know what I mean.  The people you are around need help.  They’re struggling at home.  They’re struggling at work.  School isn’t going very well.  You give them answers and advice from God’s Word.  But you’re no expert – not to their way of thinking.

I hope to show you that you are the expert they need.

After two years of being held in protective custody Paul had appealed his case to the highest court.  He was finally Rome-ward bound.  He was placed in the care of a Roman centurion named Julius.  Two companions were allowed to travel with him – Luke and Aristarchus.  Other prisoners were traveling with them as well.

The first leg of their trip was relatively peaceful.  Putting ashore in Myra, the centurion booked passage on an Alexandrian ship heading to Italy.  It was part of the Roman grain fleet.
It was getting to be difficult sailing against winds that were contrary.  Nevertheless ships were still putting out to sea.

Acts 27:7    When we had sailed slowly many days, and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, the wind not permitting us to proceed, we sailed under the shelter of Crete off Salmone.
Acts 27:8    Passing it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near the city of Lasea.
Acts 27:9    Now when much time had been spent, and sailing was now dangerous because the Fast was already over, Paul advised them,
Acts 27:10    saying, “Men, I perceive that this voyage will end with disaster and much loss, not only of the cargo and ship, but also our lives.”
Acts 27:11    Nevertheless the centurion was more persuaded by the helmsman and the owner of the ship than by the things spoken by Paul.
Acts 27:12    And because the harbor was not suitable to winter in, the majority advised to set sail from there also, if by any means they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete opening toward the southwest and northwest, and winter there.

It’s no surprise that the centurion took the advice of the ship’s owner and the ship’s captain over that of the apostle Paul.  They were the experts.

But they were wrong.  Disastrously wrong.

So today are many so-called and credentialed “experts.”  Many if not most of the things people need advice about are essentially spiritual.  You are the expert – if you know Jesus Christ.

People may not listen – at least not initially.  But in the deepest despair of their personal storm they may need you.

The helmsman, or captain, and the ship-owner and the majority advised to set sail.  Off they sailed – into the coming storm.

Yes, these guys were “experts” in their field.  It’s what they did for a living.  But that didn’t mean they exercised reasonable judgment.  Their motives were suspect:

1. The ship-owner undoubtedly wanted to insure that his cargo arrived intact and unspoiled.  A lot could go wrong as it sat wintering in harbor.
2. The captain undoubtedly thought himself a capable seaman.  He would not be upstaged by a traveler.
3. The majority didn’t like the accommodations.  There were no In-n-Outs in Fair Havens.  (More likely there was no night-life).

Every great disaster movie reveals some ulterior motive, usually greed, for putting lives at risk.  It’s a common plot theme because it’s too often true.  The “experts” have ulterior motives that affect their better judgment.

As Christians we look upon people who don’t know the Lord and are concerned that they do not have eternal life.  Thus if they perish they do so eternally

Eternal life isn’t just about the future.  It is a quality of life here-and-now.  We see people overly concerned about their livelihood, living for this world.  Too often they experience the loss of the things that really matter in life.

The same is true of nonbelievers who are pursuing some worldly lifestyle.  In the end it’s a loss of life because it doesn’t fill the emptiness in the heart that only a relationship with God through Jesus Christ can satisfy.

We should look upon all nonbelievers with great concern for their loss of life.  In that regard, since we know the Lord, we are the experts.

Acts 27:13  When the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their desire, putting out to sea, they sailed close by Crete.

You don’t have to be an expert to know how fast weather conditions can change.  The soft wind meant nothing.

When we share about Jesus people tend to look at their lives and see a soft wind blowing rather than the approaching storm.  They don’t see their need.  So they continue along, pursuing their livelihood and lifestyle, when all the while they are heading into treacherous situations that only Jesus Christ can navigate.

Acts 27:14  But not long after, a tempestuous head wind arose, called Euroclydon.
Acts 27:15  So when the ship was caught, and could not head into the wind, we let her drive.
Acts 27:16  And running under the shelter of an island called Clauda, we secured the skiff with difficulty.
Acts 27:17  When they had taken it on board, they used cables to undergird the ship; and fearing lest they should run aground on the Syrtis Sands, they struck sail and so were driven.
Acts 27:18  And because we were exceedingly tempest-tossed, the next day they lightened the ship.
Acts 27:19  On the third day we threw the ship’s tackle overboard with our own hands.

These were skilled expert sailors indeed.  But all of their expertise could not save them.  Instead it had made them overconfident.

I’m not saying the average Christian is ‘smarter’ than an expert in their field.  I’m saying we have an eternal perspective and it is that perspective that gives us wisdom the experts do not possess.

Acts 27:20  Now when neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest beat on us, all hope that we would be saved was finally given up.

A nonbeliever can pursue livelihood and lifestyle into their old age and seem to live a comfortable life.  Sooner or later the tempest comes and they face eternity.  Maybe they have time to react; probably they don’t.
People ignore God until they find themselves tossed about by life.  Things start falling apart and failing.  It’s then they need us and we ought to be ready with expert advice of our own.

Acts 27:21  But after long abstinence from food, then Paul stood in the midst of them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me, and not have sailed from Crete and incurred this disaster and loss.

Why mention they had not eaten for some time?  To remind us who believe that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from God!  They didn’t need food; they needed God to intervene.

Acts 27:22  And now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.
Acts 27:23  For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve,
Acts 27:24  saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you.’
Acts 27:25  Therefore take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me.

Paul based his expert advice on the Word of God.  In his case an angel stood by him and gave him an immediate Word from God.  In ours we have the written Word.  Everything we need in order to advise people is contained in it.  Marriage advice; parenting advice; how to get along at work and at school; what kind of citizen you should be; etc., etc.  It’s all in the principles and precepts of God’s inspired, inerrant, infallible Word.

Acts 27:26  However, we must run aground on a certain island.”
Whoa!  How is that abundant life?  If God really cared for them, why not just calm the storm?

He didn’t just calm the storm because He had a lesson to teach them. Doing business with God requires faith.

It’s so sad when a person is being tossed about in a personal storm but will not exercise simple faith in God to get them through it.  They try to find some lifeboat in the world, some expert that tells them either they don’t really need God and His Word or that they need more than God and His Word.  It sounds good; after all, these people are experts, are they not?  They have education and degrees.  They have recognition.

But they don’t have Jesus.  Or, if they do, they don’t really rely on Him because they think they’ve found a better way.

With compassion you need to go on sharing with storm-tossed travelers the simplicity of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  Their needs are essentially spiritual.  Their greatest single need is to know the Lord or to know Him better.  If you know Him and are walking with Him, you are the expert.

The Midnight Ride Of The Revered Paul (The Life Of Paul)

When we last saw Paul he had been rescued from an angry Jewish mob in the Temple by the Roman garrison.  Commander Lysias didn’t know what to do with Paul so he arranged for a confrontation between Paul and his accusers.  It only made matters worse.  Paul remained in custody while Lysias tried to figure out what to do.

Meanwhile some forty Jews took a vow to neither eat nor drink until they killed Paul.  Hearing of this plot from Paul’s nephew, Lysias sent Paul in the middle of the night to Caesarea, the center of Roman government in that province.  He was turning him over to Governor Felix.

The Jewish religious leaders and their lawyer came to Caesarea to press charges against Paul before Felix.  Realizing there was no evidence against Paul, but fearing to release him, Felix put him under house arrest.

Two years later, when Festus replaced Felix as governor, Paul was still in custody.  The Jews sought extradition of Paul back to Jerusalem; Festus refused but invited them to come to Caesarea as before and press their charges.
After hearing them Festus asked Paul if he would be willing to return to Jerusalem to stand trial.  Paul refused and having now spent two years in custody without ever being convicted he demanded his right as a Roman citizen to appeal his case directly to Caesar Nero in Rome.

Before he could be sent to Rome King Agrippa visited Festus and, having heard about Paul, asked to have an audience with him.  Only then was he sent on to Rome under guard.

During New Testament times Jerusalem and Judea were governed by a variety of different men:

Direct from Rome through Roman province administrators or governors known as procurators.
Through the Roman governor of Syria, such as The Decapolis.
By Roman-appointed Jewish kings, ethnarchs or rulers, and tetrarchs or rulers of a fourth part of a province.

Felix and Festus were Roman governors.  Agrippa was a descendant of Herod the Great and was a Jewish ruler, consider king over his region.

Whenever Paul appeared before these rulers he preached the Gospel.  What an amazing privilege to be able to share Jesus Christ with a top ranking civil official.

Preaching to these rulers was a rare and wonderful privilege but it was costly.  It cost Paul his freedom.  He was in Roman custody for over two years and that is what afforded him the opportunity to present Christ to them.

It costs you nothing, of course, to be saved.  That is to say, salvation is free – by God’s grace alone through faith alone.

But there is a high cost for the privilege of serving Jesus after you are saved.  Charles Spurgeon, in a sermon from Luke on counting the cost of discipleship, said,

It is clear from our text that TRUE RELIGION IS COSTLY.  Far be it from us to create any confusion of thought here!  The gifts of God’s Grace cost us nothing, neither could His salvation be purchased with money, nor with merit, nor by vows and penances. “If a man should give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be condemned.”  The Gospel motto is, “without money and without price.”  We are “justified freely by His Grace, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”  Yet, for all that, if a man will be a Christian it will cost him something.

Something interesting to ponder.  Were you asked to count the cost before you received Jesus?  I’m going to guess the answer is “No.”

Paul’s answer would be “No,” by the way.  He was saved on the road to Damascus when Jesus revealed Himself.  It was only afterward that Jesus told Ananias regarding Paul,

Acts 9:15    … “… he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.
Acts 9:16    For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”

Jesus saved Paul and then showed him how many things he must suffer serving Him.  He didn’t stop him on the road and explain the cost and ask Paul if he still wanted to get saved.  He didn’t describe all his future sufferings and give Paul the chance to opt out.

“Counting the cost,” in this sense at least, really means recognizing the cost.  It means coming to grips with the fact that serving God will cost you something.

It is the recognition that all you are and all you have is a stewardship from God which is to be used as a means of outreach in this world.

Let’s take a look at Paul in relationship to these three Roman leaders and see what insights we can draw from the texts about recognizing the cost of serving Jesus.

Acts 24:24    And after some days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ.
Acts 24:25    Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, “Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you.”
Acts 24:26    Meanwhile he also hoped that money would be given him by Paul, that he might release him. Therefore he sent for him more often and conversed with him.
Acts 24:27    But after two years Porcius Festus succeeded Felix; and Felix, wanting to do the Jews a favor, left Paul bound.

For two years the great apostle Paul reasoned with Felix and his wife, Drusilla.  For a veteran missionary who had seen multitudes of conversions and who had planted many, many churches, that’s gotta be a little disheartening.

And to be preaching on “righteousness” and “self control” but still be being asked for a bribe – you gotta wonder if you’re maybe losing your edge.

For lack of a better term let’s call this measurable ineffectiveness.  You have a congregation of two and after two years, if you measure success by conversions, you’re at zero.

I won’t speak to Paul’s state of mind about this.  Maybe he was unaffected by it.  I can tell you I’d be bummed – seriously bummed.  I couldn’t help but feel like a guy who’d been transferred to the worst posting ever as some sort of discipline.

Serving The Lord will take a mental toll on you if you don’t recognize the cost of serving Him.  He may want you to be measurably ineffective for a time.

Let me put it another way.  The effectiveness of your service isn’t yours to control.  All you can do is be faithful to serve.  If you are faithful but have little or no measurable success, it’s costly but need not take an emotional toll.

Let’s move on to Festus.  One day, when Agrippa was visiting, Festus brought Paul out to address them.  As Paul presented the Gospel, Festus had this reaction.

Acts 26:24    Now as he thus made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!”

It’s hard for me to get a handle on exactly what Festus meant.  I don’t think he believed that getting a PhD. would result in a condition of insanity.  I think it more likely that he thought Paul’s concentration on only the Word of God had rendered him closed-minded and foolish.

What we can confidently say is that this was a severe personal attack upon Paul.  It was slander.

If you take any sort of stand for The Lord, sooner or later you will be personally attacked – maybe even publicly.  You need to recognize it as part of the cost of serving Jesus if you’re going to overcome it and press forward.

Paul answered Festus then pressed Agrippa for a decision.

Acts 26:27    King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do believe.”
Acts 26:28    Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.”
Acts 26:29    And Paul said, “I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains.”

Paul was bound; in chains.  He had been for two years.  As mentioned, serving The Lord cost him his freedom.

You and I are probably not going to be bound by chains for our faith anytime soon.  Let’s think in terms of boundaries instead.
Have you ever felt bound for God, or you might say trapped, in a situation?  It’s part of the cost of serving Jesus.  He sets those boundaries to keep you in the very place where He wants to bless you.  He knows it is there that He can teach you patience and kindness and acceptance and forgiveness.

It’s in the dark that your light really shines; it’s where preservative is definitely needed that you can be spiritual salt.

You and I may not have had a Damascus Road type of conversion.  But The Lord nevertheless says to each of His dear saints, “I will show you how many things you must suffer for My name’s sake.”

Next time you are struggling in your service to Jesus, ask yourself if you have forgotten to recognize that there is a cost for the privilege.  Then rest in God’s plan.

Stairway To Preachin (The Life Of Paul)

Occasionally I will use a travel agency to book a trip.  Their expertise about both travel and accommodations can really be helpful.

Think of God as a travel agent.  Or at least as Paul’s travel agent.  Paul wanted to go to Rome.  God wanted Paul in Rome.  In Acts 23:11 we read, “The Lord stood by him and said, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.”

It was as if God was booking Paul’s trip for him.  In fact, God would arrange free passage to Rome on a ship.

Then there was the not-so-good news.  Paul would be a prisoner on that ship.  He wouldn’t get to Rome for approximately three years and, once there, he would remain under house arrest another two years.

Did I mention the ship would wreck and Paul be bitten by a deadly viper?  Or that this all started when Paul was taken into custody in the Temple after nearly being beaten to death?

Proverbs 16:9    A man’s heart plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.

I always apply that proverb to God having a different plan for me but I think it’s more likely that the difference is in the path I must take to accomplish the plan.  God seems to prefer roads less traveled.

I remember when we were first saved Pam’s heart was to quit working to stay home and raise a family.  A series of providences encouraged her to quit her career.  Then, lo and behold, she got pregnant!

Except that first pregnancy was ectopic; a tubal pregnancy in which the child would never be delivered and her chances to get pregnant again were cut in half.

God’s path for the plan we had all agreed upon was very different than we were thinking.  It took us through pain and grief and the test of faith.

Be encouraged that God wants to give you the desires of your heart, the ones you and He have both agreed upon.  Getting to them, seeing them realized, is going to be a journey, an adventure, that often will involve pain and suffering since our Lord was a suffering Savior, and since The Lord wants to refine you.

Tonight we will look briefly at the episode that started Paul’s journey to Rome with a special emphasis on something Paul did as he was being taken away by the Roman guards.

The story is in Acts twenty-one and twenty-two.  Paul had agreed to participate with four Jews in a ritual of purification in order to calm Jewish suspicions about him.  They would literally live in the Temple during the time of their vow.  On the final morning they would shave their heads and burn their hair in a sacrificial fire.

Certain Jews recognized Paul and, seeing him with four others, assumed they were Gentiles whom he had brought in to the Temple against Jewish law.

Let’s read what happened next.

Acts 21:27    Now when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him,
Acts 21:28    crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against the people, the law, and this place; and furthermore he also brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.”
Acts 21:29    (For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple.)
Acts 21:30    And all the city was disturbed; and the people ran together, seized Paul, and dragged him out of the temple; and immediately the doors were shut.

They dragged him out of the sacred precinct he was in because no blood was to be shed there.  I love it that there is a mob-morality.  Their gonna kill him; just not there because that would be unlawful.

Have you ever been mugged?  We used to call it being jumped when I was in high school.  My friend and I got jumped one night leaving a football game too long after the crowd.  It’s no fun getting pummeled.

Paul didn’t know it but he was buying his ticket to Rome.  This beating would earn him free passage on the governments dime.

Acts 21:31    Now as they were seeking to kill him, news came to the commander of the garrison that all Jerusalem was in an uproar.
Acts 21:32    He immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran down to them. And when they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.
Acts 21:33    Then the commander came near and took him, and commanded him to be bound with two chains; and he asked who he was and what he had done.
Acts 21:34    And some among the multitude cried one thing and some another. So when he could not ascertain the truth because of the tumult, he commanded him to be taken into the barracks.
Acts 21:35    When he reached the stairs, he had to be carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob.
Acts 21:36    For the multitude of the people followed after, crying out, “Away with him!”

Paul had been assaulted, forcibly dragged down some stone stairs, and beaten by multiple assailants.  He would be bruised, bloodied, disoriented.  No matter his faith and spiritual strength this was unsettling to say the least.  We won’t get there tonight but as the story continues the Romans plan to flog him as a troublemaker – and he might anticipate it at this point, being familiar with Roman customs and law.

All of this makes what happened next so beautiful.

Acts 21:37    Then as Paul was about to be led into the barracks, he said to the commander, “May I speak to you?” He replied, “Can you speak Greek?
Acts 21:38    Are you not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a rebellion and led the four thousand assassins out into the wilderness?”
Acts 21:39    But Paul said, “I am a Jew from Tarsus, in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city; and I implore you, permit me to speak to the people.”
Acts 21:40    So when he had given him permission, Paul stood on the stairs and motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great silence, he spoke to them in the Hebrew language…

Commander Lysias had decided his prisoner must be the illiterate Egyptian who had recently led a tragic uprising, inducing thousands to carry hidden daggers and stab political opponents by stealth, then to camp on the Mount of Olives in expectation of the miraculous collapse of the city walls and the defeat of the Romans.  The military had routed the armed rabble, hundreds of survivors had been crucified or sent to the galleys, but the Egyptian had escaped.

At any rate, he was leading the prisoner away according to proper procedure when suddenly Paul talked to him.

I have to call, for lack of a better term, what happened at the top of those stairs a God-moment.  It made no sense, logistically, for Lysias to allow Paul to speak.  The crowd was clearly inflamed and the best tactical strategy was to get Paul away from it and to safety.  It went against all Lysias’ training to grant Paul permission to speak to the crowd.

We see in this what can only be understood as spiritual authority.  From an earthly perspective Paul was the prisoner of the Roman authorities.  But truly, from Heaven’s vantage point, he was an ambassador with real authority to speak for the King.

We defer to others on the basis of status or position or rank.  Normally that’s good – but not in spiritual matters with nonbelievers.  No matter a persons status or rank or position or education or worldly authority, if you are a Christian and he or she is not, you have Heaven’s authority when it comes to spiritual things.

Maybe even more God-momentish than Lysias allowing Paul to speak was Paul asking to address the crowd.  These people had just tried to kill him – and for no good reason.  In fact, he was only in the Temple fulfilling a vow so he could show these very people he wasn’t against them.

Not only did he want to address them; he wanted to address them about their salvation.  He will give them his testimony.  He wants them to know about Jesus.

There Paul was, bruised, bloodied, pummeled, arrested – not ashamed one bit about any of it because he knew it was for Christ’s sake.

Plenty of Christians are quite literally bruised, bloodied, pummeled, and arrested for Christ’s sake all over the world tonight.  We read an article just today at the Men’s Fellowship that reported Christianity as the most persecuted ‘religion’ in the world today.  It’s only going to get worse.

You and I may not face physical persecution but we are attacked in other ways that are no less punishing.  The devil is on the assault using folks who are taken captive by him to do his will.  Many of us are bruised and bloodied from the attacks against our lives, our families, our character, our walk with The Lord.

If so, if that’s you, I encourage you to see Paul standing atop those stairs, demanding to speak in order to give his testimony of Jesus Christ.  It was one of his finest moments – made possible by the grace of God.

You might not be quite there yet – not quite to the top of the stairs.  You might still be being dragged away… Or beat up… Or taken into custody (spiritually speaking).

You have to go through those things before you can stand at the top of the stairs.

You’ll get to the top of the stairs and, when you do, you’ll see what joy there is in sharing in the fellowship of the sufferings of Jesus.

Chain, Chain, Chains! (The Life Of Paul)

I hear the word “epic” a lot; I’ve started using it, too.  It’s currently used to emphasize that something you did, or that happened, was far beyond the norm.  Usually it’s not something truly “epic.”  It’s an exaggeration for letting folks know you had a great time.

Paul’s life was filled with real epic moments but we’ve arrived in our study at a truly huge turning point.  Paul decided to visit Jerusalem a fifth time – but along the way he was warned by prophets that chains and imprisonment awaited him there.

Then, in the Temple, Paul participated in an unnecessary Jewish ritual that put him in a place to almost be killed.  Instead he was arrested and remained in Roman custody for the next several years.

Because of the consequences of those two decisions, commentators don’t know what to make of it – whether Paul was being led by The Lord or by his own desires.

It’s easy to criticize Paul, to say he should have listened to the warnings or, at the very least, to refrain from the ritual in the Temple.
I’ve taken the approach that Paul was in God’s will for his life and knew what God’s will for himself was better than anyone else.

Listen to what Paul said of himself in Acts 20:22-24.

Acts 20:22    And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there,
Acts 20:23    except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me.
Acts 20:24    But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

Already there had been testimony from the Holy Spirit that chains and tribulations awaited Paul.  He interpreted it as being “bound in the Spirit.”  Was he being stubborn?

No, he was being a servant.  Paul said, “nor do I count my life dear to myself.”  He wasn’t a thrill-seeker; this wasn’t a death wish.  He was following a certain course – a “race,” he called it – and he was committed to finishing it.

The fact that chains and tribulations awaited him was nothing new.  It was always a relatively ‘safe’ prophecy to say trouble was in Paul’s future.

A prophecy of trouble ahead isn’t necessarily a message to stop or to turn around.  It’s simply, but wonderfully, a comfort to know that Jesus is with you in and through the trouble.

Acts 21:1    Now it came to pass, that when we had departed from them and set sail, running a straight course we came to Cos, the following day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara.
Acts 21:2    And finding a ship sailing over to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail.
Acts 21:3    When we had sighted Cyprus, we passed it on the left, sailed to Syria, and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload her cargo.
Acts 21:4    And finding disciples, we stayed there seven days. They told Paul through the Spirit not to go up to Jerusalem.

In Tyre you see an example of the way the Spirit was speaking to the church about Paul.  I think these prophecies were more for the believers than for Paul.  They were to remind them Paul was exactly in the will of God when the tribulations and chains caught up with him.

It’s sad, therefore, that the disciples tried to dissuade him from going.

The statement they told Paul “through the Spirit not to go up to Jerusalem” means one of two things:

1. “Spirit” either refers to their own human spirit which naturally wanted to see Paul kept from harm, or,
2. Spirit refers to the Holy Spirit but the disciples misapplied the warnings.  They assumed the warnings were a prohibition when they were really just a forewarning of what awaited Paul.

Paul eventually arrived in Caesarea.

Acts 21:8    … we… came to Caesarea, and entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him.
Acts 21:9    Now this man had four virgin daughters who prophesied.
Acts 21:10    And as we stayed many days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.
Acts 21:11    When he had come to us, he took Paul’s belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’ ”

Agabus was what I call a prop-prophet.  He used props and was rather flamboyant.  It was his style.  He was old school, more like the Old Testament prophets.

Acts 21:12    Now when we heard these things, both we and those from that place pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem.
Acts 21:13    Then Paul answered, “What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Acts 21:14    So when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, “The will of the Lord be done.”

One quick point.  The disciples would not have said, “the will of The Lord be done,” if they thought Paul was out of God’s will.  Paul was definitely on the path God had chosen for him.  He was definitely being led by God.

The word for “breaking,” where Paul says they were breaking his heart, means, to deprive of strength and courage, dispirit, incapacitate for enduring trials.

In wanting what they thought was best for Paul – or at least better than tribulations – they were weakening him for the eventual trials that were coming.

Always be strengthening your brothers and sisters because trials are on the horizon.  Don’t try to dissuade them from doing the Lord’s will because it might be uncomfortable, or even dangerous.  It only weakens them.

Paul arrived in Jerusalem and found there was a rumor circulating about him.

Acts 21:20    … And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law;
Acts 21:21    but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.

It is estimated that there were anywhere from twenty-five to fifty thousand Jews who had believed on Jesus Christ.  This “myriad” still kept the rites and rituals of the Law of Moses.  Among them rumors had festered that outside of Jerusalem Paul encouraged Jews who believed to abandon the Law of Moses and live more like Gentiles.

Regardless the great things God was doing through Paul the believing Jews in Jerusalem were stumbled by these rumors.  How sad, really, that even great works of God could not be appreciated because of a narrow vision.

Acts 21:22    What then? The assembly must certainly meet, for they will hear that you have come.
Acts 21:23    Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow.
Acts 21:24    Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law.
Acts 21:25    But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.”
Acts 21:26    Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having been purified with them, entered the temple to announce the expiration of the days of purification, at which time an offering should be made for each one of them.

If you want to find fault with anyone, maybe you should look to the leaders of the Jerusalem church who made this suggestion to Paul.  Why not just tell the Jews that what they were hearing about Paul was false?

Don’t criticize Paul.  He took the high ground.

Four Jewish believers in Jesus had taken a vow that was prescribed by the Law of Moses.  The fact they were to shave their heads indicated this was a Nazirite vow.  The fact they needed to be purified indicates they had somehow become ritually defiled during the period of the vow.  They would therefore need to offer certain sacrifices in the Temple before they could complete the prescribed period of their vow.  It was not unusual for someone to sponsor you by providing the funds for your sacrifices.

The leadership of the church affirmed, in verse twenty-five, that it was not at all necessary to keep the Law of Moses in order to be saved.  But if Jews wanted to continue in their rituals they were not discouraged.

James and the elders felt Paul could participate without violating his own conscience or principles.  It seemed a win-win to them.

Again, why fault Paul?  We shouldn’t.

Paul was thinking what he always thought – about becoming all things to all men in order to save or serve them.  In this case he was willing to become as a weak Christian in order to win the weak.

A misunderstanding in the Temple will almost cost Paul his life.  It does cost him his freedom as he is arrested and sent to Rome over a very prolonged period of time.

Or did it cost him his freedom?  He was the prisoner of Jesus Christ.  If as Christ’s prisoner The Lord wanted him to be Rome’s prisoner, that was fine with Paul.

Something to meditate upon.  Paul said, of his incredible trials, “none of these things move me.”

What would “move” you, get you off-course from following The Lord?

Truth be told, you don’t know what might have the effect of moving you.  Be ready for anything and you’ll be moved by nothing.

Bringing Out The Beast In You (The Life Of Paul)

Just when you think you’ve got ministry figured-out, God changes things up on you.

On his second missionary journey the Holy Spirit directed Paul away from Asia because God wanted him to spend most of his time in Europe.

On his third missionary journey most of Paul’s time was spent in Asia, in the city of Ephesus.

That wasn’t the only change.  What scholars call the “third missionary journey” is more like an interim pastorate than a pioneering missions effort.

God wants you to go on depending upon Him day-by-day just as you did when you uttered the very first prayer for salvation.  If we only do the same things with and for God, day-in and day-out, we begin to trust in ourselves, in our own strength and talent and ability.  Nothing will kill real ministry more than self-dependance.

Most of this third trip is spent in Ephesus.  Paul had spent a short time in Ephesus on his way back to Antioch from his second missionary journey (Acts 18:19-22).  This trip he stayed in Ephesus three years (Acts 20:31).  Several remarkable things happened in Ephesus.

Paul baptized a dozen of John the Baptist’s followers and then they received the Baptism with the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:1-7).
Unusual miracles occurred in which handkerchiefs and aprons that Paul had used were brought to the sick and they were healed, or to those possessed and they were exorcized (19:11-12).
A group of Jewish exorcists, the “seven sons of Sceva,” tried to exorcise a demon in Paul’s name.  The demon-possessed man attacked them and they barely got away with their lives.
Word of this spread and believers who were still into the occult repented and brought out their books of magic to a massive book burning (Acts 19:13-19).
The entire city rioted over silversmith Demetrius’ loss of business because of people who turned to Christ from worshiping the great Ephesian goddess Artemis (19:23-41).

After leaving Ephesus Paul went to Macedonia, Illyricum, Greece, and Corinth.  Then he headed to Jerusalem through Troas, Assos, Mitylene, Samos, Trogyllium, Miletus, Coos, Rhodes, Patara, Tyre, Ptolemais, and Caesarea.

A lot more happened; you can read the full account from Acts 18:23 through Acts 21:16.

What I want to do is see those years from Paul’s perspective.  He gave us his perspective in two passages of Scripture, one in First Corinthians and the other in Second Corinthians.  We’ll see a theme emerge.

1Corinthians 15:30    And why do we stand in jeopardy every hour?
1Corinthians 15:31    I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.
1Corinthians 15:32    If, in the manner of men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantage is it to me? If the dead do not rise, “LET US EAT AND DRINK, FOR TOMORROW WE DIE!”

Fist Corinthians fifteen is an extensive account of the doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and of believers, from the dead. In this passage Paul reminded the Corinthians that he daily risked his life for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Historians make the claim that the phrase, “let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die,” is a summary slogan of the Epicurean philosophers of the first century.  One of their teachings was that there was no life after death.  Thus, while arguing for moderation, the practical outworking of Epicureanism was to live for that which was pleasurable in this life since it is the only life you’ll get.

Why would anyone risk his life if there were no reward in a life after death?  He wouldn’t; he’d just eat and drink and make merry.

The Epicureans could argue all they wanted that there was no life after death but it wasn’t “after the manner of men,” meaning it wasn’t what people in their culture actually experienced.  They experienced the occult and knew there was another realm, a spiritual realm, that included angels and demons.

In the classic film, The Exorcist, the younger Catholic priest doesn’t believe in the devil – only in psychological illness.  He finds out the hard way that the devil exists.

That’s maybe the thought here.  You can argue that there is no afterlife but, at least in Ephesus, there certainly were supernatural powers from another realm at work.

Paul gave a perspective on his time in Ephesus.  Paul remembered it as a fight against savage beasts.

Even though gladiators did fight beasts, and certain individuals were thrown to beasts, it is highly unlikely Paul fought against literal beasts.

He does not recount it along with his other sufferings and hardships in Second Corinthians 11:23-29.
If he had been thrown to the beasts it would mean he would have lost his Roman citizenship.  We know that he still held it when he went before Caesar at a much later date.

He must have been speaking figuratively of things that happened in Ephesus.  Scholars are split over which event, exactly, he was referring to.  Some say it was the riot that Demetrius started but, in the account, there is no mention of any special danger that Paul was in.

I think it best to see this as a summary of his time in Ephesus.  The whole three years had a “fought with the beasts” feeling to it.

I ran across one interesting explanation.  The religious and cultural context of Ephesus was magic and mystery cults.  Paul’s ministry there was filled with exorcisms and demonic encounters.  In Paul’s own letter to the Ephesians he said, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (6:12).

It could be that by choosing the word “beasts” Paul meant these spiritually wicked rulers – the devil and His demons.

The word “beast” appears in Jewish literature as a synonym for an evil spirit or demon.  Additionally, evil spirits in magic were often summoned through the images and organs of wild animals.
In Daniel and Revelation, we see “beasts” used to described massive spiritual opposition to God’s people.
We see the devil described in First Peter as a “roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (5:8).

Not only was Paul risking his life for the sake of the Gospel by facing the persecutions of men.  He was facing-off against demons.

For the better part of three years Paul’s ministry was dominated by this kind of spiritual warfare.  It was the theme of his daily walk.  It was the path Jesus had him on.

What path are you on?  It’s not always going to be a garden path. It’s not always going to be footprints in the sand.  It might be a fight with the supernatural “beasts” we know to be demons.

Whatever it is, you’ll need to depend solely, completely, upon The Lord.

Paul also discussed this period in his life in Second Corinthians.
2Corinthians 1:8    For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.
2Corinthians 1:9    Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead,
2Corinthians 1:10    who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us,

This passage takes us a little deeper into the mind and heart of the great apostle.  While involved in this three year struggle with beasts Paul not only believed that he was going to die but he psychologically despaired of his physical life.

Have you ever been spiritually “burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that [you] despaired even of life?”

This kind of honesty makes us uncomfortable as Christians.  We think we must rebuke it.

Paul was a veteran Christian, missionary and pastor.  Yet he was totally unable to even take another breath.

In the movies when the hero is confronted by some beast he or she is always able to come up with a clever strategy to defeat the brute.

How did Paul deal with it?  He admitted he could not defeat the beast by anything he could say or do.  In fact, he admitted defeat – despairing of life itself.

Then, and only then, could he be “delivered” from death.
God delivers us from death in three ways:

He has delivered us from “so great a death” as eternal death.
He does deliver us moment-by-moment.
He will continue to deliver us all the days He has granted us to live in these bodies.

Think of it this way.  Paul was on the front lines of ministry; he was the cutting edge.  Even as a mature veteran missionary and pastor he despaired of life.  His resolve for it wasn’t to pray more or give more or serve more.  He didn’t say he was weak on account of not keeping up with his devotions.

He realized that he couldn’t even take a next breath without relying on the resurrection power of God.

Do we believe – really believe – we cannot take our next breath without God?  I don’t mean that God is the One Who is sustaining our lives; the One Who knows the number of our days.

I mean do we believe that we have absolutely no strength to minister apart from the breath of the Holy Spirit?  I daresay we think we have some things figured-out; that we can ‘handle’ some things ourselves.

What I mean is that I still think I have some strength, some spiritual strength of my own, to do things for The Lord. I think I can just take a deep breath and stay in the game; whereas Paul understood he’d had the breath knocked out of him and needed fresh air from the Holy Spirit.

I’m not sure I’m making sense even to myself!  What I am sure of is that this period of Paul’s life was a season of learning total dependance upon The Lord.

God used a season of spiritual warfare for Paul – of beast fighting – to knock the wind out of him so He could take the breath of the Spirit.

If you are God’s beloved, He will use a season in your life to do the same.

An Incredible Journey (The Life Of Paul)

I’ve only watched one episode of The Amazing Race once so I’m no expert.  I know that the teams must interpret certain clues along the way in order to arrive at the proper destination.

We’ve come to that time in the life of the apostle Paul that scholars call his Second Missionary Journey.  You can read it straight through beginning in Acts 15:36 and ending three years later in Acts 18:22.

It’s not an amazing race but it does read as if Paul had to discern certain clues along the way in order to go where God intended to send him.

As we highlight certain stops on this three year mission we’ll be looking for some of the ways The Lord leads us on our own journey with Him.

The reason for the trip lays a foundation for how God leads us on a day-to-day basis.

Act 15:36    Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.”

Paul wanted to see how the believers were doing.  He wanted to go to them in order to strengthen them and encourage them.

If you want to be led by The Lord, and discern His leading, it’s gonna require that you genuinely care about how others are progressing in Christ.  It’s gonna require you consider others over yourself.

The trip seemed to start on a bad note.

Act 15:37    Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark.
Act 15:38    But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work.
Act 15:39    Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus;
Act 15:40    but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God.
Act 15:41    And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

It’s important we understand this was not the typical church division over the color of the carpet.  It wasn’t division at all.  As it turns out it was multiplication because instead of one team being sent out there were two teams.

Godly men won’t always agree on things like methods.  It’s OK; no one is at fault.  As long as it multiplies rather than minimizes ministry, go with it.

Paul takes Silas with him to Tarsus.  From there they travel to Derbe and Lystra.  It is in Lystra that he meets Timothy who would become his frequent traveling companion, fellow laborer in spreading the gospel, and trusted pastor (Acts 16:1; First Timothy 1:2, 4:14).

Act 16:3    Paul wanted to have [Timothy] go on with him. And he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in that region, for they all knew that his father was Greek.

Because Paul and Silas would be ministering to Jews in synagogues, and because Timothy was Jewish on his mother’s side, he’d have to be circumcised in order to attend the services.

God will always lead you in ways to not offend others in order that you might be better able to minister to them.

With Timothy they continued northward through Phrygia and Galatia (Acts 16:6).  They strengthened the churches by delivering the proclamation of the Jerusalem Council, telling them that Gentiles need not convert to Judaism in order to be saved.

It’s at this point that Paul is prevented by God from going in certain directions.

Acts 16:6    Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia.
Acts 16:7    After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them.
Acts 16:8    So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.
Acts 16:9    And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
Acts 16:10    Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.

We’re left to speculate as to how they were “forbidden” by the Holy Spirit.  It may have been by a Word of prophecy; it may have been by outward circumstances, e.g., no way of passage.

The vision, however, was pretty plain.  No need for much interpretation.

We must certainly say that God can lead this way – by a vision, which we would consider an exercise of the gift of prophecy.

Notice, though, that the vision was in a context of other occurrences – in this case, their being prevented from going to other towns and regions.  It had to be taken together to be acted upon.

I’d add, too, that the prerequisite to all this supernatural leading was the fact Paul and the others were already on their way, actively involved in sacrificial ministry.

The whole picture, then, is this.  Be busy serving The Lord.  As you are He will order your circumstances to lead you – sometimes by permitting you but other times preventing you.  All the while be open to receive a supernatural Word from Him.  Follow it as long as you keep it within the context in which it was given.

The very next day the missionaries sailed across the Dardanelles, also called the Hellespont, which separated them from Europe.  In Philippi a woman named Lydia heard Paul’s preaching.  On Pentecost in 50AD Lydia was baptized along with her entire household (Acts 16:12-15).

While in Philippi Paul cast a demon out of a female slave (Acts 16:16-18).  Her masters, however, angry that they have lost the ability to make more money from the slave’s demonic divination, stirred up the city against him and Silas.  They were arrested, beaten and put in prison (Acts 16:19-24).  Soon after arriving in jail a miraculous earthquake caused all the cell doors to open and the bonds of all prisoners to be loosed.  This event led to the conversion of the prison guard.

God was still leading them despite the adversity.  From deep within a prison cell, while locked in stocks, God was still using them.

If you want to be led by The Lord you’re going to need to be willing to suffer for His sake.  What I’m saying is that your prayer, “lead me, Lord,” assumes that His leading could land you in stocks, in a dungeon.

Paul and Silas, along with Timothy and Luke, travelled through the cities of Amphipolis and Apollonia and arrive in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1).  In Thessalonica Paul visited a Jewish synagogue and for three consecutive Sabbaths (Saturdays) explained why Jesus is the Old Testament prophesied Savior of Mankind (Acts 17:2-4).  Although many believed what was said certain Jews, envious of the Gospel’s success, formed a mob and started a riot (Acts 17:4-5).  The riotous crowd went to the house of Jason seeking him and Silas.  When they were not found, the crowd dragged Jason and some brethren to the local civil magistrates and accused them of wrongdoing (Acts 17:5-8).  In a short time, however, Jason and the brethren were let go.

Paul and Silas next preached in a synagogue in Berea.  The Bereans were not only willing to listen to what they had to say they also verified what was preached against the Old Testament scriptures (Acts 17:11-12).  Many Bereans came to believe the Gospel.

Unfortunately, Jews from Thessalonica arrived in the city seeking to cause more trouble (Acts 17:13).  Paul immediately left for the coast and set sail for Athens while the rest of his party stayed in Berea (Acts 17:14).

Paul had an experience in Athens:

Act 17:16    Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols.

Paul would go on to have a famous confrontation with Greek intellectuals and philosophers on Mars Hill.  It was birthed by his being “provoked” in his spirit.  God can lead you through a spiritual provocation as you are observant to things happening around you.

From Athens Paul crossed over to Corinth, the seat of the Roman government of Achaia.  He remained there for a year and a half, spreading the Gospel to Jews and Greeks with much success.
Paul had another vision in Corinth.

Acts 18:9    Now the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent;
Acts 18:10    for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.”
Acts 18:11    And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

Could the great apostle Paul really have been afraid?  Of course he was afraid – otherwise God would not have said, “do not be afraid.”

God can lead you to a place and you nevertheless feel afraid.  Or discouraged.  Or embarrassed.  Or any of a number of other things.

I’m not saying those things are good, or that they are the places God leads you to.  I’m saying He can and does lead you to places where, in your own strength, you will feel things like that.

When you find yourself feeling that way in a place where you know God has led you, you need a fresh vision of Jesus.  It doesn’t have to be a literal vision, an appearance of The Lord to you.  You can get a fresh vision from the Word, through worship, by seeking Him.

Paul remained in Corinth until the Spring of 52AD when he then traveled to the port city of Cenchrea.  In the city he has his head shaved due to a vow he took (Acts 18:18).

This vow of the apostle Paul’s has caused quite a stir among Bible scholars and commentators.  Some don’t want to admit Paul was taking a full-fledged Nazirite vow.  To them it seems a step backward into legalism.  They suggest that it was some other kind of vow; or that it was a modified Nazirite vow.

The answer is simple, really.  Without compromising the Gospel, Paul could be all things to all men.

Paul was willing to act himself as if he were under the law of God when he worked among nonbelieving Jews.  Among Gentiles he did not observe Jewish rites and rituals.  He ate whatever foods were offered to him and dressed the way they dressed.  When asked to explain himself he’d say, “All things to all men in order to win some.”

Most of us will probably not be called upon to take such radical steps.  We are already among the people God wants us to reach and, for the most part, share their customs and habits.  Still there are many sub-cultures in our society and in our church.  Instead of thinking we should all be just like one another let’s encourage diversity for the sake of reaching out to everyone who needs to hear about Jesus.
And let’s pray – both individually and corporately – asking the Lord to show us if there are areas in our lives where we need to adapt in order to be relevant in order to reach out to nonbelievers.

If you are going to be led you will need this willingness to be all to all in order to win some.

Paul then began making his homeward journey because he wanted to observe Pentecost at Jerusalem.  He was accompanied by Aquila and Priscilla as far as Ephesus.  From there he made his way by sea, through Rhodes and Cyprus to Caesarea.  From there he went up to Jerusalem.  This was now his fourth visit to Jerusalem after becoming a Christian.

After keeping the Feast of Pentecost he returned to Antioch.

Acts 18:22    And when he had landed at Caesarea, and gone up and greeted the church, he went down to Antioch.

One final observation.  Paul had a base of operations, a home church that he was sent out from.  He started in Antioch; he finished in Antioch.  Even though he founded many churches, Antioch was his home church.

If you’re serious about discerning God’s leading in your life you need the love, protection, fellowship and blessing of a local church.

Grace Off (The Life Of Paul)

“You can have a theology of grace but not have a lifestyle of grace.”  In fact, most Christians are performance-oriented, thinking that the things they do for God make them more spiritual or, in some cases, insures their salvation.

It’s not a new problem.  Early in the life of the church, around 50AD, there was a movement to introduce a lifestyle of works in order to be truly saved.  Paul was instrumental in defending grace and preserving the integrity of the Gospel.

Acts 15:1  And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”
Acts 15:2  Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.
Acts 15:3  So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren.

Their missionary trip was two years in the past.  Paul and Barnabas had been sharing Jesus with Gentiles who were getting saved and growing in The Lord.

It was nothing new for a Gentile to convert to becoming a Jew.  The procedures had been in place for centuries.  One of the requirements was physical circumcision.

These new Gentile converts, however, were accepted by Paul and Barnabas as true converts to Jesus without being required to be circumcised.  They weren’t being required to keep any of the customs associated with conversion to Judaism.

Did a Gentile need to keep the customs of the Law of Moses in order to be truly saved?  Or, as we would put it, is salvation by grace alone through faith alone, or is it by grace through faith plus some kind of work or works of righteousness that I must perform?

Acts 15:4  And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them.
Acts 15:5  But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.”
Acts 15:6  Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter.

Paul filled in some of the details of this trip when he wrote his letter to the Galatians.

Galatians 2:1    Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and also took Titus with me.
Galatians 2:2    And I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain.
Galatians 2:3    Yet not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.

Paul, Barnabas, and Titus were first formally “received by the church” (Acts 15:4).  There followed a private interview with Paul and the leaders in Jerusalem in which Titus was presented as an example of salvation by grace alone without any further works of righteousness required by the law.

At some point the objectors spoke.

Acts 15:5  But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.”

A public meeting of the church followed.

Acts 15:6  Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter.
Acts 15:7  And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: “Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.
Acts 15:8  So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us,
Acts 15:9  and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.
Act 15:10    Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?
Act 15:11    But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.”
Act 15:12    Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles.
Act 15:13    And after they had become silent, James answered, saying, “Men and brethren, listen to me:
Act 15:14    Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name.
Act 15:15    And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written:
Act 15:18    “Known to God from eternity are all His works.
Act 15:19    Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God,
Act 15:20    but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood.
Act 15:21    For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

Peter, then Paul and Barnabas, presented the case for salvation by grace alone without any further works of righteousness being required.  James then summarized the discussion and the decision.

Acts 15:22    Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren.
Acts 15:23    They wrote this letter by them: The apostles, the elders, and the brethren, To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Greetings.
Acts 15:24    Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, “You must be circumcised and keep the law” – to whom we gave no such commandment –
Acts 15:25    it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,
Acts 15:26    men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Acts 15:27    We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth.
Act 15:28    For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things:
Acts 15:29    that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.

Paul added the following recollection, again from Galatians.

Galatians 2:7    But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter
Galatians 2:8    (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles),
Galatians 2:9    and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.
Galatians 2:10    They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.

There weren’t two Gospels – one for Jews and another for Gentiles.  There was only one and it was being taken to Jews and Gentiles.  If a Jew wanted to continue to observe certain customs that was fine so long as it was understood those customs had nothing to do with attaining or maintaining salvation.  Gentiles need not adopt any Jewish customs – only they ought to be sensitive to Jews and not act in ways to offend their customs and culture.

Acts 15:31    When they had read it, they rejoiced over its encouragement.
Acts 15:32    Now Judas and Silas, themselves being prophets also, exhorted and strengthened the brethren with many words.
Acts 15:33    And after they had stayed there for a time, they were sent back with greetings from the brethren to the apostles.
Acts 15:34    However, it seemed good to Silas to remain there.
Acts 15:35    Paul and Barnabas also remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.

The church at Antioch could have been wrecked by the teaching that salvation was by grace plus works.  Every church from that point forward could have been wrecked.  The Holy Spirit saw to it that did not occur.

Even though the issue was settled one and for all there is a sense in which it is never settled.  Works of righteousness always try to replace grace as a way of living.

Paul recounted an episode involving Peter.

Galatians 2:11    Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed;
Galatians 2:12    for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision.
Galatians 2:13    And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.
Galatians 2:14    But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?

Peter went to visit the Gentile church at Antioch.  It was the custom of the early church to share a meal once a week.  They called it the “love feast.”  Peter, though a Jew, had been set free from Jewish dietary laws.  He could eat anything he wanted, with whomever he wanted.  He enjoyed this wonderful freedom of grace – until some Jews came from the church at Jerusalem.

Fearing their criticism, Peter gradually withdrew from fellowshipping with the Gentiles.  His hypocrisy led others, including even Barnabas, into hypocrisy.  He was causing a serious division in the church between Jews and Gentiles.

Paul calls it hypocrisy because, as we just learned, Peter believed that the Gospel was the Gospel of grace and that it excluded the keeping of Jewish laws.  Yet here he was, believing one way but behaving another way.

We learn from Peter that it is possible to have a theology of grace but not a lifestyle of grace.

We must fight the tendency to diminish the grace of God by adding works of righteousness.

No one is to ever add anything to the Gospel of grace.  Not the customs of Moses, like circumcision and Sabbath regulations.  Not dietary restrictions.  Not the way we dress or the holy days we observe.  Not baptism.  Not any sacraments.  Not speaking with other tongues.  Not our own unspoken rules for behavior.  Not our church traditions.  Not even Christian disciplines like prayer, fasting, giving, and Bible reading.  Grace plus nothing.

Our daily growing in The Lord, between getting saved and seeing Him face-to-face, is called sanctification.  I came across the following quote.

Sanctification is not slavishly submitting in the energy of the flesh to somebody’s man-made list of do’s and don’ts in order to enhance our own reputation or earn points with God.  It is laying hold of God’s gracious assistance to become more like Christ for His glory and praise.  Grace delivers us from bondage to laws and frees us to enjoy God in an enriching and satisfying relationship. We will be motivated to please Him from within rather than pressured from without.  We delight in pleasing someone who never stops giving good things to us.

Is God assisting you by grace?  Or do you think you are helping Him by performing at a high level?

Do you think others are more spiritual than you because of their Christian disciplines?  There’s a fine line between the publican and the Pharisee – between recognizing your dependance upon the grace of God and thinking your performance sets you apart from others.

Simply seek to please Him and grace will fill in the rest.

To Iconium And Beyond! (The Life Of Paul)

Paul’s first missionary journey was not his first missionary journey.

Paul and Barnabas are singled-out by the Holy Spirit to take the Gospel to certain Gentile regions.  We call their two-year trip Paul’s first missionary journey.  But, as we’ve seen, Paul had been busy for at least ten years taking the Gospel to Damascus, Arabia, Jerusalem, Syria and Cilicia.

He’d been a year in Antioch, with Barnabas, teaching.  At a meeting God spoke to the church, probably through a word of prophecy, to send out Paul and Barnabas.

The journey began from Seleucia, the seaport of Antioch (Acts 13:1-4).  There were two cities named Antioch – Antioch of Syria, their starting point, and one in Turkey that they visited on this trip.  Paul, Barnabas, and John-Mark sailed across to Cyprus, some 80 miles to the south-west.

After landing at Salamis and proclaiming the Word of God in the synagogues (Acts 13:5) they traveled along the entire southern coast of the island of Cyprus until they reached Paphos (Acts 13:6).
There Sergius Paulus, the Roman proconsul, was converted after Paul rebuked the evil sorcerer Elymas (Acts 13:6-12).
It was quite a confrontation.

Act 13:9    Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him
Act 13:10    and said, “O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord?
Act 13:11    And now, indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time.” And immediately a dark mist fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand.
Act 13:12    Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had been done, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord.

From Paphos they then sailed north up to the Asian mainland in what is today Turkey.  They traveled the short distance up the river Cestrus to Perga in Pamphylia (Acts 13:13).

Young John-Mark went home.  Luke called it a departing.  Later in the Book of Acts Paul considered it a desertion.  When Barnabas wanted to take John-Mark along with them on a subsequent mission’s trip, Paul said “No way!” and the two split company and went in opposite directions.

Paul certainly cared about John-Mark; but he had a ‘big-picture’ mentality that put priority on the mission.

Barnabas certainly cared about the bigger mission; but he had a sensitivity to individuals that superseded the mission.

Who was right?
Neither!  There are all kinds of leaders with their various styles.  The exhortation here is, Don’t be a John-Mark!  There is no doubt that he flaked-out on his commitment.

Paul and Barnabas continued inland for about 100 miles up to Pisidian Antioch.  Many were converted by Paul when he made his first recorded address there (Acts 13:16-51).  Not long afterward however, they encountered persecution from certain people who refused to hear the Gospel.  After being expelled from the region, “they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium” (Acts 13:51).

After traveling southeast to Iconium they again made many converts among Jews and Gentiles (Acts 14:1) but they were again persecuted.  This time they would have been killed (Acts 14:5) if they hadn’t discovered the plot and fled quickly from the city (Acts 14:6).

From there they continued southward to Lystra where they again made converts (Acts 14:8).  Unfortunately the people of the city, who were accustomed to idolatry, went too far in their esteem for Paul and Barnabas, who they proclaimed as “gods.” (Acts 14:11-18).  Paul and Barnabas quickly tried to explain that they were merely men sent to teach but it didn’t go over very well with a number of the people.

Some of the persecutors from Antioch and Iconium had followed them and incited the crowd.  Paul was stoned, dragged out of the city, and left for dead.  “But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city.  The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.” (Acts 14:20).

After preaching the good news in Derbe they then returned back along their entire route, through Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, “appointing elders for them in each church” (Acts 14:23).  They then continued southward through the regions of Pisidia and Pamphylia until they arrived at the seaport of Attalia (Acts 14:24-25).  From there they boarded a ship and sailed back home to Antioch where they had began two years before.

“On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.” (Acts 14:27).

It was an amazing, eventful, fruitful two years of ministry.  I want to focus our attention on how it all started.

Act 13:1    Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
Act 13:2    As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
Act 13:3    Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.

Church is prominent in these verses and, indeed, throughout all the trip.

They were sent out by the church at Antioch.
They established churches in every city, appointing leaders in them.
Returning to Antioch they gathered together with the church.

Christians need to be attached to a local church.  Churches have leadership; they have laity.  At their gatherings the Holy Spirit prompts believers to exercise their gifts so that all the church can be built-up.  They are centers of learning and of loving.

The leaders in Antioch were “prophets and teachers.”  We learn in our reading of the New Testament, especially in the Book of Ephesians, that the apostles and prophets laid the foundation of the church which is Jesus Christ.  Apostles and prophets gave way to pastor-teachers and evangelists.

Prophets, no; prophecy, yes.  There is no office in the church of ‘prophet,’ but there remains for the church the gift of prophecy.

Five guys met together during a time of fasting for prayer.  It was described as “minister[ing] to The Lord.”  I’m not sure if that means it was a regular service of the church or a special event or a board meeting.  I do know that there was opportunity for one of them to prophesy and through him God the Holy Spirit revealed a plan that was on His heart.

Did something like this happen at every meeting?  Probably not.  But they did have a place for it to happen.  God was invited to speak to them.

Sooner or later you need to decide if you are a cessationist or not.  By ‘cessationist’ I mean a person who believes certain of the Holy Spirit’s gifts are no longer available to Christians and thus should no longer be active in the church today.  The gifts which are said to have ceased are prophecy, tongues and the interpretation of tongues, miracles, healings, the word of knowledge, and the word of wisdom.
To be fair, some whom I would consider cessationists say there is a gift of prophecy but they mean by that it is a person speaking forth the written word of God.  Likewise the word of knowledge or the word of wisdom is human knowledge and wisdom helped by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

In their view the Holy Spirit lives in you only to use your own natural abilities and intellect to understand the Bible and then methodically apply its principles.  You become sort of a super-human.

Shouldn’t God’s strength be on display in our weakness?  Is ministry accomplished by my strategy or by God’s strengthening?

You might not think you are a cessationist but you might be a practicing one.  You say you believe in all these gifts, that they are available and active, but if you always fall back on human intellect, human wisdom, human planning, what makes you any different from a cessationist?

I’m partially influenced tonight by a letter Pastor Chuck Smith sent out to all the Calvary pastors this week.  In it he wrote,

The success of Calvary Chapel can only be contributed to the fact that it was begun in the Spirit.  When J. Edwin Orr, an expert in the study of the history of revivals in the church, heard about Calvary Chapel, he came down to study this revival and concluded, “It was the Spirit of God, working through the Word of God, transforming the lives of the people of God.”

Pastor Chuck went on to say, “Back then, we were seeking to be led and controlled by the Spirit of God; today, it seems to me that we are now seeking to be led by gifted men to share their ideas of church growth.”

God was able, through the church and its gifted members meeting together, to direct the movements of Paul and Barnabas.  If a gifted, brilliant man like Paul needed to be led by the Spirit, don’t I need to be even more?

Here’s another perspective.  On this two year trip Paul and Barnabas were confronted by the occult.  They had to suffer through a desertion.  They were persecuted – stoned even and left for dead.

I don’t know about you but I’d want to be sure God sent me.  I wouldn’t want to wonder as the stones were pelting my body if this was my idea, my plan, that I had formed in my own heart then prayed about for a few minutes.  I wouldn’t want to doubt that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time when staring down a person dabbling with the occult.

We must continue in the Spirit – to be led by the Spirit.

If we are to be led by the Spirit, both individually and corporately, we need to be a vital part of a local church and have times of ministering to The Lord – times of worship in which He is invited to speak through each of us to all of us.

Every meeting won’t be like that; every meeting shouldn’t be like that.

But this meeting is and we want to hear from Him, to receive His leading.