Saturday, November 28, 2015

Speak Without Fear

Scriptural Reading: Acts 18:1-11, 18-21a
Devotional Reading: Matthew 28:16-20

Many families celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday this past weekend. My family was no exception. Everyone stood in the prayer circle and lifted their voice to the LORD to give thanks. There was much happiness in the fellowship. It would be hard for me to imagine being away from the family and/or friends for long periods of time. Paul did not allow his family and friends tie him down to one location. He believed in fulfilling the Great Commission commanded by the LORD at Matt 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (NKJV) Having the LORD with him enabled him to spread the Gospel without fear.

We are in Unit III – “Spreading the Gospel” of the three units of the quarter. This is the last of a five-lesson study of the further growth of the community as the Gospel was proclaimed in faraway places. (Acts 1:8) Today’s lesson is centered on a time during Paul’s Second Missionary Journey (Acts 16:1-15). Last week we studied how Paul and the mission team delivered the Gospel in Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens. In each of these cities he had experienced unbelieving Jews, ridicule, intellectual curiosity, minimal acceptance, and even the threat of death. However, there were also believers of the Word left behind in each city to spread the Gospel.

Paul does not linger in Athens. Acts 18:1 records his new travels, “After these things Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth.” (NKJV) “After these things” refers to Paul’s experiences in the cities of Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens. Paul is now heading to the big city of Corinth. Its exact population at that time is unknown, but it is one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire and was the chief city of Achaia. Corinth was both a sin city and a cultural city.

Paul is without his fellow travelers Silas and Timothy, but God has made sure he would have companionship as a source of encouragement. Acts 18:2-3 explains how the husband-and-wife team came to be in Corinth. “And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them. So, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked, for by occupation they were tentmakers.” (NKJV) It is unknown how Paul’s path met with that of Aquila and Priscilla. The Scripture does state that Aquila was born in Pontus, which is on the southern shore of the Black Sea. It does not say when Aquila moved to Italy or met his wife Priscilla. But we know that he was a Jew and both he and his wife, Priscilla, were forced to leave Rome, Italy. The emperor, Claudius prepared an edict in AD49 forcing all Jews to leave due probably to the fighting between Christian and non-Christian Jews. Claudius simply forced all Jews to leave and Aquila and Priscilla landed in Corinth where they relocated their business. The time when Paul was in Corinth can be traced to the timeframe Gallio was proconsul of Achaia in AD 51-53. (verse 12) Paul was brought before Gallio’s court while he, Aquila, and Priscilla shared living quarters. The three of them were tentmakers. A tentmaker of this era does not work with canvas or lightweight material, but with heavy material such as leather or woven goat hair. It is a skilled profession. Although Paul was bred a scholar, everyone had a trade. He was humble in maintaining his own labor in order that his preaching the Gospel is not a burden.

Paul takes time off work on the Sabbath. Acts 18:4 explains, “And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.” (NKJV) By taking time off on the Sabbath the Jews can’t accuse Paul as disobeying the Mosaic Law. Also, Paul is able to go into the synagogues every Sabbath because he is not working. While there he reasoned with both the Jews and the Greeks. He did not force them to believe, but he gave them Scriptural reason for what he believed. Isaiah 1:18 says, “Come now, and let us reason together,” says the LORD, though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (NKJV) The word translated reasoned is the source of our word dialogue, indicating Paul’s method is a give-and-take Scriptural discussion. From the good effect of his reasoning, he tried to persuade the Jews to believe.

Paul was even more energized when his original mission team, Silas and Timothy, rejoined him. Luke reports his preaching excitement at Acts 18:5, “When Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia, Paul was compelled by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ.” (NKJV) Although Paul had requested their presence while he was in Athens, they never made it while he was there. They are now catching up with him, coming from Macedonia. This reunion seems to energize Paul. His earlier method of reasoning and dialogue becomes open preaching and testifying that Jesus is the Messiah the Jews are looking for.

Paul’s new tactic was not well received. Many of the Jews persisted in their beliefs and would not yield to the strongest reasoning or the most winning of persuasions. Luke excitedly reported in Acts 18:6, “But when they opposed him and blasphemed, he shook his garments and said to them, “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” (NKJV) Paul is dramatically shaking his clothes as if he is ridding himself of even the dust of this hostile synagogue. Christ taught as recorded in Luke 9:5, “…whoever will not receive you, , shake off the very dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” (NKJV) Paul discharged his duties by going to the Jews first. He was clean of their blood and they were certain to perish if they continued in their unbelief. He is now able to go to the Gentiles and spread the Gospel.

Surprisingly Paul did not have to go far to find believers. Acts 18:7-8 indicates, “And he departed from there and entered the house of a certain man named Justus, one who worshiped God, whose house was next door to the synagogue. Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the LORD with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized.” (NKJV) Paul goes next door to the synagogue to conduct his ministry at the house of a man named Justus who worshiped God. Paul did not move in with Justus. He still lived with Aquila and Priscilla. Also, there was another surprise. The leader of the Jewish synagogue, Crispus, and his entire household believed in the LORD. Crispus lost his position, but they heard the Word and believed. Belief in Jesus was followed by baptism.

Paul is facing a multitude of emotions. He is in sin city Corinth. Rejection is distressing. Many have been the times when he has been run out of the city for spreading the Gospel. Fear from unbelieving Jews who were more upset now that their synagogue leader had converted did not help. As he struggled with whether to continue to minister in Corinth, God promised his divine presence and protection. Acts 18:9-10 reads, “Now the LORD spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.’” (NKJV) At just the right time, the LORD speaks to Paul in a vision. His commission and charge to preach is renewed. The LORD tells him not to be afraid to speak because he is doing is what is right in God’s eyes. Therefore, no harm can come to him. This does not mean no one will attack Paul because he is attacked by the Jews at verses 12 17 when Gallio was proconsul in Achaia. Secondly, Paul is told the synagogue situation is a small drama. But God has many people in the city of Corinth. Paul had to realize there were people there who had either received the Word before Paul arrived or were ready to receive it. Never assume that any place is so full of pagans that God has not sent any witnesses. Many were and would be saved as a result of his ministry.

These promises of divine presence and protection motivated Paul to continue his ministry for an eighteen month period. Acts 18:11 is recorded as follows, “And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.” (NKJV) Paul was able to develop deep and lasting relationships. During this time Jews brought him to (verse 12) the judgment seat before Gallio. Gallio refused to judge Paul, making a distinction between church and state. What right does the secular have in interfering in Paul’s preaching the Gospel in Corinth.

Paul remained for a while in Corinth after the trouble he experienced and beyond the year and six months. When he moved from the other cities it was in the midst of trouble. It was now time to follow the Spirit and move once again. Acts 18:18 states, “So Paul still remained a good while. Then he took leave of the brethren and sailed for Syria, and Priscilla and Aquila were with him. He had his hair cut off at Cenchrea, for he had taken a vow.” (NKJV) Paul decides to sail back to Antioch of Syria, his sending church. He leaves his missionary brothers, Silas and Timothy, and takes Aquila and Priscilla with him. He has taken a vow of some kind, and this is accompanied by shaving his head. The Scripture does not say, but the vow that Paul made was probably a Nazirite vow. He desired to be separated unto God for a time period. The time period was ending and his hair would be cut and placed on the altar to end the vow. (See Numbers 6:1-21 for a complete explanation of the Nazirite vow.)

The apostle continued to be about his calling of the Great Commission. Acts 18:19-21a records how Paul begins the new mission field stating, “And he came to Ephesus, and left them there; but he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. When they asked him to stay a longer time with them, he did not consent, but took leave of them, saying, ‘I must by all means keep this coming feast in Jerusalem; but I will return again to you, God willing.’” (NKJV) The sea voyage from the seaport of Cenchrea to Ephesus is approximately 250 miles. It was here that Paul went into the Jewish synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. However, he did not plan to stay in Ephesus at the time. It was located in Asia and the Holy Spirit did not previously allow him to minister in Asia at all. The Jews were open to hear the Word of God, but Paul left Aquila and Priscilla in Ephesus as disciples of Christ for the spread of the Gospel. Later in verses 24-28, we see their teaching of Christ to Apollos proved to be of great good to the kingdom of God. Another reason Paul gave for not being able to stay in Ephesus was that he was on a tight schedule. He had to go to Jerusalem to be there during an upcoming feast where there was a requirement of Jews to rendezvous from everywhere. Paul indicates he will come again to them because they have left him an open invitation. However, it is actually a promise to return only if it is in God’s will. Paul did return in his Third Missionary Journey.

There remains today those who oppose the Christian faith. However, always remember that God has promised to be with us always (divine presence) and to always protect us. With that being said, we must always spread the Gospel and speak in the Name of Jesus without fear.

Written by Deborah C Davis

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