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"The New Call"
Wednesday Evening Home Bible Study
September 24, 2008
Theme: This portion of Acts describes the events surrounding the beginning of Paul's second missionary journey.
God leads His laborers in remarkable ways. The events that led to a history-making new work in the spread of the gospel—that is, the evangelization of Europe—began through what must have seemed like a low point in the missionary work of the early church. And yet, God demonstrated His sovereignty in the lives of His godly servants and over the spread of the gospel of His Son by using this "low point" to accomplish His work.
In this portion of Acts, we see how the Lord provided for Paul's second missionary journey through . . .
I. A NEW TEAM FOR THE MISSION (15:36-41).
A. Paul and Barnabas were still ministering in Syrian Antioch, after the decrees were established in Jerusalem regarding the acceptance of Gentile believers apart from conformity to the ceremonial law of Moses (15:1-35). We're told that the two missionaries remained in Antioch "after some days" (v. 36). How long they stayed is not told to us; but it was clearly a busy time of "teaching and preaching the word of the Lord" (v. 35). Eventually, Paul raised the idea of returning to the cities in which the gospel had been established in their first missionary journey (see 13:4-26); and the idea apparently met with Barnabas' agreement. The goal of this return trip was to "see how they are doing". Here, we see that the work of the gospel not only involved evangelization, but also discipleship.
B. It's then that a division arose between Paul and Barnabas. Barnabas (whose name, you may remember, meant "Son of Encouragement"; 4:36) wanted to bring John Mark along with them on this second journey (v. 37). John was Barnabas' relative (Col. 4:10); but that doesn't appear to be the reason he sought to bring John. Because it is said that Barnabas was "resolved" or "determined" to bring him suggests that he was seeking to give John Mark a "second chance" in ministry. John Mark was the one that went with them on the first missionary journey; but who had abandoned the ministry after the work on the island of Cyprus (13:13). It may have been that John was discouraged by the difficulty of that ministry (see particularly 13:8-11); but as some commentators have suggested, it may have been that John had struggles with the fact that Gentiles were being led to Christ by Paul without conforming them to the law of Moses. If this is the case, then John may have complained to the believing Jews in Jerusalem and inspired the events of chapter 15 (see 15:1, 5). But whatever Barnabas' reason, Paul was insistent that he who had departed from the work should not be brought again (v. 38).
C. Such a sharp contention arose between Paul and Barnabas over this matter that they could not come to an agreement and chose to part from one another (v. 39). But it would be hasty to assume that the disagreement became 'un-Christlike' in manner. The way it was resolved clearly met with the church's approval (v. 40); and the blessings of God appeared to be on the resulting labors (v. 41). Now, instead of one missionary team, the church had two. Barnabas took John; and together, they went back to Cyprus—which was Barnabas' home country (4:36), and the place from which John had originally left the work (v. 39). Paul, on the other hand, took Silas and went to the places that they had gone beyond Cyprus—that is to Syria and Cilicia—"strengthening the churches" (v. 41).
D. Who was right? Paul had a good point. He was deeply concerned about the important work of strengthening the churches. Would it have been conducive to that goal to bring someone who had proven unreliable and had left the work? But Barnabas had a good point too. If the church can't give someone a second chance, where would they ever get one (and it seems very significant that he and John went back to the place of John's original failure). As it turns out, God used both teams to advance His cause. We read much of Paul's continued labors throughout the Book of Acts; but we also see later that John Mark eventually proved useful to Paul (2 Timothy 4:11), and that God used him to pen the Gospel that bears his name (i.e., The Gospel According to Mark). If attitudes are kept under God's control, and if the advancement of the kingdom of Jesus Christ is kept in view, God can even use disagreements and divisions between His laborers to advance His cause.
II. A NEW LABORER FOR THE WORK (16:1-5).
A. Paul had taken a new missions partner in the person of Silas. Silas was a man already approved for ministry (15:22, 26) and who was recognized as a prophet who strengthened the believers (15:32). He was useful also as an aid to Paul in communicating the decision of the Jerusalem church to the believers at large (16:4).
B. But now, a new member is added to the team. Apparently, Paul had ministered in Derbe in such a way as to bring a young man to Christ named Timothy (see 1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2). This young man had been raised by a godly mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5; 3:14); but had somehow been led to the Lord and discipled by Paul. He was perhaps brought to faith through the many things Paul suffered in that region (2 Timothy 3:10-11); and had come to be personally mentored by him (2 Timothy 1:13)— and Paul may even have been present to help commission him to ministry (see 2 Timothy 1:6 with 1 Timothy 1:18, 4:14). He was clearly well spoken of by the churches in Lystra and Iconium (Acts 16:1-2). He became Paul's "John Mark".
C. Timothy was already a disciple when Paul came to Derbe and Lystra this second time; but Timothy had to be prepared for the ministry that lay ahead. Though he had a believing Jewish mother, his father was a Greek who was, apparently, not a believer (v. 1). The result of this was that he was not circumcised. It had already been established (Acts 15:1-35) that circumcision was not necessary for a man to be righteous before God. But neither was it prohibited to be circumcised. And in the case of Paul's pattern of first going to the Jews to present the gospel to them, it would be necessary from a strategic point of view to circumcise Timothy (v. 3). Paul's strategy here would be much like what he said in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 in that, when seeking to reach the Jew, he became a Jew. This would open doors for the new team as they went from city to city—delivering the decrees of the church in Jerusalem.
D. The result of this new missionary team—assisted by this new laborer for the work, and accompanied by the good news of the decision from Jerusalem—was that "the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily" (v. 5). It may be that the decree helped encourage and further embolden evangelism on the part of the saints.
III. A NEW FIELD FOR THE GOSPEL (16:6-10).
A. The new missionary team had accomplished the first phase of their journey. They had gone to the places where Paul had gone before and strengthened the churches. But that being accomplished, the question came of what to do next. They began to travel in a north-western direction into the regions of Phrygia and Galatia; but they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in Asia (see v. 6; not the continent of Asia, but the Roman province better known to us as Asia-Minor). Because Silas was a prophet (15:32), it may be that this was how the Lord communicated His prohibitive will to the missionaries. Likewise, when they attempted to go into to the furthest northern shores of Bithynia, the Spirit didn't permit them (v. 7). It seems as if they were hitting walls—and it was the Holy Spirit that was putting the walls before them. It must have been frustrating; because the Spirit was only telling them where NOT to go—but not yet where He wanted them TO go. But such times of waiting are a part of God's leading. (How different history would have been if God had led the gospel to be preached first in Asia instead of Europe! Known to God are His ways; and His ways are always right.)
B. They came past Mysia (the north-western part of Asia-Minor), and eventually to Troas (along the north-western coast; see v. 8). And it was there that God gave a vision to Paul in the night that set the course of western civilization. A man from Macedonia appeared, saying "Come over to Macedonia and help us" (v. 9). What could be clearer! When the time was right, God gave His missionaries the direction they needed.
C. After Paul had seen the vision, the team concluded that the Lord was calling them to Macedonia to serve. And so, they immediately sought to go there (v. 10). Note an important detail. Suddenly, the writer of Acts (Luke) inserts "we" in verse 10. Apparently, he had joined them at Troas, and became an eyewitness to much of the events he reports. He seems to have gone as far as Philippi (16:16), and remained there until 20:5-6—rejoining the team on a return trip to Jerusalem.
D. When we are seeking God's will for our lives, we should never be discouraged by the times when He seems to remain silent. His silences are as much a part of His leading as His clear and distinct calls. We should learn to wait on His timing—trusting that He will give the call when the time is right; and recognizing that His "no" always means a "yes" to something far greater than we can imagine.
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