TODAY’S READING: ACTS 18-21
Paul’s ministry at Corinth (chapter 18); Paul’s ministry at Ephesus (chapter 19); Paul begins his journey to Jerusalem (chapter 20); Paul’s arrival in Jerusalem (chapter 21).
HIGHLIGHTS & INSIGHTS:
By the time we open our Bibles to Acts 18 in today’s reading, Paul and his missionary team have preached throughout Syria and Cilicia (15:41), the cities of Lystra and Derbe (16:1), throughout Phrygia and Galatia (16:6), the cities of Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea (16:11,12; 17:1,10) of Macedonia and Athens, Greece (17:15). With the preaching of the word came persecution. In II Corinthians 11:23-28, Paul described his persistent sufferings in these terms: “in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and !
painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.” What a resume! If God’s “whatever, wherever, whenever” for you (and me) included such persecutions, would you still obey Him? “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matt. 16:24).
Acts 18 begins with Paul traveling from Athens to Corinth, a city in the Roman province of Achaia (18:12). Corinth was a wealthy city, a center of intellectualism and famous for its excess, perversion, and vice. Every day was Mardi Gras in Corinth. It was the New Orleans, Amsterdam or Bangkok of biblical times! To be a Corinthian was to almost automatically be associated with sexual promiscuity. In fact, “Corinthian woman” was a proverbial phrase for a prostitute, and “to play the Corinthian”, is to play the whore, or indulge whorish inclinations. Paul was sent there to shine the light of the glorious gospel of Christ in their great darkness. Prior to Paul’s arrival, God had already arranged a meeting between Paul and a Jewish couple (Aquila and Priscilla) who were exiled from Rome. This couple became faithful followers of Christ, using all of their resources to further the gospel of Jesus Christ. Aquila and Priscilla were sound in doctrine having corrected Apollos’ !
outdated teaching (18:25,26); Paul called them his “helpers in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 16:3) because they had “for my (Paul’s) life laid down their own necks” (Rom. 16:4); all of the Gentile churches also gave thanks for Aquila and Priscilla (Rom. 16:4); and when they returned to Rome, their home became the meeting place of the church (Rom. 16:5). Aquila and Priscilla knew what marriage was all about: a joint venture in advancing the gospel of Jesus Christ!
Paul carried out a fruitful ministry in Corinth for “a year and six months” (18:11). In that time, some prestigious men came to Christ: Justus, whose house was structurally connected to the Jewish synagogue; Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue; and eventually, another chief ruler of the synagogue and the man who had caused a riot over Paul’s preaching: Sosthenes (18:17; I Cor. 1:1,2). In due time, Paul and Aquila and Priscilla departed for Ephesus where Aquila and Priscilla were left, and Paul continued on to Caesarea eventually returning home to Antioch of Syria (18:22,23). While at Ephesus, Aquila and Priscilla met a Jew from Alexandria, Egypt named Apollos, a powerful preacher who needed to be brought up to date doctrinally. Apollos was still preaching the gospel of the kingdom of heaven and performing the “baptism of John” – talk about a time warp! He had no idea that Jesus the Messiah had already come and gone, that God’s plan for Israel had been postponed, a!
nd that the Church Age was already in effect. He was probably still wearing his hair in a mullet! (I love the bumper sticker, “Friends don’t let friends wear mullets”.) Aquila and Priscilla enlightened this evangelist and brought him into the present by explaining the events of the past 22 years (18:26). Apollos humbly and joyfully receives the new revelation, preaches that Jesus is the Christ and moves on to Corinth (19:1).
While Apollos is at Corinth, Paul begins his third missionary journey passing through Phrygia and Galatia (18:23) and landing at Ephesus (19:1) where he finds some of Apollos’ converts. As Jesus said, “The disciple is not above his master” (Matt. 10:24), so Paul finds some unsaved disciples who, like their discipler Apollos, have been baptized with the baptism of John the Baptist. They are also unaware that the Messiah has already come and gone. Therefore, these disciples are most certainly not saved because salvation comes only through Jesus Christ (see John 14:6) and the indwelling of the Holy Ghost is evidence of that salvation (Romans 8:9b “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his”). These disciples, however, have never even heard of Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost (19:1-4)! Paul preaches the gospel of grace to them, they are water baptized in Jesus’ name, and then they receive the Holy Ghost, speaking with tongues and prophesying (19:4-6). Rem!
ember: tongues are a sign to skeptical Jews (I Cor. 1:22; 14:22). The events here at Ephesus are exactly like the events in Samaria (Acts 8:14-16): Paul’s apostolic authority and his message is validated by the sign of tongues. These Jewish disciples of Apollos now know for certain that Paul’s gospel is the true gospel.
Paul had a fruitful few years at Ephesus (19:9,10,18-20), and the Word of God had free course throughout Asia (modern day Asia Minor). However, his success was stifled by a massive riot which forced him to begin his journey to Jerusalem (19:21; 20:1). On his way to Jerusalem, Paul revisits many of the places wherein he had planted churches and preached the gospel, edifying the disciples. Paul, knowing that Jerusalem would mark the beginning of his end, is not afraid to die for the name of the Lord Jesus (21:13), because long ago, at his salvation, Paul had already laid his life in the hands of Jesus: “for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (II Tim. 1:12). Paul fearlessly and confidently declares in II Tim. 4:6-8, “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there !
is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing”.
O God, let us live fearlessly abandoned to you that we may have the confidence of Paul at our death!