Acts Lesson 5: 15.36-41, 16.1-5
LAST WEEK: We covered the events of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. The outcome of this meeting was a defining moment not only for the book of Acts, but in the history of the church. Peter virtually disappears after this chapter and the church in Jerusalem fades to relative insignificance. At the same time, Gentile evangelism grew explosively in the known world, largely due to the fact that the theological basis for evangelism-salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ-had firmly been established. And We stand here today because of it.
APPLICATION TO US:
THIS WEEK: Continuing in Acts 15 after the Jerusalem Council, Paul and Barnabas traveled to Antioch to deliver the momentous letter we studied a week ago. After teaching and preaching there for a while, Paul, on what would become the start of the Second Missionary Journey, planned to visit the churches established on the first missionary trip to see how they were faring. When they discussed who would go with them, a conflict arose that resulted in a permanent division between them. Part of this lesson will discuss conflicts between Christians and part will show how God can use these situations to accomplish His purposes in spite of human sin.
Read Acts 15:36-39 - Paul and Barnabas Divide over a Personal Issue
36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, "Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are." 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus,
v. 36: "And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, "Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are" - This shows that Paul had a real pastor's heart. He wasn't just content to plant churches and move on but wanted to see them nurtured and growing in faith. And since they were largely Gentile churches, he probably wanted to also share the recent letter issued by the Council. Notice that Paul referred to their message as "the word of the Lord," which shows he completely understood that it wasn't their message, but a message from God that they had been called to deliver to a lost world.
vv. 37-38: "Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work" - "John called Mark," (who would later write the gospel of Mark) was Barnabas' younger cousin. In v. 38 Paul refers to an incident during the first missionary trip (Acts 13:13) where John Mark left the team in Pamphylia (Asia Minor) and returned to Jerusalem. Luke doesn't explain John Mark's reasons for leaving, but it apparently left Paul with the belief that the young man wasn't cut out to face the dangers and challenges of the journey ahead. In simple language, Barnabas asks "Let's give the boy a second chance," but Paul replies, "Forget about it, we're not taking him." End of discussion.
v. 39: "And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus" - The term "sharp disagreement" (Gk. paroksysmós) lit. a provocation which cuts at someone) tells us that they had allowed their disagreement to cross the line into sinful anger. Commentators suggest it stemmed from the personality differences between the two men: Paul was a true visionary who saw his ministry with the big picture in mind. He didn't want any quitters tagging along, someone who would be a liability in the face of the opposition, hardship, and persecution. Barnabas, on the other hand, was more focused on the man. As a relative of John Mark, there would have been family issues to consider. But more than that, he obviously believed his young cousin had untapped potential (he did as it turned out) and believed he deserved a second chance. So who was right? Both were in a sense, but neither man observed Paul's later directive in Col. 3:12 to have a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, and patience toward one another. Ideally, they could have parted ways in a spirit of forgiveness and mutual respect, but they did not. It may have been God's will for the two men to separate, but it was not God's will for them to go their separate ways out of a heated argument. Note: Eighteen years later from his prison cell in Rome, Paul wrote to Timothy, "Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me in ministry." 2 Tim. 4:11. In his last days, Paul wanted John Mark at his side. A change of heart do you think? Paul was a great evangelist, teacher, and missionary, but he was still an imperfect human.
Read Act 15:40-41 - Paul Embarks A New Team
40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
v. 40: "Paul chose Silas and departed..." - Silas, you will recall, was one of the four commissioned by the Council of Jerusalem to preach and teach the gospel to the Gentiles. So Paul selects Silas as his new missionary partner. The 250-mile trip from Jerusalem to Antioch would have given Paul plenty of time to observe and assess how well Silas interacted with various churches along the way. It also turned out that Silas was a Roman Citizen, which would help them on future trips.
v. 41: "went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches" - The route took them on foot to the churches planted on the first missionary journey in reverse order. The encouraging and strengthening of new churches was as much a ministry to Paul as his evangelistic efforts.
Comment: There is no doubt that God-in His righteousness-used the division between Paul and Barnabas to create two missionary teams from one-a good result. But, at the same time, the notion that "the end justifies the means" is never an acceptable excuse on a human level. While God can redeem good out of evil, humans, even Paul and Barnabas, were accountable to God as well as each other. We'll talk more about this when we get to application.
Read Acts 16:1-3 - Timothy Joins Paul and Silas
1 Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. 2 He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.
v. 1: "A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek" - If Paul had any trepidation about returning to Lystra-on his previous trip there, he had been stoned and left for dead (Acts 14:19-20)-he didn't show it. Timothy (Gr. Timotheus), who would have been in his late-teens or early-twenties by then, is termed a "disciple" because he, his mother, and grandmother were led to Christ by Paul's preaching on his first trip to Lystra in Acts 14. Having a Greek father, Timothy had never been circumcised, though by Jewish Law, the child of a Gentile father and a Jewish mother was considered to be a Jew. Added to that, Timothy had been taught the Scriptures from a young age by his mother and grandmother (see, 1 Tim. 1:5).
vv. 2-3: "He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek" - That Timothy was "well spoken of" meant that he had been actively serving the cause of the Lystrian and Iconium churches in the 4 to 5-year interval since Paul had last been there. Paul was sufficiently impressed with Timothy that he wanted him to join the missionary team. Paul circumcised him "because of the Jews who were in those places" for purely practical, not spiritual, reasons having nothing to do with his salvation. Paul did not want anything to hinder Jewish people from hearing and believing the gospel. Circumcision would enable Timothy to go together with Paul and Silas into the synagogues where they often preached, thus, he became a full-fledged Jew who could win other Jews. It was also beneficial to their outreach to have some "younger blood" on the team, something we need in churches today-do you agree?
Read Acts 16:4-5 Stronger Churches Increasing in Numbers
4 As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.
v. 4: "As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem" - The missionary team traveled throughout the region delivering the decree of the Jerusalem Council. You will recall that the decree affirmed two things: (1) that salvation is not received by keeping the Law of Moses, but by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ as Lord; and (2) Gentile believers, out of consideration for the Jews, were told not to eat meat sacrificed to idols, meat with blood in it, meat that had been strangled, and Jews and Gentiles both were to refrain from sexual immorality common in pagan cultures.
v. 5: "So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily" - It strengthens any church to hear the true gospel affirmed: that we are saved by God's grace by faith alone in what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross. It likewise strengthens churches to learn to walk in love while submitting to proper spiritual authority (i.e., what Paul would later refer to as "sound doctrine" in his letters to churches; and today, we and other SBC churches submit to the Baptist Faith and Message, which is wholly based on the Bible). Notice that the churches were not given the option of voting on the apostolic decrees. They willingly submitted to them. Biblical truth is not negotiable. And note the end result: "they increased their numbers daily." Paul's team proved to be a catalyst for a dynamic spiritual process: the renewed confidence in the faith of the believers in these churches moved them to share their faith with others who in turn accepted the gospel and were discipled by other believers. This is how evangelism and discipleship work together. Disciples don't happen by accident; they are made by other disciples.
PRAYER: Father, I thank you for giving us another opportunity today to learn from the truth of Your Word. We are encouraged, Lord, and indeed, strengthened to hear again that we are saved by Your grace through faith alone in what Your son Jesus did for every one of us on the cross. And Lord, today's lesson reminds us to thank You also for establishing this good church as a place for all of us to worship, learn, and grow under proper spiritual authority that is completely based on the truth of Your Bible. As we make plans to resume fellowship _____________________, I pray, God, that You will keep us safe and protect everyone who comes from the COVID-19 virus. I ask these things in the name of our Redeemer and Savior, Jesus Christ, AMEN.