Last week left us with the lingering truth, God commands us to protect the unity He has given us. But that doesn’t stop sincere Christians from having strong convictions that seem at odds.
In that eventuality, when there doesn’t seem a way forward together, maybe what God is doing is broadening the ministry so more people will be trained, more ground will be covered, and spiritual maturity can be displayed through humility and fruit of the Spirit.
Barnabas took Mark and set sail for Cyprus, Barnabas’ home, to bring the Jerusalem Council’s letter to those churches. Eventually, they ended up in Jerusalem, where they spent considerable time with Peter and the assembly that met in John Mark’s mother’s home.
Luke, because he was telling Theophilus about the spread of Christianity throughout the world, continued to chronicle Paul’s missionary journey.
Paul, this time, had chosen Silas as his travel companion. Silas was one of the two people the Jerusalem church had selected to return with Paul and Barnabas to the Antioch church. Silas was a leader among the brothers and sisters in Jerusalem, a prophet and also an encouraging speaker. They must have made a good team together, because they remained as coworkers for most of Paul’s career.
This time, Paul and Silas went by land, through the Tarsus mountains through Syria and Cilicia.They revisited Derbe, added Timothy to their team when they got to Lystra, went through Iconium.
Lystra is where Paul had been stoned and left for dead. When he returned, the church there spoke highly of a young man named Timothy, who was half Jewish, half Greek. In Jewish law, the religion of the mother was taken, but in Greek law the child took the religion of the father. The Greeks thought circumcision was a mutilation of the body, which is probably why Timothy had not yet been circumcised. His father, the head of his household, would not have permitted it.
Paul wanted Timothy to continue on with him and Silas, but with the stipulation that he be circumcised.
Some people questioned Paul’s decision on this, but it was not the same situation as with Titus. Before the council of Jerusalem’s decision, the issue of circumcision was a hot potato, heavy with implication. Once the council made its decision, circumcision could now be relegated to a matter of choice.
- With Titus, the issue had been clearly about salvation.
- With Timothy, the issue was not about salvation at all, but about effective ministry, to not be an offense to the Jews, as Timothy was also Jewish.
As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey. So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.Acts 16:4-5
So far so good, it was proving to be a wildly successful missions trip!
Paul wanted to break new ground with the gospel, so he tried to head for Ephesus, a strategic city for sure. But, somehow God prevented them, so they instead continued north through the districts of Phrygia and Galatia.
When they got to Mysia they tried to head east again, this time for Bythinia, but once more the Spirit of Christ prevented them in some way, so they continued west-ish to the coastal city of Troas, where they met up with Luke, and he joined their company, too. Now Paul had a strong team, himself, the prophet, teacher and leader Silas, the young and well-spoken-of Timothy, and now the physician and journalist Luke. I imagine they now prayed and talked over dinner together, trying to figure out the next leg of the journey.
Paul had, by this time, visited all the believers who had been converted during his first trip. He had been wanting to forge new territory for a while, now, and the Lord had kept preventing him. Paul had to have been at least a little frustrated, puzzled, and somewhat at loose ends. Maybe even a bit unnerved that he was trying to serve the Lord with all he had, and the Lord kept opposing him. So, they bunked down for the night, in the bustling sea town of Troas, hoping to get some well needed rest.
I picture Paul tossing and turning on his cot, in some upstairs inn, the rhythmic sound of the ocean as a backdrop, sea air, moist and cool, coming in through the window. Finally, REM sleep settled in, and Paul entered the otherworld of dreams.
There before him was a man, from Macedonia. Maybe he was wearing distinctive Macedonian clothes, or his cut of hair, or accent, gave him away. And he was begging Paul about something. In his dream, Paul may have been lying in his bed, eyes wide, as this man stood over him, wringing his hands, with worried eyebrows and a taut mouth. “Please, you have to come. You have to help,” the man pleaded, in Paul’s vision. “Macedonia. You’ve got to come to Macedonia and help us.”
Suddenly the sun is shining through the window, the call of seagulls and fishmongers’ cries waft in, and I see Paul waking, with a start, adrenalin coursing through his body. Luke wrote that day they got ready “at once,” Paul had gotten his marching orders, and he was going to wait for no man. God was sending them to Macedonia, and they were going to get there right now, today, no time to waste.
They traveled, it seems, pretty much nonstop. That very day they set out to sea and sailed straight to Samothrace. They must have hit the ground running, because the next day they got to Neapolis. From there, they went to Philippi.
Now, why Philippi?
I dunno. Here was a man with a mission, he hardly looked left or right. I want to believe they evangelized all along the way. I want to believe they noticed the people around them, and were ready for every opportunity to spread the good news where they were, loving people, and caring for people. But the pace of Luke’s narrative does not slow down until they got to Philippi.
And then, finally, Paul’s team got to catch a breath.
In fact, Luke said, they actually stayed there for several days. Luke described Philippi as a Roman colony, and the leading city of that district in Macedonia. Maybe that’s why they stopped there? It was a wealthy town, located in the foothills of Mt. Orbelos in Greece, a “Rome away from Rome.” Settled by mostly retired military and their families, its citizens were rewarded with not having to pay taxes so long as they remained loyal to Rome, obeyed all the laws of Rome, and kept a basically Roman presence in this conquered area of the Empire.
Just as Timothy’s Jewish mother had married a Greek Gentile, so also here in Philippi, there were evidently a number of Jewish women who had married Roman soldiers, as well as Greek women who had also married Roman men. Paul must have scrutinized every guy he met, looking for man of his dreams. I wonder if the men in Philippi found Paul somewhat intense, and maybe even a little weird.
Come the Sabbath day, Paul and his crew began to look around for the synagogue. Now, that doesn’t mean they were necessarily looking for a building, per se. They were looking for a gathering of faithful Jews who would be worshiping God and reading from the scriptures. And, in order to do that, they needed to find a source of “living,” or running water.
In Judaism, ritual washing is a central part of worship. One form is “netilat yadayim,” pouring water over the hands to cleanse them for eating, or for other holy use. Most of the time, this means pouring water from a pitcher over the hands as the person turns them, and catching the water in a bowl.
The other form is called “tevilah,” a full body immersion in a “mikveh,” which has “living,” or flowing, water going through it, necessary for cleansing and purifying. Among the several reasons for mikvoth, was conversion to Judaism. Then one would fully immerse themselves in living water, which would wash away their old life, leaving them fresh and pure to begin their new life as a Jew.
Sounds familiar, right?
Mikvoth were so important, they were constructed before even the synagogue building was erected. In fact, all throughout Israel there are archaeological excavations of mikvoth found in homes, and by synagogues. To this day, homeowners who might want to dig out a new foundation for their house, or expand their basement, may find the ancient ruins of a mikveh.
Unfortunately, Jews were often barred from using rivers in their cities for bathing. Romans preferred bath houses. Perhaps this was so in Philippi. So, it makes perfect sense that when Paul and his companions did not find any likely candidates, and saw the Gangites River was nearby, they would follow it outside the city gates, expecting to find a place where the faithful would be gathered in prayer.
Hoo boy! Were they ever in for a surprise.
I guess this part of the story shows me how easy it is, even with a vision from God, to not exactly know what’s going to come next. I may think I have every detail of the plan nailed down; but, with the Lord, that is rarely going to be the case. Where would faith fit in, in a scheme like that? Typically, God is going to give us enough to go on, and at each step—if we’re willing to take those steps of faith—God will give us more.
[Ruins of Troas | Horacio36 [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]