After the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples; and after encouraging them and saying farewell, he left for Macedonia.
When he had gone through those regions and had given the believers much encouragement, he came to Greece, where he stayed for three months.
He was about to set sail for Syria when a plot was made against him by the Jews, and so he decided to return through Macedonia. He was accompanied by
Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Beroea
by Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica
by Gaius from Derbe
and by Timothy
as well as by Tychicus and Trophimus from Asia.
They went ahead and were waiting for us in Troas; but we sailed from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we joined them in Troas, where we stayed for seven days.Acts 20:1-5 (NRSV)
Embedded in these verses is a lot of information found elsewhere in the New Testament, but not here—Luke was actually summarizing Paul’s activities in order to get to the part of the story Luke wanted to tell: the story of Eutychus and the elders in Ephesus.
It is undoubtedly in Corinth where Paul stayed these three months because it was during the winter when ships would not sail, and he used his time wisely, writing the book of Romans, as well as seeing how the churches in Corinth were doing.
Scholars now think Paul visited the Corinthian churches about a half dozen times, at least, in between a series of at least four letters. The first letter was lost in the distant past, the second letter we now call 1st Corinthians, the third letter was also probably lost, and the fourth letter is now referred to as 2nd Corinthians. Many scholars posit that 1st Corinthians is actually at least two letters sewn together: the fourth letter with the missing third letter and possibly yet another letter not numbered.
Paul began that letter saying,
I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on to Judea. Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this?
… [not at all]: it was to spare you that I did not come again to Corinth. So, I made up my mind not to make you another painful visit. For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained?
And I wrote as I did, so that when I came, I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice; for I am confident about all of you, that my joy would be the joy of all of you.
For I wrote you out of much distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain, but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.”2 Corinthians 1:15-17, 23; 2:1-4 (NRSV)
Nevertheless, Luke recorded, as Paul went through all of Macedonia first, encouraging all the churches he had helped to establish, he finally did wend his way down to Greece in the hopes the believers in Corinth had taken his words to heart, and would now receive him with the warmth of their original affection and respect for him.
As Paul’s three-month stay drew to a close, and he was making plans to take his team through Syria, someone brought him news of a plot against his life. He would have to go in another direction than towards Antioch or Jerusalem, so he opted to travel through Macedonia once again to encourage and strengthen the churches. He and most of their now very large traveling missions team would wait with him in Troas for Luke and Silas to rejoin them. Meanwhile, Luke and Silas stayed on in Corinth for another week to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread (the festival directly after Passover).
It is possible the Jewish plot against Paul’s life involved the temptation of theft. Paul wanted to bring reconciliation between the Jewish church in Jerusalem and the primarily Gentile churches throughout the ancient world. As part of the Jerusalem council’s commission to Paul, depicted in Acts 15 and Galatians 2, “we [were to] remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do,” Paul immediately set out to collect a love gift from each of the Gentile churches as an offering to the church in Jerusalem.
Paul stayed a considerable time in Macedonia, collecting this love gift while he strengthened the churches. As you look at the names of the men who accompanied him you can see they represented the various Gentile churches to help deliver their offering to Jerusalem.
Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica—interestingly, the name Aristarchus was connected with the aristocracy, the ruling class, and it is likely he came from a powerful and wealthy family. Secundus’ name, on the other hand, indicates he was enslaved, the “second” one. Because they were not considered persons, but rather property, enslaved people were called by the number of their order of importance in the household. The highest ranking slave was referred to as “Primus.” The second would typically be called “Secundus,” and so on.
Gaius from Derbe—This was a common 1st century Roman name, and there are several in the New Testament. This Gaius came from the city of Derbe in Galatia, in Asia Minor, so it seems probable that when Paul traveled through Greece, this Gaius came up to join him, as Paul’s objective was to go through his home church, Antioch, on his way to Jerusalem to deliver the love gift he had been collecting for the Jewish believers there.
Timothy [from Lystra]— Referred to 25 times throughout the book of Acts and Paul’s letters (including two letters Paul wrote to Timothy himself), Timothy was quite possibly Paul’s closest companion and dearest friend, of whom Paul said, he “is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord.”
Raised by a Jewish mother and grandmother in the household of his Greek father, Timothy grew up well-versed in the Hebrew Bible and the teachings and traditions of his Jewish heritage. Not long after he joined Paul’s missions team, Paul asked that he be circumcised in order to have a better testimony with Jewish believers, and evangelizing in the synagogues, because he was, in fact, a Jew himself. Paul’s unusual request, considering his strong teaching against circumcision, was actually in keeping with his core principle concerning ministry:
For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them.
To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews.
To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law.
To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law.
To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak.
I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.
I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (NRSV)
Throughout his career with Paul, Timothy ministered to the churches in Philippi, Corinth, Thessalonica, Ephesus, and Colossae.
Tychicus and Trophimus from Asia—this area referred to what we know today as Turkey. Paul called Tychicus “a beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord,” whom he had sent back to the church in Ephesus to bring news of Paul and reassure them all was well. It seems he accompanied Paul often, and towards the end of Paul’s life became one of his key coworkers, instructing and building up both Timothy and Titus in continuing God’s kingdom work, and taking on the oversight of the churches in Crete.
It seems Trophimus was originally from Ephesus, and was a well-known Greek to those in Jerusalem—several people later saw him with Paul in Jerusalem and assumed Paul had taken Trophimus with him into the part of the temple reserved for Jews alone.
Years after this incident, Trophimus was still traveling with Paul and fell ill while in Miletus, where Paul left him to recover as Paul continued in his evangelism of the surrounding area.