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Some notes from the 2014 Bible conference
Paul's Missionary Journeys
January 4, 2014
First study: A door of faith | Second study: Let us visit our brethren
Third study: The Word of the Lord grew mightily

First Bible study: A door of faith ~
Acts 13:1-15, 38-48; 14:21-28
Study 2: Visit brethren | Study 3: Word of the Lord        Top

The call of Paul and Barnabas; preaching and opposition
Establishing new believers; reporting all that God had done

The gospel message of Jesus Christ changed Paul from a persecutor to a preacher. He describes the change in Acts 26:16-19, when Jesus spoke from heaven: Paul would be a servant and a witness of the things he had seen and heard. Paul said, "I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision." All service for God requires a heavenly vision of the glorified Lord Jesus! During our conference today, we would like to be stirred up for evangelism and learn principles of serving the Lord in this way, or in any way He wants to use us.

The first missionary journey (Acts 13) marks a transition in the early Church. Jerusalem had been the center of activity, but in chapter 11 an assembly of believers had been established in Antioch. That became a new center of activity, just as the Lord had said would take place in Acts 1:8.

Furthermore, Barnabas and Saul (Paul) had been used to strengthen the believers in Antioch; yet now they were to be sent out. They had taught these Christians to depend on the Lord, as indicated by their practice of fasting and praying. Some leaders cause others to depend on them, but this had not happened in Antioch. Additionally, there were other men functioning as teachers, which is a healthy condition for a gathering of Christians. The church at Antioch had good Bible teaching, was submissive to the Spirit of God, and enjoyed an attitude of harmony together.

God loves to give the names of those who are available for service, and five names are mentioned in Acts 13:1. Could our names be added? Barnabas is mentioned first, for he was an earlier believer; yet this would later change. God uses His people for the times and purposes which He understands best.

We can also notice that Barnabas and Saul had fulfilled a previous service of delivering a financial gift to other believers (Acts 12:25). God often trains us to do local work as a way to equip us for broader tasks. In the same way, the Lord had first called his twelve apostles so they could be with Him before He would begin to send them out (Mark 3:14). Notice that Paul and Barnabas were teachers before they were missionaries; they were established in the Word of God.

God establishes new things by special displays of power. The road to Damascus was a new starting point in the life of Paul and also in the history of the Church. Unless we also have asked and answered that question, "Who are You, Lord?" (Acts 9:5), learning that He is in heaven as the Head of His people on the earth-- until then, we aren't equipped to share the message, because that is the very message we are called to bring to others.

Barnabas and Paul went out. The Holy Spirit emphasizes the glory of the Lord, so He makes clear who is to carry that message. It's not that the church at Antioch selected them to go; yet it's also good to see that these servants were sent both by the church and by the Holy Spirit (13:3-4). There was support for their new ministry. We don't read that John Mark was also called, but he went along too. It seems that he went before he was ready, for he soon turned back. It may remind us of Lot, who traveled with his uncle when Abraham left his home at the call of God (Genesis 12:4).

We can learn from the method used to present the message. They first went to the island of Cyprus, which was Barnabas' homeland (Acts 4:36). They traveled across the island, presenting the Scriptures in the synagogues. The key to any Christian message will be founded upon the Word of God. As they traveled, they received an invitation from a government official, who also wanted to hear the Word of God. This shows that they were not becoming known for acts of grandeur or for entertaining programs; they were the people you would call if you wanted to hear the Scriptures. Later, Paul would review his approach as being based not on impressive words but on the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:1, 4). This should characterize any public service for the Lord.

All they used for teaching was the Old Testament scriptures at the time, but they were divinely empowered to properly apply them. Today we have the entire Word of God, yet we still need to rely on God's help to teach it. When there was opposition, Paul (whose new name is first given here) spoke boldly and directly against the one who perverted the straight way of the Lord. This means he knew what the straight way was, and that is what he defended. (It's interesting that the wicked sorcerer took the name "Son of Jesus," but Paul called him "son of the devil.") Paul was filled with the Spirit (13:9), not simply annoyed. Further, the government official believed not because of Paul's forcefulness but because he heard the word of the Lord (13:12). All this shows the proper foundation points for one who is serving God.

Is being filled with the Holy Spirit a highly spiritual state, attained only by elite believers? No, the Bible says every Christian should be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18); yet we don't see any evidence that the early believers actively sought this condition as an end in itself. The key is to be filled with the desire to bring glory to Christ; that's what the Holy Spirit wants to do (John 16:14-15), so believers who wholly link themselves with that desire are going to be filled with the Spirit. Compare also the impact of being filled with the Word of Christ (Colossians 3:16), which is just the same as being filled with the Spirit in Ephesians 5.

When Paul and Barnabas traveled onward, they came to another synagogue. In this instance they were invited on the spur of the moment to say a few words if they wished. It seems Paul did not have a prepared message, yet he took the opportunity when it was offered. This is an excellent example of readiness and of depending on the Lord to help right at the moment. He knew his audience, quoted several Old Testament passages, and made a link with their history. He taught significant truths, like forgiveness, the resurrection, and justification from sins. Despite the comprehensive message, there was a mixed response, and it was mainly the Gentiles who wanted to hear more. This did not discourage Paul and Barnabas; instead, they took direction from the Scriptures once again (Acts 13:47, quoting Isaiah 49:6).

The text says that those who were ordained to eternal life were the ones who believed when Paul preached. God's sovereign choice was at work; yet Paul and Barnabas participated in God's eternal plan by preaching at that moment. This is the great privilege of the evangelist and any who serve the Lord.

We also can appreciate the persistence of service, despite the persecution and even violence that followed Paul and Barnabas. When Paul was left for dead after being attacked and stoned by the mob (Acts 14:19), he began retracing his route and returned to every city where he had been thrown out before. The trouble did not silence the message but instead added a new dimension of authority to it: "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God" (14:22).

Emphasizing the grace of God is a message that exposes our nothingness. That's why preaching the true gospel always invites persecution; people want credit for themselves, not grace from God.

Furthermore, when they encouraged the new believers, they spoke about continuing in grace and in the faith (13:40, 14:21). They did not attach these disciples to themselves but to the Lord.

Establishing local gatherings of believers is important, and Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in each local church (14:23). They prayed, fasted, and commended them to the Lord. We can notice that this pattern of appointing elders, not electing them, occurs throughout the New Testament-- sometimes based on apostolic authority, and sometimes based on the Spirit of God making these leaders evident to all (e.g., Titus 1:5; Acts 20:28). God has His order of things, which is necessary for the solid footing of believers.

This first missionary journey concludes with Paul and Barnabas returning to Antioch, from where they had been commended and sent out. This shows a fine attitude of maintaining relationships rather than becoming independent; and it provides the opportunity for all to rejoice together at the door of faith God had opened for His word.

Second Bible study: Let us visit our brethren ~
Acts 15:36, 40-41; 16:1-15; 17:1-3, 10-11, 16-17; 18:8-11
Study 1: Door of faith | Study 3: Word of the Lord        Top

Strengthening the churches
Traveling with Timothy; reaching Philippi
Emphasizing the Scriptures

As the second missionary journey begins, we are able to appreciate Paul's motive. He doesn't say to Barnabas that it's time to do some more traveling or more preaching; instead, he says, "Let us go visit our brethren." His motivation is people. This should always be the focus of our desire in serving the Lord. This journey does involve preaching the gospel, but Paul's first priority this time is to see how their former contacts are doing.

Paul enjoyed serving in fellowship with others, and when he and Barnabas did not agree on the subject of traveling with John Mark, he chooses Silas to go with him. He does not try to serve independently. Later he took Timothy, Luke, and others as well.

Paul's own dependence on God was strengthened in a practical way, too. The first journey was certainly significant, but a map will show that the second journey was even more extensive. The Lord often extends our service bit by bit rather than in large chunks all at once.

Paul's character and heart kept him interested in his fellow believers. That aspect of his character is like a mother caring for her children, such as the way Hannah visited the temple each year with a new coat for Samuel (1 Samuel 2:19). Paul himself said he was like a nurse caring for young believers (1 Thessalonians 2:7). Others displayed this same attitude, such as Moses (even though he failed in his passions, Acts 7:23-25) and Nehemiah (in Nehemiah 1:2, 2:10). We should appreciate it when others ask us how we are doing spiritually, because they care for our souls-- they aren't just being nosy.

Paul did not go independently, but he again was commended by the local brethren in Antioch to this work. We don't see that the Spirit of God gave explicit directions to leave Antioch at this time; but it was a godly desire, and no doubt we can say that the call of chapter 13 had continued in Paul's life. We don't have to depend on the Holy Spirit to give special confirmation of the normal Christian life. Should we go to the prayer meeting? Yes. Should we desire to encourage fellow believers? Yes. Still, in the midst of normal Christian activities, we realize that the Spirit will give special help when special circumstances arise.

In chapter 16 we meet Timothy, who had a good testimony among the other Christians in the area of Lystra. Paul had been violently persecuted there during his first journey (Acts 14:19), and perhaps it was during that visit when Timothy became a Christian himself. What a nice commendation of a relatively new follower of God!

Timothy would be considered Jewish, since his mother was Jewish; and although the Jerusalem council in Acts 15 had determined that Jewish traditions like circumcision were not necessary for salvation, Paul made sure Timothy was circumcised (Acts 16:3). This removed a potential obstacle that Jewish hearers might have raised later. When traditions become a test of spirituality, they are not acceptable (cp. Galatians 2:3-4 in the case of Titus); but when a tradition will allow greater opportunities for the gospel, it shows wisdom and spiritual discernment to accept this.

As Paul and the others traveled, not every detail was clear at once. They wanted to travel east and preach in Asia Minor, but somehow it was plain that the Holy Spirit did not want them to go that way. It was not plain where they should go, but they did not try to force the door open; instead, they just kept going somewhere. When the group recognized God's direction to go to the region of Macedonia, they still didn't know exactly where to go; but they made sensible choices, heading for Philippi because it was one of the main cities in that area. In Philippi there was no synagogue, so they found people interested in spiritual matters by going to the river where some would gather to pray. There they shared the Scriptures, and it was the Lord who opened the heart of Lydia and her family. When we serve the Lord, we might have questions about the future; but we do what is clear while we wait for the Lord to do His part. Paul was devoted to his brethren, but he was also devoted to the Lord; a servant waits for his master.

It's also nice to see that, while Paul wanted to preach in Asia but could not, there were people in Europe who were from Asia and ready to hear the gospel. Lydia was from Thyatira, a city of Asia Minor; yet Paul had to get to Philippi for her to hear the gospel. At this point (Acts 16:10) the pronoun "we" is used, and it's believed that Luke (the author of the book of Acts) probably joined the evangelists here.

Notice, too, that Lydia was a praying woman. There is much mention of prayer in the book of Acts; traveling and preaching must be accompanied by it. Further, Lydia is very responsive to the message: She is baptized, showing her determination to stand publicly for the Lord; and she has influence in her family, so that they also believe-- making her an evangelist too! Not only that, but she is hospitable, using her resources as a (probably wealthy) businesswoman to host Paul and his companions. It's a pattern that when things are opened, there is a sense of urgency to act. Her opened heart led Lydia to compel Paul to stay with her. Compare Luke 24:29-32, when the Lord walked with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

Like many of the cities Paul visited, Philippi was a stronghold of Satan. On Cyprus during the first journey, the sorcerer had tried to interfere with the gospel. In Philippi, Satan tries to discredit the message with the girl possessed by a "spirit of Python," as some translations read (Acts 16:16). Satan's castles are coming down, like the walls of Jericho did in the time of Joshua.

As Paul traveled elsewhere, we notice his pattern of starting with those who seek God. The synagogues in many cities were like God's open door, prearranged as a starting point. Paul reaches Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, and Corinth, and in each place (synagogue or not) he uses the Scriptures; they are the source of power for converting the soul, Psalm 19:7.

However, Paul's approach involved explaining, teaching, and searching the Scriptures. These are activities that take time. We should not be afraid to encourage seekers to look carefully into the Bible to become convinced themselves of its truth. Do we want them to make an immediate decision because we say so, or do we want them to trust the Lord whole-heartedly on their own? We can rely on the Spirit of God to use the Word of God in His own time.

The message made much of Christ, and it caused such an impact in people's lives that it shook up the comfortable people. It seemed their world was turning upside down (Acts 17:6)! Yet it was really turning right-side up, for it was a message that turned people to look at Jesus Christ, the Man whom God would use for judgment and righteousness.

Third Bible study: The Word of the Lord grew mightily ~
Acts 18:22-23; 19:8-20; 20:17-24
Study 1: Door of faith | Study 2: Visit brethren        Top

Returning from the second journey and departing on the third
More than two years in Ephesus
Paul's farewell address

This passage leads from the end of the second journey right into the third. Paul had again returned to Antioch, and now he determines to travel again. This time the emphasis is again slightly different; instead of strengthening the churches, he desires to strengthen the disciples. At this point in the book of Acts, the emphasis is on faithful individuals who will keep God's principles in all aspects of their lives.

Paul spends an extended period of time in Ephesus, where he had visited only for a very brief time on his second journey (Acts 18:19-21). Here reference is made to Christians as those of "the Way" (19:9). This occurs five times in the book of Acts, and it shows that Christianity is not a dogma or a doctrine but a pattern of living, a change of life. The Lord Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and those who follow Him should indeed have a new Way.

In Ephesus, in keeping with the pattern of making disciples, Paul leaves the synagogue and uses a school for instructing those who wish to hear. In this case it's not violence that drives him from the synagogue; instead he departs on his own. Why? When would we have to do this ourselves? The difference here is that the listeners were hardened (19:9). This is a key turning point for anyone who wants to share the Word of God. Even the Lord told His own apostles that, if a city would not receive them, they should shake the dust off their feet outside that city. Opposition comes in different forms.

However, moving these teaching opportunities to the school allowed the open door in Ephesus to continue for two years. The message had not reached Asia during Paul's second journey, but now Ephesus becomes a home base for the message to be carried throughout that entire region. Notice that those who serve the Lord do not shut the door, even if some of the listeners have left the conversation.

In Ephesus, another stronghold of Satanic idolatry, God confirmed His word with miracles just as happened after the Lord's ascension ("confirming the word with signs following," Mark 16:20). Miracles are unusual in Paul's life, but here they help to display God's power and add authority to the message, as in Hebrews 2:3-4. The body of Paul had been exposed to great suffering already-- he carried the marks of the Lord Jesus in his body, Galatians 6:17-- but now his body was the means for God's miraculous power to be displayed. That power exposes pretenders and establishes believers in the right way.

The pretenders tried to imitate God's power by casting out demons themselves. They completely misused the name of Jesus, having no relationship with Him. We can apply this point to believers, too. Although we may well be the Lord's, as a practical matter do we use His name without maintaining a living relationship with Him? Do we use His name lightly? These "vagabond" exorcists (as some translations put it, Acts 19:13) seem to have been a group of traveling religious opportunists. They had no roots and probably traveled from place to place, looking for something satisfying or advantageous for themselves. This would be very unhealthy for a true believer.

When pretenders are exposed, even true believers are convicted in their hearts. The believers in Ephesus realized they had belongings that were fit only for the fire-- not just a yard sale! These books were of great value, but they deserved only destruction, accompanied by public confession and repudiation of their influence. Today there are influences such as witchcraft, astrology, and spiritualism that can also infiltrate our hearts, or perhaps have been part of our lives in the past. We need a clean break from them, or from any influence that will lead us away from devotion to the Lord. How much better to appreciate helpful books, like Paul did in 2 Timothy 4:13.

After the fire, a step of spiritual growth, the word of the Lord grew! Not only that, it grew mightily-- and not only that, but it prevailed, overcoming opposition. It's worth noticing that Ephesus had been only a very small testimony for the Lord for some time before this. On Paul's second journey, he had left a Christian couple, Aquila and Priscilla, in Ephesus because he himself could not stay. There were a few disciples in Ephesus who had only an imperfect knowledge of the Scriptures, but there was some measure of testimony still active when Paul returned. Aquila and Priscilla were not used for great displays of power, but they were used to keep things going as long as God needed them to. Often we enter into the labors of others (John 4:38), just as Paul entered into the labors of this faithful couple.

At the conclusion of this third journey, Paul visits again with the Ephesian believers-- this time with the elders from there (Acts 20:17). In his remarks, we learn more about Paul's desires and purposes for his life. First of all, his character was above reproach. It was known openly how he lived, both publicly and from house to house, and he had nothing to hide.

Paul's desire was for the believers to be steady themselves and to carry on God's interests. Paul didn't teach secrets to an elite few; he emphasized the principles they should all remember. He had a balanced approach to teaching, for he kept back nothing that would be spiritually helpful for them. He called for both repentance and faith, and he taught them the gospel, the kingdom of God, and the full range of God's thoughts ("the whole counsel of God," Acts 20:27). God's servants are responsible to set forth a full message for those who are learning.

Doctrine that is taught must also be lived out. Nothing will destroy our service more than pride. However, Paul was marked by tears and humility, having a sincere interest about the needs and conditions surrounding his Christian friends.

Paul fully expected further suffering, but that did not move him or turn him aside. What moves us? How much would it take before we give up our path of faithfulness to Christ? Being moved is an internal action, emotionally and mentally and spiritually. Some have been moved by very little and no longer follow the Lord. But Paul's grand purpose was that he wanted to finish his race with joy.

What does it take to reach the end of a life of service joyfully? Paul names two more things: He knew it was the Lord Jesus Himself who had given him a role of service to fulfill. What endearment it is to think of the Lord Jesus asking us to serve Him! Second, he was gripped by the beauty of the "gospel of the grace of God." The gospel speaks of many things, including righteousness and judgment; but it is not too simplistic to call it the gospel of God's grace, for it is the message of God's desire to offer a relationship to each one who turns to Him through Jesus.

Read and enjoy 2 Corinthians 4:1-7. Our eyes have been opened to see the gospel of the glory of God, shining in the face of Jesus Christ. We carry that treasure within us, though we are only vessels of clay; and our weakness simply magnifies the excellency of God's power working in us and through us.

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This third Bible study was followed by a time for additional Bible teaching. Two short messages were given, and those notes follow.
= = = = =

Acts 9:17-20

Paul had been converted from being Saul, the destroyer, and now his goal was to preach that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. If we would share that goal, it puts all our decisions and directions into focus. It will help us know what God wants us to do, because then our decisions are not just "Where should I study?" or "What job should I take?", but "How will I preach the Lord Jesus in the place where I will be?"

In the days of the great flood, Noah reached out from the ark and brought the dove in when there was no rest for her on the earth. Every believer has received the Holy Spirit. Do we take the Spirit to ourselves eagerly, embracing His guidance? When we ask, "How can I do anything but serve the Lord Jesus?", we can be assured that God will make His way plain for each of us.

The planted seed

When God's first Christian martyr, Stephen, was stoned to death, how the enemy must have rejoiced! But it is as if God said, "Now I will take the enemy's witness and make him Mine;" and so Paul was converted. The one who persecuted began instead to proclaim the gospel. God indeed moves in mysterious ways.

But there is no closing to the book of Acts. On the one hand, we must carry on Paul's work. Look what he was willing to suffer for the one who saved him! Are we also willing? But on the other hand, the enemy does not take a break. In the parable of the seeds, Jesus told of how some seeds fell on the wayside rather than on the good soil (Matthew 13:3-4, 19). If you do not understand the message well, the enemy wants to snatch away what you have heard today so that you do not become a vibrant Christian.

What should you do if you do not understand the word of God? Ask God to protect it from the "birds" of the devil before it is snatched away! In Mark 4:15, the people do hear the word of God, but the devil comes immediately and takes it away. How intense this battle is! In Luke 8:12, the seed is taken before belief and salvation can take root. This shows that the word of God carries the full message of salvation itself. When we accept it, we allow the power of God to work in our hearts and lives.

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