Paul’s team
by Jack Wald | May 1st, 2011

Acts 16:1-5

The book of Acts is part two of a two-part book written by Luke, a Greek physician. This was common in the ancient world, to organize a longer piece of writing into several shorter books. Luke’s contemporary, Josephus, wrote an apology for the Jews divided into two books, the second of which begins like this:
In the first volume of this work, my most esteemed Epaphroditus, I demonstrated the antiquity of our race … I also challenged the statements of Manetho, Chaeremon, and some others. I shall now proceed to refute the rest of the authors who have attacked us.

In Luke’s second book of his two-part work, he follows a similar form
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach  2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.

Although Luke wrote Luke/Acts as one document, divided into two books, it was almost immediately broken down into two separate documents. By the end of the first century or beginning of the second, very shortly after John’s gospel was written, the four Gospels in our Bible were circulated as the fourfold Gospel. Acts was broken off from Luke. About the same time, the letters of Paul were gathered into a collection titled The Apostle.

As the canon of Scripture was formed, Acts was inserted after the Gospels and before Paul’s letters to form the bridge that was needed. Acts is what takes us from the Gospels to the ministry of Paul and the other apostles.

Why do we call this book the book of Acts? Since the second century, the traditional title has been The Acts of the Apostles because after Jesus ascended, these are the things the apostles, or at least some of the apostles, did. Because of the prominence of the Holy Spirit, others have suggested calling it the Acts of the Holy Spirit.

But if you take a look at the introduction to this second part of his work, you can see what Luke intended to be the theme of this book.
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach  2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.

The phrase, all that Jesus began to do and to teach, infers that the work Jesus began was not yet finished. Jesus began to work and the inference is that Jesus is continuing his work. The Gospel of Luke is not about Jesus and then the book of Acts about the Holy Spirit. Luke and Acts are one work describing the ministry of Jesus. Luke describes the ministry of Jesus when he was physically present with his disciples and Acts describes the ministry of Jesus through the Holy Spirit who he promised would come after him.

Does this push Jesus up and pull the Holy Spirit down? This is one of the ridiculous things we do as Christians. We worship one God in three persons and the three persons of the Trinity are in such close and mutually supportive relationship that it begins to be a bit silly when we try to put one above the other.

Jesus ascended and promised to send the Holy Spirit but Jesus is continuing the work of the Father, bringing new sons and daughters into his kingdom. I mentioned a couple weeks ago that when people have dreams of a man in a white light, it is Jesus they are dreaming of. Jesus is at work and what we read in the Book of Acts is his continuing work in the very early years of the church.

There are 28 chapters in the Book of Acts and Luke’s account ends with Paul under house arrest in Rome, but the work of Jesus did not end there. It seems that Paul was released and he went to preach the gospel and plant new churches in the Iberian Peninsula (modern day Spain & Portugal). He returned to Rome, was once again arrested and this time, during the persecution of Nero, he was beheaded. Paul’s life ended but the work of Jesus continued as the gospel spread throughout the world.

There are only 28 chapters in the Book of Acts but many more have been written over the centuries of church history and when we work with Jesus, we are written into the ongoing book of Acts as Jesus continues his work. Our stories are noticed, remembered and celebrated and I hope we will one day be able to enjoy reading that book.

This will be the seventh year we have preached from Acts in the period after Easter until summer. Over the past six years we have moved through fifteen chapters of Acts. We ended last year with the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas and their separation. Barnabas and John Mark set off in one direction and Paul and Silas in another. Luke focused on Paul and traveled with Paul, doing research as he did to write down the history of Jesus, and so did not record the story of Barnabas’ travels. That story is also one I hope we will be able to read in heaven.

Acts 1-3 begins with the ascension of Jesus into heaven and then the long promised coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. With the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, the disciples became different men and women. Peter and John performed miracles in the name of Jesus and taught in the Temple courtyard with authority.

The Jewish religious leaders were dismayed because they thought they had dealt effectively with Jesus who had threatened their religious establishment. They left Jesus dead on the cross and then a month or so afterwards received reports that the disciples of Jesus were teaching that Jesus had risen from the dead.

So the religious leaders went into action and Acts 4-7 focuses primarily on the persecution of the fledgling church and ends with the stoning of Stephen.

Acts 8 introduces Saul who approved of Stephen’s death and then goes on to talk about the spread of the believers – and the Gospel – into Samaria where many believers went to escape the persecution in Jerusalem.

Acts 9 tells the story of Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus and his 180? turn from persecutor of the followers of Jesus to evangelist for Jesus. After three years in the wilderness of the Arabian Peninsula, he returned to Damascus and then Jerusalem where his life was threatened and so the disciples sent him off to Tarsus.

In Acts 10 we come to what Peter Wagner in his commentary calls the third Pentecost. He suggests that the first Pentecost was the one we think of, when the disciples began speaking in tongues and everyone heard what Peter preached in their own native language. This was the long promised coming of the Holy Spirit but this first experience was received only by Jews, Hebrew speaking and Greek speaking Jews. The second Pentecost came in Acts 8 when Peter and John went to Samaria and the Holy Spirit was given to these Jewish outcasts. The third Pentecost came in Acts 10 when Peter came to the house of Cornelius and was stunned to discover that even Gentiles were to be the recipients of what Jesus had accomplished. Even the Gentiles began to speak in tongues, the sign that they had received the Holy Spirit.

When I think of the book of Acts, I tend to think of Paul as the main character. I think of this as his book. But Luke is clear that Peter was the leader of the early church. It is Peter who preached the first sermon after Pentecost and three thousand responded by becoming followers of Jesus. It is Peter along with John who went to Samaria to investigate the reports that the Samaritans were believing in Jesus. It is Peter along with John who laid hands on these followers of Jesus and they received the Holy Spirit. It is Peter who came to the house of Cornelius, the first Gentile follower of Jesus and then defended in front of the council in Jerusalem this expansion of the ministry of Jesus into the Gentile world. But then the baton was passed to Paul who began in Acts 13 his first missionary journey, accompanied by Barnabas.

This was a successful journey with new churches started, but not without cost. In Lystra Paul’s ministry was opposed and he was stoned and left for dead. Miraculously, he was able to continue his journey and came back, at the end, to Jerusalem where he met with the Jerusalem council. Here Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles was debated and it was concluded Gentiles did not have to become Jews before becoming followers of Jesus but that they should respect a few basic items: (Acts 15:29)
abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.

We pick up the story in Acts 16 as Paul set out with Silas on his second missionary journey. They traveled north through modern day Syria and Lebanon and into Turkey. The account picks up with their arrival at Derbe and Lystra, where Paul had been stoned and left for dead on his first missionary journey.

They visited many other cities that are not mentioned. Why did Luke pick these two cities to talk about? Luke did not have space to write about everything Paul did and everywhere Paul visited, so he chose to talk about the places where something noteworthy took place. In this case what was noteworthy was the introduction of Paul and Silas to Timothy.

Most of us are familiar with Timothy because we know Paul wrote two letters to him that are included in our New Testament. What do we know about him?

On Paul’s first missionary journey Timothy’s grandmother, Lois, and mother, Eunice, heard the gospel from Paul and then before Paul’s return visit in Acts 16 Timothy had come to faith in Jesus through his mother and grandmother. Eunice was Jewish but had married a Gentile man. Since Timothy had not been circumcised as an infant, it seems that his mother had not taken her responsibilities as a Jew very seriously or that his father had refused to allow this rite to be performed on his son. So Timothy came from a religiously divided home. Perhaps when his parents had married neither was serious about religious faith but then his mother heard about Jesus and became a follower.

Timothy joined Paul and Silas as a junior partner and Timothy became Paul’s constant companion all the way through his third missionary journey. In the introduction of six of Paul’s letters: II Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, I & II Thessalonians and in Philemon, Paul begins with a joint greeting: (2 Corinthians 1:1)
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
or (Philippians 1:1)
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,

In his letter to the Philippians he wrote: (Philippians 2:19–23)
I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. 20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. 23 I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me,

This was a significant and valuable relationship and it began in Lystra.

Let me take three lessons from these few verses.

The first is that suffering is part of ministry and not without gain. Do you think that Paul, when he left Lystra, having been stoned and left for dead, thought that he would someday return and find a young man who would be his valued friend and companion in ministry until the day he died? I don’t think so.

I’m impressed with Paul that he was willing to go back to where he had met such fierce opposition. His passion for preaching the gospel of Jesus and planting churches was so powerful it overcame any fears he had about how he would be treated. Can you imagine how excited he was when he came to Lystra and found Lois and Eunice, who had become followers of Jesus on his last visit – and to find that they had led their grandson and son, Timothy to faith in Jesus? So through these two women Paul was able to claim Timothy as his spiritual son. (1 Timothy 1:2)
To Timothy, my true child in the faith:

Paul left Lystra in pain from the stoning and returned to find fruit from his time in Lystra that became one of his closest companions.

When we face opposition and suffering, we – at least this is true for me – focus on our suffering. A year and two months after the foster parents of the Village of Hope were deported, I am still grieving and when I look at the pictures of the children I feel a deep pain that does not go away. It still hurts to see my grandchildren play and be loved by their parents and know this experience has been taken away from the children at the Village of Hope. I see loss and pain but I need to be reminded that God has a different perspective. Out of the ashes of defeat rises new life. We just celebrated this truth last Sunday. The disciples spent a couple days in defeated despair and hopelessness, not knowing there was a spiritual battle taking place that would result with death being defeated and Jesus raised to life.

Out of pain and suffering God brings new life. We need to hang on to that hope. It is not wishful thinking; Jesus demonstrated the principle with his resurrection. This is the reality with which we live as followers of Jesus. Out of pain and suffering will inevitably come life.

The second lesson is that we need to be willing to accommodate to the culture but not bend the truth of Jesus to do so.

After a week or so in Lystra Paul came to Timothy and said, “Timothy, I’ve got good news and bad news. Which do you want to hear first?” Timothy said, “Let me hear the good news.” Paul said, “I want you to come with me on my travels.”
“Wow, that’s great. What an honor! What’s the bad news?”
“You’re going to have to be circumcised.”

Why was it important for Paul that Timothy be circumcised? Was this a requirement for every member of his team? It was not a requirement for Titus and in fact Paul vigorously defended the right of Titus not to be circumcised. Paul wrote to the Galatians about a visit to Jerusalem, probably the visit recorded in Acts 15, during which there was controversy about Titus not being circumcised. Paul resisted great pressure to have Titus circumcised and insisted that Gentiles were not required to be Jews before becoming followers of Jesus. (Galatians 2:3&5)
But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek…we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.

So why did Paul defend Titus against those who wanted him to be circumcised yet tell Timothy he needed to be circumcised? The difference was that Timothy was Jewish, or had at least a Jewish mother, but Titus was a Gentile. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: (1 Corinthians 9:22–23)
To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

Paul was willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of the gospel and he was willing to ask those working with him to sacrifice for the sake of the gospel. Timothy was a Jew and would be expected to have been circumcised. The fact that he had not been circumcised would raise questions that would unnecessarily complicate the communication of the gospel. Circumcision was painful but would make Timothy a more effective communicator for Jesus. So he was circumcised. Easy decision.

But while Paul was willing to make these sacrifices for the sake of communicating the gospel, he was not willing to bend the truth. Circumcision and obedience to the Jewish law were not required for faith in Jesus. We are saved by faith, not by works, not by obedience to the Law, and Paul would not yield on that point. So Titus had the right not to submit to Jewish law and Paul insisted he not be circumcised.

If we live in a country where people fast during Ramadan and women are veiled, we have to ask ourselves, What will allow me to most effectively communicate the truth about Jesus? Should I also fast during Ramadan and veil myself if I am a woman? Will this enhance my witness for Jesus? And then we have to ask ourselves, Will this behavior violate in any way the truth of Jesus? If fasting and veiling myself is a return to the law and reinforces the thinking that we earn our approval of God by our actions, then this adaptation needs to be resisted.

If the adaptation to culture makes me more effective in sharing the gospel, then I should adapt. But if the adaptation to culture weakens in any way the message of the gospel, then I should not adapt in that way.

We need to analyze the culture in which we live. Find what is good in a culture and embrace it. Find what is benign in a culture and accept it. But when we find what is contrary to the gospel in a culture, it is our responsibility to resist it.

The third lesson is that it is God’s intention that we work in teams.

Why did Paul pick up Timothy and ask him to be part of his team? Why did Paul have a team at all? Why didn’t Paul go off by himself? He had tried the first missionary journey with Barnabas and John Mark. John Mark got cold feet in Cyprus and left them and then Paul and Barnabas argued about whether or not to give John Mark a second chance on their second missionary journey. Wouldn’t it have been easier for Paul simply to head off by himself?

Some Christians wear a bracelet with the letters WWJD, What Would Jesus Do? I think it might be better to ask WWTD, What Would the Trinity Do? The Trinity is our model for fellowship in the church. We are to relate to each other as the members of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit relate to each other. The Trinity is also our model for ministry. How does the Triune God reach out to draw men and women, girls and boys into his kingdom? We should emulate the Trinity in our ministry.

The Triune God works as a team. In Genesis we read that the Spirit was hovering over the waters before the world was created. In Colossians we read that everything was created through Jesus. Is this a contradiction? I don’t think so. Work in the Trinity is done in partnership, as a team.

In the beginning of the sermon I mentioned that some people debate whether Acts is the work of Jesus or of the Holy Spirit. The Trinity works as a team. Each person has a role but the roles are sometimes so closely interrelated that we cannot distinguish who is doing the work. We know that the Holy Spirit works in us to make us more holy. We know that the Holy Spirit leads us into truth and guides and directs us. But Jesus is also at work to draw more of his special creation into his eternal kingdom.

It is not that the Holy Spirit works while the Father and the Son play a game of cards. The Triune God is at work to bring as many as possible into the kingdom.

We need to follow this model and work in teams as well. Paul began his ministry with Barnabas and took along John Mark. When this ended poorly, Paul did not set out by himself; he went with Silas and in Lystra they picked up Timothy. Titus had already begun working with Paul. Wherever Paul went he picked up people who worked with him.

It is not easy to work as a team. There are often tensions within a team but this is God’s design for us. This is how God operates and it is how we are meant to operate.

Bishop Leslie Newbigin makes the point in one of his books that Jesus sent the disciples out to heal and then he told them to preach. He points out that the major speeches in Acts are given in response to questions that were asked. The Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in Jerusalem and then in response to the questions asked, “How come we hear them talking in our native languages?” Peter preached the first sermon of the church. Our evangelism, says Newbigin, should be in response to questions asked about us.

When we act as a team, working together, working together with Jesus, questions are asked and we are able to share about Jesus who inspires us to care for others in his name.

Who are the people working with you as you work with Jesus to draw people into his kingdom? Are you all by yourself or do you have people who pray with you and work with you? It might be that you find people at school or at work who will meet with you to pray for the people you believe God is leading you to. You need to share in this together with someone.

Why are we making an effort to raise funds to support a number of charitable projects? Members of our church are already active in caring for those in need but it is important that we do some of these things together. We at RIC are a team and we need to work together as we care for the needs of those around us.

It is not enough for us to meet on Sunday morning and have a good time together. We need to reach out to the world around us with the love of Jesus. As we help those who are in need, God will work through us and raise questions in the minds and hearts of those we are able to help.