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Paul's second journey ends

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Last week we saw Paul in the city of Corinth. We met Aquila and Priscilla whom Paul worked alongside in their tentmaking business. And we saw the pattern that we’ve come to expect in Paul’s missionary journeys broken. Remember, in just about every other city that Paul has entered throughout these two journeys he has started out by going to the synagogue to preach to the Jews. The Jews have generally rejected Paul’s presentation of the gospel of Christ so he has turned to the Gentiles in whatever city he happens to be in. But the Jewish religious leaders won’t leave it at that and Paul is usually either run out of town by a mob or he is smuggled out by the believers in that city. But that’s not what we saw in Corinth. The pattern started out fine. He arrived, he went to the synagogue to preach and teach, the Jews rejected him and he shook the dust from his clothes and turned to the Gentiles. But that’s where the pattern broke down. In Corinth, instead of being run out of town, or smuggled out, God speaks to Paul in a dream and says, “Don’t be afraid, but keep on speaking and don’t be silent. For I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to hurt you, because I have many people in this city.” So Paul stays around. In fact, as we talked about last week he stayed in Corinth for a year and half, preaching and teaching the people there.
But after a while, there was a test to this promise from God. The Jewish leaders couldn’t take it anymore and they finally come after Paul. Let’s pick up reading with verse 12 of chapter 18 and see what happens.
Acts 18:12–17 CSB
12 While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack against Paul and brought him to the tribunal. 13 “This man,” they said, “ is persuading people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.” 14 As Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or of a serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to put up with you Jews. 15 But if these are questions about words, names, and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of such things.” 16 So he drove them from the tribunal. 17 And they all seized Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal, but none of these things mattered to Gallio.
Acts 18:12-
Like I said, the Jewish leaders couldn’t take it anymore, so they decide to take another crack at Paul. They seize him and bring him before the Roman proconsul, Gallio and accuse him of breaking Roman law by persuading people to worship God in ways contrary to the law. It looks like maybe God’s promise that Paul wouldn’t be hurt may not hold up. But before Paul can even open his mouth to defend himself, or more likely with Paul, to share the gospel with those listening, Gallio speaks up and says, “You know what? None of this has anything to do with Roman law. This is a Jewish theological thing, so you need to handle it yourselves. I refuse to be the judge for this argument.” And then he kicks them all out of the court. And did you notice what their reaction was? They seize Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and beat him. Now if you remember, last week we talked about Crispus being the leader of the synagogue, but he became a believer, so it’s only natural that they would replace him. That replacement was Sosthenes and as the leader of the synagogue it was likely him who got the Jews worked up in order to bring Paul to the courts in the first place. So when Gallio drives them all out of the court, do they all start beating Paul? No. They totally forget about Paul and they turn on the guy who started this whole thing.
I don’t know if this was how it happened but I just get the mental picture of this crowd being herded out the door by a group of Roman soldiers holding their spears horizontally. Once they’re all out, the doors are slammed and two of the soldiers take up guard and go to attention with their spears crossed in front of the doors. Then everyone turns and looks at Sosthenes, there’s a pause and then everyone starts yelling and the fists start flying and Paul is left standing there by himself. And I picture him just kind of looking around, shrugging his shoulders and heading back to work. Maybe God’s promise had some power behind it after all.
So Paul’s time in Corinth eventually comes to an end and he leaves the city. Let’s pick up reading with verse 18 to see what happens next.
Acts 18:18–23 CSB
18 After staying for some time, Paul said farewell to the brothers and sisters and sailed away to Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. He shaved his head at Cenchreae because of a vow he had taken. 19 When they reached Ephesus he left them there, but he himself entered the synagogue and debated with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to stay for a longer time, he declined, 21 but he said farewell and added, “I’ll come back to you again, if God wills.” Then he set sail from Ephesus. 22 On landing at Caesarea, he went up to Jerusalem and greeted the church, then went down to Antioch. 23 After spending some time there, he set out, traveling through one place after another in the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.
ACts 18:18-
Paul’s second missionary journey is coming to a close. After spending a year and a half at Corinth he finally sets sail for home accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. But before they even make it to the ship we have this quick little comment about Paul shaving his head at Cenchreae because of a vow he had taken. This little statement has caused all kinds of arguments among scholars down through the centuries. Some claim that this vow was a sin by Paul and that this incident is included here as proof of Paul’s fallibility. Others claim that the fact that Paul shaved his head here is evidence that he had made a Nazirite vow before God at some point. The Nazirite vow involved abstinence from alcohol and not cutting one’s hair until some future point as evidence of the vow. Once the time period of the vow was completed the head would be shaved, signifying that the vow was complete, and the hair would be offered as a burnt offering at the temple in Jerusalem. Now this all may seem strange to us, but to Paul, steeped in Jewish tradition it would have been normal behavior. In studying for this sermon I came across this statement in John Polhill’s commentary on the book of Acts:

In any event, the significance of the vow is that it shows Paul to have been a loyal, practicing Jew. In his mission to the Gentiles, he did not abandon his own Jewishness. He was still a ‘Jew to the Jews’ and still continued his witness in the synagogues. Interestingly, on Paul’s final visit to Jerusalem, when James wanted him to demonstrate his Jewish loyalty before the more legally zealous Jewish Christians, participation in a similar vow was chosen as the means to accomplish this (21:20–24) (Polhill, 390).

I love the way he puts this here. “In his mission to the Gentiles, he did not abandon his own Jewishness.” This is the essence of Paul’s ministry. He does whatever it takes to relate to those he is talking and ministering to. Paul himself explains this in
1 Corinthians
1 Corinthians 9:19–23 CSB
19 Although I am free from all and not anyone’s slave, I have made myself a slave to everyone, in order to win more people. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win Jews; to those under the law, like one under the law—though I myself am not under the law—to win those under the law. 21 To those who are without the law, like one without the law—though I am not without God’s law but under the law of Christ—to win those without the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some. 23 Now I do all this because of the gospel, so that I may share in the blessings.
That’s an example that we all need to follow as Christians. “I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some.” So what does that mean for us? How do we do that? How do we “become all things to all people,” without compromising our principles? I spent this past week with a group of chaplains going through training. I want to share a story that I shared with them this week explaining what we do as chaplains. I may have shared this in here before but I think it fits in with this principle, so bear with me if you’ve already heard this.
Share story about Muslim student at NCTC.
I told that group of chaplains, “That’s what we do as chaplains.” But you know what, that’s what we should be doing as Christians. Now I didn’t participate in his worship. I didn’t agree with his worship. But what I did, in facilitating for him, opened the door. What I did, caused him to see a difference in me. That’s something I mention in my closing prayers in here all the time. We need to live our lives in such a way that the world around us sees something different and wants to know what that difference is. This Muslim student was used to Christians either ignoring his needs or telling him he’s wrong and trying to force Christianity on him. I helped him get approval to observe his religious beliefs and it opened a door for the seed of the gospel to be planted in him.
But let’s get back to Paul. He’s shaved his head and then he and Priscilla and Aquila sail to Ephesus. He goes into the synagogue as is his custom and the Jews in that city ask him to stay and continue teaching. Paul declines, but promises to come back at a later date. He was anxious to be on his way. Possibly he wanted to get back to Jerusalem to offer the burnt offering of his shaved hair to finalize his vow. Or possibly he was just homesick and wanted to get back to Antioch to the church that had sent him out on these journeys. I personally think it was little of both since the passage we read tells us that, “on landing at Caesarea, he went up to Jerusalem and greeted the church, then went down to Antioch.” So he makes a quick trip to the capital and then heads “home” to Antioch. But this is Paul. He never sits still for very long, and verse 23 told us that, “after spending some time there, he set out, traveling through one place after another in the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.”
Thus we see the end of Paul’s second missionary journey followed closely by the beginning of his third.
Now very quickly I want to close out this chapter so let’s pick up reading with verse 24.
Acts 18:24–28 CSB
24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native Alexandrian, an eloquent man who was competent in the use of the Scriptures, arrived in Ephesus. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately about Jesus, although he knew only John’s baptism. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. After Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the way of God to him more accurately. 27 When he wanted to cross over to Achaia, the brothers and sisters wrote to the disciples to welcome him. After he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. 28 For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating through the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah.
Remember last week I said that Aquila and Priscilla would play a larger role, and we see that role here. They have come with Paul to the city of Ephesus. We assume they have brought their business with them and continue in the tent making trade that they had worked in both in Rome before being expelled from there and in Corinth where they met Paul. Here in Ephesus, Apollos arrives and begins teaching. Now what he was teaching was accurate but the Bible tells us that, “he knew only John’s baptism.” What Luke is telling us by this phrase is that Apollos knew about Christ, and accepted him as the Messiah, but he knew all of this from John the Baptist’s disciples. So he had the knowledge of the Messiah, but it was all from before Christ actually came. He didn’t have the complete story. He knew that the Messiah was coming, but he didn’t know of the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the ascension. So Aquila and Priscilla pull him aside and fill out the rest of the story for him. And we see him move on to Achaia and become a great witness for Christ. But the point I want us to see is that Aquila and Priscilla, even though they were not full-time ministers, were still teachers. They had their regular jobs, but they were still able to instruct, to teach, to share the gospel. That’s what we should all be doing. As I said earlier, and as I say often in here, we should be living our lives in such a way that people see a difference and want to know what that difference is. And then we need to be prepared with an answer when the questions arise. We need to be prepared to share the gospel with anyone who wants to hear it.
So that brings us to the end of chapter 18. Next week we’ll pick up with chapter 19 as Paul continues on now his third missionary journey to spread the gospel. But for now, would you pray with me?
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