A BACKWARD LOOK AT THE BIG PICTURE AS PAUL LEFT EPHESUS BEHIND?
“According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another builds thereon. But let every man take heed how he builds thereon.” 1 Corinthians 3:10
Paul moves on from Miletus to Jerusalem, and I am still in a state of awe, left with the overall vista of Acts 19 and 20 in my rear view mirror to ponder and meditate on. We can opportunistically use the opening Paragraph of Charles Dickens’ novel, “A tale of Two Cities,” as a commentary on Paul’s time in the capital city of Asia: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way.” This is profoundly accurate of what went on in Acts 19, along with other insights from Second Corinthians. It was a time of striking polemics in the responses of the people. So how do we analyse an overview of Paul’s greatest and final mission?
This had been undoubtedly Paul’s finest hour, as well as his worst. Actually it was 3 years, slightly more than an hour, yet, in those three years, not only does his preaching, teaching and ministry of the miraculous hit an all time “high impact” peak, but the persecution he faced whilst he was there was worse than any that even he had encountered previously. Considering he was stoned and left for dead at Lystra (Acts 14:19-20) and then never seems to mention it anywhere else, I conclude that when Paul explains that the opposition in Asia was so intense that he gave up on life, it plainly means that what came against him in Asia (i.e. Ephesus) was beyond most normal concepts of what is nowadays termed as abuse (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). If Paul gave up on life we are seriously talking of the ultimate definition of having a rough day. He did say in First Corinthians that he fought with wild beasts during his stay at Ephesus (15:32). Obviously, he was referring to some kind of animalistic torturous attacks on his person – and I mean physical. Consider my resulting statement then, that if Paul gave up on life whilst “delivering the gospel goods” in Ephesus, one cannot but grasp that the curse of persecution was as intense as the power of God was on his mission in Asia. In the opening salvo of these pages I stated some extravagant remarks about Paul’s activities in Ephesus exulting in what I consider to be the peak, or the very apex of all the New Testament definitions of apostolic ministry. Assuming my readers have read the rest of my thesis here, I believe I have explained fully why I consider Paul’s mission to Asia to be the absolute pinnacle of apostolic mission and the glass case perfect model of evangelistic strategy for all time. The flaw in a modern application of whatever insight I have received is that the strategy I see needs a Paul to “General” the whole thing. Where are the Pauls? Where are the Generals and the strategic Field Marshalls for Christ.
Acts 19 was the best of times because the whole of Asia heard the word of the Lord. It was the worst of times because many put feet to the thought of wanting Paul dead while he was there. It was an age of wisdom, for every preacher and teacher under Paul’s influence, who was then harnessed into the same driving mission as Paul and were all in submission to their mentor holding campaigns in other parts of Asia. It was an age of crass foolishness, for in the midst of God Almighty healing, delivering and saving huge numbers of people, there were those who wanted the gospel silenced simply because one of the offshoots of multiple numbers becoming Christians was the diminishing sale of silver shrines and idols in the province. This “stranger,” Paul, had the nerve to take people away from worshipping Artemis/Diana. So he was obviously perceived as a villain.
It was an epoch of faith. All through Asia the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high esteem (Acts 19:17), by both Christians and pagans. However, it was also an epoch of incredulity, for if all Asia heard the word, yet all of Asia was not converted, even in the face of some remarkable demonstrations of the power of Jesus Christ, incredulity must have matched the faith of the converts in its depth and wide sweeping influence amongst unbelievers. It was the season of Light, for Christ had visited Ephesus. It was a season of darkness because Paul, amongst others was persecuted to the point of death.
It was simultaneously a spring of hope with multitudes coming to faith in Christ, but a concurrent winter of despair for the intensity of unbelief, occultists and worldly business men wanting Paul out of the way. The anointing of God on the life of the diminutive Jewish Apostle of Christ split the population. There were those who had come to Christ and had everything before them, as well as those who flatly and violently rejected Christ leaving nothing before them. There were groups amongst the Ephesians and the Asians who could say, “We are all going to heaven.” But there were still vast numbers of Christ rejecters who could laugh and say, mockingly, “We are all going the other way.”
Therefore, we need to reprise the “big picture,” and allow the Technicolor graphics to solidify in our mind’s eye. It is an epic blockbuster of a picture. It is one of those stories that just have to be read and pondered. I believe that the personal imperative with the issues that Paul in Ephesus stirs up is to go through the biblical record and to chew on what we have. The purists refer to this process as “meditation.” The drama we are considering was between 27 months, and 3 years long. Where did it start on the timeline of history? I am asserting that it was 54 AD – that’s more like a strong suggestion actually. But I won’t fall out with anybody who differs with me. If anybody wants to be pedantic about it, let them do a good bit of research, the kind that anyone can find from books and the internet. One will find a whole bagful of dates and quite a few reasons why they are each, “correct.” The earliest I found was 52 AD, and the latest was 56. I have read a lot of the theses as to how, what and why it must be such and such a date. I don’t think it is vitally important to getting to grips with the biblical text of Acts 19, but obviously it helps to have your own study and meditative time around it all to have a personal opinion. I have landed on 54 AD. But that is an assumption that I cannot refer to with total conviction.
First we state the skeletal outline. Paul came to Ephesus and initially gained the following and commitment of a dozen or so disciples. Following his deeply held principle of, “To the Jew first,” Paul spent three months preaching, teaching and discussing with the Synagogue adherents. The whole group of Jewish worshippers polarised listening to Paul so often, and those who wanted to stay with pregnant Judaism instead of Christianity, the very child from the loins of Judaism were too vehement and obstructive to Paul and the progress of the gospel while he stayed in the Synagogue. So Paul transferred his operation to the school of Tyrannus. It is at this point that the fireworks begin. Paul was making tents and making considerable amounts of money that allowed him to board and lodge his party. He would preach, teach and minister for five hours every day, and then go from house to house of both Jews and gentiles teaching, preaching and generally watering the seeds that he had planted in the hearts of the people. There are those that choose to believe that because Paul was talking to the elders of the Ephesian churches when he made his remarks about going from house to house every day, it was only the elders and pastors that he visited. Those who have an almost cultic approach to the concept of leaders are welcome to their biased opinion. I flatly reject it.
With Paul mentoring his team, modelling both ministry and preaching curriculum to the group, he then sent them out (undoubtedly in two’s) to various population centres around Asia. This perspective is biblically endorsed only by the account of Epaphras who founded a church at Colossae. This seems to be the soundest logic when considering how the whole of Asia got to hear the word of God. We have no other hints that Paul ever left Ephesus during the mission.
If the team that Paul sent out were moving under the same imparted anointing and biblical insights as their mentor, then we have it clearly understood that with a dozen or so of “cloned Paul’s” itinerating around Asia the place would have been generally shaken by the power of the gospel.
Over the period of time that this mission was making inroads to Asian society, riots and complaints came boomeranging back on Paul’s head. With a huge number of converts resulting in people having new purchasing habits and lifestyles, the major industries that had anything to do with the occult and idol worship in general started to face decline in the new dynamics of the Asian economy. Just like any population would blame their leaders when a country seems to be mismanaged, not being able to complain against Rome without their lives being endangered, those with complaints to register concerning their failing businesses all with one accord pointed the finger at, “This man Paul,” and those pesky Christians.
Even though the book of Acts merely tells us of a single riot where Paul was not injured and actually held back by his friends from exacerbating the situation by making a speech, Second Corinthians lets us know that persecution of the most terrible kind was militant against Paul and conceivably others of the team.
The writer’s personal experience of ministry that moves in the dimension that Paul moved, is that characters like Paul are passionately supported and loved by those who have been the recipients of God’s blessing through him, and equally passionately hated by atheists, witch doctors and mediums, and other Christian ministers who have the awful stench of jealousy. In my years in Lagos my anecdotal mental statistics would lead me to suggest that the majority of a 25,000 congregation were introduced to their solid faith through a simple request for healing. People healed in the name of Jesus while at the point of death tended to turn to Christ and their entire social entourage of family, neighbours, work colleagues and social acquaintances would eagerly follow. It may not be true that miracles turn everybody to Christ, but it seemed wonderfully true that simple story telling over and over again about how a crippled man came to walk, or a deaf man came to be able to hear clearly, won more for Christ than the best preaching. On top of that, with so many people who were deep into the occult having a profound awareness of all things spiritual, once converted, the understanding of the gospel of previous agents of Satan is more profound than the rank and file of millions of Christians in the west. From my perspective, in Lagos, it seemed to me that the church members would die for their pastor, TB Joshua, just as, in the same way, others – including many Pentecostal ministers – seemed to want him done away with. In the same way as with Paul, I am convinced that he was loved beyond measure by the Ephesian believers, and hated beyond reason by those that opposed him.
In the midst of all this going on in Ephesus, the huge church at Corinth had issues and arguments that had escalated to severe criticism of Paul’s character. From reading both First and Second Corinthians, it seems feasible that the trouble in Corinth was more of a reason for Paul to leave Ephesus than the persecution there. That, indeed, is what I have concluded in my notes on previous pages.
Somewhere in the midst of the growing acrimony and persecution, Paul quickly left Ephesus. He travelled through Macedonia, and possibly, at this time, into Illyricum, and then down into Corinth where he stayed over winter for three months.
During this period of time (i.e: from the latter days at Ephesus, through to his leaving Macedonia on the way to Jerusalem) Paul received prophetic words concerning his own future as well as the future of the church at Ephesus. He obviously received the word first himself, and thereafter heard the statements repeated time and time again from others as he travelled. These words that were first voiced while he was still in Ephesus obviously developed into more of a burden as time progressed. He knew he had to return to Jerusalem and there suffer hardship. He earlier was convinced that he would see Rome, but the insight he received about the trouble that was to come at Jerusalem seemed to make him unsure as to whether he would live to see Rome. He also saw deep into the hearts of the people at the church in Ephesus and had to address their leaders as he passed by Ephesus on his way to Jerusalem. The prophetic word was that even though he claimed their blood was utterly off his hands, and that he had taught them all he knew, Ephesus would become a hotbed of false teachers in the not too distant future. He would not ever see any of them ever again, and he told them that they should be extremely watchful, for some of the heretics and false teachers would arise from amongst the ranks of the elders that he was addressing. And so Paul sailed on to Jerusalem.
When Christ appeared to the apostle John and imparted all that we refer to as “The book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ,” the entire book was intended to be circulated and read in the churches of Asia. Although there are notelets from Christ Himself to be sent to the seven most influential churches of Asia within the book of Revelation, the book was for all in Asia. John the aged last survivor of the original twelve received the apocalyptic visions of the last book of the bible while on the Isle of Patmos. It would seem, that by the time the apostle John had taken over as the head of the churches in Asia, the largest, or at least most influential churches were the seven mentioned. But Colossae, Hierapolis and several other population centres also had churches based there. Archaeologists and historians have found the evidence.
As for study and contemplation suggestions we have doors opened to many areas of study as a result of Acts 19 and 20:
- Team ministry and its essential nature.
- Mentors and mentoring.
- Fathering of faith in the zealous and those that show the manifestations of a call to ministry.
- Impartation of power from mentor to protégé.
- Handling persecution.
- The parameters of authority as Paul exercised it, and where he did not.
- The confidence Paul had in leaving the converts to continue in their faith.
- The role of the miraculous in the context of evangelism.
- The self-effacing of the minister of the miraculous who teaches all and sundry that he is no celebrity.
- The antidote to the modern “white suit” syndrome that surreptitiously claims stardom.
- The role of deliverance in front line evangelism.
- The role of prophecy in front line evangelism.
- The role of healing in front line evangelism.
- When is a mission ever complete?
- Evangelistic outreach based from the central point of a secular school.
- When does spiritual authority give orders, and when does it make suggestions?
- What is the nature of sermonic content that leads to faith for the miraculous?
- How are healing and deliverance anointings attained?
- What are the skills and attitudes that need to be adopted to keep a minister from seeing himself as celebrity?
- What are the mind management factors that motivate a man of God in the midst of death threatening persecution?
The Miletus Goodbye
Acts 20:17 – Acts 21:1
Paul must have had the presentiment that he was living in his last days. How long he had to live, and where death would happen was seemingly unknown to him. He was planning to go to Jerusalem, then to Rome, and then to Spain, at least that was his plan as he wrote his glorious letter to the church at Rome (Romans 1:11.Romans 15:23-25). Since the plot to kill him at the Greek harbour, however, some sort of insight, heavenly revelation, or vision seemed to have struck him, and struck him hard. On beginning to move north through Macedonia he sent all his protective and caring friends ahead of him, all except the doctor that is (Luke) (Acts 20:3b-6). On reaching Troas where the seven friends had been waiting for him, he spent seven days there (Acts 20:7a), and on the Sunday service seems to have ministered all through the night, right up to daybreak the following day (Acts 20:7b-12). Very strange! Whether Paul was preaching all that time or just lost in discussion is difficult to discern with the Greek text. It is safer to suggest it was a bit of both all through the long dark hours.
A man like Paul whose blood was oozing with revelation, vision, understanding and power – if he did suspect his death was near and approaching – wouldn’t it have been “normal” for him to want to share all he could before he goes to be with Christ? He raised Eutychus from the dead in the middle of the particular night we are referring to and then just carried on with the ministry and/or the discussions. But !
After the group had separated another strange thing happened (at least, as far as all the information we have about Paul in the book of Acts, it seems strange to me). Paul packs his whole team, including Luke, on to a ship that was doing the trip from Troas to a little place called Assos, around the promontory of land in between those two places (about 60 miles or so), while he himself, utterly alone, walks over thirty miles cross country to the very same harbour with the intention of meeting his team on the ship when he got there (Acts 20:13-14). How strange!
This all sounds to me like a man with a lot on his mind. Was it stress? Or was he merely adjusting himself to facing death, and preparing his spirit to walk in grace no matter what was going to happen to him? Or was it just that he wanted to be alone? If he did this is the only time we are aware of while on mission that he preferred to be alone.
With his team of eight friends, Paul sailed down the western coast of Asia Minor (Turkey, to us today) (Acts 20:13-17). From Assos, Paul boarded the afore mentioned ship carrying Luke and the other seven. They headed for Mitylene on the southeast coast of the island of Lesbos. Mitylene was a day’s boat journey from Assos and they spent the night there. From what Paul says in Acts 20:23 In Troas, Assos and Mitylene respectively he met some Christian people who were either prophets, or at least of a prophetic inclination, who declared to him that prison and hardships were ahead of him, especially in Jerusalem. The town of Mitylene (“mutilated”) is on Lesbos, the third largest of the Greek islands and just 9 miles off the Asian coast (Acts 20:14). To hear such heavy prediction from heaven while standing on an island called, “Mutilated,” must have been sobering to say the least.
The next day it took several hours from Mitylene to sail to Kios (Acts 20:15). I am told that Kios means,”Snowy.” It is a rugged island situated between Samos and Lesbos. And without doubt, no matter how brief his stay there, somehow, someway, somebody gave Paul the same prophetic word about suffering at Jerusalem. Prophets, prophecy and the prophetic must have been much more common than it generally is today. Paul says he heard the same in every city he entered. That’s a lot of prophetic words, from a lot of unrelated Christian people – and they were all spot on, dead accurate. God help us in the twenty first century to hear what God is saying as well as they did in the first century. Kios is separated from the mainland by a 5 mile wide straight. Most of the island is occupied by craggy limestone hills and has impressive cliffs, particularly on the eastern side. The island’s principle town and port, Chios, lies half way down its eastern coast and is obviously where Paul stopped. There was a definite snow blizzard approaching Paul in terms of his circumstances and ministry.
The next day, the third day since leaving Troas, they crossed the mouth of the bay leading to Ephesus and came to the island of Samos. Again the almost boring, scary, engaging prophecy was repeated to the apostle. How on earth did Paul cope with such consistency of messages from people who were conceivably all unknown to each other, yet all hearing the same word from the Holy Spirit? Stunning and almost traumatic is how I would describe it. Samos is a small island, only 27 miles long. It is located south of Chios, where they were the previous day, north of Patmos and about a mile off the Turkish coast. The name Samos is from Phoenician meaning, “rise by the shore.” Paul was having to rise in faith on the shores of death by the sounds of things.
After leaving Samos the ship sailed for Miletus, a major city about 35 miles south of Ephesus (Acts 20:15) on the main land. Miletus means “pure white fine wool”. It is on the coast of western Asia Minor and was one of the most important cities in the ancient Greek world. It was situated at the mouth of the Meander River. The city’s main export was wool, which is once said to have been marketed in every corner of the ancient world. By the time of Paul’s visit, however, the city was living on past glories. The remains of this once great economic, cultural and political centre were now isolated and sunken in an alluvial plain. But there was no soft woollen reception for Paul in Miletus.
Four days after raising Eutychus from the dead and speaking all night at Troas, Paul is about a twelve hour walk from Ephesus, only slightly more than the walk he took from Troas to Assos.
Acts records no incidents or preaching stopovers at Mitylene, Kios or Samos. Paul even decided to sail past Ephesus to “avoid spending time in Asia, because he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem by the Passover.” But Why?
Why didn’t Paul drop in at Ephesus? If he had, surely it would have saved him time not lost it. From Miletus it would have taken a day to send messages to the church elders there, and another day for them to get to where Paul was. So, when Acts 20:16 tells us that he didn’t want to spend time in Asia because he was in a hurry to get to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost (Acts 20:16), I cannot but scratch my head at the statement given. Some think he didn’t touch base with the church pastors at Ephesus because he might not have been able to leave in time because of the response of the populace, whether it was Christians who appreciated him and would want him to stay longer, or the anti-Christian people who demonised Paul and wanted him imprisoned, tried, persecuted and/or dead. The scripture does not tell us one way or the other.
I have no idea at all how long the operation would have taken, but, according to Acts 20:17 it was from Miletus that Paul sent the messengers (discreetly, quietly and dare I say secretly) to bring the leaders of the church at Ephesus to see him. Messengers sent to Ephesus, over 35 miles away, would have taken round about a 12 hour trek, or much less, of course, on horseback. Add to that the time it took for those leaders to reach Miletus, it was perhaps a whole day waiting for the arrival of the Ephesian pastors, bishops and elders.
If my assumptions, and the assumptions and findings of archaeologists and theologians are correct, the elders of Ephesus would have created a very large and substantial group of people. Certainly hundreds! They arrived, and without any small talk, or minor details being given, Luke jumps into what they had arrived for. Paul addressed them all. I am alliterating his address into six sections.
- YOU KNOW ALL ABOUT ME – THE MESSENGER (20:18-19)
- YOU KNOW ALL ABOUT THE MESSAGE – THE GOSPEL (20:20-21)
- I KNOW SUFFERING IS ON THE WAY (20:22-24)
- I KNOW THIS IS GOOD-BYE (20:25-28)
- I KNOW THAT TROUBLE AMONGST YOU IS ON THE WAY (20:29-31)
- I COMMIT YOU TO GOD AND HIS WORD. (20:32-35)
YOU KNOW ALL ABOUT ME – THE MESSENGER (20:18-19)
Paul starts with: “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia” (Acts 20:18). What a wonderful opening line for a man to be able to make.
Paul wanted to briefly review his ministry among them. This is a review of what is past. (He will later, in this address, talk about what was present as well as what would be in their future.) He wanted all accounts of human relations settled before he leaves them for the last time, or before he dies. This is undoubtedly the speech and language of a man who is expecting to die shortly.
The whole purpose of the three years in Ephesus was to bring people to a saving faith in Christ, and thereafter build them up in that faith so that they could respond to life’s issues by the practice of that living faith in the Living God without requiring his help. The goal of Christian ministry is to bring people to that point of full independence on Christ themselves.
“You know…” Happy is the man whose life has been so manifestly consecrated to Christ, that he can begin his address with so confident a statement as this. How profound is this remark! We have no record that anybody contradicted his opening word. Paul was a man with a free and clear conscience.
“You know how I lived … with you.” The people knew Paul and how he lived. His life was utterly an open book. Their faith was not only the theological concepts embedded in the preaching of the gospel message, not only in the establishing of that faith by seeing the miracles Paul ministered, but their life had been ministered to by studying a life modelled on Christ, as was Paul’s. Their model was not only standing on the anecdotal facts of Christ’s life, what He said and what He did (None of the gospel’s would have been written at this point of time), but the fleshed out model in the life of the apostle from Tarsus. He lived where they lived. He worked among them and showed himself friendly and godly. He that would have friends must show himself friendly. Teaching godliness, if unsupported by the life, carries but a faint and doubtful impression.
“You know how I lived the whole time I was with you.” There was no time he was not in view. It would seem that he did not even have a day off to be by himself. This means that Paul’s ministry to the people of Ephesus was not just at, “Church Service,” time. They were invited to emulate him when they saw him out of the church gathering. He set the example in his work, his relationships, his responses both to praise and criticism. His response whilst in persecution and hardship would have been studied by all. Paul, “fought with wild beasts at Ephesus,” and I have no doubt whatsoever that whatever happened to Paul in the meaning of those words, that it spoke volumes to the Ephesian and Asian believers, and the leaders to whom he was addressing himself at this point of time. This man was the nearest thing to Jesus Christ they would ever meet perhaps, not counting the Apostle John.
This was a man talking from the platform of a hard earned privilege. We are reading the transcript of the words of a man who could look his old friends in the face (20:17). There was not a man in Ephesus who could make him hang his head. He could fearlessly refer to his past (20:18). Do not read negatives between the lines. There is no braggadocio air in his attitude. It is the honest confidence of a man content to have his record scrutinised, in the full belief that it will be his ample vindication. This man, since his conversion, was like the prophet Samuel who also asked people to point out any fault he may have had, or sin he may have committed. On that occasion also the entire nation of Israel was still and silent. So these elders of the Ephesian church were silent as Paul made equally bold assertions similar to those of Samuel.
One translation interprets Paul’s words as, “The whole time I was with you all.” Paul lived his life freely and in the Spirit before everybody (Act 18:4; Rom 1:14; 1Co 1:23). He had no favourites, no special ministry for special people. He lived and interacted with all he met, modelling Christ with every acquaintance.
“From the first day I came.” Surely this means that some of the “about twelve,” that we read of in Acts 19:1-6 were there, present before him, in the group he was addressing. Those first disciples surely could say that they had studied, watched and made observations on life style and practice, as well as doctrine, from the first day Paul stepped across the city limits of Ephesus. This man did not have a honeymoon settling in period. Paul did not wait for a few days so that he could reconnoitre Ephesus and its culture. He didn’t spend a fortune in an attempt to get hold of the demographics of the city. He got down and dirty from the day he arrived. Wise is that person who shows his true colours just as soon as he comes among strangers. It took less than one day for some Ephesians to find out that Paul was a man of God and the purpose for which he had come to Ephesus.
Paul’s farewell address to the Ephesian elders is the nearest thing to Paul’s letters that we have in the book of Acts. In Paul’s three missionary sermons (13:16-41; 14:15-17; 17:22-31) and five defenses (Acts 22-26), Paul was addressing non-Christian audiences. But he speaks here to Christians. The reader can see that in a situation similar to those he faced in many of his letters, this farewell to the Ephesian elders reads like a miniature letter of his style and language. Heading each section is an introductory formula: “You know” at verse18. “Now behold” at verse 22. “Now behold I know” at verse 25, and finally “And now” at verse 32.
“I served the Lord with great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents.” (Acts 20:19).
“I served the Lord…” He served God in everything he did. What an incredibly basic biblical philosophy. He is still referring to, “the whole time I was with you” (20:18). Yes! He served his team. Yes! He served the Ephesians. Yes! He served the whole of Asia. Yet, in the midst of all those priorities clamouring for first place in his life, they all had to stand in line to his priority in serving Christ alone. Paul served God faithfully (Act 20:19).
“I served the Lord with great humility.” One is not serving God if one is proud. At the Judgement seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10) any pride present in the Christians heart will be seen to be “wood, hay and stubble” and not “gold, silver or precious stones.” I suppose one could carry on with the preaching, teaching and praying in that state – but pride dulls the blade, clouds the heart, blinds the eyes of the understanding, and kills the flow of the divine life within. Oh for a greater understanding of the very nature of humility and the practice of it. It could easily be pride to say, “I served the Lord with humility,” but not in this case. Paul has no axe to grind, no case to make, no position to vie for. Those that stood before him had all a great deal to thank God for in the person of the apostle, and knew that as a model of Christ, Paul was Christ’s ambassador par excellence. Paul indeed served with humility (Romans 7:13; 1 Corinthians 15:9; Ephesians 3:8; Philippians 4:12; 1Timothy 1:15). The chief of apostles and the greatest of preachers, thought so much of Christ that he thought very little of himself.
“…and with tears.” Oh dear! Let me hide at this point. How many men could cry for the sake of others when in the midst of great trouble themselves. Paul served the Lord with tears. I have certainly served myself with tears. I have definitely served my own sins and shame with my tears. But, as I write, I cannot honestly say that I have ever, knowingly, served the Lord with my tears. I believe that the Lord is served when tears are shed while meditating on other people and the world at large, as God sees them. God is served when tears are shed for the lost masses in need of salvation. I do not mean mechanical or theatrical tears. I heard in Britain many years ago, an American preacher addressing considerably large crowds. I heard him speak on three different occasions in three different locations. He preached the same sermon each time. That was bad enough, but when I tell you that he wept at the same point of the sermon each time he delivered the message, you will understand me when I say that those kinds of tears do not impress God, nor should they impress man. I am talking about those moments when our hearts break in tune with God’s heart for the lost masses of humanity. These are issues that enable the Holy Spirit to locate us and manifest his miracle working power within us, flowing out towards those in need. Paul served the Lord with tears. That means Paul served with tenderness. Paul’s masculinity and authority was not challenged by his tears. The bravest of apostles wept. The Son of God wept. To weep then, need be no sign of weakness. Tears are not fears, nor should they be feared. These tears undoubtedly fed and increased the healing anointing that was on Paul’s life. This manifestation of the heart of Christ, this softness of Spirit was part of the fuel and engine of what sustained Paul’s wise and discerning management of the miraculous.
Tears are mentioned three times in this episode of scripture. His tears were consistent with his energy and courage, and a mark of the true greatness of Paul. His tears are a revelation of him having a conscience and sensitivity of nature surpassing the tenderness of any women. So he speaks of the tears that were (a) occasioned by his trials, and especially by the deadly hatred of the Jews. (b) The tears of his pastoral anxiety, and, (c) His tears mingled with the tears of the elders of Ephesus, once they had heard the prophetic word of the apostle that he was now leaving them for good, and they would see each other no more. Lord, help us to weep in a godly manner.
“And in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents.” Paul served God with humility and tears in the presence of deep suffering and opposition (Act 9:23; Act 23:11; 2Co 11:26). One translation puts it as, “With trials.” When we think we have a monopoly of Christian sufferings, let us pause and consider what lay behind these two words of Paul’s (2 Co 11:23-33). We are not talking of him comfortably sitting in a detached house in the peace and quiet of the English country-side discussing suffering. This is a man who was being constantly harassed and persecuted by both believers and unbelievers wherever he went. How incredibly difficult it seems from our western perspective to conceive of how a man would maintain faith, clarity of vision and self esteem when having such attacks from so many quarters. The overall focussing of vision set on Christ, come hell or high water, is s deep secret of a ministry of the miraculous.
All this is still under the umbrella of those opening phrases that said, “You knew how I lived among you the whole time.” The whole time! This means that in the eyes of the Ephesians to whom Paul ministered, Paul was faithful in life and teaching (Acts 20:21). He was consistent in doctrine and manner of life. He was unchanging in his moment by moment conduct the whole time he was there in Ephesus. What glorious work of grace was this in an ex-murderers life!
This address of Paul to a considerable group of pastors and church leaders is a clear testimony of guiltlessness. How heavenly is that. It is by having lived a life of huge responsibility amongst them, he is, in another sense, freed from all responsibility.
YOU KNOW ALL ABOUT THE MESSAGE – THE GOSPEL (20:20-21)
“You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:20-21).
Paul’s statements concerning his character, life and ministry are seriously profound. We err if we separate his character from his management of the miraculous. We seriously enter a slough of despond if we cannot see the strong unbreakable link between his teaching and the miraculous in his life and ministry. We see the tension in the following paradoxical couplets that come to mind as we analyse Paul’s address.
Faith and action go together in Paul’s life. Faith believes as if only God could do something. But when man acts, he must act as if all depends on him. For three years Paul confronted the idolatry and rage of Ephesian cults, religions and demons, and turned the city upside down. His faith was as vital as his action. James wrote that “faith if it has not works is dead, being alone.” This is sometimes quoted as if he and Paul were not agreed. But look at this restless, ceaseless, mighty worker at Ephesus, Corinth, Athens, Rome, and Jerusalem. Paul spent his entire life as a Christian harnessing his “works” to his faith. It was against those who believed their good works would get them to heaven that Paul argued with, but never with James.
Humility and courage are conjoined twins as far as Paul is concerned (verse 19). When humility is at its best it most magnifies God. When courage is at its best it most magnifies God. That is the Divine secret of their harmony. They come together at the foot of the cross. Humility is seeing oneself as completely subject to and a servant of God. Courage is continuing in that servant hood while being threatened with death and/or torture. Humility suggests human weakness. Courage suggests divine strength.
Tenderness and severe conscientiousness are mutually impacting in the life of Paul. There was a deep pathos in the apostle’s nature. He has been utterly misjudged and misunderstood by the sentimentalists who count him cold and harsh because he speaks the whole unadulterated truth. But how did he tell it? Like his Master, “with many tears.” And yet his conscience kept his tenderness from wimp like weakness, and restrained him from mutilating truth through mistaken notions of love. He told men, even while he was weeping, “that they were the enemies of the Cross of Christ.”
Some things must be active and living inside a person before they can go down on that person’s record. The quality of a person’s doing depends on the quality of being. Every man is the artificer of his own fortune, because every man is the builder of his own character. Apostolic character does not just happen, it is built. To have our life story as something worth looking at, and for it to be a joy in anybody’s memory (especially our own), it needs to be embedded in the life and nature of Christ. We need to have our entire manner of life and doctrine scarred with the chains that bind us wilfully to Christ, to truth, and to people, all three. Treachery to any of this trio is treachery to all.
“You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you.” This almost suggests that he shared his philosophy of ministry with the people whom he was addressing – which of course is something that Paul must have done. “You know …” is a good phrase to use when addressing the leadership teams that you yourself had led to Christ and nurtured into mature leadership characters. They had grown to love and know the man. Why else would they have left their homes and trades to hear what he had to say?
“I have not hesitated…” The point is that if Paul saw a need for a concept of godliness to be declared and taught, he did not dawdle or hesitate. He preached about whatever he saw the need for. “Not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you.” Preaching must be helpful for the listeners. And for that to take place, the preacher needs to be divinely discerning about what his listeners need help about.
“…But have taught you publicly and from house to house.” This is yet another important factor in the context of Paul’s management of the miraculous. There are some issues that can be spoken from the pulpit or the soapbox and declared even from the roof tops to the largest crowds. But there are other points of truth and God’s word that need to be quietly shared across the dinner table, that apply differently, and specifically to different cultures, different families and even different individuals. Paul’s ministry was so wonderfully comprehensive to every person he ever came into contact with.
Added to that it is more than inspirational for the body of the church to see their pastor in the context of normal life, and not in the status of celebrity. No white suit. No celebrity mystique. No maintained distance to prevent people from seeing Paul close up. None of the, “Don’t talk to me I am important,” brigade. The entire mindset behind “white suit evangelism,” or, “celebrity status ministers,” is something that may occur in the mind of the masses, but it is not to be encouraged by the actions or words of Paul. He saw the people daily, went from house to house and wept and discussed with them. He was a man, not just a famed preacher.
The minister of God needs to both preach and teach. Both need to be made plain publicly and in the home. “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.” The preaching of the gospel reaches across all cultures, both genders, all ethnic groups, both public and private audiences. That gospel message, in essence, is never different or changed in one iota. Repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ are both at the foundation as well as the superstructure of Christianity. What Paul is saying is that they must continue with the same universal flavour that is at the crux of the gospel message.
What Paul is stating hitherto in summary is that for three years he has been an extremely high profile character in Ephesus and its surrounds, and that he has maintained a pure conscience not only through not having committed any wrongs, but that in doing good things he did them excellently. A spirit of excellence was upon his life.
The point of these words is that the assertion that he had laid a solid and firm foundation in the lives of all the Christians in Ephesus and in Asia. The ministry of the miraculous was built co-existing with a ministry of deep integrity.
I KNOW SUFFERING IS ON THE WAY (20:22-24)
“And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” Acts 20:22-24 (ESV)
A sublimely inspired ministry of truth and miracles will never be beyond persecution and tribulation. If the perfect Son of God, who did all things well and walked under the anointing of the Holy Spirit for the miracles and truth He delivered, was shamed, persecuted and crucified by the world, make no mistake that those who walk with God will sooner or later experience the same sort of thing. They that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.
He knows from God that persecution, prison and personal hardship is on the way. How do human beings live with this sort of revelation? The answer is, of course, that God does not make this kind of revelation to those who couldn’t cope with it. Paul here confidently forecasts his own near future of “prison and hardship”(verse 22). His crystal clear words of retrospection now change gear and focus on a clear view of the immediate future. His past is indeed prophetic of his future. The deeper he delved into God and ministry, the deeper the response of persecution and hardship would return energised by the very powers of hell.
This is the language of courage and fearlessness. This is courage surfacing in the consciousness and the will of the apostle. This is the desperately brave determination that comes from the absolute conviction that God has a purpose, a destiny, an achievement for Paul to make in the world – no matter what the cost.
Jerusalem just cannot be avoided (verse 22). Whatever was to happen after Jerusalem – if there was an “after Jerusalem” – something was to start in the holy city that would define his future thereafter. Paul had no idea what was to happen excepting that it was to be, “prison and hardship.” The apostle, however had a different response to many other times previous to this when hardship was known to be in the offing. There were times when he allowed himself the luxury of escaping the trouble that was threatening him. He escaped from Damascus in a basket (Acts 9:25. 2 Cor 11:33). He left Thessalonica by the encouragement of the converts and moved on (Acts 17:10). This, however, was different. There was the inner vision of destiny and righteousness about this oncoming horror. He was ready to meet it and says so.
Despite the danger that was obviously prepared for him, Paul was set like concrete, just as Christ himself was when the time of His Passion drew near. This is important to our understanding of Paul’s management of the miraculous. We need to make a note of the apostle’s conformity to the sufferings of his Lord (Luke 9:51. Philippians 3:10. Acts 20:23-24). The Master Himself did not consult even His most intimate friends, but simply assured them “that He must go to Jerusalem” (Mat 16:21). The disciples were most unwilling that He should put Himself into the environs of such danger. But Jesus replied by a prompt rebuke, Nothing could shake His purpose (Mar 10:32). In the same manner also, Christ’s chosen bond servant Paul, went “bound in the spirit” (Acts 20:22) and only revealed to his closest colleagues and brothers his settled purpose. Many tried to dissuade him, but in vain. Such intrepid persistence as this was made possible to the apostle simply through his intense devotion. All that he wished for was to accomplish his course, to fulfil that ministry which he had received, not from man, but from the Lord Jesus. His entire philosophy was to give to Christ and for Christ. Anything short of that was not blessing him at all.
Paul was bound in the spirit to go to Jerusalem, knowing that he was to be bound in the body after he got there. He knew, and yet he did not know. He knew that dangers were before him, but he did not know, or care, exactly what they were. “Prison and hardship” – but he was still going. The apostle preached faith, and had faith. It was for that reason Paul went on to Jerusalem without any doubts concerning what would happen. Most people would believe in God as long as they were looked over and protected from harm. Paul, however, to a different degree knew that he was being looked over no matter what was to befall him. He was not expecting to be saved from harm, but in whatever harm came to him. Being looked over was not in the saving of his life, or keeping him from harm. Being divinely looked over was wrapped up in his own commitment to do exactly what God had asked of him. No matter how risky, or dangerous that was, Paul conceived of no other way to stay in the love of God apart from knowing what God wanted, and then doing it no matter what. He knew he was to suffer. He may even die. But he was absolutely certain that he was looked after by his divine Lord. Paul doubtless loved life and the mission the Saviour had given him to fulfil, but he loved the Lord Jesus Christ Himself a great deal more. He would obey what was given to him as a commission with consequences. It was an inescapable assignment from God. What on earth could the prospect of death do to deter him. If he lives he serves Christ, if he dies he is with Christ. Paul taught by word and deed, by doctrine and manner of life, that life itself is good for something only as it is put to some good use. He knew that he who loses his mortal life for Christ’s sake finds thereby life immortal.
“But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). Somehow, the more I read these lines, the more conscious I become that I am ignorant of this kind of commitment. I do not mean by that, that I do not consider myself committed to Christ. What I do mean is that I could honestly repeat Paul’s words here and thoroughly mean it. However, I have never been in any situation that has threatened my life for the sake of Christ. I have been rejected for Christ. I have been told that some jobs, and even promotions had been deferred because of my Christian convictions, but I have never been threatened with, “Deny Christ or die!”- yet!
The sentiments expressed in this moment of Paul’s address set a new bench-mark for the definition of, “committed Christian.” Let’s just call the spade what it exactly is. Paul was utterly selfless, totally Christ filled and had no latent sense of intuitive self defence. The apostle was homed in on Christ’s will and the divine purpose. 99% of all Christians would claim that, “God would not ask me to be a doormat to be walked upon. I must stay away from wicked people. Why should I go when the Holy Spirit testifies everywhere I go that I shall suffer in Jerusalem. I have a free will. I shall not go to Jerusalem!” But Paul refused to even parley with any such self justifying escapism. He knew what Christ wanted of him, and in no way whatsoever would he even consider withdrawing from the commission given. Whatever was to happen to him, he would be a witness of Christ’s saving grace.
I KNOW THIS IS GOOD-BYE (20:25-28)
“And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” Acts 20:25-28 (ESV)
Now Paul jumps into the mystic and prophetic. “I know that none of you … will see my face again.” Without trying, Paul has just put this address and these men into a scenario that none of them will forget till their dying day, and one that they would be repeating over and over again to many people until their last day. Undoubtedly for several generations children, then grandchildren and even great grandchildren would hear about how their elderly or deceased forefather was present when Paul said his good-bye to the Ephesian pastors.
This was prophecy – intensely personal prophecy. He was prophesying not only that he would never see them again. That in itself was personal to him, as well as earth shattering to them.I do not believe, however, that this was the reason he had called them all to him. He called them because he had a personal word of prophecy for them. It is my contention that, as a prophet and apostle, Paul would have often ministered in this way in a whole raft of circumstances. His track record had the audience gripped by every word and nuance of inflection as he spoke.
Paul, as a minister of Jesus Christ considered himself bound to be absolutely faithful to all who came under his charge. There are parts of God’s word that are pleasant to utter. There are phases of truth adapted to win the attention of unbelievers without disturbing their consciences or mugging their indifference. But there are other parts of the “counsel of God” that arouse violent opposition and forbid any kind of admiration. There are truths that enter the soul like sharp irons, and the impenitent hardened souls of people regard them often as the “personal opinions” of the preacher, or they shrug them off as the antiquated forms of a dead theology from earlier ignorant days in history. It is so easy to say that we have outgrown the teachings of previous generations! The temptation assails the Christian teacher to slur over or suppress the parts of the message that are in their own day unpopular. But nowhere did any such temptation touch Paul. He had to tell them a very unpleasant truth. Trouble and twisting of the word was to rise from within their ranks. “None of you will see me again!” At least, not in this life. “I am innocent of the blood of all!” The lies, deceits and heresies would not be rooted in anything he has said or modelled to them. “Pay attention to the care of the flock!” Make the care of other people your priority. Straight, true, forceful and yet gentle. Wonderful! And in the same breath; horrific!
He had gone about these men proclaiming the kingdom of God. He had declared as fully as he knew how. He had prayed, wept, visited, loved, befriended and given them all he had to give. From this point on they had to take what he had given them and run with it, yet without him. The master builder was confident about the teaching he had imparted. He was satisfied of the doctrinal, spiritual and social infrastructure he had imparted and built into the psyche of believers in Ephesus.
“Pay careful attention!” They were hitherto under-shepherds to Paul, and now, from this moment they were promoted to be shepherds without Paul to consult or even ask. They needed to pay careful attention to how they were leading the flock.
It is important to embrace the truth that no matter how good the pastor, no matter how solid the teaching, no matter how experienced a group are in handling and dividing the word of truth, even the fruits of such a wise master builder as the apostle Paul could go astray once his hands were removed from the Ephesian operation. Paul was prophetically letting them know the imperative need of care, wisdom and good pastoring. Doctrinal chaos was in the offing.
The Holy Spirit Himself had appointed them as pastors of the church of God, and that holy calling demanded care, diligence and persistence in walking in the ways of truth. Take hold of the truth that no matter which of them were to later turn from the truth, they were all appointed by the Holy Spirit to be shepherds of the flock. That they were ministers of the word was God’s choice. How well they handled, or mishandled their position was their choice. Even a man called Judas Iscariot was appointed by Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit to be a mighty deliverer. Iscariot’s end was his choice, not God’s.
Without any doubt whatsoever, at this point of Paul’s address there would have been absolute silence. Perhaps there were slight whimpers here and there at the thought of never seeing Paul ever again, but the hungry hearts of these, the leaders of the huge group of believers in Ephesus and its surrounds were aware that they were hearing the Rhima word of God for them at that moment. They did not live by bread alone, but these were men who knew that they lived by every Rhima word that proceeded from the mouth of God. It was a solemn moment.
Paul reminded them assertively that the same Holy Spirit whose guidance he was wilfully locked in to obey, had the appointment, confirmation and direction of their ministry also (20:28). Such was the clear mandate of pastor, elder, and/or bishop in the early Church, and so it is today. The elders are only in authority to the same degree that they are under the authority of God. No authority, not even Paul’s, allowed those elders to lord it over God’s people. They were also given various commissions and callings to equip the church of Christ, but no pastor, elder, bishop or apostle is to ever forget that Christ said He would build His church. He never gave His church away to another.
“Take heed to yourselves!” Note that the shepherding of one’s self is the first requirement for a Christ-like shepherding of others. Pastors are not to allow their position, post or calling to tempt them to take their spiritual health for granted, or to relax that vigilance over their own hearts, an issue which the word bids all Christians to keep. They are exhorted – and it could actually be read as a command – to take heed to themselves. If they were, by any means, to neglect their devotional self examination while still performing a public ministry, they would get caught in the syndrome of becoming nothing but religious hacks, and grow more and more unfit to be the real channels of spiritual guidance to others. They would have failed to take heed that their walk with Christ was in the Spirit. Because of the ministry and responsibilities of church leaders, any coldness, inconsistency, or walking in the flesh will do double injury to the cause of Christ.
I KNOW THAT TROUBLE AMONGST YOU IS ON THE WAY (20:29-31)
“I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. (Acts 20:29-31 ESV)
Finally, the real reason why he had to see them and leave with them the word he had received from heaven. This was not something he felt, or sensed. This was something that he absolutely knew from God. “Fierce wolves!” That is using the analogy of the church being a flock of sheep. Embellishing that parabolic language with false teachers being wolves that come to feed on the lambs as well as the unguarded adults among the flock, Paul states flatly that fierce wolves are on their way with attitudes and mindsets that are to destroy and corrupt the church of Christ.
But what is worse, is that some of these fierce and gruesome wolves will arise from their own ranks. They will twist God’s word and draw people after them. Some of those fierce “wolves to be,” were in the very audience he was addressing. The call of Paul is for them to be alert to what is coming and ensure that none of them will be caught in the satanic net of error. They are besought to remember the tears with which he admonished them all over the period of time he was with them. The prophetic word was stark and sternly rooted in their spirits. The unspoken message was, “Beware you strong shepherds, that none of you morph into fierce wolves!” The politics, the inter-action, the character clashes, the jealousies that trick spiritual people into a trance of carnality and fleshliness can be absolutely tragic.
This is the message for which he called them together. It was the last statement of his ministry among them that was to close Paul’s personal “hands on” ministry to Ephesus.
In the same way that the shedding of tears is mentioned three times in Paul’s discourse on the beach at Miletus, so is “blood,” or the laying down of life, mentioned three times.
(1) Paul was willing to yield up his life at Jerusalem if it was required for Christ. (Acts 20:24)
(2) The apostle was free from the blood of all men. He kept himself pure by so preaching the gospel, that if any heard and refused it, their blood would be on their own heads. (Acts 20:26)
(3) The Church of God has been purchased by Christ’s blood. (Acts 20:28)
Who said Christianity is light? This is heavy duty, “blood, sweat and tears,” living for the very glory of Christ. There must have been a sense of imminent grief amongst the Ephesian elders. “After my departure shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise speaking perverse things.” Although he and the disciples, along with these elders had laboured three years in Ephesus, and though they might strive ever so faithfully in the future to feed the flock of God, yet all that care, labour, ministry and prayer could not ensure perfect loyalty to the truth of God’s word. The ever uncertain variable in the calculus of this equation is, as always, the instability of the human heart. No apostle was ever able to keep an entire Church true to the faith. Even Christ Himself lost Judas (John 17:12). The most devoted and faithful worker will always find a shrinkage in his results. It is a fact of life. Peter already had foreseen “false teachers among you…denying the Lord that bought them.” John later, warned Christians against “the Antichrist, who has already come.” Jude wrote to Christians exhorting them, “to earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares … denying … our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is a universally common phenomena of satanic interference in people’s hearts and minds. We are all exposed to things that are not consistent with God’s word. This is because we live in the midst of a generation that is without faith and hope. Trusting in Christ is not a mere intellectual acknowledgement of His person, but adherence and commitment to trusting Him and being dependant on Him for everything. Many try to get acquainted with God by their feelings. But feelings rise and fall like the weather. Feelings are influenced by what we read and see. If exterior, ungodly things in life affect our feelings (and they do), and our feelings control our faith, it clearly means that one can be a Christian, yet, sadly, controlled by satanic devices.
I COMMIT YOU TO GOD AND HIS WORD. (20:32-35)
“And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:32-35. ESV)
Salvation is received and developed through God and the word of His grace. Our affections and emotions must be set to receive the word of God without questioning. The word of God needs to be engrafted, embedded and absorbed into our entire lifestyle and thinking. It is the word of His grace that builds Christ’s nature into us. The final spiritual ministration of the apostle to the elders at Ephesus was to commend them to Heavenly Father and the word of His grace. This was not a perfunctory and meaningless bit of religious jargon, but a practical and real application of prayer and speaking to the future mountain of heresy and a twisting of that word of grace. It is the word of grace that builds, and finally will bring the inheritance of the kingdom to all those who are separated to that word.
The apostle brings his remarks to a close by referring to the lifestyle and habits which were plainly seen and easy to follow by all the Ephesians who daily studied his every move and hung on to every word he spoke. He strikingly counselled his audience to follow his own example as to self-support as well as supporting others. At Ephesus, where it had been so common to practise occult as well as pseudo-spiritual arts for the gain of filthy lucre, it was eminently advisable that the elders and pastors of the Christian community should prove themselves utterly disinterested in thoughts of financial gain. It was healthy too that they should show an example to others in practicing something that Christ said (that is not recorded in scripture anywhere else), “It is better to give than to receive.” (verse 35).
It is necessary to note that when Paul dropped the word of warning, which undoubtedly must have added alarm to the sorrow of the assembled elders, he foresaw that teachers of error would appear at Ephesus even in their own ranks. He did not expand on the subject, but sounded an incredibly solemn alarm; “Watch!” From the message of the Lord we learn that the evil here spoken of did indeed arise (Rev 2:1-7). We also gather that Paul’s warning had not been without good effect.
The closing statements of Paul’s fatherly and prophetic address display the true spirit of the faithful servant, the loving father, and the God hearing prophet. “I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel. I have showed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak.” He was speaking to men who lived in a commercial centre and were used to measuring values of life in terms of gold and silver. They could appreciate, therefore, the unselfishness of a man who had no regard for the precious things of trade. It is horribly possible to have a low motive even in the highest service, for there is no work of any kind on the planet which self-seeking may not spoil. A continued service for others, the helping of the weak and/or sinful, begets the habit of subordinating selfishness. The kind of unselfishness which the world likes to see is that which gives up the things the world prizes best. Self-assertion the world understands, but it is nonplussed before self-denial. Our influence as labourers for the kingdom must spring from the degree of our unselfishness.
We cannot get an indifferent world to accept a gospel of the cross while we are avoiding crosses in our daily living. It was because the elders knew that the cross was the centre principle in Paul’s life that they regarded him with so much affection.
And so, with this all said, Paul fell to his knees in prayer, and they all followed his example. How I would dearly love to have seen the transcript of his prayer, and even more to hear the cry from his spirit for the sake of these men of God that he loved. He prayed, and they all wept. Weeping, embracing and kissing were in abundance. The book says that they were in a state of grief at the thought of never seeing him again in this life (Acts 20:36-38). They accompanied him to the ship and no doubt mournfully watched him board the vessel. Acts 21:1 says, “After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea.”
And so Paul’s mission to Ephesus, at least in terms of his personal hands on ministry, ended at that moment.
Ephesus was taken.
ALONE WALKING FROM TROAS TO ASSOS.
“We went on ahead to the ship and sailed for Assos, where we were going to take Paul aboard. He had made this arrangement because he was going there on foot. When he met us at Assos, we took him aboard and went on to Mitylene.” Acts 20:13-14 (NIV)
The biblical experience of Paul, as well as other giants of the faith in scripture is very plain. The higher the peak is in God, the darker the Satanic confrontation is from hell. The brighter the revelation is of the Spirit, the blacker the shroud that Satan throws over life in an attempt to blanket out the impact of the brightness of that revelation. The more like Christ a person becomes in this life, the more hell and its powers remove the gloves to get down and dirty and wipe out the, “Little Christs,” that bring loss to the kingdom of darkness (“Little Christ” is a loose translation of the word “Christian.”). Make no mistake about it; In Ephesus Paul had martialled a campaign that was so comprehensive in what it presented, and so strategically brilliant, that it had overturned an entire subcontinent for Christ in a period of time that amounts to about three years. Hell had been shaken. The power of God had been seen in the earth in a manner that had only previously been seen in the life of Christ and in those opening days of the church after Acts 2. Hell shook when this man Paul rose up every morning and walked the streets.
Some have asked me, “What about the scripture that says, ‘Resist the devil and he will flee from you? (James 4:7)’” No problem! James is talking about what goes on in the mind and heart of the believer. In that mode, as you submit to God, the devil fleas from you. However, always see Christ’s experiences as the model. No one could be more submissive to God than Christ was to His heavenly father. On the cross, internal to his thought patterns and responses, the devil had fled. Externally however, the forces of hell had never been so concentrated or distracting throughout the whole history of mankind. In the same principle, Paul was submitted to God, and internally, even though in 2 Corinthians 1 he had given up on living and expected the angel of death to take him, neither his faith, nor his confidence in God was even scratched – in fact it had increased. The more he submitted to God, the more the devil fled from him – internally. Concurrent to this, and in the same yet paradoxical way, the more Paul submitted to God, the more active were the powers of hell in their external attempts to shipwreck his faith and distract him from his goals and aspirations. That is why the scripture promises that, “They that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”
The whole Ephesian workload of letters, maintaining relationships with troublesome churches, preaching, teaching, ministering deliverance regularly, and praying for healing, as well as being the General, the chief advisor, the head strategist and father to his team of workers, including conducting a five hour service every day, and not forgetting his tent making business and his pastoral visits which were also on a daily basis – all these things in combination must have taken its toll on Paul’s physical frame. On top of all that, he had “fought with wild beasts at Ephesus,” however that is to be translated, and been persecuted so viciously that he had resigned himself to death (2 Corinthians 1). As well as being to heaven and beyond in his ministry, he had definitely been to hell and back in the thrust and parry of severe torturous persecution. He was never again (as far as scripture tells us) to conduct a straightforward mission, in the normal understanding of that word. Of course, he was still on a mission; he was still intending to witness to Caesar himself. The visionary gift that was within him, however, began to see a little more than the issue of witnessing for Christ in the presence of Caesar.
Because of all the above, and before we get to the hugely revelatory “Goodbye on the Miletus Beach,” there is one more moment I want to highlight that is relevant to our understanding of Paul’s management of the miraculous. Well, actually, it is more than a moment, it is what was probably one single whole day, possibly two. We are talking about a thirty plus mile walk. Very strangely, Paul left his eight friends on board the ship that was to take them to Assos while he went to the same place by foot. Even Luke was absent from Paul on the ship. Because this part of Acts tells us the Luke himself was present to witness Paul make the decision to leave his companions for a while (It is one of the famous, “we,” sections), and because Luke was making notes on all the huge things that took place in Paul’s life, the fact that this “ utter non-event” is mentioned suggests that to Luke’s perception of things, and undoubtedly to Paul’s, to set off across land alone, leaving all his “carers” on board ship was of huge significance. We are talking about one single hike – a thirty-three mile walk where Paul had insisted on being alone. How and why did Paul push for this to happen? It does suggest also that if I am correct in theorising that the doctor and the rather large party of helpers were present because of Paul’s physical fragility, or emotional vulnerability, Paul’s state of being must have been greatly improved.
To set the scene fully, after having finally arrived in Corinth and spent 3 months there, Paul was about to leave Greece for Jerusalem (Acts 20:3). The impression is given that at a point of time after Paul had gone aboard ship, he discovered a plot to kill him. Perhaps the prospective murderers were onboard the same ship and were overheard plotting. If Paul had not boarded the ship, perhaps he had heard that the “would be” assassins were planning to board the ship and get rid of him at open sea. Whatever the details are, having heard of the plot, Paul spontaneously decided that he would not sail from Greece, but travel northwards again through Greece and into Macedonia. His plans had been seriously messed up again. It meant that he would not be in Jerusalem for Passover. Such is the life of the persecuted. They have to make it up as they go along in order to stay one step ahead of the demonic and the murderous.
At this time, Paul was still in the company of eight companions; Sopater of Berea, the son of Pyrrhus, Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians, Gaius of Derbe, Timothy, and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia, and of course the beloved Physician, Luke (Acts 20:4). All Paul’s letters reveal to us that he loved people, and he loved to be in their company. These eight men must have not only been greatly enriched by being with Paul over so long a period, but Paul was undoubtedly blessed and enriched by their company. My thesis is that Paul left Ephesus deeply shaken and in need of “carers”. Perhaps it would be better expressed that Paul needed mature Christian company through the convalescence of whatever had happened in Ephesus.
He had been alone with Luke in the few days of his ministry in Macedonia, having sent the seven ahead to Troas (Acts 20:5). The implication of the biblical text is that from Ephesus to Macedonia (perhaps also to Illyricum) and then on to Greece and Corinth for three months, and including his journey from the quayside in Greece, these eight companions were together all the way. If one jumps, however, from Acts 20:3 to verse 5 in order to maintain the story line, it is not clear whether Paul sent the seven ahead from the time of crossing the border into Macedonia, or further north along the Macedonian south east seaboard. What is clear is that somewhere on the way northward, while in Macedonia, seven of the colleagues were encouraged to go on ahead and wait for the other two at Troas. Paul and Luke continued together until they met the team at Troas, where they all spent a week together, undoubtedly ministering.
After the all-night meeting in the city of Troas in north western Asia Minor (Modern Turkey) where years before the apostle had heeded the Macedonian Call (cf. Acts 20:7–12), Paul’s party proceeded to the port of Troas to embark southwards. Luke reports, “We went before to ship, and sailed unto Assos, there intending to take in Paul: for so had he appointed, minding himself to go on foot” (Acts 20:13).
Why on earth would Paul do such a thing? Here is this writers answer.
In the midst of all the activity, travel, persecution and ministry from Acts 20:1 to Acts 20:12, Paul had issues to sort out with God as well as himself. In Paul’s prophetic spirit, he had received a vision about his future. It is not stated here, but later on, especially after we read what was said at Miletus, and then what Christian people were saying to Paul, “in the Spirit,” as he travelled on to Jerusalem, and seen in the light of his unnecessary,“Appeal to Caesar,” I personally believe that he himself had received in the Holy Spirit, pictures from God of what was going to happen to him and where.
Paul was strong and mature enough in Christ, I believe, that if he was to die in Rome, the Lord Himself would have revealed something of that reality to him. We will never know how much, of course, till we ask him in glory.
Heaven was moved to reveal to him that he would not see many more years in this life, and although he had stated in Romans that he fully intended to go to Jerusalem, to Rome, and then to Spain (a letter that he had written during his three months in Corinth), it seems to me that Heaven had other plans that were revealed to Paul whilst on his journey back up north through Macedonia. What were those plans? Jerusalem? Yes! Danger and life threatening circumstances in Jerusalem? Very much so! (I do not believe that God would have revealed all this to various prophets and/or prophetic type of Christians on his trip to Jerusalem without having revealed it first to Paul.) Then what? To Rome? Yes! To witness for Christ before Caesar himself? Yes! And afterwards? Blank! I believe the mists that enshroud mankind’s vision of the future were by the grace of God slightly dissipated and cleared for Paul to have a glimpse of what he could prepare himself for.
I believe all this because:
- He had a sense of destiny for being in Jerusalem for Pentecost. (Acts 20:16). He was “compelled” to be in Jerusalem when the largest crowds would be there. For him to say that he was, “not knowing what will happen to me there,” suggests he knew something untoward was to cross his path there(Acts 20:22).
- In every city he had attended to that point, the Holy Spirit warned him that “prison and hardships” would be facing him (Acts 20:23). The fact that mentions “every city,” tells us that it was not his internal communion with God that told him this, but the prophetic gift on the churches he attended that all predicted the same.
- He had clearly seen that he would never see the Ephesian elders again (Acts 20:25). This means that he had a sensible and true understanding that he was soon to die. There is a revelation to wrestle with if ever there was one.
- Through the Spirit, the people of God encouraged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem (Acts 21:4). This remarkable statement opens up avenues of thought concerning the prophetic gift that books could be written about. It also confirmed the huge step it was for Paul to go to Jerusalem as he did.
- Another emotional farewell on a beach (Acts 21:5) tells us plainly that it was understood by all that his death was imminent. Although Paul did not know clearly what was to beset him, the inference of it all was that he was going to meet death. What would each of us do if we knew the date of our time to die?
- Agabus did not help to assuage the trepidation of what Jerusalem would bring to Paul (Acts 21:10-11). Paul was aware of this expectation, I believe, as he entered Macedonia (20:5), and that was the reason he sent seven of his party ahead to Troas. Perhaps he needed Luke for care and attention. It was a weight to Jesus in those days before the Passion, just as it was a weight on Paul at this time.
- The trouble it caused in the relationship between the present team and Paul had built to a climax where they confronted the apostle with a plea for him to keep away from Jerusalem (Acts 21:12-14). I cannot accept that so many people had insight to what was happening to Paul, and he not knowing it by revelation first. The only time to fit the revelation in as after he had written Romans where he is planning to go to Spain, and before the strange behaviour of wanting to be alone with Luke, and then alone for a day or two walking by himself from Troas to Assos. A weight from heaven had fallen on him.
- There is confirmation by Christ himself that Paul would testify of Christ in Rome (Acts23:11). Paul had seen this in the Spirit already (Acts 19:21). This weight was on him as he walked alone from Troas to Assos.
Wrongful and unjust execution – just as His Lord had experienced. Stepping into eternity faced with the defining choice to curse his maltreaters or to bless them as he died –exactly as Christ had endured. Knowing how he was to be maltreated and suffer ahead of its occurrence – the same as Jesus went through. Fully informed of pain that was on the way to him – again, just as Jesus encountered. And, possibly the worst agony of all, to be rejected by friends and those around him, and being left to die alone. All these circumstances were so similar to how the Lord of Life Himself stepped through the curtain of life’s departure zone into the realm of the dead. It was at that point, i.e. death, that their experiences would have differed. At His death, Christ descended into Sheol to release the innumerable righteous dead and then to take them captive to heaven and the presence of God. Paul, however, would have immediately entered into the presence of Christ in the glory of heaven at his death.
Getting into Paul’s humanity and personal experience of life, all this, of course, meant that there were many good-byes to be said, many attitudes and responses to be made before God. To Paul it meant that suddenly he was faced with deep emotional words to be spoken to those he knew and loved, and to those who had loved him in his pastoral and Christ-like role in their lives.
It is my strongly held opinion that Paul had all this running around his consciousness and was not having time alone enough to file them in his memory banks and to order his thoughts, his feelings and his relationship with Christ about it. Indeed, with such weighty thoughts burdening him, he needed to get hold of the reality of what was from God, and what were his own fears or anticipations surfacing and mingling with the revelation. In short, he needed time alone. Why else would Paul do such a thing, seemingly, so suddenly, as to walk off and leave his team on board? My rationale is the only reason there could have been for such a sudden gesture of spiritual impulse on the apostle’s part. It was simply nothing less than a blatant desire to be alone with God. It could not have been because these deep and grave visions of his destiny had suddenly hit him as he was boarding the ship. It was the same reason that had caused him to send the seven ahead while he was still in Macedonia.
And so, here we are. Paul alone! Walking alone! Thinking alone! Praying alone! Paul had exactly thirty three and a third miles to walk by himself. Paul would not have risked missing the boat at its next port (Assos) if he had not been certain he could reach that city ahead of the vessel. He surely could not outstrip the ship on foot over those 33 miles, even though the highway then was probably considerably better than the same route is today.
One day, this writer will take the same walk from Troas to Assos as Paul did. It is part of my bucket list. I Googled, “Troas.” Actually, one has to Google “Alexandria Troas,” to find the geographical site today. (“Alexandria Troas, Turkey, Ezine.”) All the Bible dictionaries and commentaries assure me that the Troas of scripture is definitely the Alexandria Troas of today. There is no site change at all. Assos is also present and correct, as was in Paul’s day. I confess that I do have a problem with the fact that most commentaries and Christian “experts” talk about it only being a, “Twenty mile walk,” whilst Google maps assure me that it is a thirty three and a third mile walk on the shortest route. Google Maps also assures me that the walk would take me 11 hours and 11 minutes. I have no idea how fast I would have to walk to make that prescribed time. We also are not told how long it took Paul to make that walk. The fact that Google reckons I could walk it in 11 hours and 11 minutes makes it more than probable that Paul set off in the early morning and arrived at Assos in the mid evening. We are talking of one single day.
Most Christian travellers I know who have done such a walk seem to take Turkey’s main north-south highway (number E 24) paralleling the Aegean in order to escape the horrendous road continuing south to Assos, which the weathered locals seem to suggest is “definitely” the route that would have been Pauls, two millennia since.
We do not know how long a stay Paul had in Assos before boarding the ship his colleagues had taken from Troas on this, the first leg of the trip back to Judaea. Perhaps the lone figure that strolled into Assos that day was not recognised by his solitariness. His name would undoubtedly have been known there. His face perhaps was not known. Assos had already been evangelized! Paul did not plant the churches of Mysia. The Ephesians did! It doubtless happened during the first two to three years of Paul’s earlier residence in Ephesus, during which period, Luke reports, “all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10). Most of Mysia, including Assos and Troas, had by 52A.D. become part of the Roman Proconsular province of Asia. Paul’s travelling evangelistic team, as well as the converts from Ephesus must have fanned out over that entire landmass, spreading the good news of life in Christ. I am half convinced that it must have been the most extensive and comprehensive evangelistic outreach of all time!
The New Testament tells us nothing of the church at Assos, but archaeology attests its prominence in later times. It is definitely known that Christians were eventually able to take over the property of the pagan temple in the agora. They made so many changes in its architecture, to suit it for Christian worship that excavators have been able to learn very little about its original layout.
I have considered all this because of the weight that was in Paul’s heart was to influence his words to the Ephesian elders as a farewell address.
Assos doesn’t look much at all today, and the city that was Troas is in complete ruins. But in these lines we have highlighted the most significant event in all the history of this once-prominent place. The brief visit of a Christian missionary who walked here for reasons we can only conjecture about (which I have done above) was enough to earn its place in history.
How I would love to make that same walk.
FULLY PREACHED THE GOSPEL WHERE NO ONE HAD PREACHED BEFORE.
“Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation; but as it is written, “They who had no news of Him shall see, And they who have not heard shall understand.” Romans 15: 17-21 (NASB)
Paul’s language as well as his phrases of expression are fantastic. They are fantastic because at times he says some things that we do not understand fully. Preachers, teachers and professors of Theology, however, all try to explain what he meant especially in his difficult statements – and Paul has lots of them. The true nature of this death defying fight is to read the Bible as comprehensively as possible in the valiant struggle to get into the writer’s head and heart and to authoritatively say, “This is what this person said, and this is what he meant.” This writer spent two glorious years of his life living within the constraints of a man who moved in the miraculous like most of us move in the kitchen, i.e. Freely, easily and seemingly self indulgent for our own pleasure. It was easy and powerful and Christ glorifying every step of the way watching this man, hearing what he said, and seeing what he did. It was because of where he stood in Christ that he made statements and throw away one liners that were often cryptic, mystical deeply perceptive, as well as prophetic. His relaxed asides were all revelatory to me. And in the same way, this little section of Romans has always intrigued me. It lets us into Paul’s motives and rationale as to where he went and why. He is talking about his preaching and his ministry of the miraculous.
We are looking at these thoughts because he wrote these after Ephesus (Acts 20:1) and before he addressed the elders on the beach at Miletus (Acts 20:17). These thoughts reveal some of the motives behind the man and the way he managed his ministry of the miraculous.
After writing 2 Corinthians, Paul finally arrived in Corinth and spent three months there (Acts 20:2-3). I have no doubt that his state of being became more healthy in body, soul and spirit than he had enjoyed for a good few years. Why do I say such a thing? Simply because it seems he healed all his broken relationships and differences of opinion with people in the church at Corinth, and oh how he was pained with all that furore, and he also wrote Romans and Galatians while he was there, but most of all, he was continually surrounded by eight brothers – colleagues – assistants or whatever title we need to give them, to keep him company and minister to Paul just as he undoubtedly ministered to them. The conversation with the eight, and Paul’s ministry in Corinth must have been stimulating to say the least.
Acts 19:20 talks about the word of God growing. How can the word grow? It grows by its repetition in the mouths of many people. It grows in the hearts of people so that it creates faith in Christ. It grows inasmuch as a new generation becomes the torchbearer for the following generation of people. The word of God grew in its social and spiritual influence throughout Asia, “so mightily grew the Word of the Lord and prevailed.” It is truly an all prevailing word. When delivered in faith, received by faith, and kept by faith it changes the world. It was not a mere dragging of its feet, it didn’t seek to conquer by being whispered and tantalisingly dropped when people were embarrassed to discuss it. It marched and fought with people’s consciences and prevailed. The word of God ran amock amongst people’s hearts, lives and families wherever Paul went. It was, wherever Paul declared the unsearchable riches of Christ, a mighty forcible and victorious power. It was, to be sure, a growth, development and manifestation of the Word. It was a mighty weapon in the hand of Paul. He had fought it out in all its depth and detail with God Himself, and when he preached the word a great battle was being fought, between the power of truth and the power of error. God was so manifested in the preaching of the word (Titus 1:3 KJV).
“Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God.” I cannot really see this “boasting” he is talking about as braggadocio, attempting to pridefully talk of what he has done for God. He is talking about what he has done and why. For the next sentence says, “For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me.” He can assert the principles on which he has worked for Christ. He was called to address the gentiles. Noother apostle made such a claim. So Paul has a reason for boasting in what God has done through him because of the uniqueness of his call.
Paul then explains how he can make such assertions. What did Christ do through him? Because of what Christ did through him he could show the world that it was, “resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed.” In plain English it was proven to be of God because of the changed lives. He did not simply get people to speak like him and use the words he used, but their deeds also altered. This was his pride and joy; the masses of changed lives that he left behind him as he followed on in the train of Christ’s triumph.
How else did Christ show Himself through Paul? “In the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit!” Ah! We have it! Signs and wonders in the power of the Holy Spirit. Where ever he went he preached, and the Lord worked with him, accompanying the word that was declared. Paul carried himself in the power and demonstration of the Spirit.” He spoke so plainly and directly to ensure that their faith would stand in the power of God and not in the wisdom of man. This was Paul’s boast. He was called of God, anointed by God, sent by God and made fruitful by God.
Then he makes the statement that astonishes me. Gentiles turning to God! Signs and wonders in the Spirit of God! Where did all this take place? He explains, “so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.”
Just what did Paul mean when he wrote, “I have fully preached the gospel of Christ” (Romans 15:19)? Does he mean that he preached all the doctrines of scripture? Tosh to that! Of course that could not be what he meant. Does it mean that he fully reached every single person in the places he launched himself into. The answer to that, again, must be an emphatic “No!” simply because he wrote to people whom he had never met who had become Christians. Did he mean he preached it with the extreme fullness of the anointing of the Spirit? Does it mean there was nothing else to be preached after he had declared his message?
Let’s get more basic. Is it ever possible to preach the gospel, but not preach it “fully”? Now we are really talking turkey. The rubber has hit the road when preachers and teachers set themselves to be honest with this question. The knife may puncture a boil with some of us when we get to grips with this issue. Can one preach only a part of the gospel? Such a thing, of course, is definitely possible. It is completely self evident that many churches today do not fully preach the gospel as Paul is explaining here. The fully preached gospel is embedded in something else that he said, as far removed from theological truths being counted and listed as the East is from the West. He has just stated that it was gentiles being obedient in word and in deed, as well as with the signs and wonders in the power of the Holy Spirit. The fully preached gospel is words and signs, lives changed by the miracle healing power of God and the righteous deeds thereafter lived by an obedience to the faith.
So here we have the man that wrote half of the New Testament declaring that his words, and his sermons and teachings, were just not enough. That is not how Jesus did it! Even the words of Christ were not enough! Jesus went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil (Acts 10:38). This is the master church builder Paul talking, not myself. Paul did not invent this idea, the idea comes from simply doing what Jesus did. Aren’t we also supposed to live like Jesus? Whoever wants to do like Jesus, has to live like Jesus.
The point is that words, even good words, yes, even words of power and perception, do not drive the demons and the demon inspired habits and lifestyles out of people. The word of God washes the mind and the soul, but it is the power of God brooding over the preached word that is the power of God to salvation. The gospel message, when properly declared saves people from hell itself. Faith comes by the preaching of that word.
So, it cannot be intelligently concluded that “fully preached,” means anything else other than speaking the word of God with miracles alongside. It was the signs and wonders, the healing and the deliverance following the word, the prophetic insights that brought out the revelation of the secrets of men’s hearts that made the address the “full preach.”
It was in this form of “full preaching,” that Paul saw and delivered “from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum.” That is, as far east as Jerusalem, and as far west as north-west Greece and Albania. Everywhere in scripture where we know Paul went, according to what he wrote here, the signs and wonders proliferated. It cannot mean anything else.
Have we let the penny drop into our thinking “one arm bandit” of a brain? The statement according to what Jesus said in the Great Commission, and what Paul is saying here, is that no matter how thankful we are to God for the fabulous and wonderful preachers in the world, without the following signs and wonders, the gospel has not been fully preached.
Woh! Let’s take it further. It means that no matter how many people have been brought to Christ, no matter how fabulous and unforgettable the address was, no matter how many doctrinal truths were grasped by the audience, if there was no signs and wonders accompanying it, the gospel has not been fully preached. Preachers – all preachers I am sure – want to preach the full message. Anybody that would, in any context, only give half the message that they were sent to deliver can honestly be called a bit of a sham. Wouldn’t you agree? In fact half a message is downright disobedience.
When Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:12 that “Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds,” many church leaders justify the none-seeking of the miraculous because it is only granted to those of an apostolic calling – a statement founded solely on that verse. However, what about Philip in Samaria? He was no apostle. What about Stephen in Jerusalem? He was a deacon who preached and saw the miraculous in his off duty moments. On top of that I would like to suggest that there was a little more than the signs and wonders, there was the patience (translated by some as perseverance) and the mighty deeds.
The world wide problem is, and always has been, that people examine the man who is declaring the truth in a more imperative light than they should. Truth has been lost, and ground given to Satan because of preachers and teachers who do not present themselves in a godly light. Prosperity, divine healing, deliverance, even the baptism in the Holy Spirit, as well as other sacred truths of scripture are all, to a degree, disparaged and often rejected by huge sections of the church world-wide because of the misgivings that the Christian world has about the high profile proponents of those truths. Immature it may be, but the fact of the matter is plainly stated. “I don’t like preacher X because of things I hear about him (or her), and for that reason I doubt their motives and reject their message.” So tradition sets in, and truth becomes lost to a generation or even generations. That is why many leaders in the church do not declare or believe in the “fully preached” gospel.
If millions of this generation are to believe, they simply must see proof that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. I believe the gospel message when properly declared should be accompanied by the power and demonstration of the Holy Ghost proving the hard solid tangible truth that the gospel is absolutely rock sure true!
Paul boldly stated that, “My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:4). The Greek here means to truthfully “point out” or “with proof.” Paul was saying in plainest language; “I preach the gospel with proof. God and the Holy Spirit are backing me up with signs and wonders!”
A person really needs help to misunderstand these utterly plain statements. Hebrews 2:4 says that God confirmed the preaching of the writer, who was anybody but Paul, with “Signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will.” The only New Testament prayer we have in a church prayer meeting is where the body of believers plead, “That signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus” (Acts 4:30). What system of logic is it that stops us praying the same. “I believe the bible, BUT…”..
The scripture says that they went out preaching everywhere, “The Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs” (Mark 16:20). “Accompanying,” literally means, “running alongside.”
Paul finishes this little paragraph of scripture by saying, “And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation.” This was his boast. He boldly went with Christ where none other had been before. Such a goal might be a little more difficult in this age as many have already heard in many quarters of the planet.
What is my point? We need to hunger for and submit ourselves so fully to Christ that we preach and or believe in a gospel that is “Fully preached.”
- 24. The peak of Apostolic Transparency.
Today we attempt to dissect a few of the issues that surrounded some of Paul’s sufferings with headings like:
(a) Suffering is promised within Godly living and persecution
(b) Suffering through sickness has healing promises and is not to be acquiesced to.
THE REVELATION OF SUFFERING IN PAUL’S GEOGRAPHIC ITINERARY
THE REVELATION OF SUFFERING IN PAUL’S MOTIVATIONAL MINDSET
THE REVELATION OF SUFFERING IN PAUL’S RELATIONAL CIRCLE
THE REVELATION OF SUFFERING IN PAUL’S AUTHORITY BEING CHALLENGED
Why a ministry of the miraculous should, but does not necessarily presuppose holiness.
Today we look at something that very few of us in the western world, by experience, know anything about. I have never suffered in the way that we are about to look at in the life of Paul. But I find that Christians of all flavours and colours in the UK when discussing “Suffering,” as well as, “Persecution,” always add the word …”yet.” We have not suffered . . . yet. We are not persecuted …yet. But the changes in western society, especially in the UK seem to be bringing a wind of change that may turn into a tsunami of death for some. How soon? Take a guess! As I write it is total theory but theory learned from the few people that I have known who have gone through persecution and attempts on their life because of their faith, some that had assassins break into their house to kill their children and not they themselves. I lean most on the words of a man I once was close to who jokingly says he has a “PhD in Persecution.” And he has the physical scars to show for it.
There is suffering that comes just because we are alive and relating with people and the world. It doesn’t matter who you are, it ebbs and flows with the circumstances of life, accidents and/or the people in our lives. Next, there is the suffering that comes from sickness, whether it is with yourself or somebody you love. The source is utterly different in as much as sickness is something God has promised to rid us of if we come to him as healer. Sickness is something God wants to heal. But while it is present the suffering it causes is just the same as any other source of suffering. After that, there is suffering for Christ. We are talking of plain, straight forward malicious hurt or restraint with no other reason than the fact that one is aligning themselves with the person of Christ. I am talking of mental, if not physical torture. These three general headings cover everything and everybody in the world. Suffering is a pain! Pardon the pun.
Paul suffered for Christ. I mean seriously suffered. I do not mean that he missed promotion at work because of his faith. I sympathise with those who have been there and worn that Tee-shirt, but Paul entered into something so much worse. I do not mean that his neighbours refused to talk to him because he was a Christian. I empathise with those that have borne such loneliness and perhaps even social harassment, however, when I talk of Paul, I mean incredibly much more. I mean that Paul suffered as in being stoned by a mob and dragged outside a city and left for dead. I mean him being flogged for causing a riot because of the message of Christ that he carried. What I really mean is that he suffered because lots of people, many of them Christians, turned against him, and some even rented mobs to do him hurt. There were very few places where he wasn’t pursued by people intent on doing him harm, and some even vowing to kill him. Trust me when I tell you, that when a group of men take a vow together that they are never going to eat again until they have killed him, we are talking of a man being enmeshed as victim in the deepest dynamics of persecution (Acts 23:12-15). Paul had the entire satanic catalogue of stealing, killing and destroying thrown at him over a prolonged period of time (John 10:10a). Demonic powers were intent on stealing the results of his labours, killing him outright and destroying all that he stood for and all he had built. The Lord Jesus Himself told Ananias that He was to show Paul, “How great things he would suffer,” for His sake (Acts 9:16). And, oh how great were the things he suffered!
Suffering in this life is the heritage of the bad person, of the remorseful and penitent person, and was, most importantly, the heritage and raison d’être of the Son of God while he tabernacled amongst us. In plain English, suffering comes to us all in one way or another. The suffering of the Godless should lead them to the cross of Christ. The suffering of the Godly should be because they have been to the cross of Christ. The eternal purpose of God for mankind is hinged and pivoted in the very cross of Christ and what Jesus accomplished whilst He was there at the place called Golgotha, suffering. The bad thief is crucified, the penitent thief is crucified, and the Son of God is crucified. Each one ended the days of their mortal coil, on a cross. By this biblical fact and symbol we see and understand the widespread heritage of suffering that is universal to the existence of mankind. Whoever you are, wherever you have been in life, if you can tell me that you have never suffered in anyway, I would be bold enough to call you a liar. Some of us have suffered to near death, some of us have suffered by merely experiencing some unjust judgement or accusation, but life is a forum for suffering somewhere along the line, Christian or not. Jesus Christ did not suffer because it was the godly thing to do. He suffered because there was no other way the rampage of suffering and sin could be halted. Because of what He suffered, a day is definitely coming, right here on planet earth when there will be no more suffering at all. We live in a world where pain and suffering are commonplace and, “normal.” Any discussion of how pain and suffering fit into God’s scheme ultimately leads back to the cross where Jesus Christ died, the most vital moment of history, revealing what life and the cosmos is all about. The evil of men’s hearts brings suffering. That same evil brings death. That is the ultimate suffering for those bereaved. But we can never lose sight of the fact that Christ conquered sin, sickness, death, the devil and the grave, and all the suffering that goes with those things – and then He rose again. We cannot lose our grasp on the fact that He now lives in the power of an indestructible life, a life that we are partakers of through faith in Him. Our faith is our connection.
However, having said all this, and believing it with all our hearts, still, the biggest challenge to faith and understanding, of course, is when the meek, the mild and the godly, seem to suffer horrendously more than the wicked and evil manipulators of this world do. How perplexing! People of the world struggle and kill to be “top dog” and the “innocent” get trampled on and starved in the process of their ascent, suffering as they are trodden on. Oh the challenge to the human understanding of the realities of this fallen world!
Take note of this, also: When we are talking of “suffering” per se, we are definitely not talking about sickness and the accompanying pain and suffering that accompanies it. Don’t get me wrong. I fully acknowledge that some would argue that the pain caused by sickness is the largest source of suffering on the planet – and those that say such things may very well be correct. Sickness, after all, is nothing but insipient death, whether the sickness is terminal or not. This challenge that the scripture makes to the commonly held status quo of millions of Christian believers, however, has more obviously stated factual material to assist us with the required paradigm change, than the spiky issue of, “Why do the righteous suffer?.” God heals the sick, Christ commanded the apostles to lay hands on people allowing Him to remove that kind of suffering. But he actually promised them suffering by persecution that could not be removed.
Let me explain by shocking some. When Paul writes things like, “You know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel to you,” Paul was not stating that he was sick whilst preaching. When he says, “My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness,” He was not telling us that his thorn in the flesh, his weakness, was a sickness. The case for “proving” Paul was ill is made by the cessationists combining all the similar scriptures of Paul concerning his personal state, piling on other verses such as, “Most gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities,” and, “I take pleasure in infirmities.” Then they conclude their interpretation by explaining the modern English word that we often use for being ill, i.e. “infirmity.” Voile! There you have it. Their conclusion is that Paul was ill most of his adult life. This writer believes that this is error of the most deceptive kind.
This word, “infirmity,” is translated from the same Greek word (Asthenia – mostly translated as infirmity, or weakness) that Paul used when he wrote: “Likewise the Spirit also helps our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself makes intercession for us.” It is also the same word used in the letter to the Hebrews which says that the prophets, “Out of weakness were made strong.” It is even used to clarify the manner in which Christ was crucified: “For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he lives by the power of God.” The word weak (or weakness) in these scriptures is always the same word used when Paul said: “When I am weak, then am I strong.” If the word weak meant he was sick, then the word strong would logically mean that he was well. To use the word thinking it refers to sickness strains the straightforward obvious meaning. These words translated “infirmities” and “weakness,” with reference to Paul’s life, were never intended to mean sickness or disease. When Paul speaks of his weakness before the church, he is expressing his nothingness in his own strength and his dependence upon the Spirit and power of God: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of people, but in the power of God.
Paul was specifically promised suffering from the moment he was converted (Acts 9:16). We also are promised sufferings – probably to a different degree than Paul’s, but the book says clearly that, “They that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). The entire tenor of scripture teaches Christians to literally expect the suffering of persecution. It is also true that the entire gist and timbre of God’s promises in scripture is that God wants to heal people who are ill. Suffering because of persecution is actually promised. Healing from the suffering of illness is also promised. In any human suffering, whether from sickness, or persecution for Christ’s sake, we are taught to be resilient and glad that Christ has suffered for us. The apostles rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer for Christ – that was suffering through persecution. Yet they were commanded by the Lord Himself to lay hands on the sick that they would recover. Suffering through sickness has a mandate from heaven for Christians to remove.
We must all be prepared for some degree of pain and suffering if we are following Christ, simply because we are living and breathing. Pain and suffering are part of the programme. We are even told by Him who suffered more than anybody has ever suffered, and for everyone who has ever suffered, ‘Blessed are they that mourn.’ Somebody has written “God had one Son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering.” How true! How utterly thankful we are for the sufferings of Christ! How blessed we are because of His resurrection also! Blessed be He, Who came into the world for no other purpose than to suffer, and in so doing took away the sins of the whole world.
However, we must not forget something else as well. We all know somebody, somewhere who has been made nastier, more irritable and more intolerable to be with simply because of their outrageously undeserved suffering. It is not correct, nor is it even true to say that all suffering perfects people. What utter Tosh! Suffering only perfects one sort of person, and that is the one who accepts the call of God in Christ Jesus, and sees the purpose of God through their experience of suffering, no matter from what direction that suffering comes. That is the wisdom of the Bible. There is no growth or development of Christ-like character without change. There can be no change or transformation without the continuous progression of dying to sin and living to righteousness. That means losing some things and gaining others. This logically means that there is no change without fear or loss. And, not wanting to be too simplistic; there is no loss without pain. That is a sound definition of the Christian life. The sufferings of Jesus Christ were many even before He entered into what we refer to as, “The Passion.”
Paul suffered because of his love and passion for Jesus Christ. He loved Christ, but only because Christ loved him first. He did not choose Christ. Christ chose him and ordained him to bring forth fruit. Because Paul was utterly sold out in his love for Christ, he loved people. He loved those who did not love God. He lived to bring them to the place of love where he was. That is the reason Paul loved deeply and passionately the people who came to know Christ through his own declaration of those things that he believed. Paul loved the people who were converted out of the evils of the city of Corinth. Paul loved them and was utterly pained and made to inwardly suffer when they turned on him. We are never so defenceless against suffering as when we love. Love, by its very nature, renders the one doing the loving vulnerable. If the one that loves is not loved in return by those that are loved, we have what poets call “unrequited love.” Unrequited love may make wonderful poetry, song lyrics and novels, but it is conceivably the most painful state to be in for any human being. And Paul was constrained by the love of Christ, the greatest most powerful love in the entire cosmos, to love the Christians in Corinth. His pain from the rejection and disparagement of the church of Corinth was excruciating.
The history of all nations and cultures teach us that out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls who overcome and make progress for the betterment of their people, and sometimes, even the whole world. All of the most massive characters in world history were and are seared with scars – scars physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. It is the dying larvae which produces the soaring butterfly. It is the crushed grape that yields the wine. Some cryptic prophet, profound in his inspiration said, “The wound is the place where the light enters.” Generally speaking, people are not prepared or able to rejoice in their suffering unless they experience in their thought processes and belief system, a huge biblical revolution of how they think and feel about the meaning of life. Human nature and Western culture make it well nigh impossible to rejoice in suffering in any circumstance. To rejoice in suffering is a miracle in the human soul wrought by God Himself through His Word being engrafted into the spirit and the psyche of man. The apostles had been scourged and whipped in their flogging, and then the Bible makes us shudder when it tells us that the twelve came out, “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41). What on earth has happened to the thinking processes of men who respond like that to the worst kind of suffering?
To be the master over life’s sufferings is to be a skilled and crafted overcomer. Mind management is the first priority of the overcomer. Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors. A peaceful quiet life does not create good fighting soldiers. Christians need to be prepared to suffer. To choose to suffer cannot be healthy in and of itself; in fact, to make such a choice must mean that there is something wrong in a person’s life. However, to choose God’s will even if it means deep suffering, is a very different thing. No biblically minded, Christ-like Christian ever chooses suffering. Never! He or she chooses God’s will, as Jesus did, whether it means suffering or not. Paul chose the will of God. And how much did he suffer for that choice!
In Second Corinthians we have a comprehensive revelation of Paul’s interminable suffering. The letter is filled with insights and revelation as to the whys and wherefore’s of his ongoing state. Our first brief observation is to see –
- THE REVELATION OF SUFFERING FROM PAUL’S GEOGRAPHIC ITINERARY.
Paul clearly links his progression of suffering with the places he visited. He seems to remember places by what sufferings were perpetrated against him there. The whole letter tells of his most recent itinerary over the previous 3 years plus, interwoven with awesomely heavenly insights concerning where he was in God while he was suffering. For analytical purposes he gives us four places, each of which had caused him deep suffering. His character was being denigrated by visiting preachers to the Corinthian church, and the fact that he hadn’t fulfilled a commitment to have been there at the time promised brought Paul to the place of a needful response. His explanation has details of his sufferings scattered throughout the letter. It is as if he boasts of the sufferings, using them to validate his appointment as an apostle by Christ Himself. He must have realised that while sharing moments in his life that would have brought tears to his eyes each time he recalled them, he was talking to people, some of whom might be laughing, or at least remaining unmoved by his words. Paul was not writing and looking for an emotional, “Poor boy! There there!” come back at all, But what he shares is incredibly personal. I have heard people who were tortured for Christ decades previous, who still wept as they recalled what they went through. And all this stuff that Paul shares in Second Corinthians was still very recent to him. Paul was dicing with death, and all the Corinthian church could get upset about was the fact that he hadn’t turned up as he promised he would. I cannot see this as anything but excruciatingly painful for the apostle.
- The troubles at Ephesus (Asia) are explained in 2 Cor 1: 9-11. Paul was so harassed and suffering that he despaired of life while he was there. Some writers think he was talking of things that happened in Acts 13 and 14, but the obvious reason for this explanation of what happened in Asia in 2 Corinthians 1 is that it is part of the reason for his non arrival at Corinth. Otherwise, why on earth would Paul want to start off his defence of his very apostleship and non-arrival by referring to something that happened many years before. There have been moments in my life when I thought I was about to die. All of these separate moments occurred while in a car as a passenger and foreseeing momentarily either potential collisions or too narrow gaps between vehicles while overtaking. For one split nano-second in each of these experiences I had the presentiment of dying. For each of those moments I surrendered myself to Christ in death. They are all graphic moments implanted deeply in my psyche. I remember the fear, the adrenalin rush, the shock. Several times, for fleeting moments is one thing, but to wake in the morning and live through a whole day (or days) while expecting to die any minute is something I find hard to imagine. He gave up the expectation to survive in Asia. For Asia, read Ephesus. The cold wintry harassment and persecution of Ephesus held him back from travelling. The Corinthians were upset he did not turn up. But Paul had other issues to contend with. Grace grows best in winter. Paul was facing death for the same message that had saved the souls of the Corinthian church. Yet they complained of his late arrival.
Even though he talks about him suffering on their behalf, and that his life is their life, we cannot but come to the impression that the Corinthians knew about his persecution in Asia, yet don’t seem to have cared one way or the other about it. I find it impossible to believe that Timothy and Titus both being sent to Corinth at separate times to minister in Corinth did not let the Christians there know what Paul was going through. I say this, even though, Paul explains it as if they would not know about it until they read the letter. These Corinthian people seemed to have fickleness added to their list of character flaws and failings.
- Then there was the anxiety whilst in Troas (2 Cor. 2:12). Paul was seemingly leaving Ephesus later than expected because of the afore mentioned negotiating with death there. He left Ephesus for Troas. He arrived at Troas and started preaching. But, the mighty apostle could not focus on his preaching whilst he was eager for Titus bringing news from Corinth. This was obviously a more subjective form of suffering caused by objective confrontations from letters and personnel from Corinth, but suffering it definitely was. Paul was just not himself during that visit to Troas, exactly as it seems he was not himself when he left Ephesus. His imprisonment, the details of suffering (and possibly even torture), neither of which are we given a clue as to what particularly happened in the book of Acts, as well as the problematic unjust statements being made about him from Corinth, all contributed to the pressure on the apostle’s mind that caused him to suffer. And remember also the trouble brewing in the Galatian church which precipitated the biblical epistle. That furore was all beginning to take place at this very moment in Paul’s history. It was all pressure, howbeit subjective pressure that caused mental suffering for Paul. Because Titus did not arrive, he left Troas, together with all his worries, and headed for Macedonia.
- The trauma within Macedonia was also acute.(2 Corinthians 7:5) Paul left Troas, and sailed to Macedonia along with his anxiety and a few friends. We have no idea where he landed, but from what we are told, it seems he started in the north, possibly from Thessalonica or Philippi, and travelled southward addressing both the churches as well as the unsaved as he travelled. It is somewhere around this period that some scholars suspect Paul entered Illyricum (modern day Albania), but that is only conjecture. Whilst in Macedonia, Paul’s sufferings continued. No details are given in the book of Acts. Again, we do not know the nature of his reception throughout his journey. Whatever had caused his deep suffering in Ephesus had led him to be travelling with a large party of helpers more than are mentioned anywhere else in Acts. It seems Paul needed the fellowship, and perhaps some sort of care, as a result of whatever it was that took place in Ephesus. Weymouth has it as, “For even after our arrival in Macedonia we could get no relief such as human nature craves. We were greatly harassed; there were conflicts without and fears within” (2 Corinthians 7:5). Darby has the same verse as, “For indeed, when we came into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted in every way; without combats, within fears.” Of the nature of his fears were we have some sort of clue. He was feared concerning the church at Corinth and the direction it could take at that moment. There must have been concerns about being harassed and pursued by the Jewish contingent that always seemed to be at his heels no matter where he went. Paul was infamous in Jewish circles almost everywhere. The seeds of intelligence concerning the judaisers in the Galatian churches must also have been a concurrent torturous burden on his shoulders.
These recollections and lists of times of suffering in 2 Corinthians are the words, not of a neurotic hypochondriac, nor a cosseted man who had never known pain, pressure or suffering. This was the apostle of Christ to the gentiles who had experienced suffering of the cruellest and most evil kind. He was an expert on the subject of suffering, and yet whilst in Macedonia he tells us that his body had no rest and that he was afflicted in every way. Combats (ie: fights on the outside), and fears on the inside was how he explains his experiences in Macedonia, while moving towards Achaia (Southern Greece). I cannot in anyway assume violence from the apostle himself when he says, “combats without,” but I am sure that there were many who treated him violently. This period in Macedonia was obviously fraught with incredible hardship. The intense suffering that Paul went through had become merely a normal day at the office. There was no end to his personal pain.
- The relief of Titus was welcomed and embraced in Macedonia. (2 Corinthians 7:5) Enter Titus, stage left. Imagine how huge the situation had been to Paul when he tells us in one breath that although he was afflicted in every way, he was profoundly comforted and consoled by the coming of Titus. We do not know how long Titus was with Paul in Macedonia, but it was long enough for the apostle to write the whole of 2 Corinthians. The relief seems to have been great. The news was, to some degree, welcome. But there was still enough problematic stuff that needed what to us, is twelve chapters of precious scripture.
- Titus is sent to address Corinth one more time before Paul gets there. (2 Corinthians 8:16-17). In one of the most open hearted sections of Second Corinthians, the letter that is more tender than any other in the New Testament, Paul is happy to say that he thinks Titus loved the Corinthian people even more than Paul did. Having read 2 Corinthians many times, I am always left with the feeling that Paul is so nervous about going to the city of Corinth with the unresolved issues. He does explain it all of course within the letter, but the sufferings of rejection left him feeling that any visit he made may cause more suffering if he did not get some colliding viewpoints into harmony with them.
- Plans for the future visit to Corinth (2 Corinthians 1:16). It had to come sooner or later. Paul obviously considered that the letter going with Titus to Corinth would be sufficient to open up the way for him to go to Corinth and have a successful visit that would be beneficial both to the church and he himself. But there is an addition to our intelligence here that is not given to us in Acts. In Acts, his plan was clearly to cross to Macedonia and then travel southwards, finishing up with a stay in Corinth. But here he explains a plan that was totally different. He states that his original plan was to cross from Ephesus to Corinth directly. Then travel northwards through Macedonia in a round trip, returning to Corinth for a longer stay. Meaning that Corinth would have had two visits. This meant that not only were the Corinthians deprecating Paul for not arriving, but also for having changed his itinerary leaving Corinth just one visit and not two. Like little children crying for Daddy, they were upset about the surprise change of plan.
This leaves us with a major question in attempting to sort out the chronology of Paul’s decision making. At what point of time did Paul plan to go to Corinth first? And, what point of time did he decide to go to Macedonia first?
My own thoughts are that by reading over and over Acts 18-20, and then the whole of 2 Corinthians several times in quick succession that the plan to visit Corinth first thing after leaving Ephesus must have been made early on in his Ephesian stay. Perhaps it was promised through the three Corinthian visitors early in the mission in Ephesus. Perhaps that was the plan that he referred to in 1 Corinthians. But with the heat of persecution in Asia, then the false teaching that was being promulgated in Galatia, as well as the damaging relational troubles in Corinth, Paul’s plans were on their head. With no telephone, radio, mobile phone or email, if Paul changed his mind one day on the direction he was to take, it could be weeks and possibly months before some could discover that things had been altered. But it is there in the letter – he was committed to visit Corinth again.
We have to assimilate the hard truth, that Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Character is built by the joint efforts of a will that wants to achieve a goal, then working to fulfil a mission, and the negotiation of all the people, demons and circumstances that seek to thwart that goal and/or vision on the way. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the human soul be truly and practically strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved. There definitely is no other way. Out of suffering have emerged the world’s strongest souls throughout all of history. The most massive characters have been seared with scars, simply because of confronting their opposition head on. That confrontation meant that there had been suffering – even when conjoined to overcoming. The entire world is full of those that have suffered and those that are suffering. It has also a huge number of those who have overcome and those that are in the process of overcoming. As an over comer, Paul was one of Christ’s greatest trophies of grace. The bigger the mission, and Paul’s mission was to win the entire gentile world, the bigger the opposition! The bigger the opposition, and Paul was continually confronted with vicious and powerful opposers, the deeper the scars! The deeper the scars, the more acute the suffering! Suffering becomes beautiful when anyone bears great calamities and injustice (especially personal injustice) with cheerfulness, not through insensibility but through greatness of mind, and Christ-likeness of attitude. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, and his attitude to rejection is deeply sensitive and gracious.
We need to be sure to instruct our own hearts that the fear of suffering is always worse than the suffering itself. It is this writer’s commitment never to be silent whenever and wherever he sees human beings endure suffering and humiliation within my own circle of influence. We must always take sides. Neutrality in this is wrong. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Passivity of spirit is rarely righteous.
Paul postponed death by living the way he did, by suffering the way he did, by errors – and he made a few, by risking, by giving and sometimes, even by losing. If one tries to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-will involves, one will find that they have excluded life itself. When life draws to a close, people never regret having suffered; rather they regret having suffered so little, and suffered that little so badly.
Power, no matter how well-intentioned, tends, nearly always, to cause suffering. Those that gain power often abuse its use. Love, being vulnerable, absorbs the suffering under the jackboot of power. In a point of convergence on a hill called Calvary, God renounced the one (i.e. power) for the sake of the other (i.e. love). You may suffer and yet be un-Christ-like, but no man can be Christ-like and fail to suffer. Paul was a model of Christ-likeness, and a veteran sufferer. If a person, by the grace of God, becomes a partaker of the divine nature, that person must also inevitably become a partaker of His sufferings.
Job’s three friends simply assumed that sin and suffering are always inexorably bound together in a sort of “cause and effect” bonding. The presupposed mindset was that whenever and wherever there is one, there is the other. Notwithstanding what they knew to be true about Job’s character, they refused to budge from their hideous philosophical stance. They refused to allow the possibility that on occasion, as mysterious as it might seem, a righteous man might suffer greatly, hideously. But here we have an example more striking than Job. Paul the righteous was pursued to the end.
- 2. THE REVELATION OF SUFFERING IN PAUL’S MOTIVATIONAL MINDSET
Paul’s inner sufferings were also linked with the misunderstanding, and criticisms concerning his motives for doing things. There is definitely a profound connection between Paul’s sufferings under the barrage of what was being said about his raison d’etre, in Corinth. He was being badly thought of, and character weaknesses were being laid against him that we in the twenty-first century see as his strengths. Paul needed to respond to this.
- It is remarkable how excruciatingly vulnerable Paul makes himself to the people at Corinth. Second Corinthians is a deep revelation of the heart and mind, the affection and tenderness that Paul felt towards these people. It would have been so human to shout at them, or even ignore them, but Paul condescends with true grace to explain himself to a group of people who were hardly worthy of such a response in most people’s eyes. II often think he was casting his precious pearls of wisdom and experience before swine.
- i. The first critical accusation that he addresses in 2 Corinthians was concerning his non arrival in Corinth, that is, up to the moment in time in which he wrote the letter. We referred to this situation above. In the book of Acts he says plainly that he was intending to go to Macedonia and work his way down south to Greece and Corinth, which is exactly what he did (Acts 19:21. Acts 20:1-3). However, 2 Corinthians reveals to us the commitment he personally made to the Corinthians which was to leave Asia and sail firstly to Corinth. From Corinth he would travel northwards through Macedonia, and then return southwards stopping at Corinth for another visit. The Corinthians were eagerly looking forward to two visits. They had heard however about his change of plan and did not know what to make of it. At the time this occurred there was a visiting preacher (or preachers) in Corinth who had authorisation by letters from the apostles at Jerusalem. This man, or group of men, were obviously Judaisers who negated Paul, his character and his message with every chance they were given. Paul’s change of itinerary they said was obvious proof of Paul’s total lack of integrity. The Corinthians were deferring to the man (or men) with “letters from Jerusalem,” and were now believing that Paul was inferior to other preachers, despite the fact of what he had accomplished in their city. Indeed Paul was the father in the faith to a huge number of Corinthian believers. The infestation of such thoughts escalated to suggest that Paul wasn’t even a true apostle of Christ. The anguish and agony of heart that this situation brought to Paul must have been a momentous burden.
- ii. The visiting minister (or ministers) also made an issue of how Paul’s correspondence to Corinth sounded so authoritative and powerful, so opposite to what his physical presence and his vocal speech suggested. It is almost as if they were accusing him of having some kind of “Ghost Writer,” who was writing the letters for him. The whole thing was extremely hurtful to Paul.
- iii. Then there was the group within the Corinthian church who said that they were, “Of Peter.” Nearly all the academics today, still insist that Peter definitely had not set foot in Corinth up to this point of time, if he ever went there at all. So what was the, “I am of Peter,” group about. One can only surmise that by repeated stories of the like of which we are told in the early chapters of Acts, a sort of “cult” within the church. It could only have been a romanticised view of the Big Fisherman that had grown through the stories of Peter’s management of the miraculous. When there was trouble in Jerusalem, Peter just spoke and people dropped dead, as with Annas and Saphira in Acts chapter 5. Paul had been in prison several times, but had never been released by angels, as Peter was. Peter had spent three years in the physical presence of Jesus, in fact there were men and women who were not even apostles who had spent more time with Jesus than Paul had. Paul’s inferiority to the twelve, and others was plain for all to see. If this wasn’t the mentality of those who claimed to be of Peter, it must have been a line fed them by the visiting ministry at Corinth. Paul was simply not one of the twelve, and the ministry that was at that time in Corinth sat under the words and influence of the twelve continually.
- iv. Paul’s answer to these “accusations” and the derisive logic pitted against his character and person was unique. His answer was, in a way that we understand from the twenty first century, looking back, even more impressive than the twelve. Paul leaned on the fact of the direct divine revelation and authority that he had been given. His authority was direct from heaven, and was not shown by letters written by apostles, like the visiting ministry to Corinth had proudly shown. Paul’s letters of authority he claims were the changed lives and the living faith that was beginning to dominate the lives of the Corinthian converts. As far as Paul was concerned there were so many who had a glorious testimony of meeting with Christ in the gospel message that no other letter from any earthly man was required, not even from the twelve in Jerusalem. The twelve apostles of the lamb were indeed the final authority to the vast and ever growing number of Christians in the world, but Paul had seen things, heard things and learned things that we have no indication that the twelve had.
- v. Jesus told the twelve that the Holy Spirit would teach them all things, and that there were actually things that Jesus could not tell them until they had received the Holy Spirit, and thereafter it would be the Holy Spirit Himself who would reveal things to them. Paul might not have had three years walking around Judaea with Jesus, but he had since his conversion had an incredibly inspired ear in listening to the words of the Holy Spirit. And with this in mind, Paul asserts in 2 Corinthians how he learnt via the Holy Spirit.
- vi. The visiting ministry from Jerusalem had been financed from Jerusalem, and undoubtedly had received some kind of financial ministry gift from Corinth. It was all official and business like. Inferior Paul, however, worked for himself in secular work making tents. Paul’s ingenuity in self funding was not seen as “proper” by the Corinthians, undoubtedly yet another idea fed into the Corinthian Church psyche by the man, or men, from Jerusalem. How was Paul supposed to defend himself, apart from sarcastically apologising for not having been a burden to them, which is exactly what he did. It is phenomenal to this writer that the mighty apostle Paul should even attempt to answer such a ridiculous accusation. This proves to this writer how huge an issue it was to Paul to assert his integrity, and in so doing facilitate the Corinthians maintaining their faith and any integrity they had. Churches are filled with disillusioned and disappointed Christians around the world who have lost faith and/or become cynical because of the discovery of a church leaders lack of integrity. Paul was striving to make the faith of the Corinthians a sustained reality of life in the Spirit just as he had taught them, and not to allow them to sink into negative thoughts and diminished faith thinking that Paul was a villain with bad motives and had “tricked” them all along.
- vii. Seemingly some at Corinth wanted one of the twelve to have a permanent base there. Perhaps that was another reason why there was a “Peter” party in Corinth, even though we are almost certain Peter never went there. Paul was “unofficial” and “non-ministerial” by his self help skill of tent making. Again I ask; how was Paul supposed to defend himself without insulting the visiting ministry?
- viii. It was obvious that he was being accused of misrepresenting Christ’s message as he hadn’t been with Christ in the days of his flesh. His entire teaching was to be brushed under the carpet if the Jewish visitors had their way. The charge was; how could this man know more than the twelve who lived with him for three and a half years?
- ix. Paul simply claims he had heard from God. It was divine and heavenly revelation that saved him, called him, and fed him. The proof of the reality of those revelations, the call and the gift of his understanding was they themselves, i.e. the church in Corinth, However, that was too pure and straight for the visitors who were claiming that Paul was demented and not to be trusted. They said he was a fool. Paul plays up to their accusation and says he is talking like a fool in the latter chapters of the epistle.
The pain and anguish of all this character assassination must have sorely grieved Paul and created suffering of a kind few of us will ever know. Paul was in seriously deep water that had eternal consequences for the Corinthian Christians. Their entire faith was in the balance. That faith had as part of its constituent ingredient trust in the character and integrity of Paul. That is why it was so torturous to him. It was necessary to defend himself in order to maintain the foundation of the faith of the Corinthian church. It really was water that man would have drowned in. I have met pastors, now ex-pastors, who drowned in scenario’s similar to this one.
God brings men into deep waters not to drown them, but to cleanse them. A believer can never be the same after passing through humiliating suffering when responded to correctly. It is important to receive God’s arrangement in all circumstances, whatever. Paul did not bid us to give thanks for everything, but he did say to give thanks in everything. Submitting to this arrangement is always the discipline of the Holy Spirit. To escape God’s arrangement just one time is to lose an opportunity to have our capacity for faith and character enlarged. Make no mistake about it, Paul was fighting for the life of the Corinthian church – a much bigger issue than just fighting to save his own face.
If we bear the cross unwillingly, we make it a burden, and load ourselves more heavily; but we must bear it, and bearing it willingly lightens the load. “We are born helpless. As soon as we are fully conscious we discover loneliness,” said Clive Staples Lewis. The same man said, “It is by human avarice or human stupidity, not by the churlishness of nature, that we have poverty and overwork.” Wilfully, determinedly taking up the cross to follow Christ relieves the burden. Burdens must be carried, but in Christ the burden becomes light (Matthew 11:28)
- 3. THE REVELATION OF SUFFERING IN PAUL’S RELATIONAL CIRCLE
As well as his long history of persecution and pain, and as well as his very motivation being disparaged, there was, finally, a very hurtful connection between Paul’s relationships with the people in Corinth and the sufferings that these relationships caused him. Paul related quite openly and intimately with the church in Corinth, and as the church is reckoned to be numerically only second to the size of the church in Ephesus and Asia, it means the apostle was sharing his heart with a huge number of people via his Corinthian letters. This was like the Sunday papers’ scandal sheet in downtown Corinth. The apostle was stripping his heart naked for the church to see. Paul leaned on and lived in open heart relationships, as opposed to “closed” and “private” authority from “The Oval Office of the Apostle Paul.” Paul’s opponents had handmade letters of authenticity, and claimed the delegated authority of the twelve apostles and Jerusalem. This was something that Paul could not and would not ask for. His authority was not derived by any human authority, no matter how legitimate, but given direct from heaven. Paul and his message are indivisible. Paul was so open that he could confidently encourage his converts to follow him and emulate his example. I have known many men of God, and have followed and emulated those who set an example. But I confess I have never known any man of God so well that I could follow and copy them. Paul’s life was an open book to all that knew him and walked with him.
- i. The apostle insists that he had been entirely open and honest with them in every dimension of relating (2 Corinthians 1:12-14). He was utterly and sincerely transparent with them. This was his assurance. And even though he was fully aware that the visiting preacher(s) from Jerusalem would obviously get to hear of the letter, if not to read it altogether, he talks plainly and in a robust manner. These assertions were to be read by anybody who was bothered to read or had an interest in the troubles between Corinth and Paul. They had accused him of being double minded, two faced, and downright lying. His answer was of a singular mind, a bare faced statement of integrity and a claim for sheer and unadulterated truth in his words and motives.
- ii. Then there was the issue of money. These ministers from central office in Jerusalem were questioning Paul’s integrity with money. Paul had been collecting for the poor people in Jerusalem as suggested by the Elder ship in Jerusalem in their meetings with Paul years previously. His trustworthiness with money was obviously under attack. For that reason we have Titus returning to Corinth to ensure that the money promised was received, and that he himself would send others to verify the honest handling of the money. Paul did not even want to see the money, all he wanted to ensure is that it would go to Jerusalem and be used for the intended purpose of the givers. In this respect, sending the Greek Titus was so wise, he was one of their own countrymen..
In all these relational issues Paul was not afraid to assert that he had direct divine authority and guidance. It is astounding how that Paul literally makes himself personally accountable to those who, themselves are proving to be unaccountable. The grace upon him to do such a thing is, to this writer, deep and wide.
THE REVELATION OF SUFFERING IN PAUL’S AUTHORITY BEING CHALLENGED
Last of all, Paul was not ashamed to open the diary of his thoughts and even to let people know things about him that were unnecessary for them to know. Paul’s authority, having come directly from vision and revelation was intensely personal. It wasn’t something he would discuss lightly. To explain his knowledge of Christ and the supernatural visions and revelation was something he refers to as “foolish”. I have found that people who talk about experiences like what Paul had, lightly have failed to grasp all the grace that was embedded in the revelation that was given.
Paul discusses such things here as his authority was being thoroughly undermined and his apostleship brought into question. It can be quite intimidating to hear the way some people share heavenly visitations. Paul did not want to intimidate, but definitely to assure his readers of his authority in Christ. He approaches it in this manner so as not to lord it over their faith.
The two things Paul appeals to are ungainsayable. 1. Visions and revelations that gave him his understanding of God and the gospel message. 2. The miracles and the spiritual power that proved supernatural approval to his unparalleled ministry (2 Corinthians 1:14. 3:2. 9:21-28. 1 Corinthians 9:1. 15:10.). His sole irresistible weapon in this was the sword of the Spirit, which was the word of God in his heart.
The humility and the condescension of the apostle is the secret to his character and the manner in which he was receiving the miraculous. We must learn to regard people less in light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer. A man that studies revenge keeps his own wounds green. Paul was here attacked maliciously, yet answered in a grudgeless manner. They gave our Master a crown of thorns. Why should Paul, or we ourselves, hope for a crown of roses? Suffering in the path of following Christ is the clearest display of the worth of God in our lives. Therefore,faith-filled and joyful suffering is essential in this world for formulation of the most intense, authentic worship. When we are most satisfied with God in the midst of suffering, Christ will be most glorified in us in worship. When we embrace more persecution and suffering for the value of Christ, there will be more fruit in our worship of Christ.”
When a minister of the gospel moves in the miraculous, especially when it happens on a regular basis, most Christian people assume that he, or she, must be walking in a degree of holiness that most people know nothing about. Is this a solid biblical conclusion? It should be … but …the down to earth truth is that the ministry of the miraculous does not necessarily presuppose so correspondingly high degree of holiness.
Jonah had some shocking motivational thoughts when he was sent to Nineveh. The last verses of the last chapter of the book of Jonah reveal the reason why he ran Westward when God had sent him Eastward. Jonah was sent to Nineveh to preach a message that was very short; “In forty days Nineveh will be destroyed! Repent!” Could it be any simpler? But Jonah knew all about God’s grace. He was aware that if they repented that God would forgive the Ninevites, and in so doing, to Jonah’s way of thinking, that would be some kind of disappointment in the light of the incredibly dramatic message, no matter how brief it was. He sat outside Nineveh and pouted in a sort of depression simply because God forgave the population of Nineveh. Jonah and true holiness in motivation and thought did not go hand in hand. Nevertheless Jonah was a true prophet of God.
Judas Iscariot also moved in the realm of the miraculous. I do not think that anybody would ever assume that he walked in absolute holiness at any time in his life. On top of that any of the twelve disciples who had anything that details wrong attitudes or action in the gospels, must be also included in the qualifying list of, “Those that moved in the miraculous with shortcomings in their walk of holiness.”
Paul’s claim was absolute transparency and holiness. He quotes the miracles and the heavenly visitations as a proof of his authority, not his holiness.
Second Corinthians, I believe gives us revelation and insight into what Paul’s character was all about, and it is all inclusive in the package of mindsets concerned in managing the miraculous. The letter opens a window into the very emotions of his heart. It is the agitated self defence of a wounded yet loving spirit to ungrateful and erring, yet not completely lost and incorrigible human souls. The apostle pours out his soul to them and begs them, in return, not for a dry, cold, critical appreciation of his eloquence, or a comparison with other doctrines, but with the sympathy of brothers, if not the affection of children. Parts of this letter are painfully personal. We may think that the ambassador for Christ had dropped his anointed mantel and had taken on the nature of a mere man. But when we realise that essentially the human being and the ambassador for Christ are inseparable, then the folly of the boasting and the shame are not mere revelations of his character but revelations of how the mighty man of God generally related to people. This letter was written with extreme tension of mind, and in the midst of a constant struggle between the deep emotions of thankfulness, and violent indignation. This missive is utterly striking because it shows a new philosophy of life poured out not through systematic doctrines, treatises or dissertations, but through occasional bursts of human feeling. He explains his fearful tribulation, excessive and beyond his strength, whether caused by outward enemies, or physical injury, that he has just gone through in Asia, ie: Ephesus. These things, whatever they were brought him to the very edge of despair as well as the grave. But it happened so that he would trust God who raises the dead. He offers himself to the Corinthians as a faithful loving father of the faith. In this letter Paul is no longer occupied with the rectification of practical disorders and theoretical heresies. He is contrasting his own claims with those of his opponents and maintaining an authority which had been most violently attacked.
Paul has more to say re suffering in Acts 20, words we have to negotiate in another page.
“When the uproar was over, Paul sent for the believers and encouraged them. Then he said good-bye and left for Macedonia.” Acts 20:1 (NLT).
“When I came to the city of Troas to preach the Good News of Christ, the Lord opened a door of opportunity for me. But I had no peace of mind because my dear brother Titus hadn’t yet arrived with a report from you. So I said good-bye and went on to Macedonia to find him.” 2 Corinthians 2:12-13 (NLT)
In a deep desire to know more of Christ, we are trawling through a period of time in which this writer considers Paul to have been moving in such grace and power as to be the ultimate peak of New Testament ministry. The Apostle Paul’s mission to Ephesus, and his impact on the whole Roman province of Asia is one of the hardest challenges of scripture to emulate. I do not believe that any church, denomination or evangelist has ever matched “Ephesus” in any way whatsoever. Ephesus was taken for Christ. The whole of Asia heard the word of God. Churches were founded in many places and we know of at least 14 that were founded around this time throughout Asia. Those I am aware of are listed below in the context of these pages. It was such a God sanctioned mission that when Jesus Christ Himself wanted to speak to the church as a whole in the Apocalypse, He did not tell John to write to Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome or Alexandria. It was the most established churches and divinely significant churches that came into being as a result of Paul’s mission in Asia, while he was based at Ephesus.
Paul did not leave Ephesus sedately, or in a planned way. He certainly was in the process of planning to leave (Acts 19:21), but he was to be there over winter. He left in a state of pressure and discomfort. Because of the importance and huge impact of the campaign in Asia, and the seemingly smaller issues that caused Paul to leave the great city of Artemis, we intend today to state what this writer believes to be the reasons why he finally left Ephesus at the time and in the manner that he did. It may surprise you. It is an incredible statement concerning the management of the miraculous in a minister’s life.
After this statement today, our next blog will be an attempt to fathom the motives and principles of Paul’s responses to the situation that compelled him to leave three years of the most successful ministry that any man, and the universal church has ever known.
To facilitate a full statement of it all we examine:
- 1. THE FRIGHTFUL CIRCUMSTANCES THAT COMPELLED PAUL TO LEAVE EPHESUS.
- 2. THE TROUBLESOME CHURCH THAT COMPELLED PAUL AWAY FROM EPHESUS.
- 3. THE PROBLEMATIC SERIES OF LETTERS THAT COMPELLED PAUL TO LEAVE EPHESUS.
- 1. THE FRIGHTFUL CIRCUMSTANCES THAT COMPELLED PAUL TO LEAVE EPHESUS.
Paul left Ephesus at the time, and in the way he did, because of deep personal unease with possibly physical as well as mental discomfort. After suddenly, if not, hastily leaving Ephesus he went straight to Troas with the same great motive by which he was always driven, i.e. that of preaching the gospel of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:12 -13). He was, as he originally planned, on the way to Macedonia, but the opportunity was providentially given, and the apostle seized it. However, on this particular occasion, did he have another motive as well for stopping there? I ask this question because he then left Troas for what this writer believes to be exactly the same reason he left Ephesus.
We have no clue as to the length of time he stopped over at Troas. Paul was preaching there so successfully and freely that he referred to it as “an open door.” And yet, he did not continue. He was anxious, so he says, to see Titus and for news of where the Corinthian church was in sorting out the issues for which, not only had he written his advice and commands, but had fully imparted his whole mind to Titus to speak on his behalf. He was so anxious – and this is huge – he actually left his preaching for the lost at Troas, and moved to Macedonia, eager to meet his own personal ambassador to Corinth.
Grasp the picture. The apostle to the gentiles, left the mother of all revivals and the ultimate of all evangelistic efforts for lack of news from the troublesome Christian people of Corinth. And even though another door of ministry had divinely opened to him, he could not rest while waiting for news, in fact – the impression is given that he could not focus on what he was doing. So after a hasty exit from Ephesus, Troas also was left behind. The man was plainly suffering. Whatever we know or don’t know as to the causes, Paul was, “in a state,” about Corinth. I clearly remember the principal of the Bible College I attended four decades ago, Rev. George Wesley Gilpin teaching us that, “We are not only called to be, “fishers of men,” but we have to be “keepers of the aquarium.”” How wise! How prudent! How evident, here in Paul’s mentality and actions, that the great apostle was in agreement with the great Wesley Gilpin.
When I read the whole text of Acts 19, it seems to me that as early as Acts 19:21 he was calmly coming to the conclusion that his intense campaign of ministry in the metropolis of Ephesus, and his sending of teams all around Asia, founding churches wherever they went, was coming to completion and conclusion. He had received it, “in the Spirit,” (Acts 19:21) that he needed to go to Macedonia, Achaia and then Jerusalem, post scripted with, “I must go on to Rome.” I read these remarks as being made in the routine of his life at Ephesus. It was of God’s design that he was to leave – but not yet! He planned to leave after the coming winter (1 Corinthians 16:8). This statement presupposes that he was writing First Corinthians from Ephesus prior to those winter months. It also presupposes that he wrote 1 Corinthians after the instance of Acts 19:21, that is, after he had decided to leave Ephesus. We surmise from this that First Corinthians was 5-6 months before he was intending to leave. This decision was made strategically and calmly. Paul was planning his itinerary and diary.
Then we read in Acts of the riot that was started by Demetrius the silver smith. In the text, as Luke wrote it, it is clear that no pain or physical hurt was done to the apostle in the context of that particular riot (Acts 19:23-41). However, as soon as the uproar was concluded, Acts 20:1 informs us that he called the disciples around him (that is the, “about 12,” that he met in Acts 19:1-6 who had been ministering either to him, with him, or both ). Paul spoke words of encouragement to them, and then said “Good-bye.” Finito! He then left Ephesus. “He said Good-bye and set off…” The entire tone of the sentence suggests a sudden change of attitude, even, a spontaneous decision to leave. What changed Paul’s plans?
The apostle was anxious and in pain over a few issues with the church he had founded in Corinth, and his discomfort over this issue caused him to change his plans a couple of times. At this point, it would seem that he left Ephesus suddenly, thus cancelling the thought of staying over winter, creating accusations in the hearts of some at troublesome Corinth that, “Paul does not keep his word.” And this was happening at the very moment that some travelling, “false apostles,” were utterly undermining his authority and teaching in the Corinthian church. But Paul did not seem to know this at the time he left Ephesus.
Some time prior to leaving the Ephesian “revival,” he had sent the big guns in to deal with Corinth. Apollos was too much of a novice. Timothy was seen too much as Paul’s favourite youthful protégé. Titus, however, was Greek, mature and perceived to be his own man, and one of, if not the most senior and sober associate of Paul. Titus was Paul’s best means of communication, next to going himself to Corinth. He had chosen not to go to Corinth at all, until certain matters were placated. His plans were, therefore, on hold, until the return and the news of Titus (2 Corinthians 2:1-4).
Contemplating the necessity that precipitated the changing of Paul’s plans reminds me: It was the Scottish bard Robbie Burns who created the phrase, “Of Mice and Men.” It is only four words out of a very long sentence in one of his poems. The poem is humorously entitled, “To a Mouse,” and was actually written in 1786. I clearly remember, in my youth, my English Literature teacher attempting to read the poem to a small class of four of us, using as broad a Scottish accent as he possibly could, pretending to be the great poet. For my none UK readers, Robbie Burns is to the Scottish people what Shakespeare is to the English, or Goethe to the Germans. For those who are not au fait with any of the writings of Burns, it is a remarkable truth (at least to the English) that he wrote, quite literally, in his broad Scottish accent. Although they are hailed as the work of an utter genius, some of his writings are almost unintelligible to the contemporary conformist English eye and ear. Being an old English Etonian from the South of England, my English Literature Teacher’s accent was even funnier than the poem. The creative need for Burns to write the poem, “To a Mouse,” came from his incidental destruction of a mouse’s winter nest whilst ploughing a field. The poem is a verbal apology written to the poor mouse made both homeless and vulnerable because of: 1. its “dream home” being dissipated by an earthquake that was an astronomical 122 on the Richter scale (i.e. Burns’ deep plough), as well as: 2. The agenda that the mouse had planned for hibernating in the cold, long, dark nights of Scotland’s winter, being shattered in a single moment of time. The poem describes how the, “Wee, cowering, timorous beastie,” plotted and planned to stay warm in the snow, making his nest in this field, only to have the whole idea overturned by Burns himself. To express it in, “English English” (as opposed to Burns’ “Scottish English”), Burns states, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry and leave us nought but grief and pain.” The grief and pain that came to this “wee beastie,” came also to the mighty apostle in great severity. He also made his plans for winter, and, oh, how the apostle was left with grief and pain! It was an emotional plough that overturned Paul’s winter plans. The apostle’s plans were for a safe house throughout the cold period, but … The anxiety of what was happening at Corinth caused him to change his plans again and again.
So what happened next?
It was extreme anxiety that caused him to drop everything and leave Ephesus, and that same anxiety (although undoubtedly increased with time) was what took him from Troas. He had no rest in his spirit, in Troas, because he did not find Titus his brother. It is logical to deduce and extrapolate that if he left the two places hurriedly, in quick succession, and he plainly states why one of the departures was made, that the template for leaving the second port of call (Troas) was the same motive for which he left the first port of call (Ephesus). His mental anguish was grounded in his eager anticipation of for news from Corinth via Titus, his delegated mouthpiece, on this occasion, to Corinth (2 Corinthians 2:12-13).
The entire, “Saga of the church at Corinth,” must have been mammoth to Paul. Try to imagine what the Corinthians were doing to Paul’s patience, troubling his soul in such a way. Their attitude and correspondence, together with the news from the ministers that Paul had delegated to visit Corinth must have tortured his heart as well as his mind. As Paul brooded over the scenario, so the issue grew in its importance both to Paul, as well as to God. It seems the more Paul communicated with Corinth, the worst things were getting. He would, seemingly, resolve some issues, and thereafter hear of other issues raising their ugly head over the parapet, matters that were even more complex and damaging to the overall work of God in the church in Corinth. What is more, it had transcended issues of principle and had now degenerated into personal abuse of the apostle. He was being accused of ungodly conduct and misleading the people. Paul grew more and more disquieted and uneasy until, in a remarkable intolerable oppression of spirit, he felt that he could no longer continue to preach to the lost in Troas, and so he left for Macedonia, so desperate was he for knowledge of the response from Corinth. This is amazing to my mind!
This writer finds Paul’s actions and priorities at this point of time utterly revelatory. I see Paul as the ultimate role model for all Christians, and especially ministers. This priority choice, this value judgement, as far as this writer is concerned, is a game changer, if not a total paradigm transformer. He left the huge move of God in Ephesus hastily and “in a fragile state,” for the same reason he left Troas hastily and “in a fragile state.” I understand how it is to some people almost unforgiveable to even suggest Paul was beaten down with any issue, but the scriptures explain it so plainly. Anxiety concerning the church in Corinth had him utterly distracted.
There is a need to state what we know, and what is conjecture concerning Paul’s condition as he left Ephesus for Troas, and Troas for Macedonia. The book of Acts informs us that Paul had three years in Ephesus, he decided that he was going to leave, and then after a riot by the silversmiths – a riot in which Paul himself was not harmed or manhandled – he suddenly decided to leave. We would be left to conclude that he decided to leave because of the riot, if it wasn’t for the letter that we refer to as Second Corinthians. We are there informed that something terrible happened to Paul (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). What took place was so terrible that it nearly killed him, and it was so prolonged that he actually concluded that he would not survive the situation. What was it? Scholars generally assume it was harsh physical manhandling, torture even, as well as chained imprisonment in Ephesus. We also have intelligence from Second Corinthians that tells us that simultaneous to whatever was threatening his life, the church in Corinth was, to put it in blunt twenty first century street language, “driving him nuts.” Some psychologists interpret the language that Paul uses in Second Corinthians as evidence of a breakdown (. Was that what Corinth did to him? Was it the hardship and affliction of persecution? Or was it the imprisonment that we believe he endured in Ephesus, an imprisonment not mentioned in Acts or Corinthians, but is concluded by close examination of some of the “prison epistles” of Paul that are not consistent with his prison experience in Rome? Or was it a compendium of Corinth, persecution and prison that nearly broke the great apostle? I believe the latter is more than likely.
From Ephesus to Troas! From Troas to Macedonia! And we are not told how many other cities, towns or villages Paul alighted on in Macedonia, only to anxiously move on while he was looking for Titus. In what town Paul actually met his loyal and greatly trusted friend, we are not told, but somewhere in Macedonia, Paul turned a corner – and there he was. Titus was happily greeted and Paul was greatly relieved of his painful tension of mind by news and intelligence from the Corinthian Christians, news which, although chequered, was, on the main, favourable. We know it was chequered, because of what he wrote in 2 Corinthians. From Titus, Paul learnt that his change of plan about visiting the troublesome group of saints had given them grounds for unfavourable criticism, and injurious remarks about his character (2 Corinthians 1:17). Titus had been well received on the whole, yet even with his experience, was filled with fear and trembling with the church there (2 Corinthians 7:13-15). Titus was to return to Corinth, leaving Paul yet again, carrying the scroll of what we refer to as Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 8:6).
From this letter we learn that, whatever may have been the nature of his condition when he left Asia, whether it was grievous injury from beatings or violence against his person, external persecution, inward anxiety caused by his persecutors, as well as the Corinthian church, or all of these three – his stay in Macedonia had suffered from the same overwhelming distress which had marked the close of his residence in Ephesus, and the brevity of his stay in Troas (2 Corinthians 7:5-7). Paul himself describes his condition as one of mental and physical prostration. “Our flesh had no rest, but we are troubled on every side, from fightings without, and fears within”(2 Corinthians 7:5). This was a long trip, the details of which we are not told. We can only conjecture that it is during this trip that Paul went up to Illyricum (Romans 15:19).
We have no idea of how many days, weeks or months, Paul’s ministry trip around the churches of Macedonia claimed. Luke passes over the whole trip with extreme brevity. It was not Luke’s intention to give what every bible lover and scholar in the world craves for: an exhaustive biography of all that Paul said and did. He does not even mention the stories and the sagas that must have been going on in the churches of Macedonia keeping Paul back from his intended, planned and promised visit to Corinth. He must surely have preached again at Philippi the capital of Macedonia Prima, Thessalonica the capital of Macedonia Secunda , and Berea, the capital of Macedonia Tertia.
As he went, I cannot help but think what a challenge to Paul’s grace and character it was to be pleading for money from each Christian fellowship that he visited, the majority of whom were plunged into poverty, who had already given in his first visit towards the offering to help the poor in the church in Jerusalem, the very church who had sent emissaries with letters of commendation to Corinth, and who were now bad mouthing the apostle and undermining his teaching. Corinth had believed these emissaries that Paul refers to as “false apostles,” and were backbiting the father of their faith. Talk about, “Biting the hand that feeds you!” It was a wrestle, and a pain to Paul, relief from which could only come to him when he remembered that the leaders of the twelve apostles at Jerusalem had bound him by a special injunction, or was it a commitment, to take care of the poor (Galatians 2:10).
I can only surmise that somewhere along the line he considered his usefulness to Macedonia (and Illyricum?) completed, and so, the apostle finally set his direction on the road to Corinth.
Of the utmost importance to our delving into Paul’s management of the miraculous, we take note that somewhere after meeting Titus, while Titus was still with him, while ministering around Macedonia, Paul wrote Second Corinthians. This was the letter that accompanied Titus back to Corinth, and preceded Paul’s arrival there.
We hear not one word as to what went on during the three months of Paul’s visit to Corinth apart from what he wrote there. Yet Paul was surrounded by friends, colleagues, co-workers and those that loved him, and during those three months he seems to have placated the troubled waters of the Corinthian church and composed the letter to the Galatians, and the letter to the Romans. Something wonderful and restoring must have been going on while he was in Corinth.
- 2. THE TROUBLESOME CHURCH THAT COMPELLED PAUL TO LEAVE EPHESUS.
What can we say about the church at Corinth and what they did to the mind and emotions of the apostle Paul? Let’s start from the beginning of their story.
Paul’s first visit to the city of Corinth (Act 18:1-28) extended over eighteen months. This was, of course, prior to the Ephesus campaign. He left Corinth happily, had a brief stopover in Ephesus, and went on to Antioch. It is remarkably significant that, on this occasion he did not go at all to Jerusalem. (That is a story there for another time.) Paul left Antioch ministering throughout Galatia and Phrygia, before he arrived at Ephesus. That arrival to the city of Diana brings us to Acts 19:1. Paul must have had many communications with Corinth throughout the three or four years after he had left them in Acts 18:28. He touched base with them humanly, through the deputies and colleagues in ministry whom he would have commissioned to go and minister whilst he was travelling elsewhere. 2 Corinthians 12:17 tells us this is true (“… Did any of the men I sent to you take advantage of you?”). It is only after his mission to Ephesus, in the ongoing course of what is commonly referred to as Paul’s third missionary journey, that actual personal interaction with Corinth could have been geographically possible again. However during his stay at Ephesus there were Corinthian visitors, as well as letters, passing both to and fro, that kept Paul informed of things.
Along with Alexandria in Egypt, and Antioch in Syria, Ephesus was one of the three major cosmopolitan ports in the eastern geography of the Roman empire. What made Ephesus so ideal for Paul’s major push for Christ in Asia was the fact that from the famous and well used port, there were ships facilitating correspondence and visitors to and from the other churches around the Aegean, aiding Paul’s care of all the churches (2 Corinthians 11:28). There were roads that ran eastward through the long wide valleys to other major cities in the province. It is a geography vaguely similar to the valleys in the south of Wales in the UK, yet on a much larger scale. Paul made use of this geography by sending his assistants and protégés up the valleys to evangelise Asia while he carried on the work in Ephesus. (Who knows, Paul may have visited Colossae and Philemon, while Luke, for some reason, did not feel free to tell us (Philemon 22)).Thus we have the example of Epaphras going to Colossae, Laodicea and Hierapolis (Colossians 1:6-8. 4:13 and 16.). Academics and archaeologists believe that after Paul’s three year church planting mission, there were churches all over Asia, evidence being found as well as scriptures that substantiates churches in Miletus, Troas, Assos, Cyzicus, Magnesia, Tralles, Metropolis, and Hierapolis as well as Colossae and the so called, “Seven Churches of Asia.” I have no doubt whatsoever that the, “Seven Churches of Asia,” as referred to in the book of Revelation, were founded during these incredibly productive years while Paul was based in Ephesus sending his travelling team of protégés out to emulate what they had seen their mentor do in Ephesus. Smyrna was only 35 miles north of Ephesus, Pergamos 80 miles in the same direction. These were the distances that Epaphras and others would have had to have travelled in order to plant satellite church bases encircling Ephesus and permeating Asia. Thyatira was 90 miles away, Sardis 55, Philadelphia just short of 100 and Laodicea only 40 miles away. These seven churches were all within a couple of day’s journey from Ephesus, and therefore easily accessible by Paul’s roaming team of evangelists. Paul himself had never seen the people of the churches in Colossae, Hieropolis or Laodicea (and undoubtedly many of the other newly birthed congregations in Asia), yet he obviously considered them as part of his “flock” (Col 1:24). The imminence of the ports facilitating the sea lanes being used to dispatch both letters and personnel to churches all around the Aegean, rendered Ephesus as a central Headquarters for “Apostle Paul Ministries Incorporated,” at least for the period he was ministering there. Ephesus was taken for Christ. The whole of Asia heard the word of God. Asia’s culture was changed.
As we have been slowly walking with Paul for this historical period of 2-3 years, we have seen how he ploughed the furrow for Christ in the midst of a heathen, gentile Roman province, with all kinds of pressures and buffettings. He describes one period of his experience in Ephesus as “fighting with wild beasts” (1 Corinthians 15:32), confronting physically as well as spiritually, violent people in the city of Diana. Added to this he expresses how there was the “pressure” weighing heavily upon him, of his anxiety for the churches (2 Corinthians 11:28). He had obvious concerns with the legalistic faction that was considerable in both size and influence that was still based at the church in Jerusalem. There was the impact of these legalists wherever Paul had been -Galatia, Cappadocia , Macedonia and Achaia, and the problems they caused needed constant attention all the while on this, his third journey. And in the midst of all these contemporaneous problems, Christians in Corinth seemed to have gone to the extreme in anarchy. The freedom that Christ had brought them was now being exhibited in sheer licence.
It is in the first chapter of First Corinthians where we are introduced to Chloe (1 Corinthians 1:11). We know nothing about her, apart from gleaning from various scriptures a vague outline of her situation in life. The fact that Paul recognized a group of people as belonging to “the house of Chloe,” suggests she was a high profile Christian woman of some acceptance within the Corinthian church. I would even suggest she was a leader. From what the historians tell us, at this period of time the name of a husband, or father would have been commonly used in order to identify her, not the female’s name, unless she was widowed, or had some startlingly strong character that made her a force to be reckoned with. Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus were from Corinth and either related to, or close to Chloe. They turned up on Paul’s doorstep in Ephesus with, “a few church problems,” while he was hard at work. It seems, from what we deduce from Paul’s writings, that these three, quite literally, came with a list of issues for Paul to resolve. It is also highly probable that these three returned to Corinth to deliver Paul’s letter to the Christians there, that would probably be the letter we refer to as First Corinthians.
What brought them to their father in the Lord was every pastor’s worst nightmare.
Because of the raw material that Paul had to work with in Corinth, it must have been plain to see that, like the children of Israel coming out of slavery with Moses, it took a single day to get Israel out of Egypt, but a generation to get Egypt out of Israel. The Corinthian church, like Israel, was in a bit of self inflicted mess. They were paradoxically free in Christ, yet utterly sold into bondage with the old heathen life clinging tightly to them. After 18 months of ministry in the huge city, where one cannot but believe that Paul poured out his heart, his theology, his attitude to God, life and people; in what was, at that point of time, the longest stay Paul had made in any single place on mission, this trio came with a metre long scroll of parchment with questions and problems for their father in the faith to look into. What were these problems?
- i. There were cliques and factions in the church, using different minister’s names as rallying points. This was majorly divisive and no small issue. How were they to deal with it? (1 Corinthians 1:10 – 31)
- ii. There were accusations concerning Paul’s authority, integrity and character. (1 Corinthians 9). This festering malignant growth was to increase in its virulence and was absolutely why Titus had to go to Corinth after Timothy and Apollos had been, as a diplomat to speak for Paul. This would have been painful for the trio from Chloe’s house to explain to Paul, just as it would have been painful for Paul to receive. What should the apostle do in order to respond properly?
- iii. Sexual immorality, to the point of a male sleeping with his step mother had taken place within the church. This seems to have been committed with people who were high profile within the fellowships at Corinth, and was therefore influencing many. What were Paul’s instructions on this? (1 Corinthians 5:1-12)
- iv. Lawsuits were being taken out by Christians against Christians, believers taking believers to court. Imagine the ill feeling and relationship problems spawned by such a thing within the whole fellowship. What were Paul’s instructions on how to handle such a divisive series of events? (1 Corinthians 6:1-11)
- v. Marriage issues for singles were being asked about. Sexuality and the conduct of pre marital relationships needed to be explained from a Christ-like perspective (1 Corinthians 6:12 – 7:40).
- vi. Food that was cheap at the market, even though it had been sacrificed to idols, was being bought and eaten by Christians. Should a Christian eat such fare? The answer would impact the financial budgets of the poor, as well as the spiritual life of all. What would the apostle advise? (1 Corinthians 8)
- vii. Conduct at the Lord’s supper seems to be described as chaotic. One gets the impression that the gatherings and church services at Corinth were anything but religious, but in a way that was not God directed. Surely Paul knew how to correct these deficiencies! (1 Corinthians 11:17-34)
- viii. Issues concerning the conduct of women in the church meeting were being asked about. I cannot but think that somehow there were Jewish influences in the church at work with this matter. (1 Corinthians 11:2-16)
- ix. The use of supernatural charismata effected by the Holy Spirit in the lives of the members, which seemed to be commonly used, were being abused and discredited, it seems, within the church fellowship and in the presence of unbelievers. What was Paul’s mind on this? (1 Corinthians 12,13 and 14)
- x. The doctrine of the resurrection and some false extrapolations from the understanding of Paul’s teaching were being spread around. Not only was there abuse of the teaching, but some were suggesting that the teaching was irrelevant, others that the resurrection had passed. (1 Corinthians 15)
- xi. Collecting money to help poor Christians in other parts of the world where Paul travelled seems to have been queried. Was his integrity being maligned also? (1 Corinthians 16:1-4)
It is such an incredible list that one has to wonder about the mental, never mind the spiritual capability of the Christians in Corinth. Was it because there were a huge number of converts added to the church since Paul left Corinth, and that the newcomers had not had these things explained to them properly? I find it difficult to believe that Paul could hear of any of these queries and think, “Oh yes! I never mentioned this, or that!” The list was enormous, and horrific. Every aspect of the issues that were seemingly rampant in the Corinthian church are, I would suggest, considered basic fundamental Christian teachings in today’s society, and I feel certain they were elementary in the context of Paul’s preaching. Not that the twenty first century church is free of all these problems and their modern equivalents cum parallels, but they are issues that many basic courses in Christianity would cover.
And these issues exploded upon him in the midst of a remarkably intense mission in Ephesus. What a barrel full of rubbish it was, tipped into Paul’s thought processes, consuming his waking hours. The three visitors must have broken Paul’s heart when it was all finally explained, or read out.
It is a challenge to comprehend the trials and anxieties that beset Paul during his stay at Ephesus, without mentally perceiving the gravity of the causes for concern that he was carrying. He must have been tortured by what can only be referred to as surreal aberrations of those people he himself had brought to Christ and taught in Corinth. Let anybody with a heart for, or experience in pasturing, grasp the state of things that must have torn Paul’s heart in two. Imagine if you can, how punch upon punch must have buffeted his mind and thrown him into a deep morass of wonderment as from time to time he had news of darkness added to bleakness, as rumour and fact, verbal report then written epistle informed him how thickly and tenaciously the demonic tares of false concepts, ungodly living together with a growing mistrust of Paul, were growing together with the wonderful seed he had planted in Galatia as well as Corinth. He must have thought at times that his battle to keep Christians worldwide free from Jewish legalism was a lost war. This must have been a greater suffering than any prison or stoning he ever encountered.
Apollos, novice as he was, must have returned from Corinth with news that introduced Paul to the trouble spots in Corinth. Or was the rhetoritician so flattered with his warm reception as a speaker that he didn’t see what was going on? Timothy had been and would also have kept his “Father in the Lord,” abreast of the situation. Titus now had finally made ground with them. Paul had, at the end of his stay in Ephesus, been away from Corinth for about 4 years. Perhaps their longing for him, his words and his fatherly character, were so strong it led them to speak of him unjustly in his prolonged absence – a sort of inverted expression of love for the apostle, a kind of spoilt child response to Mum and Dad not giving them what they wanted. Quintessential immaturity! “Why oh why can’t you, dear Paul, come again and stay with us? You must be bad because you are staying away!”
So serious was this infestation of wild misconduct and misunderstanding in the Corinthian church that various men of God had been sent by Paul to resolve issues, and bring reconciliation in all the relationships concerned. Apollos went of his own desire (Acts does not tell us that it was Paul that sent him), and by all reports was greatly received as some kind of master of the preached word. He was a new and clearly expressive teacher of the scriptures. Timothy and then later Titus were also sent to not only pour oil on the troubled waters at Corinth, but to also set broken limbs of fellowship, as well as amputate cancerous teachings and practices. Ultimately Paul would have to go himself. I believe he knew this all along. But he was set not to visit them until after certain of these issues had been resolved amongst them.
From everything we read of Paul’s life, and within every extrapolation we can make from his letters, the church at Corinth was the most labour intensive, high maintenance, problematic group of people that the apostle ever came in contact with. If he did have a physical, mental or emotional infirmity around this period, as some academics suggest, it would be absolutely understandable. Corinth would have been a graveyard to most pastors. And then to read 2 Corinthians 1 where he tells us that at one point he had given up on the chance of living through the hardships that Ephesus brought upon him, we cannot but wonder how he did not suffer a complete collapse. Perhaps he did.
This was clearly some of, if not, the darkest hours in the Apostle’s history since the days he spent in blindness at Damascus (2 Corinthians 7:5). Corinth must have appeared to Paul, to be in full revolt against him. I have pastored with two or three separate yet simultaneous dissidents in a church, and as pastor, thought I was ready for the mental hospital with the stories that were told of me and the abuse that was thrown at me. But the letter we refer to as First Corinthians answers a whole truckload of issues that if they were contemporaneous with the churches of the majority of pastors in the world today, would surely lead to ministerial resignations or emotional breakdowns around the globe. Paul writes of this period that he was, “pressed out of measure, above strength.” Paul – I understand my brother, howbeit in the very slightest and minute degree what you must have gone through.
It was because Paul was under this continued strain of excitement in Ephesus and anxiety from Galatia and especially from Corinth that many academics even conclude that his strength totally succumbed and fled. Some even suggest that he was seized with an attack of sickness, which threatened to terminate his life (2 Corinthians 1:8-9; 4:7-18; 5:1-4). I really am not sure where to go with that one. I simply do not accept it. However, altogether with what we know, it can be clearly seen from our wise and lofty lookout post of the twenty first century that the fate of his mission and of Gentile Christianity as a whole, trembled in the balance at various times, and possibly this was the moment that would break the power of Judaist thoughts, or be broken by them once and for all. Never had he felt himself so helpless, so beaten down and discomfited as on that melancholy journey from Ephesus to Troas, and if he was physically debilitated (at least we know for sure that he must have been greatly weakened), he did not know whether Titus or the angel of death would reach him first. It’s all there in Second Corinthians for us to read and study, pondering in awe and wonder as to how Paul overcame it.
- 3. THE PROBLEMATIC SERIES OF LETTERS THAT COMPELLED PAUL TO LEAVE EPHESUS.
Before we look at the manifestation of Christ in the heart of Paul while all this was going on (that’s in the next blog), we shall just highlight a little more of the deep complexity of the Corinthian problem to clearly show the pressure that had been put on the apostle at this time.
First of all, to start at the beginning, I utterly disagree with any idea that the Corinthian letters, especially Second Corinthians in the scriptures are a hotch-potch collection of several letters stitched together by later scribes and writers. What absolute tosh! That suggestion is another of the imaginative machinations of the higher critics that I contemn utterly. There is not so much as a hint of disunity in any of the ancient Greek manuscripts. Check that out with all the academics. There are no variations of the literary units. In all the many manuscripts there is none that does not contain all thirteen chapters (Although 2 Corinthians 13 “seems” to have been unknown to Clement of Rome in 96 AD, it is clearly quoted by Polycarp in 105 AD). Both the Corinthian letters in scripture are understandable as fully self contained and self explained units. There also seems to be certain themes which speak for their unity. The internal evidence is, as always with the modernists, utterly too invented and unbelievable to the vast majority of readers, and clearly, subjectively made by the imaginative meanderings of the minds of some so called scholars attempting to shock their professors into giving them their PhD’s.
But given my assertion that the biblical Corinthian letters are two complete wholes, we have to ask some questions:
- What do we do with 1 Corinthians 5:9, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people”? (English Standard Version) (Underlining is my own of course) This statement of Paul’s clearly states that there was another letter sent before the one we refer to as 1 Corinthians.
Where are we supposed to fit this first missive in the chronology of Acts? Was the initial letter (we shall call it “Letter A”) sent from Ephesus? Or, did an earlier Corinthian group of representatives come with other queries before Paul arrived in Ephesus? Was it written while he was on his way to Ephesus, perhaps? We are, without any doubt, logically forced to accept the idea of a first letter to Corinth before the one we refer to as First Corinthians. As there was no postal system in Paul’s day, and as the only way Paul could have known about what was going on in Corinth was by somebody turning up with news, or perhaps with a letter, we have to understand that there had been a continuous flow of intelligence to and from Paul since he left Corinth. Following this line of thought, it looks like we should be considering three letters, even though we only have two in our possession. If there were any more, none are extant, so we are merely presupposing a “Letter A.” So we understand that there was at the very least:
Letter A being sent to Corinth from Paul. When and from where, unknown!
First Corinthians, being sent, presumably, about six or seven months before Paul first intended to leave Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:8).
Second Corinthians, sent after the event of Paul leaving Ephesus, leaving Troas and going through Macedonia southwards, and up to somewhere in the real-time of Luke’s account around Acts 20:3.
There is more, however.
- What about statements in 2 Corinthians that suggest, even, a fourth letter? :
“And I wrote this same to you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow from them of whom I ought to rejoice; having confidence in you all, that my joy is the joy of you all. For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love which I have more abundantly to you. But if any have caused grief, he has not grieved me, but in part: that I may not overcharge you all.” (2 Corinthians 2: 3-5)
“Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything” (2 Corinthians 2:9).
“Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it – I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while.” (2 Corinthians 7:8)
And yet, again:
“So even though I wrote to you, it was neither on account of the one who did the wrong nor on account of the injured party, but rather that before God you could see for yourselves how devoted to us you are.” (2 Corinthians 7:12)
Are these remarks referring to Letter A? First Corinthians? Or is there a fourth letter in the reality of things? Does 1 Corinthians 5 read as though it was written with tears? Is it possible that when the Corinthians first read what we refer to as 1 Corinthians 5, that they would have all been smitten with grief and sorrow? Is there anything that suggests that Paul was in a spasm of much affliction and anguish when we read 1 Corinthians at all, especially the fifth chapter? Absolutely not!
Without doubt there are issues in 2 Corinthians that refer to what was written in 1 Corinthians. But it is the tears, the grief and the emotional references that cause this writer to say that it must be referring to yet another letter. But there are other factors that add to my understanding.
- It simply could not have been First Corinthians that it was only referring to, because in that epistle it says in chapter 16:5-7 that Paul wanted to have a long stay with the church at Corinth and so would not see them until after Pentecost the following year. So there was between 6 and 8 months planned between Paul writing First Corinthians and the original plan to leave Ephesus. I do not believe Paul could have waited that long for a reply, or at least for the intelligence of how the Corinthians had responded to his instructions in First Corinthians 5. If he was anxious for the news from Titus as he left both Ephesus and Troas, there must have been another issue, and/or another letter that created that anxiety.
- Paul was desperately waiting for Titus to return with the news, and it is logical to assume that Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus, being Corinthians themselves, and being the ones that brought the questions to Paul, would have returned with First Corinthians under their arm. There must have been another letter that Titus was sent to answer. It is feasible to see that Titus went to correct whatever problems were newly current in Corinth, and that in order to add to his authority in dealing with the issues, he carried a letter from Paul stating what Titus had arrived to implement.
All this put together means that there must have been a fourth letter, that was third in chronological order from Paul to the Corinthian church. We shall refer to it as Letter B. The sequence would then have been:
Letter A being sent to Corinth. Is it possible that there was more than one group of Corinthian visitors to Paul while he was in Ephesus. Whatever, 1 Cor 5:9 demands that a first letter was sent.
First Corinthians being sent, presumably, about six or seven months before Paul had originally planned to leave Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:8), and carried by Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus who were of the house of Chloe in Corinth.
Letter B. Sent with Titus, an obvious dearly beloved and greatly trusted Christian friend of Paul. If my conjecture is correct, it is this letter that was written with deep tears and emotion by Paul, and received with similar emotions in Corinth.
Thereafter there would have been:
Second Corinthians sent after Paul had left Ephesus and Troas, and while he was in Macedonia.
Having explained the complexity and intensity of the progressing correspondence between Paul and the Corinthian church, we also need to grasp how extraordinarily introverted and directionless was the situation in Corinth. We have to see that no matter how thankful we are to God for the Corinthian letters in scripture, there are some things in life that will simply not be corrected by a letter or letters, no matter how inspired and anointed those letters may be. Human interaction and face to face relationship is a secret of the kingdom. That is why Christ came and dwelt amongst us. We are saved and kept by relationship with Jesus. The church is sustained and progressed by warm relationships within with each other, and Christ-like relationships reaching to those without, as well as an ever growing relationship with God.
Corinth was a city that was rampant with evil. It is a well known fact that in New Testament times, to “live like a Corinthian,” was a euphemism for bad living in all streams of sin and evil. Paul spent eighteen months amongst the people there, missioning for Jesus Christ. Some professors of New Testament history reckon that the Corinthian church was numerically one of, if not the largest city church of all, spread all over the metropolis in many and various homes. Remember that Paul’s mission in Ephesus impacted a whole province, and although there might have been more converts, they were not all based in the city of Ephesus. The Corinthian campaign was “merely” city wide.
I believe this whole story about Corinth is an issue of incredible importance in aiding us to understand Paul at the peak of his ministry. What we are about to discuss in our next blog shows us the humanity, the sensitivity, the vulnerability and the utter fragility of Paul’s human nature. The revelation of his human openness and weakness was not only concurrent with the awesome demonstration of power and authority that he ministered in whilst at Ephesus, but it is seen to be one of the very constituent ingredients of that manifestation of power. We are searching for the secrets of a ministry of the miraculous. What we negotiate here is unpalatable to many, but an absolute requirement I believe in getting to grips with the nature and practice of this Christ-like apostle. We need to make this part of our grasp of what we know to be one of the mightiest men of God that ever lived.
What’s the ultimate point of all this story about Corinth, and its impact in respect of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus? Simple! No matter how big, how important, how powerful and how Godly a man or woman may be, it is fundamental to relate to all people as equal to one’s self, in fact to defer to others as better than one’s self (Ephesians 5:21. Philippians 2:3), and to strive to maintain loving, warm relationships based on reality and motivated by a desire to be Christ-like. This is why Corinth and its problems troubled Paul’s sense of peace. It is absolutely imperative to not talk down to anybody, and, if anything, it is more helpful to talk up to people, which is what Paul does in Second Corinthians in particular. The troublesome, nastiness of all the things that went on in the Corinthian church could have been castigated by Paul, and even cast them away as having received the grace of God in vain, and thus to let them wallow in their own mire, “handing them over to Satan.” But Paul saw them as Christ saw them. Love does not keep records of wrongs committed against it. Paul’s defence of his character and integrity was made by mimicking the foolishness of false apostles who considered themselves, and convinced the church at Corinth that they were even “super-apostles.” We will go further with this in our next blog.
The fact that Paul gave them so very much of his time, his prayers, the man hours of his team, and his tears as he wrote to them, says so much about his mindsets and principles on the issues of pastoring people – and relationships in general.
In the next pages we will go into the detail of Paul’s responses to being maligned and verbally assassinated by those he had brought to faith. The Christ-likeness and sensitivity of him whom we consider to be one of the greatest men who ever lived, humiliating himself by giving them explanations of his personal actions and motives is a phenomena and one of the greatest manifestations of Christ in the apostle.
24. Paul the Prophet.
It is argued by some that Paul is never referred to as a prophet in scripture. But whether his prophetic anointing was subservient to his anointing as an apostle or just another anointing alongside that of his apostolic authority it cannot be gainsaid that Paul was a prophet. On top of that I think that there is a lot of credibility in those that teach that Paul and the twelve apostles of the lamb were all intrinsically gifted with the entire five-fold ministry package and were each an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, a pastor and a teacher. But we are camping on Paul the prophet in the context of managing his ministry of the miraculous.
What is a prophet? A prophet is a human interface between the invisible world and the visible. A prophet is a human being that hears and knows God in a way that most Christian people do not. A prophet, by the very nature of who and what he is in the sight of God, seems incredibly uncommon and abnormal in the sight of men. A prophet has had communicated to him what Theologians say is incommunicable, that is he (the prophet) touches, no matter how lightly, no matter how little a sliver of God’s omniscience. He has seen and knows what would otherwise be unseeable and unknowable to human kind. A prophet can be a Seer. All Seers are prophets. Not all prophets are Seers. A Seer can see things future, things past, or even present things that are out of natural sight and knowledge. It is the explanation of what is seen that is the miraculous and leads to healing and deliverance. A prophet can hear from God and reveal a person’s real problem, that is the one major issue that transcends the problem that a person thinks they have. A prophet can see what God is doing. A prophet can hear what God is saying. A prophet hears God’s intimate thoughts.
Prophets generally do not speak orthodox “Christianese” language. Not only are their words not commonly used in Christian circles, but often, where they are moving in Christ, and the issues that they are dealing with in the Spirit, are utterly unknown and inconceivable to the vast majority of believers. Prophets can be so “unorthodox” in their language and perspective on things, that most Christians want to deny them, decry them and defame them – or all three. When prophets confront the voices of orthodoxy, the “orthodox” hold their hands up in horror and say, “That’s not God!” or, “He has a demon!” The polite upper class English Christians say, “Oh! He has another spirit!” as if their gentle English would be more acceptable to God’s ears as they deprecate what God is doing in the prophet’s heart, life and ministry. Unfortunately dry orthodoxy is the plague of modern western Christianity. The “Dry Orthodox” contingent are in the vast majority. It was dry orthodoxy that shouted, “Blessed be He who comes in the name of the Lord” on a Sunday, and “Crucify Him,” the following Friday.
Murdering, a prophet never silences him. Prophets seem to speak more powerfully and more influentially from posthumous notes made into books than they did when alive and heard in the flesh. The likes of Maria Woodworth Etter, Smith Wigglesworth, and George Jeffreys were all vilified by the majority in their life time to some degree, yet declared to be almost Haloed faultless saints after they were gone. A prophet needs to be wild, giant and dangerous to impact a nation or a sub-continent. In God’s sight they are living the normal life. In the sight of man, they seem extreme, intimidating and unsound.
Millions of Christians are sure they have never seen or heard a prophet in their life time, and for that reason believe that there are none today. But they are here, alive on the planet and fulfilling God’s call. The prophetic ministry is the nearest thing to God’s heart. The prophet has always been God’s verbal contact with his chosen people. Note how many times in scriptural accounts where God did not speak to the king or the people, but by a prophet. God speaks prophetically before He does a thing. Amos 3 verse 7 reveals to us that, “Indeed, the Sovereign LORD never does anything until he reveals his plans to his servants the prophets” (NLT). So it is clear that some prophets, somewhere in the earth are key ears and hearts in all of God’s intentions and actions. God shares Himself with his prophets, even today. Prophets were key, along with the apostles, in laying the teaching and prophetic foundations on which the church of Christ is built (Ephesians 2:19, 3:5, Acts 3:21).
The very first New Testament sermon was a rationale for those that spoke in tongues with licks of fire on their heads, and who gave the impression that they were drunk. When explaining what was happening, Peter quoted from the prophet Joel. He stated that the tongues and seeming drunkenness amongst the 120 from the upper room, were exemplars of part of what the prophet Joel predicted (Joel 2:28-32). It was God beginning to pour out His Spirit on all flesh. But it wasn’t the full story on that day of Pentecost in Acts 2. This outpouring of the Spirit would bring people’s sons and daughters to full blown prophecy. The young would see visions, and the old men would dream prophetic dreams. Men and women would prophesy, said Joel. Prophecy and the supernatural release of the kingdom of God in people’s lives that results from prophecy would be the normal way of life the more God’s Holy Spirit was poured out. The church age should be as much, if not more, “The age as the prophet,” as it was in the days of the writing prophets. Joel said so.
No! I do not believe there are to be additions to the canon of scripture. New Testament prophets preach the Rhema word of the Lord. The Rhema is the word for the moment that comes from the Word (ie: the Bible). But there are times when things cannot be proven to be from the Bible. Agabus prophesied and predicted a famine (Acts 11:28). There is no chapter and verse to justify such a prediction. But it occurred just as he said in 45 AD in the fourth year of the reign of Emperor Claudius. Again he prophesied over somebody’s girdle, or belt. He tied his hands and feet with this strap and pronounced , “In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the gentiles” (Acts 21:10). The belt belonged to the apostle Paul, and it happened exactly how Agabus prophesied. There was no scripture verse to validate or invalidate such a prophetic statement. The only thing that could validate or invalidate the drama of the prophecy was whether or not what he said came to pass. And it did.
The prophetic word is a vital requirement to the health and prosperity of the true church of Jesus Christ world wide..
A prophet is particularly protected and looked after by God, the One who chose them to be a prophet. There are five ministries that Christ has given to His church. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Yet He says things about prophets that He does not say of the other four. For instance, “Touch not the Lord’s anointed, and do His prophets no harm” (Psalm 105:15). There is a lot of meat packed into that little package of words. Speaking against prophets is a dangerous business. Prophets are anointed by the Spirit of God. It may be that everybody who is anointed are not necessarily prophets, but know this, that every prophet is anointed by God. Anointed means that God has poured something of Himself over that person and you cannot speak against, touch or harm a prophet without first speaking against and touching God Himself. And that is the truth of it. And don’t think for one little moment that because one hears of a moral fall of a prophet that he is fair game to criticise. Prophets know how to repent. That is one of the reasons that they are prophets. The rule is that whether they walk in grace and power, or whether it seems to the human point of view that they have lost their anointing, do not touch them negatively by word or deed.
The importance of these words are seen in Samuel and David (both of whom were prophets) who were not wanting to do any harm to King Saul who was also known to be “among the prophets.” Saul treated David despicably and pursued him with a lust to murder him. However, because of the anointing that was at one time placed on Saul’s life, David knew how dangerous it was to reciprocate the violent thoughts of the first king of Israel.
Another verse of scripture states; “Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in His prophets and you will be successful” (2 Chronicles 20:20). And somehow, that Old Testament king of Judah who spoke those words has, by that statement, elevated the function and office of the prophet to an almost impregnable level. It is as if he is equating trusting God’s word, to trusting the prophet. That is the crux of the matter exactly. Have faith in what the prophets say, and you will succeed. That is a promise stated in scripture. When a prophet does what he is called to do, hang on to that word, it may save your life.
There is deep, deeper and deepest in the realms of prophecy and in the world of prophets. They are all in the call of God. Those that are “Deep,” may speak things that seem not so important to many, but they are the lifeblood to that prophet. Receive it. The “Deeper” prophet may declare things that the “Deep” prophet cannot see, and so he thinks it is wrong. The “Deepest” prophet may declare words that both the “Deep” and the “Deeper,” cannot relate to, receive or even understand. This is how criticism and unrest occurs within the body of Christ world-wide. Let them prophesy according to their measure of faith.
With all the above said (and I could say much more), and because of what I have said, I declare that the apostle Paul was indeed a prophet. He fits all of the criteria mentioned above, especially the criteria of the “Deepest.” The prophet that moves in the “Deepest,” of the prophetic realms finds it difficult to be understood by many, even of his peers. It seems to me that Peter gently tells us that he himself did not always understand what Paul was saying (2 Peter 3:15-16).
Most Christians, unfortunately, live in the lowland plains in the Spiritual. There are those that climb God’s mountains in the Spiritual realm, and thereby gain a view of life and an understanding of ministry and sickness, deliverance and suffering, fallen human nature and those that have a new nature given to them by Christ, that the vast majority do not think of, see, or experience. They are deepest simply because they have climbed highest. Where they need to walk is narrow, and it is like that only because their vision is so wide.
It is neither helpful, nor appropriate for a prophet to have pet hang ups, or special hates, or particular preferences of subjects to denounce. If he has a particular hatred of a particular kind of sin, it biases his heart when God gives him a word for people who practice that particular evil. A prophet is honed by God to feel what He is saying when the prophet utters the message, to cry when God cries, to laugh when God laughs and to be able to relate to God as friend with friend. Paul cried for the sin of one young man in Corinth, and wrote with tears about the issue (2 Corinthians 2:4). Paul wept and felt desperate for Jewish people to become Christians (Romans 9:1-2). These are character traits of a prophet of God. He doesn’t just pass on a word from God, like smiling while he delivers a letter, the contents of which he knows nothing. The prophet carries God’s heart as well as God’s words.
A prophet of God is precious to the Almighty. Those who hold the perspective that theologians refer to as “Cessationists,” that is , that all miraculous acts of God such as healing, deliverance, the baptism in the Holy Spirit, tongues and prophecy have ceased, talk falsely and incredulously of such things. “They must have ceased!” they cry. But God never changes. People and the church of Jesus Christ ebb and flow in their understanding and zeal, but God Himself never changes. Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever. God always has his prophets in every generation. Paul was one of them in the generation in which he served, though known more popularly and pedantically accurately, as an apostle.
Prophecy, whether it be on a national, local, church or personal scale is an essential and vital weapon in the ministry and management of the miraculous. What I mean by that is that even though prophecy is intrinsically supernatural and miraculous in itself, when personal prophecies reveal the secrets of a person’s heart, sickness or bondage, it prepares the way for healing and salvation in every dimension. It is all part of the management of the ministry of the miraculous. Personal prophecy can be a key that opens incredibly large doors. Even the largest of doors swing on little hinges, and one little word from God can often swing the door of the human spirit wide open, facilitating deliverance and healing like nothing else can.
Acts 19:21 tells us that it was revealed by the prophetic Spirit that rested on Paul, that he must go to Macedonia, Achaia and then Jerusalem. Then he solemnly added the postscript, “And after that, I must go on to Rome.” This was all by revelation and the voice of the Spirit.
There are those who prophecy by the gift of the Holy Spirit. There are those who prophesy as moving in the gift of Christ. There are those who prophesy in the church body in that gift of the Holy Spirit as referred to in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. There are those who are prophets as a gift of Christ to the body of Christ, as explained in Ephesians 4. In this verse Paul heard from God concerning his personal itinerary and ministry. This was prophecy cum direction of a very personal and far reaching kind. In a unique and very powerful way that has impacted the world for two thousand years, Paul spoke for God and had received communications from God which, even though he is not specifically and directly referred to as a prophet in the scriptures, definitely qualify him as a prophet. The body of Christ has been feeding on his thoughts given to us through his letters for nearly 2 millenia. His entire life speaks prophetically to the church still.
My own relationship with prophets of various depths and character has led me to conclude that true prophets, quite often, do not have a choice in some of the things they do, just like Paul here in Acts 19:21. He was compelled to go to Macedonia, Achaia and Jerusalem. He has no choice in the matter. He has heard from God. Most ominously, however, was his latter statement of how he must see Rome also. The Spirit of God compels prophets, in the same way that Paul was here compelled about his own life. They do not hear God with loud claps of thunder or a voice from heaven that shakes the building where everybody hears. They hear God, silently, yet clearly, and when they do, to the uninitiated it is overwhelmingly powerful and bohemian as to the weight they give those words. To those that know and understand, they learn as they watch and listen. There are times when it seems by cursory observation that a prophet picks the word out of the air, and in a moment he has seen something that when spoken out, changes the entire world for the one who was the recipient of that prophetic word. It seems that he invented his “prophetic” word. Yet it impacts so much, so powerfully and benefits people so incredibly that it couldn’t be anything else but God speaking. The whole exercise is vindicated as being a “God thing.” I used to say the a prophet carries God around with him. Silly me! It is God that carries them around.
We are told in Acts 13:1 that “there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.” We could all discuss whether or not it means that some of those five men were teachers and others were prophets, or whether all five of them were both teachers and prophets, but this writer is content to affirm that Paul was a prophet as well as a teacher.
A prophet is a spokesman from God and for God, and thus is incredibly vulnerable to abuse from those that do not like the word from God to be so personal, so direct, and so “In your face.” Those that live on the plains of spirituality cannot at all cope or tolerate those that live in the mountain tops and see more than they do. A prophet (or prophetess) speaks in God’s name and by His authority and power (Ex. 7:1). He, or she, is the mouth by which God speaks to men (Jer. 1:9; Isa. 51:16), and hence what the prophet says is not of man but of God (2 Pet. 1:20, 21; comp. Heb. 3:7; Acts 4:25; 28:25). Prophets are the immediate organs of God for the communication of his mind and will to men (Deut. 18:18, 19). The whole Word of God, in this sense, is prophetic, inasmuch as it was written by men who received the revelation they communicated from God, no matter what its nature might be.
The Apostle Paul wrote more than one half of the books of the New Testament. To be a true prophet Paul must evidence some of the characteristics that are required of a prophet. Paul was sent by God and was always conscious and mindful of his being sent. The manifestations of God to this man are the evidence with which I support that statement. One of the fundamental bases of the validity of Paul’s commissioning is centred upon the divine visitations he had.
Christ-like character, and the manifest fruit of the Spirit is undoubtedly more precious in God’s sight than any manifestation, no matter how miraculous. The manifestations of Christ to Paul, however, speak not only of his receiving apostolic authority, but his prophetic anointing also.
As many of the Old Testament prophets were divinely appointed into their ministry and calling as prophet, by means of a visitation, and their seeing something of the manifestation of the God of heaven, sometimes even with personal appearances of God, so Paul, likewise, had such validating manifestations that confirm his high calling as an apostle and prophet.
Scripture actually records ten visitations which Paul experienced, all of which had a remarkable bearing on his ministry and his consciousness of being sent, as well as the certainty of his salvation. We note these visitations as a preface to commenting on the weight of the words and decisions he made as expressed in Acts 19:21.
- Paul was actually converted by a vision of a divine visitation. (Acts 9:1-9; 22:5-11; 26:12-20).
The Apostle Paul received several direct words from Christ Himself as recorded in the scriptures, the first precipitating his own salvation experience on the road to Damascus. There are three versions of this call in the book of Acts. In one of the accounts given by Paul himself in Acts chapter 26, it is clearly stated that he was aware of his calling from that moment that he first heard Christ speak to Him. I do not believe he could have understood all the implications and ramifications what Christ said in those first moments of confrontation with God and his destiny, but they were clearly made plain as per Acts 26:12-20, and he received this predictive, prophetic information via a face to face meeting with Jesus Christ Himself.
It was not merely an impression that Paul received, nor was it “just” a voice. Saul of Tarsus actually saw the Lord Jesus. He says so in I Corinthians 9:1. Paul informs us also, in 1 Corinthians 15:9 that he was the last in a long line of many people that saw the resurrected Saviour. The word “appeared” in I Corinthians 15:8 is the same word used by Paul in depicting the appearance of Christ to the Apostles and others after the resurrection. Make no mistake about it, Paul met Jesus Christ in a visible and audible manifestation. Most people would call that a visitation, if not, a vision.
All three accounts of Paul’s conversion state that he heard Christ’s voice saying “I am Jesus.” How far this voice was externally audible to the others is again uncertain. In the contradiction between hearing the voice (Acts 9:7) and not hearing the voice (Acts 22:9) the difference in the case (hearing the sound with the genitive, and understanding the sense with the accusative) is in harmony with ancient Greek usage. All that were present saw the light, but Jesus spoke only and directly to Saul (Acts 22:9). The claims of mass hysteria are laughable in the picture given by scripture. The whole thing was objectively seen, heard and experienced. For Paul to have seen the Saviour in the same manner as the other apostles did, as Paul claims, he would have had to have seen an objective tangible vision of Christ. The confrontation was utterly objective and external. Paul’s personal response was another thing.
Barnabas set forth fully the story of Saul’s conversion to the twelve apostles, including the description of how he had met with Jesus and talked with Him, and he also recounted Paul’s entire identification with Christ in Damascus through his full testimony in preaching. The apostles received him and recommended him to the disciples. If it doesn’t satisfy some scholars in the twenty first century, it certainly satisfied the apostles whose life could have been in danger by receiving a murderer claiming he was changed.
- Secondly, during those first three days after Paul’s first visitation, Paul was also directed in his newly given faith and understanding by a prophetic vision. Paul says in Acts 26, that the call to follow Christ and the commission that would demand his entire life, was given by Jesus Himself: “To this end have I appeared unto you to appoint you as a minister and a witness (26:16).”
Ananias, however, the second Christian man who went by that name in the book of Acts, had a revelation from God. Not wanting to be humourously quaint, the revelation to Ananias is very revealing. God told Ananias in Acts 9:11-12, that Saul was praying. Paul had been blinded by the visitation on the Damascus Road, but even though he was blind as he prayed, he saw in a vision, as plain as day, a man called Ananias placing his hands on him and restoring his sight. God told Ananias that Paul was a chosen instrument, and that he would show him the things that he must suffer for Christ. Ananias prayed for Paul and sure enough he was healed. So within 72 hours of that initial sight of Christ, Saul of Tarsus was immersed into revelatory dealings with God. Paul must have been aware that he was saved, a particularly chosen instrument in God’s hands, and that he had a high calling from God, in Christ Jesus. All this knowledge and understanding was by vision, and revelation. The viciousness and violence of his life prior to the Damascus Road experience was so famously (or infamously) high profile amongst Christians that they had trouble in believing what had happened to him straight off. But it was all by the initiative taken by God to reveal Himself to Paul.
- Thirdly, Paul (although he was still known as Saul) was also personally established in his faith and doctrine, if not by a vision, per se, it was definitely by supernatural revelation of the Holy Spirit. Paul encountered the Almighty and all knowing in an even more intimate way during his stay in Damascus which is recorded by Luke in Acts 9:23 when he speaks of “many days.” Many days means literally a considerable number of days. The epistle to the Galatians sheds more light on the stay annotated in that one single verse. In Paul’s angry letter to the Galatians, Paul is arguing that his apostleship and his doctrine are God-given, and that he was taught what he knows not from Bible School or book learning but by direct revelation from God. He could not possibly say it in any clearer way. “Nor was I taught it except by revelation from Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:12). The understanding that we gain, as we survey the entire New Testament, is that Paul knew everything the twelve apostles knew. Peter and the others could add nothing to Paul’s faith and doctrine. It is as if Christ from heaven had communed with him as He did on earth in the days of His flesh with the other apostles. It was at this time that the revelation of the Son of God was increasingly being revealed in him, whereas on the road to Damascus the vision was revealed to him.
We cannot escape the fact that the entire spiritual status of Paul at this time was supernaturally achieved by God’s initiative. His establishment in the faith was a God driven thing without the normal human helps of a pastor, a lecturer, an academic master or a college course. There was no middle man to dilute or alter the revelation as it landed (I Cor. 11:23; 15:3; I Thess. 4:15). The revelation was as pure in its reception as it was in God who revealed Himself. Thus Paul is truly a completely independent witness to the Gospel. He received no instruction from the apostles in any way whatsoever, only direct from the Holy Spirit, which meant that, eventually, when he met the twelve, his gospel agreed exactly with theirs.
- Paul was later in Jerusalem. Perhaps his life was in danger while he was there. It would have been understandable for people to be angry with him. Firstly there would have been a large Jewish contingent who would have been enraged that their former hero of Judaism, had now, “ changed sides,” as it were. They would not have approved of his presence in Jerusalem. Then there would have been many, Christian or otherwise, who would have had loved ones or relatives who were Christians whom Paul would have killed, or had imprisoned before his conversion (Acts 8:3 and 9:1).
As a staunch Jew still, Paul was praying in the Temple one day when he fell into a trance. Paul’s own words are that he, “saw the Lord speaking.” We are left to extrapolate and conjecture that this happened on that visit where he first met Peter. Christ’s first word was, “Quick!” Be assured that when God says, “Quick!” He means, “Now!”. “Leave Jerusalem immediately, because they will not accept your testimony about me.” Again we have a heavenly vision, and an insight from God Himself on what was happening with other people who were remote from him. In plain English, it infers that Jesus was telling Paul to run for his life, for some were on the cusp of coming to look for him. This is all recorded in Acts 22:17–21. Paul was told to make haste and leave Jerusalem. Leaving Jerusalem was a present imperative, but Jesus also committed Himself, saying that at some future point, He would direct and send him to the gentiles.
The actual fulfilment of Jesus’ words here did not occur until Acts 13:1 – 3, where Paul was prophetically set aside to travel abroad with Barnabas. Thereafter, we do not here of Paul turning to the gentiles until his first visit to Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:42–46). Verse 46-48 in Acts 13 records a major historic event. The complete rejection of Paul and his preaching by the Jews was the practical situation that gave Paul a revelatory understanding of his mission from God. The fact that he had spent three years in Arabia and Damascus (Gal. 1:17) and later not less than five years in Syria and Cilicia (Gal. 1:21; cf. Acts 9:30), as well as the circumstance that during these years his preaching was almost if not quite, exclusively to Jews and Hellenists indicate that Paul had not yet come to the full consciousness of his distinctive mission, but that it was made increasingly manifest to him in the course of his missionary labours.
And he had only arrived at all this profound understanding of God, the gospel, and mission to the gentiles, through direct revelation from heaven.
- I am recounting these experiences in the chronology that I understand is there in the scriptures. Based on my understood chronology, I suggest that his fifth major divine visitation and revelation is the substance of what is recorded in 2 Corinthians 12:2. Paul received remarkable revelation and profound understanding by being translated to the third heaven. In 2 Corinthians 12:2 Paul is obviously talking about himself. Again as in Acts 22:17 the apostle speaks of falling into a trance, although the word “trance” is not used. However, the language of being somewhere, yet not knowing if he had gone to that place in the body or out of the body, suggests very much a trance like state. He states that this occurred about fourteen years prior to the writing of this particular epistle. The writing of the epistle may be fixed, without much risk of error in A.D. 57. The vision, “fourteen years before” (II Cor. 12:1) was in A.D. 43, still later, six years after his conversion
The book of Acts does not record this incident, but scholars are left to deduce and extrapolate that Paul was in Tarsus or possibly Antioch during this window of chronology. Scholars differ greatly. Some think it was near the time that Barnabas came seeking Saul for the work in Antioch (Acts 11:25). Some insist it was more than likely during Paul and Barnabas’ second visit to Jerusalem which occurred just prior to Paul’s being set apart by the church of Antioch for missionary service (Acts 12:25). Probably this vision and revelation were vouchsafed to him then, because he was going for the first time to incur shame and suffering for Christ.
Paul does not give us the details of what he heard in the third heaven. In fact he says it was unlawful, or, not allowed by God, to be repeated. Whatever happened, and whatever was revealed to Paul, were designed only for him, and for the purpose of establishing him more fully in Christ.
- The sixth revelation is buried in the text of Galatians 2:2. Paul went to Jerusalem, because a revelation compelled him to go. He did not go to argue his beliefs. He went by revelation to resolve the issue of circumcision with the apostles first. There was a huge and heated debate by some insisting that all Christians should be circumcised. Paul believed that those who spoke against him were, “false brothers” (Galatians 2:4). The fact that Paul went up by revelation was mentioned in Galatians to remove even the remotest doubt that Paul may have been summoned by the Apostles of Jerusalem in order to be disciplined or corrected.
Again the force of their testimony in conjunction with Peter’s testimony of the gospel being for the Gentiles resulted in total acceptance of Gentiles into full recognition by the church. Thus Paul was again assured that his call was valid and that his being sent forth was in the will of God. All these occurrences that came to be Paul’s experience were revealed to him beforehand by divine visitations and/or revelation.
- Later we read that Paul received expansion of vision and active ministry by divine revelation. He was guided where not to go, and where to go, by pure revelation. The Holy Spirit gave them negative as well as positive direction. The Spirit of Jesus had restrained them from preaching the Word of God in the province of Asia (Acts 16:6). They were restrained in the same manner in Bithynia (Acts 16:7). Not sure of where to go to next, Paul had a vision of a man calling him over to Macedonia. Paul went to Macedonia fully knowing that God was planting the pathway for his steps before he even got there.
Macedonia in effect was a signal and emblem for Paul’s access to the whole western empire of Rome. All these revelatory visitations, and supernatural occurrences were nailing God’s word and will firmly into Paul’s psyche. The point that we are making is that supernatural revelation was given to him concerning that nature of his call, and that supernatural revelation would be used to him in the communication of the message that was embedded in his call. The message was supernaturally communicated to Paul, and was to be supernaturally communicated to those to whom he was to minister. It was all divinely sent tuition for Paul’s overall management of the miraculous.
- The length of Paul’s visits to the many places he visited and ministered in is almost an irrelevance to Luke, until Thessalonica, and then Corinth. Paul had a riot formed against him at the front end of his first visit to Corinth. Although we are not told anything in Acts or the Corinthian letters, it seems Paul might have been thinking of leaving. “One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision.” It’s all there in Acts 18:9-11. Jesus told Paul to keep on speaking for there were many people in Corinth who were to become Christians. He stayed there for 18 months. The field was ripe and ready for a harvest of a large crop of Gentile souls and so it was that God spoke to Paul so that the divinely ordained apostle would fulfil God’s purpose for Corinth.
This little moment in Paul’s life is really wonderful, and the revelation from the Master utterly profound. Paul received first, the promise that he should be divinely protected against the hostility and ill treatment of Christ’s enemies, and on the other hand, it was revealed to him that Christ possessed a numerous people in the city. A revelation of facts not yet apparent must be understood. Paul is told of those who were yet to be converted, whom the Redeemer already knew and described as His own people. This must have been exhilarating in the midst of any trouble Paul was going through at that moment.
- A ninth vision came to Paul while he was in Jerusalem for what scripture tells us was his third visit as a minister of Christ. He had been violently taken by the worst of the Jews and brought to the Sanhedrin where such disorder had resulted that Paul’s life was in danger. The commander of the Jewish Guard withdrew Paul for safety. It was on that very night wherever Paul was kept that the Lord actually stood near Paul. Acts 23:11 is a remarkable moment. “Be of good cheer: I am satisfied with your testimony; you have done what you could; the results do not depend on you.” The importance of the message was incredibly uplifting for the apostle. Christ’s word was concerning Paul’s thoroughness, “…for as you have thoroughly testified the things concerning Me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in exactly the same way in Rome.”
Paul was ready to fight with wild beasts whether they were at Rome or anything else. He was aware that he had divine approval.
- The tenth and last vision that I am aware of came when Paul was in the midst of the long storm being taken to Rome by ship. As recorded in Acts 27:23, an angel of the Lord stood by Paul. It is a piece of logic that Paul must have embraced and fastened to his soul in the midst of the dire storm. If the promise made to him in Acts 23:11 was to be fulfilled, then he must have had the assurance of his life so that he could personally testify in Rome. Added to that logical string of thought, according to Acts 9:15 Paul was to testify to “kings”, ie: plural. As of that date, according to the records we have, he had appeared before only one king, that being Agrippa. The fellow travellers of the apostle would escape with their lives, along with all the sailors that manned the ship. They would all be saved from death, simply for the sake of Paul, in as much as God assured Paul of their safety as an act of grace to him. Or, at least, that is how it reads to this writer.
The ongoing validity of Paul’s mission and ministry, did not depend upon one divine vision, glorious though that was. As much as is recorded in the scripture Paul had many visitations and revelations. These regular key things that fed Paul’s understanding of the cosmos were key to who and what he was. The continuity, the ongoing repetition, as well as the direct bearing which they had on Paul’s life must have compelled him to accept the presence of the divine planner behind his entire life.
The fulfillments of each revelation and promise must have also demonstrated to Paul that he was being sent by God. The validity of Paul’s vision concerning Ananias was complemented by Ananias also receiving exact divine direction. The desert and or Damascus revelation, was validated by the agreement and completeness of Paul’s message and that of the Apostles in Jerusalem. The success of the advice at Jerusalem from the twelve apostles again assured Paul that he was purposefully called. The harvest for the kingdom of God in Macedonia and Corinth also proved those instructions to be of divine. The commission to testify in Rome was also completed and the saving of the lives at sea guaranteed Paul that he was, yet again, on a truly divine mission. Paul knew he was sent of God and was objectively conscious of God’s call.
It is these ten visitations and visions that were undoubtedly the foundational platform upon which Paul’s ministry of the miraculous was built.
But what did this prepare Paul for?
Because he was converted, confirmed, established and continually guided by what we would refer to as supernatural means, it educated Paul in the manner and means of the supernatural power of God, and how to move in that divine power and authority.
Strangely enough, just as I find a Decalogue of instances where God entrenched Paul in his faith by manifestations of the supernatural, sure enough I find a Decalogue of instances where his education in the Spirit allowed and facilitated Paul to minister to others in the miraculous.
As I feel confident to suggest that throughout Paul’s life there was actually much more than ten occurrences that established and built his faith up, I am also certain that there was much more than ten miraculous events in Paul’s ministry for Christ.
- On his first stop, in his second city, on his first missionary journey, Paul was at Paphos in Cyprus. The proconsul had a sorcerer as one of his personal attendants, and Sergius Paulus, the proconsul, actually asked for Paul and Barnabas to explain what they were teaching. The sorcerer opposed them before the proconsul and tried to turn him away from the faith. The first launch of the miraculous that we hear of in Paul’s life was here at this moment. Think of the faith, the courage, the understanding of God, and the ear to what God was saying, as well as the eye to see what God was doing, when Paul says to the sorcerer’s face, “You son of the devil, full of every sort of deceit and fraud, and enemy of all that is good! Will you never stop perverting the true ways of the Lord? Watch now, for the Lord has laid his hand of punishment upon you, and you will be struck blind. You will not see the sunlight for some time” (Acts 13:11). Consider the deep grasp of the character and the ways of God for a man to jump into such a pronouncement. What is more, scripture tells us that what Paul said came immediately into effect, and the sorcerer needed someone to take his hand and lead him around (Acts 13:4-12).
What Paul said was prophetic. In and of itself this does not confirm his status as a prophet, but the rhema word of God was in his mouth. In the name of Christ the sorcerer was blinded, but just for a season. This demonstration of the word of power, as well as the power of the word, caused the proconsul to believe. As it was, so it is today. If millions of this generation are to believe, they must see proof that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.
The point is that a true prophet speaks words that redirect and change lives not only of the righteous, but also of the unrighteous.
- Still in Paul’s first journey he had crossed from Cyprus to what we would today call Southern Turkey, and was at a place called Iconium. In this place he started, as was normal for Paul, to start at the Jewish Synagogue. Acts 14:1 says that they preached so well that a large number of both Jews and gentiles believed, but a Jewish contingent had both Paul and Barnabas, together with John Mark derided. However, in the midst of the persecution, the scripture says that they spoke so boldly for the Lord that He confirmed the message of grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders. This manifestation of the miraculous brought out persecution that was life threatening. They left the town to move on to other pastures. This also was a part of Paul’s management of the miraculous.
It is noteworthy that even though in the earlier part of Paul’s missionary trips he fled when his life was threatened, later in life he stayed and fought against the persecution with grace, character and prayer.
The point must be seen that when the full word is preached with the anointing of the Spirit, with great boldness and sincerity, with no thought to one’s own safety, that attitude is a constituent part of the overall strategy that manages, savours and sustains the management of the miraculous.
- Having left Iconium, Paul went to Lystra where he engaged with a man who had never walked in one of his public declarations of the gospel. Paul, whose spiritual character had grown to the point where he was now calling himself Paul, and the scripture says it was Paul and Barnabas, as opposed to Barnabas and Saul. Again in a circumstance that demanded faith, boldness, insight, a prophetic word of knowledge from heaven, and eyes to see what God was doing, Paul shouted at the crippled man to stand up on his feet. He did so immediately. The town was in such uproar that they concluded Paul and Barnabas were two of the Greek Gods come down to earth. There response was, of course, to insist that they were two very ordinary men simply doing what Christ had told them to do.
The acute point in this example is that Paul was ready for, and looking for, an opportunity to move in the miraculous, and was listening to God as he preached. The miraculous, though absolutely accomplished by faith in the word of God, has to be made room for in the ministry of the word. Also, it is a mind stretcher to consider what it was that Paul said that convinced a man who had never walked that he could walk, and that he had faith to do so (Acts 14: 8-18).
- So having disabused the people of thinking that they were deities, the Jews from previous towns came to Lystra and convinced the people that they were devils. They then stoned Paul and crudely dragged him out of the city thinking that he was dead. Such is life for those that live godly in Christ; Gods on Monday, devils on Tuesday and stoned and left for dead on Wednesday (Acts 14:19-20).Though Paul had been left for dead, the disciples gathered around him. Perhaps they prayed. We are not told. But after they encircled him, Paul got up onto his feet. Did he run? Did he say, “Take me away from this place?” Not at all, he walked straight back into the city.
The point of the episode is that the miraculous recovery of Paul was a demonstration of the power of what God had put into the man. The scripture talks of some people in the future, and it says of them, “The overcame by the word of the their testimony, the blood of the lamb, and they loved not their lives unto the death” (Revelation 12:10). Those words weren’t actually talking about Paul, but they might as well have. And loving Christ over his own life was yet another key factor in Paul’s management of the miraculous. Paul said in Philippians 3:10 that he yearned that he might know the power of Christ’s resurrection in his life. This stoning happened quite some time prior to Paul even being at Philippi, but resurrection power was surely present in the healing of the crippled man who had never walked as well as Paul’s own recovery from being stoned and left for dead.
- Then in Acts 16:16-18 there is the deliverance of the demon possessed girl in Philippi. This account is a sure and clear statement of Paul’s power and authority that he knew he had in Christ and exercised it when necessary. He did not ask for the compliance of the girl or her mentors. He didn’t check whether she had faith in Christ or not. She interrupted Paul’s preaching and talks with the people over several days. She declared that Paul and Silas were servants of the most high God who had come to show them all how to be saved. “What’s wrong with that?” I hear you ask. The point is that Paul discerned that these words of affirmation were mockingly spoken by fortune telling demons who were trying to assume authority over Paul. He cast the demon out of the girl which upset the money making people who had the girl under their control, and thus, to cut the story short, caused a furore that had Paul and Silas imprisoned.
The overall lesson is that the power and authority of Christ does not need acquiescence by the human subject to be delivered. Deliverance is not necessarily done with a person’s approval. Deliverance is God’s word spoken against the devil. It does not need a democratic vote of approval first.
- The sixth example of Paul moving in the miraculous is the very examples we have read of in Acts 19 while Paul was in Ephesus. These healings with the aprons and cloths were prophetic in as much as the statement was made over inanimate items that were not even items of clothing. Cloths and aprons had a statement of faith that had impregnated them, whether or not Paul prayed over them, said anything over them, or even if they were taken without Paul’s prior knowledge. It was the ultimate in prophetic action.
This was similar to the woman who touched the hem of Christ’s garment. Why? Because it was an inanimate object that had touched the Lord’s body. Jesus had not prayed over his garments, neither had he prepared them as a healing tool or weapon. The woman came in an action that Jesus was not watching and did not know of. In a sense, the woman was healed in a remote healing, as were those who were delivered and healed by touching the apron or cloth that was taken from Paul.
I believe that the Spirit of God can work in this way when He is completely at home and comfortable with the lifestyle and attitude of one with whom He is living. As it was with Jesus, so it was with Paul. So it was with Peter and his shadow also. Healings that are manifested remotely from the ministering person are extraordinary. These are wonderful examples of a prophetic person stretching beyond what is “normal” in the realm of the supernatural. Ezekiel seeing what was going on in the temple of Jerusalem whilst sitting in Babylon (Ezekiel 8). Elisha knowing exactly what and where the King of Aram (Syria) was going with his army when fighting Israel, whatever the king of Aram said, even in secret (2 Kings 6:8-12). Jesus healing the nobleman’s son in John 4, and delivering the Canaanite woman’s daughter (Mark 7:24-30). The anointing of the prophet means that distance is never a barrier.
- Moving ahead of our real time study in Ephesus, the next prophetic action we read of that was extraordinary was the raising of Eutychus as recorded in Acts 20:9-11. Eutychus fell asleep on the window ledge of a house with many candles or torches burning brightly. It was a day before glass windows were present. The heat and fumes of the inside sent Eutychus to sleep, whereupon he fell out of the third storey. The fall killed him. But it is what happened next that wreaks of the prophetic. Did Paul pray? No! Did he command Eutychus to come forth from the realms of the dead. Not at all! He did not even take his hand to whisper, “Young man I say to you arise.” Did he not simply look at the dead body and shout, “In the mighty name of Jesus Christ?” No! Any of those responses would have been prophetic. But the prophet merely lay on top of Eutychus’s cadaver and embraced him. He then simply announced, “Don’t be alarmed! He’s well!” Job done. There is a huge difference from being prophetic, and being a prophet.
I remember once in Lagos, working with TB Joshua, that when chatting to a group of pastors from South Africa I was held to account for the prophet’s conduct. I was accosted by the group as me (as if it was anything to do with me at all) how they could possibly be invited to join a prayer line where they were not prayed for. I had to laugh. My laughter made them more furious. I wasn’t trying to infuriate them. I just thought that their thought processes were ludicrous. Their point was that TB Joshua merely touched most of them, and did not say a word. With others, he simply stretched out his hand to them – and silently so. My answer to them was simple: “The prophet’s anointing transcends the ordinary. The prophet merely stretches out his hand – prophetically – as per Acts 4:30. The prophet is speaking by hand gesticulation, without a spoken word.” The group was stunned into silence. I do not know whether they were silenced because of agreement with my answer, or disagreement. But I left the group with nothing more to add.
A true prophet’s anointing has a weight to it that brings some trivial words or actions into play for a mighty deliverance or healing. The healing of Eutychus speaks to me that not only was Paul a prophet, but that he was a well seasoned and greatly experienced prophet of God.
- The eighth sighting of Paul the prophet was the snakebite on the beach at Malta. Having just been saved from “death by shipwreck,” when most people would be happy to sit by a fire and be nursed and ministered to, Paul was out picking sticks and twigs with which to light a fire. Snuggled up between some of the sticks Paul had unknowingly picked up a viper. And viper’s are poisonous.
The scene is almost humourous. It seems that as he threw the wood on to the fire, the viper was left hanging on to Paul’s hand by its teeth. The locals that were watching went off into a fantasy heathen world of empty thought. “This man must be a murderer. For even though he escaped death at sea, Justice will not allow him to live.” They watched as Paul shook of the viper and carried on as if nothing had happened. The locals were extremely macabre and stared at Paul waiting for him to swell up, or simply drop dead. But Paul did not even know what was going on. When nothing happened, the locals ceased calling him a murderer and called him a god. The truth was that he was neither murderer (he was in actuality an ex accomplice to murder), nor was he a god. He was a prophet. The consciousness of the man was so buried in his ownership of an intimate relationship with Christ that he was, by an active, stubborn faith, impervious to the snappings of a poisonous viper.
There may be some silly people who argue against the validity of the latter sections of Mark 16, however, Paul firmly believed verse 18 which fed his faith by saying, “They shall pick up snakes…and it will not hurt them at all.”
To this writer, these accounts, when seen in their combination, scream at me that Paul was a prophet, even though his prophetic gift was seemingly submersed with his apostolic gifting. Unknown to us today as a motive, it is absolutely clear that Luke had a logic and rational for what he both included, as well as excluded from the book of Acts. I say this because of things like the table immediately below:
“many wonders and miraculous signs were done Paul and Barnabas (the apostles) did many
by the apostles” (2:43) miracles and signs in Iconium (14:3–4)
Lame Man from birth (3:1–10) Lame Man from birth (14:8–11)
Earthquake ends a Prayer meeting (4:31) Earthquake ends prayers sung to God (16:26)
Curses Ananias and Sapphira (5:1–11) Curses Elymas (13:8–12)
Healing with a shadow (5:15) Healing with a handkerchief (19:12)
Peter grants miraculous gifts through hands (8:17) Paul grants miraculous gifts through hands (19:6)
Raises Tabitha from the dead (9:40) Raises Eutychus from the dead (20:9–12)
Peters chains loosed (12:7) Paul’s chains fell off (16:26)
Paralleling Paul and Peter’s ministry was obviously done for a reason. Analysis of Acts and comparing it with Luke’s gospel is to be an area of fruitful study sometime in the future.
Although the role and function of prophet was undoubtedly submerged in the more authoritative apostolic gift that rested on Paul, without any shadow of a doubt the three pronged ministry of healing, deliverance and prophecy – especially of personal prophecy, is the key to a sustained and consistent attack on sin, sickness and the devil in people’s lives. Paul’s management of the miraculous was tied up in not only sustain, but improving the manifestation of these gifts, by bringing his body soul and spirit into captivity to Christ.