It’s been quite a year already, hasn’t it? And we’re not even halfway through!
We started the year in political turmoil with a presidential impeachment hearing and the normal increased intensity of election year debates. Then Covid-19 hit, and we were in quarantine, including a near total shutdown of the country, for months. Then multiple incidents of injustice and crime toward people of color led to nationwide protests and the call for sweeping change.
Any one of these situation in any other year would have been major news for a long time. But this year, so far we’ve all three, and all three are still ongoing: political upheaval, worldwide pandemic, and mass protests. Every day the news is chock full! Have you been feeling the discouragement and frustration of it all?
That is not to mention the very real personal pain that many of us have encountered. From the loss of sports seasons, loss of income, health concerns, and the loss of loved ones. Or the intensity and anguish of trying to figure how to do school online, how to go grocery shopping with masks, or how to handle our businesses or churches during a quarantine. Consider the many difficult conversations that seem to happen incessantly about whether or not our leaders are making good choices or not. It can be very easy to just get angry, complaining and bitter.
How are Christians to respond when our world falls apart? Turn to Acts 16, as we follow the second missionary journey of Paul, because he tended to be a magnet for trouble, and his world is about to fall apart.
Chapter 16 picks up where chapter 15 left off. Paul and Silas have already headed out on a missionary trip. In this post we’re focusing on verses 1-5.
The apostles end up visiting Derbe and Lystra. Do those city names sound familiar? In Acts 14 we read that these were towns where Paul and Barnabas had previously started churches. In Derbe, their ministry went really well. But Lystra was the town where Jews from other cities showed up in opposition to Paul and Barnabas, inciting the crowd to stone Paul, to the point where they thought he was dead. Imagine. Paul is going back there again!
Good thing, though, because a guy named Timothy lives there. We just read that Timothy is a disciple who was spoken well of. Except for one detail. Look at verse 3. Paul wanted to bring Timothy on the mission trip, so he circumcised him because of the Jews in that area. What? Paul circumcises a grown man? That is a crazy sentence to read. Is this a contradiction of everything we heard last week in Acts 15 when the Jerusalem Council said Gentile Christians do not need to be circumcised? Is Paul going rogue?
No. Actually, what Paul intends is likely to set Timothy up for success in ministry, knowing Timothy will be ministering to Jewish Christians, and thus, if he is circumcised, he wouldn’t have to deal with Jews for whom that was an issue.
Still, imagine that conversation between Paul and Timothy. “So, pal, we need to talk. I have an idea for you…” I wonder how Timothy responded to the ensuing conversation when Paul says that Timothy should be circumcised. Did he argue? Did he bring up the fact that circumcision is precisely the issue in Acts 15 that the church leaders in Jerusalem said was not necessary?
The fact that Timothy goes through with the idea says as much about Timothy’s humility and teachability, as it does Paul’s persuasiveness and his passion for the mission.
After Timothy’s surgery, the apostles travel through more towns they had previously ministered in, and they continue to inform the Christians in those towns about the letter from the leaders in Jerusalem. The churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily! Notice the connection between chapters 15 and 16, then. In 15 the leaders in Jerusalem provide direction, and it leads to gladness and growth of the church. God is at work, and things are going so well. What do the apostles do once they have visited most of the churches where they had previously started churches? In the next post we’ll continue reading Acts 16 to find out.
If you’re feeling discouragement or frustration about 2020, keep following this series of posts on Acts 16. It is an amazing chapter, with string of fairly wild events. The first one, which we read in verses 1-5, is the circumcision of a grown man. It’s about to get even crazier. But in the end, we’ll learn a very important and practical approach to responding to life when it is thrown into upheaval.