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.
4 thoughts on “How should Christians respond when our world falls apart? – Acts 16, Part 1”
According to Matthew Henry, Paul wanted to make him more “palatable” to the Jews. Uncircumcision had already been accepted by James, Peter and the Jewish Church. Timothy was already a respected Christian in the area. Is that what occurs in many of todays Christian Churches, rock bands, tolerance of homosexuality, gay marriage and abortion. Are we trying to make Christianity more palatable to increase our congregations with a more worldly audience.
Thanks for your comment. It seems to me that Matthew Henry is correct about Paul wanting to make Timothy more acceptable to the Jews. I wonder if Paul’s logic has echoes of his argumentation in 1st Corinthians 8 & 9 and Romans 14, when he teaches that Christians should not allow their freedom to become a stumbling block to others. Instead out of love, they should abstain from activities that other Christians would struggle with. In a backwards kind of way, then, perhaps Paul is asking Timothy to “abstain” from uncircumcision so as not to become a stumbling block to the Jewish Christians he would be ministering to. It is still a bizarre situation. I also wonder if Paul, knowing how frequently he got into conflict with Jews, was looking for ways to avoid more conflict down the road. If so, did Timothy’s circumcision help out in that way? It’s hard to know. Paul still gets in trouble with Jews. But we don’t hear much more about Timothy’s ministry, at least in the account in Acts, as the author continues to keep Paul in the camera’s eye, so to speak, as Paul is now the main character in this story.
And great question about whether we are trying to make Christianity more palatable. It seems that as long as we stay true to the message of the Gospel, including the teaching and theology of Jesus and the New Testament writers, there is no one method we need to adhere to as we communicate and live out the way of Jesus. In that sense, yes, we can, and I would argue, should, make Christianity more palatable to the world. Currently I’m studying Acts 17 in preparation for this coming Sunday’s sermon. I’ll publish posts on that next week. In Acts 17 it seems that Paul attempts to make Christianity more palatable to a very unique Greco-Roman audience in Athens. The methods he uses in he speech at Mars Hill are quite different from the approach he uses when talking with Jewish audiences. Looking forward to talking more about that next week.
The “Truth” palatable or not is still the truth. Look at the number of different denominations, the Mormons, Later Day Saints, Jehovah Witnesses how can they all be speaking the same truth, when
doctrines are different. What do you say to a Catholic that has removed the Second commandment cast in stone, by God in Exodus, substantiated in the New Testament, its OK God and Jesus were wrong. When you ask someone to study scripture how do you explain the the meaning can change depending on which Bible interpretations you read. i.e. 1 Corinthians 13:13 And now there remain faith, hope, and charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity. Latin Vulgate– And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity KJV– And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. NKJV
You raise some really important questions and concerns. Especially the complexity of biblical interpretation. What I suggest is that people consider using a Study Bible, like the NIV Study Bible, as it includes excellent notes, cross-references, and a concordance.
Translation comparison study is also a great method. You’ve done that with 1 Cor. 13:13. Is it “charity” or is it “love”? And what did “charity” mean in 1611 in England when the KJV was translated, and what does “charity” mean now? Furthermore, and getting, I think, to the heart of the matter, what does the original text say? For that, we need to have some knowledge of the original languages, or at least some access to research tools that help us study the original text? The word used in 1 Cor 13:13 is the Greek word “agape,” so what does that mean? Do either of the English words “charity” or “love” encompass all that “agape” meant to the Greek-speaking world in the 1st Century when Paul wrote that letter? These are the kinds of questions that translators wrestle with, and their answers lead to changes from one translation to the next, as they try to be faithful to the text. That’s why the process of translation and interpretation is both an art and science. People reading my comments here, however, might get discouraged thinking, “Are you telling me that I have to learn the original languages of the Bible or I can’t really know what the Bible says?” My answer is No. In fact, when I consider the capability and quality of the teams of biblical scholars who work on translating the Bible from the original language into another, my conclusion is that those translations and version of the Bible are highly dependable, and they are trustworthy for learning the word of God. Also we can be thankful that we have the Spirit of God to help us understand, as Paul writes in 1 Cor 2:12.