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First Pres Joliet

A Daily Devotional from our faith community @ firstpresjoliet.org

The Trials of St. Paul

Acts 21:27-40 NRSV

Paul is held by temple authorities for the crimes of stirring people up with strange ideas and bringing Gentiles into the temple (vv. 27-30).

Upon hearing this news, a Roman tribune commander has Paul bound in chains and walks him to his garrisons’ barracks (vv. 31-36). Along the way, Paul tells in Greek (the language of the educated in the Roman Empire) of his Tarsus citizenship (vv. 37-39). Paul is then, because of his Roman citizenship, given permission to speak to a gathered crowd at the temple, in Hebrew (v. 40).

This is a case of how life can be a succession of twists and turns with few straightaways.

Paul most likely felt he was safe in and around the temple. After all, he was a Jew. He was in great danger around the temple because of the Jewish temple officials.

He must have felt in danger when captured by the Romans. After all, he was a Jew. It turns out he was in safe hands with the tribune because of he was a citizen of Rome.

Paul in Ephesus

Acts 19:20-20:16

Paul has been in Ephesus, preaching, healing, and driving out demons. The spirit is so strong in him that garments of clothing that touched him were taken to people who were sick and they were healed. Jews who watched this happen began trying to drive out demons “in the name of Jesus whom Paul preaches.” This didn’t work, but instead created a chaotic situation where they were beaten up by an evil spirit that knew they were imposters. Upon seeing this, many people quickly turned from practicing sorcery and converted. 

Ephesus was a center for trade and travel in Asia minor, and also home to the temple of Artemis. A silversmith brought fellow trades people together to create an uproar about how Paul and members of The Way were bringing a threat to their business of selling castings of the goddess Artemis. That stirred up a near riot that was eventually squashed by the city clerk. 

Paul continues his travels and ends up in Troas where he is teaching and breaking bread with some people. One of the people there was a man by the name of Eutychus, who fell asleep in a window opening and fell three stories to his death. But Paul brought him back from the dead. Paul made several more stops before setting sail to make it back to Jerusalem by Pentacost. 

In the story of driving out demons and the story of the near riot in Ephesus, you can see how easy it is to lead humans astray. It starts with one rabble-rouser who spreads some false information, and from there it can spread like wildfire. It is so important for us to not be led astray by human created sentiments and focus our energy on what’s most important. And that, to me, is to focus on where our salvation truly lies. In the grand scheme of life, when all is said and done, much of what we stress about will be unimportant when we meet our Creator. 

Mixed Reviews

Acts 18:1-17

Paul has just left Athens where he had a mixed review, some men heartily embracing the message of salvation, some men sneering at the prospect of resurrection of the dead. So He moved south to Corinth, where he encountered a Jew named Aquilla, and his wife Priscilla, who had a business making tents. Paul also skilled in the trade got a job with them. On the Sabbath each week Paul would reason in the synagogue, where prayers were said, readings from the Law and the prophets were read, and then any prominent, qualified man was allowed to speak. Paul most likely wore clothing identifying him as a Pharisee, and was always welcomed to speak, usually until he spoke, it was then that he got mixed reviews. As a result of his message that Jesus was the Jews promised Messiah, they rose up against him, where he then “shook out his garments against them.” saying his message would now be to the gentiles only.

Silas and Timothy had just come from Macedonia with a large gift of money from them that then allowed Paul to quit his job and devote his time to study and proclaiming the Good News. Feeling alone and rejected from past events, this word from them, and meeting with Silas and Timothy, lifted his spirits, along with a direct word from God stating that “he not be afraid,” and “no man will attack you,” and to “keep on speaking boldly,” “For I am with you.”

One year and six months Paul was at Corinth building that church primarily from Gentiles. An important incident occurred during this time, after about nine months of teaching, Gallio becomes proconsul of Achaia, which includes Corinth. This is an imperial province as opposed to senatorial, which is like national versus state, for America. The Jews test Gallio, bringing charges against Paul as to his message which they deem unlawful. Gallio is a man of integrity, and rejects the Jews claim, understanding it to be intramural, that is, within their domain not of national interest. This then becomes a national trend, as ruled by Gallio and sets a national standard. The Jews are so angry that they then start beating Sosthenes the leader of the synagogue, for reasons only they know, perhaps for not presenting a strong enough case against Paul.

Meanwhile Paul’s ministry continues to prosper at Corinth for another nine months. It is a time of peace and rest for Paul, who was really strengthened by the response of the people there, and the comfort from the Holy Spirit through provisions, and friendships.

In our lives as we attend to the study of God’s word, and ministry through the church, and personal relationships wherever God leads us, we will also receive mixed reviews. Not everyone embraces the message of salvation, or responds openly to to even the prospect of God existing. They sometimes call you crazy, or walk away, or regard you as simple. But they know what you believe, and in time many come back because they know that you are the one who has the Hope and Words of eternal life. As in John 6:66-69 “As a result of this many of His disciples with drew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord to whom should we go? You have words of eternal life.”

Karl

Paul at the Areopagus

Acts 17:22-34

This passage starts out with Paul acknowledging the Athenian people’s dedication to worship, but that worship is misled. In fact, their worship is so misguided that there is even an inscription on an alter “to an unknown god.” They are dedicated to praying to the gods, but they don’t even know who all of the gods are that they are worshiping. 

Paul gives them an alternative and a better God to send their prayers to. He introduces them to the One True God, Creator of All Things, the Living God. This God isn’t off in some distant place, but instead is with us everyday. He isn’t just found in temples dedicated to Him, but rather is with us everywhere. And one day, He will judge our lives through Jesus, His son. This speech that Paul gave in the Areopagus led to the conversion of several people, including Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris. 

I like to research the names mentioned in passages like these because the stories or traditions behind the names are usually interesting and also give insight to what the world was like 2,000 years ago. 

If tradition is somewhat accurate, then Dionysius was quick to convert after hearing Paul in part because of his experience as a boy living in Egypt at the time. It was at the time of Christ’s crucifixion, and as it states in the Gospels, the whole world came under darkness. It is said in tradition that Dionysius at the time thought the gods were mad at the world and caused the darkness. Later, when he learned that happened at the time of Christ’s crucifixion, that was all he needed to realize who God, and Jesus, are and became a convert. In fact, his whole family was baptized as a result, which quite possibly could account for the “and a number of others” mentioned at the end of verse 34. 

It is also worth stating that Damaris is a peculiar character in this story as well. Why, you might ask? Because in general, women were not allowed in the Areopagus meetings. However, if she were an upper-class prostitute, a Stoic, or a visitor to Athens, then she would have been allowed. From what I’ve read, she likely held some status with Dionysius or one of the other judges of the Areopagus, as in possibly the wife of one of the men. Either way, she had to be of some importance to those who ran the Areopagus to be mentioned by name in this passage. 

Paul Visits Athens

Acts 17:16-21 NRSV

Athens was the headquarters of Greek philosophy – chiefly the Epicureans (eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die), and the Stoics (self-sufficient, self-reliant, and self-sacrificing). Paul is brought out to speak at the Areopagus because of what he was saying to Jews and Gentiles in Greece.

The Areopagus was a forum from where ideas, new and old, were voiced for public consumption. This settings purpose was as much entertainment as it was information (vv. 19-21). Much like Facebook, Twitter, etc. are in our day.

God’s Plan for Paul

Acts 16: 25-40

Paul and Silas are in prison after exorcising a demon from a slave woman who made her owners large amounts of money by telling peoples’ fortunes. While in prison, a great earthquake shook the prison foundation and opened all of the prison doors. The guard was ready to commit suicide knowing he would be severley punished for allowing all of the prisoners to escape, but instead, the prisoners called out to the jailer telling him they were all still there and didn’t run away. Having experienced all of this, the jailer immediately wanted to know how he could be saved, to which the reply was to believe in Jesus. He was baptized, as was all of his family. 

The next day, the magistrates sent officers to release the prisoners. Paul refused to be released unless the magistrates themselves came to release them because they had been beaten publicly, despite being Roman citizens. The magistrates were fearful because they didn’t realize that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. 

Being a Roman citizen was important, because with that citizenship they had certain rights that non-citizens didn’t have. For example, Roman citizens could vote in the assembly. In this case, though, being a citizen made it illegal for the government to torture, whip, or put to death unless they were charged with treason. So when the magistrates realized that they had Roman citizens beaten publicly, they as a result could be punished for doing this. 

As I have said before, I don’t believe in coincidences, but instead believe that things happen for a reason as determined by God. In this case, I believe that God choosing Paul as one of his main missionaries in the early church was important for many reasons. One being Paul’s way with words that convinced people he knew what he was talking about. Add also Paul’s persistence and seeing all of his orders carried out to their fullest extent possible. But one last one that maybe can be overlooked is choosing a Roman citizen to do a lot of God’s dirty work. I could be completely wrong on this assessment, but it is something to be considered at the very least. Being a Roman citizen gave Paul lots of extra leeway that a non-citizen wouldn’t have had when forming Christian churches throughout a pagan region. In Rome, the emperor was elevated to god status, so to refuse to worship the Roman gods would be to refuse to accept the emperor’s status. According to those laws, Paul should have been imprisoned and put to death way sooner than he ended up being. And yet, because of his status as a Roman, he was spared on more than one occasion. God’s plan? I don’t know about you, but I say yes. 

I am all Things to all Men

Acts 16:1-10

1 Corinthians 7:17-20

1 Corinthians 9: 19-23

2 Peter 1: 5-7

As a carpenter for 49 years now, people always assume that I would be a good teacher for younger people to learn the trade, and I do my best to try to instruct those who have a desire to learn. Yet the problem arises, as I instruct them, I can’t remember what it is like to not know. There are so many basic concepts needed to begin, that I assume, everyone knows. Things like being able to read a tape measure, knowing all the tools, being skilled in the use of the tools, being proficient in mathematics, knowing the terms of the trade, knowing plumb, level, and square, etc. These things are second nature to me, and I forget what it’s like to not know the basics.

I believe this is similar to the problem the Apostle’s faced as they started spreading the gospel to the Gentile nations. They had been under the Law, as a culture for centuries. All there lives, their neighbors, their work, their celebrations, their sabbaths, their offerings, all had to do with Godliness. They memorized scriptures, they talked the talk, they attended services, they tithed, they were generous to each other, they adhered to all the Laws demands, in general, though not perfectly. Now come in the Gentiles, what are they to give them as instruction for Godliness. In Acts 15:20 the list is amazingly simple, “abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornications, and from what is strangled and from blood.” The Apostles wrote this list, and delivered it to the Gentile churches in hope of not burdening them with too many demands, which might be an understatement, for there was a vast disparity in the cultures. As time goes on the Apostles refine the list for the Gentiles defining in finer detail what holiness really looks like, 2 Peter 1:5-7 for example, but at this time it is enough.

In our text for this day we read about Paul and Silas meeting Timothy in Lystra, in Asia Minor, a half Jew, half Greek. His father is no longer in the picture, and as Paul desires to take him along on the journeys, he feels compelled to have him circumcised. Which is best understood as a necessity for their mission for integrity purposes, for there is no such thing as an uncircumcised Jew. 1 Corinthians 9: 19-23, Paul also explains in verse 22, “I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means win some.” As such Timothy followed Paul’ desire and instruction.

A last note on this section of scripture, a look at verse 6. we see the Holy Spirit guiding Paul and Silas away from Phrygia and Galatia, next in verse 7. the Spirit of Jesus does not allow them to preach in Bithynia, and then in verse 10. Paul concludes that God the Father brings a vision to him to go to Macedonia and preach the gospel to them. Thus we see the Trinity described in a concise section of scripture.

Friends we need to be in tune with the Holy Spirit in our lives, and be willing to obey what we know now and be willing to refine our lives as the Spirit reveals new truth, and leads us daily. We too then can become all things to all men that we might win some to Christ.

Karl

Are Gentiles Under The Law?

Acts 15:6-12 NRSV

Folk, Apostles and elders, came together to settle the above dispute with Peter as the arbitrator. This is the first recorded instance of a church hierarchy meeting.

Peter recalls through him, by God’s apparent endorsement, Gentiles heard and believed His Gospel message (v. 7, cp. Acts 10:36-43) by way of the Holy Spirit given “to all of us” (v. 8, cp. Acts 10:44-45). It makes no difference. We, like them, are saved by way of our faith in what we have heard (vv. 9-11).

The meeting ends with Paul and Barnabas telling the assembled the great things that God had accomplished through them among the Gentiles (v. 12).

Disruptive Change

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