Paul: “Some good news, Timothy: you are accompanying me on my next mission trip”. Timothy: “Great! When do we leave?” Paul: “As soon as you can walk again after being circumcised!”
This is how Paul’s Second Missionary Journey might have started. Actually, if you read the end of yesterday’s chapter (15), you will see that it started very badly. After handling the high-level talks in Jerusalem so well and so wisely, Paul and Barnabas disagreed over such a silly issue: John Mark’s loyalty. He had let them down in Southern Turkey and, for whatever reason, had chosen to go straight back home. Paul was concerned for the effectiveness of the mission trip; Barnabas was concerned for Mark. There was no ‘right’ answer and they both felt so strongly about their own position that they broke up a great Christian partnership and went their separate ways. It is true that, in all things God works for good in those who love him, and he makes the best of our stupid decisions, but maybe Paul could have done with the prophetic encouragement of Barnabas on his travels? Instead he was forced to chose Silas, another prophet who was to serve Paul well in their journeying together.
Timothy was no older than a teenager when he set out with Paul and Silas to spread the gospel to the nations. Why did Paul insist on Timothy’s circumcision when Paul himself had just argued passionately with the Jerusalem church against the need for circumcision? I think that the difference was that this was not a case of Timothy having to get circumcised to get saved; rather, it was to build bridges with the non-Christian Jews in the area, avoiding giving unnecessary offence, since they knew that Timothy was culturally a Jew and yet hadn’t been circumcised as a baby. By comparison (in Galatians 2:3), Titus, who was a Greek, was not required to be circumcised.
Paul decided to retrace his steps around those original churches he had planted, but this time in an anticlockwise direction, starting with a land journey to Derbe and then Lystra. He visited each of his congregations in each town and shared the verdicts from Jerusalem about Gentiles not needing to be circumcised (much to Timothy’s disgust, I imagine!).
Then, Paul was led by the Holy Spirit in a completely different direction, North-West through modern day Turkey to the seaport of Troas. Once there, he received a vision calling him to Macedonia and its leading city of Philippi. An influential businesswomen called Lydia received Christ – after the Spirit had opened her heart to receive Paul’s gospel message – and she and her household were baptised. Following this, Paul and Silas got into a bit of bother with the authorities and were imprisoned. Miraculously, they were released, which resulted in their jailor’s salvation. Again, baptism followed immediately, for all those who had believed – in fact his entire household!
Paul was born a Roman citizen and he often used this privilege to his advantage; the city rulers would have been so ashamed that they had illegally flogged two Romans that they would stop all persecution of the fledgling church that Paul and Silas were about to leave behind.
1 KINGS 13 and 14
The Prophet of God did everything right at first, delivering his word and then leaving without eating, drinking, or retracing his steps. Then he listened to a much older, more experienced, but apostate prophet who lied to him about God’s will and persuaded him to return and to eat and drink. In view of my earlier comments about taking the advice of those who are older and wise than you, this course of action might be seen as sound. However, the oldest and wisest person in existence is the Lord himself, the Ancient of Days, and if He speaks to you with clear instructions, then no-one should be able to persuade you to do otherwise. The Man of God rejected the word of God and listened instead to the word of man. So he was punished by death.
The Old Prophet sinned by lying about having received God’s word; he was probably jealous of a younger man who was obviously moving in the power of the Spirit and vindictively tried to derail his ministry – and, sadly, he succeeded. Out of a probable sense of guilt, he then buried the body in his own tomb.
Jeroboam continued to sin by his wilful rejection of God’s rebukes via the prophet (and despite having the first time been mercifully healed) and instead he redoubled his efforts to promote idol worship, mixed subtly with the worship of the Lord.
His son, Abijah (whose name means: ‘My Father is the Lord’) was put to death by God as a punishment to Jeroboam. It was as though God was saying to Jeroboam that it is not enough to declare with your lips that you are committed to the Lord, but you must also show this by your actions – which, of course, Jeroboam was not prepared to do at all. Instead, his actions provoked the Lord to great anger.
Israel, the nation, followed Jeroboam’s lead in worshiping the Lord through the medium of idols, as did Judah. Yet, in the end, Judah was treated more mercifully. Both Rehoboam and Jeroboam died natural deaths and Judah lasted as a kingdom for centuries longer than Israel. It is God’s prerogative to have mercy on whom he decides to have mercy, and who are we to question him! (See Romans 9:15-18.)
Some lessons from the mistakes of others today. Let’s learn from these and avoid similar mistakes ourselves; it is far less painful to take good advice and warnings than to learn by hard experience.