Bible Study with Jairus- Acts 17

In the beginning of Acts 17 it tells us that Paul and Silas came to the synagogue in Thessalonica to preach the gospel. Some people were persuaded, but it also led to the opposition of many Jews. The Jews wanted to bring Paul and Silas out to the crowd but could not find them. Because of this, the Jews dragged Jason out who had received Paul and Silas. Because of this, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea, and upon their arrival, they started to preach the gospel in the synagogue. The people there were more open-minded than the Thessalonians. When the Jews in Thessalonica heard about it, they came over to stir up trouble again. The believers then sent Paul to the coast and escorted him to Athens, while Silas and Timothy remained in Berea.

When Paul arrived in Athens, he asked the people who escorted him to let Silas and Timothy come over. Then the Bible records:

17:16 (NIV) While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.

17:17 (NIV) So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.

17:18 (NIV) A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.

The Christian woman who was leading our Bible Study asked, “Why is it that the Jews of Thessalonica were so opposed to Paul’s evangelism and when Paul arrived in Berea, why did the Jews from Thessalonica travel to Berea to oppose Paul? Why is it wherever Paul and Silas went, they went to the synagogue first to preach the gospel? And why is it when Paul arrived in Athens, he still let Silas and Timothy to come over? It seems that Timothy had always been with Paul, but why is it he didn’t mention Timothy when he was in Thessalonica and Berea? After the Jews brought Jason to the crowd, why was it recorded in Acts 17:7-8 (NIV) that: “Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus. When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil.” Why were they thrown into turmoil?

There are a lot of questions here but we can only answer one at a time so let’s start with why the Jews were thrown into turmoil when they heard Jesus was king.

I shared that there was a historical background to this which I learned while I was studying Christian theology. During the time when the Israelites were against Roman rule, there were several different Jewish factions. The Herodians and Sadducees mentioned in the Bible were Roman advocates; but the Pharisees and the Zealots advocated for independence and were opposed to Roman rule. In particular, the Zealots advocated the use of violent and revolutionary means to overthrow Roman rule, and they launched violent uprisings against Roman rule but were brutally suppressed by the Romans. After the brutal crackdown, the Zealots were almost completely exterminated. The Pharisees were basically politically cautious. They didn’t fiercely advocate revolution, and thus survived. But the faction that advocated cooperation with the Romans occupied a large part of Israel’s upper class.

Why were the Jewish crowds and the city officials thrown into turmoil when they heard that Jesus was another king? One of the reasons may be that many Jews advocated cooperation with the Romans. It can be said that they were “Jewish traitors”. So, if Jesus (another king) came and if He was able to lead the Israelites in a successful revolt, would they have to liquidate the history of these traitors? And Jesus is really the king of Israel. Not only were these Jews afraid that He would become king, but even his disciples were hoping that He would really be king in order to lead them to revolutionary success and to drive the Romans out and restore Israel’s glory. Looking at these two examples, the identity of the Lord Jesus as a Jewish king does bring hope but it also poses a threat to some groups of people.

Although Jesus had already been crucified when Paul preached the gospel, talking about Him as another king of the Jews could have caused another Jewish revolution.  The revolts might have been successful and the Roman advocates would be called traitors.  If the revolution wasn’t successful the Israelites would be brutally suppressed by the Romans again.

Therefore, there were valid reasons why the Jews fiercely opposed evangelism. It could even be said that it was a very legitimate reason to protect the Israelites from harm. Those who hold this view believe that the people who were opposing Paul’s evangelism were actually protecting ordinary Israelites from the Romans, because the history of the fierce suppression of the Zealots was still fresh in their memory.

It may be for these reasons, plus several others, that these Jews from Thessalonica had gone to Berea to oppose Paul’s evangelism. In both places, Paul was forced to leave. Please note that the first time Paul was forced to leave Thessalonica and flee to Berea, he was with Silas. The second time Paul was forced to leave Berea and was escorted to Athens while Silas and Timothy remained in Berea. When he arrived in Athens, the one who escorted Paul had taken orders from him and went back to call Silas and Timothy to come over Athens, and left. Here, I guess the person who escorted Paul is just one person, or even if it’s a few people, they were all gone. After Paul was left alone, he encountered a lot of difficulties. Herein lays the problem.

When American pastors and teachers travel to other countries to preach, they spend many exhausting hours on the plane and then often proceed directly to the place they are to preach.   Many times they are already exhausted when they reach their destination. They need to be strengthened by the Lord before they can finish their sermon. Even though we have airplanes and better traveling conditions, a long flight is still exhausting.  If that’s the case, imagine that if you were Paul, and you traveled long distances to evangelize and you were continuously being chased. Now you are alone in Athens, and Athens is full of idols. How would you react?

Let’s look at Paul’s reaction.

Acts 17:16-18 (NIV) says that:

16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.

How should we look at this passage?

The church that I was saved in was more in favor of Paul’s work. In my spiritual education, Paul was rarely criticized. But when the Lord led me to look at the teachings of some of the Bible teachers outside the traditions of my evangelical church, I heard some criticisms towards Paul.

I heard a message from Rick Joyner that there are statistics showing that 80% of the Exegetical and Hermeneutical Work of Bible after Martin Luther’s Reformation have been about Paul. Rick saw Paul once in a vision. Paul told him that everyone has highly exalted him. They should not take his work to analyze the four Gospels. Instead, they should use the words of the four Gospels to measure his works.

Rick Joyner also said that Paul’s life has undergone three stages of growth and change. The initial stage seems to be what he said in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians (NIV), “My immediate response was not to consult any human being.” There seems to be some pride in saying these words; but in the second stage, he claims that “For I am the least of the apostles” (NIV, 1 Corinthians 15:9) and “I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people” (NIV, Ephesians 3:8); Later he said, “I am the worst sinner of them all.” (NIV, 1 Timothy 1:15). These verses show that Paul had also undergone a process of constant humility.

There is some controversy that arises when reading Paul’s work. The controversy revolves around the issue of Paul’s teachings being infallible. Paul is a human being and all human beings are bound to make mistakes. But if Paul was used to write the Bible under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, could there be any errors? If you believe that Paul can’t be wrong, that doesn’t really make sense because humans are bound to make mistakes. If you believe that Paul can be wrong, then how do you decide which subjects he was right or wrong about? This is an issue in particular with the controversy about Paul’s prohibition of women preaching. Was Paul wrong to base it on the customs of that time, or were his words the revelation of the Holy Spirit? How we should view Paul’s teachings? Whether Paul is right or wrong in this matter has become a big debate in Christian exegesis. But for now, we won’t discuss the issue of whether women should or shouldn’t preach.

We certainly believe that Paul’s words are the revelation of the Holy Spirit, but we also believe that Paul went through a learning process because he experienced failure. Although the Biblical education I received did not say that Paul’s experience in Athens was a failure, I have heard other Bible teachers mention that Paul’s attempt to win people’s hearts in accepting Christ through debating at Athens was a failure. They specifically compared what is written in Galatians 3:5 with Paul’s experience in Athens. Paul says in Galatians 3:5 (NIV), “So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?” Here, Paul specifically mentioned that the Galatians started with the Spirit so that they should not fall into the flesh. He preached the gospel by relying on the Holy Spirit. He had also performed miracles to bring the Galatians to salvation.

Let’s take a look again at Chapter 17 verses 16-18 (NIV):

16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.

I agree more with the argument that Paul’s debating may not have had good results here. Allow me to explain my thoughts.

As I mentioned earlier, Paul was chased twice by the Jews. He was accompanied by Silas the first time, and the second time; he was accompanied by an escort. When he arrived in Athens, the person who escorted him went back to assist Silas and Timothy so they could come quickly to Athens. In this interval, Paul was alone. Even if Paul possessed remarkable abilities/powers, he would still feel lonely when he was alone. The Bible tells us “How could one man chase a thousand, or two put ten thousand to flight?” (NIV, Deuteronomy 32:30). The principle that God established was to partner us with the body of Christ. At this time, when Paul was left alone, he might have faced an attack and incitement of the enemy.

My personal view is that after Paul experienced the continuous attacks and rejection of the Jews plus the fact that he was left alone in Athens and saw that the city was full of idols, he became greatly distressed. Then I think he started to reason and ask himself, was he still in the spirit? The Bible does not explain this so we do not know for sure. But the view I mentioned before, that is, the result of Paul’s hopes of spreading the gospel to the Athenians through debating did not go very well. So Paul’s experience in Athens is regarded as one of his failures.

Let me discuss the inspiration that I received during this meeting. It can be said through the word “react” or more appropriately, “to be influenced by the environment”. In our spiritual experience as Christians, we should be seated in heavenly places in Christ, but sometimes our flesh or minds are provoked and make us react in our minds and in the flesh. Afterwards, we often regret the experience.

I recently listened to a very early message from an American pastor named Jack Deere about the discipline of the Holy Spirit. He mentioned a very interesting experience that he had. He said that he is a pastor in a not so well-off place in the United States. As a pastor, he is often misunderstood and attacked by others. One day, a female Christian, in a church where he served as a pastor, said to him, “You are just serving as a pastor here for the money.” He was very angry and he answered her back. Things like this seemed to happen all the time. He asked the Lord, “What is going on?” The Lord said that this is the discipline of the Holy Spirit. He said, “When will it end?” The Lord replied, “When you can treat those who criticize you with a gentle and kind spirit.” Jack Deere is a pastor who moved from the evangelical church to the charismatic movement. He is well-known in the Christian world in the United States. He is also one of the few American pastors I know of that teaches the discipline of the Holy Spirit. Supposedly, he’s also a person who pursues deeper spirituality, but he shared this experience to let us see that a person who pursues spirituality is often influenced by the environment especially when they are not mature enough.

When Jack Deere’s spiritual discipline was more mature, he would respond more gently and lovingly to those who criticize him.

When a Christian is practicing to be more spiritual, we need to learn not to react to the environment or be influenced by the environment. Instead, we should react to the heavenly reality and our communication with the Lord, and out of our position of sitting together with Christ in heavenly places.  Reacting to the environment or what you see will end up pulling you down to the level of the environment itself.

Can Paul’s experience here be pulled down by the surrounding environment? We know that Paul is a man with heavenly experience and vision, but there are times that people become weak, especially when he is constantly attacked by Jews, and his co-workers Silas and Timothy are not beside him to assist him. He might have been very knowledgeable since he received training from Gamaliel, and he was good at debating. After he was enraged in the spirit, his soul also became agitated: “You guys know how to debate, I also know to debate. Your philosophy is great. My philosophy is also very impressive.”

As you can see here, not only did he debate with the Jews and God-fearing people, but he has also debated with the people he met in the marketplace every day, and some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers who have argued with him. We are not sure whether Paul is like this, but those who hold the view that Paul has done nothing wrong is untenable because Paul is a human being, and every human being has a process of learning and continuous maturing. In his later years, Paul did not think that he was fully mature yet, saying that “I press on toward the goal to win the prize.” (NIV, Philippians 3:14). If Paul’s later years are not fully mature, then Paul’s experience should be a process of continuous maturity. The only difficulty is how we see Paul’s continuous maturity process with the help of the Holy Spirit, but at the same time not be affected in accepting the fact that the Holy Spirit has spread the Word of God through Paul’s mouth.

Judging from my limited personal evangelistic experience, many times we encounter some atheist Chinese, who often debate with the people who are preaching the gospel. I personally feel that these debates are often not very effective. The best way is to influence them through prayers and testimonies of love. Of course, among many Christians who advocate Power Evangelism, there are many who use the power of the Holy Spirit to let the atheists be convinced. The debate is usually not very effective. Debates often let us fall to the battlefield of the mind, and debates are things that often happen after we have fallen into a reprobate mind. I slowly learned a lesson, that is, when a person is not ready to accept Christ, or the Holy Spirit hasn’t yet reached a point where he has begun to work on the person to open up his/her mind, we don’t need to have too much debate with him/her. Instead, we can silently pray for the person with an attitude of give and take in the service of love. It has a better effect as time passes.

In addition to this it’s important to be spiritually paired with other believers no matter how knowledgeable or spiritual you may be.  Paul knows this very well. But does the absence of Silas and Timothy affect Paul’s judgment? Although Paul is an apostle, the Bible clearly says that Silas is a prophet. If Silas is there, will Silas pray to God to get any prophetic revelation on how to do the work of evangelism in the city of Athens? Or if Timothy is there, will he be more eloquent to deliver and preach the gospel? Although Timothy is younger than Paul, we have seen how young people can do many things better in the church. When people who don’t know much about God come to church, the effect when the pastor preaches a profound sermon is often not as good as the testimony of a few Christians who have faith in the Lord from the very start. The latter is more appealing to those who have just come into contact with the gospel.

This is also my personal point of view. I think that Paul may be more suitable to teach those who want to seek and experience the truth on a deeper level, but Timothy may be more suitable to test the waters first in Athens. Their human hearts are not prepared yet for the idol worshipping people so we should let Timothy pave the way through his words. Or let Silas pray to God to see what strategic or spiritual guidance God has, and then find ways to preach the gospel here. But it seems that it wasn’t mentioned here that Paul has received any revelation or God’s guidance. Instead, the Bible mentions that he had reacted because he was angry in the spirit. Is this reaction completely from God?  We don’t know.

But I think that those who hold the view that since Paul was an apostle, everything he did was right and he didn’t need to seek God’s guidance, and he won’t ever make mistakes is untenable. Although Paul was an apostle, he has the ability to make mistakes and will need a process of learning from them. I personally think that Paul should not be in a rush and do things hastily. He should take a rest and wait until Silas and Timothy come to discuss the matter together and then take action. In other words, Paul is too rash here. This may be one of Paul’s weaknesses.

Of course, our analysis is not necessarily right, but it can provide us with another idea, that is, to understand the process of Paul’s growth in God. Paul was a person, not a God. Did he have any shortcomings? It’s safe to say that it’s very natural for everyone to have weakness. Did Paul have any weaknesses? If what we propose here exposes the weakness of human nature, what is Paul’s weakness? What effect does Paul’s weakness have on his ministry?

We don’t know the specific weaknesses that Paul had, but it’s impossible for a person not to have any weakness. Even if people don’t have obvious weaknesses, they need to be paired with other believers who have different giftings.  Therefore, the pairing of Silas and Timothy to Paul is very important.

Of course, we are not totally negating the effect of Paul’s evangelism in Athens. Although he wasn’t good at convincing the Athenians through debating, he had attracted some people who were seeking the truth.

Acts 17:19-21 (NIV) says: “Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?  You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)”

You can see that the explanation in verse 21 is that the Athenians and the foreigners who live there are very busy, and they have no time to take care of other things. So these people took Paul and brought him to Areopagus to talk about these new lessons/ideas which stood out to us. Going back to what we mentioned earlier, Paul may not have the silver tongue of Timothy, or the effect of preaching the gospel to the newcomers or those who are occupied by the world’s affairs, but Paul didn’t fail to attract those who really seek the truth. Paul’s personality may be more suitable to people who are diligent seekers of truth.

Paul spoke a very famous passage in Acts 17:24-27 (NIV) which says that: “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”

We have no intention of belittling Paul, and the experience here is also the highlight of Paul’s experience in Athens. But I personally don’t think that idolizing Paul or assuming that he doesn’t have a process of continuous maturity, is correct. Paul is a human being. When he is continuously attacked and left alone, he will be weak and will be incited by the environment to react. And such a reaction usually pulls us down to the level of the environment or the enemy, letting us lose the commanding heights of victory in Christ. An example is Pastor Jack Deere that I mentioned earlier. When others criticize you, don’t rush to react. Instead, rest in the Lord and ask His wisdom and follow his leading to deal these criticisms. Similarly, I think that Paul should not be rash here. He should seek the Lord on how to evangelize Athens which was occupied by idols. He should also wait for Silas and Timothy to come and discuss first before making any decisions. It’s not that Paul has no wisdom, but Paul was constantly attacked and alone. He needs to get a good rest and to be taken care of.

We have a new couple coming to our Bible study. I hoped to give them a prophetic word before the end of our meeting. I prayed to God and asked Him, “Are there any prophetic words to give and bless them?” I heard the Holy Spirit say two names, Aquila and Priscilla. I prophesied by faith that:

I feel that God believes that you are Aquila and Priscilla. They have the same line of work as Paul, but they have also taken care of him. Although Paul is an apostle, the apostles also need to be cared to and helped by people. I feel that God called you to be Aquila and Priscilla to train the Paul of tomorrow, because in this era, God will raise and widely use many Paul-like apostles. God called you to be Aquila and Priscilla to cherish those who are serving as apostles. Whether this person is still your child, or a little brother or sister in your church, God will use you to fulfill them in order to make them become servants like Paul. As we saw in this chapter, Paul also has weaknesses and there are times that he needs help and to be paired with other believers. Paul’s encounter with Aquila and Priscilla was a turning point in Paul’s spirituality, because the couple, Aquila and Priscilla, is very compassionate. They were tentmakers just as Paul was and they had received Paul. We believe that Aquila and Priscilla have tended Paul to a large extent, so after Paul met Aquila and Priscilla, it could be said that spiritually, he became more mature. How God used Aquila and Priscilla to take care of and complete Paul’s ministry, God will also use you two to come along side and complete the Pauls of tomorrow.

I prophesied that according to the principle that “everyone can prophesy” (1 Corinthian 14:31), it’s not because I am a prophet. I was saved in an Evangelical church, but I learned the gift of prophecy after I first came into contact with the American modern prophetic movement in 2015. Of course, I studied five courses at a prophetic school, and their teachings helped me to go and activate this prophetic gift.

I prophesied with inspiration and faith. I don’t know if these words are correct for the couple because they didn’t give me feedback. However, after other friends who were in the meeting with me verified Acts 18, they began to discover Paul’s experience of encountering Aquila and Priscilla. It seems that perhaps, I am speaking by the Holy Spirit. Because when I prophesied, I was not sure when Paul met Aquila and Priscilla, nor was I very familiar with the content of Acts 18.

I hope that when we have the opportunity to read Acts 18, we can learn more about how Aquila and Priscilla have tended and helped Paul with the help of the Holy Spirit. Thank you for reading, listening or watching.