Bible Study with Jairus – Acts 18
As we mentioned last time, Paul met Aquila and his wife Priscilla. They were Jews coming from Rome to Italy. Paul had already left Athens and they all came to meet in Corinth. I’ve said before that their meeting was a turning point in Paul’s spiritual life. Why do I say that?We usually think that Paul is an apostle, so he is always better than others and there is no need for him to learn from others. This isn’t the case. All of us have a learning process. Even when the Lord Jesus was on earth, He needed to learn to grow in the grace of God and man. Similarly, Paul also went through a learning process. In our study on Acts 17 last time, we mentioned that Paul may have made a mistake of being rash in Athens. He may have been influenced by the environment possibly having a negative rather than positive effect on evangelism. But in Acts 18, it shows the process by which the Holy Spirit further led and perfected Paul through the circumstances.
Let’s take a closer look.
The Holy Spirit patiently leads us into God’s will for our lives.
The Lord Jesus said that, “Everything is in the hands of the Father. No two sparrows will fall to the ground without His consent.” (Matthew 10:29). Aquila and his wife Priscilla had just left Rome to Corinth because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul also came to Corinth from Athens. Is it accidental that they met there? No. Everything is arranged by the sovereignty of God. The purpose was to let Paul be further perfected and receive help from others in his ministry.
There is some deeper insight here that the Holy Spirit allowed me to see while reading the Bible. It takes time for a person to completely follow the Lord and walk on the predestined path that He has laid out for us. However, often at the beginning we might not have a clear idea about what God’s will is or how to obey it; so we spend our time and energy following another path and are unable to unleash the gift that God has given us. For example, If you are called to minister in music but you spend all of your time learning to paint because you didn’t follow your heart, it results in failure and has very little effect for the kingdom. When you finally understand that music is your gift and you throw yourself into it, you will find that God has opened all the doors. Another example would be if God called you to be a cartoonist but instead you studied finance because your parents wanted you to be able to support yourself. When you realize that there is no joy in finance and you return to the industry you love, things will flow and you will be successful in the end. There are many examples like this.
So was Paul like this? In modern times we tend to over exalt Paul’s writings as though he could never be wrong. Actually this isn’t the case. Paul is human and has shortcomings. He was on a continuous journey learning to know God in a deeper way. Even in his old age he admitted that he hadn’t completely taken hold of it, but forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, he presses on toward the goal (NIV Philippians 3:13-14). This shows that Paul was continuously learning.
Let’s take a look at how Paul gradually learns to obey God’s will and walk on the predestined path that God has planned for him.
When Paul recalls his experience of being called by God in Acts 22, he said that the Lord said to him, “Go, I will send you far away to the Gentiles.” If you recall the contents of Acts 17, it said in the beginning that Paul had passed through a couple of towns, and he went on to Thessalonica to preach the gospel in the Jewish synagogue. After being rejected, he went to the Jewish synagogue in Berea to evangelize. In the end, the Jews in Thessalonica had stirred up trouble and he was forced to go to Athens. He preached the gospel to the Gentiles in Athens, but was not very effective. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that Paul had made a great turn here. At that time, Paul didn’t exactly do what God told him to.. God’s will for him is just what Jesus said to him, “I will send you far away to the Gentiles” (NIV, Acts 22:21). God chose him to be an apostle of the Gentiles, but he couldn’t bear the thought of not preaching the gospel to the Jews. If you look at his description in Romans chapters 9-11, he said that he would rather be cursed so the people of Israel could be saved. You can understand Paul’s burden for the Jews. But unfortunately, this was not God’s call for his life.
The Bible has explicitly stated that God called Peter to be the apostle to the Jews and chose Paul to be the apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 11:13, Galatians 2:8). This is very odd. If you were God, would you choose Paul or Peter to be the apostle to the Jews? If I was God, I might choose Paul because Paul is familiar with the Jewish scriptures and was taught by Gamaliel. He is even a Pharisee from the tribe of Benjamin. He was also circumcised on the eighth day. No one was more qualified and suitable than him. In contrast, Peter was a fisherman who had didn’t have a high level of education. There are scholars who say that Paul’s level of proficiency in Greek was far higher than Peter’s. But God didn’t choose Paul to be the apostle to the Jews. Instead, he chose Peter to be the apostle to the Jews. For the Gentiles, I also think that Peter was more likely to be accepted because he was from Galilee where there were mostly gentiles, and Paul was a strict Pharisee. He was also enthusiastic to persecute the church. So naturally, Paul was more qualified to be the apostle to the Jews than Peter. But God didn’t arrange it like that.
There are people who believe that the reason why God arranged it that way is for us not to use what we are naturally good at. He wants us to do things that we are naturally not good at to force us to trust the Lord. We shouldn’t do things based on our ability, but by faith and the power of the Holy Spirit.
We all have fleshly and natural choices. Often it’s not that we don’t know God’s will and path for us. Rather, our flesh, human nature, and habits often hinder us so we have a difficult time quickly following God’s call . God understands us, so the Holy Spirit often patiently waits and leads us. But the Holy Spirit often tells us through the environment that “the road is blocked” encouraging us to “turn back.” The same is true of Paul’s experience here. We mentioned in the previous message that maybe because of Paul’s attempt to persuade people to accept the gospel through debate, it wasn’t very effective. But actually, our understanding at that time was not comprehensive enough. In this reading, we can see more light. It was not because Paul’s debate had gone wrong, but because Paul wasn’t living completely in God’s will so God blocked him in all aspects, making his evangelism ineffective.
Therefore, Acts 18 is a turning point. It is recorded in 18:5 – 6 that:
5 When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. 6 But when they opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”(NIV)
It was possibly here that Paul may have recalled what the Lord Jesus said to him, “I will send you far away to the Gentiles to preach the gospel.” He had just realized that God’s call to him was to become the apostle to the Gentiles. Even though he was reluctant to leave his fellow Jews who had rejected the gospel, he had no choice but to go to the Gentiles. In this way, he was forced by the environment to go to the Gentiles to preach the gospel. It looks like he was forced by the environment, but actually it was all the wonderful leading of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, in Acts 18, it was definitely not accidental for Paul to encounter Aquila and Priscilla from Rome. Rather, it was arranged by God’s sovereignty. Think about it. When Aquila and Paul were weaving tents together, don’t you think they talked to each other? In the content of their chats, is it possible that Aquila talked about his life experience with the Gentiles in Rome and his experience of dealing with the Gentiles? there’s a good possibility some of that was talked about. Paul’s experience of evangelizing the Athenians in the previous chapter was not very successful. Maybe one of the reasons is that he didn’t understand the Gentiles and was not familiar with how to preach the gospel to them.
Became like a Gentile to win the Gentiles
When some Western missionaries first came to China to preach the gospel, they adopted an aloof attitude, as if to say, we are preaching the gospel, you guys are barbarian idol worshippers, so you have to give up your faith and accept ours. Some of these missionaries often have deep relationships with Western colonizers and officials. They will therefore use Western diplomatic and military power to force the Chinese to open their ports and accept the gospel, which caused a lot of resistance from the local Chinese. Consequently, preaching the gospel to them was not very effective. But when Hudson Taylor came to China to preach the gospel, he adapted to the Chinese culture. He dressed in Chinese robe and grew a pigtail like the Chinese. He also lived with the Chinese. His living and eating habits were the same as those of the Chinese, sohis gospel work in China was very effective. He preached the gospel to many places in China.
Paul’s experience of evangelism in Athens seems to be somewhat similar to the attitude of Western missionaries when they first arrived in China. Perhaps he was feeling superioras he wastrying to persuade these people to turn away from idols to Jesus Christ through debates. Unfortunately it didn’t work out well. Is it possible that after his failed attempts to evangelize that Aquila taught him how to witness to the Gentiles and inspired him? I believe that Paul was able to get inspiration and learned something from his experience in Athens. He said in 1 Corinthians 9:20-22:
20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. (NIV)
From Paul’s words, we can see that Paul had learned how to become a Gentile in order to win the Gentiles. He learned that he shouldn’t be aloof when he preached the gospel, and he shouldn’t persuade others to believe in the gospel through debate. Rather, he should humble himself and put himself on the level of the Gentiles, live and eat with them, and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in a language acceptable to them.
God’s later confirmation
I had a special experience recently. I met a prophet who said that God wants me to be a U.S. citizen because this will help me in my service in the future. However, because I am a Chinese citizen and I also have a U.S. green card, it is more convenient to visit China plus I feel that the chance that God will call me to serve in China in the future is huge, therefore, I have been living in the US for a long time and not been naturalized as a US citizen. f After hearing the prophets words I spent time in prayer but didn’t receive any confirmation from God. I reluctantly submitted my application for US citizenship anyway. Not long afterwards, I had a prophetic dream. I found that the Chinese characters on my Chinese passport were altered, and a lot of English letters were written, and I saw a seal falling down from above with the words “U.S. Citizen” above. I felt that this was Lord’s confirmation that the submitted application was directed by Him. The prophecy of this prophet may be correct. But when I prayed for God’s leading, God never gave me any confirmation.
This was my own experience, but actually, I’m also explaining Paul’s experience here. When Paul didn’t completely live in God’s will, he seemed to be running up against a stone wall everywhere he went. His evangelism in the synagogues in Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens was not smooth. Of course, the Lord told Paul before that God’s purpose was to send him far to the Gentiles to be a witness for Him. So this was imprinted in Paul’s spirit. Therefore, at the beginning of chapter 18, Paul met Aquila and his wife Priscilla who came back from Rome. This might further remind him of the command he heard from the Lord. When Paul swears to turn to the Gentiles from then on, he went next door to the house of Titius Justus. Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized (NIV, Acts 18-8:9). Afterwards, the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid, keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” (NIV, Acts 18:9-10). I called this God’s later confirmation. When Paul finally walked on the right path that Jesus told him, Jesus appeared to him, confirming that he was walking in the will of God. We often have such confirmation in our spiritual experience. The Lord will give us a prophetic word in the beginning. The Holy Spirit will then secretly lead us, give us limitations and leading through the environment. And finally when we walk on the predestined path that God has laid out for us, God will often prove to us again that we are indeed walking on His predestined path.
Acts 18:11 records that Paul lived there for a year and six months, teaching God’s words among them. This sentence is definitely not accidentally recorded here. Rather, the Holy Spirit further confirms that Paul came here to preach the gospel and live according to God’s will.
Of course, we are not saying that Paul could’nt preach the gospel to the Jews. In the latter parts of Acts 18, it’s even recorded that when Paul arrived at Ephesus, he went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. But I guess perhaps the emphasis of Paul’s ministry had turned towards the Gentiles. In particular, chapter 18:19 records that after Paul had reasoned with the Jews in the synagogue in Ephesus, when they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined. This is a clear contrast to what is recorded in 18:11 where Paul stayed there for a year and a half.
Prior to this, Acts 18 also recorded that the Jews had attacked Paul, but the local official did not interfere. After this, Acts 18:18 (NIV) recorded that, “Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila”. But because of a vow he had taken, he had his hair cut off at Cenchrea before going to Ephesus. But he did not stay in Ephesus for a long time. He left to go to other places.
The matching of the different parts of the body to Christ’s body
In 18:24, it started to introduce a Jew named Apollos. The Bible specifically mentioned that he was an eloquent man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. The Bible didn’t use these words to describe Paul. So looking at this description, Apollos had a gift that Paul may not have. In addition to Apollos’ eloquence (that Paul may not have), it is specifically recorded that Apollos had vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ (NIV, Acts 18:28). These records are in contrast with the limited effects of Paul’s evangelism before the Jews. These have indirectly proved that God’s call to Paul was mainly for the Gentiles because God raised up people like Apollos to preach the gospel to the Jews, and it seems that their work was more effective than Paul’s.
Of course, the Bible has also recorded the limitations of Apollos, that is, he only knew the baptism of John. But Priscilla and Aquila, who were perfected by Paul, had helped explain the way of God to Apollos more adequately (NIV, Acts 18:26). This again shows that the principle of God’s work is through the matching of the body; allowing different members of the body of Christ to match and complement each other.
Paul came to Ephesus again in Acts 19. There he found some disciples of Apollos’ ministry who only knew John’s baptism; they didn’t know about the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Paul prayed for them to be filled with the Holy Spirit. This also paved the way in the beginning of verses 20-21, where he declined the invitation of Ephesians when they asked him to stay there for a while. Instead, he said that, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” (NIV, Acts 18:21). It is something that the Holy Spirit mentioned specifically here so that Paul later can come back to help those who are under the ministry of Apollo’s.
Why did God arrange for Paul to come back later? What is the meaning and implication of Paul’s making up for the lack of Apollos’ ministry in Acts 19? Why is it that Apollos’ ministry only knows John’s baptism and not the baptism of Jesus and of the Holy Spirit? This has profound spiritual significance. We hope to continue sharing our understanding in the next reading.