Man from Macedonia
A story of Paul
It could hardly have been more than twelve months after the momentous Jerusalem conference, recorded in Acts 15, that Paul felt the old urge to be up and away again on a missionary expedition. Since returning from Jerusalem both he and Barnabas had resumed their normal places of ministry in the Antioch Church, fortified and assisted by the devotion of Silas, who had now apparently decided to sever his connection with Jerusalem and make Antioch his home town and church. Perhaps there was more activity there and greater openings for the service he wanted to render. Acts 15.35 makes it clear that the church continued in a spiritually healthy state; "Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also". There must have been a considerable work of evangelical witness carried on in the surrounding territory, not recorded in Acts because not directly associated with the wider work of Paul himself. Nevertheless, this was work in which he must have collaborated with his fellow-elders. Now the time had come, he probably thought, when he could leave that work to the others and go again over the ground he and Barnabas had traversed some eight years before ‑ Cyprus, Perga, Iconium and Lystra. They could satisfy themselves as to the spiritual condition of the converts they had made and the churches they had formed, and confirm them in the faith.
So Paul put the matter to his colleague and Barnabas was very willing evidently. He too felt the need and desirability of such an expedition. In all good faith, and not anticipating any demur, he proposed that John Mark should accompany them as general assistant. Probably to his complete surprise, Paul violently opposed the suggestion. Mark, he pointed out, had deserted them halfway through the previous journey and gone home to Jerusalem. He was not going to risk anything like that again. Regrettable though it may be to admit the fact, there is no doubt that this difference of opinion led to a violent quarrel between the two. "The contention was so sharp between them . . ." is Luke's expression, where the word is "paroxymos", indicating a short and sharp but very extreme outburst of feeling. There is certainly no indication that the guidance of the Holy Spirit was sought or obtained on the matter, no record that resource was had to prayer that the will of the Lord might be discerned. Just for the moment, saints though they were, the old nature came to the top and neither would give way. Barnabas was determined that Mark should go; Paul equally determined that he should not.
It is difficult at this end of the Age, with only the brief account in Acts before us, to arrive at any conclusion as to who was in the right. John Mark was now a mature man of about thirty-four. He was evidently in full fellowship and service with the Antioch Church. The reason for his earlier defection is unknown. The fact that he returned to Jerusalem and not to Antioch, and that afterwards he is found again at Antioch, does point to the likelihood that his object was to be with his mother Mary at a time when the Jerusalem Christians were undergoing severe persecution. If that is so then it would seem that Paul was being a bit hard on the younger man on this occasion. In later years he did reconsider his attitude and expressed his appreciation and esteem for Mark, asking Timothy to bring him to Rome "for he is profitable to me for the ministry" (2 Tim. 4. 11). At this moment, however, Paul would have none of him, and Barnabas proving obdurate, the friends parted, each to undertake a missionary journey on his own account.
Probably by agreement, Barnabas, accompanied by Mark, went to Cyprus, where the first missionary journey had commenced. The Book of Acts is silent as to their labours after this. From one or two scattered allusions in other New Testament books it seems possible that after visiting Cyprus they went on into Bithynia, Pontus and Cappadocia ‑ provinces of Asia, and territory in which later on the Holy Spirit did not allow Paul to minister. Paul took the remainder of the territory they had covered eight years earlier.
Bereft of his erstwhile co-worker and travelling companion, Paul looked around for a successor. His choice fell upon Silas, a man who had by now proved himself at Antioch. Viewed in the light of later events, the entire episode perhaps was Divinely overruled, for Silas, like Paul himself but unlike Barnabas, was a Roman citizen. That was an advantage on this journey, for although at this moment Paul was unaware of the fact, he was destined this time to leave Asia and cross over into Greece, where the influence of Rome was stronger, and the fact of citizenship more important.
So Paul set out on his second missionary journey. He was now about fifty years of age; already two-thirds of his Christian life was over. He intended this expedition to cover more ground than the previous one. Perhaps he hoped one day to see Rome itself and to preach the Gospel in the capital city of the empire was already taking root in his mind. The two men struck out northward, visiting and confirming the companies of Christians scattered throughout Syria and Cilicia. All this was home territory. Here the Antioch church had sown the seed and was ministering continually. It was after Paul had passed through his own native city of Tarsus in Cilicia and crossed the high mountains behind the city that his journey began in earnest.
Approaching the Asiatic provinces from this direction he came upon the scenes of his former labours in reverse, arriving first at Derbe, the last call of his first journey, and next at Lystra. And here an occasion of great joy was experienced by the Apostle. Eight years previously he had left a few new converts in this place to form their own little assembly and continue as best they could in the faith he had so little time to expound to them. Now he found a thriving Christian community and among them a young man named Timothy. He was to become one of the most devoted of Paul's fellow-labourers and as personally dear to him as though he was his own son. "My son Timothy ..." How often the Apostle's pen lingered over the beloved name when he wrote his epistles to the churches. The last words we have, written in the shadow of death were to this young convert, expressive of his own faith and conviction after a lifetime of service. "I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand... I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded ..." So Timothy, at the older man's earnest request, threw in his lot with Paul and set out with him and with Silas when they resumed their travels.
No one really knows the truth about the next stage of the journey. They must have passed through Iconium and Antioch of Pisidia and visited the believers who had been converted on the first journey. Then comes that rather obscure statement in Acts 16. 6 "Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia; after they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia; but the Spirit suffered them not". Here is a record of apparent frustration, of an attempt to preach that was prevented by the closing of the door of opportunity. No names of towns are given, no indication that in this long trek of at least seven hundred miles through the central districts of Rome's Asiatic empire the missionaries found any hearing ear or left behind them any converts. So far as the record in the Book of Acts is concerned, the trip through Phrygia and Galatia was unproductive of any good work. But there is one clue elsewhere. When Paul sat down one day in Corinth, some five or six years later, to write his Epistle to the Galatians he referred to the time he first came among them and to some sickness or malady with which he was then afflicted. "Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first, and my trial which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected, but received me as an angel of God, even as Jesus Christ . . . I bear you record that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes and have given them to me" (Gal. 4. 13-15). Now this could only have taken place during this second missionary journey of St. Paul. Although unrecorded in Acts, it seems clear that Paul and Silas did meet with considerable success in Galatia, and that Paul was stricken with some kind of severe illness. The reference to the Galatians "plucking out their own eyes" seems to point to an acute attack of the glaucoma from which it is believed the Apostle suffered and that some very exceptional manifestations of love and care were displayed by the new converts whilst he was in their midst. The warmth of affection which Paul displayed for the Galatian brethren does seem to indicate that he cherished very happy recollections of his ministry among them.
But the Spirit was hasting him on. Great events were ahead; a new field of labour was to be opened up and the Apostle to the Gentiles must linger no longer in Asia. Travelling westwards through Mysia they tried to turn southward into the province known to the Romans as Asia proper, the district where very soon now were to be established the famous "seven churches of Asia" of the Book of Revelation. The Spirit restrained them; "were forbidden" is the expression, where "forbidden" is the word "kolasin", meaning a restraint as a horse is pulled up by his bridle. Baulked at this, the travellers turned northward toward Bithynia on the Black Sea coast; the Spirit "suffered them not", where the words have the meaning of "permitted them not". There was only one way left to go; they must continue in a westerly direction and that would bring them to the coast of the Aegean Sea and the seaport of Troas; and on the other side of that sea lay the land of Greece and the continent of Europe.
Perhaps they remained at Troas for a little while, waiting the leading of the Spirit. Certain it is that they found a number of hearing ears in this busy mercantile town, for when Paul came back to Troas some four years later he preached to a gathering of the believers. At this present time he also met the man who was to be his constant companion and friend, destined to become the historian of the Apostolic Church, the Greek physician Luke.
It has been surmised that Luke was a native of the city of Antioch, and that the two men had met before. This is not definitely known. What is certain is that at this time Luke made open profession of Christianity and attached himself to the little party of missionaries. He was not an evangelist and not a preacher; his talent lay in writing. The fruit of his flair for noticing events and eliciting facts, and his masterly style in putting them together, is with us in the Book of Acts and the Gospel according to St. Luke. The New Testament has been immeasurably enriched by the labours of this Gentile convert who so willingly sacrificed the honours and profits his undoubted talents could have won him in the world of men, and gave himself freely and spontaneously to the cause of Christ.
The party was now complete. Two zealous missionaries, one enthusiastic youth, and one middle aged professional man, consciously associated under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, ready for whatever work the Spirit might direct. Almost certainly there must have been much earnest discussion and prayer, and a conviction that very soon the obstacles and frustration of effort would be at an end and one clearly defined pathway revealed along which they must go.
In such circumstances it is not surprising that Paul saw a vision, or it might have been a dream; it matters not. It was during the night, perhaps after a day of discussion and prayer for guidance, he saw a man, a Greek, a man of Macedonia which is the district of Greece which lay immediately opposite Troas, two hundred miles or so across the sea. He heard the man speak. It was an appeal. "Come over into Macedonia and help us." Paul came back to the waking world with the impact of that appeal still upon him. Was this the leading of the Spirit, the guidance for which they all had been waiting? It is evident that he must have lost no time in talking the thing over with Silas, Timothy and Luke, and equally obvious that none of them entertained any doubt about the matter. "Immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them" (Acts 16. 10).
The next few verses tell how, loosing from Troas, they sailed by the little island of Samothrace and a day later arrived at the Greek port of Neapolis. From thence it was only a few miles to Philippi and before long the four men were treading the streets of that important centre and doubtless wondering how best to commence their mission. There does not seem to have been a Jewish synagogue in the city. Adherents of the Jewish faith appear to have been few, so that it was not until the next Sabbath that Paul and his companions tracked down a few of like mind who were in the habit of meeting by the side of the river outside the city, for prayer. Even so a Gentile was the first notable convert. Lydia, a woman of Thyatira on the opposite mainland, apparently resident in Philippi for business reasons, one "which worshipped God" ‑ a phrase normally indicating a non-Jewish believer ‑ was probably Greek, perhaps Roman. Evidently a woman of decisive character and natural nobility she quickly accepted the faith, was baptised, and promptly offered the hospitality of her home to the missionaries. There they stayed whilst in Philippi and there the Christian community which was the first fruit of the Apostle's labours in Greece began to meet in fellowship.
It was at Philippi, probably after several weeks residence and ministry, that there occurred the incident of the demon obsessed slave girl, an affair which landed Paul and Silas in jail and led to the conversion of the Philippian jailer. This unfortunate girl was "possessed with a spirit of Python" (A.V. Margin "pneuma pythonos"). In the city of Delphi, not far from Athens, there stood the Temple of Apollo, within the precincts of which was a famous Oracle. The priestess of Apollo, known as the Pythia, presided over the Oracle. Upon being approached by an enquirer after the future, she would fall into a frenzy of demon obsession and with foaming at the mouth, shrieks and gesticulations give a cryptic reply within which was contained the alleged answer to the question. The reference to this slave girl being possessed by a Pythian spirit is evidence that she attracted attention by displaying a similar kind of behaviour in public and thereby gained notoriety by reason of her declarations. As a slave girl her earnings were the property of her owners and a very lucrative business they evidently found it to be, judging by their chagrin when Paul put a peremptory stop to the whole thing. "These men are the servants of the Most High God, which shew unto us the way of salvation. " That was the cry which fell upon the ears of Paul and Silas every time they encountered this poor demented girl in the street. It was a witness to the cause of Christ, but from a source which Paul could not allow. The Christian Gospel was not to be associated with the frenzied ravings and distraught acts characteristic of pagan idolatry. Turning abruptly upon the girl and owners, and in full sight of the gaping crowd, Paul sternly commanded the obsessing spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ, to come out of her. "And he came out immediately." Never again was this slave girl to mystify and entertain the thoughtless crowds of Philippi with her cryptic utterances. Whether or not she became a disciple after this experience is not known: suffice it that once again the saving and healing power of Jesus Christ was made manifest in a spectacular fashion to those who as yet knew Him not. The handful of believers in Philippi must have had their faith strengthened in consequence and rendered praise to God. But the owners of the slave did not. The source of their profit was gone. The value of their slave was destroyed in a moment by these interfering Jews. Determined to have their revenge, they laid hold on Paul and Silas and hurried them before the civil authorities. The episode of the Philippian jailer, in vividly dramatic style, was the result.
(To be continued)