Reflections from Paul’s Journey Tour in 2006

Reflections from the Tour (Paul’s Journeys – March 1-10, 2006)
By Tony Cooke

As we toured the sites connected with the ministries of Paul and John, I was deeply impressed with the toughness and tenacity of the early followers of the Lord Jesus. The Church was born and grew in an atmosphere of extreme hostility. Whether it was persecution from angry Jews, attacks from irate idolaters (such as the followers of Artemis in Ephesus), or vicious assaults from Roman Emperors (such as Nero and Domitian), the Church was a force that would not and could not be stopped.

I continue to marvel at Paul’s obedience and determination. Consider this small cross-section of his itinerary:

  • He went to Philippi in response to a vision from the Lord (Acts 16:9). People got saved, but he was beaten, imprisoned, and escorted out of town. He later referred to having been “shamefully treated at Philippi” (1 Thess. 2:2).
  • He then went to Thessalonica, where he also had positive results, but was run out of town by a violent mob. He said that they had “received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess. 1:6).
  • From there, he went to Berea where he again had positive results, but the Jews from Thessalonica traveled over 50 miles to attack him in Berea.
  • He went to Athens where he beheld gross idolatry. He shared the Gospel with the intellectual aristocracy of Athens, and had some converts, but was primarily met with indifference.

Paul then went to Corinth (Acts 18), began working secularly, and preaching the gospel on the Sabbaths. He had left Silas and Timothy up in Macedonia, and it appears his ministry in Corinth was somewhat limited until they showed up. He was having a degree of impact while preaching by himself, but something happened that kicked his ministry into high gear when his “team” showed up!

Acts 18:4-5 4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.
5 When Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia, Paul was compelled by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ.

Wuest renders verse 5 this way: Then, when both Silas and Timothy had come down from Macedonia, Paul was wholly occupied with and absorbed in the Word, solemnly affirming to the Jews that the Christ [the Messiah] is Jesus.

The Greek here literally says, “Paul held himself to the Word.” What a phenomenal mandate for the Church and for ministers today! We must be compelled by the Spirit, wholly occupied with and absorbed in the Word, and hold ourselves to the Word!

When his ministry intensified, persecution intensified also. The next verse says: 6But when they opposed him and blasphemed… When Paul was just sharing on the Sabbaths, he never evoked that kind of reaction. It wasn’t until his ministry of the Word intensified that he hit such a sensitive nerve.

The coming of Silas and Timothy somehow raised the level of Paul’s ministry in Corinth. I believe three things in particular elevated Paul’s effectiveness:

  • Silas and Timothy brought Paul a great report of how well the Thessalonican believers were doing. Paul had had great concern about them, and he was tremendously encouraged to hear of their abounding faith (1 Thess. 3:6-7).
  • Silas and Timothy also brought Paul an offering from the Philippian church. This freed Paul up so he was able to do more than simply preach on the Sabbaths. That’s not to say a minister should never work secularly if necessary – Paul did so when he needed to.
  • The very presence of Silas and Timothy was a great encouragement to Paul personally. Paul always preferred ministering with his “team” surrounding and supporting him.

Later, Paul wrote the Corinthians and described what ministry and serving the Lord had brought him (1 Cor. 4:11-13, NLT): 11 Even now we go hungry and thirsty, and we don’t have enough clothes to keep warm. We are often beaten and have no home. 12 We work wearily with our own hands to earn our living. We bless those who curse us. We are patient with those who abuse us. 13 We appeal gently when evil things are said about us. Yet we are treated like the world’s garbage, like everybody’s trash—right up to the present moment.

Ministry for Paul certainly wasn’t an ego-booster or a means to comfort and pleasant circumstances, and yet he had grown in grace to such an extent that when he referred to chains and tribulations that were awaiting him, he could confidently say, “None of these things move me” (Acts 20:24). Later yet in his ministry, he told King Agrippa, “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19).

What a challenge! May each of us have such a clear and compelling vision of God’s purpose for our lives… may we be unmovable and unshakable in obediently carrying out our assignment in the earth.