Summary: Do you ever get into a situation where you are trying to follow God’s will but things just don’t seem to work out? If so, you are in good company. Find out how the Lord used a pinball to guide Paul, and you!
We’d love to get an email from God with our day all planned out but it doesn’t work that way. And so we seek God and move forward—only to run into road blocks and rivers and dead ends. So what gives? Does the fact that things don’t work out perfectly mean we don’t hear God or are somehow not spiritual enough? Well if that’s the measure we use, then we are in good company because Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke all found themselves having to come up with Plan B and even Plan C.
1 – 3
Who is Timothy? Timothy lived in Lystra, the very city where the citizens almost sacrificed to Paul and Barnabas but later stoned Paul. His grandmother Lois was first to come to faith. Then his mother Eunice, a Jewess, came to Jesus and passed it on to Timothy. It is very very cool when parents and even grandparents influence their children for Christ. Timothy becomes Paul’s protégé and Paul leaves Timothy in charge of several churches. This is the first second generation Christian we read about in the New Testament.
Jewish custom called for the child to take the religion of his mother, so Timothy should be been circumcised. But in the Greek world the father dominated the home. Since Lystra had a small Jewish population, there was no pressure to circumcise him. The Greek suggests that Timothy’s father had died by this time.
So why have him circumcised given the dispute of chapter 15? Being a good Christian did not mean being a bad Jew. Paul was a Christian but he was also a Jew, a fulfilled Jew. It didn’t mean Paul should just flaunt his freedom and eat pig in front of his Jewish brothers. That would put an unnecessary stumbling block to the gospel.
By the same token, Timothy was a Jew to the world so in order to remove any questions raised and focus taken off the gospel and put on his lack of circumcision, Paul has him undergo this right – not as a way of becoming holy or anything other than making it easier to preach the gospel.
This raises some good points for us. Sometimes we feel like we need to change people when become Christians. When a motorcycle gang member comes to Christ, for instance, we need to make him shave, change his clothing, put him in a BMW and behind a desk in some office. In fact we are imposing our cultural expectations on another culture, and if we expected him to go back to the biker bar and preach the gospel, he would be laughed out or worse.
The biker comes to know the grace of God and forgiveness for his sins, and invites the Holy Spirit to begin to change his character so he will think and act more like Christ, but it doesn’t mean that non-essential surface characteristics should change. Paul is merely helping Timothy blend in with his culture in a way that allows him more freedom to preach.
4 – 5
Whatever we might think about the Jerusalem Council’s decision, it seemed to resonate with the churches and they grew and more people came to the Lord—showing that they had struck that good balance between being free in Christ and making the gospel approachable by all cultures. So now Paul, Silas, and joining them Luke, go on a seven year journey to the area surrounding the Aegean Sea.
6 – 7
This is a really interesting couple of verses. Paul takes the northern route, avoiding the coastal area of what is modern-day Turkey, and its capital, Ephesus. This happens because the Holy Spirit forbade them. It’s impossible from the Greek to determine whether this happened by direct revelation “the Holy Spirit told them not to” or if it was through circumstances that were clearly of the Holy Spirit’s making that prevented them from going there.
I actually find great comfort in this. We get so worried about getting the exact plan from God that we sometimes do nothing for fear of blowing it. Here we see Paul move forward until he can’t – whether God telling him or circumstances forcing him – to move elsewhere. The important thing is that he continued to move forward.
My advice is to keep learning, keep praying, keep worshiping, keep letting yourself be transformed into the image of the Lord – make your daily plans and submit them to the Lord. Then relax and let Him take you where He may. If something doesn’t work out, or if you really want to do something and then God says “no” – don’t sweat it. Paul did not have God’s day planner and neither do we.
This happens not once, but twice. You’d think the Apostle Paul would not need mid course corrections, and certainly not more than one.