Saturday, November 19, 2022

2022.11.19 Hopewell @Home ▫ Acts 15:36–16:5

Read Acts 15:36–16:5

Questions from the Scripture text: Who speaks to whom in Acts 15:36? Where does he suggest they go? To do what? Whom did Barnabas want to bring (Acts 15:37)? Why did Paul insist not to (Acts 15:38)? How does the argument proceed (Acts 15:39)? What happens to Paul and Barnabas? Whom does Barnabas take? Where does he go? Whom does Paul choose (Acts 15:40)? What is done to them before they depart? By whom? Unto what? Through where does Paul go (Acts 15:41)? Doing what along the way? Until he comes to where (Acts 16:1)? Who was there? The son of what ethnicity woman? Of what faith? What ethnicity is his father? What people spoke of him in what way (Acts 16:2)? What did Paul want Timothy to do (Acts 16:3)? What does he do to Timothy? Because of whom? And why? Through where do they go (Acts 16:4)? What does he deliver to them? What happens to the faith of the churches (Acts 16:5)? And what happens to the number of the churches?

How does the Lord strengthen His church? Acts 15:36–16:5 looks forward to the morning sermon on the coming Lord’s Day. In these eleven verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that the Lord strengthens His church by His blessing upon follow-up ministry by partially sanctified men and the church’s unity in doctrine and practice. 

Follow-up ministry. It is Paul who desires to go and follow up on their first missionary journey (Acts 15:36a). The decision of the Jerusalem Synod has obvious implications for them (Acts 16:4), and as Christian love always is, he is interested to know how they are doing (Acts 15:36b). There is obviously the intent to “strengthen the churches” (Acts 15:41), and indeed by the end of the passage, the Spirit tells us that “the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in number daily (Acts 16:5). 

Partially sanctified men. One of the reasons to know how they are doing, and strengthen them, is that both the churches generally and the elders under whose care they left them (cf. Acts 14:23) are fallible men. But so are young ministers. John Mark had washed out of the first missionary journey (Acts 15:38, cf. Acts 13:13), and Barnabas wants to use bring him, ostensibly to give him another opportunity for serving and growing. But seasoned ministers are also growing, and there is a sharp contention between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:39a).

One thing that we see here is that not all conflict must be resolved in order for men to continue ministering. Barnabas takes Mark anyway and sails to Cyprus. The text speaks more fully positively of Paul’s departure in that he and Silas are commended by the brethren to the grace of God. But it does not necessarily speak negatively of Barnabas. 

Barnabas’s labors pay off, and later Paul noy only commends Mark to the Colossians (cf. Colossians 4:10) but even specifically requests Mark as very useful to him in ministry (cf. 2 Timothy 4:11). Sometimes, finding an imperfect way forward is blessed by God to the curing of some of those imperfections. Mark ends up trained, and the relationship ends up restored, even on this side of glory.

The church’s unity in doctrine and practice. A great part of that strengthening of the churches for which Paul is laboring comes by unity of doctrine and practice. Paul and Silas are delivering the decrees of the Jerusalem Synod (Acts 16:4), but also practicing in the spirit of that decree by seeking the removal of offense for the proclamation of the gospel.

While requiring circumcision of Gentiles was an obstacle to the gospel that the council had rejected, Timothy was a half-Jew (Acts 16:1). As such, he was considered wholly holy, set apart to God just as much as if his father had been holy (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:14). His mother Eunice was a believer, as well as his grandmother Lois (cf. 2 Timothy 1:5), and the brethren spoke well of him in his own right (Acts 16:3). But all the Jews knew his father was a Greek (verse 3b). Not as a mere concession to keep them happy, but as a removal of an obstacle for gospel ministry, Paul circumcises him (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:20). 

We maintain unity by holding to the pure doctrine of the Word and not adding anything in doctrine or practice that would bring men’s consciences under one another’s opinions rather than under the Spirit in the Scripture. But it is each of our privilege when we have an opportunity to lay aside our rights in order to serve better the peace and growth of the church.

Why is separation sometimes necessary in the church? How are you seeking to be strengthened? How are you participating in Christ’s method of strengthening His church by His servants? How are you pursuing unity of doctrine with your church? What rights are you laying aside for peace and ministry?

Sample prayer:  Lord, thank You for strengthening us by one-another’s service, and especially by the ministry of the gospel. Please bless and use our preachers and teachers so that we may all be of one, stable, Scriptural mind with Christ. Keep sanctifying us, and help us to love and forgive one another. Give us the humility and grace to lay aside our own rights or privileges wherever that would be helpful. Give us that mind that is in Christ Jesus, we ask in His Name, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP197 “Christian Unity” or TPH409 “Blest Be the Tie That Binds” 

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