NEW PARTNERS FOR OLD PURPOSES
1 Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. 2 He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4 As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.
— Acts 16:1-5, ESV
God in His providence puts people together to accomplish His purposes. His purposes are to build up His church and bring more people into His church. The book of Acts is all about the people who accomplished these purposes, particularly Peter and Paul.
As Paul begins his second missionary journey, he has new partners to assist him with the purposes of God. These men are a pair, and the purposes, identified in vs. 5, are plural, “strengthened in the faith” (built up, by standing for truth of God’s word) and “increased in number” (bring in, by shining the light of the gospel) Let’s meet the new partners and observe their accomplishments of the old purposes.
By this point in book of Acts, Paul needs no introduction. He gave his life to Christ on the Damascus Road, gave his life to the church in the Jerusalem, gave his life to pastoral ministry in Antioch, gave his life to missionary service, and finally gave up his life to a martyr’s death. The Apostle Paul was always giving, but in this episode he is gathering, new partners that is, for this second missionary journey.
Silas we met in the previous paragraph. He is not mentioned by name in these verses, except as part of the pronoun “they” in vs. 4. He is mentioned 20 times in the New Testament, 16 by his nickname, Silas, all in the book of Acts; and, 4 times by his full name, Silvanus, in three epistles by Paul plus one by Peter. If Silvanus sounds a little effeminate to you, remember the tough guy Silvio (Steven Van Zandt) on The Soprano’s. Silvanus, or Silas, was a tough guy, too, as we will see time and time again throughout this mission trip.
Timothy’s name is spelled out in the text for the first of almost 40 times in the New Testament. As Silas replaced Barnabas on the second journey, Timothy was recruited to replace John Mark as the assistant to the two more advanced preachers. Since this is Timothy’s inaugural appearance, it is worth investigating how he came to faith in Christ and volunteered for the mission field.
Timothy came to faith in Christ, humanly speaking, because of his family’s influence. His mother, “a Jewish woman who was a believer” (vs. 1), is named elsewhere as Eunice, who came to faith because of her Christian mother, Timothy’s grandmother, Lois. Lois and Eunice must have been outstanding Christians, because Paul mentions them by name in his last, most personal and affectionate, letter.
“His father was a Greek” means he was not Jewish, not necessarily that he was not Christian. He probably was, and a principled one at that, who would not allow himself or his son to be pressured into circumcision by the Judaizers. Paul’s insistence on Timothy’s circumcision was by no means a compromise with those pseudo-Christians, as Paul was quite uncompromising. This was a necessary accommodation to Paul’s strategy of taking the gospel to the Jew first (in Jewish synagogues), then to the Greeks. As always when preaching on a passage involving circumcision, I encourage all the young people in the congregation who don’t know what the word means to ask your parents when you get home.
Parents, ask yourselves this question now. Do I have saving faith in Jesus Christ, and is my faith sincere and strong enough to influence my children to come to Christ as well? Timothy was saved, like about 90% of saved people, because one or both of his parents were saved and serious about their faith in Christ. To be sure, bad children can break good Christians parents’ hearts, but Proverbs 22:6 most of the time proves true.
Timothy became a missionary because he was inspired by the faith and courage of the Apostle Paul. Timothy joined the band in his hometown of Lystra, the place where Paul had been stoned (with actual stones, not medical marijuana) on his first missionary journey. It takes guts to go back to the place where they tried to kill you for preaching the gospel, and preach the gospel. Timothy decided if Paul would give his life for the gospel of Jesus Christ, so would he.
Face it folks, our faith, or lack thereof, influences other people toward, or away, from the gospel. We are all part of the gospel team, once we profess faith in Christ and are baptized into His church. We are all on our own missionary journey. We must so profess and practice our faith in Jesus that others will want to partner with us to accomplish the purposes of God.
These new partners, Paul and Silas and Timothy, were on a mission to pursue old purposes, 20-year-old purposes then, 2,000-year-old purposes now. They did not invent the church, Jesus did, and it sure as Heaven does not need reinventing. They do not save souls, Jesus does, but He does so by sending His disciples to make new disciples, not mere decisions, for Christ.
Their purpose was to live for Jesus and preach the gospel so “churches were strengthened” and new Christians and churches “increased in numbers.” Their mission was accomplished “daily.” Praise the Lord for them, but what does the Lord expect from us, something new or something old?
I’m afraid modern churches strive to accomplish the second purpose while ignoring the first. They don’t care about church strength, only church size. They don’t care about church health, only church growth. They don’t care about making disciples, only decisions. This is the reason most modern church members are AWOL on the Lord’s day from churches that are a mile wide and an inch deep.
Paul dug deeper by putting things in the right order. First, he made sure “the churches were strengthened in the faith.” “Strengthened” in the Greek text is “stereo-os,” from which we get our English word (not stereo, for this is not about the music) steroid. Steroids, when used properly, strengthen the body.
What strengthens the body of Christ is the apostolic, authoritative, biblical, preaching of the word of God and the perpetual presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ in word and sacrament. This is “the faith” encapsulated by “the decisions that had been reached.” This brings into play once again The Jerusalem Council, which sets the basic parameters for Christianity and the Christian church for the first century and every century.
The Council declared that individuals are made Christians by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and become part of the corporate church. “Churches” in the text is synonymous with Christians, for there is no true Christian profession without practicing Christianity in the local church. Then, the strength and witness of the church grows when we abstain from idolatry (Jesus is Lord, and no one or nothing is above Him) and immorality (sexual perversion poisons the family and the family of God).
It’s not difficult, at least in America, to see a church “increased in numbers” (Greek “arithmos”) when arithmetic is all you care about. It can be done through the savvy marketing of the megachurch, the false promises of the prosperity gospel, or the watered-down-word and music-driven approach of the so-called seeker-sensitive service. Being “strengthened” by strenuous study and preaching, surrendering daily to the lordship of Christ, and the spiritual and moral demands of discipleship, is much harder. However, hard work makes the body stronger, and a stronger church will often become a bigger church.
So, church, let us stand for the truth and shine the light. Let us partner together to accomplish the purposes of God. Let us “strengthen” one another, and other Christians who gather with us for our services, with the preaching and teaching of the word of God, the Bible. Let us hope we will be “increased,” grow by reaching the lost and unchurched, by living and sharing the precious gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us say to God with the psalmist, “Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling” (ref. Psalm 43:3).