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Paul's Second Missionary Journey (1): Introduction

I Maclean, Glasgow

References cited with no note of the book in which they are found are all from Acts.

Sharing the gospel with those around us is one of the most valuable and yet difficult activities in which we can engage. It is valuable because it meets man's greatest need and is at the same time a practical demonstration of our confidence in the atonement. It is difficult since we know it may well provoke a hostile reception, and as with Jeremiah this can terrify us (Jer 1.17). With that in mind, before tracing Paul's second missionary journey as found in 15.36-18.22, let us see what we can learn from Paul to help us in our own evangelism: what was it that made him an effective evangelist?

1. A commitment to care for his converts

Paul's second missionary journey actually began as a follow up visit to believers converted on a past mission: "Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do" (15.36). Just as a parent's interest in their child does not end at its birth, Paul wanted to see spiritual growth in those who believed. Post-conversion progress is also God's explicit will for believers (1 Tim 2.4). To this end, Paul taught new Christians about baptism (Lydia, 16.14-15; the jailor, 16.33; Crispus and other Corinthians, 18.8). As well, he gave them initial spiritual instruction (16.32; 18.11), and shared fellowship with them (Lydia's house, 16.15,40; the jailor's house, 16.34). He also made sure that existing believers were "established in the faith" (16.5). Far from being an afterthought, Paul's concern for the spiritual well-being of believers, both young and old, was a priority. We, too, ought to share this ambition.

2. Carefully chosen co-workers

The surprising fall out between Paul and Barnabas warns us that the Christian life may be complex - friction comes not only from the world, but also from fellow believers with whom we do not see eye to eye. The question that divided them was whether Mark, who quit midway through the previous journey (13.13), should come on this one. Paul evidently felt that a difficult missionary journey was not the place for Mark to prove himself. When Mark later showed his usefulness again Paul was willing to recognise this (2 Tim 4.11), indicating that Paul is not here writing him off permanently. But on this occasion Paul chose those whose most recent track record indicated they would undoubtedly bolster the trip. Silas had a joyful confidence in the Lord, even under stress, as is seen in his singing and praying with Paul in prison (16.25, cp James 5.13). Timothy was selected for his good reputation (16.2) for there is little more harmful to the gospel than servants whose bad behaviour attracts criticism to the cause. Let us be careful that we ourselves make good co-workers, and choose wisely others with whom to work!

3. Good Habits

When Paul went to a new city he had a well-practised routine: first go to the synagogue to speak with the Jews (17.2,10,17; 18.4), and then to the marketplace to speak with the Gentiles (17.17). This order reflected the Jews' position of being first in both privilege and responsibility (1.8; Rom 1.16). It also allowed Paul to engage with people - an essential ingredient in evangelism! In the synagogue he had a semi-interested audience. In the market-place he created an interest by one-to-one conversations which, in turn, led to the larger opportunity on Mars Hill. Paul favoured occasions that provided prolonged exposure to his audience – he stayed for three weeks in Thessalonica (17.2); at Corinth he preached every week for 18 months, and then stayed on for "a good while" (18.4,11,18). We often find that those with whom we have extensive contact (e.g. family, friends, neighbours, colleagues) are the hardest to evangelise, but with the Lord's help we can find opportunities to speak to them one-to–one, just as Paul did in Athens.

4. Perseverance in the face of many difficulties

Paul faced a formidable list of problems during his second journey. These included: in-house issues with Barnabas (15.39); divinely arranged difficulties with travel plans (16.6-7); satanically generated, undesired, publicity (16.16-18); commercial opposition which led to unjust punishment and imprisonment (16.37); religious hostility (17.5,13; 18.6), and the overhanging threat of further violence about which Paul received special reassurance from the Lord (18.9-10). Given this huge number of challenges, it is understandable why he insisted that Mark should not come on the journey. He seems to have expected a tough time (9.16), but these difficulties did not stop him - they simply brought out his perseverance. His purpose was to preach the gospel and he remained undaunted by the attendant dangers (21.13). May the Lord grant us perseverance like Paul's!

5. Faithfulness to the Scriptures

Paul preached a message his hearers could verify by simply comparing what he said with the Word of God. This is so clearly demonstrated in the case of the Bereans, who "received the word…searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so…Therefore many of them believed" (17.11-12). Because of this link between actively searching the Scriptures and experiencing saving faith, preachers must base their message on the Word of God, which alone stimulates genuine faith (Rom 10.17, 1 Cor 2.4-5). This has several ramifications. Do I quote the Bible when explaining the gospel? Do I remember that it is God's truth, not the cleverness of my presentation, that has power to save? Does the way I explain the gospel bear up to a close analysis against the Word of God? If I simply "preach the word" it will!

6. Adaptability to his audience

Paul pitched his message to the understanding of his audience. To those with a background in the Old Testament he reasoned "out of the scriptures" that "Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead", and "that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ" (17.2,3,11; 18.5). At Mars Hill, when preaching to Gentile philosophers, he did not appeal directly to the Scriptures, of which his hearers were probably ignorant, but to their consciences (of course, all his assertions were in perfect harmony with the Word). He began with God as the creator and sustainer of all, went on to expose the inadequacy of his audience's view of God, as witnessed by their idols, and finally called them to a change of mind in light of a coming time of reckoning ("we ought not to think...repent", 17.29-30). This flow of thought is similar to his argument in Romans 1 and 2 for man's guilt based on our inner consciousness of sin. As well as using material relevant to his audience, Paul communicated in an appropriate manner. He spoke (16.3), reasoned (17.2,17; 18.4), opened and alleged (17.3), or preached (17.13). These various expressions suggest that the gospel can be shared in a variety of contexts from every-day conversation and interactive discussions to direct presentations and emphatic announcements.

7. A passion for the lost

Paul did not drag himself to preach the gospel; he was compelled from deep within his soul. Luke notes Paul's irresistible inner compulsion to preach on at least two occasions. In Athens, "his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry" (17.16). In Corinth, "Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ" (18.5). Knowing that God's truth had set him free, Paul acted as an ambassador for it. Seeing the needs of others, he could not be silent. May God open our eyes to the blinding and binding reality of sin in such a way that we too cannot but speak. Paul's passion for the lost gave rise to the by-product of courage - he was by himself in Athens when he boldly confronted the idolatry of his audience on Mars Hill. While Paul valued the help of his co-labourers, ultimately his sufficiency came from the Lord (18.10; 2 Cor 3.5-6; 2 Tim 4.16-17).

To be continued.


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