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Teaching from Troas (1)

H Barnes, Westhoughton


Troas was a seaport on the north-west coastal plain of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Like the city of Philippi, it was a Roman colony, and it had a population of about 100,000. It had been developed as a port by some of Alexander the Great's generals and was, for many centuries, the major route for traffic between Europe and Asia Minor, having a sizeable artificial harbour. It was not far south of the Hellespont (now called the Dardanelles), the narrow sea channel that connects the Aegean Sea in the south-west to the Black Sea in the north-east, and hence which separates Europe from Asia.

The Apostle Paul visited the city of Troas on a number of occasions, as he went back and forth between Asia and Europe. We will consider each mention of Troas in turn, seeing particularly how God's will worked itself out in Paul's life.

1. "They passing by Mysia came down to Troas" (Acts 16.8)

After Paul, Silas and Timothy had seen much blessing in Galatia (mid-Turkey), they had in mind to move west into the province of Roman Asia, with its very large capital city of Ephesus, which at that time was the second largest city in the Roman Empire with a population of about a quarter of a million. However, God's purpose was otherwise for the moment, and they were "forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia" (Acts 16.6). They then tried to go north into the province of Bithynia, but again they were not allowed (v.7). Then, skirting most of the province of Mysia, they came down from the hill country onto the coastal plain and reached the Mysian seaport of Troas (Acts 16.8).

Clear, unmistakable divine purpose had so far taken the negative form of firmly closed doors. Paul was sensitive to the Holy Spirit's leading and it was clear that nowhere in Asia Minor was to be the divinely appointed place for their labour at that time. Having reached Troas, they were literally at the end of the road and could go no further in Asia Minor. There they waited for guidance, and it eventually came in the form of a night vision for Paul, when "a man of Macedonia" urged him to come over to Macedonia and help them (Acts 16.9). When he shared his vision with the others, they all concluded that the Lord had called them to preach the gospel in Macedonia, and they, with no hesitation, immediately prepared to leave Troas. There is an important lesson for us in correlating the request of the Macedonian – "help us" – and the unanimous conclusion of the Lord's call – "preach the gospel". There is no greater help we can render to any needy people than to preach the gospel to them. Whatever else we do of an ancillary nature, we must always have the preaching of the gospel uppermost in our purpose.

Luke's report was that they had all "assuredly gathered", where the latter phrase is most interesting and has a lot to teach us. The original Greek word thus translated has been variously rendered in our Authorized Version, but it has the idea of things coming or being gathered together, even "gelling" together: this becomes clear when we look at the suggestions of various commentators, as "to make go together, to coalesce or knit together, to make this and that agree and so to conclude" (Robertson's Word Pictures); "coming to a conclusion from putting things side by side" (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges); "to drive together" (Strong); "to cause to coalesce, to join together, put together" (Thayer). The lesson for us today is that we should put all the circumstances together prayerfully, and not hastily make decisions based on single events. Hence the word is translated "proving" in Acts 9.22, again indicating that lots of things put together brought proof!

2. "I came to Troas for theglad tidings of the Christ" (2 Cor 2.12-14, JND)

The second incident at Troas took place about six years later. Eventually Paul had indeed got into Asia as he had earlier attempted, and to Ephesus in particular, where he spent three fruitful years. The summary of the great results achieved was that "all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks" (Acts 19.10). Then in Ephesus itself "all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. And many…believed" (vv.17-18), with the overall result that "mightily grew the word of God and prevailed" (v.20). Even opponents of the gospel had eventually admitted "that not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people" (v.26).

However, towards the third year of his stay, Paul heard the very sad news that the Corinthian assembly had got into a very bad spiritual state, being riven by factions, and becoming liberal in their attitude to serious spiritual matters, etc. He wrote a critical letter to them and sent Titus to deliver it, choosing himself to stay away from Corinth for the time being.

Paul had planned to move on from Ephesus to Macedonia (Acts 20.1), so Troas was on the way and Paul would have to stay there at least a while, waiting for a suitable ship. However he had planned to meet up with Titus there, it being a very suitable place since Troas was such an important transport centre. He was very eager to get, as soon as possible, first-hand information from Titus about the reaction of the Corinthian assembly to his letter.

However, when he arrived at Troas he had a third purpose for being there. He determined to make his visit an opportunity for the gospel, "I came to Troas to preach Christ's gospel" (2 Cor 2.12), probably carrying out various methods of gospel activity, e.g. open air preaching as in Athens, door to door visitation as in Ephesus, synagogue visiting as in Corinth, and possibly even hiring a suitable room for gospel meetings as in Ephesus.

To begin with, all went well and Paul reported that "a door was opened unto me of [or better 'in'] the Lord" (2 Cor 2.12). Paul felt great freedom in the gospel, with no hindrance and many opportunities. He was aware of the sovereign, overriding purpose of God, as he said the open door was "of" or "in" the Lord. Such working was seen previously in Jerusalem when "The Lord added" (Acts 2.47); in Philippi when Lydia's heart was opened by the Lord (Acts 16.14), and in Antioch where "the hand of the Lord was with them", and "a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord" (Acts 11.21). The Lord was surely working with him (Mk 16.20)! This had been true just before in Ephesus, and when Paul mentions it he does so in the context of his leaving. "But I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost. For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries" (1 Cor 16.8-9). A number of "open doors" apart from this one are mentioned in the New Testament (Acts 14.27; Col 4.3; Rev 3.8). Also, prayer was requested for more open doors – "praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ" (Col 4.3)! Much later the assembly at Philadelphia, though having "little strength", yet being faithful, was given the great promise by the Lord Jesus Himself, that "behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it" (Rev 3.8).

Eventually, because Titus had not turned up as planned, and hence Paul had no news of Corinth, he got very concerned, and wrote that he had "no rest in my spirit" (2 Cor 2.13). So he left for Macedonia, perhaps because Titus had taken the land route around the Adriatic Sea from Corinth. When he arrived in Macedonia, Titus eventually turned up with good news about the reception of his letter to the assembly at Corinth (2 Cor 7.6)!

To be continued.


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