With the commendation of “the brethren” at Antioch, Paul and Silas set out (Acts 15:40). Initially, this new venture was taken up with “confirming the churches” (Acts 15:41). The Greek word translated “confirming” has no reference to a religious ritual, but simply carries the idea of strengthening. In New Testament times, churches were never buildings, but called out companies of people – congregations or assemblies. Assemblies are strengthened numerically by an active gospel testimony and spiritually by consistent Bible teaching. Paul and Silas were diligent in both respects.
The next phase of their tour brought them to areas of former labors, and at Lystra they encountered Timothy, a young man who features prominently throughout the rest of the New Testament. His mother had filled his mind with the Word of God (2Tim 3:15), but that good seed was brought to fruition when Paul first arrived at Lystra. We come to that conclusion from Paul’s description of him as “my true child in faith” (1Tim 1:2, RV); spiritual children are begotten “through the gospel” (1Cor 4:15). Two lessons emerge. First, it is crucial for Christian mothers to diligently teach their children the truths of Scripture. Second, never be too quick to assess the value of any work for God. Reviewing the first visit to Lystra, we might have judged the work ineffective. After the initial euphoria, Paul was stoned and left for dead (Acts 14:8-20). There is no record of anyone being saved, but Timothy had been reached, and he became a link in the chain, seeing many others saved and encouraged in divine things. Be content to see how things develop in the long-term rather than craving short-term, sensational results.
Having been converted, Timothy was now called (Acts 16:3), and he was content to be directed by an older brother. Aquila and Priscilla also willingly accepted guidance from Paul; “he came to Ephesus, and left them there” (Acts 18:19). Ultimately, a call to any form of service comes from God, but mature believers can offer advice and Scriptural counsel. Their knowledge of the Word and their experience with God equip them for the task.
Undoubtedly Paul’s assessment of Timothy and his desire to see him involved was colored by the young man’s reputation – “well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium” (Acts 16:2). Again, there is great stress on his commendation. He was accredited by the people who knew him best, and it is a Scriptural principle that no one should ever leave home and employment to be dependent on the Lord and His people without the confidence of his local assembly. Just as a potential elder must have a healthy reputation, “a good report of them which are without” (1Tim 3:7), so the prospective missionary must be held in regard by the believers among whom he has labored locally.
Paul made a point of the fact that circumcision was never imposed on Titus the Greek (Gal 2:3). That was in the context of the defense of gospel truth, and the insistence that circumcision had no part in a man’s salvation. However, he did circumcise Timothy, whose father was a Greek and whose mother was a Jewess. That was “because of the Jews that were in those quarters” (Acts 16:3). An uncircumcised man with Jewish blood in his veins had no credibility among those Jews. To give Timothy a greater standing, and to add weight to his preaching among them, he circumcised him. It was for a similar reason that Gentile believers were asked to conform to some Old Testament laws, because “Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him” (Acts 15.21). For Gentile believers to have ignored some of these dietary laws would have cut off the ears of their Jewish neighbors and alienated them, and with that in mind they were encouraged to conform; there was no thought of adding law or works to faith in Christ for salvation.
The three preachers pressed on and the conclusions to the issues that had been thrashed out at Jerusalem in chapter 15 were happily communicated to existing assemblies. The results of their preaching were two-fold. First, the assemblies were “established in the faith” (Acts 16:5). Understanding was enlarged, convictions were solidified, spiritual strength was enhanced, and growth was stimulated. A second consequence of their activity was daily numerical increase. Numerical growth and spiritual growth were moving in tandem.
It is to our sorrow that shrinkage rather than growth is the general trend in the western world. Understanding of the Word and convictions about doctrine have been eroded. Disintegration rather than consolidation seems to be the norm. There is a feeling of pessimism that argues that we are in Laodicean times, with the trend being irreversible. To say that we are living in Laodicean times is a general statement. Any assembly could recapture Philadelphian conditions; so work to that end, promoting the solid teaching that establishes the faith, and the energetic evangelism that increases the numbers!
Where to go next was the perplexing problem, and the Spirit of God made it clear that it was neither Asia nor Bithynia (Acts 16:6-7). Asia’s time would come, but there was an Asian woman to be saved at Philippi. She would have missed out if the preachers had turned to her home area just then. God’s timing and God’s ways are always best! Like the apostles, there are times when we have to take tentative steps, but never force a door open when it is obviously closed.
A vision settled the issue. When it comes to guidance, you will never have that luxury, but all around us, the unspoken appeal is, “Help.” Now, accompanied by Luke, the preachers “immediately” set out for Macedonia (Acts 16:10). They allowed no distractions, for they made “a straight course” to their destination (Acts 16:11). We are seldom as sensitive to divine leading, nor are we as quick to respond to God’s call. More often the spirit of the former exiles grips us; “The time is not come … .” (Hag 1:2). Paul moved forward instantly with the conviction of divine calling. May we be as swift to respond to God’s promptings to see something accomplished for Him.