Instructions to Elders

Acts 20:28-30
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.
Acts 20:32
And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
N. T. Wright, Acts for Everyone (Part Two)
More worrying still, some of the sheep, and even some of the shepherds, may turn out to be wolves in disguise (verse 30). And the attack will then take the form, not of direct contradiction or a clash of powers, but of distorting the truth. The greatest heresies do not come about by straightforward denial; most the church will see that for what it is. They happen when an element which may even be important, but isn’t central, looms so large that people can’t help talking about it, fixating on it, debating different views of it as though this were the only thing that mattered (137-138).
Aaron Orendorff
Paul’s remedy to the coming “wolves” is two-fold.

First, the elders are to “pay careful attention to [themselves] and the flock.” In other words, their vocation from the Lord via Paul is to know the sheep with which they have been entrusted, to know them intimately and personally, to care for them, understand them, watch over them and (in some cases) scrutinize them, closely and perhaps at times in ways quite uncomfortable to both the shepherd and the sheep. And yet all of this sheep-watching is to run parallel to the elders own self-watch: “[N]o good using your care for the flock as displacement activity to prevent you needing to think about your own discipline, obedience and maturity.”

Second, Paul commends the elders (and, by extension, the sheep) in general to God and in particular “to the word of his grace.” He describes this word, which would probably be better translated as “message,” as “able to build you up and give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” In other words, running alongside watchfulness must be a positive presentation of what God’s word—the truth of the gospel—really says. This doesn’t mean that heresy is never to be confronted head-on, Paul’s own letters rule out such an outlandish assumption. But it does mean, as the saying goes, the best defense is a good offense.

What Do You Value?

Acts 20:18-27
You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.
N. T. Wright, Acts for Everyone (Part Two)
All he knows is that it isn’t going to get any easier, and in that, at least, he was absolutely correct. Those in Ephesus who had watched him through a sustained ministry knew very well that he meant it when he said what he did in verse 24, which stands as a model, challenging but also strangely beckoning, to all who work for the gospel: “I don’t reckon my life at any value, so long as I can finish my course, and the ministry which I have received from the Lord Jesus, to bear witness to the gospel of God’s grace.” That witness, as much by what Paul was and did as by what he said, stands to this day (133).
Aaron Orendorff
With the Ephesian elders gathered to him, Paul’s farewell address draws together a number of themes that dominated his ministry.

First: the act of preaching. Paul uses four terms to describe this element of his ministry: declaring, teaching, testifying and proclaiming.

Second: the content of his preaching. Again, Paul strings together a number of descriptive (and most likely, conceptually parallel) phrases: “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ,” “the gospel of the grace of God,” “the kingdom” and finally “the whole counsel of God.”

Third: his lifestyle. Just as Paul’s preaching was Christ-shaped, in that what he “proclaimed” was Jesus Christ crucified and raised, so too was his lifestyle. He describes it, in v. 19, as “serving the Lord with all humility and with tears” as he faced various trials and torments at the hands of his opponents. The reference here to “tears” reminds us that the pain Paul endured was real. There was no hint in Paul’s ministry of either unfeeling stoicism or proud triumphalism. This is reiterated in vv. 22-24 when he tells the elders that although he doesn’t know what exactly will happen to him in Jerusalem what he does know is that “in every city imprisonment and afflictions await me.” Nonetheless, what drives Paul is not the value of his life but the aim of “finishing the course” and faithfully discharging the “ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus.”

The question then is this: what do I value? What is it that drives and motivates me? Is it “my own life,” that is my own comfort and well-being? Perhaps it’s my reputation, being liked, well thought of or made much of? Perhaps it’s success, even ministerial success? It is absolutely inevitable that something will drive us and motivate us to say what we say, be who we are and to what we do. The basic choice this: either it will be our own lives that are of ultimate value or it will be the life of Christ.

“Manmade gods are no gods at all.”

Acts 19:23-27
About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.”
Acts 19:35 & 37
And when the town clerk had quieted the crowd, he said, “. . . you have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess.”
N. T. Wright, Acts for Everyone (Part Two)
There are all kinds of lessons here for the church in later days. Have we learned the lesson of being so definite in our witness to the powerful name of Jesus that people will indeed find their vested interests radically challenged, while being so innocent in our actual behavior that there will be nothing to accuse us of? There is fine line to be trodden between a quiet, ineffective “preaching” of a “gospel” which will make no impact on real life, on the one hand, and a noisy, obstreperous, personally and socially offensive proclamation on the other (123).
Aaron Orendorff
The accusation here in Acts 19:23-27 that Paul has been preaching against “Artemis of the Ephesians,” persuading “a great many people” to turn away from idolatry and therefore destabilizing the “business” and the “wealth” her idolatry supports is probably a direct response to the kind of preaching represented in the Areopagus sermon from Acts 17:22-31. There, Paul’s critique of idolatry is simple: “The God who made and sustains the world does not ‘live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands.’ We are his offspring and therefore ought not to think ‘that the diving being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man’” (17:24, 29).

The issue of idolatry is, in this instance, one of control. Manmade gods are not gods. The real, creator God cannot be contained, neither in a temple nor a statue. The real, creator God cannot be manipulated, neither by sacrifice nor service. Such a God, as C. S. Lewis said, is without a doubt unsafe and yet thoroughly and unreservedly good.

Gospel-Power and Gospel-People

Acts 19:18-20
Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.
Aaron Orendorff
There is an organic and indissoluble connection between the life of God’s people and power of God’s word.

Here in Ephesus, the connection in this: wide-scale, public repentance of a very costly and counter-culture kind is both preceded by and adds to the triumph of God’s word. This is not so much a formula for church-growth as it is a culturally specific example of what happens when the power of the gospel collides with and gets inside a city filled with every other kind of power imaginable—political, magical and religious.

The relationship is reciprocal—as Paul preaches, people change; as people change, Paul preaches. Another way to say this is: gospel-power produces gospel-people and gospel-people produce gospel-power. Both are uniquely dependent on the other.

Another “Twelve”

Acts 19:6-8
And when Paul [after their baptism into the name of Jesus] had laid his hands on [the disciples of John the Baptist], the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. There were about twelve men in all. And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God.
Aaron Orendorff
It’s tempting, when studying a text like the Bible, to want to make much of numbers. Numerology, however—as well as it might sell books—is a genre related matter and not one of hidden mathematics and Gnostic codes. Still, in Acts 19:7, we must ask the question: why does Luke take the time to point out that there were “about twelve men in all”? We have, at this point in the story, moved through a number of conversion scenes—some with individuals, some with groups; some in private, some in public—and yet rarely does Luke record, to the chagrin of our fascination with numbers, how many people were included. Yet here he does. Why is that?

One clue to answering the question is to ask another: where else have we seen a collection of themes like those in Acts 19:6-8, namely, the baptism of John, baptism into “the name of Jesus,” a miraculous outpouring of the Holy Spirit resulting in prophesy and tongues, a recorded number of converts (“twelve”) and the bold declaration that God’s “kingdom” has come?

To answer that question we must go back to the very beginning of the book. After speaking to his disciples for forty days about God’s kingdom (Acts 1:3), Jesus instructs them to stay in Jerusalem until “the promise of the Father” arrives, which he describes in terms of a Holy Spirit “baptism” greater than the baptism of John (1:4-5). Interestingly, this “promise” only arrives after Matthias is chosen to replace Judas thus restoring the number of disciples to Jesus’ original twelve. Then, once the Holy Spirit does descend on the day of Pentecost and the twelve disciples begin to “speak in other tongues” and prophesy as Joel foretold (2:4-21), Peter instructs the awed and cut-to-the-heart crowd to repent and “be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus.” As a result, Acts 2:41 tells us, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”

The parallels are staggering and the point seems to be this: what’s happening here in Ephesus is precisely what happened in Jerusalem at Pentecost which is also precisely what happened inside Cornelius’ house in Acts 10: God is redefining and expanding the communal identity of His people.

So, why twelve? For the same reason that Jesus chose twelve originally and that Matthias replaced Judas: the locus of God’s people—the twelve tribes of Israel—have, at the in-breaking of God’s kingdom, been reconstituted around the person of Jesus and it is faith in Jesus (i.e., his name), instead of an ethnic or nationalistic marker, that now identifies those who belong to the Spirit-produced people of God.

Community and Learning

Acts 18:24-26
Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately.
N. T. Wright, Acts for Everyone (Part Two)
Luke offers us no set pattern for the way in which people come, step by step, into full membership of the Christian family and full participation in all the possibilities that are thereby open to them. Sometimes it happens this way, sometimes that. Just as humans grow to maturity at different paces, and some make great strides in one area while other have to catch up later, so it seems to be in the church. What matters is that we are open, ready to learn even from unlikely sources [i.e., “Priscilla helping her husband Aquila to teach a learned scholar from the great university city of Alexandria”], and prepared for whatever God has to reveal to us through the scriptures, the apostolic teaching, and the ongoing and always unpredictable common life of the believing family (108-109).
Aaron Orendorff
Throughout the book of Acts, great stress is laid upon the centrality of community in the Christian life. This stress runs contrary to a number of distinctly American assumptions about how life in general and Christianity in particular works. Many well-meaning (though misguided) disciples live out of on a nexus of individualistic principles that revolve, in one way or another, on the assumption “It’s just me and Jesus” or “It’s just me and the Bible.”

Here, with the introduction of Apollos, is one of the most powerful antidotes to those kinds of assumptions. Luke takes great pains to describe Apollos’ pedigree: a native of Alexandria (the great, as Wright points out, “university city”), an “eloquent man” (literally, a man of the word, that is, learned or cultured), “competent in the Scriptures,” having been “instructed in the way of the Lord,” “fervent in spirit,” and speaking and teaching “accurately the things concerning Jesus.” Luke could hardly have compiled a more flattering picture of a preacher-teacher. And yet, for all of his excellent learning and clear ability, two tent-makers—a man and a (gasp) woman—take this scholar aside in order to explain to him the way of God more accurately.

The lesson: God has built the Christian life—in all its various parts, including both learning and teaching—to be done in the context of community. To learn from and lean upon the insight and knowledge of others is not a weakness in faith, it is its fruit.

A Matter of Worship

Acts 18:12-15
But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.”
Aaron Orendorff
One of the most insightful features of Acts is that we are given (through the eyes of Luke) a window into both the actual content of Paul’s preaching as well as how those who heard it perceived it. Here, in Corinth, the gospel (in the understanding of its opponents) was conceived as a matter of worship; namely, worship “contrary to the law [nomos, or Torah].”

Contrary how? N. T. Wright calls attention to at least three points of contention: “[1] The Christians didn’t insist on circumcision for non-Jewish converts; [2] they did insist on believing Jews and Gentiles sharing table-fellowship; and [3] they had expressed, early on, a strong repudiation of the Temple in Jerusalem” (102).

I would add to these objections two more points of contention that actually provide for and undergird the first three. One, the central feature of Paul’s preaching was, as 18:5 itself reads, “that the Christ was Jesus.” The Messiah, Israel’s anointed king, had come and he had come in the person of Jesus to both suffer and rise. Two, faith in this Jesus—placing your personal trust in him and him alone—is God’s means of justifying all people without ethnic distinction so that in Jesus one, new, grace-dependent people have now been created. As Paul writes in Philippians 3:3, “We are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh . . . .”

Proximity, Responsibility and Success

Acts 18:9-11
And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city [Corinth] who are my people.” And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
N. T. Wright, Acts for Everyone (Part Two)
[T]he last vision [Paul] had had was of someone telling him to go somewhere he hadn’t expected (16.9), this one was telling him to say put. And the Lord, speaking to him personally . . . gave him an interesting reason: There are many of my people in this city. In other words, evangelism is only just beginning here. Settle down and get on with it. I am at work here and you must trust me and stick it out.

Presumable, Paul needed the encouragement. Visions, both in the New Testament and in much later experience, are not normally granted just for the sake of it. . . . One of the many lessons Acts teaches quietly, as it goes along, is that you tend to get the guidance you need when you need it, not before, and not in too much detail. Enough to know that the Lord Jesus has many people in this city, and that he wants you, Paul, to stay here and work with them (98-99).
Aaron Orendorff
The question that immediately comes to mind when reading Acts 18:9-11 is this: Can I apply what Jesus said to Paul in Corinth to my situation here in (blank)? Are there also “many in this city who are [His] people?” How are we to answer this question?

One line of reasoning seems to be this: If, as Paul said in Acts 17:26, there is one creator God—“being Lord of heaven and earth”—who has sovereignly “determined” both when and where people live for the express purpose of seeking Him, then concluding that this same God—who passionately desires to be known—has also “determined” both when and where we, His redeemed people, live for the express purpose of leading others to seek Him seems more than just reasonable, it seems required. I recently heard someone say, “Proximity implies responsibility.” What this means is that God has placed us when and where we live to be agents of his gospel calling those around us—those within our “proximity”—to Him. We are, perhaps, not quite as guaranteed as Paul to assume all those we meet “are His people,” but we can be nonetheless assured that some certainly are. Proximity not only implies responsibility; it (to some degree) also implies success.

A Change in Time and the Resurrected Judge

Acts 17:29-31
“Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
N. T. Wright, Acts for Everyone (Part Two)
Now something new had happened! Now there was something to say, particular news about particular events and a particular man, which provided just the sort of new evidence that the genuinely open-minded agnostic should be prepared to take into account, that Epicurean and Stoic should see as forming both a confirmation of the correct elements in their worldviews and a challenge to the misleading elements, and that the ordinary pagan, trudging off to yet another temple with yet another sacrifice, should see as good news indeed. This God . . . has set a time when he is going to do what the Jewish tradition always said he would do, indeed what the must do if he is indeed the good and wise creator: he will set the world right, will call it to account, will in other words judge it in the full, Hebraic, biblical sense (92).

[W]ith the resurrection of Jesus God’s new world has begun; in other words, his being raised form the dead is the start, the paradigm case, the foundation, the beginning, of that great setting-right which God will do for the whole cosmos at the end. The risen body of Jesus is the one bit of the physical universe that has already been “set right.” Jesus is therefore the one through whom everything else will be “set right.”

The double challenge, then, is: first, repent. Turn back from your ways, particularly from your idolatry, your supposing that the gods can be made of gold and silver, or that they live in man-made houses, or that they want or need animal sacrifices! Turn away from these things, give them up, shake yourself free of them. And, second, turn to the living God . . . grope for him and find him (Acts 17.27). You will only do that if you abandon the parodies, the idols that get in the way and distract you from the true God. But if can be done. And it can be done because the living God is at work, changing the times and season so that now the day of ignorance is over and the time of revealing truth has arrived (93).

The Creator Lord and the Good News

Acts 17:24-27
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him.
N. T. Wright, Acts for Everyone (Part Two)
So far, so Jewish. . . . [Paul’s message] is the message about the creator God, which is the foundation of all good news, all gospel. Without a creator God, even such good news as you might have (there is hope for bliss yet to come) is purchased at the cost of very bad news (this bliss will not involve the rescue of the present beautiful creation). . . . People sometimes grumble that Paul doesn’t seem to have put much “gospel” into this speech. But actually the whole thing is good news, from start to finish. The specific “good news” of Jesus Christ grows directly out of this doctrine of creation (89).
Aaron Orendorff
Back behind, or perhaps better, running in and through, our relationship with God is the reality of who God is. For example: as a relational, responsive Being, we pray, God listens and God acts. This is true; wonderfully true. And yet this is not all that is true. God is the creator: the vast, incomparable, incomprehensible, untamed God who “made the world and everything in it.” God is also the lord . . . the Lord “of heaven and earth,” of all there is, both physical and immaterial. He has not only made all that exists—all of it!—he has ordered it and governed it so that everything from the boarders of nations to the house you live in has been “determined” by him. And why has this sovereign, all-powerful creator Lord done this? As a show of cosmic strength? To flex is divine, narcissistic muscles? No. He has done so “that [we, all people] should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find.”

The Norming Norm

Acts 17:11-12a
Now these [Berean] Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed . . . .
N. T. Wright, Acts for Everyone (Part Two)
What a relief to find some people who are actually prepared to say, in effect, “Well, we hadn’t even thought this sort of thing before; but let’s have a look at the scriptures and see if it’s true.” That is, again and again, all a preacher can really ask for: don’t take it from me, we say, go home and study the scriptures for yourselves and see how it all fits together (82-3).
Aaron Orendorff
Within the bounds of orthodox Christian faith, Scripture functions as a sort of ethical, epistemic and theological first principle. God’s word in written form is, as D. A. Carson and others have said, a “norming norm” against which all other norms, or standards, must be plumbed. Everything else—whether practical or philosophical—is held to this measurement. Why? Because the words of Scripture are the words of God.

The nobility of the Berean Jews—that is, their virtue—was integrally connected to their relationship to Scripture. It is not merely that they “received the word [of Paul] with all eagerness,” but that they examined this new word against God’s old word “to see if these things were so.” The result, of course, was not mere intellectual assent, as if all Paul was after was simple agreement—“Yes, that appears to be true.”—but rather belief, trust in the Messiah. Ethics—i.e., “nobility”—epistemology—i.e., “examination”—and theology—i.e., “belief”—all therefore meet together, held not in tension with one another but in proportion to the word of God and the holistic response it produces.

Another King!

Acts 17:6-8
And when they could not find [Paul and Silas], they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things.
N. T. Wright, Acts for Everyone (Part Two)
Well, yes. Paul would probably, if pushed, say that they were turning the world the right way up, because it was currently upside down, but he would most likely have been quite pleased to see that the people had at least understood that he wasn’t just offering people a new religious experience, but announcing to the world that its creator was at last setting it all right. And the charge goes on, “all of them [are] acting against Caesar’s decrees”—they don’t say which ones, but the meaning seems to be in the final phrase—“saying that there is another king, namely Jesus.”

Another king! Well, they really have got the message. Jesus is Lord and Caesar isn’t; the fundamental “decree” or “dogma” of Caesar is that he and he alone in the emperor (78).

[W]hen we stand back from the present incident and look at the whole sweep of Acts as it unfolds before our eyes, we begin to see a pattern emerging, a pattern which will grow and swell until it leaves us . . . wondering what on earth happened next. In Acts 1—12 Jesus is hailed as Messiah, king of the Jews, until eventually the present king of the Jews tries to do something about it but is struck down for his pagan arrogance. Now, from Acts 13 onwards, Jesus is being hailed as “another king,” “lord of the world”; but there already is a “lord of the world,” and anyone who knows anything about tyrants, particularly ancient Roman ones, knows well that they don’t take kindly to rivals on the stage (79).

A Political Citizen and a Christian Apostle

Acts 16:37-38
But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens.
N. T. Wright, Acts for Everyone (Part Two)
God had given [Paul] the extraordinary position of being a highly trained Pharisee and a Roman citizen, and had called him to do a job. Paul took it for granted that the tools God had given him were tools he should use.

This doesn’t provide an easy template for all subsequent Christians to figure out how they should employ their political or civic status within their Christian vocation. That will vary from time to time, regime to regime, and vocation to vocation. It does suggest, once more, that we should avoid easy dogmatisms of this or that kind and, while holding firmly to the belief that Jesus is Lord and the through him God’s kingdom is indeed coming on earth as in heaven, be ready for some surprises as to how that latter reality is brought to birth (73).
Aaron Orendorff
While much is often said in the church about spiritual gifting, very little instruction is devoted to the much more complicated question of position and vocation. Often, this imbalance is owing to an assumed, though unexamined, dualism that separates the spiritual from the secular. The church, it is implicitly presumed, has to do with what is spiritual in nature and its aim, therefore, ought to be to extract people more and more from the world around them into a cloistered, “godly” existence.

Here, however, in Acts 16, and elsewhere along his journeys, Paul makes full use of his political position as a Roman citizen in the service of his Christian vocation as an apostle of Jesus Christ. In Paul’s mind, the two roles—one secular, the other spiritual—were not separate entities but rather two sides of the same, holistic coin. Paul was who he was and he was willing to bring the totality of his life to bear on his calling to spread the gospel.

The question for us, therefore, ought to be similar: what “secular” positions has God placed us into and how are we being called to bring them to bear in service for the gospel?

Summarizing the Good News

Acts 16:29-30
And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said,“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
N. T. Wright, Acts for Everyone (Part Two)
[T]he Christian message, the evangel or “good news” . . . isn’t about getting in touch with one’s inner spiritual self. It isn’t about committing oneself to a life of worship, prayer and good works. It isn’t even about believing in some particular theory of how precisely God deals with our sins in the death of Jesus. It is about recognizing, acknowledging and hailing Jesus Christ as Lord . . . . Everything else is contained within that--all the volumes of systematic and pastoral theology, all the worship and prayers and devotions and dogma, all the ethics and choices and personal dilemmas (68).

“Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

Acts 16:9-10
And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
Aaron Orendorff
Ultimately, the spread of the gospel is not about God winning at the expense of those who oppose him. Often, our vision of evangelism reflects an “I don’t want to bother you but . . .” sort of attitude instead—as the Macedonian vision presents it—an “I know you’re desperate for hope and meaning so let me share with you . . .” attitude. What a difference it would make to feel called not just by God by the lost around us to share the message of the gospel.

A Sharp Disagreement

Acts 15:37-41
Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
N. T. Wright, Acts for Everyone (Part Two)
[I]f anyone suggests that Luke . . . is trying to whitewash early church history, or make out that the apostles were fledged angles, they should think again. This is a shameful episode, and the fact that it stands in scripture should not make us afraid to say so. On the contrary, its scriptural status should be interpreted as a sign that the Bible itself is warning us against allowing such a thing to happen (52).

The [Greek word in v. 39] is paroxysm, from which of course we get “paroxysm” [meaning, a “sudden violent emotion or action”]. When the word is used in a medical context it can mean “convulsion” or refer to someone running a high fever. It carries overtones of severely heightened emotions, red and distorted faces, loud voices, things said that were better left unsaid. A sorry sight (53).
Aaron Orendorff
It doesn’t seem to be readily apparent what sort of lesson Luke is teaching in the separation of Barnabas and Paul. In one sense, of course, his primary aim isn’t to “teach a lesson” but rather to report the facts—the history of how the church came to be. And yet, Luke’s history (like all biblical history) isn’t a bare presentation historical events, but instead history with a purpose, history endowed with meaning, both theological and ethical. Instead of just venturing a guess, I’m going to spend a bit more time with this particular episode and see what comes up.