Before we took a break for Christmas, we had been working our way through the book of Acts – and today we want to pick it up where we left off. However, since it’s been almost two months since we were looking at Acts, I suspect that we all probably need a bit of a refresher to remind us where we were and what we were talking about!
I won’t recap the entire book thus far – that would take up pretty much the entire sermon – but I’ll give you just a quick refresher of what the book is all about and then just a few brief reminders of what’s happened in the story most recently.
The book is traditionally called “The Acts of the Apostles” but we’ve repeatedly seen that it may be more accurate to call it “The Continued Acts of Jesus” or “The Acts of the Holy Spirit”. Of course, there are many different apostles and other key figures in throughout the book (such as Peter, James, Paul, & Barnabas), but the author Luke only includes them as secondary characters to the central storyline – and that storyline is the spread of the Gospel and the growth of Christ’s church.
The book begins primarily following the growth of the church among the Jewish communities in and around Jerusalem, but as the book has progressed, we’ve seen the Gospel spread out to include the Gentiles – both near and far! In fact, in these last few chapters of Acts, we’ve seen Paul complete the first missionary journey with Barnabas – starting churches throughout south Asia Minor.
And of course, this was exactly what Jesus had commanded the disciples to do. As we read in Acts 1:8, Jesus said…
8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8
This is exactly what we are seeing by this point in the story. The Good News of Jesus is being taken all over the world – and both Jews and Gentiles are becoming believers.
Mind you, the fact that the gentiles were becoming believers had become quite a point of contention among the Jews. For the longest time, the Jews had believed that salvation is for the Jews and for the Jews alone! And if a gentile wanted to come to God, then they had to become like a Jew first.
This became a major controversy in the church as more and more Gentiles became believers! The big question was: Did the gentiles have to become like the Jews and follow all the Jews laws like circumcision and Sabbaths and kosher foods? Or could they be saved by faith in Jesus Christ alone?
In the end, it was recognized that God had provided salvation for everyone the same way – and that is by faith in Jesus alone! Following the Jewish laws had no bearing whatsoever on Salvation! And so with that issue settled, the message of Jesus Christ continued to spread throughout the Gentile world.
Now when we last left off, Paul & Barnabas had just split up following their first missionary journey together. They had a significant disagreement over whether or not to take John Mark with them on a second journey – because John Mark had previously bailed on them halfway through their first mission’s trip!
Of course, as the Son of encouragement, Barnabas wanted to give John Mark another chance, but Paul wasn’t willing to risk the success of the mission to do that! And so the two men parted ways – Barnabas took John Mark and went to Cyprus, while Paul took Silas and traveled to Syria and Cilicia.
And so this is where we pick up the story today in Acts chapter 16 – as Paul & Silas begin Paul’s second missionary journey.
For the sake of context, I’ll start reading back in Acts 15 – verse 40 so you can see how it all flows together. So after Paul and Barnabas decide to part ways, we read in verse 40…
40 Paul chose Silas, and as he left, the believers entrusted him to the Lord’s gracious care. 41 Then he traveled throughout Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches there.
1 Paul went first to Derbe and then to Lystra, where there was a young disciple named Timothy.
Now I’ll pause here for just a moment. You’ll notice that Paul is revisiting some of the cities where he had previously planted churches with Barnabas. After traveling through Syria and Cilicia, he goes first to Derby and then to Lystra. You might remember those cities from back in chapter 14. Lystra was actually the city where Paul was stoned and left for dead, and so you might not think he’d be eager to go back there!
However, revisiting these churches was one of the main purposes for this second missionary journey. If we jump back to Acts 15:36, we read:
After some time Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are doing.” Acts 15:36
It was important to Paul not to leave those new believers to ‘fend for themselves’ so to speak! Like children, they needed someone to check in on them and see how they were doing. They needed someone to give them instruction and training so that they would ‘grow up’ in their faith – growing into mature, godly, reproducing Christians!
And that’s so important for us as well! Everyone of us here has been given the great commission to go and make disciples – but that discipleship process doesn’t end when someone accepts Christ as their Saviour. We have to help them continue to grow up!
When someone becomes ‘born-again’ (that is, when they accept Christ as their Saviour) – they become in essence, a spiritual infant! Everything is brand new and they need a lot of help and guidance. There is a lot of stuff they don’t know! And of course, this is a very exciting time – both for the new Christian and for those helping them grow up! If you’ve ever helped someone become a Christian, you probably know the zeal and excitement and the joy that comes especially for those first several months. It’s wonderful and exhilarating!
But just as little babies grow up, so do spiritual infants. Following the pattern of every 3 year old, they begin asking all kinds of questions – they are hungry to learn! Perhaps they join a Bible study or start doing their own personal devotions – learning to feed themselves (as it were). Which is wonderful and necessary!
But of course, like most kids, the world still kinda revolves around them. At this stage, life isn’t so much about serving and bringing glory to God – it’s still more all about what being a Christian can do for me! It’s about me going to heaven, and God providing for my needs, answering my prayers, healing me when I’m sick – all those things.
Not that those things are bad or wrong, but if that’s what you think being a Christian is all about, you’re really missing a major part of God’s purpose for your life! Christ has called us to take up our cross and follow him – not just sit back, enjoy life, and expect God to provide health, wealth, and comfort!
But sadly, I think this is where many people in the church get stuck! They never really get beyond this point of being a spiritual child – they never get to where their lives begin to revolve around serving the kingdom of God. Instead they just stay comfortable in their routines of going to church when they can, maybe attending a Bible study or even doing their own devotions…. but their impact on the world for Christ is minimal at best – because everything still revolves around me!
But there is so much more ‘growing up’ to be done! In the Great Commission, Jesus commands us to “go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And then… We are to teach these new disciples to obey all the commands Christ has given us.”
God has called us to carry out that entire process! It’s not just about the moment of salvation – we have to make disciples who will then go on to make disciples of their own!
And like I said, this is probably a whole other sermon series for another time – but this needs to be the central purpose of our church – and the central purpose of our lives – to make disciples who will make disciples!
This is precisely what Paul was determined to do and is exactly the reason why he wants to go back to those same cities where he had previously visited! He wanted to make sure they he hadn’t left behind a bunch of spiritual infants and toddlers! He wanted to make sure they were growing up in their faith and were learning to make disciples themselves! And thankfully, this is exactly what he found! As we read in verse 1…
“Paul went first to Derbe and then to Lystra, where there was a young disciple named Timothy. His mother was a Jewish believer, but his father was a Greek. 2 Timothy was well thought of by the believers in Lystra and Iconium, 3 so Paul wanted him to join them on their journey.” Acts 16:1-3a
So this is our first introduction to the young man named Timothy – who would eventually become Paul’s right hand man, so to speak. Young Timothy, who likely became a Christian during Paul’s first missionary journey, had been growing up in his faith – so much so that he was well-thought of by the other believers and apparently had the kind of Christian maturity that Paul was looking for in a partner.
Now of course, traveling with Paul would be no easy task. I’m sure Timothy knew full well the dangers that would await him if he were to accompany Paul on this missionary journey. He had seen earlier how Paul had been stoned and left for dead – right in Timothy’s home town. I’m sure that event left a significant impression on young Timothy. And so Timothy knew the potential risks, but yet, as we will see, he was fully willing to take those risks for the sake of the Gospel.
And that, by the way, is certainly a mark of a maturing Christian! Someone who is willing to take a risk for the Gospel is someone who understands the value and the worth of knowing Christ! They are willing to give up the short-term comforts of this world now in order to help others experience the joy of knowing Christ for eternity.
Perhaps that’s a good way to measure our own spiritual maturity – what are we willing to risk, what are we willing to give up, so that others can hear & believe the truth of Jesus Christ? What personal sacrifices are we willing to make to further the kingdom of God? That’s a good, hard question and I’d encourage us all to think about that this week. What comforts in this life right now are we willing to give up for the sake of the Gospel? Are we like young Timothy – willing to risk it all – even his own life – so that others can know and believe in Jesus?
That’s a question worth thinking about. And as you think about that, here’s another interesting thing that I noticed in these verses… I had never really thought about it before, but this is now the second time that Paul is wanting to bring along a young disciple on one of his missionary journeys.
On his first missionary journey, Paul took along the young John Mark – and even though that didn’t work out as well as Paul might have liked, now in this second missionary journey, Paul is again wanting to bring along a young disciple. I can’t say for sure, but I expect this was quite intentional!
The Scriptures don’t specifically tells us why Paul wanted to bring these young fellows along, other than the fact that Timothy was well thought of by the other believers – but through the rest of Paul’s letters, we can see that Paul was very intentional about mentoring and discipling these young men into mature, Christian leaders! John Mark, Timothy, and eventually Titus as well were all young men who were mentored by Paul and who became significant leaders in the early church!
This is a pattern and example that we need to follow in the church today! Older more mature Christians need to take it upon themselves to mentor and disciple the younger ones coming up behind us!
And this can happen in a variety of settings. For example, as moms & dads, we have the great opportunity and responsibility to help our children know and follow Christ. But we can’t leave this to happen incidentally! We can’t just hope our faith rubs off on them – we need to intentionally take the time and make the effort to purposely teach and instruct and model for them what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. This is one of our primary responsibilities in life!
There’s a passage in Deuteronomy that I often share during child dedications – and I think it speaks to this issue of intentional discipleship within our homes. It says…
5 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. 6 And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. 7 Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. 8 Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. 9 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
In other words, be very intentional about raising your kid to know and follow the Lord. Don’t just hope that it happens – do everything you can to make sure that it does!
And this doesn’t only apply to our own children! Some of us have the blessing of having grandchildren – and again, what an opportunity to intentionally teach them about Christ! You grandparents hold such a unique place in the lives of your grandkids – don’t waste the opportunity to teach them how to follow Christ.
And that’s just within our biological families… What about outside of that? There are all kinds of opportunities in our church family as well! In our church we have older folks who have much wisdom and experience to share with the young parents or even the teenagers! One of the things that I love about being a smaller church is that the kids get to know the older folks almost like second grandparents – or at least like an uncle or aunt if you don’t feel that old!
I love that my kids don’t just hang out with all the other kids all the time, but they have conversations with all of you! And I would encourage you not to waste those opportunities! Be intentional about the things you say or the questions you ask when you talk with all these kiddos. Use those moments to help spur them on towards following Christ!
And to go even further than that, I’d encourage you to create opportunities to speak into their lives. Invite them over for a meal or to help with a project. Be creative in creating opportunities to speak into their lives!
Who knows what Timothys or John Marks or Titus’ might be among us! And you can be a Paul or a Silas or a Barnabas for them! But it doesn’t happen by accident! You have to be intentional – just like Paul was with Timothy!
Paul saw some great potential in Timothy – and invited him to come along on this journey – not only to serve Christ and share the Gospel – but also to grow and mature and be mentored by Paul and his companions.
And so, to get back to our passage, Timothy agrees to go with Paul on this missionary journey, but there was one thing that they needed to attend to before they left. We read in verse 3…
In deference to the Jews of the area, he arranged for Timothy to be circumcised before they left, for everyone knew that his father was a Greek. Acts 16:3b
Now this is kind of interesting. As I mentioned back in the introduction, you’ll recall that one of the big issues in the early church was whether or not gentile believers needed to be circumcised in order to be saved! They had all kinds of debates and discussions about this issue and eventually had to convene a meeting with the apostles and other church leaders in Jerusalem to decide the issue. And again, as I mentioned earlier, at that meeting, it was determined that God saves every person by faith in Jesus Christ alone. No obedience to the Jewish laws was required.
So why then, right after working through that whole big issue, do we see Paul arranging for Timothy to be circumcised?
Well, it’s important for us to understand what’s going on here. First of all, it’s important to note that Paul’s method of evangelism was always to preach to the Jews first. That was always his first priority. Whenever he would go into a new town, he would go to the Jewish synagogues in that town and preach about Christ. After that, He would go out and preach to the gentiles. But because his first concern was for his fellow Jews, it was important that Timothy be circumcised – otherwise, their ministry among the Jews would have been greatly hampered – and here’s why:
You’ll recall from verse 1 that Timothy’s mother was a Jew, but his father was a Greek. Because his father was a Greek, Timothy would not have been circumcised at 8 days old like all the other Jews, and therefore he would be considered by the Jewish community to be an apostate Jew – a violator of the Mosaic law – someone who should be cut off from the community of Israel! They would see Timothy as worse than a pagan because he had rejected his Jewish heritage.
This would have made ministering among the Jews really difficult for Timothy – and also for Paul if Timothy was his associate!
And so the easiest solution to this issue was for Timothy to be circumcised. Now as the son of Jewish woman, there was no issue for Timothy to identify himself as a Jew – which is what circumcision did. But what needs to be made clear is that his circumcision was never intended to identified him as a believer. That was the one thing that Paul was very opposed to!
- Circumcising a gentile for the purpose of Salvation was wrong and contrary to the teaching of Scripture.
- But circumcising a Jew for the purpose of identifying with other Jews was quite Scriptural – and would in fact, be very helpful in reaching the Jews for Christ.
And so Timothy’s circumcision before they left had nothing to do with his salvation (which was the big issue that the church had just wrestled through) but rather this was about about removing any stumbling blocks to reaching people for Christ.
And that’s one thing we always see in Paul’s ministry. He always did whatever he could to reach others for Christ. He always tried to find common ground and remove ay barrier that might hinder the Gospel! In fact, he writes in 1 Corinthians 9 – verse 19…
19 Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. 20 When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. 21 When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ.
22 When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.
1 Corinthians 9:19-22
Paul always did everything he could to remove any barriers to reaching people for Christ! If Paul was living in our context, he might choose to grow a beard, put on his skinny jeans and a toque, and drink starbucks to reach the hipsters. Or maybe he’d throw on a cowboy hat and cowboy boots and learn to sing county music to reach those at the Calgary stampede! Maybe he’d even venture into the bar here in Penhold to reach those who would never show up in a church! Of course, he would never disobey God’s law, but in matters of personal preference, Paul was willing to do whatever it took to find common ground with everyone – in hopes that He could save some!
And that needs to be our attitude as well. So often we get caught up and stuck in our own personal preferences, and we miss many opportunities to connect with people and share Christ with them.
That’s one of the reasons why I love to see the dodgeball game going on before and after the service. It’s not that I necessarily love playing dodgeball, but I know the teens do – and if a dodgeball game will help draw them to church so they can learn to know and follow Christ – then bring on the dodgeball!
As we’ve been talking with the Community Church about coming together as one congregation, one of the things we’ve heard from them is that one their favourite ministries is their Gospel music events! Now, I know there’s probably several of us who don’t really love that particular style of music. But if those events are helping people know and follow Christ, then bring on the Gospel music!!
Let’s do all that we can to find common ground with everyone, so that by the grace of God, we can save some!
If Timothy was willing to be circumcised for the sake of the Gospel – surely we can make some concession to our own personal preferences so that people can know and follow Christ!
And when we do that, I think God will honour our efforts – just like He did with Paul & Silas & Timothy. Verse 5 tells us….
4 Then they went from town to town, instructing the believers to follow the decisions made by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. 5 So the churches were strengthened in their faith and grew larger every day.
Originally I had intended to get through a few more verses than just these first five – but I think these first five verses really lay out a great game plan for us as we go into this new year.
If we can do these two things that we’ve talked about today – that is, if we become very intentional about helping one another grow up in our faith – making disciples who will then go on to make more disciples – and as we hold loosely to our own personal preferences, making concessions for the sake of the Gospel – doing all that we can to find common ground with everyone, so that we might win some – then I think we’ll see the same results that Paul, Silas, and Timothy saw. We’ll see the church strengthen and the kingdom of God grow larger everyday.
I don’t know if any of you make any New Year’s resolutions or anything like that, but to me, that sounds like a worthy goal for 2023! Would you agree?
Let’s intentionally make disciples – and do all that we can to reach others for Christ – so that the church can be strengthened and more and more people can come to know Christ as their Lord and Savior.