The Search for God’s People—Part 6

Paul’s Third Journey

IT IS difficult to know from the Scriptures the exact time when the Apostle Paul completed his second journey. The suggestion has been made that it it may have been about A.D. 53. On his way home the apostle made a brief stop at Jerusalem, and then went on to Antioch where he remained with his class for a few months. Meanwhile, his co-laborers, Timothy, Silas, and Luke, were away from their homes, actively engaged in assisting the new congregations in Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Achaia. Nearly a year went by before the Apostle Paul was ready to join them again to continue the work of searching for God’s people. And so his third missionary journey began.

In telling about the first part of this trip, Luke gave but a brief account, simply saying, “After he had spent some time there [at Antioch], he departed, and went over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples.”—Acts 18:23

Much of this territory was the same region he had passed through on his first and second journeys. But in addition, this time he went into areas where he had not formerly been permitted by the Lord to preach. (Acts 16:6,7) One city particularly mentioned in this text was Bithynia. “After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not.” We know that brethren were later found in this city, as the Apostle Peter mentions them in his writings: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout … Galatia, … and Bithynia.”—I Pet. 1:1

On his third missionary journey, Paul went throughout these regions revisiting and ministering to the churches he had helped bring into being on his previous trips. Although the province of Galatia was not specifically mentioned as having been visited by Paul and Barnabas on their first journey, we remember how persecution and the threat of stoning had caused Paul and Barnabas to flee from Iconium in Lycaonia into the surrounding country. Since Lycaonia bordered on Galatia, and Derbe in particular was on the Galatian border, it seems reasonable that the “surrounding country” spoken of in the account included parts of Galatia. Luke describes these visits as follows: “They … fled unto Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and unto the region that lieth round about. And there they preached the Gospel.”—Acts 14:6,7

Often a large portion of the central region of Asia Minor was referred to as Galatia, including not only the province by that name, but also parts of other provinces also. Galatia got its name originally from the Gauls, who invaded from the west and conquered the area in the third century B.C. Later, in 189 B.C., the Romans conquered it, and Galatia became a Roman province in 25 B.C. When the territory was made subject to Rome, it was larger in scope than the old Galatia. Hence, the churches at Antioch of Pisidia, at Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe of Lycaonia, also could be called churches of Galatia, and these were all established by the Apostle Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey.

We know these churches were visited by Judaizing teachers from Jerusalem who questioned Paul’s authority and convinced some of the brethren to accept the necessity of observing the Mosaic Law. Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians about this matter when he reached Ephesus. This epistle was probably written in the time period around A.D. 54 to 56.

In this letter he asserted and established his apostleship, supported by revelations he had received directly from God and from our Lord Jesus. He explained why the Covenant under the Law was not the foundation upon which the Gospel church was formed. In this treatise has been provided much valuable doctrinal information as well as admonition to Christian living, which is just as pertinent today as it was then. It is interesting to see how the circumstances and experiences of the Early Church were so shaped and directed by God, as to make possible scriptural writings which would be of benefit to the work of the entire Gospel Age, as well as being applicable at the time they were written.

Getting back to our consideration of Paul’s third journey, Paul was on his way to Ephesus again. Near the end of his previous pilgrimage he had stopped there, but could only stay a short time. The Jews of the local synagogue had asked then that he stay longer, but he could not because of his plan to keep the feast at Jerusalem with the other apostles. But Paul had promised to return, and he was now on his way to keep that promise.

By then the Word of the Lord had spread to other regions, and congregations now existed in the provinces of Phrygia and Lydia. Paul had to pass through these areas to reach Ephesus, and so he stopped to visit the brethren there. Antioch, Colosse, Laodicea, and Hierapolis were cities in that region where classes had been organized. Some of these are mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Colossians.—Col. 1:2; 4:12,13; 4:15,16

Several brethren from these classes were mentioned by Paul. Epaphras was associated with the Colossian church, and was very likely an elder. Tychicus also came from that area, although we cannot be sure to which congregation he belonged. The testimonials given by Paul of these two brethren reveal their faithful service to God. Paul wrote concerning Epaphras: “Our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ” (Col. 1:7), and about Tychicus, “He is a beloved brother, and a faithful minister and fellowservant in the Lord.”—Col. 4:7

Luke wrote: “Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus.” (Acts 19:1) The ‘upper coasts’ included the province of Lydia, where the congregations of Smyrna, Philadelphia, Sardis, and Thyatira were located. These churches were not specifically mentioned by Paul, but were used by the Apostle John in Revelation as examples of different periods of church history.

When Paul arrived in Ephesus he was introduced to new disciples of the Lord, and he enquired of them if they had received the Holy Spirit. Their response was that they had not even heard of the Holy Spirit! This led Paul to ask them about the nature of their baptism, and their reply was that they had been immersed into John’s baptism. Whether this immersion had been recent or many years before, we do not know. More than twenty years had elapsed since John the Baptist’s ministry had come to a close at his death.

Apollos had passed through this region a few months earlier, and he, too, only knew about John’s baptism. In Paul’s absence, Aquila and Priscilla had studied with Apollos, and had explained the way of God more accurately. This, no doubt, included a discussion concerning a clear understanding of the doctrine of baptism. Whether these new additions to the Ephesian church had become disciples through Apollos’ ministry, or whether they had migrated from Judea, the Scriptures do not reveal to us. They were true disciples of Jesus, however, and upon being immersed a second time with the correct knowledge of the meaning of baptism, they did receive evidences of the Holy Spirit.

During Paul’s previous visit at Ephesus, apparently no ecclesia had been established. After he departed, the disciples—including Aquila and Priscilla—continued to meet with other Jews in the synagogue. And when Paul returned, he too preached in the synagogue for about three months. Soon his doctrines began to arouse such opposition that Paul and the other disciples left the synagogue and began meeting in a place known as the School of Tyrannus.

Tyrannus had been a sophist, a teacher of Greek philosophy. When he was converted to Christianity he offered his school as a meeting place where Gentiles and Jews could study and worship together. These gatherings, which continued for several years, attracted the attention of so many people that Luke wrote, “All the inhabitants of Asia heard the Word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” (Acts 19:10, Diaglott) It is very probable that Paul lived at Aquila and Priscilla’s home, and no doubt weekday studies were held there as well.

Through his preaching and performing of miracles, Paul became well-known throughout the city and surrounding area. Ephesus was a prominent Greek city, a city of the Ionians in Asia Minor across the Aegean Sea from the mainland of Greece. It was a seaport, with crossroads of traffic and trade, and was called the ‘gateway’ or ‘eye’ of Asia Minor. In addition to traffic due to commerce, religious pilgrimages flowed through this city, distinguished for its temple to the heathen goddess, Diana. It was a place of curious arts, black magic, witchcraft, sorcery, and the like. As a result, Paul had many occasions for casting out evil spirits.

Several itinerant Jewish exorcists were in Ephesus at this time. Most notable among these were the seven sons of the Jewish high priest, Sceva. They had seen the success Paul had in casting out evil spirits, and sought to do likewise, by saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.” (Acts 19:13, RSV) But when they said this to a man possessed, the evil spirit within him knew this was a misuse of the name of Jesus, and stated: “Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you? And the man in whom the evil spirit dwelled leaped on them, mastered all of them, overpowering all seven, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded!”—vss. 15,16, RSV

Soon this event became publicized throughout the city and it had a profound effect upon the people, especially those dabbling in magic arts. A great number of them brought their books, which instructed them in chants and black magic, together to one place and burned them. Luke summarized the magnitude of the effect of this incident with the statement, “So mightily grew the Word of God and prevailed.”—Acts 19:20

During this time Paul learned of problems arising in the church at Corinth. The family of Chloe had told him about factions developing there as a result of the ministry of the gifted orator, Apollos. Some began to disclaim Paul as apostle and leader, because of their attraction to Apollos. Of course this was not the fault of Apollos, but rather a sign of weakness and lack of spiritual perception by the brethren in that city. Paul addressed this situation, with these words, “Now this I say, that everyone of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?” (I Cor. 1:12,13) He elaborates further on the source of these problems, ascribing them to immaturity, pride and envy, in I Corinthians 3:1-15. He concludes by saying, “Ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.”

Paul emphasized to the Corinthian brethren that the apostles and teachers whom the Lord had appointed for the ministry were not divided, that all of them with their different talents and gifts were cooperating in the work of God, and that this should be recognized. “Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, of things to come; all are yours; and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.”—I Cor. 3:21-23

His letter continues this important theme. “These things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another. For who maketh thee to differ from another? And what hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?”—I Cor. 4:5-7

Much of this information about conditions in Corinth probably came directly from Apollos who later met Paul in Ephesus. (I Cor. 16:1-12) Paul tried to persuade Apollos to return to Corinth, but apparently it was not convenient just at that time for him to do so. We learn from this account that Paul also wanted to see the Corinthian brethren again, but he, too, postponed his visit for two reasons. One was that he wanted to spend more time with the brethren than his current obligations would allow. The other reason was that in Ephesus a special door of opportunity had opened, and he wanted to avail himself of it.

There were other brethren from the Corinthian church who came to Ephesus. Paul cites them in this same passage as examples of faithfulness and love. “(Ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,) … for they have refreshed my spirit and yours: therefore acknowledge ye them that are such.” And again, he mentions Aquila and Priscilla, and the church which met in their home.—vss. 13-24

Although it was disappointing to receive news about the carnality of some brethren in the Corinthian church, Paul was stimulated and refreshed by these other wonderful brethren who had traveled such a long distance to assist him. Stephanas was one of the first converts in Corinth whom Paul had immersed along with his entire family. (I Cor. 1:16) They became devoted brethren of the Lord and his church. So when they joined Paul at Ephesus to help with the marvelous work being done there, they were a welcome addition to Paul’s laborers—Timothy, Silas, Luke, Aquila, and Priscilla.

Another brother from Corinth—Erastus, who was the treasurer of that city—arrived to help Paul. (Rom. 16:23; II Tim. 4:22) Sosthenes was still another who had come to witness to the Gospel. He had formerly been a ruler in the synagogue. Although the selection of disciples by the Lord was mainly from the poorer and less influential class of this world (I Cor. 1:26), occasionally prominent persons were called, like Erastus and Sosthenes. Their hearts were right, their faith was strong, and they had the qualities the Lord was seeking.

It appears that at this time of Paul’s visit in Corinth, Timothy and Silas had done what they could at Corinth and had left. We know Timothy joined Paul at Ephesus, because he was sent back into Macedonia from Ephesus. (Acts 19:22) Silas is not mentioned again, so it is logical to assume that he returned to Jerusalem. He had traveled and worked faithfully with Paul for four years.

The new ecclesias in Macedonia needed assistance and Paul wanted very much to visit them again. However, at that time, the opportunity for witnessing in Ephesus continued to be so great that he decided instead to send Timothy and Erastus to those classes, while he stayed on in Ephesus. As we mentioned before, Luke’s statement regarding this work is brief, but is so full of meaning: “So mightily grew the Word of God, and prevailed!”—Acts 19:20

The Word of God indeed prevailed mightily. The church at Ephesus prospered and grew, becoming a large class with many elders, very much like our ecclesias of large metropolitan areas today. Their elders served other smaller churches in the area, just as we do still. Many years later, when the apostles were forced to leave Jerusalem, the Apostle John became an elder in Ephesus and served there until he died. The Lord’s words in Revelation give commendation to the faithfulness of that group: “I know thy works, and thy labor, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: and hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast labored, and hast not fainted.”—Rev. 2:1-3

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