Chapter 15: Second missionary journey: strengthening but dissension
36 Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.’
37 Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. 39 Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God.
41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
1 Then he came to Derbe and Lystra. And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek. 2 He was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted to have him go on with him. And he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in that region, for they all knew that his father was Greek.
4 And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.
Paul and Barnabas are still in Antioch teaching the word of the Lord. ‘Many others’ do the same. Those who teach God’s word know how essential it is for any sinner to hear, know and respond to the good news of Jesus in order to become a Christian by personal faith in Him. They are also convinced that new Christians need to grow spiritually by being fed on the word of God. That is why they remain in Antioch. But Paul has another passion too. He is very concerned that those who have come to Christ in the cities where Barnabas and he have preached should also go on well with the Lord. So after a number of days Paul proposes that the two men return to every city where they have preached God’s word, to see how the new converts are progressing in their Christian faith.
Paul’s willingness and intention to do this shows his care that young Christians go on to become fruitful disciples. After all, the last command of Jesus to the disciples was to go to all nations and to make disciples. This involves teaching them to obey all that Jesus commanded. The comfort and strength needed for the task come from the words of Jesus that ‘I am with you always, even to the end of the age’.1 These preachers need God’s comfort and strength, as well as great courage and wisdom, as they plan to revisit ‘every city’ in that region where they have preached God’s word. They have been opposed, ridiculed, persecuted, attacked, shunned, and thrown out of many of those cities before. Their love for Jesus and for the new and existing Christians must be huge to lead them to act in this way. How they must long for new converts to become solid disciples. Are you content with a comfortable Christian life for yourself and for others whom you might help to trust and follow the Lord? Or are you willing to face the practical challenges of self-denying and Christ-exalting discipleship for yourself and for them? It is not easy if fears linger because you have already faced violent opposition
‘A sharp disagreement’
Does Paul think the task is too hard for John Mark, and so he must oppose the determination of Barnabas to take that young man on their missionary team? Mark’s record does not encourage the apostle to think or act otherwise. Mark turned his back on working with them recently in Pamphylia. As the leader and as an apostle, Paul wants to ensure that his team members are fully devoted to Christ and His work. Mark has already failed that test.2 Paul insists that Mark is not on his team, but allows Barnabas freedom to make his own decision. But they differ so much on this contentious issue that they part company. Barnabas and Mark sail to Cyprus. Silas is Mark’s temporary replacement whom Paul chooses for their trip to Syria and Cilicia. Their Christian brothers commend Paul and Silas ‘to the grace of God’. There is debate as to who is right about Mark. Is the encouraging Barnabas correct, even though he is junior to Paul the apostle?3 Paul and Silas are publicly recognised by the church as its commended missionary representatives. Happily the dispute will be settled later, and Mark will work again with Paul and gain his respect.4
Paul’s ‘deep concern for all the churches’ comes upon him ‘daily’.5 Because he loves the Lord who bought the church with His own blood in order to save and beautify it in Heaven, Paul also loves the church which has been bought by that blood. The church consists of myriads of sinners who have come to the Lord Jesus Christ. Some of them are in Syria and Cilicia. That is why Paul, now accompanied by Silas, strengthens the churches—and so the individuals within them also. He does this for his Lord and Master, and no doubt will confirm that his passion for them is the same as the apostle Peter, who prayed, ‘may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you’.6 Through His grace, God still strengthens churches and individual Christians today. We need to feed on His word, spend time with Him in prayer, have open and godly fellowship with His people, seek to put Him first on the Lord’s Day, and seek His help to serve Him and to make Him known to others by living for Christ and sharing His gospel with them. Like Paul and Silas, as weak Christians ourselves we will want to help others to know God’s strength, which is made perfect in weakness.7
Paul and Silas return to Derbe and Lystra. There Paul meets a young man who effectively becomes Mark’s replacement, Paul’s ‘son in the faith’, and his first choice assistant.8 Timothy is probably in his early twenties, with all the energy of youth on his side. His father was Greek and his mother, Eunice, is Jewish. Her mother, Lois, was also a Christian.9 Being Greek and Jewish helps him understand both Gentiles and Jews. Timothy was commissioned by the church.10 Paul chooses someone who is ‘well spoken of by the brethren’ at Lystra and Iconium. They know the cost of serving Christ in those cities where Timothy witnesses. We have already considered that circumcision is not necessary for salvation which is received only through faith in Christ, and that it is wrong to add circumcision as a burden to be borne by a Christian. Why then does Paul ensure that his newly mentored protégé is now circumcised? The answer is not doctrinal, nor to do with legalistic Judaism. It is simply that Timothy is an uncircumcised Jew who is also known to have a Greek father. This will cause additional barriers to be put up by the Jews who oppose Paul and the gospel. If Timothy can rightly say he is ‘fully’ Jewish and that he has been circumcised, some unnecessary barriers to preaching the gospel to Jews are removed. Paul commends the same approach when he says ‘to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law’.11 However, when Jews insist that Titus, a Gentile, must be circumcised, Paul utterly refuses their request because it would deny the gospel of salvation by faith.12
Churches strengthened again and grow
Paul, Silas and Timothy revisit the cities and groups of Christians in the churches there. They share with them the apostles’ and Jerusalem elders’ decrees about circumcision, underlining again that acceptance of sinners by God and pardon for their sins are by faith alone in Christ alone. No doubt as Paul and Silas preach and teach on their way through the cities and churches Timothy’s spiritual life and understanding begin to blossom. What a leadership course he is having through ‘on the job’ training!
But Timothy is not the only one to be blessed. The churches there are strengthened too, just as the other churches have been. They increase numerically every day as new converts are being won for the Lord Jesus Christ! There is nothing healthier for a church than to see people regularly receiving Christ as Saviour and then sharing their new-found faith with others, some of whom will trust Christ and do the same. That is how God’s worldwide church has grown since Pentecost. Are you part of it? Do you know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour? If so, are you living for Him and telling others of how God has blessed you and is blessing you?
Questions on Chapter 15
Acts 15:36–16:15 Second missionary journey: Strengthening but dissension
A. What do you notice in the entire passage about the reason for and the manner of caring for new Christians? Working on the same principles of the Bible, what should Christians and churches be doing today to help new Christians grow strong in a world which is hostile to the cause of Christ?
Acts 15:36–16:5, 3 John 1:4, Acts 2:42, Acts 11:23, Acts 13:43, Acts 14:22
B. If you were Barnabas, why would you want to take John Mark with you on your mission trip to Cyprus? If you were Paul, why would you think that it was too soon to take John Mark on the missionary team? From a Biblical viewpoint who was right, and who was wrong, and why?
Acts 15:37–41, Acts 12:25, Acts 13:13, Acts 4:36, 2 Timothy 4:11, Philemon 1:24
C. What kind of person is Timothy? Why does Paul have him circumcised?
Acts 16:1–5, 2 Timothy 1:5, 1 Timothy 4:14, 2 Timothy 1:6, 1 Corinthians 9:20
- Matthew 28:19–20 ↩
- Acts 13:13 ↩
- Barnabas is once only referred to as an apostle in Acts 14:14. He is not one of the historic body of apostles. He is a ‘sent one’ (the strict meaning of ‘apostle’). Paul is the last apostle chosen, being ‘born out of due time’, as stated in 1 Corinthians 15:8 ↩
- 2 Timothy 4:11, Philemon 1:24 ↩
- 2 Corinthians 11:28 ↩
- 1 Peter 5:10 ↩
- 2 Corinthians 12:9 ↩
- 1 Corinthians 4:17 ↩
- 2 Timothy 1:5 ↩
- 1 Timothy 4:14, 2 Timothy 1:6 ↩
- 1 Corinthians 9:20 ↩
- Galatians 2:1–5 ↩