Acts chapters 18 and 19 continue to follow Paul as he travels further to spread the gospel - from Athens (where we left him in chapter 17) to Corinth, Ephesus, Caesarea, Jerusalem, Antioch, Galatia, back to Ephesus, and back to Jerusalem. Paul never stayed in one place too long, only until the Spirit moved him along.
One of the things that we should admire about Paul is that not only was he an exceptional evangelist, as God's chosen agent for carrying the gospel to "Gentiles, kings, and Israelites" (9:15), but he was also a nurturer, someone who cared about discipleship as much as, if not more than, winning new converts. We read time and again about how Paul returned to churches for the sole purpose of strengthening them in their faith. This, in my opinion, is probably the most meaningful contribution Paul made in setting the example for future generations of Christian leaders to follow. Willimon stated it well: "Paul's epistles are testimonial to his determination to be attentive to even the smallest details of daily life within the church." (Interpretation, p. 151)
I must confess that I often struggle with the "smallest details of daily life within the church." They rarely seem to measure up to the pastoral work of preaching, or providing spiritually-supportive listening and prayer for someone who is hurting, or officiating a wedding, or the countless other cool things that pastors get to do. Maybe this week I'll extend myself a little more grace than usual for the time I will spend talking about the 2015 budget or the fall stewardship campaign or the seven meetings on my calendar (and those are only the scheduled ones).
There was something else about Paul in chapter 18 we should pay attention to.
"After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus. He had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul visited with them. Because they practiced the same trade, he stayed and worked with them. They all worked with leather. Every Sabbath he interacted with people in the synagogue, trying to convince both Jews and Greeks. Once Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself fully to the word, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ." (Acts 18:1-5, CEB)
Paul, Aquila, and Priscilla practiced the same trade. The CEB says "they all worked with leather," while other translations refer to their trade as "tent-making." In any case, there are two important points about this:
- It is likely that the ministry that Paul, Aquila, and Priscilla shared grew out of their shared trade. In other words, the "kingdom work" they did together came about because of the work they first did together in their "everyday, ordinary" lives.
- Paul, for a time anyway, was bi-vocational. He proclaimed the gospel in the synagogue every Sabbath but worked as a tent-maker the other six days. It was only after Silas and Timothy arrived that Paul was able to devote "himself fully to the word."
This points to the motivation behind my blog that I've felt from its very beginning. God calls each and every one of us, regardless of vocation, to be ministers of the gospel. Ministry was never intended to be performed solely by professional, or institutional, ministers. This passage points to that very truth. Paul practiced his trade until such time he had sufficient support around him that would allow him to fully devote himself to "set apart" ministry. That didn't change a thing for Aquila, Priscilla, Silas, or Timothy, however. They didn't stop their ministry because Paul was now fully devoted to his.
One more intriguing passage, this time from Acts chapter 19:
"There were some Jews who traveled around throwing out evil spirits. They tried to use the power of the name of the Lord Jesus against some people with evil spirits. They said, "In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you!" The seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. The evil spirit replied, "I know Jesus and I’m familiar with Paul, but who are you?" (Acts 19:13-15)
There was no power in what these Jews were trying to do because they did not know Jesus for themselves. So, it did no good for them to name drop Paul. Here's the thing...once we come face-to-face with Jesus and "change our hearts and lives" in response to his amazing and unmerited grace (like Paul did), we should spend our "everyday, ordinary" lives proclaiming Jesus in both word and deed (again, like Paul). No matter what our vocation, God calls every one of us to do all that we can, right where we are, with what he's given us, for his glory alone. Paul himself put it this way:
"So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering." (Romans 12:1, MSG)
Sound familiar? Grace and peace be with you, my friends, as you minister throughout the course of your "everyday, ordinary" lives.