Acts 15:36-16:10
To See The Hand Of God

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1. From the name of the book of The Acts Of The Apostles it looks like the works of the apostles are recorded in it, but actually the focus of the stories is not on human workers.  We see in these stories the Spirit of God guiding the history of the church.  Neither is it necessarily about seeing God in the miracles and mysterious deeds which are plentifully recorded in Acts.  Instead, it shows us we ought to have eyes to see the hand of God in normal events and in the every day lives of men or women.

2. Today, what comes right to our attention is a report that described a simple dispute in all its stark truth.  The way we see it is actually as a dull dispute.  But, the author Luke shows not the slightest hesitation in giving his frank depiction of it.  Why is that?  It's because even in an event of this nature he clearly sees the hand of God is alive and at work in it.

Paul And Barnabbas Clash

3. First, let's look from verse thirty-six to verse forty-one at the event depicted here.  Paul proposed a second missionary trip to Barnabbas. Barnabbas agreed with his proposal.  At that point Barnabbas said he wanted to bring along John who was called Mark.  Mark was "a cousin of Barnabbas,"  (Colossians 4:10).  But, Paul opposed him.  He had a reason for opposing him.  As we've seen already in chapter thirteen and verse thirteen, he opposed him because Mark returned back to Jerusalem during the first missionary trip.  We don't know what reason he had [for doing that]. He might have been frightened by a journey filled with danger and difficulty.  Whatever the reason, he must have abandoned his responsibilities in the middle of the job.  Paul made the point that we shouldn't take along anyone with a quitting character.  On this point the opinions of the two men sharply clashed.

4. Both men seemed to have legitimate complaints.  Paul knew the hardships of the road.  He knew there were even dangers to life.  Mark might drop out again.  But, this time the prospective trip will be different in purpose. The first goal will be to encourage the various churches.  They are going out to encourage the brothers, who are fighting amidst persecution and misunderstanding, that they should remain in grace and not separate from Christ.  If Mark were to separate from the work of the preaching mission again while in the middle of it he may wind up causing the people of the different churches to stumble instead.  So, when you consider the very purpose of the trip, you can very naturally understand the point after all that they shouldn't bring Mark along.

5. But, on the other hand, in the final analysis we can also say we should make Mark a traveling partner if you think of Mark's future and his great impact on the church after this.  As far as this matter of Mark having a weakness, it is believed that Paul said we shouldn't make Mark a travel partner because of his weakness and that Barnabbas was the one who said to Paul that we should make Mark a travel partner because he was a weak person.

6. Well, the Bible did not hand down a decision of which view was correct. Furthermore, it is evident that it does not make their clash and standoff positive, but it wasn't ready to criticize them either; for, the focus of interest was not on human actions.  That was not the concern; rather, Luke was trying to document what would be produced from this event as it was in the hand of God.  We must direct our eyes to that very concern.

7. In effect, two mission trips were taken at the same time.  Barnabbas went towards the island of Cyprus taking Mark along with him.  Paul took Silas along with him and went towards the provinces of Syria and Cilicia.  They both were places where churches were established during the first preaching tour.  Thus, the proposal of Paul, "Shall we not go again to all the towns where we have proclaimed the word of the Lord before and visit the brothers to see how they are doing?," did not wane away but came to fulfillment.

8. Besides that, we could say Mark was lead accompanied by Barnabbas to a very appropriate location.  Cyprus Island was the home town of Barnabbas and we saw before in chapter thirteen the regional governor, who became a Christian, was in charge.  As compared to other places, they continued on in the work of proclamation truly with peace and safety. There under Barnabbas' tutelage he was splendidly nurtured.  After a considerable length of time past this event the Bible informs us that Mark became indispensable for Paul.  For example, in The Second Epistle To Timothy chapter four and verse eleven, Paul composed the following words from prison:  "Only Luke is with me.  Please bring Mark along, because he helped me well in my duties."

9. To speak a bit more on it, even the fact that Paul went out on a trip with Silas took on great significance later.  To begin with, the character named Silas was a leading figure in the Jerusalem church, (15:22).  It was at the Jerusalem conference that this same Silas and Paul had met.  If you go to the root of that Jerusalem conference, it was held because of an argument that sprang in the church.  If that had not happened, then Paul and Silas might never have become co-workers to begin with.  Through this chain of events Paul acquired a truly compatible co-worker.  The measure of how great his presence was for Paul can be presumed from the fact the names Paul and Silas, Silvanus his Latin name, are linked together in the two letters addressed to Thessalonica.  We could perfectly call this matter of Silas becoming his co-worker at this point of connection between Paul and the Jerusalem church "divine providence."

10. This business of confrontation and hostility so recorded here was not a pleasant situation but was something that can arise in a church.  While human assertions may contain a great deal of truth to them, they also include many mistakes.  Our claims have weaknesses, holes, and absurdities.  Human weaknesses and sin penetrate into even disputes related to holy things.

11. However, even if these kind of situations have temporarily arisen, people don't even need to have the slightest despair in the church.  [Why not?] Because the head of it all is not a man.  Of course, we still haven't gotten past having no [in-house] fighting and arguing.  But, however bad human frailties, failures, and foolishness might be found, as far as the grace of Christ goes, things are not over because things are so flopped. [It is not over] because God is alive and at work amidst those very kinds of realities we [experience].  We should not so nearsightedly moan over things that are right in front of our eyes, or get in the habit of being discouraged and disheartened.  Instead, we ought to believe God controls every kind of life situation, and he guides us and advances his work even through our foolish little selves.  So, we would do well to direct our eyes to God, trusting him and to remain in Christ seeking his lead.

Timothy The Travel Companion

12. Next, let's move our eyes to chapter sixteen and verses one onward. Paul's group went to Derbe and Lystra.  There Paul re-met "a child of a Jewish woman believer, a disciple named Timothy who had a Greek father," and he made him a travel companion on the preaching tour.  It is believed that Timothy heard the gospel of Christ during the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabbas and became a Christian then.  Since then a couple of years have elapsed, but this same Timothy had grown up a great deal.

13. Paul had opposed taking along Mark, but it wasn't due to the fact that he would be training up a young missionary.  Since he made Timothy a traveling companion here we know that for fact.  Also, while on the one hand Mark was raised under Barnabbas, the fact that Timothy was raised under Paul was truly appropriate.  Later, Timothy greatly assisted in the work of Paul and became a bishop in Ephesus.  We understand how much Paul placed great trust in Timothy by reading his epistle.  For example, he wrote in The Epistle To The Philippians that he sent them, "Timothy is a steady character, which you recognize and as a son serves his father, he has served the gospel with me,"  (Philippians 2:22).

14. Well, Timothy's early days were very interesting.  He took circumcision at the time he went along with Paul.  In other words, he had not taken circumcision until then.  It was because a Greek was his father.  As seen from the perspective of a Jew, he was an uncircumcised person and none other than a Gentile.  He had lived as a Gentile till a certain standard age.  However, on the other side of things, he was raised likewise by his mother as a Jew.  In the (Second) Epistle To Timothy is recorded that he "was familiar with the scriptures since his infant days," (Second Timothy 3:15).  Therefore, he was seen as a Jew by Gentiles and considered a Gentile by Jews.

15. Moreover, the marriage of Timothy's parents was not considered legal to the Jews.  It is believed that it meant that being a child of two people like that was, in a certain sense, living in an extremely hard way to go. We understand how grave a fact it was that he had a Greek for a father and had not received circumcision from the fact that Paul was concerned over the Jews of that area and made him receive circumcision.  (Of course, it goes without saying but, Paul did not make Timothy receive circumcision because of anything to do with salvation.  Even in this place we can see his liberty in his concern for love.)

16. However, it was this very youth himself who had such a burdened down life, who was the character, in the place of Mark, that God had entrusted to Paul.  And we know that since he was in God's hands, his past would no longer be a negative in any sense at all.  [It wouldn't be a negative] because he was going to spread the gospel with Paul to the Gentiles, and because he would be working in the period of the church when the relationship of Jews with Gentiles had still not yet been dissolved completely.  We see perfectly how that both Timothy's life up to this point and his meeting with Paul was certainly part of the plan of God.

Forbidden By The Holy Spirit

17. Next, let's take a look at verses six and following.

18. "Well, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to declare the word in the province of Asia," says the text.  It is believed that "the province of Asia" was in the western section of Asia Minor and perhaps Paul and the group were going to Ephesus.  We understand immediately when we see the conditions of the missionary journey of Paul's group, how they were trying to move according to a preaching schedule of their own.  It was a logical schedule in which they frequently headed for strategic places of administration and commerce.  Paul never considered it right to seek only a supernatural lead from God and always be unplanned.  We must be careful because being unplanned is often confused with being spiritual.  We should carefully check the way we ought to proceed and we should move with plans.

19. However, for all that, human plans are still inevitably altered by God. What "they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit" means is not specifically defined.  It may have been declared through a prophet.  At any rate, God put them to a halt.  From there they changed their program and headed for the province of Bythinia because there was probably a Jewish settlement of people.  But, even there the text says, "the Spirit of Jesus did not permit that."  We don't even comprehend clearly what this is specifically all about.  In any event, doors were closed one after another.

20. We would expect then that they were not stopped by God in doing something evil.  Rather, they had been proceeding in order to serve God.  But, their paths were being shut down one after another.  The reasons they were stopped are not written for us.  We expect that even Paul did not understand.  We will also have experiences of that kind.  We will not completely understand why we are not permitted to proceed ahead.  Thus, he will inevitably alter [our] plans.  In those such times we would do right to follow.

21. The text says, Paul and his group "went down to Troas."  Then, "that night, Paul saw a vision," (verse nine).  However it was revealed we cannot begin to know because it was a mystical experience of Paul.  But, there is clearly one thing they did.  It was that they were looking for God's leading.  Therefore, when they obtained confidence through this vision, they departed immediately.

22. When one door is shut on us by God we shouldn't bend before it with a chorus of moans and groans.  Our disposition shouldn't become all down and out.  The very time when God stops [something for us] we should be earnestly imploring God for his will.  We are not necessarily limited to seeing a vision like Paul.  But, by whatever  means he uses  God will be responsible to guide us.  If God is the one who closes one door, he is also the God who will open the other door.  God moves the chess pieces.

23. And that's not all.  In verse ten in the narrative's description the word "we" appears for the first time.  In other words, it's that this author joined in.  Luke joined them.  Because a path was closed, an important meeting was arranged in Troas where they arrived.

24. In this story we can see the hand of an awesome God.  And we also should not forget we are in the same  plan [of this great God].  I would like us not to be taken in by what's right before our eyes, but to rely on this [God] and implore his lead from here on after.

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