Acts19v21to22, Acts20v1to6 and v13to16: THE BIG COLLECTION.
(A) Introduction (Read the references.)
It is a good idea to consult a map to follow the sequence of events described in the passages under consideration.
After a long ministry of over two years in Ephesus Paul decided to travel to Jerusalem via Philippi and Corinth. This is hardly a direct route! Furthermore Paul sent Timothy and Erastus to Philippi ahead of him. Herein lies the clue to Paul's strange route. Paul sent his representatives before him to make a collection for the poor in the Jerusalem church. He wanted the money to be ready by the time he arrived.
Before Paul left Ephesus he also sent Titus to Corinth with a letter. He was very concerned about the state of the church at Corinth.
Paul finally leaves Ephesus. He may have travelled over land to Troas where he hoped to meet up with Titus if 2Cor2v12 applies to this period. Failing to find Titus in Troas Paul was so anxious about how the Corinthian Christians responded to his letter that he moved on to Philippi. Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said good-bye to them and went on to Macedonia. 2Cor2v12.
Paul was re-united with Titus in Philippi where he may have been staying with Luke to whom some commentators think he was related. He was greatly cheered (See Corinthian References.) by what Titus had to tell him and was encouraged to travel over land to Corinth where he stopped for three months. It is highly likely that he wrote his epistle to the Romans from Corinth during this period. (He sends the letter by Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea which was next door to Corinth. See Rom16v1.)
After stopping three months in Corinth Paul and his companions intended to sail to Syria aiming to arrive in Jerusalem in time to celebrate the Passover. Paul changed his plans on hearing of a plot by the Jews to kill him on board ship. It was very risky travelling over land with all the money Paul had collected from the churches. However that is what Paul and seven representatives from the contributing fellowships did. They walked the three hundred or so miles to Philippi.
At Philippi Paul was reunited with Luke. He sent his seven companions on to Troas while he remained in Philippi to keep the Passover.
After the party was reunited in Troas they made their way down the west coast of Asia (modern Turkey). Paul walked the first stage of the journey while the others went by boat. The highly indented coast was negotiated by a series of short boat trips and treks until Miletus was reached south of Ephesus. Paul deliberately by-passed Ephesus because he was hurrying to reach Jerusalem by Pentecost.
(B) Lessons from the Passage.
(1) Rich churches should help poorer ones.
Paul was extremely keen for the churches in Macedonia and Achaia to give generously in support of poor Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. He writes to the Romans: For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. They were pleased to do it and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews' spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings. Rom15v25to27. He spends two chapters of his second epistle to the Corinthians urging them to give liberally to the brethren in Jerusalem. He writes: At the present time your plenty will supply what they need. 2Cor8v14.
Last week I provided tea for a party from my brother's church in Clapham, London. They were on their way to a prayer meeting at Horham in N. Suffolk. The church at Horham gives the fellowship at Clapham financial support. It is a richer church than the one in Clapham. My brother, his wife and assorted ladies made the long trip to attend the Horham prayer meeting to acknowledge the help they had been given. The Horham church would meet with the apostle Paul's approval.
A lot of rural fellowships are struggling now because they have lost many young Christians who went to college and found work elsewhere. Most of these ready-made Christians have probably joined flourishing urban churches. Well-attended churches, rich in human resources, could make more effort to provide helpers for their weaker brethren. They owe it to them.
(2) Paul was a prudent man - not at all foolhardy.
Paul left Ephesus immediately after the riot. He probably took this decision in the hope that things would calm down and the church would be left in peace. He changed his plan to sail from Corinth to Syria after being informed of the Jews' murderous plot. Paul did not rely on God to save him when he could save himself.
It was wise of Paul to invite the churches who contributed to the fund for relieving the poor Christians in Jerusalem to send representatives with him to the Jewish capital. It safeguarded Paul against accusations of misappropriation. It provided security for the substantial sum of money being transported a long distance. Some of Paul's other decisions were possibly taken with security in mind. The seven may have been sent on to Troas from Philippi to take advantage of an armed escort while Paul remained behind to celebrate Passover. When Paul opted to walk to Assos from Troas he sent the others by boat because the money would be safer on board. I think Paul enjoyed the long walks his travels entailed. They would have very therapeutic - the equivalent of an holiday. Finally Paul was aware that the churches who gave so generously for the relief of Jerusalem would appreciate having a report of all that transpired from their delegates.
Prudence is not a glamorous virtue but it is a very necessary one. Paul was a thoughtful man. A little thoughtfulness can save us a peck of trouble.
I know of a little church that contributes a few thousand pounds to support a missionary in Peru. Some members of the little church were very disappointed when that missionary was home on furlough and he did not come and see them.
(3) Paul was very keen for Christians to be seen at their best.
Paul sends Timothy and Erastus ahead to Macedonia and later Titus to Achaia to arrange for a collection to take place. Paul explains his motive for doing this to the Corinthians. (See Corinthian References.) He does not want to arrive at the churches only to find that they have nothing to give. This would be a disappointment to Paul and an embarrassment to the churches. Paul would feel very let down and the churches would know that they had let him down. It would sour relationships. Paul loved his converts and revelled in a warm welcome. As I have written elsewhere he found rejection hard to cope with.
So Paul takes pains to prepare the churches for his coming. My brother phoned me up to see if the party of twelve from his church - travelling into Suffolk for the day - could come to tea. I said they could. My brother did not leave it at that. He phoned a few days before the trip to see if everything was all right. I expect he told his ladies that brother John would get them a nice tea. He didn't want me to let him down, disappoint his ladies and look a perfect heel!
We need to take a little trouble to prepare the way for people to act well. The best of us need to be prepared sometimes. A couple of years before I retired a pretty, clever girl decided to drop out of her GCSE Geography course and do Performing Arts. Now I would be disappointed to lose an attractive, promising scholar. However, Julia could have prepared me to act graciously. She could have come and told me how much she admired me personally, how sorry she was but she had decided to make a career in the Performing Arts .... she knew I would be upset but she hoped I wouldn't take it too badly.....and so on. You see what I mean? Instead, Julia presented me with a fait accompli. Everything was cut and dried. She had made her decision, her parents agreed, the Deputy Head agreed - everyone agree - so there! Needless to say I did not respond graciously. I reacted badly - but I had not been helped to act well.
Church leaders who propose change need to take time and trouble to prepare those who are going to be affected by it. I am afraid that church leaders don't always bother.
(4) Paul remained very committed to his Jewish identity.
Paul was very keen to support the Jerusalem church. He was keen to be in the Holy City for Passover, or failing that, for Pentecost. Some commentators do not like to admit that Paul observed these Jewish festivals but there is no doubt he did. Why shouldn't he? Paul was a Jew and these festivals were an opportunity to remember all that God had done for his people.
When people become Christians they don't become less West Indian, African, Chinese or Japanese. It should be possible to retain cultural identity within Christianity. Africans, for example, have been very good at doing this and this explains, in part, the great success of Christianity in that continent. An African service contains elements that make it obviously African - not least the wonderful singing. I am in the process of reading Paul Hattaway's book, 'Back to Jerusalem'. It deals with the growth of the Chinese church following the expulsion of Western missionaries in the 1950's. Before their expulsion numerous Christian denominations existed in China reflecting the state of affairs in the West. None of these denominations exist now! The expulsion of the missionaries allowed the church in China to become genuinely Chinese.
(5) Paul was greatly loved. There are three things that show just how much Paul was loved by the churches:
(b) A group of men were prepared to journey hundreds of miles to Jerusalem with Paul. Those who really love you enjoy your company. When I was a young and popular teacher I had no trouble getting large parties of grammar school boys to come with me to a Christian camp. Only last Saturday a seventeen-year old girl, one of my former pupils, spent a long time chatting to me at a wedding reception. I think she must have been fond of me a bit and it did my morale good.
On a recent visit to London I sat next to a very smart women and was able to listen in to all her mobile phone conversations. She had a very nice voice! On Mothering Sunday she and her children had made a surprise visit to her mother. One of her brothers was there cooking dinner and it was not long before a second brother also arrived. That mother must have been well loved for all her grown up children to make the effort to visit her on that special day.
If we Christians love one another we shall spend time together. The time we spend in one another's company is one measure of the love we have for each other.
(c) Paul by-passed Ephesus to avoid being detained. He knew that if he set foot in that city the Christians there would pressurise him to stay. He wouldn't be able to get away - they loved him so much.
Those who really love you are sad to say goodbye. They don't want to let you go. Mary Magdalene clung to Jesus because she loved him so very much. In some respects this is the truest measure of love.
There was nothing that Paul would not do for the churches. His love was sacrificial and whatever the circumstances Paul gave his all to strengthen and sustain the brethren.
We love those who are concerned for us. I went to Walthamstowe in London for a funeral last week. I would not usually take the trouble but Stanley Knight had been a good friend to me. He encouraged me in the ministry and prayed for me; one of the few to do so - I shall miss him.
(6) A major even in this period of Paul's live is overlooked.
Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans during his three months in Corinth but Luke does not even mention it.
When people review our lives there are things they will omit. Perhaps what they leave out will be the most significant thing we have achieved. At Stanley Knight's funeral I greatly appreciated the two addresses. It was good to hear others review Stanley's life and mention his wisdom, sense of humour, generosity and devotion to prayer. No mention was made, however, of his faithfulness. He was a loyal friend. A missionary known to us both said that of all his correspondents during his long service in South America the one who regularly kept in touch, year after year, with words of encouragement was Stanley.
Of one thing we can be certain - there will be no omissions on that great accounting day. Only then shall we know the true worth of our Christian service.