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Leaving! Acts 18-18-21


Leaving – Corinth, Ephesus and Antioch

Acts 18:18–23 and Numbers 6:1-21

Paul has been in Corinth now for around 18 months.  And Paul after this tarried there yet a good while. But the time has come for him to leave. and then took his leave of the brethren He leaves behind him a thriving church! With his departure from Corinth, and his journey back to Antioch, Paul’s second missionary journey will come to an end, and a new, third trip will begin.

1 A Voyage and a Vowand sailed thence into Syria,.

Paul needs to travel back to Palestine.  He will travel by sea. It’s Spring, AD52, and the winter storms are over, and the sea conditions will permit travel.  He travels with:- 

  • Friendly Companions.  and with him Priscilla and Aquila. These two Roman Jewish Christians, would gather around them some of those who were curious about the gospel, and would nurture them until Paul’s return. We know that they were sufficiently versed in Christian belief to act as mentors to Apollos, in Acts 18:26  
  • Grateful Thanksgiving.  The Bible tells us that at Cenchrea, before Paul embarked his ship, he went for a haircut!  There must be more to it than Paul simply wanting to look good. The key to understanding it, is found in the text.  This haircut was:-   
    • The symbol of a vow.  having shorn his head in Cenchrea: for he had a vow.  Note that his hair is not just cut, – it is shorn.  Read Numbers 6:1-21 When a Jew wanted to express thankfulness to God for a particular blessing, he would take this vow.  At the end of thirty days the hair would be cut, and the person would then go to Jerusalem, where they would make certain prescribed sacrifices and offerings, and the hair which was cut from the head would be burned upon the altar, again as a sacrifice to God.  Numbers 6:18 This is what is meant in Acts 18:21  So, the growing of the hair, and the shaving of the head after 30 days is symbolic of a vow made before the Lord.   
    • The significance of the vow. What would this vow be about?  The likelihood is that it was a vow of gratitude to God.  Remember that Paul had been given a precious promise by God in a dream. Acts 18:9-10,  That promise had been kept!  God had miraculously preserved Paul in keeping with his promise, and Paul was grateful, a gratitude that he rightfully directed to God.

It is good to thank the Lord for what he has done for us, and it is good to be especially thankful for specific divine acts of care and deliverance.  But when we do make vows before the Lord, be careful.  Psalm 61:5-8   We will pay our vows before the Lord, – either in this life, or on the day of judgement.

2 Evangelism and Endearment19 And he came to Ephesus, –  And he sailed from Ephesus.

There is a stopping point and that stop is at Ephesus, in Asia Minor.  

  • Preaching and reasoning.  but he himself entered into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews.  Commentators assume that Aquila and Priscilla had business interests in Ephesus that needed their attention, for when Paul went to the synagogue, we are specifically told that he was alone. Why did Aquila and Priscilla not go with him? We are all called to be witnesses, and to bring the gospel to our neighbours and our neighbourhoods, – but we are also to do honest work!   1 Timothy 5:8 Paul went to the synagogue alone, and as was his usual method, he began to teach and preach to the Jews and the gentiles who met there.  
  • A plea to remain.  V20-21  His work in Ephesus was successful.  So much so that some of the people there asked him to remain with them and continue his ministry there.  Paul would return to Ephesus, as part of his third missionary journey, and he would remain there for two years, his longest period of ministry in one place. 
  • A promise to return.  I will return again unto you, if God will.  I’m sure Paul was looking forward to his return to Ephesus.  The people there had warmed to him, they wanted him to stay, as witnessed by the great sorrow at his final departure in Acts 20:37-38 But despite that natural bond, and that love and affection, Paul is quick to remind them that his return would be subject to the will of God.  It is God who plans our paths for us, and his will shall be done.  

3 Going UP and Going DOWN22-23  

Verse 22 and 23 mark the end of Paul’s eventful second missionary journey and the beginning of his third trip. In this text Paul has arrived in Syria, at Caesarea, and he begins to discharge his obligations there.

  • He goes up! Remember that Paul had said that he needed to go to Jerusalem, – yet when he arrived in Syria, there is no specific mention of him being at Jerusalem… yet there is!  The text tells us that ‘Paul had gone up and greeted the church.”  That was the church at Jerusalem.  Zion was ‘the Mountain of the Lord’  Isaiah 2:3  Similarly, when Jesus was young, Mary and Joseph took him  UP to Jerusalem,  Luke 2:42   On his final visit to Jerusalem before his crucifixion, he went UP to Jerusalem Luke 18:31   Similarly, Paul ‘went up’ to Jerusalem, paid his vows, spent some time with the believers, and then departed after an uneventful visit.  Then…
  • He goes down!  To Antioch!  Now the mother church of daughter churches all over the gentile world!  He must report on the success of the Gospel, and seek their prayers for the next part of the mission.  

So, with that two verse transition, Paul’s second missionary journey ends and his third one begins.  Luke simply tells us here that he went through Galatian and Phrygia ‘in order,’ strengthening the believers, – teaching them and encouraging them, establishing them in the faith.

So how will we assess Paul’s second missionary journey? The low point, spiritually, must have been Athens, where there is no evidence of a new church, even though a handful of souls were saved.  But there are strong new churches now, all the way from Antioch to Corinth.  Churches like Corinth, Thessalonica and Philippi.  But at what cost to Paul himself?  He has been physically and mentally abused, financially deprived, laughed at and jeered.  We must expect nothing different.  On his first mission trip, Paul had warned the disciples in Asia Minor ‘that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.’ (Acts 14:22). Or, at the end of his ministry Paul could write, 2 Timothy 3:12  Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.

© Bob McEvoy April 2021

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