I’m reading a book I bought about seven years ago on preaching. It is called “Why Johnny Can’t Preach.” The author takes a swipe at preaching today saying that almost all preaching today is below par. I’m a page or two past half way and so far, although technical, he has raised as his major reasoning for his title and purpose of the book the fact that preachers and pastors do not read. “They can’t read” he says. Sighting the fact that just about all engagements today are electronic, few sit with books and read. Most of their input comes through pictures, films and electronic video teaching. Everything is fast moving … flashing past the eye gate every few seconds grooming the brain to expect the easiest method of filling the mind. In South Africa, major Newspapers have been struggling for the last twenty odd years to survive. Now a few sister papers in Gauteng have decided to combine to keep going. Few people read. Back to the author … he says few people take time to read poetry and because of this they can’t read “verse” resulting in preachers not being able to read “text”. With these things in mind we come to our next passage in Acts. It’s a passage that is so self-explanatory that it does not require any explanation. It’s an easy read … even a rushed read will yield an understanding of the text. Because of this I shall approach the passage differently today. Please read:
Ac 20:1 When the uproar had ended, Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said good-by and set out for Macedonia. 2 He traveled through that area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people, and finally arrived in Greece, 3 where he stayed three months. Because the Jews made a plot against him just as he was about to sail for Syria, he decided to go back through Macedonia. 4 He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy also, and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia. 5 These men went on ahead and waited for us at Troas. 6 But we sailed from Philippi after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and five days later joined the others at Troas, where we stayed seven days.
There are five considerations here.
1) Travel and Time. Almost without notice Paul left Ephesus travelling by ship across the Aegean Sea to Macedonia. There he encouraged the Churches at Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea before moving onto Greece for three months. Although he wanted to sail from Corinth to Jerusalem via Syria, learning of a plot to intercept him, he went from Corinth to Berea, Thessalonica and then Philippi where he met up with Luke. These six verses seem to take the best part of one and a half years.
2) Encouraging Believers. It was always Paul’s strategy to meet up with Churches (Christians) and encourage them in the faith. When you read through the letters that the Spirit of God inspired him to write, which are part of Holy Scripture, you will easily see that his encouragement took the form of teaching doctrine, pointing out error and at times rebuke followed by application … that is, how to live under the Lordship of Jesus, allowing the Spirit of God to implant the Word of God in your heart so that you walk in step with the Spirit, live holy lives, serve the Lord Jesus in the Church and through the Church serve the Lord Jesus in society as you prepare for heaven. Where it is one of the teaching ministries of the Church to encourage the flock, it is not only the pastoral staff (pastor, elders, deacons and full time workers) who encourage. It is easy to fall into the trap that says only a few are gifted with “encouragement” as a gift because:
Rom 12:8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage.
When the gifts the Spirit distributed are specific for a particular ministry … each gift has a general usage within all Christians. For example, fellowship is specific. Some are particularly gifted and enabled to be great hosts leading to Gospel presentations, yet everyone is gifted generally to entertain people to encourage them as brothers and sisters in Christ, where Jesus is central in all discussions. The same is true with encouragement.
3) Jewish Plot … Because the Jews made a plot against him. We are not told anywhere what this was. Most commentators suggest God through divine intervention by the Spirit alerted him to the coming plot causing him to change his plans. Have you experienced wanting to do one thing and somehow you land up doing something else? Afterwards you become aware that if you had done as first planned you might have experienced some hardship or difficulty. One lady said recently that if she had left home 2 minutes earlier as planned, she would have been in the center of a terrible accident. Her planned departure from home changed suddenly causing her to leave home 2 minutes later. Was this coincidence, a stroke of luck or was God involved? The latter!
Ro 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
4) Paul’s Accompaniment. His ministry team came from a variety of places.
(1) Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea. Some commentators feel that Sopater is the Sosipater of:
Ro 16:21 Timothy, my fellow worker, sends his greetings to you, as do Lucius, Jason and Sosipater, my relatives.
He and Paul come from the same family. The name Sopater means … “Who defends the father.”
(2) Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica. Someone suggested that the name Aristarchus was associated with aristocracy (the ruling class of men), coming from a very wealthy and powerful family, whilst Secundus was a name common amongst slaves. It meant “Second” as in rank. (Primus would have been first). If this is true, it shows how people from all walks of life become equal in the family of God.
(3) Gaius from Derbe. We have seen him mentioned in Acts 19:29, here in 20:4 as well as …
Ro 16:23 Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings.
He seems to be a man of means. Not only Paul but the whole Church enjoyed his hospitality.
1 Cor 1:14 I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius.
Was baptized with Crispus by Paul.
3 Jn 1:1 The elder, To my dear friend Gaius, whom I love in the truth.
He was an elder in the Church and a friend Paul loved in the faith (truth).
(4) Timothy also, and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia. Timothy we know …
Eph 6:21 Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord.
He was a dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord.
Col 4:7 Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord.
He was a dear brother, faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord.
2 Tim 4:12 I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. 13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.
He was so trustworthy that Paul would allow him to carry his “scrolls and parchments”. Most likely these were Scriptures, commentaries and possibly his own writings.
(b) Trophimus. The only other place he is mentioned is in:
Ac 21:29 (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple area.)
(5) Lastly we have:
Ac 20:5 us
Ac 20:6 we.
This was Luke reappearing on the scene. These were all dear brothers, greatly loved in Christ and fellow Gospel workers. May God give our Churches such a variety of men to help minister? Could you imagine the richness of culture when Gospel focused men work together for the common good?
5) Feast of Unleavened Bread. Historians say this celebration week was in the year 57 AD from April 7 to 14. This festival was an agricultural one where new grain was offered to God. In time it became a continuous festival with the Passover. We are not told why Paul remained for the week, but we may rest assured he used every opportunity to share the Gospel.
Our Father, please raise up faithful men for Gospel Ministry like those who helped Paul. Help us, too, to be faithful in Your service. Amen.