Sunday, January 22, 2012

[Matt's Messages] "Flexibility in Ministry"

“Flexibility in Ministry”
Paul’s Second Missionary Journey
From Jerusalem to Pennsylvania: The Book of Acts
January 22, 2012
Acts 15:36-16:15

This is the beginning of what we normally call Paul’s Second Missionary Journey.

Last month, we went on Paul and Barnabas’ First Missionary Journey.

Paul and Barnabas (and John Mark) took off from that great missionary church in Antioch and went to Cyprus, Pamphlia, Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe and then back around again.

And they shared the gospel with Jews and with Gentiles and many, especially Gentiles, got saved. And they started new churches. New worshiping communities of followers of Christ.

And then they came back and went down to Jerusalem to have that conference about the Gentiles, and then came back to Antioch and shared what had been settled at the conference and (v.35), they remained in Antioch for some time teaching and preaching the word of Lord.

Now, in our story for today, Paul is going to have the idea of heading off on another missionary journey.

Well, let’s look at verse 36. You can see it there.

“Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.’”

So, the second missionary journey begins, at least, as an idea of re-visiting the new churches to provide care and counsel and oversight and resources and support.

It’s actually going to be much more than that, but that’s how it starts.

The second journey  is going to cover much more ground than the first. And more chapters, too. It’ll be from Acts 15 to Acts 18.

But it starts as a re-visit to the original set of new churches.

You can see on the back of your bulletin that if I had to summarize our passage for today, I’d call it, “Flexibility in Ministry.”

As you know, our own short term missionary team - the Serbia Team has recently been formed.

We have 5 or 6 team members who are in the early stages of preparing to go to Serbia to serve the Lord in gospel ministry at a Summer camp teaching English or sports and  sharing the gospel.

I’m really excited about that. And we’ll be learning a lot more about Serbia and about our team in the next few weeks.

In November, when they had a meeting of prospective team members, I told them that flexibility was the by-word for missions work.

The Marines have Semper Fidelis, right?  Always Faithful. Amen.

I told our Serbia missions team that they ought to adopt this Latin phrase.

Semper Gumby. Always Flexible. 

Not always silly. Always flexible.

Flexibility in ministry is a key.

How many here are in ministry?

I hope that most of us here are. All Christians are supposed to see themselves as in ministry for the Lord.

You don’t have to be in vocational ministry to be in ministry.

Every Christian should see themselves as in ministry for the Lord.

So, this applies to all of us.

Flexibility in Ministry.

Flexibility is not easy.

How many here like to be flexible.

We all like it when other people are flexible, but most of us don’t always enjoy being flexible ourselves.

And sometimes, it’s right to be flexible, and other times it’s wrong.  There are times to bend and times to be unbendable.  Right?

Our passage for today starts with a story that highlights how important flexibility is.


If you didn’t know the story, you would never guess that the next thing was going to happen.

Paul and Barnabas are going to split up.

That’s like Abbott and Costello splitting up.

Or Bert and Ernie!

These guys have been inseparable.

Remember when Paul became a Christian and Barnabas (what’s Barnabas’ name mean? - Son of Encouragement, Barnabas) came alongside Paul and befriend him and spoke up for him and traveled with him.

These guys preached the gospel together and were mistaken for gods together and almost got killed together and faced the guys in Jerusalem together.

These guys were a serious team for years!

And now they are going to split up?

What’s up? Verse 36 again.

“Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.’ Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work.  [Remember that?] They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus [Barnabas’ homeland], but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.”

Wow. That was a surprise.

These two guys who had been through so much decide that they have to end their close partnership.


Here’s my question for you.  Which one was right and which one was wrong?

What’s it say?

It doesn’t say, does it?

What do you think were the issues?

From Barnabas’ point of view, he was probably just being Barnabas.

He was the Son of Encouragement and wanted to give John Mark a second chance.

He had done it for Paul, now he was going it for John Mark, who was also (the Bible tells us elsewhere) a family member.

Right or wrong?

Well, it turns out well. John Mark and Paul eventually work together again. And Paul says in 2 Timothy 4 how useful and helpful John Mark was to him.

So, Barnabas was right, right?

Well, it doesn’t say so here. It says that the brothers commended Paul and Silas to the grace of the Lord and sent them off, and we know that the Lord blesses Paul and his ministry from here out.

Paul needed people he could trust to work with.

Was that wrong?

I love it that the Bible doesn’t tell us who was right and who was wrong.

Maybe they were both right and both wrong in some ways.

That’s the way it normally is when it comes to disagreements, isn’t it?

Both of these guys were Spirit-filled, same-gospel-preaching, wise men.

And they didn’t always agree. In fact, here they had to agree to disagree agreeably.

Disagreement in ministry is inevitable this side of heaven.

We will not always agree.

Our church family has had more than a decade of strong unity.

And we should be very thankful for that.

But it isn’t guaranteed.

And we even though we’ve had strong unity that doesn’t mean that we’ve always agreed on everything. Have we?

No, that’s why flexibility is so important.

And they are flexible here.

Did you catch it?

I never saw it so clearly before.  I saw this as a downer-passage.  A failure.

And, on one level it is.

But what happens here? I think that they agree to disagree agreeably and they end up multiplying the ministry!

They come up with a compromise.  You two go there, we two will go there.

It doesn’t say that they hated each other. Or even that they could never work together again.

It just says that they parted company. (V.39) “Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.”

I think that’s gospel flexibility. This isn’t working. We can’t agree. Let’s do it differently. You try that. We’ll try this.

That’s how I read it.

It’s not perfect, but it’s flexible and the gospel keeps moving.

V.41 Paul goes through Syria and Cilicia strengthening the churches.

Notice what happens here.

Same starting point, but he goes a new way. He goes up north and then West.

He doesn’t have to go to Cyprus. Barnabas will take care of that.

Has the ministry diminished because of this break-up?

No. It’s multiplied.

So he goes through Syria and Cilicia. Acts 16, verse 1.

“He came to Derbe and then to Lystra, [we’ve been here before, but now it’s different. Paul and Silas there and they get a new team member. Derbe and then to Lystra] where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek. The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.”

Now, wait one minute!

He did what?

He had Timothy circumcised?
What was the last chapter all about?

Wasn’t there this big decision about circumcision in the last chapter?

Do you remember that?

And what side was Paul on?

What’s going on?

Was this right or wrong to have Timothy circumcised?

Timothy is the son of a Greek Gentile father and Jewish mother.

And he’s a believer in Jesus.

Should he be circumcised?

Let me ask the question this way.

Did he have to be circumcised?

No. Remember the question from two weeks ago?

“What does it take for a Gentile to become a Christian?”

Grace. That’s it.

Not circumcision. You don’t have to become a Jew to become a Christian.

But does that make circumcision wrong?

Not at all.

It’s fine to be circumcised. Especially if you are a Jew (and Jewishness is often reckoned through the mother’s heritage).

Timothy was considered a Jew.

Would it be wrong for him to be circumcised?

Only if it was insisted upon.

If someone said that you must become circumcised to be saved, then that teaching must be countered.

But if someone chooses to do it to be more easily acceptable to others, that’s fine!

It’s good flexibility.

Here’s the principle.


There is a time for bending and a time for being unbending.

Paul knew both.

Unbending with the gospel.
Bending with those things that don’t matter.

Here’s how he said it in Galatians:

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

If it would help reach Jews for Jesus, then let’s get Timothy circumcised.

If it would hinder the gospel, no way.

Sensitive Yet Steadfast.


Does that make sense?

Can you think of issues in your own life where it’s important to balance those two things? Sensitivity and Steadfastness.

Wishy washy people change with the wind.
But inflexible people don’t care about others.

We are supposed to be neither wishy-washy nor inflexible.

Sensitive Yet Steadfast.

And here’s what happened. V.4

“As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey. [He hasn’t forgotten the conference in Jerusalem! He’s spreading the news of it.] So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.”

Flexibility led to increased ministry.

Flexibility in the right way led to increased ministry.

Number three. Flexibility in...


Verse 6.

“Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.”

This is a different role for the Holy Spirit than we are used to.

Notice by the way that He is called “The Spirit of Jesus” in verse 7. I love that.

The Holy Spirit is not another Spirit. He is the Spirit of Jesus.

But here He is pushing Paul and Silas (and now Timothy) out of an area.

Let’s read that again and look at the map.

“Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia [that’s up here] and Galatia [here], having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia [they are not allowed over here]. When they came to the border of Mysia [up here], they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.”

They kind of have to run along the border and aren’t allowed to preach or start churches through this spot here. V.8

“So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.”  Here.

Now, how did the Spirit do all of this pushing?

We don’t know. The Bible doesn’t say.

A prophetic word?
A leading or guiding?
Doors opening or doors closing?

Not sure. But however the Spirit did it. He did it.

And Paul and his team heeded the pushing of the Spirit.

That might have been pretty frustrating!

Imagine if you were Paul. “I just want to preach the gospel!”

But the Spirit is stopping me. He won’t allow me to enter into these places. What’s going on?


“During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”

Ah. God has another plan.

The Spirit doesn’t just push. He pulls. And we need to flexible!

“Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

And so, in the middle of the night, they got ready to leave at once for Macedonia.

That’s flexible! Heeding the Spirit’s push and pull.

Now, both of these places were in the Roman empire.

But something geographically amazing was happening here.

The gospel was moving into what we now call Europe.

For the first time!  V.11

“From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day on to Neapolis. From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.”

The gospel has entered into another continent.

From Jerusalem where?  To the ends of the earth.

“Come over to Macedonia and help us!”

And did you notice the pronouns changing?

Who set out to sea?

“We” did.

I think Dr. Luke just joined the team at Troas.

He doesn’t make a big deal of it, but there it is. “We.”

And the gospel moves into Europe.

And land at Philippi.

Philippi is only about 550 miles away from Novi Sad Serbia where our team will be going this Summer.

And here’s why flexibility is so important. 


And that’s all of us.

Look at verse 13.

“On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there.” Stop there for a second.

Why did they do this?

What day did they do it? On the Sabbath.

Where did they go?

Outside the city gate to the river.  Why?

They’re looking for the synagogue.

Paul goes to the Jew first and then the Gentile.

It takes 10 Jewish men to form a synagogue. If they don’t have 10 Jewish men, they gather at the river for prayer until they do.

Obviously, Philippi does not have 10 Jewish men.

It appears that there isn’t even one!

Who do they find there at the river?

A group of women who are praying.

Four men approach a group of Jewish women to talk about religion.

(I don’t think this conversation is really going to go anywhere.)

Maybe Paul and his team should find another place.

I mean the vision had a MAN of Macedonia saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!”

But Paul and his friends are...what?  FLEXIBLE!

They share the gospel with ALL who need it.

They don’t just look for people like them.

They cross barriers. Geographical, physical, cultural, even gender (which was a big divide in that culture).

Verse 14.

“One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us.”

I love that.

Here is the first convert in Europe, and she isn’t at all what we would have expected.

And “the Lord opened her heart.”  I love that phrase. It’s one of a quite a few ways of saying that Lord saved her by the gospel.

Paul shared about Jesus Christ. His message. His life. His death. His resurrection!

And the Lord opened her heart.

Has the Lord opened your heart?

Do you believe Paul’s message?  Paul’s gospel?

The gospel of a crucified and risen Savior?

The world does not believe it.

But those who do are saved.

I invite you to believe today.

The Lord opened her heart, and she responded, like all new believers in the New Testament–she got baptized–she and all of the people in her extended household.

They believed!  And they got baptized.

And then, this single, business-owning, woman invites these four men, Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke, to stay in her household as the center of their ministry in Philippi.

Do you think that took flexibility?

I don’t think that would have been Paul’s first choice.

Not that there is any impropriety here. But look how she has to persuade them.

“‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us.”

And Paul is flexible again for the gospel.

Are you flexible in ministry?

Are you ready to deal with the disagreements that come?
Are you ready to be sensitive where you need to be and steadfast where you must?
Are you ready to heed the push and pull of the Spirit even when it gets frustrating?
Are you ready to share the gospel across barriers?

If so, then you are ready for ministry.

Sumper Gumby!  Always flexible!

Messages So Far In this Series: