Today, as we continue in the book of Acts, we see the passing of a baton, the baton from the apostles, the apostle Paul in particular, to a group of men set apart to lead the church at Ephesus. They meet and they say good bye at the beach of Miletus It’s one of the most moving stories in the Bible, perhaps it is for me because it was the passage my first youth pastor taught us on the night that he told us he was finishing up his ministry among us and would be transferring elsewhere. It’s a tale of departure. But within this sad tale of departure, the life of ministry is set before us in a compelling way, a calling way.
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We’re continuing through the missionary journeys of Paul, travelling with him from city to city, particularly as he has been called to bring the gospel to the Greeks, and here now he is in Greece with the Gospel. In Acts 18, we find Paul in Corinth. Corinth was the provincial capital of the southern province of Greece. It was nearly the size of Ottawa, and one of the leading business centres of the Ancient world. Corinth is a fascinating city, a city of staggering immorality - in fact, they Greeks had turn the name of the city into a verb referring to sexual immorality. But what’s conspicuous about this chapter, in which the gospel goes to Corinth, is how very little details Luke provides us about the mission there. We’re told that Paul spends at least 1.5 years there, the longest time spent in any city thus far, but very little is recorded out side of the the conversion of Crispus, the head of the synagogue, and the tribunal before Gallio, which surprisingly, had a pretty positive outcome for Paul. Other than that, the chapter is almost a travelogue, introducing us to some new places and people, but not much else. This is the main takeaway I am left with from the Acts chapter 18: This is God’s mission, not my mission. Not your mission. God graciously uses us and our different gifts, but it is he who sends, he who equips, He who provides the growth. There is no room for pride in Christian ministry. No room for ego, or for making our own individual kingdoms.
The missionaries raised up a plurality of men called elders who would preserve the way for those to come. This work of equipping and entrusting the churches to these elders was so important the the work wasn’t considered fulfilled until they had done so. Paul understood that he had to ensure that the churches be well established under faithful men that the church might stand firm as a pillar and buttress of the truth. This would allow the missionary team to continue on its way into new cities, new fields, because the churches were left in good hands. Those who stayed behind and led the churches were to guard the deposit of faith that was entrusted to them and pass it on to others, preserving the way for those to come.
Heb. 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.