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Today we return to the Book of Acts to learn about Paul’s third missionary journey. This actually started from 18:23. However, the previous chapter ended with the story of Apollos going from a successful preaching ministry in the city of Ephesus to begin a powerful apologetic ministry in the city of Corinth. It was during this time that Paul returned overland from Antioch to Ephesus, where he had also earlier been speaking in the synagogue (18:19-21).
Again, we discover that Apollos’ ministry amongst the Ephesians was not complete (cf Acts 18:25-26). There were disciples who did not know anything about the Holy Spirit. Were they disciples of and believers in Jesus, and if not, of whom? They had been baptized, but only with a baptism of repentance, as John had done in the early chapters of the gospels. When they were baptized again, this time in the name of Jesus, they spoke in tongues and prophesied, Luke’s now traditional sign of the coming of the Holy Spirit (cf Acts 10:46). Luke notes that there were ‘about’ twelve men, which must be a suggestion that this is the beginning of a new group of Jesus’ disciples.
The most interesting part of this story, for me, is that someone can be described as a follower and a believer, and yet be deficient in significant aspects of our faith. Perhaps we should not be so quick to judge new believers who take some time to fully understand the gospel.
After establishing this small group of disciples in the truth, Paul’s ministry in the synagogue continues. Despite his reasonable and persuasive arguments about the kingdom of God, some continued to be hard and, not persuaded, spoke evil in public about ‘the Way’ of Jesus and his Christians. After three months, Paul left the synagogue with those who were disciples of Jesus and began a separate teaching ministry in Tyrannus’ public school, with daily dialoguing. This went on for two years, with the result that everyone in Asia had the opportunity to hear the word of the Lord through Paul in this major port and trading city.
This was the longest Paul spent anywhere from the time his apostolic ministry began. Note that his ministry was both to disciples and to non-believers, to Jews and to Greeks. And not only was he involved in the ministry of the word, but also in power-encounters of healing and exorcism of evil spirits. In Luke’s beautifully understated phrase, “God did wonders not ordinary through the hands of Paul”.
From this paragraph (verses 8-12) I learn that: (1) we need to be flexible about the location of our ministry; (2) we need to persist in explaining clearly about the kingdom of God, leaving space for dialogue and discussion, even when faced with opposition; (3) ministry of the word is naturally associated, by the power of God through the hands of his servants, with ministries of healing and deliverance.
Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the example of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus, for his patience with people who don’t understand fully, for his passion and persistence in explaining the kingdom of God, and for the miracles you did through him. God, I am not Paul and I don’t have Paul’s gifts. But help me to be faithful in the ministry to which you have called me, and to be ready to see you work through me.