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Does the Church Ever Get ‘Lucky’?

14 Apr

I am reminded at this point in Paul’s third recorded missionary journey of the beginning of his second. Originally, Paul had intended to evangelize Asia about six years earlier, but was drawn away by the Spirit to minister to other areas (Acts 16:6). Now, he intended to sail to Syria with an offering for the poor at Jerusalem, but, after discovering a plot against his life, Paul began a tour of the churches he had planted in Europe and Asia Minor with messages of encouragement, comfort and warning. None of these things we have in Acts 20:4-38 would have occurred had Paul been able to leave for Syria from Corinth.

It seems that the Lord is, indeed, interested in the poor—evidenced in Paul’s famine relief effort cir 49 CE and again 7 years later with the current offering from the gentile churches scattered over Asia and Europe. However, his interest in the poor is not at the expense of feeding the flock—encouraging, comforting and warning them in their present distress in the world. We need to remember the one, but not at the expense of forgetting the other. I believe this is the message that Luke offers us at this point in his journal of Paul’s travels.

We don’t know when it was that Paul intended to leave Corinth (Acts 20:7) but it was probably three to four weeks before the beginning of spring for he intended to be in Jerusalem for the Passover, but instead celebrated Passover in Philippi. This shows that he probably stayed several days in each of the churches in Achaia and Macedonia, but in Philippi was his longest stay, seeing how the Passover is an eight day festival. All this time, Paul was ‘encouraging, comforting and warning the disciples in their present circumstances. In other words, he was repeating to all in similar words what he told the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:18-38, which we’ll look at in another post.

Paul chose a vessel that hopped from port to port, hitting the islands in the eastern Aegean and the major ports along the west coast of the province of Asia. In doing so, he was able to spend a day or two, as he did at Miletus, with the brethren where he would speak, knowing he would probably see them no more (cp. Acts 20:38).

What Luke seems to be doing is reenacting in Paul’s effort to fulfill his mission what he (Luke) had done in recording the Lord’s journey to Jerusalem, beginning at Luke 9:51 and ending in Luke 12:45 (cp. Acts 20:16, 22-23). Just as the Lord had done, Paul sent out men before him (Acts 20:5, 17). Paul is seen as having a prophetic Spirit telling of the trouble awaiting him at the end of his journey, and, just as in the case of the Lord, Paul’s words are backed up with the power of life and death as seen in the raising of Eutyches (Acts 20:7-12).

The tale of Eutyches is interesting. After offering only the slightest details in each of Paul’s stops to this point, Luke waxes very descriptive at Troas (Acts 20:6-11). Here, the disciples ‘break bread’ in an ‘upper room’ that ends in an account of a ‘resurrection.’ The name Eutyches means lucky, which brings to mind the words of Solomon that time and chance (luck or misfortune) happens to all (Ecclesiastes 9:11), but as in the words of the Psalmist, if we commit our way to the Lord, he will give us a desirable end (Psalm 37:5), because he orders our steps and delights himself in the way we have committed to him (Psalm 37:23). So, even though Paul’s plans were thwarted in Acts 20:3, he got ‘lucky’[1] because the Lord ordered his steps, and we have Acts 20:4-38 for a blessing to show for it.

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[1] Actually, I don’t believe in “luck” but in the blessing of God. I just couldn’t resist the play on that word as contained in the name of the young man. Tyche is the goddess of ‘luck” or “chance” (good fortune) etc., and the young man’s name actually points to a change of his understanding of life and a change of looking to the pagan goddess to the true God who blesses us all.

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Posted by on April 14, 2013 in Gospel, Paul's 3rd missionary journey

 

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