Friday, 29 April 2016

Acts 15:30 - 16:40 - It is a great evil to be ignorant of Scripture

Source: mission bible

Acts 16 provides a strange contrast to the decisions made at the Council of Jerusalem.  The second half of Acts 15 describes Paul and Barnabas' return to Antioch after the Council of Jerusalem and delivery of the letter announcing its decisions (verses 30-41).  Paul and Barnabas don't see eye to eye on the compositon of the mission team, so split, with Barnabas taking Mark (almost certainly his cousin the evangelist) to Cyprus, and Paul taking Silas.

Curiously though, the opening verses of Acts 16, though, talk about Paul's decision to circumcise his next convert, what?!

The rest of the chapter deals with key events on St Paul's second missionary journey:

  • conversion of Lydia and expelling of a demon from a slave girl used for divining the future (verses 9-18), an event which leads to them being beaten and  jailed;
  • earthquake and conversion of their jailor (verses 19-34);
  • Paul's protest at his beating and imprisonment in breach of his citizenship rights (verses 35-40).

St John Chrystom's sermons on these chapters includes a little exposition on the evils of not knowing Scripture, and I've provided some key extracts from it at the end of the post.

Acts 15:
30 So they took their leave and went down to Antioch, where they called the multitude together and delivered the letter to them; 31 and they, upon reading it, were rejoiced at this encouragement. 32 Judas and Silas, for they were prophets too, said much to encourage the brethren and establish their faith; 33 they stayed there for some time before the brethren let them go home, in peace, to those who had sent them. 34 But Silas had a mind to remain there; so Judas went back alone to Jerusalem. 35 Paul and Barnabas waited at Antioch, teaching and preaching God’s word, with many others to help them;36 and then, after some days, Paul said to Barnabas, Let us go back and visit the brethren in all the cities where we have preached the word of the Lord, to see how they are doing. 37 And Barnabas was for taking John, also called Mark, with them. 38 But Paul said, here was a man who left them when they reached Pamphylia, and took no part with them in the work; it was not right to admit such a man to their company. 39 So sharp was their disagreement, that they separated from each other; Barnabas took Mark with him, and sailed off to Cyprus, 40 while Paul chose Silas for his companion and went on his journey, commended by the brethren to the Lord’s grace. 41 And he travelled all through Syria and Cilicia, establishing the churches in the faith, and bidding them observe the commands which the apostles and presbyters had given.
Acts 16:
1 So he reached Derbe, and Lystra. Here he met a disciple, named Timothy, son of a believer who was a Jewess and a Gentile father. 2 He was well spoken of by the brethren at Lystra and Iconium, 3 and Paul resolved to take him as a companion on his journey. But he was careful to circumcise him; he was thinking of the Jews living in those parts, who all knew that Timothy’s father was a Gentile. 4 As they passed from city to city, they recommended to their observance the decree laid down by the apostles and presbyters at Jerusalem. 5 They found the churches firmly established in the faith, and their numbers daily increasing. 6 Thus they passed through Phrygia and the Galatian country; the Holy Spirit prevented them from preaching the word in Asia. 7 Then, when they had come as far as Mysia on their journey, they planned to enter Bithynia; but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow it.[1] 8 So they crossed Mysia, and went down to the sea at Troas.
1 Pervenit autem Derben et Lystram. Et ecce discipulus quidam erat ibi nomine Timotheus, filius mulieris Judææ fidelis, patre gentili. 2 Huic testimonium bonum reddebant qui in Lystris erant et Iconio fratres. 3 Hunc voluit Paulus secum proficisci: et assumens circumcidit eum propter Judæos qui erant in illis locis. Sciebant enim omnes quod pater ejus erat gentilis. 4 Cum autem pertransirent civitates, tradebant eis custodiri dogmata quæ erant decreta ab Apostolis et senioribus qui erant Jerosolymis. 5 Et ecclesiæ quidem confirmabantur fide, et abundabunt numero quotidie. 6 Transeuntes autem Phrygiam et Galatiæ regionem, vetati sunt a Spiritu Sancto loqui verbum Dei in Asia. 7 Cum venissent autem in Mysiam, tentabant ire in Bithyniam: et non permisit eos Spiritus Jesu. 8 Cum autem pertransissent Mysiam, descenderunt Troadem:
Chrysostom (Homily 34): Amazing, the wisdom of Paul! He that has had so many battles about circumcision, he that moved all things to this end, and did not give over until he had carried his point, now that the decree is made sure, circumcises the disciple. He not only does not forbid others, but himself does this thing...Because of the Jews, it says, which were in those parts: for they would not endure to hear the word from one uncircumcised...

Macedonia and the conversion of Lydia:
Here Paul saw a vision in the night; a certain Macedonian stood by him in entreaty, and said, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. 10 That vision once seen, we were eager to sail for Macedonia; we concluded that God had called us there to preach to them. 11 So we put out from Troas, made a straight course to Samothrace, and next day to Neapolis. 12 Thence we reached Philippi, which is a Roman colony and the chief city in that part of Macedonia; in this city we remained for some days, conferring together. 13 On the sabbath day we went out beyond the city gates, by the river side, a meeting-place, we were told, for prayer; and we sat down and preached to the women who had assembled there. 14 One of those who were listening was a woman called Lydia, a purple-seller from the city of Thyatira, and a worshipper of the true God; and the Lord opened her heart, so that she was attentive to Paul’s preaching. 15 She was baptized, with all her household; and she was urgent with us; Now you have decided that I have faith in the Lord, she said, come to my house and lodge there; and she would take no denial. 16 And now, as we were on our way to the place of prayer, we chanced to meet a girl who was possessed by a divining spirit; her predictions brought in large profits to her masters. 17 This girl used to follow behind Paul and the rest of us, crying out, These men are the servants of the most high God; they are proclaiming to us the way of salvation. 18 And when she had done this for a number of days, Paul was distressed by it; he turned round and said to the spirit, I command thee to come out of her, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; and there and then it came out of her.19 Her masters, who saw that all their hopes of profit had vanished, took hold of Paul and Silas and dragged them off to justice in the market-place. 20 When they brought them before the magistrates, they said, These men, Jews by origin, are disturbing the peace of our city; 21 they are recommending customs which it is impossible for us, as Roman citizens, to admit or to observe.
 Scourged and jailed:
22 The crowd gathered round, to join in the accusation; and the magistrates, tearing their clothes off them, gave orders that they should be beaten; 23 then, when they had inflicted many lashes on them, put them in prison, and bade the gaoler keep them in safe custody. 24 Thus instructed, he put them in the inner ward, and secured their feet in the stocks. 25 At midnight, Paul and Silas were at their prayers, praising God, while the prisoners listened to them. 26 And all at once there was a violent earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison rocked; whereupon every door opened, and every man’s chains were undone. 27 The gaoler, who had been awakened, saw the prison doors open, and drew his sword as if to kill himself, thinking the prisoners had escaped; 28 but Paul cried with a loud voice, Do no hurt to thyself; we are all here. 29 And so, when he had called for a light, he came running in and fell at the feet of Paul and Silas, all trembling; 30 Sirs, he asked, as he led them out, what am I to do, to save myself? 31 Have faith, they said to him, in the Lord Jesus; there lies salvation for thee, and for thy household. 32 Then they preached the word of the Lord to him, and to all that were in his house; 33 and he, there and then, at dead of night, took them away to wash their wounds, and without delay he and all his were baptized. 34 So he led them to his home, where he put food before them, and he and all his household made rejoicing at having found faith in God.
22 Et cucurrit plebs adversus eos: et magistratus, scissis tunicis eorum, jusserunt eos virgis cædi. 23 Et cum multas plagas eis imposuissent, miserunt eos in carcerem, præcipientes custodi ut diligenter custodiret eos. 24 Qui cum tale præceptum accepisset, misit eos in interiorem carcerem, et pedes eorum strinxit ligno. 25 Media autem nocte Paulus et Silas orantes, laudabant Deum: et audiebant eos qui in custodia erant. 26 Subito vero terræmotus factus est magnus, ita ut moverentur fundamenta carceris. Et statim aperta sunt omnia ostia: et universorum vincula soluta sunt. 27 Expergefactus autem custos carceris, et videns januas apertas carceris, evaginato gladio volebat se interficere, æstimans fugisse vinctos. 28 Clamavit autem Paulus voce magna, dicens: Nihil tibi mali feceris: universi enim hic sumus. 29 Petitoque lumine, introgressus est: et tremefactus procidit Paulo et Silæ ad pedes: 30 et producens eos foras, ait: Domini, quid me oportet facere, ut salvus fiam? 31 At illi dixerunt: Crede in Dominum Jesum, et salvus eris tu, et domus tua. 32 Et locuti sunt ei verbum Domini cum omnibus qui erant in domo ejus. 33 Et tollens eos in illa hora noctis, lavit plagas eorum: et baptizatus est ipse, et omnis domus ejus continuo. 34 Cumque perduxisset eos in domum suam, apposuit eis mensam, et lætatus est cum omni domo sua credens Deo.
Chrysostom (Homily 36): What could equal these souls? These men had been scourged, had received many stripes, they had been misused, were in peril of their lives, were thrust into the inner prison, and set fast in the stocks: and for all this they did not suffer themselves to sleep, but kept vigil all the night. Do you mark what a blessing tribulation is? But we, in our soft beds, with none to be afraid of, pass the whole night in sleep. But belike this is why they kept vigil, because they were in this condition. Not the tyranny of sleep could overpower them, not the smart of pain could bow them, not the fear of evil east them into helpless dejection: no, these were the very things that made them wakeful: and they were even filled with exceeding delight...

Let us compare, beloved, with that night these nights of ours, with their revellings, their drunkenness, and wanton excesses, with their sleep which might as well be death, their watchings which are worse than sleep. For while some sleep without sense or feeling, others lie awake to pitiable and wretched purpose, plotting deceits, anxiously thinking about money, studying how they may be revenged upon those who do them wrong, meditating enmity, reckoning up the abusive words spoken during the day: thus do they rake up the smouldering embers of wrath, doing things intolerable.

Mark how Peter slept. Acts 12:6 Both there, it was wisely ordered (that he should be asleep); for the Angel came to him, and it behooved that none should see what happened; and on the other hand it was well ordered here (that Paul should be awake), in order that the keeper of the prison might be prevented from killing himself.
35 When day came, the magistrates sent their officers to say, Those men are to be discharged. 36 And the gaoler reported the message to Paul; The magistrates have sent ordering your discharge; it is time you should come out, and go on your way in peace. 37 But Paul said to them, What, have they beaten us in public, without trial, Roman citizens as we are, and sent us to prison, and now would they let us out secretly? That will not serve; they must come here themselves, 38 and fetch us out in person. When the officers gave this message to the magistrates, they were alarmed by this talk of Roman citizenship; 39 so they came and pleaded with them, urging them, as they brought them out, to leave the city. 40 On leaving the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they saw the brethren and gave them encouragement; then they set out on their travels.
Chrysostom: Even upon the declaration of the magistrates Paul does not go out, but for the sake both of Lydia and the rest he puts them in fear: that they may not be supposed to have come out upon their own request, that they may set the rest in a posture of boldness. The impeachment was twofold: that being Romans, and uncondemned, they had openly cast them into prison. You see that in many things they took their measures as men.

Ignorance of Scripture

At the end of Homily 34, St John Chrysostom makes some comments on the importance of knowing Scripture, so I thought I'd conclude today's post with a short extract from them:

"...It is a great evil to be ignorant of the Scriptures: from the things we ought to get good from, we get evil. Thus also medicines of healing virtue, often, from the ignorance of those who use them, ruin and destroy: and arms which are meant to protect, are themselves the cause of death unless one know how to put them on.

But the reason is, that we seek everything rather than what is good for ourselves. And in the case of a house, we seek what is good for it, and we would not endure to see it decaying with age, or tottering, or hurt by storms: but for our soul we make no account: nay, even should we see its foundations rotting, or the fabric and the roof, we make no account of it. Again, if we possess brute creatures, we seek what is good for them: we call in both horse-feeders and horse-doctors, and all besides: we attend to their housing, and charge those who are entrusted with them, that they may not drive them at random or carelessly, nor take them out by night at unseasonable hours nor sell away their provender; and there are many laws laid down by us for the good of the brute creatures: but for that of our soul there is no account taken....

Be ashamed of yourselves: teach your bellies to be as philosophic. You have no excuse. When you have been able to implant such philosophic self-command in an irrational nature, which neither speaks nor hears reason, shall you not much more be able to implant it in yourself? For that it is the effect of man's care, not of nature is plain...

If you build a splendid house, you know what is good for the house, not what is good for yourself: if you take a beautiful garment, you know what is good for the body, not for yourself: and if you get a good horse, it is so likewise. None makes it his mark how his soul shall be beautiful; and yet, when that is beautiful, there is no need of any of those things: as, if that be not beautiful, there is no good of them...

Let us then make our soul beauteous, if at least we would fain be rich. What profit is it, when your mules indeed are white and plump and in good condition, but you who are drawn by them are lean and scurvy and ill-favored? What is the gain, when your carpets indeed are soft and beautiful, full of rich embroidery and art, and your soul goes clad in rags, or even naked and foul?...

Let us, though late, come at last to our senses, that we may be enabled by having much care for our soul, and laying hold upon virtue, to obtain eternal good things, through the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, with Whom to the Father, together with the Holy Spirit, be glory, might, honor, now and evermore, world without end. Amen.

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