Article 2019-01 To Europe
Chapter 51: To Europe
Sometimes the Spirit hinders lesser efforts to accomplish greater ones. In case least-expected directions are needed, He will reveal those clearly. It is important that the whole team is in unity about such new guidance. We see that the main leaders often receive the main beatings, and when they have to flee, his helpers take over. It is important that after pioneer evangelism, church planting and discipling follow. We may feel encouraged, that not even Paul enjoyed the same amount of ministerial success everywhere, and that he despaired sometimes about whether his work would be fruitful.
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 … During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him “Come over and help us…” (Acts 16:6-9)
After Paul instructed Timothy in more things he needed to know, the four men traveled on, but wherever they wanted to enter, they felt the Holy Spirit say ‘No’. That was strange because there was no Christian presence in those areas, apart from the Jews who believed in Jesus during the first day of Pentecost, seventeen years earlier in Jerusalem. Only later they understood why the Spirit did not allow them to evangelize those areas.
After arriving in Troas, Paul had a dream that directed the team to Europe. New territory, of which he understood its strategic importance. The first main city there was Philippi, at the Roman trade route from west to east, the Via Egnatia, connecting it with the next big city, Thessalonica. And so they booked passage on a boat to Europe.
Some days later they reached Philippi, where they ministered to Lydia and her household, and cast out a demon from a girl. That landed them in prison after being flogged. They sang worship songs and an earthquake destroyed their prison, after which they led the whole jailer’s family to Christ. The next morning they decided to leave for Thessalonica to preach. But from there they had to flee, because the local Jews opposed the team fiercely. The next port of call was Berea, where the people were much friendlier, until the Jews came from Thessalonica and stirred unbelieving Jews up against the team. Again Paul had to flee, but he left Silas and Timothy to disciple the new believers. Paul and Luke left for Athens.
A while later Paul sent for Timothy with the request to join him in Athens. Once the younger man arrived, Paul sent him to Thessalonica to see how the church there was doing. Paul and Luke then went to Corinth, where Silas joined them.
So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God’s fellow-worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith … I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless (1 Thess. 3:1,2,5)
The story, continued
Paul had not been very successful in Athens. Once in Corinth, after Timothy returned from Thessalonica with good news, he wrote his first letter to that church, and a short while later a second one. Both spoke mainly about things concerning the end times. Meanwhile Paul was ministering in Corinth, that melting pot of nations and cultures, with its disgusting immorality. There was much to do in Corinth. He received a vision of the Lord, telling him not to fear because nobody would harm him, promising that many in the city would come to faith!
After about 1½ years Paul decided that it was time to see his ‘home-church’ again and traveled to Antioch via Ephesus. His second missionary journey had come to an end, but not for long. Five important cities in Greece had heard the gospel. Now he needed to go back and consolidate the work in Asia Minor. Phrygia still needed to be reached. Galatia could use another visit. The work grew, and more workers had to be recruited.
Sometimes the Spirit of God closes doors for ministry that we think are important. He does not do that because they are unimportant, but because He wants to open greater doors for ministry of more significance and impact. We must trust His ‘no’ as much as His ‘yes’. With much work remaining in Asia Minor, nobody thought about Europe. That is why the Spirit was very specific in His communications. He also worked a wonderful unity among the team.
The main leader, Paul, received the guiding revelation, and paid for his obedience with suffering. In the next two cities he had to flee. This was not so bad, since he had colleagues with him who could stay behind to finish the job. In this way the ‘master’ did not do all the work, but was forced to leave some of the follow-up ministry to his ‘disciples’. Paul had wisely chosen to take other believers with him on his trips, and along the way turned them into genuine missionaries.
Paul concentrated mainly on pioneer-evangelism and although he did plant churches, churches were also planted by his associates. Although he did disciple new believers, it was often his group of co-workers who consolidated this work. Paul strongly supported their discipling ministry with his letters to the different churches.
Did Paul make mistakes in his gospel presentation in Athens? Or was the spiritual ground unusually hard? We don’t know; who are we to judge? The fact remains that Paul’s fruit in Athens was less than elsewhere, whereas in the next city, Corinth, it was very fruitful again. All of us need to be reminded sometimes that our success in ministry is God’s blessing, rather than our correct methods – or the lack thereof.
Paul was human enough to suffer under lack of communication. We know from his letters that he prayed a lot for the believers in the places he visited, and like all of us, he needed to hear some good news, some answers to prayer. Means of communication were almost non-existent or unreliable. So he sent Timothy to Thessalonica to see how things went there. After that he exhaled a sigh of relief. Thank God he had Timothy. And Silas, and Luke. But he needed many more – and kept working at it, as we are about to see.
Discussion & dialogue
- Describe how the Holy Spirit gave expression to God’s heart for the nations (theme nine) in the night vision that Paul received
- Which other 4 themes of the 10 feature here? How?(Answer: see Teacher’s Guide)
- What happens, if pioneer evangelism is not followed by discipling and church planting