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“Return to Antioch”

(Acts 18:18-23)

I. Introduction.
A. Orientation.
1. Paul came to Corinth and found a wide open door of opportunity.
a. He found Aquila and Priscilla, fellow-believers from Rome, fellow tent makers, and
began to work and fellowship with them.
b. He found opportunity through the synagogues to bring the Gospel to Jews and God-
fearing Greeks every Sabbath.
c. When Silas and Timothy arrived, he was able to devote himself more completely to
the Gospel ministry.
d. When the Jews rejected the Gospel, he found an open door at the house of Titius
Justus, and began to reach out to the Gentiles, so that many of the Gentiles and some
of the Jews were converted.
e. The Lord encouraged Paul with a promise of protection to allay his fears, with the
result that he settled there for 18 months, teaching the Word of God among them.

2. Last week, we saw the Lord remove that restraint somewhat:


a. When Gallio became proconsul of Achaia, the Jews attacked him thinking they had
an ally (remember Gallio was the elder brother of Seneca, the Stoic philosopher).
b. But even here the Lord protected Paul, with Gallio driving the Jews from his
judgment seat.
c. We also saw that Sosthenes was beaten by the Jews, reminding us that though the
Lord will protect us from harm, sometimes He allows us to go through suffering to
advance His glory and our good.

B. Preview.
1. This morning, we come to the end of Paul’s Second Missionary Journey and the
beginning of his Third.
a. He will make his way from Corinth, to the port city of Cenchrea, where he will have
his hair cut because of a vow he was keeping.
b. From there he will travel to Ephesus, where he will begin ministering the Gospel to
break ground for a later work of the Spirit.
c. Then he will travel to the port city of Caesarea, then to Jerusalem to greet the church,
then to Antioch.
d. And after spending time there, he will begin his third and final journey to evangelize
the Roman Empire.

2. There are several things happening in our passage, so we’ll look at each only briefly:
a. First, we’ll see that we should continues to press forward in our work no matter what
opposition we’ve had to face: Paul stays many days longer, establishing the
Corinthians believers in the Word.
b. Second, that we should also do everything we can to support those the Lord is using
to promote His work: Aquila and Priscilla now join Paul in his journey and work.
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c. Third, we’re reminded that the Lord calls us to become all things to all men that we
might win some: We see this in Paul’s keeping of the Old Covenant vow of the
Nazarite.
d. Fourth, that new ground must first be broken and prepared before God’s work
typically takes root and grows: we see Paul and others breaking ground in Ephesus.
e. Fifth, that we are not alone in our efforts to promote the work of the kingdom – the
body of Christ extends beyond our local fellowship: Paul visits and greets the
churches at Jerusalem and Antioch.
f. Finally, we see that as we continue to advance the Gospel, we should not forget those
we’ve already reached to make sure they are doing well: Paul begins his Third
Missionary Journey by revisiting the churches he had formerly planted.

II. Sermon.
A. First, we see that we should continue to press forward in our work no matter what
opposition we’ve had to face: “Paul, having remained many days longer” (v. 18).
1. Paul continues to press forward, first by establishing the disciples in the Word, then by
moving on to Ephesus.
a. He was already in Corinth for 18 months, as we’ve seen.
b. But now he stays for many days longer – after the Jews had taken him before
Gallio’s judgment seat.
(i) Apparently, there were no more problems after this: the storm rose and fell. Paul
was not forced to move to another city.
(ii) Neither, by the way, did Paul become discouraged by the persecution: he kept
on working.
(iii) Some believe that he even made some inroads with Gallio and Seneca. Henry
writes, “Some tell us that Gallio did privately countenance Paul, and took him
into his favour, and that this occasioned a correspondence between Paul and
Seneca, Gallio' s brother, which some of the ancients speak of” (Commentary).
(iv) Whether this resulted in either Gallio or Seneca’s conversion, only the great
Judgment will reveal.
(v) But we should be impressed by the fact Paul never gave up – he kept pressing
forward, and as he did, the Lord continued to open doors of opportunity.

2. The point is we need to keep moving ahead.


a. There will be many enemies and many attacks.
b. But we must not let them stop us from doing what Jesus told us to do.
c. He warned us ahead of time we would face persecution, so we should expect it.

B. Second, we should also support those the Lord is using to promote His work: “Paul,
having remained many days longer, took leave of the brethren and put out to sea for Syria,
and with him were Priscilla and Aquila” (v. 18).
1. Paul now set his sights on Antioch, in Syria. But as he left, Aquila and Priscilla went
with him.
a. Remember, Aquila and Priscilla had been displaced from Rome because of Claudius’
decree.
b. Perhaps because of this, or because of Christ’s call, they weren’t willing to put their
roots down too deeply.
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c. Whatever the reason, they now pull up their tent pegs to go with Paul, not just to
keep him company, but as we’ll see in a moment, to help him in any way they could,
because of their friendship, but mainly because of their love for Christ.

2. This is what Christ calls us to do as well: promote the kingdom of heaven with the gifts
He has given us.
a. The goals of the people of this world are entirely self-centered.
b. Sadly, believers are often inclined in the same direction.
c. But what should our goal be? To advance Christ’s kingdom.
d. This is what Christ lived and died for, what Paul did following in His footsteps, and
those whom the Lord used mightily.
e. This is what He calls us to do: labor through prayer, through our gifts and by
assisting others who are using theirs, to move the kingdom forward.

C. Third, we see again the need to become all things to all men that we might win some: “In
Cenchrea he had his hair cut, for he was keeping a vow” (v. 18).
1. Paul still followed the customs of the Jews:
a. He had his hair cut, indicating that he had taken a Nazarite vow.
(i) A Nazarite was one who devoted himself entirely to God for a certain period of
time: an apt picture of what Paul had been doing.
(ii) He was only to cut his hair if he became unclean or the days of his separation
had ended (Num. 6:9, 13-18). Here it was probable the latter.
(iii) He had this done in Cenchrea, the port city of Corinth. If the Nazarite lived in
Judea, typically, he would have his hair cut in the Temple, but apparently it was
permissible in other areas as well.

b. Paul hadn’t forsaken his traditions; he didn’t stop being a Jew when he was saved.
(i) This was also a part of Paul’s missionary strategy: he became all things to all
men in order to win some.
(ii) Paul will later do the same thing in Jerusalem, sponsoring four men in the same
vow, to show the Jews that he still kept the traditions (Acts 21:23-26).
(iii) Paul writes, “To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those
who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law,
so that I might win those who are under the Law” (1 Cor. 9:20).

2. Two applications:
a. If our traditions are not sinful, there’s no reason why we may not maintain them, as
long as we can glorify God through them.
(i) Christmas and Easter are man-made holidays: they were never commanded by
the Lord.
(ii) And yet they provide us with an opportunity to reach others.

b. We also see the importance of understanding a culture before we can reach them
with the Gospel.
(i) If we don’t communicate in their language, or seek to be understood by them,
we’re only talking to ourselves.
(ii) Language in only one part of the equation: culture is the other.
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D. Fourth, we see that new ground must first be broken and prepared before God’s work
typically takes root and grows: “They came to Ephesus, and he left them there. Now he
himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. When they asked him to stay
for a longer time, he did not consent, but taking leave of them and saying, ‘I will return to
you again if God wills,’ he set sail from Ephesus” (vv. 19-21).
1. We see Paul and others breaking ground in Ephesus.
a. His stay here must have been brief, but he left Aquila and Priscilla.
(i) Aquila was apparently not called to a public ministry.
(ii) But both he and Priscilla did what they could to promote the work of the Gospel
more privately, as we’ll see next week with Apollos.
(iii) And of course Apollos will also minister here to prepare the way for the church
to be planted.

b. While he was at Ephesus, Paul entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.
(i) Though the Jews rejected the Gospel in Corinth, that doesn’t stop him from
ministering to the Jews in other areas: the Gospel was to go to them first. We
need to be careful of condemning a whole race because of a few representatives.
(ii) And there was a positive response – they asked him to stay – how many were
converted, we don’t know. There doesn’t appear to have been a church planted at
that time, since when Paul returns, he doesn’t find one.

c. But Paul was not able to stay:


(i) The KJV says it was because of the feast, most likely referring to Passover. If so,
there would be many Jews in Jerusalem.
(ii) Afterwards, he would come again, if the Lord willed.

2. We see here the importance of breaking ground.


a. The farmer doesn’t cast seed on unprepared soil, but on prepared.
b. Sometimes we think we’ve failed because our efforts to reap haven’t produced any
results.
c. Perhaps it’s because the ground hasn’t been properly prepared; and perhaps the Lord
will use our efforts to do this.
d. One thing we can be sure of is that our work will not be in vain for the Lord (1 Cor.
15:58).

E. Fifth, we are reminded here that we are not alone in our efforts to promote the work of the
kingdom – the body of Christ extends beyond our local fellowship: “When he had landed
at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and went down to Antioch” (v. 22).
1. Paul visits and greets the churches at Jerusalem and Antioch.
a. He first landed at the seaport of Caesarea, the Roman Capital of Judea, the Roman
seat of government of that province, where the Roman troops were headquartered,
the place where Cornelius and his household were converted (Acts 10), and where
Philip the evangelist and his four daughters lived (Acts 8:40; 21:8).
b. From there he went up and greeted the church (most likely the Jerusalem church,
since to go up generally refers to Jerusalem; the going down to Antioch would also
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make sense); he most likely also gave them a report of the progress of the Gospel
among the Gentiles and the Jews.
c. Then he went down again to Antioch, the church from which he originally was sent,
again to report to them what the Lord was doing, to be blessed with their fellowship,
and to refresh himself before beginning his third and final missionary journey.
d. Though Paul was primarily connected with the church at Antioch, he did not forget
his ties with the Jerusalem church.

2. We need to remember the church exists outside of our fellowship as well.


a. Sometimes we tend to think the church extends only as far as our local fellowship,
denomination, or theological perspective. But it is much larger.
b. This doesn’t mean we agree with everyone, or believe that other Christians don’t
hold to some serious errors.
c. But it does mean we should recognize them as brethren – if they profess faith in the
true Lord Jesus, and salvation by grace through faith alone.
d. And we should pray for them, receive them warmly when we have opportunity, and
encourage them in the work as we’re able.
e. We’re all working toward the same goal: the glory of God.

F. Finally, we see that as we continue to advance the Gospel, we should not forget those
we’ve already reached to make sure they are doing well: “And having spent some time
there, he left and passed successively through the Galatian region and Phrygia,
strengthening all the disciples” (v. 23).
1. Paul begins his Third Missionary Journey by revisiting the churches he had formerly
planted.
a. Having spent some time in Antioch, he left for his third journey.
b. He began with Galatia and Phrygia, places he had earlier evangelized, strengthening
the disciples through his ministry, with sound doctrine, application, and
encouragement.
c. Just his presence would have been an encouragement to them: his example of
commitment to the truth, his love and concern for them, that he would be willing to
go out of his way to see them again.

2. As we reach out to others, we must not forget those already in the fold.
a. We need to be mindful of one another’s trials, needs, even triumphs, and share in
them with one another.
b. This is what our Lord call us to, “By this all men will know that you are My
disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
c. Christians need to multitask: they must have one eye on the church (fellowship), one
eye on the lost (evangelize), and both eyes on God (worship).
d. As we press forward, may the Lord help us to do all of these well. Amen.