St. Paul, Apostle | Biography | 3



For some years the Apostles remained labouring amongst the people of Antioch, but at length a trouble arose, through the disputing of the Christian Jews.

It was very difficult to them to divest themselves of the idea that in the exact observance of the Mosaic Law lay the one way of justification and salvation.

It was very difficult, again, for them to believe that faith and obedience to the law taught by Jesus Christ was sufficient without the outward ceremonies to which they had been accustomed, and which were peculiar to them as a nation.

When, therefore, the Christian Jews refused to communicate with the Christian Gentiles until they submitted to the rites of the old Hebrew law,

St. Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem, there to confer upon such matters with St. Peter, and St. James and John.

St. Peter, as head of the Church, addressed the assembly first:

He told them that God had given His Holy Spirit to the Gentile as well as to the Jew; nor did He require them to conform to the Jewish customs as regarded meats, and drinks, and outward ceremonies.

When he had finished, both St. Paul and St. Barnabas spoke in turn of their mission, and the success granted to their labours.

St. James then addressed the assembly, and said that the Jews could observe the customs in which they had been educated, but that the Gentiles were not to do the same. They must seek to abstain from idolatry.

The final decision of this first council, known as the Council of Jerusalem,

was that the Gentile converts were only obliged to abstain from meats offered in sacrifice, from blood and the flesh of strangled animals, and also were to preserve purity of manners as a distinctive mark of their connection with the Church of Christ.

It was necessary to prohibit these converts from meats offered in sacrifice; else they might easily have fallen back into paganism: impurity was thought so lightly of by the un-Christian, that it was necessary to set a higher principle before them as a positive law and obligation.

The prohibition against strangulated meats originated in the consideration of what was healthful,

while the prohibition from blood had a still higher signification. While it continued to be offered in the temple as a sacrifice to God, it must be reserved wholly for sacred purposes.

The decision of the council was made known to the different Churches, and St. Paul and Barnabas were sent again to Antioch.

Paul soon began to think of visiting the Churches they had established:

Let us return and visit our brethren in all the cities wherein we have preached the word of the Lord, to see how they do.

St. Barnabas agreed, but he wished to take his nephew John Mark with them, for he also had come to Antioch. St. Paul objected:

John Mark had deserted them at Perga through fear of the difficulties which lay before them, and it did not seem expedient to take one who could not endure hardships for the love of Christ.

Then - these two Apostles who had so long been united in God’s work could not agree upon this one point, and therefore they parted company:

Barnabas sailing for Cyprus, taking John Mark with him,
while St. Paul went to the Churches in Asia Minor, having Silas for a helper.

We see here that even Christ’s own Apostles were not perfectly free from those imperfections and risings of human nature which men are prone to.

Doubtless this disagreement was permitted by God for their humiliation, and also for the good of others in the wider diffusion of the Gospel, through the separation of their work.

St. Paul first visited the Churches of Northern Syria, Cilicia, and Lycaonia.

At Lystra he was joined by the young Timothy, who had a great desire to help in the missionary work:

He was the son of a Greek father and a Jewish mother, and believing that by undergoing the old rite of circumcision he could more easily gain access to the Jews, St. Paul desired him to submit to it.

With Silas in their company, these two messengers of God’s truth travelled on until they reached Troas, at which place St. Luke, the physician and evangelist, joined them.

While they remained there a vision was sent to St. Paul in a dream at night. It appeared that a man of Macedonia cried to him, saying, “Pass over into Macedonia and help us.

From this the Apostle believed that God wished him to preach the Gospel there, and therefore he embarked in a ship with his companions, staying, on their first landing, at Philippi, the chief city.

There was no synagogue in this place, for but a very few Jews dwelt there;

yet in a little quiet enclosed space by the riverside, the true God was worshipped by a small assembly of Christians, chiefly women. On the Sabbath the Apostles went to preach to them.

One of the women was not of the people of Philippi; she was but staying there while she tried to sell some of the richly-dyed purple or scarlet cloth, which was so greatly prized at that time for its brilliant colour.

Her name was Lydia, and she was not a Christian;

but when from the eloquent lips of St. Paul she heard the story of the wonderful life, and still more wonderful death, of Jesus of Nazareth, her heart opened to receive the truth, and she and all her household were converted.

In that city of Philippi there was a female slave, through whom, it was supposed, the pagan gods were accustomed to speak, and therefore she managed to gain money for her owner by appearing to foretell future events.

When this poor creature saw the Apostles going about the streets of Philippi, she used to cry out, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who preach unto you the way of salvation.

One day as she uttered these words, St. Paul pitied her, and pausing, said to the evil spirit which possessed her,

I command thee, in the name of Jesus Christ, to go out from her.

That Holy Name had power then as in later days, and in that same hour the evil spirit departed from the poor slave,

much to the displeasure of her masters, who could now gain no more money by the strange predictions of future things she had been accustomed to utter.

In their rage they seized St. Paul and Silas and dragged them before the magistrates, complaining that they disturbed the public order by teaching unlawful customs to the people.

The Romans had a law which forbade the teaching of any new religion unless it was one of which the government had already approved:

This law St. Paul had certainly broken, that he might obey the higher law of God, but neither he nor his companions had occasioned any disturbance in the city.

The magistrates made no attempt to discover the truth of the complaint made to them, and seeing that the people were angrily resolved on having the offenders punished, they ordered St. Paul and Silas to be beaten.

The Jews, in scourging, were not permitted to inflict more than 39 blows, but the Romans used rods of elm, and gave many more stripes, so that Paul and Silas were all bruised and bleeding from the treatment they had received, when they were led away to prison.

The gaoler had orders to keep them securely, and they were thrust into the close inner prison with their feet fastened in stocks, so that they were prevented from taking any rest.

During the night, the prisoners who were confined in another part of the prison heard voices singing - singing God’s praises from the miserable dungeon.

Suddenly, while the Apostles sang, an earthquake shook the prison to its very foundations, every door burst open, and the bands of every captive were loosed.

The keeper of the prison awoke from sleep, and when he saw what had happened, and that the doors were open, he trembled with fear, for he naturally believed that all the prisoners would have escaped, and knew that his own life would be the forfeit.

Drawing his sword, he was about to kill himself. Death was inevitable, so by his own hand he would die; but in this moment of despair, the voice of St. Paul reached him. “Do thyself no harm,” said the Apostle, “for we are all here.”

Calling for a light, the gaoler entered the dungeon:

Yes, there indeed were his prisoners; and falling down trembling and tearful at their feet, he said, “Masters, what must I do to be saved?

It was given him in that moment to know that the scourged, imprisoned men before him were the servants and messengers of Almighty God.

Believe in the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved and thy house.

That was what they had to tell him; and the gaoler took them out of the dungeon and washed their wounds, and bringing them to his own house, set food before them, and begged for instruction in the Christian faith.

Then, with all his family, this man received the grace of Baptism; and when morning came, a message was brought from the magistrates bidding the gaoler release his prisoners.

But St. Paul said that they would not thus depart:

They had been scourged, they had been thrust into the dungeon without an opportunity of proving their innocence, and he then declared himself a citizen of Rome, requiring the magistrates to make known that they had been wrongfully punished.

The authorities of the city were afraid when the Apostle’s words were repeated to them: To scourge a Roman citizen publicly and uncondemned was a serious offence against Roman law.

So, coming to St. Paul and Silas, they acknowledged they had acted unlawfully and entreated them to depart, which the Apostles did after bidding farewell to their Christian friends in the house of Lydia.

St. Luke, with Timothy, who had not been taken before the magistrates, remained in the city to instruct the Philippian Church more fully.

Travelling onwards many miles, Paul and Silas reached Thessalonica, the city next in importance to Philippi, wherein many Jews were living:

At first they were disposed to listen to the teaching of the Apostles, but hearing that the Gentiles were to be equally partakers with themselves in the privileges and graces offered,

they began to murmur loudly and excite the anger of the people, who cried out that the strange men were proclaiming another to be king - Jesus the Nazarene - in the place of the great Caesar!

The mob went to the house of Jason, where the Apostles were lodging, intending to seize them, but, as they were absent, Jason himself was seized and brought before the magistrates, upon a charge of having such persons at his house.

The magistrates made the Christians of the city and Jason also promise that no further excitement and disturbance should occur, so in the darkness and silence of night St. Paul and Silas had to escape from Thessalonica.

They were not discouraged or daunted by this opposition to the truths they preached, they sought only to obey the command of their Master, Who had hidden them to carry His Gospel to every creature.

Another 50 miles of journeying, and they were at Berea. Here they found more sympathy than they had met with in Thessalonica,

but their persecutors followed them into Berea, seeking to rouse the malice of the unbelieving against the Apostles,

so that those who were Christians and loved St. Paul entreated him to escape, and even went with him down to the sea-shore and saw him safely embarked in a ship sailing for Athens.

Silas and Timothy had remained in Berea to instruct and confirm the faithful there, so the Apostle Paul was alone in the beautiful city of Athens, surrounded by glorious temples and costly statues, and all the marks of civilisation of which it was the centre.

As he observed the gorgeous temples raised in honour of every known pagan god, St. Paul felt a burning desire to preach to the Athenians of the great Father in heaven, and Jesus Christ, His eternal Son.

Going to the Jewish synagogue, he addressed the Jews assembled there, and then went to the large square, called the Agora, in which the market was held.

Here many people were in the habit of meeting to hear and to tell news, and the Apostle had his great, glorious news to utter –

the tidings of a Saviour born into the world, dying for the world, risen from the grave, and ascended to the right hand of God, the Father Almighty

- which were unknown themes to the men of Athens.

A flight of 16 steps led from this Agora to Mars Hill, upon which was built a temple in honour of Mars, god of war.

Here, too, was the great court of justice, called the Areopagus, and the judges were the most learned men of Athens, who tried all matters of government, and pronounced sentence upon criminals. The Stoics and Epicureans led St. Paul here - to the supreme tribunal - that he might speak about his God.