Paul returns to Syrian Antioch

PAUL RETURNS TO SYRIAN ANTIOCH (ACTS 18:18). Quickly the days passed into eighteen months as Paul carefully laid stone upon stone. For the first time, the apostle had the opportunity to establish a vigorous church. We know from his letters to the Corinthians that the church was filled with people eager for the entire Gospel. Corinth was the most Spirit-gifted church in history, yet one of the most immature. It was bound to break Paul’s heart and try his patience in the future. They had been quick to evangelize but slow to mature.

In Corinth, God saved fornicators, perverts, prostitutes, homosexuals, thieves, misers, swindlers, drunkards, extortioners, foul-mouthed slanderers, and of course idolaters. Imagine a Pharisee of Pharisees calling these people brethren. And when they believed the Gospel, they leaped out of their old existence as completely as Paul had leaped out of his. He analyzed for them what happened:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17).

The stories of these converts tore his heartstrings; God’s amazing grace had saved wretches like him. At Corinth, Paul learned what it means to love the unlovable. Hence, he could write:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).

The morality taught by Paul and demonstrated by his converts was in stark contrast to the old, permissive morality of the ancient world. It was unconventional—it showed a love of man irrespective of his background, showed forgiveness instead of resentment for wrong, and joy instead of grim endurance. The church of Corinth had become a beacon shining on the hill—a lighthouse to the world, which passed through its city.

Paul longed to return to home base, Syrian Antioch. He had been greatly encouraged by the Lord and the work of the Spirit; now he would encourage those at home. The spread of the Gospel to the world depended on the whole church remaining enthusiastic to Christ’s commission.

So Paul leaves Corinth with another credential added to his impressive resume—he is a proven pastor. Paul leaves the brothers, Silas and Timothy, and he is accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. The trio will set sail for Syria from Corinth’s port at Cenchrea. They most likely met with the church at Cenchrea (Romans 16:1).

Before they left Cenchrea, Paul or Aquila had his hair cut off because he had taken a vow. It is uncertain who took this vow from the Greek text. Paul was still a Jew and had himself no objection to observing the Jewish ceremonial law on the part of Jews as is made clear later (Acts 21:26). This apparently was a Nazirite vow (usually 30 days). At the conclusion, one cut (or shaved) his hair and burned it with a sacrifice at Jerusalem. The vow was not a matter of salvation but personal devotion to the Lord. It must be remembered this is a period of transition, and it should not surprise us to find Christian Jews still observing Jewish ritual as a matter of choice.

They arrived at Ephesus; it would be a stopover, which would last for three years for Priscilla and Aquila. The couple may have come to look after a business interest in Ephesus or to establish a new one. What happened to Silas and Timothy during this time, we do not know.

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