Paul the Practitioner

The Fourth Missionary Journey
Years of Freedom

THE PRISONER SET FREE. The apostle to the Gentiles and the Gospel had reached the center of the world—Luke’s task was finished. What happened when Paul’s case was finally heard? Luke does not say, and the reason may be that it had not been decided when he wrote his fascinating account to Theophilus. Paul anticipated his release from prison when he wrote his letters from Rome.

At the end of two years, if no accusers had arrived and no charges had been sent against him, Paul would be automatically released. Since Paul was commissioned to speak to kings about Christ, we might assume the apostle preached the Gospel to Nero and was found innocent and released. Afterwards, the Emperor became insane. Nero typifies the folly of rejecting Christ.

The rest of Paul’s life, probably five years, is hazy if we discount the legends and late traditions. The evidence is fragmentary from his remaining three letters.

His goal had been to come to Rome and then to resume his missionary journeys by taking the Gospel to Spain (Romans 15:24). Clement of Rome, in his letter to the Corinthians thirty years later, states that Paul “reached the farthest bounds of the West.” The belief that he went to Spain was held firmly by several of the early church fathers.

If Paul reached Spain, he eventually returned to the Mediterranean with Titus in Crete and with Timothy in Ephesus (despite Paul’s earlier conviction that he would never see the elders again). He left Titus in Crete and Timothy in Ephesus.

Paul is the practitioner after his release—doing what he does best—evangelizing and teaching. He travels to new territory to plant churches with the Gospel of God and to old territory to strengthen the established churches with doctrine. Accordingly, he writes three pastoral letters to strengthen and ensure sound in doctrine and practice in his co-workers, Timothy and Titus, as well as in all churches.

In the spring of A.D. 66, Paul and Titus may have traveled to Crete. Whether Luke and Timothy were with them is uncertain. At some point, Paul left Titus on Crete to correct the churches and appoint elders in every town. Clearly, the apostle had tremendous confidence that Titus would exercise appropriately his spiritual gifts of teaching and administration.

CRETE. Off the mainland of the Mediterranean Southeast of Greece is a large island known as Crete. It is 160 miles long and 7 to 35 miles wide. It is dominated by four mountain ranges, but in the eastern half, there are fertile plains and upland basins, which furnish summer pasturage. The island was first settled by Neolithic people. During classical times, Crete was largely a recruiting area for mercenary soldiers, particularly archers. Numerous Jews lived there in the second century B.C.

Crete was conquered by the Romans in 68-66 B.C. and joined with Cyrene as a province. Undoubtedly, Jews from Crete were saved when Peter gave his Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:11) and established churches when they returned. The reputation of Cretans was proverbially depraved; an opinion shared by many of the ancients as well as by Paul:

Even one of their own prophets has said, “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12).

After leaving Titus, it is probable that Paul found his way at last up the Meander and Lycus valleys to enjoy Philemon’s guest room at Colossae—to be served by a delighted Onesimus. In his letters to Timothy and Titus, Paul mentions being at Miletus and reveals his plans to spend a winter at Nicopolis in the Epirus of western Greece.

The picture now is of constant movement rather than settled work. Paul is the propagandist, making the most of his time left on earth. Persecution was about to break out against the Church. In the year A.D. 64, Nero deflected the outrage of his burning of Rome on the Christians. In the famous words of Tacitus, then a child of ten and writing fifty years later:

A vast multitude were not only put to death, but put to death with insult, in that they were either dressed up in the skins of beasts to perish by the worrying of dogs or else put on crosses to be set on fire, and when the daylight failed, to be burned for use of lights by night. Nero had thrown open his gardens for that spectacle, and was giving a circus exhibition mingling with people in a jockey’s dress, or driving in a chariot.

Nero’s household and Praetorian soldiers were now Christians and dying in agony. And the way Christians died was in itself a testimony. Seneca wrote:

I have seen men not only not groan, that is little: not only not complain, that is little: not only not answer back, that too is little; but I have seen them smile, and smile with a good heart.

The horror unleashed by Nero in A.D. 64 on Christianity gives point to Paul’s words written to Timothy:

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

The unsettled times—persecution in Rome left Judea seething with rumors of messiahs and with unrest about to explode in the Great Rebellion of A.D. 66. In this light, Paul wrote to Timothy:

As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work—which is by faith (1 Timothy 1:3-4).

During this troublesome period (A.D. 64-66), he wrote the pastoral letters of First Timothy and Titus to encourage his two troubleshooters to strive for the faith and to keep safe the Gospel that had been entrusted to them.

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