Women of Philippi

(Back story alert, again. We’ll get to the women in due time, but still not yet)

Let’s pick the story back up at that place where a funny thing happened on the way to Philippi. Here’s the scenario: Mark was off in Jerusalem, pretty much out of the picture, in Paul’s mind. In fact, that first missions trip together had been a real game changer for Paul in a number of ways. First, there was a subtle shift in his relationship with Barnabas. Whatever happened at Cyprus had established Paul as the leader, and Barnabas must have graciously stepped aside to let this young firebrand mature in his calling. Second, Paul had taken quite a beating…literally. At one point, he’d been left for dead.

But, incredibly, for all the hardships, the suffering, the near misses and dramatic escapes from the jaws of death itself, the spiritual rewards were huge. God had thrown open the doors of salvation to the Gentiles, that’s how Paul had described their experience to the church elder board when they finally returned.

Years went by. There was a big session meeting in Jerusalem, Acts 15, to talk about how to help the Jewish and Gentile Christians find some middle ground so they could worship together, and be in community with each other. Paul and Barnabas, of course, went so they could report on the astonishing ways God had moved in dynamic power to authenticate their message and bring Gentiles to saving faith.

It must have warmed Paul to think of those believers, and his affection, once reawakened, must have turned to a concern for them, and a longing to see how they were doing, give them some good solid teaching to grow on, and help them establish their churches, recognize and pray over their elders, and fellowship with them.

Meanwhile, Barnabas very likely had gone to visit his sister, and her son Mark, while in Jerusalem, probably even stayed with them, for that matter, and that surely rekindled Barnabas’ desire to tutor and coach Mark as an evangelist.

I wonder how long Paul and Barnabas mulled over their trip to Jerusalem, thinking about what God was doing among the Gentiles, and their part in all they had relayed to the session. Luke wrote that some time passed after they’d returned home before Paul approached Barnabas about maybe hitting the road again, visit the believers in each of the towns they’d gone to on that first trip.

Yeah, Acts 15:36-40. That little talk did not go well. Not. At. All.

Paul wanted nothing to do with Mark. “He deserted us in Pamphylia, Barnabas!” Paul was pretty exercised over the whole thing. “I just don’t think it’s wise. He did not continue the work with us.” In my mind’s eye, I see Paul standing obdurate. Barnabas, for some reason, seems like the taller man, quiet, thoughtful, elegant head with a mane of dark hair, looking down at Paul with gentle, kind eyes.

“But, he’s got potential, Paul. I think we need to give him a second chance. I’d like to take him back to Cyprus, encourage him. Give him some confidence.”

I see Paul standing legs apart, arms gesticulating wildly, like the hot-headed Mediterranean man he was. No way, man, no way at all. Not gonna happen. The dispute between Barnabas and Paul was so sharp, it split them up as a team. Paul took Silas, who had come back with them from this latest trip to Jerusalem—it seems, every time they went to Jerusalem, they came back with new apprentices, young disciples who wanted to learn from these two towering heroes of the faith. And, Barnabas did take Mark, who may have already been there, actually, with his uncle.

The really extraordinary thing is, this didn’t divide the whole Antioch church. Somehow, Barnabas and Paul were able to pull off two simultaneous missions trips, and the whole church came out to pray God’s blessing of grace for them both.

Listen. Sincere Christians can disagree without losing love and respect for each other.

Apparently, this time the trip to Cyprus did Mark’s heart good, and through Barnabas’ wise and seasoned guidance, he came into his own as a worker for the Lord.

Meanwhile, Paul and Silas starting collecting partners almost immediately. Early on during his first trip, Paul and Barnabas had spent some time in Lystra, where the Lord healed a lame man through Paul. At this, all the people in that town became terrified and fascinated, and were utterly convinced Paul and Barnabas were gods in human form—think Greek gods. Evidently this was a very familiar story line in Greek mythology.

Whenever you act for Christ, others will react, sometimes in excess.

Paul finally talked the townspeople down off the ledge on that one, but Jews over in near(ish)by Iconium became insanely jealous, stormed over to Lystra and basically led a mob of people to pound Paul into mush, stone him, and leave him for dead. Honestly, if that happened in your town, you’d probably remember that, even years later.

But the really stupendous thing happened afterwards. Acts 14. After the mob got bored and sort of dispersed and went away, some of the new believers gathered around Paul. Luke doesn’t say they prayed, but…they must have. Because, after a while, Paul got up. Okay, slow down, and think about that. Beaten to a pulp, seemingly dead from stoning. Massive internal injuries, blood everywhere, broken bones. He just got up, and walked back into the city, on the down low.

Next day, he and Barnabas very judiciously, quietly, walked on over to Derbe, a good bit farther down the road.

I think what I get from this part of the story is the whole point of saying “risk” is that there’s, well, risk. A risk of faith means you’re willing to take actual risks for the Lord. There could be unexpected, negative, painful results—even wildly off-the-scales consequences. Paul went from being worshiped as a god to being beaten to a pulp in one day. One day! Would he have been able to get up without the community of the brethren coming around him? Hard to say, but the reality is, that’s a good part of why God has given us each other. We take those risks together; thick or thin, people, we’re in it together.

All passages taken from the New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.