The Birth of the New Testament (June 14, 2020)
Acts 18: 1-11 and 1 Corinthians 1: 10-13
The Birth of the New Testament
We continue our story of the New Testament by looking today at Paul’s second missionary journey. Paul’s second journey happens between the last part of Acts 15 and the first part of Acts 20. And I think that this is the most important section of the book of Acts. This is the story of the birth of the New Testament; what Paul does on this missionary journey sets the basis for over half the New Testament.
What happens on this missionary journey? It begins by Paul and Barnabas separating. We see that John Mark, who is the author of the Gospel of Mark, had been apparently on the first missionary journey. And at some point he leaves. Paul says he can’t trust him if he’s going to leave at the first sign of a problem. They’re going to face persecution, and can’t trust Mark to endure it. Barnabas wants to give him another chance. And ultimately this conflict leads to them saying that they’re going to have to go separate ways. This is where Mark gets the most screen time if you will in all of Scripture. And obviously we do have Mark probably taking advantage of that second opportunity, because we do have the Gospel of Mark. So we see where Mark begins to get his stuff: from Barnabas.
Also the fact that Barnabas and Mark leave means that Paul needs a new partner. And in Acts 16 the pronouns change. All of the previous text, the pronouns are “they.” So, “the disciples went,” “Paul and Barnabas went,” “they went.” And then, in the middle of Acts 16, it suddenly changes to we. “We went on to this,” “we preached to the gentiles,” etc. The most likely explanation for that is that the author of the book of Acts joins them. In Acts 16 Paul replaces Mark with the author of the book of Acts, who is Luke. The book of Acts is a sequel to the Gospel of Luke. So we now have seen where the Gospel of Mark came from, and also where the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts comes from comes from: the teachings of Barnabas and Paul. We also see Paul convert a young boy by the name of Timothy; and Timothy begins to show up in a lot of these letters, and even has a couple directly written to him. Timothy is one of the main second generation pastors, right along with Mark and Luke and all of them are set up on this missionary journey.
And then we have the churches that Paul forms. The cities that Paul visits on this trip are in western Turkey and northern Greece. The cities include Galacia, Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, and Ephesus. And I want you to pick up your Bible that you might have sitting next to you and look at the table of contents for the New Testament. Paul’s letters are from Romans to Philemon. Now Paul doesn’t found the church in Rome. And we see actually in the letter of Romans Paul saying that he’s going to try and come and visit the church. But look at the rest of these: first and second Corinthians, Corinth founded on this journey; Galatians, Galicia founded on this journey; Ephesians, Ephesus founded on this journey; Philippians, Philippi founded on this journey; Colossians, Colossae is in southwest turkey and was not listed in acts as being founded on this journey but it’s nearby; first and second Thessalonians, Thessalonica founded on this journey; first and second Timothy, Timothy converted on this journey; and then Titus is from Crete and Philemon doesn’t have a location.
When I say that the second missionary journey is the birth of the New Testament, that’s what I mean. Half of the Gospels, the book of Acts, 80%-90% of Paul’s letters all come from here. We see how those churches formed, and we get an understanding perhaps for what causes the problems that the letters are typically addressing. We’re gonna talk about problems in the churches for the remainder of this time. I do want to also point out that Paul also founded the church in Athens on this trip. I would encourage you to read acts 17 if you haven’t yet done so, because Paul in Athens goes and gives an evangelistic sermon that is kind of “how to evangelize 101.” So if you’ve never read that sermon, I would encourage you to go back and read it this week.
Now, I want to focus on the Corinthian church. The Corinthian church is, I think, one of the most important churches in history, in spite of not being as large as the church in Jerusalem or the church in Rome or the church in Antioch or Alexandria. Corinth doesn’t really have their size or a denomination centered around that city like those other cities, but it has the letters of Paul. The Corinthian church is important not because of how it started or because of how large it was, but because of the fact that it had conflict, and more importantly how it navigated that conflict.
Now, the Corinthian church does seem to have extra problems since they have the longest letters that Paul writes. Not all of the other letters to the other churches are full of conflict, but the Corinthian church is full of conflict. And there’s reasons for that, but I think it’s important to know that it seems that the Corinthian church works through their conflict. And we know that because of a few things. Number one, we still have the letters Paul writes. These letters to the church from somewhere else, are not exactly kind words. But they don’t just take the letter and wad it up and throw in the trash; they listen to it. And Paul obviously thinks that the first letter must have done something to ease that conflict, because he believes it fruitful to write a second (and if you believe scholars that first Corinthians is actually a couple of letters mashed together, then Paul actually sent at least three letters sent to Corinth). And Paul thinks it’s fruitful to keep sending them, which means they’re working through the conflict that led to the first ones.
So what kind of conflict were they having and how does Paul lead them to respond? I want to talk about a couple of the conflicts that we actually see impacting the church. First is the one I read today; the second one you have undoubtedly read many times. What we have in the early church are multiple people going around being missionaries and evangelists. We have Paul and Luke going around, we saw the Barnabas and Mark are going around, in the Scripture I read from first Corinthians we see that there’s a guy named Apollos going around, two weeks ago we saw there was a group called the Judaizers that we’re going around, we know that Peter is going around because he winds up the Bishop of Rome which importantly isn’t Jerusalem.
And all of these people are teaching about Jesus. But there’s no Scripture to tell them what Jesus is. Remember Mark and Luke write the Gospels of Mark and Luke are currently disciples learning at the feet of the apostles. (Matthew was believed to be a disciple of Peter. So we have Matthew is Peter‘s teachings; Mark is Barnabas‘s teachings; Luke is Paul’s teachings; and then obviously John is John’s teachings). And you can see the differences there. The gospels don’t exist yet, Paul’s letters are being written so they don’t exist yet. What these people have is the Old Testament, and then they have the stories being passed down by the apostles, and then they have their own spiritual disciplines, their own meditation, their own discernment of what is going on, thier on attempts at following Christ and listening to the Spirit. And it results in slightly different understandings of what the crucifixion means, what being a disciple means, what being a Christian means, and what loving people means.
And we see that the people who joined the church while that particular person is leading the church tend to agree with that person. So we see in first Corinthians here that some people agree with Paul in this group, some agree with Apollos, etc. And there’s a ripping that is beginning to happen. People get caught up in this fight, and I’m assuming they’re not fighting over whether or not Christ was crucified but rather over smaller things, or else Paul would’ve gone off on them. But they dig in and they want to win the fight, because after all they know that they’re right. And they begin to rip apart the church and potentially form a new denomination.
The second conflict I want to talk about is of a similar nature, and that is the conflict dealing with the spiritual gifts, most notably addressed in 1 Corinthians 13. There was a conflict that was happening as people who spoke in tongues were looking down upon everyone else. And Paul responds with these beautiful Scriptures saying “don’t do that. Don’t try and lift yourself up over the rest of the church because you have a certain gift. All these other spiritual gifts matter just as much. If I don’t have love, I have nothing.” In both cases, Paul makes a certain appeal for how to deal with conflict in the church, and I think that can be extended to life and the nation.
In both places, Paul is essentially saying “y’all need some humility.” Paul chastises them for saying “I’m a disciple of Paul,” because he never taught him to be a disciple of Paul. And he’s pretty sure that Apollos never taught them to be a disciple of him, but rather both said “you need to follow Christ.” Paul says “I know what I believe, and I believe my beliefs are correct. They are a product of a lot of discernment. But I’m open to the Spirit teaching me something completely new tomorrow. I am a follower of Christ; I am not a follower of my beliefs.”
None of us are to be followers of Paul, or Peter, or Luther, or Calvin, or Wesley, or even your favorite local pastors you’ve ever had. No, you are to be called a disciple of Christ; as am I. And we’re definitely not a disciple of the smaller beliefs we have on the issues of the day. Paul believes what he believes, but he enters into conversation with humility, recognizing that he might be wrong and ready for the Spirit to lead him in a new path. He certainly does not have the certainty about his belief that we often ascribe to our beliefs.
I believe that humility is needed right now, both in the church and in the country. Humility is needed right now. Church, let us be humble. Citizens, let us be humble. Let us engage in conflict, for there will be conflict. But let us engage in conflict where we both are entering believing that the Spirit will change us. Because when we both enter the conversation believing that the Spirit will change the other one, what results is a conversation where we aren’t listening to each other but rather we are just responding to each other while waiting for the Spirit to just get on with it already. But the Spirit doesn’t get through because we lock it out; we’re not willing to change ourselves, and the result is often division and schism. The result is often pain.
But when we enter into conflict open to the Spirit changing us, it doesn’t mean we come in with any less of a belief but rather that we listen both to the Spirit and to the other person. The conversation goes a little slower, which is good. And what happens is the Spirit moves in the conversation, and it’s likely that the Spirit will change both of us in the midst of that conversation. But we’re going to leave at least closer to an understanding between each other, and both of us closer to what the Spirit actually thinks on that particular question or issue. And the result is that we both leave closer to fighting for what the Kingdom would look like.
We need that on all of our issues in the church and in the country right now. We need that kind of humility; the strength to enter into the tough conversations that we’re going to have. And as we enter into this time where the pain of our brothers and sisters are being brought to the forefront, and as we enter into a political season that is always full of conflict, and as we enter next year into a delayed general conference with the church in conflict; we need to have that humility. Church, let us be humble. Let’s not be followers of one person or one way, but let us be disciples of Christ. And may the Spirit work on us. May God bless you this week. Amen.