Paul's Path Through Greece

Paul has been imprisoned, threatened with stoning, and thrown out of three Macedonian cities—yet he has had an extraordinarily successful mission to build churches that have flourished for so many years. But the Macedonian mission is over—at least for now.

Paul in Athens (Acts 17:16-34)

Paul now flies to the Roman province of Achaia, what we call Greece, escaping Berea from the schemes of the Jews of Thessalonica. "The men who escorted Paul brought him to Athens and then left with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible." (Acts 17:15)

Athens was the most powerful city in all of the Greek city states. It is the core of the arts, learning, and philosophy and carries the legacy of the classical period. It is the home of the Academy of Plato and the Lyceum of Aristotle, the cradle of Western civilization and democracy's birthplace. But it is well past its prime by the time Paul visits Athens. Under the Caesars, Greece's trade and political base had moved to Corinth, 52 miles (84 kilometres) west of Athens.

The second missionary journey of Paul is recorded in Acts 15:36—18:22. Paul proposed that he and Barnabas revisit the churches that they had planted before. The disagreement then emerged about whether or not John Mark should ride with the disciples on their second trip. Barnabas decided to take Mark to Cyprus while Paul decided to take Silas to Turkey. Acts 15:37–41

The three men continued to improve their faith in these churches, and the number of new believers increased daily. To spread the gospel there, Paul, Silas, and Timothy wished to reach Asia, but the Holy Spirit prevented them. Paul finally had a vision in Troas of a man telling them to go to Macedonia (modern-day Greece). ( 16:1-10 Acts).

After arriving at Troas, Paul, Silas, and Timothy left and came to the town of Philippi. Lydia, a wealthy merchant, opened her heart to the gospel and her home to become a meeting place for the Philippi church. Later on, an incident of Paul casting a demon out of a slave girl was thrown into a city of magistrates, who then took Paul and Silas into the court for what they did. Paul and Silas were violently thrown into a prison, but they managed to worship the Lord from their cells. That night, God triggered an earthquake to unexpectedly free all the inmates, but nobody escaped from jail. This allowed Paul to share the gospel with one of the jailers, who was also baptized. The Magistrates had released Paul, but because he was indignant at the way he had been wronged, he refused to leave without public apology. After this event, Paul, Silas, and Timothy got money help from the new church in Philippi and travelled to Thessalonica. (16:11–40).

Paul preached and some Jews believed in the synagogue in Thessalonica, as well as many Greeks, including some of the leading women. Unfortunately, a hostile mob was created by non-believing Jews, so Paul and Silas had to flee to Berea at night. First Thessalonians 3:2-6 tells how Timothy spent time in Thessalonica in their faith to create and exhort the new believers and how he later came to Paul with an encouraging update on the state of their walk with God. (17:1-10 Acts).

In Berea, Paul shared the gospel one more time in the synagogue. The Bereans listened closely to what Paul's teaching and studied their scripture to ensure that what Paul said was valid. A significant number of people believed the gospel message in Berea. Unfortunately, the non-believing Jews arrived in Berea to disturb Paul's campaign, so Timothy and Silas followed Paul to Athens alone. (NIV Acts 17:11–15).

He preached in both the synagogue and the marketplace when Paul entered Athens. In order to appeal to the Athenians, he used references to their own "unknown god" and quoted the Greek poet Aratus 'Phaenomena. Some Athenians believed, others ridiculed, and some were only interested in intellectual stimuli, so Paul went on to Corinth. First Corinthians 2:3 shows that after the repeated persecution he had suffered in the previous cities, Paul arrived in Corinth "in weakness and in fear and much trembling" (Acts 17:16-34).

In Corinth, Paul met Aquila and Priscilla, fellow Jews and tentmakers, and decided to stay and work with them. By teaching in the synagogue, Paul started his year and a half ministry at Corinth and was soon joined by Silas and Timothy. Unfortunately, Paul was opposed and reviled by the Corinthian Jews, so he turned his attention to the Gentiles. Many of the Corinthian Gentiles were believers and baptized. Paul also wrote Thessalonians 1 and 2 during his time in Corinth to help the Thessalonians believers in the persecution they suffered and to teach them to live correctly. Paul also had another vision from God that inspired him, facing potential difficulties, to continue preaching the gospel. The Jews placed Paul before Gallio, the proconsul, after this vision, alleging that he was teaching adoration contrary to the law. Without Paul even having to say a word in his own defense, Gallio declined to hear the argument. So Paul started with "many days longer" in Corinth (Acts 18:18). (18:1-18 Acts).

Before departing for Antioch, Paul got his hair cut in Cenchreae to fulfill a promise he had taken to the Lord. Priscilla and Aquila and accompanied Paul to Ephesus where they shared the gospel. The Ephesians wanted Paul to accept their hospitality but he would not. Paul stayed in Ephesus, while Priscilla and Aquila went to Caesarea. He then made his way to his hometown church in Antioch in Syria and shared his new found faith experiences. (18:18-22).

The believers will learn a few lessons from the second missionary journey of Paul. We see that God can bring positive results right out of a "sharp disagreement" (Acts 15:39); Barnabas and Paul broke up and went in separate directions, indicating that the Gospel was spread in new ways. Paul chose Timothy to be circumcised in Lystra, even though circumcision is not a prerequisite of salvation. Through this act, Paul exemplifies the importance of showing deference to the culture in which we are seeking to share the Gospel.

Paul, Silas, and Timothy had listened to the Holy Spirit and had only gone where He had allowed, setting an example for us to be so reliant on the guidance of God in our lives. Lydia and Priscilla are women who both played a crucial role in the growth of the church in the cities in which they served, demonstrating that God loves women and needs them to help them flourish in His kingdom. Paul and Silas vowed to worship God even from their Philippi prison cell after a serious beating, and God released them with a supernatural earthquake. These events prove that it is possible to worship God even in our difficult times, and God honors that "sacrifice of praise" (Hebrews 13:15). The Bereans example demonstrates how necessary it is to study the Scriptures in order to determine whether a teaching is valid.

Paul's use of culturally specific references in Athens demonstrates how important it is to know our audience while spreading the Gospel. Paul's inspiring vision in Corinth before the Jews placed him before the proconsul reveals how compassionate our God is to offer encouragement at the right time. And finally, Paul's return to Antioch reveals how necessary it is to continue to bear witness to God's work in our lives to those who have cared for and helped us.