3 And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 19:3–5, NKJV).
Paul asked these disciples of John a simple, probing, and informative question: “Into what then were you baptized?” Their answer (“into John’s baptism”) gave Paul the opening to explain the prerequisite and outcome of John’s baptism and help them become Christ’s disciples. First, repentance was necessary to receive John’s baptism, without which his baptism “for the remission of sins” was useless (Luke 3:3, 7-8; Matt. 3:5-8). Second, John’s preaching and baptism prepared people to believe on the Messiah (whom Paul tells them is Christ Jesus, Acts 19:4; Luke 3:3-6). John’s baptism served its purpose and ran its course. Convinced that Jesus is the Christ (in whom John prepared them to put their faith), John’s disciples became disciples of Jesus by being “baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (by His authority, Acts 19:5). They were not disciples of Jesus before and until they were baptized in His name. Christ’s baptism remains how believers become disciples of Jesus. Faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, prepares the sinner to repent and be baptized in His name to be saved and become His disciple (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:36-41; 10:48; Gal. 3:26-27).
“For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying; but if there is nothing in these things of which these men accuse me, no one can deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar” (Acts 25:11, NKJV).
Paul had been falsely accused of sedition against Rome and crimes against the Jews and kept imprisoned by an unscrupulous governor (Acts 24:5-6, 22-27). Two years later, he is before another Roman governor (Festus) answering these false charges (Acts 25:7-10). His appeal to Caesar’s court for judgment indicates several things worthy of our consideration and practice. (1) Paul put himself under the authority of civil government. We do not see Paul arguing against the government’s authority to adjudicate disputes of its citizens. Although the government was suppressing his rights (as Felix detained him, hoping for a bribe), Paul did not become violate. Neither should we when those in authority oppress us (1 Pet. 2:14-20). (2) It is right to seek justice from civil authorities. God ordained civil government to address the primary purpose of protecting the innocent and punishing the guilty (Rom. 13:1-4). Paul’s “appeal to Caesar” was the exercise of a legal avenue for justice and protection from the Jews who were trying to kill him (Acts 25:2-3). (3) If we violate the law, we should accept our punishment without objection. Paul was willing to be executed if he “committed anything worthy of death.” If we are guilty of violating the law, we ought to admit it, accept our punishment, and repent of our transgression against the Lord (Rom. 13:4-5). While our citizenship is in heaven, we are to be honorable citizens of society (Phil. 3:20; 2 Cor. 8:21).
16 At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them. 17 But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. Also I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. 18 And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen (2 Timothy 4:16–18, NKJV)!
Paul could have been bitter as he surveyed his situation. He was now aged, and life was nearing its end (Philem. 9; 2 Tim. 4:6). Demas had forsaken him for this present evil age (2 Tim. 4:10). Alexander, the coppersmith, had done him much harm and resisted the gospel Paul taught (2 Tim. 4:14-15). No one stood with him when he defended himself before the Roman authorities (v. 16). But Paul was not weakened in faith. The Lord rescued Paul from inevitable demise (the lion’s mouth). The Lord would certainly deliver him even though death was near. His faith was in the Lord, not people (v. 17). Paul fixed his faith on the everlasting, heavenly kingdom and deliverance from the evils of this world (v. 18; 2 Tim. 4:7-8). Do not become embittered when people let you down, hurt you, and forsake you. The Lord will not fail you (Heb. 13:5-6). Wouldn’t it have been tragic if Paul had become a bitter, cynical old man at the end of his life? His example of steadfast faith continues to strengthen aged ones whose faith is in the Lord.
14 Now for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be burdensome to you; for I do not seek yours, but you. For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children. 15 And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved. But be that as it may, I did not burden you. (2 Corinthians 12:14–16, NKJV)
Paul laid up spiritual treasures for his children in the faith by diligently teaching, admonishing, and equipping the Corinthians Christians to live faithfully. Paul had delayed his plans to return to Corinth, which was all his detractors needed to think and say the worst about him (1 Cor. 16:5-7; 2 Cor. 1:15-18; 2:1). Despite being loved less, he would continue to “spend and be spent” for their souls. Here is a word of exhortation to gospel preachers. Do not be deterred when others criticize you for preaching the word of God (2 Tim. 3:10-12). Do not be distracted when you are assigned improper motives for proclaiming the gospel. Preach God’s word with the urgency that truth and its power to save demands (2 Tim. 4:2; Rom. 1:15-16). Some will not accept the sting of sound doctrine and charge you with wrongdoing when you deliver God’s truth. Some may even lie in wait and try to catch you in something you say (Lk. 11:53-54). They may try to make you the problem. Do not be silenced (2 Tim. 2:9-10). Always be motivated by love for the saints and the lost. Incur the cost (“spend and be spent”), bear the burden, and declare the whole counsel of God without fear or favor (Acts 20:27; 2 Tim. 4:5).
Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry. (2 Timothy 4:11, NKJV)
Paul’s patient love for Mark compels us to ponder the breadth and depth of our love for brethren. Paul had not always considered Mark useful (good and profitable) for the service of the gospel. About 20 years earlier, John Mark had joined Paul and Barnabas on a preaching journey into Gentile regions, only to leave them and return to Jerusalem shortly after it began (Acts 13:4-5, 13). This failure to continue with them caused Paul to insist Mark would not be on his next preaching trip despite disagreeing with Barnabas (Acts 15:36-41). We should note that Paul did not “write off” Barnabas or Mark as unworthy Christians who did not love the Lord. The rest of the story makes this apparent. Paul was associated with Mark during his first Roman imprisonment (AD 60-62), sending greetings from him to the Colossian church and instructing them to welcome Mark if he came to them (Col. 4:10). Now, during his final days of life, Paul asked for Mark. The man he had refused to take with him roughly two decades earlier was now useful for the gospel’s service (2 Tim. 4:11). A great lesson of love’s patient endurance is staring us in the face (1 Cor. 13:4-7). Mark’s faith had matured, and Paul respected that. Paul loved Mark. Indeed, “love suffers long and is kind” as it rejoices in the truth. Love keeps on bearing, believing, hoping, and enduring all things, both in our attitudes and treatment of others. Love did not fail Paul and Mark. It will not fail us, either.
3 I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day, 4 greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy, 5 when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also. (2 Timothy 1:3–5, NKJV)
Tears and joy. Timothy shed tears as his beloved father in the faith was imprisoned in Rome. Death was near (2 Tim. 4:6, 17-18). Would Timothy arrive in time to see Paul one last time (2 Tim. 4:9)? We do not know. Yet, Paul did not dwell on his departure except to say it was near, he was ready, and the Lord would deliver him (2 Tim. 4:6-8, 16-18). He focused on the joy of seeing Timothy’s face again and on the deep faith that sustained his companion, brother, and friend. Comforted by knowing Paul prayed continually for him, we are sure Timothy went to Rome as quickly as possible (2 Tim. 4:9, 21). Life brings times of sadness, pain, loss, and sorrow. Prayers and memories of lives lived faithfully see us through the vale of tears and sustain us with a joy no one can take from us (Jno. 16:22). Remembering the faith of Timothy, Eunice, and Lois comforted Paul. No doubt, Timothy remembered Paul’s pure conscience and faithful service. So it is between fellow-Christians when life fades and eternity’s light grows brighter. Read 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 with tears and joy. “Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy” (Psa. 126:5). As when God restored the captivity of Zion, so it will be when He gathers His faithful ones to glory (Psa. 126:1-4). Tears will be replaced with joy forevermore.
22 Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come— 23 that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles. (Acts 26:22–23, NKJV)
Christ came for the whole world (Jews and Gentiles). The apostles of Jesus testified what Moses and the prophets said would occur concerning the Christ was fulfilled in Jesus. Paul takes note of some primary things Moses and the prophets said about the Christ: 1) He would suffer (read Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53). Peter said of Jesus, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit” (1 Pet. 3:18). 2) He would rise from the dead (read Psalm 16:8-11). The resurrection of Jesus fulfilled this psalm (Acts 2:29-31). Jesus was the first – the beginning of the resurrection of all the dead (1 Cor. 15:20-22). 3) He would proclaim light to Jews and Gentiles (read Isaiah 42:1-7; 49:6). Through His gospel, Jesus lights the way of salvation for every soul on earth (Matt. 28:19; Acts 10:34-35). God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to suffer death for our sins, to be raised to exaltation for our salvation, and to light our way to eternal glory.
3 But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat, and fastened on his hand. 4 So when the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he has escaped the sea, yet justice does not allow to live.” 5 But he shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. 6 However, they were expecting that he would swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had looked for a long time and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god. (Acts 28:3–6, NKJV)
The islanders showed them unusual kindness when Paul and the other 275 souls were shipwrecked on Malta (Acts 27:37; 28:1-2). How they reacted to Paul’s snake bite reminds us how important it is not to jump to conclusions before being adequately informed. Things are not always as they seem. They drew the false conclusion that Paul was evil and divine justice had overtaken him. In truth, bad things happen to good people, and to judge a person blameworthy because of a present trouble is very wrong (cf. Job; Jno. 9:1-3). When Paul did not die they concluded he was a deity. They swung the pendulum too far the other way. Jesus had promised such signs to confirm the gospel when it was preached, and it happened on this occasion (Mk. 16:15-20). When we yield to the temptation to make rash judgments we expose our own folly and shame (Prov. 18:13). Rendering righteous judgments that are guided by truth must be our constant endeavor (Jno. 7:24).
7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:7–9, NKJV)
We miss the point of this passage if we conclude God sent an ailment upon Paul to restrain his arrogance (John 9:1-3). His physical limitation was an opportunity for the grace of God to be magnified. Paul admitted he had been arrogant before his conversion, but also that he had been humbled by the mercy of God he received in Christ (1 Timothy 1:13-17). His thorn in the flesh was an occasion for the power of Christ to be glorified in him. And so, Paul trusted the Lord instead of his wisdom, strength, and accomplishments (Philippians 3:1-11). Most of us will face ailments and illnesses at some point in life. These are chronic for some and short-lived for others. But every one of them is our opportunity to learn to live with our limitations and to be strengthened in the Lord. His grace is sufficient for us to endure life’s temporary trials so we may live eternally with Him (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church. (Acts 20:17, NKJV)
The church in Ephesus was much beloved by the apostle Paul. He had spent three years there, “serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials” (Acts 20:19). The 30-mile journey from Ephesus to Miletus would have involved at least a day of travel each way (probably more), plus the time the elders spent with the apostle. It would mean leaving their families and jobs to go to Miletus to meet Paul. He could have sent them a written message, but it was important for them to have a face-to-face meeting. Naturally, they made the journey to meet Paul without hesitation. In this age of text messaging we are tempted to forget the value of personal contact. Personal interaction establishes relationships, strengthens trust, enhances respect for others, and increases our ability to work well with others. God wants Christians to talk with each other – to teach, to encourage, to warn, to form and to strengthen the bonds of unity and commonality in Christ. We must not isolate ourselves from each other. We must make ourselves accessible to one another and responsive to the communication that is an essential part of our common faith, common hope, and common salvation. By doing so we are better able to help each other serve the Lord faithfully.