Acts is a book about the foundation of the church, but it is a book foundational to the church in every generation. In his second volume, Luke invites us into the fellowship of the local church. We hear the preaching of the apostles. We witness baptism. We taste the life together (κοινωνια, Acts 2:42). We hear the prayers of the saints. We see persecution. We celebrate the victory of the Word–the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps something we don’t think about often is that the book of Acts brings us under the ministry and preaching of the Apostle Paul. The New Testament contains 13 letters of Paul. Each of those letters was addressed to the churches he founded and ministered to in Acts. As we join the churches in Acts, we too become recipients of Paul’s exhortation and encouragement in his epistles.
And if there is one thing that is abundantly clear in Acts it is this: The churches absolutely loved, I mean loved, Paul.
The affection of the churches for Paul is on public display in Acts 20-21. It’s a farewell tour of sorts as Paul revisits all of the churches one last time on his way to Jerusalem and the ominous persecution awaiting him there. At his departure from the Ephesian elders, Luke writes: “And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him…” (Acts 20:37). As Paul and his band leave, the word Luke uses (αποσπασθεντας, Acts 21:1) indicates the believers are clinging to Paul so tightly that he has to unsheathe himself from their embrace.
At his next stop, Paul spends just seven days with the families in Tyre, and when they realize that Paul’s journey to Jerusalem will end in certain persecution, they cry out, “Please, don’t go! Don’t go! Please!” (Acts 21:4). Verse 5, Luke tells us: “When our days there were ended, we departed and went on our journey, and they all, with wives and children, accompanied us until we were outside the city. And kneeling down on the beach, we prayed and said farewell to one another” (Acts 21:5-6). Dad, mom, and kids all down on the beach, knees in the sand, praying with Paul and saying goodbye.
The same thing happens in Philip’s home when Paul arrives in Caesarea. He and his Spirit-filled family seek to dissuade Paul from continuing his journey. This is what the Spirit does—knitting the hearts of the churches to Paul and his ministry. Families and churches that love the Gospel love Paul.
Does Your Family Love Paul?
In Acts 21, Luke emphasizes the way families loved Paul. What are you doing to cultivate in your home a deep, abiding love for Paul—his ministry, his letters, and the Gospel he proclaimed? How are you seeking to inspire your husband, your wife, your kids to love the Apostle Paul?
Do we spend time reading his letters to our children? Do we ourselves memorize verses or passages from Paul’s instruction? How often do we revisit the preaching ministry of Paul in Acts or recount his missionary efforts to our families? May Paul’s gentle words to Timothy also be true in our homes:
“You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me…” -2 Timothy 3:10-11
Does Your Church Love Paul?
The reason our churches should love Paul is found in the opening six words of Paul’s first letter in the canon: “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus” (Romans 1:1). Paul poured his life out daily to ensure that we receive and cherish Jesus Christ. Our churches in the 21st century exist because Paul was a servant planting the good news of Jesus Christ across the entire inhabited world in the 1st century.
Consider this: when Paul wrote to the churches from prison, what was his motivation? A desire to be right? A love for controversy and theological argument? A penchant for micro-managing? No, it was the memory of the tear-soaked faces and the sandy knees of the brothers and sisters he had left behind in every city–brothers and sisters he desperately loved. Paul writes to the Philippians, “For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:8).
As we enter the epistles of Paul, we must realize they are written to the churches raised to life in Acts–where the pages bloom with deep, Spirit-wrought love for one another. Paul wrote feverishly, preached faithfully, and prayed fervently that the churches he loved would continue in their pursuit of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Paul’s undying passion was for the churches to “continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister” (Col. 1:23).
How can we not love Paul? If you don’t feel this kind of affection for Paul’s letters, start in Acts. Read about his ministry, his journeys, and his sufferings for the name of Jesus and for the sake of the Church. Realize that in his letters are found the very words of Christ: “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Col. 1:28-29). Because churches that love the Gospel love the Paul who made sure we heard that Gospel.