Relevant Verses: Acts 15:36-18:10
Leading Question: Can good, Christian people disagree so strongly that they can no longer work together?
1. Some time after their return from their first missionary journey, Paul suggested to Barnabas that they retrace their steps and visit the various churches they had established (Acts 15:36-41). Barnabas wanted to bring his cousin John Mark along. Paul, however, remembering that John Mark had “deserted them” on the first missionary journey, did not think this was a wise decision. The disagreement between these two church leaders was so sharp that they parted company.
Are disagreements between Christians a sign of spiritual immaturity?
Should Paul and Barnabas have been able to work out their differences, or are some differences irreconcilable?
Who do you side with in the disagreement? Why?
We should note that Barnabas, who was one of the first to forgive Paul and welcome him into fellowship despite his violent past, is also the one most willing to forgive John Mark and give him a second chance! Ironically, Paul, who needed that grace from Barnabas, now faults him for extending it to someone else! Do we sometimes behave the same way with God? Do we thank him for his grace to us, but fail to extend that same grace to others?
What was the result of this disagreement? Did Barnabas or Paul try to silence the other? Did they threaten to rescind the other’s credentials?
2. In Acts 16:1-5, we read that Paul had Timothy circumcised.
According to the Jerusalem Council, circumcision wasn’t necessary. So, why did Paul require this of young Timothy? What would be a contemporary application of the principle Paul is using here?
3. Paul and his new traveling companion, Silas, are kept from entering Bithynia to share the gospel. The one who kept them from this gospel proclamation was none other than the Spirit of Jesus (Acts 15:7).
Are there some areas were we should not share the gospel? If so, why? How can we know the places we ought to go? What happens if we share in an area where the Spirit of Jesus does not call us to share?
4. In Philippi, Paul and Silas have rather interesting interactions with Lydia, a slave girl, and a jailer (Acts 16:11-40).
Based on the text of Acts 16, what sort of woman was Lydia? Note the subtle humor of the narrative: Paul and Silas are called, in vision, by a man of Macedonia. However, when they arrive in the region of Macedonia, the first person to welcome them and receive their message was . . . not a man, but a woman.
A second woman who figures prominently in the narrative is a young slave who “had a spirit by which she predicted the future” (Acts 16:16). What she said was true, so why did Paul rebuke her so harshly? Can we tell the truth in such a way that it hurts the cause of God?
Finally, when Paul and Silas are imprisoned, they come in contact with the jailer. How many baptismal studies did this pagan man receive before his baptism? Was his baptism too quick? Should Paul have waited until he had received more complete instruction? How about today? Are baptismal candidates typically over prepared or under prepared?
Are you comfortable with Paul’s answer to the jailer’s question about salvation? Is it really the case that all we need to do is to “Believe in the Lord Jesus” and we, along with all our extended family (“household” in the text) will be saved? Is this too easy?
5. In Acts 17, Paul speaks to Stoic and Epicurean philosophers. In his sermon, he quotes from various pagan writings. Verse 28 includes a quote from Epimenides (approximately 600 BC) and Cleanthes in his Hymn to Zeus!
Should evangelists today still do such things? Would it be acceptable, for example, to quote from the sacred literature of another religion? Is it dangerous to even read such non-Christian sources?
6. Paul then moved on to Corinth, where he stayed for about one and a half years (Acts 18:1-11). While he must have been encouraged by the friendship of Priscilla and Aquilla, he also received direct encouragement from the Lord.
How does God encourage you when you are feeling down? Does God always encourage, or is he sometimes silent in the face of our discouragement? If so, why?