Acts 17:1 – Amphipolis was the capital of the eastern province of Macedonia which was (30 miles) southwest of Philippi, almost surrounded by a bend in the River Strymon. Apollonia (place of Apollo, the Greek sun-god) was a Greek city on the Egnatian Way of Macedonia (28 miles or a days journey) west of Amphipolis, known for its trade.
I. THESSALONICA was the chief capital of Macedonia, situated on the northernmost tip of the Thermaic Gulf. It was capital of the 2nd division of Macedonia and the residence of a Roman governor. At Thessalonica we are in a Greek commercial city and a seaport. It was a “free city,” enjoying a certain autonomy and its own constitution. Thessalonica was populous and wealthy, an invaluable center for the spread of the gospel. It was important as a harbor with a large import and export trade, but also as the principal station on the great Via Egnatia, the highway from the Adriatic to the Hellespont (Asia to Rome).
Here we find a large number of resident Jews and a synagogue. The Thessalonian church was to become strong and flourishing, composed of Gentiles rather than Jews. This we may gather from the tone of the 2 Epistles addressed to them, the absence of quotations from the Old Testament, and the phrase “You turned unto God from idols” (1Thess.1:9; 2:14). These are the earliest of Paul’s Epistles (A.D.52-53), and show us that the apostle was eager to revisit Thessalonica very soon after his enforced departure. He later sent Timothy from Athens to visit the church and confirm the faith of the Christians amid their hardships and persecutions (1Thes.3:2-10). Almost certainly Paul returned there on his 3rd missionary tour (Acts20:1-3), and also during his journey through Macedonia after his 1st captivity (1Tim.1:3).
Acts 17:4-5 speaks of Jason (same as Hebrew Jesus or Joshua), who was a Christian in Thessalonica that opened his home to Paul’s mission team; perhaps the same mentioned in Rom.16:21 as Paul’s “kinsmen” (relative; fellow countrymen). Aristarchus and Secundus were probably converted at this time (19:29; 20:4). Acts 17:6-9 mentions the city’s “rulers” (politarchs), used of “a town-officer, magistrate; a ruler of a city or citizens.” Thessalonica was a “free” city and the citizens could choose their own politarchs. This word used by Luke is supported by inscriptions discovered at Thessalonica which mention Sosipater, Secundus, and Gaius among the politarchs, names occurring as those of Paul’s companions later. Gaius is mentioned with Aristarchus also. The only other mention of this town occurs when Paul writes that Demas had forsaken him and gone there (2Tim.4:10). All these names and references show the power and strategic significance of friendships in team ministry and leadership.
ARISTARCHUS was a Macedonian, among the converts of Thessalonica (17:1-9) who accompanied Paul on the 3rd missionary journey through Asia Minor (20:4). A faithful companion and friend, he was with Paul during the riot at Ephesus (19:29), where he was seized and nearly killed. He left that city accompanying Paul to Greece, then to Asia. Later, he preceded Paul to Troas, and accompanied the apostle to Rome (27:2), where he attended Paul and then shared his imprisonment. In 2 Epistles, written during captivity, Paul refers to Aristarchus as still with him, his fellow-prisoner (Col.4:10; Phile.1:24). According to tradition, Aristarchus was martyred during the persecution of Nero.
The Account of Acts 17:1-9 in 1st & 2nd Thessalonians:
1) PAUL SUPPORTS HIMSELF BY WORK, THE PHILIPPIANS AIDING HIM
(1Thes.2:9; 2Thes.3:6-10; Phil.4:16).
2) PAUL’S FIDELITY IN PREACHING THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM
(1Thes.1:5, 9-10; 2:1-12).
3) THE FAITHFULNESS AND CHARITY OF THE THESSALONIAN CHURCH
(1Thes.1:1-8; 2:13-16, 19-20; 4:9-10).
4) PAUL’S GREAT LOVE FOR THE THESSANONIANS
(1Thes.3:6-13; 2Thes.1:1-6, 11-12; 2:13-17; 3:1-5)
II. Profound Insights on Heart Devotion:
Take a look at 17:4, and notice the emphasis on the “large number of devout Greeks” that were “persuaded, believed and joined” Paul and Silas. This emphasis seems to be a theme throughout Acts that reveals both the power of true devotion and God’s favorable attention and desires towards such a heart. Let’s look through Acts to see the “devout.”
Luke 1st mentions this same word when speaking of Simeon in Lk.2:25, as a “just and devout man.” At Pentecost, there were “devout Jews from every nation” and we know the result of that (Acts 2:25). At Stephen’s burial, “devout men carried him” (8:2); and its believed that some of these were the faithful witnesses that then went forth preaching (vs.4). Cornelius the Italian Centurion and influential Gentile convert was “a devout man that feared God;” and the same is said of his family and even some servants and a specific soldier in his home (10:7). Acts 13:50 seems to serve as a warning, by suggesting that devotion, prominence and ignorance combined may be either susceptible to deception or emotionally led astray. We find here among the Thessalonians, a huge positive response to the message of Jesus Christ, His cross, suffering and resurrection by many “devout” Greeks. In Athens, Paul reasons with “devout persons” in the marketplace daily (17:17). And finally, we learn that Ananias, the disciple that ministered to Paul at his conversion, was “devout…and highly respected” (Acts 9=22:12).
This truth of sincere heart devotion stands in sharp contrast with a religious or hypocritical heart. Scripture is clear that God does not see or judge like we do: “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” -1Sam.16:7. There is a clear distinction between a sincere, unfeigned faith and insincere, religious pride; and there is a great difference in a heart truly desirous and devoted to knowing God and HIS will, and a hypocritical heart that performs, portrays and pretends as a manipulation of people’s opinions to curry favor or get what you want. In other words, “Are you going God’s way when HE goes your way? Going your own way and calling it God’s way? Or going God’s way no matter what?” The first is religious pride, the second is hypocritical, but the third is “devout”…sincere faith and true Christian discipleship.
When it comes to believing God, the religious and hypocritical always complain and argue that there’s not enough proof. However, the truth is that the issue is never the paucity of evidence, nor the veracity of Biblical claims, but the hypocrisy of human hearts…an insincere desire to search for or find truth! It appears that God is attracted to devout hearts, and it would be wise for us to be intentional about ministering to the devout, spiritually hungry, truth seeking people we may come in contact with also.
III. Following Biblical Ministry Examples:
Jesus responded to questions with questions to engage people in the process of seeking and finding truth…real answers. One of the best ways to witness and minister to people effectively is to learn to ask questions and listen intently. By asking questions we can gather important information and be sensitive to discern how to minister to them. It also let’s them do the hard work in the conversation by reversing the burden of proof.
*Some good questions: Really? What do you mean by that? Can you explain that to me? Now why do you think that? How did you come to that conclusion? Why do you believe that? What if…Isn’t it possible that? How do you know that?
Now let’s take a closer look at Paul’s example in Thessalonica. Notice these 6 key insights from Acts 17:1-5 about witnessing or ministering to people (some of following notes are from a R. Newman lecture):
1. Like Paul, our ministry might be more ongoing. He returned 3x to the same place, so you should seek to connect with people and witness on an installment plan.
- Like Paul, we should have some Bible convictions and knowledge.
3. Like Paul, sometimes our witness may be more dialogue than Bible. See the verbs reasoned, explained, proved, persuaded. Use these and questions to discover what and how to share Biblical truths.
- Like Paul, our purpose in sharing should be about Jesus Christ!
Paul’s passion, priority and purpose in ministry was to preach Christ. His witness and work was to bring the revelation of who Jesus is, what He did and what that means for us. The glorious Gospel of God’s Eternal Son…the deepest, most complete and crowning revelation possible of the only-begotten Son is always spoken of by Paul. Paul’s apprehension, comprehension and service of God’s Son was the most complete and fruitful revelation of Jesus Christ in history. As scholars and critics have said, “Paul gave us Jesus Christ!” Jesus is the issue! Make HIM the main thing.
5. Like Paul, our ministry to people might get mixed reviews. Some scoffed, others were interested yet uncommitted, some believed and others rioted violently. Just faithfully sow seeds. If you plant and water, then God will give increase.
6. Like Paul, our witness may be bad news for some before its good news. Jesus death and suffering shows that sin is so bad it needs an extreme solution. The cross makes sin intensely personal. Besides, most people don’t like to accept responsibility, admit when they’re wrong or are in need. Just speak the truth in love, trust the Holy Spirit to work on them, continue to pray for them and look for opportunities to share with them again. Lastly, you may find that our ministry/witness may even cause other believers to be uncomfortable. Nevertheless, let us trust God, not focus on people’s responses, but be faithful with the relationships and opportunities the Lord brings us.
*Note: “It cannot too strongly be stressed that the content of the earliest Christian preaching was not a set of ethical rules, philosophical theories, social programs, or a series of phenomenal events-though it did herald the most outstanding happenings! The distinct content of the earliest Christian preaching may be summed up in 1 word—CHRIST! Now, ‘preaching Christ’ is a pregnant phrase. It is so much more than preaching about Christ (you can preach about Confucius, Socrates, Buddha or Mohammed). But that is not preaching in the New Testament sense. Christian preaching is not just the speaking of words; it’s infinitely more—the communication of the Word. Preaching and witnessing are both a spiritual and supernatural act—‘the transmission of a Person through a person to a group of persons, the Person so conveyed being the everlasting Jesus…Your primary duty lies here: you are to be bearers of the burden of the Lord. You are to carry Christ to the people” (I.Macpherson). Through you, God is to come in Word and Spirit to the world and the hearts of men and women.
Lastly, notice (17:2-3) the apostolic insistence on Messiah’s suffering (His death) and exaltation (His Resurrection) as the 2 basic facts of the Gospel (see Acts 3:18; 23:6; 26:23; Lk.24:26-27,46; 1Cor.15:3-4; 1Pet.1:11). Paul showed that Jesus (1) was born at Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2); (2) was of the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10); (3) was descended from Jesse, and of the royal line of David (Isa. 11:1,10); (4) came at the time predicted (Dan. 9:24-27); and (5) was marked by an appearance, character, and work that corresponded with the O.T. predictions (Isa. 53); and surely taught many other Scriptural examples and fulfilled prophecies like these.
“We preach always Christ & Christ alone, true God & true man.” –Martin Luther
IV. Discussion Questions:
1. Is witnessing to others a point of tension for you? Why do you suppose that is? What are some ways of connecting with others to tell them the gospel?
2. Paul had a “custom” of going to a Synagogue on the Sabbath and discussing Scriptures and ministering/witnessing to others there (vs.2, & Jesus did also, Lk.4:16). Do you have any Christian “customs”…daily, weekly, annual commitments to church, Bible study or ministry to others? What are they?
3. Have you ever read a great book about Jesus, or done an in-depth Bible study about who HE is, what HE did, what the Old Testament says about HIM, or what HIS life, words and redemptive work means to us? If so, share a truth you learned about Jesus Christ that was life-changing:
4. Have you ever experienced the fruit of witnessing or ministry to someone over an extended period of time? What was the situation, how did God work through these times, and what was the resulting fruit?
5. Have you or someone you know ever suffered persecution or encountered difficult opposition because of Christian life, convictions or witness? How?