Paul, Conflict and Boredom

As members of my congregation know I’ve been working through Acts. Partially for that reason this animated motion picture caught my eye. I really hadn’t thought of the Paul story and the Jerusalem collection from this perspective before. I was suspicious, partly because of how the story is “tarted up” with comments like “never before told” as well as cameo appearances by some scholars who like to be Biblical Shock-Jocks. So I turned to someone conveniently unavailable to take part in the project, FF Bruce and his book on Paul.  

Bruce has a nice section on “the collection” and fleshes out what it would mean for Paul.

The members of the Jerusalem church are the “saints” par ex-cellence, being at once the faithful remnant of Israel and the nucleus of the people of God in the new age. If Gentile believers can also be called “saints”, it is because they have become “fellow citizens with the saints” of Jewish stock and with them “members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2: 19). The solidarity of Jewish and Gentile Christianity, in particular the strengthening of fellowship between the church of Jerusalem and the Gentile mission, was a major concern of Paul’s, and his organization of the relief fund was in large measure designed to promote this end. He knew that many members of the Jerusalem church looked with great suspicion on the independent direction taken by his Gentile mission: indeed, his mission-field was repeatedly invaded by men from Judaea who tried in one way or another to undermine his authority and impose the authority of Jerusalem. But in denouncing them Paul was careful not to give the impression that he was criticizing the church of Jerusalem or its leaders. On the other hand, many of his Gentile converts would be impatient of the idea that they were in any way indebted to the church of Jerusalem. Paul was anxious that they should recognize their substantial indebtedness to Jerusalem. He himself had never been a member of the Jerusalem church and denied emphatically that he derived his gospel or his commission from that church, yet in his eyes that church, as the mother-church of the people of God, occupied a unique place in the Christian order. If he himself were cut off from fellowship with the Jerusalem church, his apostolic activity, he felt, would be futile. p. 321

There was, moreover, an intensely personal element in Paul’s concern for this relief fund. The Gentile delegates were to bring their offerings to Jerusalem, but the Gentile delegates themselves were Paul’s own offering, presented not so much to the mother-church as to the Lord who, many years before, had called Paul to be his apostle to the Gentiles. A major phase of Paul’s apostleship had now come to an end; before he embarked on a new phase he would render an account of his stewardship thus far. He looked on his stewardship as a “priestly service” and desired that “the offering of the Gentiles”, the fruit of that service which he was about to “seal” in Jerusalem, might be “acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15: 16). There were those who stigmatiz¬ed his Gentile converts as unclean because they were uncircum¬cised and therefore excluded from the people of God; Paul knew that their hearts had been purified by faith, that they had been washed, sanctified and justified “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6: 11). They were thus fitted to be a “pure offering” to that God whose name, through the Gentile mission, had now become “great among the nations”, as another Hebrew prophet had put it (Malachi 1: 11).

Paul had no thought of presenting this offering anywhere but in Jerusalem. To Jerusalem, then, he took a representative group of his Gentile converts. It may even have been in his mind to render the account of his apostolic stewardship and re-dedicate himself for the next phase of his ministry in those very temple precincts where, years before, the Lord had appeared to him in a vision and sent him “far away to the Gentiles” (Acts 22: 21).’ His converts could not accompany him into the temple, but there in spirit he could consummate “the offering of the Gentiles” who had believed through his witness hitherto, and seek grace and strength for the future. p. 323

Acts 20

In Acts 20 we find Paul wrapping up his missionary work in Ephesus after the furry over the silver smiths has settled down. He has collected not only the offering to assist the Jerusalem church but also his “letters of recommendation”, willing men who now travel with him who Paul may present in Jerusalem as the fruit of his labor. Gentiles who personify the harvest of the nations foretold by the prophets. Another plot by “the Jews” who wish to kill him emerges and he decides to travel through Asia. He sailed from Philippi to Troas where he stayed for seven days.

The First Recorded Sunday Service

There is an old joke about the little boy who heard about the men who died “in the service” and wondered if it was the morning or the evening service. Here we have in Acts 20 an account of Paul meeting together with the church at Troas, preaching a long time, into the night and the “lad” Eutychus or “Lucky” falling asleep and out the window. This is the first record of Christians using the first day of the week for “breaking bread” and teaching. The answer to the question is “the boy died in the evening service”.

Paul raises the boy to life, echoing Peter’s work, Jesus’ work, Elisha and Elijah’s work. Paul then goes back to the service, has a meal with them and stays at it until dawn.

Juxtaposition

Here we find Paul urgently trying to fit everything in that he believes the Christians at Troas need to know (and who am I to disagree with him), while either the slave or the young boy fell asleep. Is this also an echo of Jesus praying and his disciples sleeping in the garden?

What’s startling to me is how the resurrection sneaks up on everyone, as did the calamity. Will Willimon in his Acts commentary/sermon talks about how calamities sneak up on us like this tragedy. It is fascinating that the resuscitation of the lad comes equally stealthily, and in the middle, not at the end, of Paul’s breathless, determined work.

It is also interesting that nothing of what Paul said is recorded. What is remembered (naturally) is the incident with the boy. This is after Luke has done a lot of highlight skimming through long periods of Paul’s life. This part of Acts is kind of Paul’s greatest hits. Now nothing of the sermon is recorded or remembered, except the one act of comfort (20:12) for the church.

“Do Not Be Alarmed For His Psyche/Life is Still In Him”

I think in some ways the story is a parable of the church.

The church in Paul’s time is a mess and Paul’s work while in Luke’s telling is fabulously fruitful a close reading of the rest of Paul reveals a degree of anxiety. Paul is running the race to win but the church doesn’t look like much of an athlete. The church looks more like a lad who falls asleep in church. Paul is breathlessly laboring to help the church become what he thinks it should become, but the church is by no means unified.

In the midst of this storm Eutychus or “Lucky” is a sign from God that he is with his sleeping church. The church is a child, not able to manage itself. Not able to know what is important. Not able to even stay awake and pray. The church, however, is God’s child and there is still life in it.

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
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