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The ripple effect: Erastus

After Jesus’ ascension, the believers spread the gospel around the world in widening ripples.

Daniel N. Balge

Modern pavement often bears the name of the finisher who poured and smoothed the concrete. Before the concrete hardens, a stamp presses a logo and sometimes a date into the still soft surface. Once hardened, the pavement records a bit of history.

Historical records

An old paving stone in Corinth bears a similar mark. There in 1929, archeologist T. L. Shear found a long limestone block into which had been chiseled seven-inch-tall letters spelling out in abbreviated Latin, “Erastus, for his office of city manager, laid this pavement at his own expense.” The inscription sparked a conversation that continues to this day.

That stone is worth talking about. Among the apostle Paul’s fellow Christians in Corinth was a man named Erastus. In his letter to the Romans, Paul included him among those sending greetings to the believers in Rome. He identifies him as “Erastus, who is the city’s director of public works” (16:23).

Archeologists agree that the inscription dates from the first century, but that doesn’t settle the question as to whether the Erastus who proudly paid for pavement in Corinth is the Erastus Paul mentioned. And that is a fair question. Erastus (“Beloved”) was a common Greek name in the Roman world. There might have been more than one public official in first-century Corinth named Erastus.

Moreover, the Greek word Paul uses to describe Erastus’ job does not match precisely the corresponding Latin word carved in Corinthian pavement. The essence of the Greek word is “manager” and involves especially money management. We might call Erastus a “treasurer”; many English translations do. The Latin word implies a higher office with oversight of public buildings and projects. Scholars debate whether the words refer to the same office. It might also mean that Erastus had different offices in his governmental career.

So, should we claim that the man whose name is etched in municipal stone is the same man Paul mentions in Romans? Let our answer settle thoughtfully somewhere close to “possibly.” We can’t prove it; we can’t rule it out.

God’s records

And in the end it doesn’t matter. Our confidence in the Bible does not rest on archeological discoveries. Are these discoveries interesting? Yes. But our faith is not strengthened. Only the gospel can do that. We stand on what we know. For our learning, the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to mention a man of status and responsibility who believed in Jesus. He apparently fell outside Paul’s earlier description of the Corinthian Christians, “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth” (1 Corinthians 1:26).

This Erastus might be the one whose inscription in stone has endured for two thousand years. More significant—and of greater honor—is that his name is inscribed in the Word that will stand forever. But even more important is what we glean about him. Despite worldly success, civic honor, and material wealth, Erastus had become a baptized child of God. God’s Spirit had brought another camel through the eye of the needle.

And that brings us to the most important inscription of all. “Written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27) with his Savior’s blood is the name “Erastus.”


Contributing editor Daniel Balge, a professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. Paul, New Ulm.


This is the final article in a 12-part series on lesser-known New Testament witnesses.


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Author: Daniel N. Balge
Volume 104, Number 4
Issue: April 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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The ripple effect: Lydia

After Jesus’ ascension, the believers spread the gospel around the world in widening ripples.

Daniel N. Balge

It was a vision of a man from Macedonia that prompted Paul to carry the gospel for the first time into Europe (Acts 16:6-10). But it was women who first heard the good news at the apostles’ initial stop of Philippi.

A woman’s saving faith

Paul’s habit in a new city was to begin his outreach in the local synagogue (14:1; 17:2). The synagogue offered a logical point of contact. Paul and his companions met Jews who knew the Old Testament and to whom they could show Jesus was the Messiah God promised. But Philippi apparently didn’t have a synagogue. Ten Jewish men were needed to form a synagogue, and Luke mentions only women (16:13) gathered at a “place of prayer” at the Krenides River, probably outdoors. Paul began with them.

Among them was a businesswoman who dealt in purple cloth. She came from Thyatira. History’s record, though likely incomplete, offers an impressive list of goods manufactured there: pottery, leather products, clothing, woolens, linens, and bronzeware. Thyatirans traded in these things as well as in slaves. The region also produced purple dye, using a labor-intensive process that made anything tinted purple expensive. It was high-end cloth that the businesswoman sold in Philippi.

The businesswoman’s name was Lydia. Luke describes her as “a worshiper of God” (16:14), in other words a devout convert to Judaism. Lydia was a Gentile who had come to faith in the prophecies of a Messiah. Though not obligated to follow all of the Old Testament ceremonial law, Lydia believed in a promised Savior. Paul and his coworkers told her all about him.

“The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message” (16:14). Hearing the gospel, Lydia’s faith refocused on the fulfilment of the Old Testament promises—Jesus. She and members of her household were baptized.

A woman’s generous offer

Out of thanks to Jesus, Lydia extended an invitation to Paul and company: “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my house” (16:15). That invite hints at her success in the purple cloth trade. First, she had a businesswoman’s cordial assertiveness, and here it met success (“she persuaded us”). Second, she owned a house that could indefinitely accommodate four men as guests, besides the members of her household. Her home became a base of operations for outreach in Philippi.

The Holy Spirit blessed this gospel effort. Acts 16:16-40 records the exciting story of the conversion of the warden of Philippi’s jail along with his household. A broader sense of the Spirit’s success one gleans from references Paul makes in his letter to the Philippians. Writing about a decade later from prison in Rome, Paul does not once chide or correct the Philippians for error. Moreover, Paul addresses “all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons” (Philippians 1:1). That sounds like a good-sized group. And he thanks them for a gift of money and for the encouragement of Epaphroditus, the Philippian who had brought it (2:25-30).

That gift was characteristic. The Philippians, alone among the congregations Paul had served, frequently shared their money to help Paul proclaim the gospel (4:15,16). Not a surprise from a congregation whose first member had thankfully insisted, “Come and stay at my house.”


Contributing editor Daniel Balge, a professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. Paul, New Ulm.


This is the 11th article in a 12-part series on lesser-known New Testament witnesses.


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Author: Daniel N. Balge
Volume 104, Number 3
Issue: March 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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The ripple effect: Simon the tanner

After Jesus’ ascension, the believers spread the gospel around the world in widening ripples.

Daniel N. Balge

It was just an address where the apostle Peter was staying. In fact, it was less of an address than a description. An angel shared it with a God-fearing Gentile from Caesarea. The angel told Cornelius, a Roman centurion, “Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea” (Acts 10:5,6).

An unusual address

Joppa was a port city in Judea, about 40 miles south of Caesarea. People looking for Peter in Joppa would look for the house on the coast, but they might have been able to find Simon’s house by its smell. Tanneries were notorious for their stink. That odor hints at what made Simon the tanner’s address significant to gospel outreach.

From Simon’s name we gather that he was Jewish. From his hospitality to Peter we conclude that he was also a Christian. At first glance, Peter’s stay with Simon may appear no different from Paul’s staying with Lydia in Philippi (Acts 16:15) or with Aquila and Priscilla in Corinth (Acts 18:3)—simply an apostle finding necessary and practical support in the work from fellow Christians.

But Peter at Simon’s house was unusual. People avoided tanners. Ancient zoning laws often put tanneries at the edge of town or beyond, at a site dictated by the prevailing winds. A tanner treated animal hides with foul mixtures of animal or human waste or with harsh chemicals. Sometimes what flesh remained on a hide was allowed to rot. It was a hands-on trade, and the stench would permeate the clothes, skin, and house of the tanner.

Jews ordinarily shunned tanners. Tanning was not forbidden in the Old Testament. Leather was used for clothing, packs, saddles, sandals, and tents—including the Tabernacle, for centuries the hub of Israel’s worship life. But dead animals and other features of the work left a tanner dirty, smelly, and often ceremonially unclean. By custom, tanners came to be treated as outcasts from polite society and were pushed to the fringes of Jewish religious life.

A significant stay

So Peter’s stay with Simon the tanner ran against the norm. Peter was obviously not out for personal gain or comfort. Maybe his room had a view of the sea, but it surely had a whiff of the tannery. Peter had found a way to let Simon the tanner, despite his status, help spread the gospel. Most important, Peter’s choice of accommodations helped signal that the gospel is meant for all.

God made that clear. A delegation

of Gentiles came to fetch Peter. They arrived just after the Lord by a vision had directed Peter that it was no longer necessary to keep Jewish dietary laws. God’s Spirit then told him to go back to Caesarea with the delegation from Cornelius. There Peter preached the facts of eternal life to the centurion’s household and baptized them. Jewish Christians, who had come with Peter from Joppa, marveled at the evidence of faith among Cornelius’ household.

Then Peter the Jew stayed a few days at Cornelius the Gentile’s house, another address with something important to say about the good news of Jesus.

Contributing editor Daniel Balge, a professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. Paul, New Ulm.

This is the tenth article in a 12-part series on lesser-known New Testament witnesses.


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Author: Daniel N. Balge
Volume 104, Number 2
Issue: February 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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The ripple effect: Silas

After Jesus’ ascension, believers spread the gospel around the world in widening ripples.

Daniel N. Balge

The leaders of the early Christian church must have thought highly of Silas. They kept choosing him for important work.

We first meet Silas just after the council in Jerusalem settled an important issue for the early church: Must a Christian keep the Old Testament cer-emonial law? Some said yes. Jewish Christians had gone from Judea to Antioch with the argument that circumcision was required for Christian males. They said it this starkly, “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).

It’s hardly a stretch to suppose that other Old Testament regulations were being imposed as well. But Antioch’s pastors, Barnabas and Paul, argued sharply against such teaching. Souls were at stake. To decide the matter, the Antioch community sent a delegation—Paul, Barnabas, and others to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem council

What followed was as important to the church as anything that happened after Pentecost. In the assembly of leaders and other believers, Christians who were Pharisees by background argued, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses” (15:5). Discussion followed, until Peter spoke against adding the ceremonial law to the gospel. He said, “We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that [Jews] are saved, just as [Gentiles] are” (15:11). Barnabas and Paul told of the miracles God had done through them among the Gentiles. James, “the brother of the Lord” and a prominent leader, quoted the prophet Amos as further proof that God intended Gentiles—without the trappings of Old Testament law—to be part of the church. So both Jews and Gentiles were part of the church by faith with or without the Old Test-ament ceremonies.

As “leaders among the believers” in Jerusalem, Silas and Judas Barsabbas were picked to go back to Antioch and “confirm by word of mouth” (15:27) the written decision of the Jerusalem council. In Antioch, Judas and Silas as “prophets”—spokesmen for God—encouraged their fellow believers and then returned to Jerusalem.

With Paul and then Peter

Silas’ next assignment, as recorded in Acts chapters 16–18, was as Paul’s coworker. After Paul and Barnabas disagreed over personnel for Paul’s second missionary journey, they decided to work separately in different regions. Paul chose Silas to travel with him on the second journey. They shared the routine and the risks of that trip. Early at Lystra they added Timothy to their team. For a time, Silas and Timothy worked independently and distant from Paul, as need and danger dictated. Silas evidently had the knack of knowing both how to lead and how to follow.

Silas did not travel again with Paul once this journey reached its end. Yet his service to God’s church was not over. We find him next at the side of another giant, Peter, serving somewhat like a proofreader for Peter’s first epistle. It seems that Peter used him—and God had provided him—to polish Peter’s Spirit-inspired Greek prose. Peter makes clear (1 Peter 5:12) that he had written the letter “with the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother.”

As had Paul. As do we.

Contributing editor Daniel Balge, a professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. Paul, New Ulm.

This is the ninth article in a 12-part series on lesser-known New Testament witnesses.

 


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Author: Daniel N. Balge
Volume 104, Number 1
Issue: January 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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The ripple effect: Rhoda

After Jesus’ ascension, believers spread the gospel around the world in widening ripples.

Daniel N. Balge

Imagine having news so good that no one believes it. That was the predicament of a servant girl named Rhoda.

A bleak future

Rhoda worked in the Jerusalem household of Mary, the mother of John Mark. That household was apparently a hub of activity in the early church. Mark—despite once badly disappointing Paul (Acts 13:13, 15:38)—was “helpful to [him] in [his] ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11). Mark became also a close associate of Peter (1 Peter 5:13) and later wrote the gospel that bears his name. But all that lay in the future. Until Rhoda’s wonderful news, the future looked bleak.

Acts 12:1-5 records that the church had just suffered a terrible blow. James—he, with Peter and John, was once of the inner circle of Jesus’s disciples—had been beheaded by King Herod, the grandson of Herod the Great. Because James’ execution had pleased Jewish enemies of the church, Herod had now imprisoned Peter to await trial. Herod put Peter in maximum security. Four squads of four soldiers each took turns guarding him. Two soldiers guarded the cell door; two were chained to Peter’s wrists. He slept between them. Meanwhile, “the church was earnestly praying to God for him” (12:5).

On the night before Peter’s trial, many of the believers were praying at Mary’s house. Even as they did, their prayers were being answered (12:6-19). An angel appeared in Peter’s cell, forcefully woke him, and commanded him to get up and dress. Peter’s chains fell away. At the angel’s direction he wrapped himself in his cloak and followed the angel past guards and through the main gate. A block from the prison, the angel left him, and Peter found his way to Mary’s home and to the servant girl Rhoda, whose duties included answering the door to the courtyard of Mary’s house.

Amazing news

Peter knocked and said something to Rhoda, enough that she recognized his voice. She was so happy that she forgot to open the door and ran back to tell those praying for Peter, “Peter is at the door!”

“You’re out of your mind,” they replied, rejecting the idea that God would answer their prayer so wonderfully so soon (vv. 14,15).

But she kept insisting and Peter kept knocking, and at last the courtyard door was opened to great celebration. Peter signaled for quiet and told the group to get word of his freedom to the other leaders of the church. Then he changed locations. Herod still wanted to kill him. After a strenuous search for him, Herod executed the guards on whose watch Peter had escaped.

Scripture records nothing further of Rhoda. But let’s not remember her only for leaving Peter at the door. Consider this detail: In the dark of night, through a thick door, in a time of danger to Christians, she recognized Peter’s voice when she was not expecting to hear it. It says something about Rhoda that she knew Peter’s voice that well. That voice had told her—maybe many times—something far better than even her news of his escape. That voice had told her the good news of Jesus. Such joy!

Contributing editor Daniel Balge, a professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. Paul, New Ulm.

This is the eighth article in a 12-part series on lesser-known New Testament witnesses.


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Author: Daniel N. Balge
Volume 103, Number 12
Issue: December 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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The ripple effect: Epaphras

After Jesus’ ascension, believers spread the gospel around the world in widening ripples.

Daniel N. Balge

It is a blessing of sharing the gospel that—by the Holy Spirit’s power—the work produces more workers. What other human endeavor can claim that? Sharing the gospel adds miles and years to the ripple effect that Pentecost set in motion.

The apostle Paul’s work produced many more workers, among them Epaphras of Colossae. We don’t know much about him. The Bible mentions him only three times. But from those few words we get the impression of a man of action.

A slave for the gospel

Under God and as Paul’s representative and colleague, Epaphras founded the Christian congregation in his hometown (Colossians 1:7). We don’t know how this Gentile first heard the gospel, but reasonable speculation puts him in Ephesus (more than 100 miles east of Colossae) during the time of Paul’s residence in that major trade center. Paul spent the better part of three years there. At the very least, Epaphras and his work in Colossae underscore what Luke meant when he wrote that during Paul’s time in Ephesus “all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia [the western third of modern Turkey] heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10). Paul couldn’t get everywhere, but Ephesus was well connected by land and sea to just about everywhere.

Epaphras toiled in a tri-city area—in Colossae of course, but also in Laodicea, 10 miles to the west, and Hierapolis, 13 miles to the northwest (Colossians 4:13). The Greek word summing up his ministry there implies hard work and mighty labor. Epaphras prayed the same way. Paul reported to Epaphras’ Colossian congregation that “he is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured” (4:12). For Epaphras, these prayers for his congregations meant exertion and strain. It’s no surprise then that when Paul calls Epaphras a “fellow servant” (1:7) and a “servant of Christ Jesus” (4:12), the words are strong and emphatic. The Greek means “slave.” Epaphras worked like a slave for the gospel, like Paul himself (Romans 1:1).

An encourager in faith

Epaphras spared no effort for his tri-parish. He traveled some 1,200 miles—a bit less if he made part of his journey by ship—from Colossae to Rome to visit Paul. The apostle was under house arrest and Epaphras’ visit encouraged him (Colossians 1:8). But that was not the main reason Epaphras had come. He was there for advice and instruction on how to deal with false teachings that threatened his congregations.

Paul’s letter to the Colossians addresses those problems, though without labeling the heresies. It’s from Paul’s answers that we deduce the questions disturbing the faith of these fairly new Christians. The issues were mostly familiar, local recipes of doctrinal poison that had hurt other young congregations: confusion of law and gospel, misunderstanding about who Jesus is, and claims of a better knowledge than the foolishness of the pure good news. Paul also needed to condemn the worship of angels (2:18).

Paul’s letter went back to Colossae ahead of Epaphras. Epaphras sent greetings with it (4:12) and lingered for a time as Paul’s “fellow prisoner” (Philemon 23). Apparently there was work for him in Rome too.

Contributing editor Daniel Balge, a professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. Paul, New Ulm.

This is the seventh article in a 12-part series on lesser-known New Testament witnesses.


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Author: Daniel N. Balge
Volume 103, Number 11
Issue: November 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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The ripple effect: Onesimus and Philemon

After Jesus’ ascension believers spread the gospel around the world in widening ripples.

Daniel N. Balge

The ripple effect of Pentecost meant that the gospel spread not only across land and sea to Jew and Gentile but also up and down within society. Soon the good news of Jesus converted an Ethiopian government official; reached a businesswoman in Philippi; touched a centurion in Caesarea and elite soldiers in Rome; instructed Jewish craftsmen like Apollos (tentmaker) and Simon (tanner); and brought both Zenas, a lawyer, and Dionysius, a member of Athens’ court, to faith. Jailers and sailors heard God’s truth.

The slave-master relationship

So did slaves and masters. This is not surprising, since about a third of the people in the Roman Empire of Paul’s day were slaves. Enough slaves and masters became followers of Jesus that Paul addressed the slave-master relationship in his letter to the Ephesians (6:5-9).

This was not an endorsement of slavery but an application of Christian living to a reality of the Roman Empire. When Paul had written to the Galatian Christians that under Christ, “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (3:28), he did not do away with slavery. He dealt with the facts as he met them. Within the Christian church there were still slaves and masters, just as there were still men and women and people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Paul’s point was that such human distinctions of sex, race, or status meant nothing before God.

Moreover, the circumstances of slavery under Rome could be different from what we commonly think. Roman slavery was not race-based. Slaves were not kidnapped into servitude, though peoples conquered by Rome’s legions were sometimes used as slaves. Similarly, some slaves were prisoners of war. Others were convicts. Still others went into slavery to pay off debt, essentially mortgaging their time, skills, and strength. There were both privately and publicly owned slaves. The latter worked for the state. Slaves might do hard labor, practice trades, or be clerks and record keepers. By law slaves had some rights. They could earn money, acquire property, and buy their freedom, even become citizens. Still, on average their life was harder and shorter.

Christ’s love for slaves and masters

Against that backdrop Paul asked a favor of a Christian slaveholder, Philemon. Paul appealed to Philemon to take back a runaway slave, Onesimus, who had become a believer while on the run. “Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains . . . welcome him as you would welcome me” (Philemon 8-10,17).

Paul asked a favor, confident of Philemon’s love for him. Let’s share Paul’s confidence. It rested ultimately on Christ’s love—a love that Onesimus would reflect as he worked faithfully in Philemon’s household, a love that Philemon would reflect in forgiving Onesimus and treating him kindly, a love that—they all knew—caused Jesus to die to set both slave and master free.

Contributing editor Daniel Balge, a professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. Paul, New Ulm.

This is the sixth article in a 12-part series on lesser-known New Testament witnesses.


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Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

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Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

Author: Daniel N. Balge
Volume 103, Number 10
Issue: October 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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The Ripple Effect: Manaen

After Jesus’ ascension, believers spread the gospel around the world in widening ripples.

Daniel N. Balge

Antioch in Syria felt the ripple effect of Pentecost. Christians fled the persecution in Jerusalem, came to Antioch, and shared the good news of Jesus. Soon a church was prospering.

The commissioning of workers

The growing congregation sent Paul (Saul) and Barnabas as missionaries to the Gentiles. At that commissioning service, leaders of the Antioch church laid hands of blessing on them. These leaders included a man named Manaen (Greek for the Hebrew Menachem).

It was fitting that Manaen participate. Luke tells us, “In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:1-3).

Aspects of Paul and Barnabas’ commissioning are still part of the installation of a teacher, staff minister, or pastor, and the commissioning of a missionary. Prayer, blessing, and the laying on of hands mark the occasion then and now.

An unlikely church leader

Manaen was part of the service. What’s startling is his connection to Herod the tetrarch. The phrase “brought up with” reflects the essential meaning of Luke’s Greek word describing Manaen’s role in Herod’s life. The word implies that Manaen had been from boyhood nurtured and educated alongside the tetrarch, who was known also as Herod Antipas. The word suggests “childhood friend” and even “foster-brother,” someone bonded to Herod by early shared experiences, though by this time Herod was dead or in exile.

Herod the tetrarch (literally, “quarter-ruler”) had governed only a fourth of his father Herod the Great’s kingdom—just Galilee and Perea. In that role he ordered the beheading of John the Baptist to keep a careless promise (Mark 6:14-29). While on a Passover visit to Jerusalem, Manaen’s old friend had briefly held custody of Jesus, a Galilean, on Good Friday. When Jesus refused to perform tricks for him or even speak to him, the tetrarch made fun of Jesus and sent him back to Pontius Pilate (Luke 23:6-12). Herod the tetrarch kept up a family tradition of gross wickedness. Lurid stains of intrigue, incest, murder, and general viciousness splash across the story of several generations of the Herodian family.

If ever there was a man in a position to live up to Jesus’ instruction to his disciples to “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16), it was Manaen. Amid the Herods, he likely gained the benefit of a first-class education, found deep insight into how the Roman world worked, and lost all illusions about the evil of the human heart. His Hebrew name hints at a familiarity, perhaps a strong one, with the Old Testament. And he had come to faith in Jesus as his Savior from sin. Then all else in his background combined to serve the gospel and make him a respected leader among the Christians in Antioch.

Amazing, isn’t it, the people God uses in his church? People like Manaen. People like us.

Contributing editor Daniel Balge, a professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. Paul, New Ulm.

This is the fifth article in a 12-part series on lesser-known New Testament witnesses.


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Author: Daniel N. Balge
Volume 103, Number 9
Issue: September 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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The ripple effect: Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus

After Jesus’ ascension, believers spread the gospel around the world in widening ripples.

Daniel N. Balge

Ancient Ephesus thrived as a commercial hub for successive empires—Persian, Greek, and Roman—for three reasons: location, location, location. Several busy Asian trade routes reached their end at Ephesus (on the western coast of today’s Turkey). Ephesus’ port then provided easy access to a web of sea lanes that fanned to southern Europe and North Africa. While the apostle Paul lived and worked three years there, he knew well the city’s bustling Square Market, newly renovated by Caesar’s decree. The market stretched some 120 yards on each side, edged by graceful pillars and rimmed by stalls and shops. Everything about Ephesus said, “Open for business.”

A profitable exchange

Yet for all the goods ever traded in that great city—all the grain, wine, olive oil, pottery, precious metals, all the glass going east and the silk coming west, all that camels could carry and ships could haul—there was never a more profitable exchange at Ephesus than the one made between Paul and the Corinthian Christians. They swapped letters in about A.D. 55. What a bargain for the Corinthians! Those struggling Christians traded hard questions about difficult problems for good and enduring answers.

Three men from Corinth, Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, apparently enabled this exchange. Circumstantial evidence within Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians points to them as the bearers of “the matters you [Corinthians] wrote about” (7:1). Paul happily noted, “They have supplied what was lacking from you. For they refreshed my spirit and yours also” (16:17,18).

In other words, the three added nuance and clarification to what the Corinthians had written about their difficulties. They filled in what Paul could not read between the lines of the letter from Corinth. Then the three carried Paul’s letter back to Corinth (16:12), words inspired by God’s Spirit and preserved by him to this day.

Important message-bearers

Who were Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus? The first name is Greek; the second two, Latin, but that tells us little, other than that they were probably Gentiles, like nearly all Corinthians. We know a bit more about Stephanas: his household had been baptized by Paul (1:16). They were the first converts to the faith in Achaia (16:15). Stephanas and his family had thereafter devoted themselves to service.

We don’t know whether the three Corinthians walked to Ephesus, a journey of about 900 miles, or spent a week or more crossing the Aegean Sea by ship. We can’t even tell whether the trip to Ephesus was a specially commissioned assignment or a regular part of other responsibilities that brought them to the area anyway.

But this we know: Out of love for Jesus they served God and people well in a humble, but vital, task. They reliably carried two letters and linked a pastor to his people. Thus in his letter Paul could speak timely words to urgent problems and timeless truth.

By the rippling power of Pentecost, Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus had come to faith and had taken their places among Jesus’ “witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). For the words they spoke to Paul, for the miles they walked or sailed, and for the deliveries they made, the apostle wrote, “Such men deserve recognition” (16:18).

Contributing editor Daniel Balge, a professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. Paul, New Ulm.

This is the fourth article in a 12-part series on lesser-known New Testament witnesses.

 

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Author: Daniel N. Balge
Volume 103, Number 8
Issue: August 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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The ripple effect: Lois and Eunice

After Jesus’ ascension, believers spread the gospel around the world in widening ripples.

Daniel N. Balge

As the power of Pentecost rippled across Rome’s empire, not everyone who came to know Jesus as Savior was new to the faith. Some of those learning about Jesus for the first time already had faith in the true God. The Holy Spirit had already created their faith in God’s forgiveness through God’s promises in the Old Testament. So they weren’t strictly converts, but they did learn the news that Jesus had come and was the Messiah promised by the prophets.

A son’s strong faith

Such longtime and now better informed believers included a Jewish woman named Lois, her daughter Eunice, and Eunice’s son Timothy. The apostle Paul met them in Lystra in Asia Minor (modern Turkey), probably on his first missionary journey and certainly on his second.

That first visit (Acts 14:6-20) had been tumultuous. Because Paul healed a crippled man there, he and coworker Barnabas were mistaken for Greek gods. Soon hostile Jews from earlier stops on the first journey reached Lystra and incited locals to stone Paul. So thorough was the assault, that these Lystrans pronounced Paul dead and dumped his body outside the town. But after a group of believers gathered around Paul, he revived and returned to Lystra. The next day he and Barnabas moved on to Derbe.

Timothy may have been in that circle of Lystran believers. Paul’s second letter to Timothy hints at that (3:11). What is certain is that, when Paul returned to Lystra (Acts 16:1-5) on his second journey, this time with Silas, Timothy was described as a “disciple.” He was so well regarded by local Christians and so impressive to Paul and Silas, that Paul took him along on this journey and the next as a coworker.

Indeed Timothy was at Paul’s side in good times and bad. He sometimes served also as an extension of Paul’s ministry, going ahead of him to Macedonia or taking up work where Paul could not be (Corinth, Thessalonica, Ephesus, and likely Philippi). Whether with him or not, Timothy was always close to Paul’s heart. Paul loved him like a son (1 Timothy 1:18; Philippians 2:22) and longed to see him again as Paul was finishing his race in a cold jail cell (2 Timothy 4:7,9).

A mother’s example

And what had made Timothy such an asset to Paul and to the gospel? Paul knew: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5). Because Timothy’s father was a Greek, apparently not a believer, it had fallen to Lois and Eunice to train this child in the way he should go. Because of their efforts, blessed by the Holy Spirit, Timothy had “from infancy . . . known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).

No one in ministry ever has had the mentor and model that Timothy had in Paul. But even that unparalleled example only built on what Timothy heard first from his mother’s lips as he sat on his grandma’s lap.

Contributing editor Daniel Balge, a professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. Paul, New Ulm.

This is the third article in a 12-part series on lesser-known New Testament witnesses.

 

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Author: Daniel N. Balge
Volume 103, Number 7
Issue: July 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Ripples: Barnabas

After Jesus’ ascension, believers spread the gospel around the world in widening ripples.

Daniel N. Balge

“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare’s Juliet asked her Romeo. A name doesn’t matter much, she said.

What’s in a nickname? Actually, quite a bit. A nickname can tell you a lot, maybe more than a name. A nickname tends to stick because it often picks out a distinctive feature or dwells on a prominent aspect of personality.

Consider a nickname Jesus’ apostles gave a man named Joseph, a Jewish Levite from Cyprus. The apostles nicknamed him “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36). We might have said, “Mr. Encouragement” or with a nod to his given name: “Joe Encouragement.” We know Joseph’s nickname better in Aramaic, “Barnabas.” It stuck. We remember Barnabas better than Joseph as Paul’s companion on his first missionary journey.

We first meet Barnabas as encouragement in action. He sold a field and gave the proceeds for the work of the church (Acts 4:37). Later the leaders of the church in Jerusalem thought so much of Barnabas that they sent him alone to Syrian Antioch (Acts 11:19-24), one of the Roman empire’s great cities. So many had come to faith there, but they lacked a called leader. Luke, the inspired author of Acts, sums up the impact Barnabas made: “When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord” (Acts 11:23,24). Barnabas reacted well to his call to go to Antioch.

In that we see the Holy Spirit’s work in him. What the apostles had spotted in “son of encouragement” was amplified by the Spirit’s power. Yes, Barnabas brought good gifts, but what made him effective was the faith God gave him. Barnabas was “a good man,” a comment less on his God-given competence for the ministry entrusted to him. God’s Spirit had equipped him for this work, called him to it, and blessed it.

Soon Barnabas saw work enough for two in Antioch and went to Tarsus to fetch the former persecutor Saul—soon to be Paul. Barnabas had previously been Saul’s sponsor in a meeting in Jerusalem with Peter and James (Acts 9:26,27; Galatians 1:18,19). After that Saul had spent perhaps eight years in his native city, Tarsus, not, as far as we know, in formal called service, but awaiting God’s direction.

Now in effect Barnabas activated the ministry God had foretold for Saul (Acts 9:15) by bringing him the Holy Spirit’s call to Antioch. Together, apparently with son of encouragement as leader, Barnabas and Saul spent a year in Antioch, preaching and teaching Christ to “great numbers of people” (Acts 11:26). Soon Antioch believers were gathering an offering for famine relief in Jerusalem. Eventually the city became the jump-off point for Paul’s three missionary journeys. Barnabas joined Paul on that first journey.

Antioch was also the first place where believers were called Christians (Acts 11:26), in essence a nickname that tells you a lot about them—and about their pastors. And this nickname, God be praised, has stuck.

Contributing editor Daniel Balge, a professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. Paul, New Ulm.

This is the second article in a 12-part series on lesser-known New Testament witnesses.

 

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Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

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Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

Author: Daniel N. Balge
Volume 103, Number 6
Issue: June 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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