That very night the believers sent Paul and Silas off to Beroea; and when they arrived, they went to the Jewish synagogue. These Jews were more receptive than those in Thessalonica, for they welcomed the message very eagerly and examined the scriptures every day to see whether these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, including not a few Greek women and men of high standing. But when the Jews of Thessalonica learned that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Beroea as well, they came there too, to stir up and incite the crowds. Then the believers immediately sent Paul away to the coast, but Silas and Timothy remained behind. Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and after receiving instructions to have Silas and Timothy join him as soon as possible, they left him.
Reading through these chapters in Acts I am struck by a driving sense of urgency in Paul’s endeavour. The output, energy and raw effectiveness of his work is phenomenal. His accomplishments are pretty much unparalleled …. and yet, I wonder if between the lines of this story there lies a hint of a less familiar commentary on his approach. Luke tells us that, having got wind of Paul’s successful high-speed evangelism in Beroea, the Thessalonican Jews turn up to disrupt him again. Consequently Paul is removed from the scene, hastily, but Silas and Timothy remain. Maybe this was for purely practical reasons of travelling light, or maybe it was because their approach was less confrontational than Paul’s and so might be more easily accommodated?
Certainly there are times when a direct “take it or leave it” evangelistic confrontation bears fruit. At other times, perhaps more often than not, a steady witness which works with the grain of a community or a person makes for a more sound, longer term re-shaping of lives and building the Kingdom.
Living God, who sees and knows me better even than I know myself, give me sufficient grace, wisdom and patience that I may seek to know and understand a person or a place before I seek to share the good news of your presence. May passion for your truth fuel my readiness to serve, balanced always by discernment, and make of all I do or say, an act of love. Amen.
The Rev’d Ian Fosten is Team Leader for the Norwich Area URCs.