Day 43: Notches on a belt- or relationships? (Acts 18:18-23)
Today’s Passage: Acts 18:18-23
When I was studying for ordination, a lot of my co-workers knew my situation. I took most of my courses online, at night, or on weekends.
On Monday, when people asked what I did over the weekend, the answer was often about studying.
This situation created a repeating pattern—I became the Bible/God question man. Not just for the random question, but for people truly seeking God.
I remember one person in particular. He knew my views about “what it took to have a relationship with God”. We had many conversations. So many, that I could tell he was getting frustrated with my resolute view about Jesus.
One day I said to him, “You know, whether you accept Jesus as Lord, or not, I am still going to be your friend, you are not some ‘notch on my belt’ that I am trying to gain.” We were in a car when I said that, he was driving and almost drove off the road!
Why do I tell that story? Because it is easy for others to view us (followers of Jesus) as having one main goal- for them to be “a notch on our belt” rather than a relationship to grow.
Would I have loved for him to accept Christ? Absolutely! However, I wasn’t going to give up speaking with him if he didn’t.
Consider Paul. We’ve been living with him week-by-week, almost mile-by-mile…and then in 5 short verses we cover thousands of miles and over a year of time!
We get only a scant sketch of a rather long journey.
I must confess that I have at times had difficulty sorting out Paul’s journey(s). Most scholars speak of his three missionary journeys—and in five verses (18-23) we have the end of his second and the start of his third.
Paul literally sails to Ephesus, then sails again to Caesarea, walks to Jerusalem, and then walks to Antioch. Antioch was the starting point, and now the stopping point for his second journey. He spends some time there, and then begins his third journey from Antioch. We read in verse 23, “After spending some time there, he departed and went from one place to the next through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.”
You might want to look at a map to help gain a better understanding of his journeys. This website shows all four, but also lets you look at them one at a time. That little phrase “through the region of Galatia and Phrygia” describes Paul covering a huge amount of real estate.
But let’s not miss the point—the point is that he is going back to strengthen the people who are following Jesus (v.23). The phrase “the region of Galatia and Phrygia” is the geographic area he had already gone through.
Paul goes back to places like Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe—places where people responded to the Good News—and where people rejected it and him.
The point is that followers of Jesus are people of relationships…relationship with God and each other.
I don’t know about you, but I struggle with maintaining good relationships. I spend a lot of time at work and on the road. Too often my focus is on accomplishing things, vice relationships with people.
I also struggle to make sure my relationships are healthy. It can be too easy to get connected to unhealthy ones and withdraw.
Yet being followers of Jesus demands that the love of God penetrate us deeply, and that this love overflow for others. That is easy for me to write—and hard for me to live.
Whenever I find myself struggling with some of these relationships, my first approach is to turn to God, to seek Him, to love Him more—only then can His love flow from me.
What relationships are you struggling with?