A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 20:2-6. 1). Paul in northern and southern Greece.
Paul now *travelled through that area* (2a), He probably spent several months revisiting the Macedonian churches he had founded on his second missionary journey, namely Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea, and Luke characterized his ministry to them as *speaking many words of encouragement to the people*. The word is *paraklesis* (the noun which is cognate with the verb *parakaleo* in verse 1), and it has a range of meanings from appeal and entreaty through exhortation and encouragement to comfort and consolation. It is a vital ministry in establishing Christian disciples, and the principal means of its exercise is, literally, ‘much word’. Nothing encourages and strengthens the people of God like the word of God. It is likely also to have been during this period that Paul travelled further west along the Egnatian Way than he had previously gone, reaching even Illyricum on the Adriatic coast north of Macedonia (Rom. 15:19).
After these Macedonian journeys Paul *finally arrived in Greece* (2b), *Hellas* being the popular name for Achaia. Here, almost certainly in Corinth, *he stayed three months* (3a). Much had happened in his relations with the Corinthian church since his first visit which Luke has described. He had written them four letters, and even paid them an interim visit (the so-called ‘painful visit’ of 2 Cor, 2:1, which Luke does not mention). So he will have had much to talk about with the church’s leaders, in the realms of both doctrine and ethics. We also know that he finalized arrangements for the Corinthians’ share of the collection for the Judean churches. (1 Cor. 16:1-4; cf. Acts 24:17). In addition, it was during this visit to Corinth that Paul wrote his major manifesto of Christian faith and life, his letter to the Romans. In Romans 15 he explained that he had now ‘from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum…fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ’ and that in consequence ‘in these regions’ there was ‘no more place’ for him to work. That was why he hoped soon to visit Rome and go on to Spain. (Rom. 15:17-33; see verses 19, 23,24 and 28).
Paul’s three months in Corinth are likely to have been during the winter, while he waited for the spring weather to open up navigation on the high seas. His purpose was *to sail for Syria* direct, as he had done after his first visit (18:18). As he was about to embark, however, he heard that *the Jews had made a plot against him*. Ramsay imagines the situation: ‘Paul’s intention must have been to take a pilgrim ship carrying Achaian and Asian Jews to the Passover…. With a shipload of hostile Jews, it would be easy to find opportunity to murder Paul’ and dump his body overboard. So Paul changed his plan at the last moment and *decided to go back through Macedonia* (3). The Bezan text adds that ‘the Spirit told him’ to do so. Yet it was his own decision; the two are not incompatible.
Tomorrow: Acts 20:2-6 1). Paul in northern and southern Greece (continued).
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.