Uniform 11.29.2015: Teaching God’s Word


Acts 18:1-11, 18-21

When Paul’s missionary partners Timothy and Silas arrived in Corinth, they found him “occupied with the word” (v. 5; NRSV supplies “proclaiming,” which is not in the Greek text). What was he doing with the word with which he was occupied? He was “testifying to the Jews that the Messiah was Jesus.”

What does it mean for Jesus to be the Messiah? That’s a good question to ponder on this first Sunday of Advent. It means that he is the one anointed by God to embody and to unleash God’s kingdom in the world. For those of us who trust in him, it means that he is Lord of our lives. We are committed to following him as faithfully as possible. Part of that commitment is being “occupied with the word” about him. But what does it mean to be occupied with the word?

It means to read and study the word. We can be assured, given the depth of his teaching, that Paul expended much time and energy studying the traditions about Jesus that had been passed to him. We are blessed to have the four Gospels that had not yet been written when Paul was active. As followers of Jesus, we should spend as much time as possible reading and studying those Gospels. Paul’s preaching drew heavily on the Old Testament. We should study the entire Bible with an eye toward how it illuminates Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection and how his life, death, and resurrection fulfill and interpret it.

Paul couldn’t read the Gospels like we can, but he and we have experienced the same living Word (see Jn 1). Paul encountered the risen Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9); we have encountered him along our road as well. Paul knew what it was to walk in the newness of life that comes from being baptized into the life of the resurrected Lord; so do we (Rom 6:4).

So Paul was occupied with the word. He was occupied with testifying to what the Bible (and the traditions that would eventually be in the Bible) said about Jesus, the living Word, being the Messiah.

To be occupied with the word, then, is to go beyond studying and knowing the word. It is to live and speak in ways that bear accurate and effective witness to who Jesus is.

How do we bear such witness as we talk about, and do something about, such matters as the plight of Syrian refugees, growing calls for increased American military involvement in the Middle East, environmental degradation, human trafficking, wealth and poverty, racial tensions, sexism, and violence?

It might be a good discussion to have on the first Sunday of Advent: what difference does our occupation with the Word who became flesh and lived among us (Jn 1:14) make in the ways that we respond to what’s going on in our world? And how does our response bear witness to the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of our Messiah?


1. How occupied with the word that bears witness to the Word and to the Word himself are we? How does our being occupied with the word and Word affect the ways in which we live?

2. Paul debated with the Jews and Greeks in Corinth to try to convince them that Jesus was the Messiah (v. 4). How do we try to show people that Jesus is the Messiah?

3. Based on the ways that we speak and act, what kind of Messiah do people think we follow?

4. Paul had a vision in which the Lord told him that he would be safe in Corinth. Paul stayed there for a year and a half (vv. 9-11). At other times and in other places, Paul had to be faithful despite persecution. What can we learn from Paul about how to respond to varying responses to our witness?

5. When Paul encountered strong opposition from the Jews in Corinth, he told them he would go to the Gentiles from then on (vv. 5-6). But when he arrived in Ephesus, one of the first things he did was go to the synagogue to talk with the Jews. How do Paul’s actions help us think about the ways in which we sometimes generalize and stereotype people? Is it ever appropriate to refer to “all” of any group of people?

Reference Shelf

To the Gentiles

While v. 4 indicated that Paul persuaded both Jews and Greeks, v. 6 implies a change of response. The Jews are portrayed now as opposing Paul. The narrator uses strong language to note their opposition: blasphemountøn (NRSV, “reviled”) is a cognate of “blaspheme.” Paul’s response is just as strong. By announcing the Jews’ blood to be on their own heads (cf. Ezek 33:1-7), Paul declares them to be responsible for any punishment or judgment that comes their way. Paul has declared the truth to them; he is innocent, therefore, of any judgment that befalls them. Paul now declares that he will turn to the Gentiles.

This last statement can create some confusion. Paul has made a similar statement before (cf. 13:46). Whatever Paul means by this, he does not mean that he will never speak again to Jews about the gospel, for Paul maintained a consistent pattern of visiting synagogues when he entered a city. Perhaps Paul meant that in each location, once he offered the gospel to Jews, he felt free to move on to Gentiles. But that might imply that had Jews been receptive to the gospel, Paul would never have “moved on” to Gentiles. Perhaps Paul was simply making clear that, despite Jewish rejection, the proclamation would not cease—Paul would offer the gospel to any who would listen, regardless of Jewish response. Within the larger flow of the narrative, such declarations may serve to give expression to Luke’s and the readers’ awareness that the future of “the Way” lies with Gentiles.

J. Bradley Chance, Acts, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007), 326.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra and father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin). A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. You can visit and communicate with him at MichaelRuffin.com. He is the Uniform Series Curriculum Editor.


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