As a guy who can go months and months at a time and never travel outside the Tri-State area, I’m the last person to gain frequent flyer miles or bonus travel points. It is too bad for the Apostle Paul that such deals did not exist in his day. I cannot imagine that there were many people in the ancient world who ever logged the total number of miles that Paul did on his various journeys.
Those who study and write about the New Testament era often include this following passage from Galatians 4:4-5 as a part of the background for understanding this unique era …
But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.
The King James Version began verse 4 with the famous phrase, “In the fullness of time …” So what does this mean? Several items are encompassed to explain this, including the fervent Jewish expectation of a Messiah, a common trade language throughout the world (Greek), the “Pax Romana” (Roman peace and ruling authority) that lessened major conflicts, and finally the Roman system of roads. All of these contributed to the spread of the gospel. And of that final item, never before were people able to travel great distances from city to city with such relative ease.
However, by our standards, it was still quite an ordeal for someone like Paul to undertake his varied journeys. The distances are really substantial – then and now. Perhaps the point could be illustrated best by taking a look at a map of Paul’s three missionary journeys and his ultimate trip to Rome. You can click HERE to see one and to note the incredible distances.
Our passage today details events as Paul’s second journey ends, followed by what appeared to be a rather brief time in Jerusalem and the sending church of Antioch of Syria, before our writer Luke has Paul on the road again for the third journey.
Acts 18:18 – Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sisters and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchreae because of a vow he had taken. 19 They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined. 21 But as he left, he promised, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” Then he set sail from Ephesus. 22 When he landed at Caesarea, he went up to Jerusalem and greeted the church and then went down to Antioch.
The third journey begins
Acts 18:23 – After spending some time in Antioch, Paul set out from there and traveled from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.
Just these few verses involve hundreds and hundreds of miles of travel by both land and sea. And the accommodations must have surely been oft difficult, especially on ships sailing the Mediterranean (as we’ll see graphically written about later in our studies).
We see our missionaries today when they report to us of their travels and foreign service, and we may at times see it all as an exotic adventure. Indeed they do get to see many things that most of us are not privileged to see in our lifetimes, but the personal cost of it all is very taxing physically and emotionally.
Missionary work is hard – then and now. It involves great effort to cover great distances, enduring all of the inconveniences of living in a foreign culture. But to be involved in it on either the going or sending end is our calling as God’s people. It is complicated; it is expensive; and it can be sometimes rather dangerous. But it is worth it to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. But best of all are Christ’s words in the great commission that he will be with us to the very end of time.