"When things were back to normal, Paul called the disciples together and encouraged them to keep up the good work in Ephesus. Then, saying his goodbyes, he left for Macedonia. Travelling through the country, passing from one gathering to another, he gave constant encouragement, lifting their spirits and charging them with fresh hope.
"Then he came to Greece and stayed on for three months. Just as he was about to sail for Syria, the Jews cooked up a plot against him. So he went the other way, by land back through Macedonia, and gave them the slip. His companions for the journey were Sopater, son of Phyrrus, from Berea; Aristarchus and Secundus, both Thessalonians; Gaius from Derbe; Timothy; and two from western Asia, Tychicus and Trophimus." Acts 20:1-4 (The Message).
Paul was a tireless and faithful servant of the Lord Jesus. He had been given a commission to take the gospel to the Roman Empire and he did it as best and as thoroughly as he knew how, not only evangelising but also building up the followers of Jesus in the faith and encouraging them to stay on the path in the midst of persecution from many different quarters.
As we have seen through the pages of Acts, Paul was constantly the object of abuse and very often in danger of being killed by fanatical Jews and over-zealous pagans. Nothing would deter him. On his way back to Syria, via the churches in Greece where he spent three months instructing and encouraging them, he got to hear of a Jewish assassination plot and managed to slip through their fingers.
Although he had many travelling companions, faithful men who accompanied him and helped him with his load of responsibility, it was he who was the wanted man. There was a price on his head, and he had to be on the alert constantly to keep from inadvertently falling into hostile hands. It reminds us of David who got under King Saul's skin just as Paul provoked the religious Jews to murderous envy.
What is it that drives one human being to hate the goodness or success of another so much that he is willing to kill for it?
Jesus told a story about a landowner who needed labourers to harvest his grapes. He engaged men from the market place in the early morning and they agreed on the wage he offered. He went back several times during the day to look for more workers. An hour before knocking-off time there were still a few who had not found work. He employed them as well, even though they only had an hour to work.
At the end of the day, they gathered around the employer to receive their pay. The last men employed were paid first. To the annoyance of the ones who had worked all day, they received the same wage as the first ones, even though the last had only worked for an hour. Thinking that they were going to receive more, the first men protested. The landowner replied, 'Didn't you agree to the wage I offered you? Don't I have the right to do with my money as I choose or are you envious because I am generous?'
What has envy to do with generosity? It was the generosity of the landowner that exposed the greed of the men first employed and they didn't like it. Likewise, it was the generosity of Jesus that showed up the greed of the religious leaders to the extent that they killed Him for it. Instead of responding to His exposure by repenting and turning to Him, their hearts were so wicked that they chose to silence the voice that was offering them a new life.
This story had no value for us if we do not respond to its application. What do we do when the ungodly attitudes in us are exposed by someone else's goodness? We will either do whatever it takes to silence the one who exposed us, often by character assassination, and keep on living the way we always did or, like Zaccheus, choose to change our ways and enjoy the blessing of a new life and freedom from the destructive ways of greed and wickedness.
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