Paul and Silas continue on their missionary journey. Acts 17 (link) has some of the most oft-preached portions of the missionary journeys:
1. That Paul had a “custom” of going to the synagogue is used to encourage customary church attendance.
2. The Bereans “diligent search” of the Scriptures to check on Paul’s message is a valued reminder not to trust the messenger alone, but to use the text to evaluate the message.
3. The time in Athens is used to justify the study of pagan literature and as an example of preaching the Gospel in completely untouched situations.
All of these are well and good. There may be some scrutiny that should be brought to bear on our interpretations of those passages, whether or not we are really seeing what is intended there. However, in general, there’s a lot of material out there about these, so we’re not going to spend much time here.
Instead, let’s go just one sentence in: “Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia.”
Quick, name all that you know about the churches in Amphipolis and Apollonia. Got it? That did not take long, did it?
We do not know anything about church expansion in Amphipolis. We do not even know if there was a church planted in Apollonia. We know, basically, nothing. It’s possible that Paul and Silas just passed through, did nothing but spend the night. Whatever occurred, it is lost to our understanding of the New Testament.
How does this matter to us?
Speaking as one who sometimes thinks nothing he does will be remembered, it matters like this:
Not everything that happens is recorded and remembered. Sometimes, it just happens.
I think the life of an innkeeper or stable boy, perhaps a server at dinner, was impacted by the coming through of Paul and Silas. There was an interaction, a moment, and it was not important enough to be recorded. Perhaps a church was started, but being so close to Thessalonica and Philippi it never got its own letter. Maybe it was just an “ordinary” church with normal problems, and so it just kind of…existed. Reached some of their neighbors. Had a few fights. Got over them, and went on…
Or the important truth runs the other direction: a tired and hungry Paul and Silas find an inn, where an innkeeper rewarms the dinner she had already served. Space is made on the couch, for the inn is full. The missionary party is fed, rested, and sallies forth the next day, onward to spread the Gospel. Illnesses due to exposure are avoided, irritability due to hunger is reduced, and the message remains the focus.
The truth is that many of us will go through life and, if we had a TARDIS to jump ahead and read the history books, find that little to nothing of what we did will be recorded for history.
We need to be okay with that. Life is about making the most of the opportunities put in front of us, not about making a name for ourselves.
Besides, that makes us that much more mysterious for future generations…