Big hoopla before the First Missionary Journey. A big church council before the Second Missionary Journey. Before the Third Missionary Journey, however, there is silence. No big parties, no memorable induction service, no great deliberations to inaugurate this next missionary journey. What is wrong with this picture? Why the silence?
In the Book of Acts, chapter 13, we read of Paul's First Missionary Journey. Before this event, the story speaks of Barnabas and Saul (Paul) coming back from Jerusalem and successfully fulfilling their mission with the "mother church" (Jerusalem church) to deliver the contributions of the Church of Antioch in response to the famine in the land (see 11:27-30 and 12:25). Also, there is the dramatic laying of hands by the church leaders of Antioch (see 13:1-4). When we come to the Second Missionary Journey, the preceding event is the great Council of Jerusalem (see 15:1-35). Big decision were made and great orations were given, before Paul and Barnabas went out for their journey. Before the Third Missionary Journey, we have only one verse to describe a prior event (more like a series of events). In Acts 18:22, the writer of the Book of Acts, Dr. Luke, tells us that Paul landed in Caesarea and proceeded to Jerusalem and then to Antioch, period. Nothing more, nothing less. What happened in these three places, we do not know.
Why was Paul silent about this event before the Third Missionary Journey? Maybe, we should ask the question: Why would Dr. Luke, considering that he is a very detailed and precise historian, not mention any events prior to this last missionary journey? Was this intentional on both Paul and Luke's writings? What is the reason behind this silence?
I really cannot be certain about the reason for this silence. But one thing I notice is a shift in Paul's approach to ministry. Here in the third journey, he intentionally goes to places where gentiles congregate. In the first and second missionary journey, ministry among the gentiles, the Asians, the Greeks, the Romans, Africans, etc., were only incidental. Paul always started with the Synagogues and among the Jews of the region he is visiting. Cross cultural ministry among the non-Jews was only an appendage.
In the Third Missionary Journey, he had his eyes set for Rome (19:21). It was during this journey that he moved from preaching in the synagogues to preaching in a Greek lecture hall (19:9). Also, it was during this time that Dr. Luke the writer includes the story of Apollos, an African and most probably a product of a missioanry work not directly connected with Paul or Barnabbas (18:24-28). Luke also mentions in detail some of Paul's non-Jewish companions and assistants (20:4). There is also the poignant story of the Holy Spirit descending on a group of people from Ephesus (most probably gentiles) and they in turn spoke in tongues and started prophesying (19:1-7). This is a picture of "The Spirit descending on Pentecost," that is mentioned in the second chapter, but this time among the gentile followers of Ephesus. Paul's approach to ministry shifted from the Jews to the non-Jews.
We know of course that when a person changes focus or shifts his priorities from one thing to another, then it produces some anxiety and internal confusion. I think this is the reason for Paul's silence. We see in the narrative that he took a vow because he was in the middle of making an important decision that could change his future (18:18). He was in a hurry to go back to his "home church" to consult with his leaders (cf. Acts 18:19-20 and also, 20:16). He was hoping this change of priorities and ministry shift would find agreement with his colleagues in Jerusalem and Antioch. I think, Paul, as well as Luke, were silent about this changes because they did not want to create any more trouble and confusion among the Jewish Christians of that time. In one of Paul's oratory defense among the Jews, this adverse reaction to a gentile ministry became obvious (see Acts 22:21-22). Paul and Luke knew there was going to be a violent reaction. And eventually, this is how the Book of Acts ends, a rejection among the Jews, but a renewed vigor for cross cultural ministry among the Asians, Europeans, Africans, and Romans (see Acts 28:26-28).
Are we ready to cross cultures? Are we ready to shift gears? Are we ready not be silent about it? Let us throw a big party. Announce it to the whole world. We are going to minister to people who are not like us, to go to places where the local culture and society is different than what we are comfortable with. We are going and telling the world about Jesus' love and restoration. Let us be noisy about it. Let us make a ruckus!