• Ross Moughtin

Hot work for some apostles


Phew, what a scorcher!

It’s been 35, 36 even 37°C. That’s not far short of 100°F. But I guess that’s the reason we are here in the Vendée, for the summer sun.

In such weather air-conditioning becomes a necessity. The only place I can go for a jog without collapsing from dehydration is along the aisles of the vast Leclerc hypermarket just down the road in La Roche-sur-Yon.

For us Brits, such hot weather is exceptional. We certainly enjoy it when it is hot enough fo us to complain how hot it is! But for the people of the Bible, such heat is simply a fact of life, unexceptional.

There is the occasional reference to the heat of the day, of course. So the writer of Genesis gives a delightful picture of the Lord God “walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” (Genesis 3:8) That’s the time to stroll around and say hello to your friends. Here in the Vendée local resorts come to life around 5.00 pm.

And Jesus himself makes a direct reference to toiling in the intense sun. The first workers in the vineyard complain, understandably: “These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.”

However, there is one fascinating insight on living for Christ in the heat of the day and it comes as a footnote in Acts. A footnote, because the phrase does not appear in most accepted manuscripts but it does appear in one – in the ‘Western text’, for the nerds.

The apostle Paul has decided to make Ephesus his base for planting the Gospel in the key Roman province of Asia. Such is his commitment that he spends over two whole years there. A huge investment for this fast-moving apostle.

As always he begins in the Jewish synagogue, “arguing persuasively about the Kingdom of God.” However, after three months Paul realises that this isn’t going anywhere.

So Luke continues: “So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus.” (Acts 19:9)

However, this is amplified in the Western text, as shown in the footnote: “of a certain Tyrannus, from eleven o’clock in the morning to four in the afternoon.”

At first sight this would seem an insignificant detail – until you realise that in this society, as in most Mediterranean countries today, the daily routine begins early, at least by 6.00am. Then everyone stops around11.00am, for the heat. Some commentators argue that it is more likely for someone to be asleep at 1.00pm than at 1.00am

Then by late afternoon businesses would reopen and life would resume. You can always spot the British tourists here in France – they are the ones wandering around deserted town centres midday, wondering why the shops are all closed.

So the apostle Paul rents a hall from Tyrannus, available to him during the time when no one else would be using it, during the noon break and siesta time.

This tells us a lot about Paul – his total commitment to proclaiming the Gospel and how he went about it, his modus operandi.

First, this apostle was so “grabbed by the love of Christ” that he was prepared to work through the noonday heat in Tyrannus’ lecture hall. Every day, for two years.

Furthermore we know from his address, given some years later, to the Ephesians elders that he was also earning his keep as a tent maker. “You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions.” (Acts 20:34)

In fact, he writes to another church: “For you remember, brothers, our labour and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.” (1 Thessalonians 2:9)

Paul worked while others were working, and taught when they were having their siesta. Such was his passion for proclaiming Christ crucified. And as we know 20 centuries later, it paid dividends, handsomely.

But then what was he doing in Tyrannus’ lecture hall? I guess the obvious answer is lecturing – that is, addressing a varied group of would-be disciples, arguing, persuading, presenting the claims of Christ to a non-Jewish audience, mostly unfamiliar with the Hebrew Scriptures. We see him doing as much in Athens, as Luke reports in Acts 17.

No doubt his audience would respond with questions, taunts, accusations, humour, bewilderment, understanding. And through this whole process, his arguments we tested and honed. This is evangelism through reasoned argument, apologetics.

We live in an age wary of such intellectual argument, suspicious of truth claims, dismissive of any attempt to present a coherent view on life. Experience rather than argument is king – we prefer to see God at work rather than to hear him speak through his Word.

But here is Paul, prized pupil of Gamaliel, arguing for Christ in the sweat of a Greek lecture theatre. Here is apologetics in action, making the case for following Christ using every argumentin the Book.

Experience, of course, is hugely important but it needs to be understood, given context, tested against what God reveals to us in scripture.

As apologist J P Moreland argues: “We need to admit the mind into Christian fellowship again. We need the mind disciplined in Christ, enlightened by faith, passionate for God and his creation, to be let loose in the world.“

That’s why the Alpha course has become such an important means of sharing Christ. Not only is no question out of bounds but people are encouraged to think through the issues rather than just respond to their emotions. Our next course, #46, is launched Wednesday, 28 September.

And the result of Paul’s two year teaching commitment?

Luke tells us. “This went on for two years, so that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord.” A remarkable achievement, made possible using Tyrannus’ off-peak rate.

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