Acts Key People




Stephen

Around the world, the gospel has most often taken root in places prepared by the blood of martyrs. But before people can give their lives for the gospel, they must first live their lives for the gospel. One way God trains his servants is to place them in insignificant positions. Their desire to serve Christ is translated into the reality of serving others.


Long before violent persecution broke out against Christians, there was already social ostracism. Jews who accepted Jesus as Messiah were usually cut off from their families. As a result, the believers depended on each other for support. The sharing of homes, food, and resources was both a practical and necessary mark of the early church. Eventually, the number of believers made it necessary to organize the sharing. People were being overlooked. There were complaints. Those chosen to help manage were chosen for their integrity, wisdom, and sensitivity to God.


Stephen was an effective administrator and messenger before becoming a martyr. He was named one of the managers of food distribution in the early church. And besides being a good administrator, Stephen was also a powerful speaker. When confronted in the Temple by various antagonistic groups, Stephen's logic in responding was convincing. This is clear from the defense he made before the Jewish high council. He presented a summary of the Jews' own history and made powerful applications that stung his listeners. During his defense Stephen must have known he was speaking his own death sentence. Members of the council could not stand to have their evil motives exposed. They stoned him to death while he prayed for their forgiveness. His final words show how much like Jesus he had become in just a short time. His death had a lasting impact on young Saul (Paul) of Tarsus, who would move from being a violent persecutor of Christians to being one of the greatest champions of the gospel the church has known.


Stephen's life is a continual challenge to all Christians. Because he was the first to die for the faith, his sacrifice raises questions: How many risks do we take in being Jesus' followers? Would we be willing to die for him? Are we really willing to live for him?


Strengths and accomplishments  

  • One of seven leaders chosen to supervise food distribution to the needy in the early church  

  • Known for his spiritual qualities of faith, wisdom, grace, and power: also known for the Spirit's presence in his life  

  • Outstanding leader, teacher, and debater

  • First to give his life for the gospel


Lessons from his life

  • Striving for excellence in small assignments prepares one for greater responsibilities

  • Real understanding of God always leads to practical and compassionate actions toward people  


Vital statistics

  • Occupation: Organizer of food distribution

  • Contemporaries: Paul, Caiaphas, Gamaliel, the apostles


Key verses

  • "As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' He fell to his knees, shouting, 'Lord, don't charge them with this sin!' And with that, he died" (Acts 7:59-60).


Stephen's story is told in Acts 6:3-8:2. He is also mentioned in Acts 11:19; 22:20.



Philip

Jesus' last words to his followers were a command to take the gospel everywhere, but they seemed reluctant to leave Jerusalem. It took intense persecution to scatter the believers from Jerusalem and into Judea and Samaria, where Jesus had instructed them to go. Philip, one of the men in charge of food distribution, left Jerusalem and, like most Jewish Christians, spread the gospel wherever he went; but unlike most of them, he did not limit his audi-ence to other Jews. He went directly to Samaria—the last place many Jews would go due to age-old prejudice.


The Samaritans responded in large numbers. When word got back to Jerusalem, Peter and John were sent to evaluate Philip's ministry. They quickly became involved themselves, seeing firsthand God's acceptance of those who previously were considered unacceptable.


In the middle of all this success and excitement, God directed Philip out to the desert for an appointment with an Ethiopian eunuch, another foreigner, who had been in Jerusalem. Philip went immediately. His effectiveness in sharing the gospel with this man placed a Christian in a significant position in a distant country and may well have had an effect on an entire nation.


Philip ended up in Caesarea, where events allowed him to be Paul's host many years later. Paul, who, as the leading persecutor of the Christians, had been instrumental in pushing Philip and others out of Jerusalem, had himself become an effective believer. Philip began the conversion of the Gentiles, which was continued across the entire Roman Empire by Paul.


Whether or not you are a follower of Christ, Philip's life presents a challenge. To those still outside the gospel, he is a reminder that the gospel is for you also. To those who have accepted Christ, he is a reminder that we are not free to disqualify anyone from hearing about Jesus. How much like Philip would your neighbors say you are?


Strengths and accomplishments

  • One of the seven organizers of food distribution in the early church  

  • Became an evangelist, one of the first traveling missionaries  

  • One of the first to obey Jesus' command to take the gospel to all people  

  • A careful student of the Bible who could explain its meaning clearly


Lessons from his life

  • God finds great and various uses for those willing to obey wholeheartedly

  • The gospel is universal Good News  

  • The whole Bible, not just the New Testament, helps us understand more about Jesus  

  • Both mass response (the Samaritans) and individual response (the man from Ethiopia) to the gospel are valuable  


Vital statistics

  • Occupations: Organizer of food distribution, evangelist  

  • Relatives: Four daughters  

  • Contemporaries: Paul, Stephen, the apostles


Key verse

  • "So beginning with this same Scripture, Philip told him the Good News about Jesus" (Acts 8:35).


Philip's story is told in Acts 6:1-7; 8:5-40; 21:8-10.



Paul

No person, apart from Jesus himself, shaped the history of Christianity like the apostle Paul. Even before he was a believer, his actions were significant. His frenzied persecution of Christians following Stephen's death got the church started in obeying Christ's final command to take the gospel worldwide. Paul's personal encounter with Jesus changed his life. He never lost his fierce intensity, but from then on it was channeled for the gospel.


Paul was very religious. His training under Gamaliel was the finest available. His intentions and efforts were sincere. He was a good Pharisee who knew the Bible and sincerely believed that this Christian movement was dangerous to Judaism. Thus, Paul hated the Christian faith and persecuted Christians without mercy.


Paul got permission to travel to Damascus to capture Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem. But God stopped him in his hurried tracks on the Damascus road. Paul personally met Jesus Christ, and his life was never the same.


Until Paul's conversion, little had been done about carrying the gospel to non-Jews. Philip had preached in Samaria and to an Ethiopian man; Cornelius, a Gentile, was converted under Peter; and in Antioch of Syria. some Greeks had joined the believers. When Barnabas was sent from Jerusalem to check on this situation, he went to Tarsus to find Paul and bring him to Antioch, and together they worked among the believers there. They were then sent on a missionary journey, the first of three Paul would take that would carry the gospel across the Roman Empire.


The thorny issue of whether Gentile believers had to obey Jewish laws before they could become Christians caused many problems in the early church. Paul worked hard to convince the Jews that Gentiles were acceptable to God, but he spent even more time convincing the Gentiles that they were acceptable to God. The lives Paul touched were changed and challenged by meeting Christ through him.


God did not waste any part of Paul—his background, his training, his citizenship, his mind, or even his weaknesses. Are you willing to let God do the same for you? You will never know all he can do with you until you allow him to have all that you are!


Strengths and accomplishments  

  • Transformed by God from a persecutor of Christians to a preacher for Christ

  • Preached for Christ throughout the Roman Empire on three missionary journeys

  • Wrote letters to various churches, which became part of the New Testament

  • Was never afraid to face an issue head-on and deal with it

  • Was sensitive to God's leading and, despite his strong personality, always did as God directed

  • Is often called the apostle to the Gentiles


Weaknesses and mistakes

  • Witnessed and approved of Stephen's stoning

  • Set out to destroy Christianity by persecuting Christians


Lessons from his life

  • The Good News is that forgiveness and eternal life are available to all people and are gifts of God's grace through faith in Christ

  • Obedience results from a relationship with God, but obedience will never create or earn that relationship

  • Real freedom doesn't come until we no longer have to prove our freedom

  • God does not waste our time; he will use our past and present so we may serve him with our future


Vital statistics

  • Where: Born in Tarsus but became a world traveler for Christ  

  • Occupations: Trained as a Pharisee. learned the tentmaking trade, served as a missionary  Contemporaries: Gamaliel, Stephen, the apostles, Luke, Barnabas, Timothy


Key verses

  • "For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don't know which is better. I'm torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live" (Philippians 1:21-24).


Paul's story is told in Acts 7:58-28:31 and throughout his New Testament letters.



Cornelius

The early days of Christianity were exciting as God's Spirit moved and people's lives were changed. Converts were pouring in from surprising backgrounds. Even the dreaded Saul (Paul) became a Christian, and non-Jews were responding to the Good News about Jesus. Among the first of these was the Roman captain Cornelius.


Because of frequent outbreaks of violence, Roman soldiers had to be stationed throughout Israel to keep the peace. But most Romans, hated as conquerors, did not get along well in the nation. As an army officer, Cornelius was in a difficult position. He represented Rome, but his home was in Caesarea. During his years in Israel, he himself had been conquered by the God of Israel. He had a reputation as a godly man who put his faith into action, and he was respected by the Jews.


Four significant aspects of Cornelius's character are noted in Acts: (1) He actively sought God, (2) he revered God, (3) he was generous in meeting other people's needs, and (4) he prayed. God told him to send for Peter, because Peter would give him more knowledge about the God he was already seeking to please.


When Peter entered Cornelius's home, Peter broke a whole list of Jewish rules. Peter confessed he wasn't comfortable, but here was an eager audience, and he couldn't hold back his message. He had no sooner started sharing the gospel when God gave overwhelming approval by filling that Roman family with his Holy Spirit. Peter saw he had no choice but to baptize them and welcome them as equals in the growing Christian church. Another step had been taken in carrying the gospel to the whole world.


Cornelius is a welcome example of God's willingness to use extraordinary means to reach those who desire to know him. He does not play favorites, and he does not hide from those who want to find him. God sent his Son because he !oyes the whole world—and that includes Peter, Cornelius, and you.


Strengths and accomplishments   

  • A godly and generous Roman  

  • Well-respected by the Jews even though he was an officer in the occupying army  

  • He responded to God and encouraged his family to do the same  

  • His conversion helped the young church realize that the Good News was for all people, both Jews and Gentiles  


Lessons from his life

  • God reaches those who want to know him  

  • The gospel is for all people  

  • There are people everywhere eager to believe  

  • When we are willing to seek the truth and be obedient to the light God gives us, God will reward us richly


Vital statistics  

  • Where: Caesarea

  • Occupation: Roman army officer  

  • Contemporaries: Peter, Philip, the apostles


Key verse

  • "He was a devout, God-fearing man, as was everyone in his household. He gave generously to the poor and prayed regularly to God" (Acts 10:2).


Cornelius's story is told in Acts 10:1-11:18.



Herod Agrippa I

For good or evil, families have lasting and powerful influence on their children. Traits and qualities are passed on to the next generation, and often with the mistakes and sins of the a parents being repeated by the children. Four generations of the Herod family are mentioned ✓ in the Bible. Each leader Ieft his evil mark: Herod the Great murdered Bethlehem's baby boys; Herod Antipas was involved in Jesus' trial and John the Baptist's execution; Herod Agrippa I murdered the apostle James; and Herod Agrippa II was one of Paul's judges.


Herod Agrippa I related fairly well to his Jewish subjects. He had a Jewish grandmother of royal blood (Mariamne), which allowed the people to accept him—though grudgingly. As a youth, Agrippa I had been temporarily imprisoned by the emperor Tiberias, but he was now trusted by Rome and got along well with the emperors Caligula and Claudius.


An unexpected opportunity for Herod to gain new favor with the Jews was created by the Christian movement. Gentiles began to be accepted into the church in large numbers. Many Jews had been tolerating this new movement as a sect within Judaism, but its rapid growth alarmed them. Persecution of Christians was revived, and even the apostles were not spared. James was killed, and Peter was thrown into prison.


But soon Herod made a fatal error. During a visit to Caesarea, the people called him a god, and he accepted their praise. Herod was immediately struck with a painful disease, and he died within a week.


Like his grandfather and uncle before him, and his son after him, Herod Agrippa I came close to the truth but missed it. Because religion was important only as an aspect of politics, he had no reverence and no qualms about taking praise that only God should receive. His mistake is a common one. Whenever we become proud of our own abilities and accomplishments, not recognizing them as gifts from God, we repeat Herod's sin.

Strengths and accomplishments

  • Capable administrator and negotiator  

  • Managed to maintain good relations with the Jews in his region and with Rome


Weaknesses and mistakes  

  • Arranged the murder of the apostle James   

  • Imprisoned Peter with plans to execute him  

  • Allowed the people to praise him as a god


Lessons from his life

  • Those who set themselves against God are doomed to ultimate  failure

  • There is great danger in accepting praise that only God deserves

  • Family traits can influence children toward great good or great evil  


Vital statistics

Where: Jerusalem

Occupation: Roman-appointed king of the Jews

Relatives: Grandfather: Herod the Great. Father: Aristobulus. Uncle: Herod Antipas. Sister: Herodias. Wife: Cypros. Son: Herod Agrippa II. Daughters: Bernice, Mariamne, Drusilla.

Contemporaries: Emperors Tiberias, Caligula, and Claudius. James, Peter, the apostles.


Key verse

  • "instantly, an angel of the Lord struck Herod with a sickness, because he accepted the people's worship instead of giving the glory to God. So he was consumed with worms and died" (Acts 12:23).


Herod Agrippa l's story is told in Acts 12:1-23.



John Mark

Mistakes are effective teachers. Their consequences have a way of making lessons painfully clear. But those who learn from their mistakes are wise. John Mark was a good learner who just needed some time and encouragement.


Mark was eager to do the right thing, but he had trouble staying with a task. In his Gospel, Mark mentions a young man (probably referring to himself) who fled in such fear during Jesus' arrest that he left his clothes behind. This tendency to run showed up later when Paul and Barnabas took him as their assistant on their first missionary journey. At their second stop, Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem. It was a decision Paul did not easily accept. In preparing for their second journey two years later, Barnabas again suggested Mark as a traveling companion, but Paul flatly refused. As a result, the team was divided. Barnabas took Mark with him, and Paul chose Silas. Barnabas was patient with Mark, and the young man repaid his investment. Paul and Mark were later reunited, and the order apostle became a close friend of the young disciple.


Mark was a valuable companion to three early Christian leaders: Barnabas, Paul. and Peter. The material in Mark's Gospel seems to have come mostly from Peter. Mark's role as an assistant allowed him to be an observer. He heard Peter's accounts of the years with Jesus over and over, and he was one of the first to put Jesus' life in writing.


Barnabas played a key role in Mark's life. He stood beside the young man despite his failure, giving him patient encouragement. Mark challenges us to learn from our mistakes and appreciate the patience of others. Is there a "Barnabas" in your life you need to thank for his or her encouragement to you?


Strengths and accomplishments

  • Wrote the Gospel of Mark

  • Provided his family's home as one of the main meeting places for the Christians in Jerusalem

  • Persisted beyond his youthful mistakes

  • Was an assistant and traveling companion to three of the greatest early missionaries


Weaknesses and mistakes

  • Probably the nameless young man described in the Gospel of Mark who fled in panic when Jesus was arrested

  • Left Paul and Barnabas for unknown reasons during the first missionary journey


Lessons from his life

  • Personal maturity usually comes from a combination of time and mistakes

  • Mistakes are not usually as important as what can be learned from them

  • Effective living is not measured as much by what we accomplish as by what we overcome in order to accomplish it

  • Encouragement can change a person's life


Vital statistics

  • Where: Jerusalem

  • Occupations: Missionary-in-training, Gospel writer, traveling companion

  • Relatives: Mother: Mary. Cousin: Barnabas

  • Contemporaries: Paul, Peter, Timothy, Luke, Silas


Key verse

  • "Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you when you come, for he will be helpful to me in my ministry" (Paul writing in 2 Timothy 4:11).


John Mark's story is told in Acts 12:25-13:13 and 15:36-39. He is also mentioned in Colossians 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 1:24; 1 Peter 5:13.



Barnabas

Every group needs an "encourager" because everyone needs encouragement at one time or another. However, the value of encouragement is often missed because it tends to be private rather than public. In fact, people most need encouragement when they feel most alone. A man named Joseph was such an encourager that he earned the nickname "Son of Encouragement," or Barnabas, from the Jerusalem Christians.


Barnabas was drawn to people he could encourage, and he was a great help to those around him. It is delightful that wherever Barnabas encouraged Christians, non-Christians flocked to become believers!


Barnabas's actions were crucial to the early church. In a way, we can thank him for most of the New Testament. God used his relationship with Paul at one point and with Mark at another to keep these two men going when either might have failed. Barnabas did wonders with encouragement!


When Paul arrived in Jerusalem for the first time following his conversion, the local Christians were understandably reluctant to welcome him. They thought his story was a trick to capture more Christians. But Barnabas proved willing to risk his life to meet with Paul and then convince the others that their former enemy was now a vibrant believer in Jesus. We can only wonder what might have happened to Paul without Barnabas.


It was Barnabas who encouraged Mark to go with him and Paul to Antioch. Mark joined them on their first missionary journey but decided during the trip to return home. Later, Barnabas wanted to invite Mark to join them for another journey, but Paul would not agree. As a result. the partners went separate ways, Barnabas with Mark and Paul with Silas. This actually doubled the missionary effort. Barnabas's patient encouragement was a huge boost for the effectiveness of Mark's eventual ministry. Paul and Mark were later reunited in missionary efforts.


As Barnabas's life shows, we are often presented with situations where there is someone who needs encouragement. Our tendency, however, is to criticize instead. It may be important at times to point out someone's shortcomings, but before we have the right to do this, we must build that person's trust through encouragement. Will you take the opportunity to encourage those with whom you come in contact today?


Strengths and accomplishments  

  • One of the first to sell possessions to help the Christians in Jerusalem

  • First to travel with Paul as a missionary team

  • Was an encourager, as his nickname shows, and thus one of the most quietly influential people in the early days of Christianity

  • Called an apostle, although not one of the original 12


Weakness and mistake

  • Like Peter, temporarily stayed aloof from Gentile believers until Paul corrected him


Lessons from his life

  • Encouragement is one of the most effective ways to help

  • Sooner or later, true obedience to God will involve risk

  • There is always someone who needs encouragement


Vital statistics

  • Where: Cyprus, Jerusalem, Antioch

  • Occupations: Missionary, teacher

  • Relatives: Aunt: Mary. Cousin: John Mark.

  • Contemporaries: Peter, Silas, Paul, Herod Agrippa I


Key verses

  • "When he arrived and saw this evidence of God's blessing, he was filled with joy, and he encouraged the believers to stay true to the Lord. Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and strong in faith. And many people were brought to the Lord" (Acts 11:23-24).


Barnabas's story is told in Acts 4:36-37: 9:27-15:39. He is also mentioned in 1 Corinthians 9:6; Galatians 2:1, 9, 13; Colossians 4:10.



Silas

The lives of the first Christian missionaries can be described with many words, but boring is not one of them. There were days of great excitement as men and women who had never heard of Jesus responded to the gospel. There were dangerous journeys over land and sea. Health risks and hunger were part of the daily routine. And there was open and hostile resistance to Christianity in many cities. Silas was one of the first missionaries, and he found out that serving Jesus Christ was certainly not boring!


Silas's name appears in Acts at the end of the first church council on the Jewish/Gentile problem. The majority of early Christians were Jews who realized that Jesus was the fulfillment of God's Old Testament promises to his people; however, the universal application of those promises had been overlooked. Thus, many felt that becoming Jewish was a prerequisite to becoming a Christian. The idea that God could accept a Gentile pagan was too incredible. But Gentiles began to accept Christ as Savior, and the transformation of their lives and the presence of God's Spirit confirmed their conversions. Some Jews were still reluctant, however, and insisted these new Christians take on various Jewish customs. The issue carne to a boiling point at the Jerusalem council but was peacefully resolved. Silas was one of the representatives from Jerusalem sent with Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch with an official letter of welcome and acceptance to the Gentile Christians. Having fulfilled this mission, Silas returned to Jerusalem. Within a short time, however, he was back in Antioch at Paul's request to join him on his second missionary journey.


Paul, Silas, and Timothy began a far-ranging ministry that included some exciting adventures. Paul and Silas spent a night singing in a Philippian jail after being severely beaten. An earthquake, the loosing of their chains, and the resulting panic led to the conversion of their jailer and his family. Later, they narrowly missed another beating in Thessalonica, prevented by an evening escape. In Berea there was more trouble, but Silas and Timothy stayed to teach the young believers, while Paul traveled on to Athens. The team was finally reunited in Corinth. In each place they visited, they left behind a small group of Christians.


Silas leaves the story as suddenly as he entered it. Peter mentions him as the coauthor of 1 Peter, but we do not know when he joined Peter. He was an effective believer before leaving Jerusalem, and he doubtless continued to minister after his work with Paul was completed. He took advantage of opportunities to serve God and was not discouraged by the setbacks and opposition he met along the way. Sitas, though not the most famous of the early missionaries, was certainly a hero worth imitating.


Strengths and accomplishments  

  • A leader in the Jerusalem church

  • Represented the church in carrying the "acceptance letter" prepared by the Jerusalem council to the Gentile believers in Antioch

  • Was closely associated with Paul from the second missionary journey on

  • Sang songs of praise to God while in jail with Paul in Philippi

  • Worked as a writing secretary for both Paul and Peter


Lessons from his life

  • Partnership is a significant part of effective ministry

  • God never guarantees that his servants will not suffer

  • Obedience to God will often mean giving up what makes us feel secure


Vital statistics

  • Where: Roman citizen living in Jerusalem

  • Occupation: One of the first career missionaries

  • Contemporaries: Paul, Timothy, Peter, Mark, Barnabas


Key verses

  • "So we decided, having come to complete agreement, to send you official representatives, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are sending Judas and Silas to confirm what we have decided concerning your question" (Acts 15:25-27).


Silas's story is told in Acts 15:22-19:10. He is also mentioned in 2 Corinthians 1:19; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; 1 Peter 5:12.



Lydia

Almost everywhere Paul and Silas traveled, they found people open to the gospel message. When they arrived in Philippi they met just such a disciple-in-the-making. Her narre was Lydia.


Lydia's business as a dealer in fine purple cloth and dye probably means she was wealthy. No husband is mentioned, but she was responsible for a household. Lydia was also a spiritual searcher. She was among the Gentile women who gathered outside Philippi on each Sabbath to pray to the God of the Jews. One eventful day, Paul and Silas visited the group.


Lydia's attendance at the prayer gathering demonstrated her willingness to respond to as much about God as she knew. God responded to her quest by providing her with more truth. When she heard the Good News about Jesus Christ, she listened and believed. She is remembered as Paul's first European convert.


Luke described with swift strokes the first two steps in Lydia's life as a disciple: (1) She was baptized, (2) she brought the rest of the members of her household to Paul and they apparently believed as well, because they were baptized as well. Lydia's response was both inward and outward. She immediately understood that her new faith created all kinds of opportunities for practical application. Then, as now, the gospel had life-changing effects. The first actions of new believers often indicate how deeply they have understood and received the gift of salvation. The Christian life is a gift we continue to receive by sharing it with others.


Thinking of Lydia, how would you describe the initial effects of the gospel in your life? When you accepted Christ, what changes did others notice in you? How did Christ's presence affect your behavior? To what degree has your life continued to display that gratefulness you felt when you first believed?


Strengths and accomplishments  

  • Successful businesswoman

  • The first convert to Christianity in Philippi, and therefore, Europe

  • Brought her entire household to hear about Jesus, and all were baptized as a result

  • Provided housing in Philippi for Paul and Silas


Lessons from her life

God rewards those who honestly seek him

One of the marks of conversion is care for others—physically and spiritually


Vital statistics

Where: From Thyatira, living in Philippi

Occupation: Merchant specializing in costly purple cloth

Relatives: A household that was baptized with her


Key verse

  • "One of them was Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth, who worshiped God. As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying"


(Acts 16:14). The events surrounding Lydia's conversion are found in Acts 16:11-40.



Luke

One of the essential qualities of a good doctor is compassion. People need to know that their doctor cares. Even if he or she doesn't know what is wrong or isn't sure what to do, real concern is always a doctor's good medicine. Doctor Luke was a person of compassion.


Although we know few facts of his life, Luke has left us a strong impression of himself by what he wrote. In his Gospel, he emphasizes Jesus Christ's compassion. He vividly recorded both the power demonstrated by Christ's life and the care with which Christ treated people. Luke highlighted the relationships Jesus had with women. His writing in Acts is full of sharp verbal pictures of real people caught up in the greatest events of history.


Luke was also a doctor. He had a traveling medica! practice as Paul's companion. Since the gospel was often welcomed with whips and stones, the doctor was undoubtedly seldom without patients. It is even possible that Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was some kind of physical ailment that needed Luke's regular attention (see 2 Corinthians 12:7). Paul deeply appreciated Luke's skills and faithfulness.


God also made special use of Luke as the historian of the early church. Repeatedly, the details of Luke's descriptions have been proven accurate. The first words in his Gospel indicate his interest in the truth.


Luke's compassion reflected his Lord's. Luke's skill as a doctor helped Paul. His passion for the facts as he recorded the life of Christ, the spread of the early church, and the lives of Christianity's missionaries gives us dependable sources for the basis of our faith. He accomplished alI this while staying out of the spotlight. Perhaps his greatest example is the challenge to greatness even when we are not the center of attention.


Strengths and accomplishments  

  • A humble, faithful, and useful companion of Paul

  • A well-educated and trained physician

  • A careful and exact historian

  • Writer of both the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts


Lessons from his life

  • The words we leave behind will be a lasting picture of who we are

  • Even the most successful person needs the personal care of others

  • Excellence is shown by how we work when no one is noticing


Vital statistics

  • Where: Probably met Paul in Troas

  • Occupations: Doctor, historian, traveling companion

  • Contemporaries: Paul, Timothy, Silas, Peter


Key verses

  • "Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write a careful account for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught" (Luke 1:1-4).


Luke includes himself in the we sections of Acts 16-28. He is also mentioned in Luke 1:3: Acts 1:1; Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 1:24.



Aquila & Priscilla

Some married couples know how to make the most of life. They complement each other, capitalize on each other's strengths, and form an effective team. Their united efforts affect those around them. Aquila and Priscilla were such a couple. They are never mentioned i separately in the Bible. In marriage and ministry, they operated as one.


Priscilla and Aquila met Paul in Corinth during his second missionary journey. They had just been expelled from Rome by Emperor Claudius's decree against Jews. Their home was as movable as the tents they made to support themselves. They opened their home to Paul, and he joined them in tentmaking. He shared with them his wealth of spiritual wisdom.


Priscilla and Aquila made the most of their spiritual education. They listened carefully to sermons and evaluated what they heard. When they heard Apollos speak, they were impressed by his ability but realized that his information was not complete. Instead of open confrontation, the couple quietly took Apollos home and shared with him what he needed to know. Until then, Apollos had only been aware of John the Baptist's message about Christ. Priscilla and Aquila told him about Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, and the reality of God's indwelling Spirit. He continued to preach powerfully—but now with the full story.


As for Priscilla and Aquila, they went on using their home as a warm place for training and worship. Back in Rome years later, they hosted one of the house churches that developed.


In an age when the focus is mostly on what happens between a husband and wife, Aquila and Priscilla are an example of what can happen through a husband and wife. Their effectiveness together is the result of their good relationship with each other. Their hospitality opened the doorway of salvation to many. The Christian home is still one of the best tools for spreading the gospel. Do guests find Christ in your home?


Strengths and accomplishments  

  • Outstanding husband/wife team who ministered in the early church

  • Supported themselves by tentmaking while serving Christ

  • Close friends of Paul

  • Explained to Apollos the full message of Christ


Lessons from their lives

  • Couples can have an effective ministry together

  • The home is a valuable tool for evangelism

  • Every believer needs to be well educated in the faith, whatever his or her role in the church


Vital statistics

  • Where: Originally from Rome, moved to Corinth, then Ephesus

  • Occupation: Tentmakers

  • Contemporaries: Emperor Claudius, Paul, Timothy, Apollos


Key verses

  • "Give my greetings to Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in the ministry of Christ Jesus. In fact, they once risked their lives for me. 1 am thankful to them, and so are all the Gentile churches" (Romans 16:3-4).


Their story is told in Acts 18. They are also mentioned in Romans 16:3-5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19.



Apollos

Some people have an amazing natural talent for public speaking. Some even have a great message to go along with it. When Apollos arrived in Ephesus shortly after Paul's departure, he made an immediate impact. He spoke boldly in public, interpreting and applying the Old Testament Scriptures effectively. He debated opponents of Christianity forcefully and effectively. It didn't take long for him to be noticed by Priscilla and Aquila.


The couple quickly realized that Apollos did not have the whole story. His preaching was based on the Old Testament and John the Baptist's message. He was probably urging people to repent and prepare for the coming Messiah. Priscilla and Aquila took him home with them and brought him up to date on all that had happened. As they told him of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Spirit, Apollos must have seen Scripture after Scripture become clear. He was filled with new energy and boldness now that he knew the complete gospel.


Apollos next decided to travel to Achaia. His friends in Ephesus were able to send along a glowing letter of introduction. He quickly became the verbal champion of the Christians in Corinth, debating the opponents of the gospel in public. As often happens, Apollos's abilities eventually created a problem. Some of the Corinthians began to follow Apollos rather than his message. Paul had to confront the Corinthians about their divisiveness. They had been forming little groups named after their favorite preacher. Apollos left Corinth and hesitated to return. Paul wrote warmly of Apollos as a fellow minister who had "watered" the seeds of the gospel that Paul had planted in Corinth. Paul last mentions Apollos briefly to Titus. Apollos was still a traveling representative of the gospel who deserved Titus's help.


Although his natural abilities could have made him proud, Apollos proved himself willing to learn. God used Priscilla and Aquila, fresh from months of learning from Paul, to give Apollos the complete gospel. Because Apollos did not hesitate to be a student, he became an even better teacher. How much does your willingness to learn affect God's efforts to help you become all he wants you to be?


Strengths and accomplishments

  • A gifted and persuasive preacher and apologist in the early church

  • Willing to be taught

  • One of the possible candidates for the unknown author of Hebrews



Lessons from his life

  • Effective communication of the gospel includes an accurate message delivered with God's power

  • A clear verbal defense of the gospel can be a real encouragement to believers, while convincing unbelievers of its truth


Vital statistics

  • Where: From Alexandria in Egypt

  • Occupations: Traveling preacher, apologist

  • Contemporaries: Priscilla, Aquila, Paul


Key verses

  • "He had been taught the way of the Lord, and he taught others about Jesus with an enthusiastic spirit and with accuracy. However, he knew only about John's baptism. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him preaching boldly in the synagogue, they took him aside and explained the way of God even more accurately" (Acts 18:25-26).


Apollos's story is told in Acts 18:24-19:1. He is also mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:4-6, 22; 4:1, 6; 16:12; Titus 3:13.



Herod Agrippa II

Like great-grandfather, like grandfather, like father, like son—this tells the story of Herod Agrippa II. He inherited the character flaws of generations of powerful men. Each son followed his father in weaknesses, mistakes, and missed opportunities to know God. Each generation had a confrontation with God but failed to realize the importance of the moment. Herod Agrippa's great-uncle, Herod Antipas, actually met Jesus during his trial but failed to see Jesus for who he was. Agrippa II heard the gospel from Paul but considered the message mild entertainment. He found it humorous that Paul actually tried to convince him to become a Christian.


Like so many before and after, Agrippa II stopped within hearing distance of the Kingdom of God. He left himself without excuse. He heard the gospel but decided it wasn't worth responding to personally. Sadly, his mistake is not uncommon. Many who read his story also will not believe. Their problem, like his, is not really that the gospel isn't convincing or that they don't need to know God personally; it is that they choose not to respond.


What has been your response to the gospel? Has it turned your life around and given you the hope of eternal life, or has it been a message to resist or reject? Perhaps it has just been entertainment. It may seem like too great a price to give God control of your life, but the price is minimal compared to living apart from him for eternity because you have chosen not to be his child.


Strengths and accomplishments

  • Last of the Herod dynasty that ruled parts of Palestine from 40 B.C. to A.D. 100

  • Continued his father's success in mediating between Rome and Palestine

  • Continued the family tradition of building and improving cities

Weaknesses and mistakes

  • Was not convinced by the gospel and consciously rejected it

  • Carried on an incestuous relationship with his sister Bernice


Lessons from his life

  • Families pass on both positive and negative influences to children

  • There are no guarantees of multiple opportunities to respond to God


Vital statistics

  • Occupation: Ruler of northern and eastern Palestine

  • Relatives: Great-grandfather: Herod the Great. Father: Herod Agrippa I. Great-uncle: Herod Antipas. Sisters: Bernice, Drusilla

  • Contemporaries: Paul, Felix, Festus, Peter, Luke


Key verse

  • "Agrippa interrupted him. 'Do you think you can persuade me to become a Christian so quickly?"' (Acts 26:28).


Herod Agrippa lI's story is told in Acts 25:13-26:32.