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New Testament Foundations for Itinerant Servants: Acts

Posted by on May 11, 2011 in scripture, service | 3 comments

New Testament Foundations for Itinerant Servants: Acts

If the Gospels laid the basic framework for itinerant servants through the example and instructions of Jesus, then the Book of Acts demonstrates the work of itinerant servants in living according to that framework.

Luke begins his book with Jesus commissioning his followers to be his witnesses throughout the world once they have been indwelled by the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:8) While this does not necessarily indicate an itinerant service, it is possible. However, Jesus’ followers stay in Jerusalem until the church faces persecution. (Acts 8:1) Even at this time, though, the disciples tend to move to a particular area and stay in that area.

We see a hint of itinerant service in Peter traveling “from here to there” in Acts 9:32. It seems in this case that Peter was visiting many of the believers and churches in the area of Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. We’re not told if Peter continued traveling, or if this was a short term venture. We know that he eventually ended up back in Jerusalem.

We also see Barnabas traveling to Antioch to stay (apparently), and then going to Tarsus to bring Paul back to Antioch (again, apparently to stay).

Itinerant service begins finally in Acts 13:1-4. While remaining in contact with the churches in Antioch and Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas (and later Paul and other teammates) begin to travel from city to city and region to region in the eastern part of the Roman empire.

After their “first missionary journey” Paul and Barnabas decide to part ways after a sharp disagreement. (Acts 15:39) (In usual Lucan style, he does not comment on the “sharp disagreement.” We do not know if the separate teams were part of God’s plan or a result of sinful separation, or perhaps a combination of the two.)

Paul then continued traveling from place to place. During this time, Paul was accompanied by several different people, who apparently also worked in some kind of itinerant service. Among these are Silas, Timothy, Erastus, Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Tychicus, Trophimus, and Luke.

I did not include Prisca and Acquila in this list. While they did move, it does not appear to be because of some type of itinerant service. They moved from Rome to Corinth because of persecution. They did move with Paul from Corinth to Ephesus, but they then stayed in Ephesus while Paul moved on. (Later, at some point, Prisca and Aquila moved back to Rome.)

Usually, Paul worked his trade (tentmaking or perhaps leathworking) to support himself and those traveling with him. (Acts 18:3) We are not told if his traveling companions worked also. (Occasionally, Paul also accepted support from believers in other regions, but we do not have any examples of Paul accepting support from among the people where he is currently working. We learn that Paul accepted support in Paul’s epistles, not in Acts. In fact, from Paul’s speech in Acts 20, Luke focuses on Paul working with his hands to support himself while traveling – Acts 20:33-35)

Also, usually, Paul and his traveling companions worked in teams. There is at least one occasion in Acts when Paul traveled alone. (Acts 17:14) In fact, according to Luke, Paul traveled alone from Berea to Athens where he served for some unreported length of time. Then, he traveled on to Corinth. There, he met Prisca and Aquila, worked with them as a tentmaker (or leather worker), and proclaimed the gospel in the synagogues (again for an unspecified amount of time) before Silas and Timothy caught up with him. (Acts 18:5)

In Acts, we can see the dual emphasis of these traveling servants. They both proclaimed the gospel and strengthened the disciples and churches that they found along the way. Obviously, there was a huge focus on proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. (Acts 14:1-3) However, we can’t limit their work only to evangelism. In fact, they would often return to the same areas specifically to build up those disciples and churches. (Acts 14:22-23)

What other passages in the Book of Acts are important for our understanding of itinerant service? What else can we learn from these passages?


3 Comments

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  1. 5-12-2011

    We could also note the early itinerant ministry of Philip as he traveled in Acts 8, particularly noting Acts 8:5-13, 26 and Acts 8:40, with an itinerary running from Jerusalem to Samaria to the road to Gaza to Azotus and all through cities and towns up to Caesarea.

    Too often the glow of the episode with the Ethiopian eunuch overshadows the substantial itinerant ministry to the saints and churches in many cities that was his substantial work. As you mentioned with Peter, this may have been a solitary, sporadic journey, or it may have been an ongoing pattern.

    The reason I mention this (in the “what can we learn column) is that we often define the work of an evangelist as winning souls, and the key example is Philip the evangelist (Acts 21:8).

    If we look at all that Philip was doing as he traveled itinerantly: preaching the gospel, performing miracles, casting out demons, healings, (quite typical of Jesus and the apostles, including Paul early on) and if we take Paul’s admonition to Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry” literally (II Tim 4:5), we might define an evangelist very differently.

    We have so much more detail about Timothy’s work.

  2. 5-12-2011

    Art,

    Your mentioning of Philip reminds me of something that I wanted to bring up. It’s possible that God could call someone to a temporary itinerant service. This may be what we see in Philip’s life in Acts 8. What do you think?

    -Alan

  3. 5-13-2011

    Interesting idea. I suppose

    Acts 8:1,4 indicate a temporary itinerancy forced by conditions.

    Acts 11:22-23 shows a directed itinerancy

    Acts 15:21, 25, 32-33 definitely shows a purposefully limited itinerancy.

    Acts 15:32-34 show a voluntary itinerancy (that ended up being more than temporary).

    Acts 16:1-3 shows an invited itinerancy (that ended up being more than temporary).