Our 5th character in this series is Silas. Whilst perhaps lesser known, there is still plenty of content both about him and from letters that he co-wrote. Silas (an abbreviation of the longer name Silvanas), was a Jew from Jerusalem. He did however have a Roman name meaning “of the Forest” and it seems likely that his parents (or grandparents) immigrated to Jerusalem. Silas was clearly gifted both as a linguist and scribe and he sought to use these gifts for the good of others. He is also described by Luke in the book of Acts as a leader (15:22), prophet (15:32) and preacher (2 Cor 1:19). He was Paul’s go-to-man when he and Barnabas parted company in Acts 15 – he went on to accompany Paul on his 2nd missionary journey and that constitutes the bulk of the content we have about Silas!
In this blog my intention is to wrestle a little with some of this and reflect about how this might be applied to our lives today. As you will know these posts have had a disciple-making theme and today it is about Sharing our lives. The idea of sharing our lives with one another would appeal to a wide audience. Indeed a brief internet search would bring up lots of quotations about the importance of sharing our lives with others. Yet when I use the term here I am talking of a quality of sharing that goes beyond the norm. It is the kind of sharing that Paul mentioned in 1 Timothy 3:10-11 (see post on Timothy), involving bringing people into the very heart of who we are and what we about. In the verse Paul said he had shared his teaching, way of life, purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions and sufferings. It involves sharing our gifts, a sharing of our sufferings or vulnerabilities and a sharing of ourselves.
1. Sharing our Gifts (Acts 15)
The first kind of sharing involves the gifts that God has given to us. We’ve already noted that Silas was a linguist, translator and scribe. After the council in Jerusalem delivered its verdict (specifically, to not make it hard for the Gentiles to come to Jesus), Silas & Judas were tasked with accompanying Paul & Barnabas to deliver a letter communicating the verdict to those in Antioch. Given that the letter was most likely written in Aramaic, it is likely that Silas & Judas were tasked with the work of translation as well as bringing a sense of authenticity to the message from the church in Jerusalem. Then some 15 years later we read in Peter’s first letter that he had written his letter “with the help of Silvanus” (1 Peter 5:12). We cannot be completely sure but it is likely that this is the same person. Peter, a fishermen could never have written the elegant Greek contained in this letter without help and Silas was the perfect man for the job given his fluency in Aramaic, Greek and Latin.
Secondly we have already heard of the references to Silas & Judas as “leaders among the believers” (15:22) and as prophets who said much “to encourage and strengthen the believers” (15:32). Both gifts were clearly about helping others and its clear from what is written that they were known for doing so. The New Testament often speaks about the subject of spiritual gifts and several core themes are repeated. The gifts are given by the Holy Spirit as He determines. The gifts are given for the common good and the building up of the Body of Christ. We are to use what we have received to the glory of God and for the sake of others.
10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.1 Peter 4:10-11
One of the greatest joys for me over many years, has been working with so many gifted people in the context of ministry teams. In ministry you soon learn that you cannot do it all yourself, and even when sometimes we try, there is so much to be gained by bringing the gifts and creativity of others into the equation. What a rich privilege to work with such people and enjoy sharing one another’s gifts!
2. Sharing our Suffering (Acts 16:16-40)
The second form of sharing concerns our sufferings, afflictions, griefs and sorrows. It is about sharing the good, the bad and the ugly things about life. When Paul chose Silas to travel with him, I cannot imagine that Silas didn’t realise that there would be hard times ahead. After all this was Paul’s experience all over the place (see 2 Corinthians 11:23b-27). Here in Acts 16 we read about Paul & Silas’ arrival in Philippi where they meet a businesswoman named Lydia (that’s next time). As was Paul’s typical strategy, they taught in the Synagogue and on one occasion they met a woman on the way to pray. The woman was a slave who had a spirit that enabled her to see the future. She could see clearly that Paul & Silas were servants of the Most High God and followed them around shouting about it. Paul eventually got so annoyed about it that he commanded the spirit to leave her. Because the spirit was source of income for her owners this landed them in deep water at the hands of an angry anti-Jewish crowd. They were stripped, beaten with rods, severely flogged, fastened to the stocks and finally thrown in jail.
Sharing life with Paul with meant sharing in the sufferings that were coming his way: sufferings that Jesus had told him that he would suffer on account of Him (Acts 9:16). But there was a massive upside too. They did not remain in jail for long! During the night they experienced a miraculous earthquake which broke open both the doors of the prison, and their chains. Still, they did not move and ended up having an incredible opportunity to lead the jailor and his whole household to Christ. Because of their willingness to suffer there is unexpected fruit for the gospel in the lives of this household!
In my own life, sharing with others in suffering has been a remarkable experience. I can distinctly remember sharing the grief of losing our good friend James in Norway, with some of the best people that we know. I also remember with much kindness the joy of having a particularly good friend visit me week by week when the pressure was really on us. He even brought chocolate muffins! Finally, I also remember the blessing of being able to cry on the shoulder of a friend and then on another occasion being able to return the favour. This I think is a big part of what Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 in which he speaks about sharing with others in both our sufferings and in our comfort:
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.1 Corinthians 1:3-7
We are members of the body of Christ and when one part of the body is hurting so the rest of the body is to stand with them. We are to enter into the struggles of one another’s lives and is such an encouragement to do so.
3. Sharing ourselves (Acts 17:1-10, 1 Thess 1-3)
The final aspect of sharing our lives encompasses everything we have said, and more, because it is about sharing ourselves. We see a great example of this in Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica, where once again fruitfulness shifts rapidly to opposition. We are told that Paul (with his team of Silas & Timothy), spent at least three Sabbaths working in Thessalonica. It is more likely to have been three months given that during this time the Philippian church sent multiple financial gifts (Philippians 4:15-16). In this final section I want to draw out six aspects of how they worked amongst this young church in Thessalonica:
- Their ministry was Relational: For me the key verse about their investment in Thessalonica says:“…because they loved them so much, they were delighted to share not just the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thess 2:8). While they were with them they forged deep relationships because they were doing life with them. It was very relational. Their feelings about their abrupt departure shows their depth of feeling for them: “when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you” (2:17).
- Their ministry was Personal: Secondly, their approach was deeply personal. In chapter 2 they set out how they were like spiritual parents to them, playing the roles of both a mother and a father to them. Paul’s approach to helping people was always to start with where people are at and it was always intensely personal.
- Their ministry was Intentional: None of this happened by accident, but was part of an intentional strategy to help the Thessalonians. They were not content to sit back and operate passively in the background but took steps to help them move forward in their faith. In 1 Thess 3:10 they write: “Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.”
- Their ministry was Purposeful: Elsewhere, Paul speaks about how he works with all the energy Christ gives him to “present everyone fully mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28-29). Their intentionality was informed by a sense of purpose to see them for example, “standing firm in the faith” (3:8), “serving the living and true God” (1:9) and “living lives worthy of Him” (2:12).
- Their ministry was Reproducible: Next, there was a clear expectation of imitation. They worked in such a way that the Thessalonians would be able to reproduce what they had done with them and that is exactly what we find them doing. In 1:7-8 we read that they had become a model to all the believers and that their message had spread widely.
- Their Ministry was Generational: Finally, we know from Paul’s letter to Timothy that he also sought to work generationally: there was an expectation that they would “entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2). It is an inspiring through to think about how sharing our lives can be imitated by others and passed on through the many generations of people!
To bring this to a close let me encourage you that it is a huge privilege to do life with others and doing so holds so much potential for growth in the Kingdom of God. Over the years we have been thrilled to share our lives with many both where we are based here in Southampton and further afield through our overseas work. We have done so on the back of our involvement in full-time ministry, but don’t let that put you off doing likewise. We all have time to give to others. We are all making decisions about who we spend time with, how we go about interacting with them and to what extent we are seeking to share with them.
Let me encourage you to bring people into your life with whom you can share with deeply. People who know and experience what is important to you and who in time can then begin to share deeply in others. Like Paul & Silas, our aim should be to help these people to become fully mature in Christ – a noble task indeed which by nature will need to be worked out over a lifetime!
See other posts in this series