Acts 18:18 So Paul still remained a good while. Then he took leave of the brethren and sailed for Syria, and Priscilla and Aquila were with him. He had his hair cut off at Cenchrea, for he had taken a vow. 19 And he came to Ephesus, and left them there; but he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to stay a longer time with them, he did not consent, 21 but took leave of them, saying, "I must by all means keep this coming feast in Jerusalem; but I will return again to you, God willing." And he sailed from Ephesus. 22 And when he had landed at Caesarea, and gone up and greeted the church, he went down to Antioch. (NKJV)
The year is 52 A.D. Paul is ending his second missionary journey. Corinth, Greece (Achaia) is his last stop, of any significance. When he arrived in Corinth after being chased all around Europe by persecutors, the Lord came to him in a vision. The Lord told Paul that he would give him safety in Corinth to preach the Gospel.
Paul stayed and preached, in safety, for “a good while” (v. 18a), a year and a half (v. 11). During this time Paul likely wrote 2 Thessalonians. Also during this time Silas and Timothy joined Paul in Corinth, Silas from the church at Berea and Timothy from the church at Thessalonica.
After his ministry, and rest, in Corinth, Paul started his journey back to his home church in Antioch, Syria (v. 18b). Priscilla and Aquila, whom he had met in Corinth, came with Paul. Apparently, Silas and Timothy did not make the journey home with Paul. Tradition has it that Silas became the Bishop at the church in Corinth. We do not hear of Timothy again until Paul’s third missionary journey.
So Paul, Priscilla, and Aquila traveled overland a short distance to the port city of “Cenchrea” (v. 18c). In Cenchrea, someone got his head shaved (v. 18d). Unfortunately the Greek syntax is not clear on whether it was Aquila or Paul.
The shaving of the head ended “a vow” that one of the men had taken (v. 18e). Jewish men would sometimes take a temporary 30 day Nazarene vow for the purpose of seeking a blessing for an undertaking, to express thanksgiving, or to seek deliverance from an illness. During the thirty days the vow taker would abstain from wine and getting his hair cut. This typical Jewish act would not be something that we would expect of Paul at this stage of his life.
From Cenchrea the party set sail eastward for home. They had a brief stop over in Ephesus, the port city on the west coast of Asia, for the night (v. 19a). Paul took time to preach at the synagogue in Ephesus (v. 19b).
Surprisingly, the Jews in Ephesus were accepting of Paul and wanted to hear more (v. 20a). Unfortunately, Paul had to decline because he had a schedule to keep (v. 20b).
Paul wanted to make it home for a “coming feast in Jerusalem”, but promised the Ephesians “I will return again to you, God willing” (v. 21). Aquila and Priscilla stayed at Ephesus, awaiting Paul’s return.
So Paul set sail from Ephesus and “landed at Caesarea”, the port city for Jerusalem (vv. 21b-22a). From there he “greeted the church” in Jerusalem, hopefully during the feast, and then traveled back to his home church in Antioch, Syria, thus ending his second missionary journey (v. 22b).
So Paul told the Ephesians that he would return to them again, “God willing.” And God did allow Paul to return again to Ephesus, on his third missionary journey.
Paul knew that his comings and goings were completely at the will of God. God engineers our life. We can make plans but they are always subject to God’s intervention. We should not hold too tightly to our plans, always being willing to change them at God’s direction.
God has a wonderful plan for our lives. It is up to us to follow His plan.
Online Bible Commentary