“we have been greatly encouraged in the midst of our troubles and suffering” 1 Thess. 3:7
Seemingly a weary and discouraged Paul arrives alone in Corinth. He wrote his first letter to the new believers in Thessalonica (Acts 16 -17) while in Corinth and describes how he felt there in Corinth in 3:7: “We have been greatly encouraged in the midst of our troubles and suffering.” He speaks similarly later on when he wrote to the Corinthians describing how he felt when he arrived at Corinth: “I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.” (1 Cor. 2:3) Paul had suffered greatly in his first missionary journey and had been run out of town in many places on this his second missions trip and as he arrives in Corinth, “sin city”, he was tired and really needed God’s encouragement. Let’s see how God encouraged him and learn how to stay on mission with God and not abandon our part in the Great Commission.
“After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them, 3 and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working, for by trade they were tent-makers. 4 And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.” God provided Paul with godly companionship through Aquila and Priscilla. Paul speaks highly of them (“my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who for my life risked their own necks.” –Rom. 16:3-4) and mentions their house church in 1 Cor. 16:19. There are several noteworthy points seen in these passages:
1) Aquila and Priscilla provided Paul godly companionship and co-labored with him in the gospel. They provided a place to stay. They worked with him as tentmakers. This provided both income and opportunities to share the gospel together while at work. We are all full-time ministers for the Lord but some are bi-vocational (minister at work and your job provides income for yourself and to invest in God’s kingdom) and others are full-time vocational ministers (as Paul becomes shortly – v.5) including missionaries, pastors, etc. who are called to devote themselves fully to the gospel ministry.
2) It is so important to have “fellow workers” with you in the hard work of the Great Commission. Jesus sent his teams out two by two. The psalmist speaks of and prays for godly friends in Psalm 119: 63, 74 and 79: “I am a companion of all those who fear You and of those who keep Your precepts. May those who fear You see me and be glad, Because I wait for (hope in) Your word. May those who fear You turn to me, Even those who know Your testimonies.”
3) “But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.” Later on we learn that the church at Philippi sent a financial gift to Paul (Phil. 4:14-19) that enabled him to devote all of his time to the gospel ministry. Jesus called the twelve to leave their fishing business and fish for men. (Luke 5:1-11) And after Pentecost and the founding of the church the apostles “devoted themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:4)
“But when they (the Jews) resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” 7 Then he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a (Gentile) worshiper of God, whose house was next to the synagogue. 8 Crispus, (Jewish) the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized. 9 And the Lord (Jesus) said to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; 10 for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.” 11 And he settled there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.”
Here we see both man’s accountability for responding to the gospel for salvation (“your blood be on your own head”) and God’s election (“I have many people in this city” – i.e., who need to hear the gospel). Scripture affirms both election and man’s responsibility. [“All who are saved are saved as a result of what God does. All who are lost are lost as a result of what they do.” Don Fortner – The Sinner’s Advocate] Titius Justus a Gentile and Crispus the Jew are both saved. Though many Jews have rejected Jesus and the gospel from Christ’s day until today there has always been a believing remnant (Romans 11:5) as seen here in Acts and more and more are coming to Christ today. Scripture (e.g., Zechariah 12-14) affirms that one day (near the end of the Tribulation “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26) meaning that one-third of the remaining Jews who have not been killed in the Tribulation (two-thirds will remain unrepentant and perish) will all recognize Jesus Christ as the Messiah and welcome Him as He returns to establish His reign on earth from Jerusalem. (See Matthew 23:39) Gentile believers like Titius Justus and you and I are called to make the Jews jealous for Jesus (through our love and service and testimony) so they will receive Jesus. “So I ask, Have they stumbled so as to fall [to their utter spiritual ruin, irretrievably]? By no means! But through their false step and transgression salvation [has come] to the Gentiles, so as to arouse Israel [to see and feel what they forfeited] and so to make them jealous.” (Rom. 11:11)
Jesus encourages a discouraged and fearful Paul with three promises:
1) “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent;
2) for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you,
3) for I have many people in this city.” Evidently Paul was afraid (he had been stoned in Lystra, beaten in Philippi and run out of several places) and he was not superhuman as we may wrongly think. God gives us the same promise today, I am with you (Matt. 28:20) and tells us many times, “Do not be afraid: "Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God, I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with the right hand of My righteousness." (Isa. 41:10) “In face of all this, what is there left to say? If God is for us, who can be against us? He that did not hesitate to spare his own Son but gave him up for us all—can we not trust such a God to give us, with him, everything else that we can need?” (Rom. 11:31-32 J. B. Phillips)
Jesus tells him to go on speaking (maybe like Jeremiah, Paul is thinking about the cost of speaking for the Lord and needs to be encouraged to continue to do so – see Jeremiah 20). Earlier this week I sent you the link to Kris Kristofferson’s song, How to Beat the Devil, and revised the words to show us how we can beat the devil (and his lies) by continuing to share God’s Word (His truth) with people who don’t seem to be listening or want to know God’s truth. Here are some of the words and my comments as it relates to Acts 18.
First we hear the lies of the Devil:
“There were other lonely singers in a world turned deaf and blind,
Who were crucified for what they tried to show.
And their voices have been scattered by the swirling winds of time.
'Cause the truth remains that no-one wants to know.”
Now we hear God’s truth: “And you still can hear me singin' (sharing God's word) to the people who don't listen,
To the things that I am sayin', prayin' someone's gonna hear.
And I guess I'll die explaining how the things that they complain about,
Are things they could be changin', hopin' someone's gonna care.
I was born a lonely singer, (preacher/teacher/evangelist/lover and sharer of God’s Word) and I'm bound to die the same,
But I've got to feed the hunger in my soul.
And if I never have a nickle, I won't ever die ashamed.
'Cause I don't believe that no-one wants to know.” (We must never believe that the people in our life and community, who seem to have no interest in the Lord and His truth, really don't want to know. We must keep on singing (sharing God's truth) to them even when they don't seem to be listening.
Although Paul had been beaten in other places, Jesus promises here that no one will harm him. God knows exactly what we can endure and promises not to give us more than we can endure and to grace us with endurance. (1 Cor. 10:13; Rom. 15:5). Paul had had to escape from other places, but remains in Corinth for 18 months unharmed.
“For I have many people in this city” – As Paul looked around at “sin-city” he may have thought this was the last place on earth that people would turn to Jesus. And maybe we think the same about a family member or people we meet in our work, or in our community. Again, God tells us that He sees what we don’t see and our part is to faithfully live among people and share His truth through our life and lips- word and deed.
In summary, to remain faithful and encouraged in the work of the gospel:
1) We must seek out godly friends to co-labor with us: [“In an ever-increasingly individualistic society and a technological age with shallow relationships even within the church, there is a great need to intentionally build and deepen personal relationships. We grow in our intimacy with the Lord and each other as we share with one another our personal experience of Him. Yet, in the busyness of our world we must be intentional and committed to meeting with one another. Spiritual growth comes from both receiving and giving the life of God from and to others in in-depth, honest, and accountable relationships. Without these relationships our growth is stunted and our salt and light influence on our families, workplace and society is minimized or lost.” (Matthew 5:13-16) _lensykes.]
2) We must be able to “hear” God’s voice of encouragement and direction as we spend regular and in-depth time alone with Him in His Word. “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27) “I [the Lord] will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.” (Psalm 32:8)
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1) Paul was greatly encouraged by Aquila and Priscilla to continue his ministry. What have you received from other believers that has strengthened you for the cause of Christ? To whom can you pass it on?
2) What are you afraid of at this time in your life and what does God say to Paul and to us to relieve our fears and keep us faithful to the Great Commission?
3) What are the lies of the Devil from Kristofferson’s song and what are we to do with God’s truth? How and where are you doing it?
4) God knows exactly what we can endure and promises not to give us more than we can endure and to grace us with endurance. (1 Cor. 10:13; Rom. 15:5). Please read these 2 passages in the NIV and affirm that you believe them.
5) “For I have many people in this city”- Other than yourself, whose conversion to Christianity surprised you the most? Who else in your life may God be calling to salvation and wants you to continue to share His love and truth?
6) We must be able to “hear” God’s voice of encouragement and direction as we spend regular and in-depth time alone with Him in His Word. “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27) “I [the Lord] will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.” (Psalm 32:8) How do you “hear” God’s voice of encouragement and direction?