Sunday, October 15, 2017

Acts 18:1- 17 ”I Have Many People In This City “

18:1 Leaving Athens in Acts 17, Paul went on to Corinth in Acts 18. Corinth was situated about 80 kilometres west of Athens. If Athens was the intellectual centre of the ancient world, the city where Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus and Zeno had taught and made their respective marks, then Corinth was the commercial centre of Greece.

Corinth was situated close to the isthmus which joined mainland Greece to the Peloponnesian peninsula.  2 ports were nearby, Lechaeum on the Corinthian gulf to the west, and Cenchrea on the Saronic Gulf to the east.   Now Corinth was associated in everybody’s mind with immorality. Behind the city was a mountain called the Acro-Corinth. On top of this mountain, which had a flat top was the temple of Aphrodite (or Venus) – the goddess of love.  Apparently this temple had a thousand female slaves, who also roamed the city at night as prostitutes. The immorality was proverbial, so that the word ‘korinthiazomai’  to be Corinthian,  was coined to describe immorality.  

Paul first visited the city in AD 49 or 50, when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia [18:12].  With the help of Roman history we can thus date the book of Acts fairly accurately.    Paul lived   in Corinth for 18 months [18:11].

18:2,3 : In search of Christian company he first became acquainted with Priscilla and Aquila, a Jewish Christian couple.  We are told that they had come to Corinth from Rome, where Christians and Jews (the Romans did not know the difference)   had been banished by the emperor Claudius, because the gospel was apparently causing disturbances in that city. The gospel certainly   does not bring peace, but division, Jesus said (Matt. 10:34ff). To become a believer one will need to separate from, leave one’s dearest idols behind and follow Jesus in taking up the cross. At any rate, Paul found this couple in Corinth and they worked together as tentmakers[1]. Later they moved with Paul to Ephesus [18:18,19,26] .

18:4,5 : Paul’s preaching  follows  an  established  pattern[2], first  to the unconverted  Jews, and therefore he always went to the synagogue whenever there was one in a town or city.[3] Also note that Silas and Timothy re-joined Paul here, having last seen him in Berea.

18:6-8: Here we find once again, the habitual rejection of the gospel by the Jews.[4]  They generally refused, opposed and reviled Paul’s message. From this followed his resolve no longer to speak in the synagogues wherever he travelled [13:46; 18:6], although he did also go to the synagogue in Ephesus after this [18:19]. He said 'From now on I will go to the Gentiles'. Generally speaking then the mission began to focus more and more upon the gentiles and that has been the general trend to this day.

As Paul leaves the synagogue the irony is that he finds an open door to preach the gospel right next door to the synagogue in the home of Titius Justus. What is even more amazing is that despite all the opposition from that synagogue, the synagogue ruler, Crispus and his family believed and were baptized.[5]  

Those were the facts so far. And now consider this following text to which we want to pay closer attention:

18:9-10 :  The Lord spoke to Paul one night in Corinth: "Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and  do not be silent, for I am with you, and no-one  will attack you to  harm you,  for  I have many in this city  who are my people."  Some may be surprised at the thought that the apostle Paul shows signs of fear when we have been so used to see him walking where angels fear to tread. We see him time and again, unafraid of sharing the gospel of Jesus with people everywhere, often at great personal expense. We see him rejected and persecuted and persevering with joy. But here he appears to be afraid! Don't believe that Paul was a "spiritual superman". He too was weak and afraid at times. (Who is weak and I am not weak? 1 Cor. 11:29). Paul's ministry in Corinth provides a picture for us of the normal tension between discouragement and encouragement, fear and courage. It is something    that all God's people and we Pastors experience in the course of life and our ministries. It is the inevitable result of being a committed follower of Jesus. We need to retain a God-given perspective on this matter.

Why  might  Paul have been overcome with fear  at this point?

(i)         Learning from the immediate context: He had just come from Athens, where the going was tough. His mind and his energy were sapped by the many useless debates [17:21]. Add to this the fact, that only a few believed [17:34]. Add to this the ministry in Corinth, which was "tough going" [18:6] and you have a recipe for fear and discouragement. Nothing is more discouraging in the ministry than seeing little or no response  to the gospel and  seeing  professing Christians not  maturing in their faith.

(ii)        The experience of personal rejection in 18: 5- 6 must not be underestimated. It hurts to be rejected by the people you care for most. Paul loved his people, the Jews (Rom. 9:3; 10:1), and for all his boldness, Paul is not unaffected. His second letter to the Corinthians portrays much of his inner feelings on this subject.  God's servants are not untouched by rejections. Moses experienced the rejection of his people ; Joshua wanted to give up (Josh 7:7); Jeremiah felt  rejection keenly, and frequently wavers between discouragement and encouragement (eg. Jer.20:7-19).

(iii)       Paul really struggled with personal feelings of inadequacy.  The first letter to the Corinthians was written in response to his first visit. See his comments in  1 Cor. 2: 1 - 5 
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.  

Paul really believed that he was not equal to the task of preaching the gospel in these challenging situations. “Who is sufficient for these things?”  (2 Cor. 2:16), and he was acutely aware that he constantly needed God's enabling power   “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Cor.  12:9 )

Here then are a number of factors that cause discouragement: fatigue (Paul worked hard); lack of results and much resistance and personal feelings of inadequacy. This leads very naturally to fear. This all needs divine perspective. May God give us the grace in our times of discouragement, to see His hand at work and to hear His still small voice encouraging us on the way . 

ENCOURAGEMENT in the midst of discouragement:

One of the greatest and most comforting theological facts is that God never leaves nor forsakes His children. For this reason the Psalms have been of  such great comfort to Christians through the ages. Whenever   he sensed trouble  Luther  would say  to his congregation: “Come let us sing the 46th Psalm”.   God is with Paul in Corinth, even though Paul may feel fearful.  Let us see where we find  encouragement in this text:  

(i)         18: 1-5: Paul would be encouraged by the fellowship of his Christian friends - here Aquila and Priscilla ; Silas and Timothy. Christian friends are a great blessing!

(ii)        18: 6 - 8 :  Paul would be encouraged that there was some response. Despite the  fact that  relatively few people have come to faith, these are nevertheless trophies of grace and triumph.  The number of people converted in Athens may be pitifully insignificant, but the angels in heaven rejoice over every sinner that repents (Lk 15:7,10). If heaven rejoices over one sinner, shouldn't we?  And even though Paul is thrown out of the synagogue, when the Jews became abusive [18:6], there was an open door next to the synagogue in the home of  a man called Titius Justus.  We are told that the synagogue ruler Crispus and other Corinthians believed and were baptised [18:8].  Let us learn not to despise the day of small things.

(iii)       18:9 - 10: Paul received personal encouragement from God.

(iv)       18:12 - 17: God is at work in the world, ruling and overruling for the good of His church. The attack on Paul by jealous opponents of the gospel proved to be ineffective and the spread of the gospel  continued.

 SUMMARY :  

In the midst of our ordinary challenges that often produce fear, remember these things ...

1. The Gospel is ultimately in God’s hands. It is the gospel of God (Rom 1:1). And the main thing about the gospel is that God’s people are called to share it in all sorts of context. Paul shared it in the synagogue, in the market place and in many informal conversations along the way.  
  
2.  The Gospel will encounter resistance, but it will also find favour.  Expect resistance, such as we see here. But do not forget the wonderful truth is that God has a people everywhere – chosen from before the foundations of the earth (Eph. 1:4). You go and find them, but without using trickery and deceit. (2 Cor. 4:1-5).

3. Thank God for fellow gospel labourers - thank God for Aquila and Priscillas, for Timothys and Silas’s. They greatly encourage us.

4. Don’t labour where there is no promise. Although this needs to be thought through carefully (e.g. Jeremiah and Isaiah and most of the prophets laboured and persevered in unpromising circumstances), yet there came a time  when Paul had to move out of the synagogue and on to  the open door, next door to the synagogue,  where the church of God  had its birthplace in Corinth. There may come a time when our missionary focus must shift away from the unwilling to those that are willing to listen.  Currently this happens in many churches around the world, when the gospel preached by a pastor drives out hardened traditionalists and brings in new converts. Often, it forces evangelical preachers  to leave a hardened congregation and go ‘next door’ to those who will listen. 
  
5. Even though we may grow discouraged and fearful in the work of the gospel, we must not be overcome by fear. God’s gospel mission cannot fail.  All that the Father has given to His Son will come.  If we labour in a mission field in which little is happening, let us be content with that, and continue to be faithful to our calling. Don’t despise the day of small things.  (Zech. 4:10)






[1] from which is derived the modern Christian concept of tent-making, i.e. earning your living  from  a trade, while making it your main business to preach the gospel
[2] Acts 11:19
[3] Acts 13:5,14,43 ; 14:1; 17:1,10,17 ; 18:4,19
[4] Acts 13:45-52; 14:2-5,19; ( The Judaizers in 15:1ff and the Jerusalem council); 17:5-9,13 ; 18:6; 19:9 ; 20:3 ; 21:27-36 ; 23:12-22 ;
[5] No Corinthians were baptized by Paul himself except Crispus, Gaius and some of the household of Stephanas (1 Cor. 1:14, 16).  The household of  Stephanas were  "the first converts  in  Achaia" (1 Cor.  16:15). Gaius, was Paul's host the next time he visited the city (Rom. 16:23).

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