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Lesson 45: Our Faithful Lord (Acts 18:1-17)

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Faithfulness is a rare commodity. All of us have had the experience of trusting in someone who has let us down, and we got hurt. Because of that, one of the most encouraging promises in the Bible is, “God is faithful” (1 Cor. 10:13). People may let you down, but God is always faithful. Of course, there are times when it seems as if even God has let us down. We all need to learn to deal with those times of disappointment with God. The problem is always on our end, never on His end! But that is the subject of another message.

Today I want to focus on our Lord’s faithfulness to us, especially in times of difficulty. This is the 75th anniversary of the founding of this church, and certainly God has been faithful to this body down through those years. So I want us to see that …

Because God is faithful to us, especially in times of difficulty, we should respond with faithful service to Him.

God’s faithfulness does not mean that He exempts us from trials, but rather that He sustains us through them.

1. God’s servants all go through difficult times.

Sometimes we put some of the heroes in the Bible on too high a pedestal. We wrongly imagine that they must not have struggled with the things we struggle with. If I had to pick words to describe the apostle Paul, I would say, “bold,” “fearless,” “courageous,” and “determined.” I would not think of words like “fearful,” “discouraged,” “distressed,” or “weak.” And yet when Paul describes how he felt during his early days in Corinth, he uses “distress” (1 Thess. 3:7), “weakness,” “fear,” and “much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3). Even though he was a giant in the faith, Paul struggled with the same emotions that we all struggle with.

Why was Paul feeling weak and fearful when he was in Corinth? Let’s trace some of the events leading up to his visit there. You will recall that when he was in Asia Minor, he wanted to go into the province of Asia, but the Holy Spirit forbad him. Then he sought to go into Bithynia, but again, “the Spirit of Jesus did not permit him” (16:6, 7). Then, in the midst of these puzzling hindrances, he got the vision of the Macedonian man, and so they concluded that the Lord was calling them to go there.

But things had not gone smoothly. In Philippi Paul and Silas were falsely accused, unjustly beaten, and thrown into the stocks in jail. From there they went to Thessalonica, but after a short time there, the Jews raised an uproar and they had to flee to Berea. The same thing happened there and Paul had to flee to Athens. In Athens, Paul met with ridicule and scant response, which may have been more difficult than open opposition. And so he left there and traveled alone the fifty miles to Corinth.

Corinth was situated on an isthmus in southern Greece that made it a prosperous commercial crossroads. In Paul’s day, there were about 200,000 residents from all over the Roman Empire. It housed the Temple of Aphrodite, goddess of love, which had 1,000 prostitutes that plied their trade under the banner of “religion.” There were also male prostitutes and other pagan shrines. The city was so notorious for its immorality, that in the fifth century B.C., the Greeks coined a verb, “to Corinthianize,” that meant to commit sexual immorality.

Meanwhile, Paul had run out of money and so he had to find work. Being trained as a tentmaker, he found a Jewish tentmaker named Aquila and his wife, Priscilla, and stayed with them and began to work. This was the first time in his missionary journeys that he had to work at his trade to support himself. We don’t know whether Aquila and Priscilla had become Christians during their stay in Rome or whether Paul led them to Christ.

Every Sabbath Paul went to the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews and God-fearing Greeks, trying to persuade them that Jesus is the Christ, but it was clear that opposition was building (18:4). Meanwhile, he was anxious about the well-being of the new believers in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 3:1-8). Physically, Paul may not have fully recovered from the beating that he had received in Philippi. So the spiritual concerns and discouragement about his ministry, the constant opposition, loneliness, physical pain and weariness, and the lack of funds, were weighing on Paul.

A ray of light broke in when Silas and Timothy arrived. They brought good news about the strength of the churches in Macedonia. They also brought a generous gift from the church in Philippi (Phil. 4:10-14; 2 Cor. 11:9) that enabled Paul once again to devote himself completely to the ministry of the Word (Acts 18:5). But, no sooner had he begun to do so than the Jews fiercely opposed him. Paul took the dramatic action of shaking out his coat against them and pronouncing, “Your blood be upon your own heads! I am clean. From now on I shall go to the Gentiles” (18:6).

The Lord opened an opportunity for Paul to continue ministering next door to the synagogue in the home of Titius Justus, a new Gentile believer. Paul was no doubt encouraged by the conversion of Crispus, the leader of the synagogue. And, many of the Corinthians also were believing and being baptized (18:7-8). But there was also a nagging fear that made Paul’s insides churn. He could clearly see the pattern: He preached to the Jews and saw some initial response. The Jews who didn’t respond grew jealous and stirred up opposition. Then Paul had to flee for his life.

So now, as he saw some initial response from the synagogue leader and from others in town, Paul may have been on the verge of leaving Corinth before he got forced out. He was afraid and discouraged. And if none other than the apostle Paul felt that way, then you can be assured that all of God’s servants go through similar times of difficulty!

2. God is faithful toward His servants.

There are at least five ways that God showed His faithfulness to Paul at this time, and that He is faithful towards us:

A. God is faithful to raise up godly co-workers (18:1-4).

We don’t know how Paul met Aquila and Priscilla. Maybe he was answering a help wanted ad! But God used the anti-Semitic edict of the Roman emperor to force this couple to move to Corinth. Paul’s lack of funds put him in the job market. And so God providentially brought these three together. They later went with Paul to Ephesus, where they hosted a church in their home (1 Cor. 16:19). Eventually they returned to Rome, where they also hosted a church. Paul says that they risked their lives for his sake, and that they were appreciated by all of the Gentile churches (Rom. 16:3-5). In one of the last verses that Paul wrote before he was executed, he sent greetings to this couple, who had become his lifelong friends (2 Tim. 4:19).

Paul also was encouraged when Silas and Timothy rejoined him in Corinth (Acts 18:5). They brought an encouraging word about Paul’s new Christian friends in Thessalonica and Philippi. All of these dear saints were co-workers with Paul in the cause of Christ (Phil. 1:5, 7, 27; 4:3; 1 Thess. 1:8).

When we are saved, the Holy Spirit baptizes us into the body of Christ. We become members of one another, under Jesus Christ our living Head. God did not design us to go it alone. We desperately need each other, even though sometimes we needle each other! All ministry should be team ministry, where we complement one another, pray for one another, and bear one another’s burdens. It is a great encouragement to the pastoral staff here when we see the Lord’s people laboring together with us for His cause!

B. God is faithful to provide funds for the work (18:5).

Paul did not advertise his needs for personal support. He would make known others’ needs (2 Cor. 8 & 9). But when he ran out of personal funds, he would just start making tents until the Lord provided support (I wrote my Master’s thesis on this topic).

While I do not think that it is wrong for Christian workers to make their needs known, all of us must live by faith in the area of finances. I do not just mean “all of us who are in full time ministry,” but, “all of us”! I believe that every Christian should be giving enough to the Lord’s work that you are forced to trust God to provide some things that otherwise you could probably just go out and buy. It is a great joy when you live that way and when God provides what you’ve been praying for!

I debated as to whether I should let you all know that I have been praying for $1 million for the work here at FCF. We immediately need about $90,000 to purchase the lot between our parking lot and the Lighthouse, or it will probably get sold to a business developer. We need $200,000 to finish phase three of our remodeling project. We need a substantial amount to upgrade our nursery. And we need additional properties for more parking and facilities. The two houses just south of the church are being offered right now for $156,000 and $159,000. In the past couple of years, a couple of other nearby properties have been for sale, but we could not act because we did not have the funds.

As I said, I debated whether to share these needs, but then I realized that if I’m the only one praying, I will be the only one blessed when God provides. Since I want you to get blessed, I want you all to bring these needs to the Lord in prayer. He doesn’t always answer in the way that we conceive. He may provide in some other ways. But I don’t want to get to heaven and hear the Lord say, “Why didn’t you ask Me? I would have provided if you had only asked!” Let’s all ask!

C. God is faithful to bring converts, even in the face of opposition (18:6-8).

Even though Paul faced strong opposition, God graciously brought several to salvation, including the man living next door to the synagogue and the synagogue leader and his family. Many Gentiles from corrupt backgrounds also got saved (18:7-8). Paul lists former fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminates, homosexuals, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers as making up the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 6:9-11). Where sin abounded, God’s grace super-abounded (Rom. 5:20)!

I hope that you pray often for God to use this church and to use you to lead people to saving faith in Jesus Christ. If we are not reaching out to the lost, we have forgotten our mission. If, like Paul at this time in his life, you’re struggling with discouragement, nothing will encourage you more than to see someone you witness to get saved. If God was mighty to save the corrupt Corinthians, He can save anyone in Flagstaff!

D. God is faithful to confirm His presence, His protection, and His purpose (18:9-11).

Just when Paul needed it, the Lord appeared to him in a vision and encouraged him: “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city” (18:9-10). This is one of six visions that Paul received in Acts (9:12; 16:9-10; 22:17-21; 23:11; 27:23-24), all at critical moments in his ministry. This was not just a strong impression, but rather, Paul actually saw Jesus Christ and heard Him speak audibly. Does God still do that today? I won’t say that He never does, but I would say that it is probably much more infrequent than some of our charismatic brethren think. God’s more usual means is to use His Word and His Spirit to give us the confirmation that we need. He confirmed three things for Paul:

1) The Lord confirmed His presence.

“I am with you.” When He gave the Great Commission, Jesus promised, “I will be with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). The Lord’s promise to Israel applies to all who are called by His name: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior (Isa. 43:1-3). Knowing that the Lord God is with you in whatever you are going through is an unspeakable comfort!

2) The Lord confirmed His protection.

“No man will attack you in order to harm you.” This was not a general promise that applied to every situation, but only to the time in Corinth. At other times, Paul did suffer physical attacks. But for now, God promised His protection. The application for us is not that God’s servants are guaranteed physical safety. Many of His servants are killed because of their witness. But we can know that no one can touch us unless it is the Father’s purpose, and that as long as He has a mission for us to accomplish, He will keep His protective hand upon us.

3) The Lord confirmed His purpose.

“For I have many people in this city.” God is referring to His elect, chosen before the foundation of the world in Christ Jesus. God knew each one by name, but Paul didn’t know who they were until they put their trust in Christ. He had to preach the gospel to them so that they could believe.

Some argue that the doctrine of election discourages evangelism, because if God chose them, then it’s a done deal, so we don’t have to do anything. But, God ordained not only their salvation, but also the means of their salvation, the preaching of the gospel. The doctrine of election ought to motivate us to evangelism. If salvation is up to man’s so-called “free will,” no one will ever be saved when you witness to them, because no man can understand the gospel in his fallen condition apart from God’s sovereign grace (Rom. 3:10-13; 1 Cor. 2:14; 2 Cor. 4:4). Given a free choice, every fallen sinner will choose sin. But if God purposed to save a sinner, and Jesus shed His blood to redeem him, and the Holy Spirit imparts eternal life and saving faith to him when he hears the gospel, then there is hope when we share the gospel! That’s why Paul later wrote, “For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2:10).

Thus God is faithful to raise up godly co-workers, to provide funds, to bring converts, even in the face of opposition, and to confirm His presence, His protection, and His purpose.

E. God is faithful in spite of apathetic government and hostile enemies (18:12-17).

God did not promise Paul protection from opposition, but only from physical harm. When the new governor, Gallio, took office, the Jews sought to get rid of Paul by accusing him of teaching people to violate the law. They probably meant the Roman law, but Gallio saw it as an internal religious squabble and refused to hear the case. What happened next is unclear. Some say that the Greeks in the crowd used the occasion to unleash their anti-Semitism by attacking Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue. Others say that the Jews angrily attacked their own leader for botching their case against Paul. A third possibility is that this Sosthenes is the same man mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:1, and that he had already believed in Christ, following in the steps of his predecessor, Crispus (Acts 18:8). In this case, the Jews angrily grabbed him and beat him up. We cannot decide for sure what happened.

Luke relates the story to show that this important Roman official refused to rule against Christianity. Gallio was the brother of the philosopher, Seneca, who tutored Nero. Nero eventually turned against both men and against Christianity, but for about ten years, Gallio’s ruling provided a measure of legal protection for the church. And so God’s faithful providence overruled the apathy of this proconsul and the aggression of the Jews. The bottom line of God’s faithfulness for us is:

3. God’s servants should be faithful in serving Him in spite of difficulties.

“Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent” (18:9). So, “he settled there a year and a half, teaching the word of God among them” (18:11). God would not have told Paul not to be afraid unless Paul was afraid. If the bold apostle who could preach to hostile audiences and rebuke even Peter for his hypocrisy could be afraid, then any of us can be afraid. But as John Calvin points out, a lack of fear is the chief quality needed by a preacher of the gospel (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], Acts, 2:187). One of the biggest temptations preachers face is to become people-pleasers rather than God-pleasers. While we should be kind and never needlessly stir up controversy, let’s face it: there are some difficult truths in God’s Word. If we waffle on them, we are not being faithful to the Lord.

The gospel is not, “God loves you and wants you to have a happy life.” The gospel is that you are a lost sinner, alienated from a holy God. The only remedy for your sin is the shed blood of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. You must repent of your sin and trust in Christ in order to be saved from God’s judgment. If we do not confront sinners with their sin, we are not preaching the gospel.

Conclusion

Next February, by God’s grace and faithfulness, I will have been a pastor for 25 years. When I began, I told the Lord that I would try it for three years and see how it was going. I was not sure that I could do it. Here I am, still inadequate, but praising God for His faithfulness.

About 14 years into my ministry, the Lord confronted me with my error of endorsing “Christian” psychology. He showed me that it is just worldly wisdom that has flooded into the church. I had an associate who wanted our church to begin 12 Step groups, and at first, I was favorable. But after many hours of study on the subject, the Lord drew the line in the sand. He opened my eyes to see the many errors of this false teaching.

About then, I came to a text in my preaching where I knew that if I didn’t say something, I would be unfaithful to the Lord. I tried to be gentle and to let people know that I was in process, and that they needed to work through it for themselves. But I also made it clear that I could no longer endorse psychology or 12 Step groups.

It was like throwing a match on a powder keg! Many angry people wrote letters to the elder board demanding my resignation. One former elder and his wife came to see me and told me that I should get out of the pastorate. They said that I was too much like the apostle Paul and not loving, like Jesus! Another woman told me that I might be addicted to my rigid religious dogma. Another woman told me that I was the worst pastor that she had ever had. All of these people were veteran staff members with an evangelical ministry. We had worked together for many years.

One night in the midst of this, I was about to get into bed and I was feeling discouraged. Suddenly the reference, Acts 18:9-10, popped into my mind. I had not been reading in Acts or thinking about it recently. It just came from the Lord. I grabbed my Bible off the nightstand and read, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.” I was flooded with joy and with the presence of the Lord. He is faithful, especially in times of difficulty. We should respond by faithful service to Him, holding firmly to the truth of His Word, even when we’re under attack. I believe that He has many people in this city. Let’s be faithful in proclaiming the gospel of His grace!

Discussion Questions

  1. Should all Christians view themselves as God’s servants, or just those supported by the ministry? Why does it matter?
  2. Discuss the implications: All Christians should give enough that they are forced to trust God to supply their needs.
  3. Why should the doctrine of election motivate us to evangelism?
  4. How can we find the balance between sensitivity to people and biblical boldness?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2001, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Character of God, Faith, Suffering, Trials, Persecution