If you would take your Bibles with me this evening and open to Acts chapter 18. We’re not going to be in Titus 1 this evening; Acts chapter 18. While you are doing that, I would love to be able to say I made a report about what the last 18 months or so have held, but I wasn’t able to, and I really won’t be able to adequately express my family’s gratitude to this church, and I don’t think I ever will be able to. My wife and I feel every time we come back here like we’re coming home, and we love that, but the way that you have prayed for us and served us and ministered to us in so many ways over the last 12 months has been a tangible communication of God’s love to us, but your prayers have borne fruit in the answers we have been able to share tonight. And so we want to take every chance we have the rest of our lives to communicate our gratitude, so we certainly want to do that.
We’re going to be reading tonight Acts 18, verses 1 to 11. Before we do that, let’s ask the Lord to bless the reading of His Word.
Heavenly Father, Your Word tells us that our hearts are desperately wicked and deceitful above all else and that we can’t even know them. You are the One who searches the heart and the mind. And so we come tonight and ask that You would work in us by Your Spirit, illumine our hearts and our minds, teach us from Your Word, sanctify us by Your truth. Your Word is truth. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Reading in Acts chapter 18, beginning in verse 1:
“After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.
When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.’ And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue. Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, ‘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.’ And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.”
Thus ends this reading of God’s Word. May He bless it to our hearts.
Our family has a little, well she’s not little, but we have a 10 month old bloodhound puppy, and she loves to run out the front door, especially when she doesn’t have a lead on. She wants to get out the front door, and so any time that’s opened she jets for the front door. And a few weeks ago we had some friends visiting and they hadn’t met Bella yet; they didn’t know this about her, and so they opened the door to leave and I couldn’t get there in time and she went out the door. And it’s really funny once she gets out because she’s kind of meandering. She doesn’t know where she wants to go; she knows she doesn’t want us to catch her. And so she goes this way because something looks good and then goes that way because something over there looked bad and she just kind of meanders all over and she needs our direction and help but it takes her a while to figure that out, usually longer than I want it to be. This specific occasion I ran out the door without shoes on and I was half a mile down the road before I caught her. And in Houston, I was really wishing I had put shoes on because it was hot!
As we’re reading through Acts and we come to this passage in Acts 18, especially when reading through the book, there seems, especially over the last few chapters, to be a pattern in Paul’s present journey. He keeps having to be directed or redirected in one way or another. In Acts chapter 16 he was headed in one direction on his missionary journey but he was hindered twice by the Spirit from going where he wanted to go, and then God gave him a vision and told him, “You need to go over to Macedonia,” and he went to the city of Philippi there, the most significant city there, and planted a church in Philippi. And then he was kind of chased out of Philippi and you get to chapter 17 and he goes to Thessalonica but he was herded out of that city by persecution so he went on to Berea which was better. They received him better than the Thessalonicans had, but before too long the Thessalonicans started coming along and stirring up trouble and he was kicked out of Berea. And he went to Athens where he gave his famous speech on Mars Hill but he was told by the men of the city that they didn’t want to hear anymore, at least most of them said that.
And so as we come to Acts 18, this is what’s been happening. And we start Acts 18, “After this he left Athens and he went to Corinth.” And he seems to be heading one way here when God speaks to him and gives him a different direction. Here, he gives Paul the direction to stay and to continue to minister. It seems as if maybe he is otherwise ready to shake the dust off his feet and leave. We’re not certain exactly, but he seems ready to go. And God tells him, “Go on speaking. Don’t be silent.” Without the help of God’s Word, we’re actually in probably even more of a conundrum than Paul is in. Without the help of God’s Word, we head off in every wrong direction. We never go in the right direction. And so as we look at this passage this evening, at these eleven verses, I want to glean from it a few principles for missions that we see throughout the Scriptures that play out in this passage; that’s what we see God say about missions all through the Word that play out in this passage. Now I might add that these are passages that are applied to missions throughout the Word but they also are principles that would be applied to ministry in general, or you’ll find as we go on even the Christian life. Every one of these principles is going to be applicable to all of us, but they certainly apply to missions.
Missions, Ministry, and the Christian Life Involve Hardship
And so as we look at this chapter or these eleven verses, the first thing I want us to recognize is that missions, or ministry, or the Christian life involves hardship. It involves hardship. And this is a good place to start. Suffering is a difficult thing to discuss, but when you start with suffering everything goes uphill from that point. So it’s a good place to start. It’s important that we don’t gloss over this in this passage. Missions involves all sorts of hardships and trials and suffering and difficulty. There are a couple of hardships and difficulties that we see in this passage specifically. The first is actually not something that happens to Paul. It’s something that happens to Aquila and his wife, Priscilla. They, evidently because of their faith, have now been expelled from their home, from their business. They were in Italy because they are Jews at this point. Christianity is still seen as a sect of Judaism. They’ve been expelled from Italy and they’ve had to leave their home. They have settled here in Corinth. We can maybe imagine a little bit of what this looked like. They are tentmakers. My dad’s hobby is woodworking and he has, in his garage, outlined the spots where all the tools go and he knows exactly where they belong and he puts them back in the right place when he is done. And maybe they had something like that in their tentmaking shop and now they’re tentmaking in a place that they don’t know and they’re in a place where they don’t know customers and they’re trying to figure out where to live and they’re in a place where they don’t have support.
And then the second hardship we see in this passage is the opposition and reviling that Paul faces when he ministers in the synagogue. Now when we look at these two things, no doubt there were many purposes in both of these experiences that we’re never going to know about. God had many purposes in their lives and in many others that we don’t know about. You know, it’s not that much later that Aquila and Priscilla are going to be training Apollos and maybe they needed to be there for that, or whatever else. Maybe there were things that were going to happen in Italy that the Lord was taking them away from. There are many purposes that we don’t understand, but this text does show us a couple of God’s purposes in what happens here. Aquila and Priscilla are redirected from what seems to be a faithful life in Italy to a fruitful and faithful friendship and partnership with Paul in Corinth. They are there when he needs them and he comes to town just when they need him. The Lord brings them together. And so at the very least, from this passage we can see that the Lord is doing that in bringing them to Corinth.
And when we look at Paul’s circumstances we see something similar. God uses his rejection in the synagogue to redirect him to another path for more fruitful ministry. In fact, isn’t it funny that he leaves the synagogue, he goes next door to preach in the house of Gentiles, and the next thing we learn is that the head of the synagogue becomes a Christian. It’s ironic how it took leaving the synagogue for the head of the synagogue to become a Christian. So there is a purpose here also.
The thing is, hardship in missions or in the Christian life or in ministry doesn’t always accomplish these same purposes in our lives. It’s not always that God is trying to redirect us. There are so many things he does. But it is one of the guarantees that Christ gives to all of his followers that there is going to be hardship. Jesus told His disciples, “They persecuted me. They’re going to persecute you.” Or He says it even more directly in John 16. He tells His disciples, “In the world, you will have tribulation.” It’s just flat out. God puts trials in our lives for a lot of reasons. The hardships we face are what we need to accomplish His purpose. And we may never know why we experience hardships. Sometimes it’s a purpose for us; sometimes it’s a purpose for somebody else we may not know.
But we should always keep two things in mind that we can know about hardship. The first thing is – expect it. As I’ve already said, it’s a promise that is given to us. We are going to face this, so hardship might surprise us. Last August, a month shy of Gina’s 40th birthday, we weren’t expecting a cancer diagnosis. It was a surprise, but it wasn’t surprising that we were facing hardship. We knew that that was going to come. We didn’t know what it was going to be, but we knew that that was going to happen in some way, shape or form.
And in light of that, the second thing we need to remember about hardship that we know is where trials come from, where they come from. The Bible makes so clear that our sovereign God ordains everything that comes to pass, and He, in everything that He ordains, is in every way consistent with His character. And so we know – think about this morning if you were in the worship service reading Psalm 118 together. We see a portion of that opening verse all over the Old Testament in Exodus, in Numbers, Psalms, Joel, Jonah – “God is gracious and merciful, abounding in steadfast love” and Joel and Jonah add that “He relents from disaster.” That’s God’s character. Psalm 118 is such a great picture of that. We read in Psalm 119, a chapter later, one of my favorite verses in verse 69 it tells us, “God is good and He does good.” God is good and He does good. So when we face hardships and we know that they flow from God, we know they flow from His goodness, from His grace, from His mercy and from His love. And we need to remember that the Word teaches us that because we might know it up here but it’s really hard sometimes for us to translate it here. But it’s a truth that we need to hold onto.
We faced all sorts of trials in our seven and a half years in England, not just this last year. And the reality is, if I were to tell you about so many of them, a lot of them we brought on ourselves. I mean that’s the way of things! We faced some as a result of health issues, this cancer or other things we’ve dealt with. Our church has been dealing with the pandemic over the last 18 months just like Jackson has. Some trials have been relational. Some have been logistical. There are so many different ways that these things come up. But we can see some of the purposes, sometimes, but we can’t see all of the purposes that God has. Many of them remain a mystery. We have watched not just our own trials; we have watched a lot of other people suffer trials as well. Sometimes things that seem more frequent or worse than what we’ve been going through. But in every trial we’ve seen – and it’s not just the last seven and a half years – in all of my life, every trial I have seen, I have seen that when God’s people seek Him in His Word in the face of hardship they grow to know Him more, they grow to treasure Him more, and they help others do the same. It’s something the Scriptures tell us. It’s something we see.
Missions, Ministry, and the Christian Life Require Perseverance
We could spend the whole of our time on trials tonight, but I want to consider something else the passage shows us. Missions involves hardship, but missions also requires perseverance. Again, remember – missions, ministry, and even the Christian life. The whole ministry of Paul is one of perseverance and this passage here is but one example of it. But here, it’s instructive, because even in a place in Corinth where Paul has already persevered – by the time God tells him, “You need to persevere. You need to keep going,” we’re in verse 9. We’ve already dealt with a whole bunch of perseverance in chapter 16, chapter 17, and actually even in Corinth he has been persevering. And we know from his letters to the Corinthians that Paul continues to persevere with the Corinthians for a long time after this. But it is interesting that it seems like Paul was ready to give up here because God comes to him and says, “Don’t give up!” He says, “Don’t be afraid. Go on speaking. Don’t be silent, for I am with you and no one will attack you to harm you.” So it seems as if maybe Paul is ready to give up. And it’s strange to me, as I read this passage, I don’t know if it was strange to you, that God says this to him in verse 9. He’s already been kicked out of the synagogue, he’s already struggled, and I keep thinking, “Why didn’t the Lord say this to him in verse 2! Why didn’t He say this to him at the beginning of his time in Corinth instead of here?” But this is when the Lord needed to say this to Paul. And so it’s strange that the perseverance exhortation comes here. Nevertheless, the Lord had to encourage him to continue.
And it’s interesting because perseverance actually flows out of the previous point we made, which is, there is hardship. When we face hardship, we often feel – or really not just feel – we often need reminders just like Paul gets here to keep on going, to persevere. But interestingly, the Scriptures actually also teach us that it’s hardship that creates perseverance. James encourages us to, “Count it all joy when we encounter various trials because we know that the testing of our faith produces endurance,” or perseverance. So missions requires perseverance, but the way that the Lord develops that perseverance in His people is by giving them hardship.
And as we consider perseverance, just as with hardship, we need to recognize in this passage that once again it’s God’s character that is displayed and revealed. Notice the Lord’s words to Paul. He encourages them not to be afraid, to go on speaking, not to be silent, but the motivation that He gives Paul for doing what He’s just said is that He is with him. And He also tells him that nobody will attack him to harm him. God doesn’t always give us that second part of the promise, but if we are God’s people we know that first part of the promise is true for every one of us. He is with us. This is – I can’t give you, if you have trusted in the Lord, a greater encouragement tonight. You need to know that. This is the greatest encouragement you can possibly receive, and sometimes we don’t look at it that way. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like that’s the greatest encouragement, but the reality is, there is no greater encouragement if you’ve trusted in the Lord that God is with you. He is your God and you are His people. He makes that promise in His covenant with Abraham and again and again and again. It’s such an encouragement. When Jesus gave the great commission to His disciples and they thought, “He’s leaving. What are we going to do now?” – what did He tell them? “I’m going to be with you all the way till the end of the age. Always.”
Elsewhere, Paul reminds us that, “If God is for us, no one can be against us.” And so we realize that the God, whose steadfast love endures forever, the God who is gracious, the God who is merciful, the God who is always good to us in every hardship that we endure, is also always with us. He tells us, interestingly here when we begin to think about this, what He’s telling Paul is, “I’m going to persevere with you. I have persevered with you, so you persevere. Persevere because I’m with you. I have persevered with you.” He tells us that we are able to endure because His presence with us is enduring. He tells us elsewhere in the Scriptures that He is faithful even when we are faithless. And it’s the root of this truth here. He tells Paul, “I am with you.” He tells all His people, “I am with you.” And so we can say with David, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for You are with me.”
Missions, Ministry, and the Christian Life Depend Upon Partnership
But the nice thing about this passage is that this isn’t even the only encouragement or help that He gives to Paul or that He gives to us. We see another principle here which is the principle that missions depends upon partnership. Missions depends upon partnership. God is with us, but He also gives us partners in His people. In Acts 18 we see this but it’s a theme of all of Paul’s ministry and of God’s people in ministry throughout the Bible. Here, we see that God gave Aquila and Priscilla to Paul. They were already there when he arrives, apparently, and then He brought Silas and Timothy to help from Macedonia and He prepared Titius Justice and Crispus as partners and fellowship there in Corinth.
But it’s interesting, this is the same thing Paul speaks about in his letter to the Philippians, remember Philippi, that he was in just a couple of chapters later. One of the central purposes of the letter that Paul writes to Philippi is to express gratitude for the fellowship of the Gospel that they share with him. It’s one of the important reasons that I wanted to express our gratitude to you. He begins his letter to the Philippians by telling them, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always, in every prayer of mine for you all, making my prayer with joy because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now.” And if you read through the book of Philippians looking for partnership, looking for fellowship, looking for the ways they partnered with him, you’ll see it’s all throughout. And then you get to the very end of the letter and he closes saying, “It was kind of you to share my trouble and you yourselves know that in the beginning when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving except only you. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once again.”
Paul knew that he needed fellowship and support and here in Corinth he needed the warm fellowship and friendship of Aquila and Priscilla as they sat making tents together to support the ministry, the help in this work would support everything he was doing. Elsewhere he writes of how hard it was when everyone left him except Timothy. We see elsewhere that he talks about the other sorts of partnership and support he receives. He asks people to send money. He talks about how other people have sent money. We see in the Old Testament Moses needed Aaron. David needed Jonathan. Elijah needed Elisha. Imagine the story in Daniel of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego if any one of them had been missing. That partnership is something necessary. Throughout his epistles, Paul pleads with the churches to pray for him again and again. He asks for support. He thanks them for financial support.
I can tell you from the last year of our lives what a blessing fellowship is in missions. We’ve had innumerable prayers, cards, financial support, help with children, help with logistics, a lot of advice that’s been incredibly helpful. I can’t even think of all the ways that we have needed partners. There are many ways to partner with others, but we see even as God communes with us He also gives us fellowship with His people, partnership, so there’s that fellowship and communion.
Missions, Ministry, and the Christian Life are Commanded and Empowered by God
With all of these things though, there’s one very last important element to missions that we see in this passage, or as I said, to ministry or to the Christian life. Missions is commanded and empowered by God. You might say that seems an obvious point to make. It’s been a point of everything we’ve talked about so far, but it is nonetheless important to point out. I mentioned earlier God’s character – that He is gracious, that He is merciful, that His steadfast love abounds forever, that He relents from judgment. This is the character that is the font of all missions and all ministry throughout Scripture. This is the character that is revealed on the cross. This is why this is the most glorious moment in Christ’s life when He is at the cross. It’s why John goes to such lengths to point that out. The Lord calls sinners, reconciling us to Himself even though we were enemies, not because we have anything that He gains from that reconciliation, not because we have anything that helps Him, but purely because He is loving, because He is gracious, and because He is a merciful God. And He is a God who created a people to enter into a covenant relationship with them, to be their God, to be with them. And He sent His own Son to accomplish that reconciliation. And then in His grace and His mercy and His love, He sends us, His people, to bear witness, to be testimonies to the fact that He has done this in our lives and to present this testimony of His grace to others.
Interestingly, it’s maybe the prophet of Jonah that shows us this most starkly. You know Jonah was a missionary to Ninaveh, but he was probably the most reluctant missionary who ever lived. He certainly didn’t go willingly or cheerfully, and when you get to Jonah 4 he tells you exactly why he was reluctant. At the end of Jonah 3, in response to Jonah’s preaching and the Ninevites turning to God, He relents from His promised destruction of the Ninevites and they repent and call out to Him, but then in Jonah 4 we read, “It displeased Jonah exceedingly.” And I don’t know a missionary who has responded to that sort of situation that way! It displeased him exceedingly” and he was actually angry and he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is this not what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish, for I knew that You are gracious and merciful and slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and relenting from disaster.”
What a great picture that is. Jonah knew God’s character and he knew absolutely God could be trusted to act in accordance with His character. There was no question. The problem was that it had the wrong result in Jonah’s life. He didn’t have a heart that imitated the heart of God. He did not love the Ninevites. He did not want them to receive God’s grace or mercy. And who knows what slight, real or imagined, had angered Jonah with the Ninevites so much that he looks at them in this way, but one thing we can be assured of is the Ninevites had wronged God a lot worse than they had wronged Jonah. And God showed them mercy.
And our danger is actually often the opposite. We might love those around us, but we don’t really trust and believe that God is going to act in accordance with His character as revealed in the Scriptures. We don’t pray like we believe this is what He is going to do. We don’t evangelize like we believe this is what He is going to do. And God gives Paul a charge here that we would do well to listen to. He says, “I have many in this city who are my people.” And we have the same call and a very similar promise. He has charged us, His Church, to go and make disciples. He sanctifies us, He makes us more like Him, He works in us to accomplish His purposes for the nations, He says to us, “I have all authority, so go make disciples,” and then He tells us, “I am going to build My Church and the gates of hell are not going to prevail against it.” So in His strength, He calls us, just like He calls Paul here, to endure hardship, to develop perseverance, to support and encourage one another, to build one another up, to pray and act in reliance upon His promises that He will change us and that He will bring sinners to repentance.
And in light of these points, I want to briefly encourage you in just a few ways. First, remember that your missionaries, your ministers, and your elders, but even all those around you, are often if not almost always dealing with some sort of trial. This morning in Sunday School I heard a saying of a former minister, Jim Baird, repeated. He used to say, apparently, “There is a hurt in every pew.” And it’s something we would do well to remember. Some of these problems you’ll be aware of, but many you will never know. So let’s act towards one another, towards our elders, towards our missionaries in a way that presupposes this.
Second, and connected to this first, be a support, pray, and be an encourager. Be a Barnabas to others that you deal with. Pray specifically that others might grow and have strength and have joy to endure. Now I want this to be less of a challenge and more of an encouragement, because I have been a member at First Pres and a minister at First Pres and now I am a missionary that you have sent out and I can tell you that I have seen in action supporting and praying and encouraging and loving. And yet I want to say that we can’t ever rest on our laurels in this regard. We always have to be diligent to move from strength to strength. As David exhorted us this morning, many different little holinesses and little godlinesses are the reality of the Christian life.
Third, be prayer partners in the Gospel to your missionaries, your ministers, and your elders. I don’t think that we as missionaries or church members often plead with one another in quite the same way Paul does, and I certainly don’t think that we then go to prayer for one another in the way that our Savior did. Take seriously your need for prayer and also your time in prayer for others. Don’t neglect this. God will answer prayer. He will sanctify, sustain, strengthen and encourage.
And finally, if you see hardship in your lives and you see it developing perseverance and you see yourself growing in fellowship and partnerships in your own lives with fellow believers, then consider whether the Lord might not be doing these things so that you can minister to others – maybe across the world but certainly in the pew and when you go forth from here. Let’s close in prayer.
Heavenly Father, we’re thankful for Your Word and for the way that we see who You are. And Lord, I pray that we would have no other hope in the Christian life but that You are with us and who You are, and we would trust You because You are good and gracious and merciful and abounding in steadfast love. And it’s because of this that we know You in Christ, in Jesus’ name, amen.
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