In 1785 William Carey was a young, 27 year old pastor in Moulton, England. As he sat at a meeting of ministers, he knew that God wanted him to speak out. He had a growing sense that Christians should go out into the world to share the good news of Jesus but the dominant theology of the time felt that mission work and evangelism were of little use. It was God’s business to call who he would call and men and women should not interfere.
But as he sat among his older and more respectable colleagues, this passion to take the gospel kept burning within him. Finally he cleared his throat and asked the question he felt he had been called to ask, “Gentlemen, is it not our duty – the duty of all Christians – to spread the Gospel to all the world?”
There was silence as the question was processed and then one of the leaders responded, “Young man, sit down; when God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without your aid and mine.”
This was hardly encouraging and not what Carey had hoped to hear. When he persisted by forming a new missionary society and tried to sail to India, the British East India Company opposed his arrival and he had to take a Danish ship to get to Calcutta.
Despite the obstacles, he persevered and more and more missionaries came to join him and his work. Throughout his life he faced resistance, outside and inside the church. Yet he did not give up. He died in 1834 at the age of 73, still preaching and teaching to the day of his death.
If you respond to God’s call to serve him, you will face obstacles and discouragement. Family and friends may resist you. When I became a follower of Jesus, my parents were not pleased. When I told them I was not going to apply to medical school but go to seminary, they were not happy.
When you share your faith, the response will not be uniformly positive. In fact, you may view every attempt to share your faith as a disaster. There are huge forces resisting you: the self-will of the individual, the cultural resistance to the gospel, the forces of darkness who are at work to minimize your service to God.
So when you read a biography of a follower of Jesus, you will inevitably see in their life discouragement. Many were surprised to discover, when Mother Theresa died, that she struggled with doubt and discouragement at many points in her life.
The Apostle Paul struggled with discouragement and his move from Athens to Corinth was one of those times.
As I mentioned in the sermon last week, he came from Athens where he had a less than enthusiastic response to his preaching and came to Corinth where the size of the city, the pride of the citizens in their city and the immorality of the city were quite overwhelming.
He began, as was his custom, to speak in the synagogue on the Sabbath and then, as most often happened, there was opposition to his message and he left. Usually what happened next was that charges were filed against him and he ended up being beaten and run out of town.
We know Paul was fearful of what might happen because when Jesus spoke to him in a vision, he began with,” Do not be afraid.”
Paul came to Corinth in fear and trembling (I Corinthians 2:3) and in Acts 18 we can see how Jesus encouraged Paul in his obedience to him. So let me show three ways Jesus encouraged Paul when he came to Corinth and see if we can see how the same Jesus encourages us when we have reason to be discouraged.
The first way Jesus encouraged Paul was by bringing new friends into his life and supporting him with a team.
After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, 3 and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. 4 Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.
5 When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.
Paul was a tentmaker by trade. It may have been that he was skilled at weaving a course fabric from the thick goat’s hair of his native Cilicia. This fabric was used for curtains, rugs, clothing and tents. But whether it was this or working with leather, Paul worked with his hands.
Paul was a graduate of the university in Tarsus as well as the Rabbinic school in Jerusalem so it seems strange to us that Paul would have a trade, but Rabbis were required to learn a trade and all young men were urged to do the same. Paul’s trade was tentmaking.
So, when Paul stepped into Corinth, into this vast, bustling city of 750,000 people, he made his way to the market and stopped to talk with a couple who had a business of making tents. This is where he met Aquila and his wife Priscilla. He not only began working with them, but he lived with them as well. Thus began a friendship that lasted until Paul’s death.
Priscilla and Aquila (the references to them in the Bible often put her name first, indicating that she was a strong, capable woman, a leader in the church) were living in Rome when the Emperor Claudius banished the Jews because of the constant disturbances in that community about someone he called, Chrestus. They came from Rome to Corinth where they met Paul and then followed him when he went to Ephesus. When Claudius died, they moved back to Rome and were most likely there with Paul when he died.
Paul came to this huge city alone and immediately found a couple who became his life-long friends. That was a wonderful gift given to Paul.
Paul worked with Aquila and Priscilla during the week and on the Sabbath spoke in the synagogue. This happened for some period of time and then Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia by way of Berea and Thessalonica. When Paul had been kicked out of those cities, Silas and Timothy had stayed to encourage those who had become followers of Jesus. Now they arrived in Corinth with a gift from the church in Thessalonica, sent with love and appreciation to encourage Paul.
Jesus provided Paul with new friends when he arrived in Corinth and he brought old friends to assist Paul to be more devoted to his preaching and teaching.
Paul met Timothy in Lystra on his first missionary journey and Timothy became one of his trusted team. Silas came from Jerusalem to Antioch to discuss with Paul the matter of obedience to Jewish law and Paul was so impressed with him that when Paul and Barnabas split, Paul took Silas with him on his second missionary journey.
All along the way, God brought people into Paul’s life to help him and to encourage him. You can see this in the lists at the end of Paul’s letters. He has so many people to greet and commend. Paul did not end his earthly life rich in wealth, but he ended up rich in friends.
What God did for Paul he does for you. At RIC we learn that we need to seize the opportunity to make friendships when new people come. If we wait, we miss the narrow window of opportunity and just as we are developing a friendship, there are only a few short months to enjoy the friendship.
When you find yourself discouraged, realize that the people around you are sent by God to help you and encourage you. If you resist those friendships, you will resist God’s attempt to help you and encourage you to do what he has called you to do.
The second way Jesus encouraged Paul was by speaking to him in a vision.
As Paul preached in the synagogue, opposition grew. Luke says the opposition was abusive and Paul made a dramatic gesture, shaking the dust off his robe as a public act of judgment against them. He left but did not have far to go. The house next door to the synagogue belonged to Titius Justus who is probably the Gaius Paul mentions in his I Corinthians letter. In that letter when Paul is talking about who he personally baptized, Gaius is one he mentions.
Paul did not go next door alone, others came with him, including the synagogue ruler, Crispus. This man was another that Paul said he baptized personally. The entire household of Crispus believed and were baptized and in the new location, a revival broke out. “Many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized,” Luke records.
As an aside, the point is made here that sometimes a move is a blessing. There was such opposition in the synagogue that the conflict occupied too much energy and attention. When they moved out of that building, energy and attention were put into the preaching of the gospel and blessing began to pour.
You would think Paul would have been thrilled, but Paul was feeling something other than excitement.
9 One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” 11 So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.
When Paul had preached in synagogues in other cities, over and over again he had seen the pattern. Some had begun to follow Jesus, sometimes more than others, but whenever there had been a movement of loyalties from the synagogue leaders to Jesus, the leaders opposed Paul and he was charged with some offense. He was taken to the Roman authorities or the synagogue leaders stirred up the trouble makers in town and Paul was beaten or flogged or stoned and left for dead.
This was so much the pattern that now, when many were coming to faith in Jesus, Paul felt the joy of the new believers but also the fear of what might happen next. He began to have eyes in the back of his head to see who was coming after him. Were there signs of trouble brewing? How should he interpret the threats made in arguments against him? Who would be making the charges against him? When should he leave Corinth?
It is at this point that Jesus spoke to him in a vision.
“Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.”
This is a wonderfully comforting and encouraging message and dealt directly with Paul’s fears.
Do not be afraid. Keep on speaking. Do not be silent.
Maybe Paul was talking about this with Timothy and Silas. They loved Paul and did not want to see him suffer and perhaps they urged him to leave before trouble erupted. This is what he had done in Thessalonica. So Paul was going back and forth in his thinking. Should he go? Should he stay? And then Jesus told him what to do. Keep on speaking. Do not be silent.
Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10 For I am with you,
This is one of the two great promises of Scripture. This is what the Lord promised Moses in the wilderness. This is what the Lord promised Joshua as he entered Canaan. This is the promise given in Isaiah 43 (Isaiah 43:1–5)
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you,
Jesus dealt directly with Paul’s fears and reassured him that he would be safe here in Corinth. He would continue to speak out, preaching and teaching, and he did not need to walk around with eyes in the back of his head. Jesus was watching out for him and would protect him.
Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.”
This last part is so powerful to me. The reason why Jesus gave this assurance to Paul is because he knew Paul was thinking of leaving and Jesus did not want him to leave. There were many people in this city who needed to hear Paul’s message. There were many people in the city of Corinth who were going to be brought into the Kingdom of God.
The ministers sitting with William Carey thought that God acted and did not need us to interfere with his work, but they were absolutely wrong. God is all powerful and can do whatever he wants but he chooses to work through us. There are revivalists who try to manipulate God and make him act according to their schedule, but this is wrong. We cannot force God to act. But when he chooses to act, we are privileged to work with him. God allows us to be on his team and God wanted Paul to stay in Corinth without interruption because he had work to accomplish in that city.
This was such a powerful message for Paul to receive. It reminded him and assured him of Jesus’ presence with him and it gave him assurance he would not be run out of town as had happened to him so many times before. The message also reminded Paul that this was the ministry of Jesus. Jesus was at work bringing people into his kingdom. This was not Paul’s task. Paul was called by Jesus to preach and teach. Jesus took what Paul said and did and used it to bring people into his kingdom. Jesus chose Paul to work with him. Jesus needed Paul to continue his ministry. In this vision Jesus reminded Paul they were a team, working together.
So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.
Not many of us receive visions. It is not that God is less active in our lives, but we have what Paul did not have. We have the New Testament, and from the gospels and letters of the New Testament God speaks to us and encourages us. We are reminded that this is his work. And because the Holy Spirit speaks to us devotionally through the Scriptures, we can read a passage one morning and receive encouragement and direction in our lives. We can be encouraged to stay, to persevere because he still has work for us to do. God will direct us, just as he did Paul.
The third way Jesus encouraged Paul was to intervene through the Roman proconsul of Achaia, the province that covered southern Greece and included both Corinth and Athens. The proconsul spoke for the emperor in this region. He was Roman law for this region.
As Paul had suspected and feared, the Jews who opposed him at the synagogue conspired and brought charges against him before the ruling Roman proconsul.
While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him into court. 13 “This man,” they charged, “is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.”
14 Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, “If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. 15 But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law—settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.” 16 So he had them ejected from the court. 17 Then they all turned on Sosthenes the synagogue ruler and beat him in front of the court. But Gallio showed no concern whatever.
Gallio was the younger brother of Seneca, the Stoic philosopher who served as tutor to the young Nero, destined to be the next emperor of Rome. Seneca wrote about his younger brother and praised his tolerant kindness. As a ruler, he served justice and truth and God used him to encourage Paul.
The Jews tried to make the case that Paul was acting in violation of Roman law because he was not practicing Judaism, a legally accepted religion. They tried to accuse Paul of practicing an illegal religion.
Before they could press the case, Gallio decreed that this was an internal matter, not something to be brought up before the Roman court, and had them ejected. The mob, perhaps frustrated there had not been a trial, took out their frustration on the synagogue ruler, Sosthenes, who had replaced Crispus, and beat him. If Paul was not going to be beaten, they would find someone else and in the anti-Semitic culture of the Roman empire, Sosthenes was a good choice.
By the way, Sosthenes appears in a second New Testament document. In I Corinthians 1 Paul sends his greetings to the church and writes: (1 Corinthians 1:1)
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,
Sometime after Sosthenes was beaten, Paul met with him and Sosthenes, like Crispus his predecessor in the synagogue, became a follower of Jesus and then became part of Paul’s team. When we get to heaven I would love to hear his story.
The outcome of this verdict was huge. This decision protected Paul in Corinth but because this was an imperial decision, the religion Paul preached was now a legal religion throughout the Roman empire.
In his discouragement, Jesus encouraged Paul by bringing him new friends and growing the team that worked with him. Jesus encouraged Paul by speaking to him in a vision. And Jesus encouraged Paul by working through the legal system to offer him official protection.
Jesus had work for Paul to do and Jesus has work for you to do. Jesus called you to be on his team and now it is your privilege to work with him. Jesus called Paul to bring the gospel to the Gentile world. He told Paul to stay in Corinth because there were many people who were to be brought into the Kingdom of God. What has he called you to do? We do not all have the ability of Paul, we may not be ten talent people. But each of us has been given gifts by God to use in his service. Jesus has people he wants to be brought into his kingdom and he asks us to use our gifts so they will hear and respond to his invitation of love.
Jesus called Paul to a city. You may be also called to a city, or perhaps to your workplace, or your classroom, or your neighbors, or your family. But he wants you to use your gifts so these people, invited by Jesus, will respond to that invitation.
You may be discouraged because the people God has called you to are unresponsive or hostile. You may be discouraged because you are far away from home and miss the support of family and friends. You may be discouraged because the pressures where you work or study are unrealistic and you are overburdened. You may be discouraged because of language barriers. Discouragement is a dangerous state because when we are discouraged we are more vulnerable to temptation and we may decide to call it quits and go back home where things will be a bit easier.
Jesus is not absent. He is present with you and will encourage you if you will allow him. In your discouragement, lean on your friends. God has brought them into your life to support you and encourage you. Find a few people you can trust and become vulnerable with them. Allow them to support you. Don’t try to carry your burdens alone.
Read the Bible and take time to allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you through what you read. This is not the only place you will hear God direct you, but it is a primary place. Pray honestly and allow God to give you direction as he works with you. But take time to do this.
If you don’t look at the signs when you drive, don’t complain when you get lost. If you don’t take time to read the Bible, pray and reflect, don’t complain when you don’t have a sense of where God is directing you.
Trust God. He will work in the system that frustrates you. This is not an assurance that everything will go smoothly. Paul was still arrested and abused after Corinth. But God will do what is necessary for you to accomplish the task he has given you.
There are times when we need to shake the dust off our feet and go elsewhere. When Paul moved from the synagogue to the home of Titius Justus, revival broke out. But let God guide you at this point. He will let you know when to stay and when to move on.
Remember always that it is the work of Jesus to bring people to faith but that he chooses to work through you. He wants to use you in the lives of those around you. Pay attention, be alert, pray. Be ready and willing to go where he calls you to go, to persevere when he calls you to persevere, to resist the opposition without fear.
Do not be discouraged.
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.