by Roger McCay
6 September 2020
Sermon Passage: Acts 18:1-18
Link to Audio Version
Atomic Bombs. C.S. Lewis, in his unique way, speaks to how we should react towards such a threat:
If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things – praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts – not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (any microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds. 
The last part of Lewis’ statement seems apt today, considering the deathly fear of COVID 19 we have seen across our community and nation. Still, Lewis’ point rings true whatever fear might be the fear of the day.
Fear is very real, and there is no shame in it. It can be helpful, causing us to be prudent in our actions. And, if you think about it, without fear, how could you have courage? Yet, Fear is also at the heart of discouragement, and it doesn’t have to be fear of global threats, either. The anticipation of something, in fear, can quickly cause misery and wasted time, time that is to never to be recovered, when we would be much better off doing something worthwhile, getting on with life.
Fear can raise its ugly head, too, at the beginning of an endeavor—setting out to do something, perhaps something bold. Fear in the worry that we won’t be good enough, that we might fail. Fear that we will be abused for our efforts. Fear that we won’t be appreciated. Fear that we are alone in our efforts. Fear that God is not with us. Such fearful dwellings can cause anyone to become discouraged to … inaction, in just about any endeavor—like being lost at sea, in a sailboat with no wind.
Likewise, disciples of Christ can get discouraged, at times, as we seek to obey the Lord, doing his will. Even when we have a great success in our efforts for the Lord’s Kingdom, we remain under constant pressure and assault from those who oppose Christ in the seen and unseen realms. So, our existence can have the feel of glorious ups and then depressing downs. We are human after all, with all the human weaknesses. At times we get tired, mentally down.
Sometimes, in our strivings, we just don’t see how our faithfulness is bearing any fruit at all. In our limited perspective, we just can’t place how our faithfulness fits into the whole plan of God. As a result, we might find ourselves holding back, refraining from reaching out to someone for Christ; or ministering to someone in their need; or simply remaining silent when we should speak, due to fear of rejection or abuse—even persecution—maybe because it has happened to us before, or we’ve seen it happen to others. The Scriptures warn us about such troubles.
So, like those alluded to by Lewis, who are huddled around worrying about bombs, fear and its discouragement tempts us to follow the path of easy grace and comfortable Christianity—inaction, rather than living the full life of faith and obedience to which Christ has called his people.
But, this is nothing new for Christians. Even the apostle Paul felt discouragement and fear. We see this when he was in Corinth. Take a look at vv. 1-4 again.
1 After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 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, 3 and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. 4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.
I have a good friend whose name is Lou Best. He is retired Army, and, a number of years back, he and his wife planted a church in the Fort Hood, Texas area. He often refers to planting that church as a “parachute plant.” There were no other churches of our denomination in the area, and he and his wife jumped in to start a church from scratch. They parachuted in, so to speak.
This is kind of like what we see here with Paul. After his time sparring with smug intellectuals in Athens, with, seemingly, very little success, he headed to Corinth. He travelled alone, heading to a place where no Christian church existed.
Now, Corinth was a bustling metropolis. It lay upon the narrow strip of land between the upper and main part of Greece and the area of the Peloponnese to the south. Traffic went north and south and east and west through the area. Land traffic was north and south. East and west was the shipping trade. Ships would dock, and slaves would then carry across the isthmus goods from those ships to be reloaded onto ships on the other side of the land, which would then set sail from there. They had no Panama Canal, so to speak. As it was, traders and merchants were constantly on the move through the city, and so commerce was a major aspect of city life.
The city was also very cosmopolitan. With its location, seaport, and traffic coming and going, there was a huge variety of races and classes that had come from all over the Roman Empire.
Then there was another major aspect of Corinthian life—the cult and temple of Aphrodite. You may know of this goddess as Venus – the goddess of love. At “one time there were ten thousand temple prostitutes.” The use of the prostitutes was considered an act of worship to the goddess—immorality exalted to a form of worship. As such, the city had a reputation for its immorality. The name “Corinthian” was even “synonymous,” in the ancient world, “for the most perverted behavior.” It was an insult to call someone “Corinthian” for that reason.
Now, imagine the Apostle Paul, who had travelled (probably walking) 50 miles from Athens to Corinth, and his reaction, as he walked into town, perhaps by the Temple of Athena, on into the city, with its myriad of people running here and there busy in the trade of pretty much any commodity available in that age.
Further, in this teeming city, Paul didn’t know anyone at all. There was no welcome committee. He was by himself. He was also, apparently, really low on funds.
So, there Paul was, coming into this wealthy city, dirty from his travels, tired, alone, surrounded by pagans and their ways, practically broke, endeavoring to plant a Christian church. To label the task as daunting seems a gross understatement. It is entirely understandable if Paul was fearful of the task at hand. Just imagine if you were Paul, walking into such a situation with the mission he had. It’s terrifying. Can you imagine?
Yet, we see that the Lord did not leave Paul hanging. He was not alone and without funds for long. The Lord brought into his life a remarkable couple—Priscilla and Aquila. They were refugees from Rome, driven out with the Jews in A.D. 49, when the Emperor Claudius had expelled them, due to all the trouble caused in the synagogues concerning Jesus Christ and the Christians. Considering what we know of them, Priscilla and Aquila were likely Christians. Their trade was tentmaking, and their presence in Corinth and Paul’s somehow finding them was a critical, providential, blessing. Paul, needing funds, was able to begin working with them, as a tentmaker, in order to support himself. Providentially, he had to do this for a while, causing his evangelistic activities to be moved to a part-time basis (a break, which, considering how the Lord worked this, was probably much needed).
Thus, Paul’s situation had improved quite a bit. He was now not alone, and he was earning some money for his food, clothing, and shelter. He also undertook his evangelistic work, albeit not full time, proclaiming the gospel according to his usual pattern, going to the synagogue every Sabbath. There he attempted to persuade the Jews, reasoning, explaining, and proving to them the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Yet, Paul was having a hard time. How so? Well, we get an idea of Paul’s state of mind, at this time, from 1 Cor. 2:3, where he wrote (concerning these times) to the Corinthian church saying, “I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling.” The daunting situation he faced had something to do with his state of mind, surely. But we mustn’t forget that Paul had gone through a rather rough time, up to this point, in the cities he had visited. Paul had been constantly under tension and stress, constantly facing hostile opposition; he had been flogged, stoned and left for dead, stripped naked and beaten with rods, tortured, and jailed. Then, he had such little success in Athens, even after brilliantly arguing the case of Christ in the Areopagus. That alone would crush some people.
Personally, I am rather inclined to think that Paul had Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) if not actual PTSD. It is seriously doubtful that Paul just brushed himself off and skipped and whistled down the road with no psychological impact upon him after such trauma, frustration, and difficulties.
Yet, here he was again, in a synagogue, bringing the word of God. Although he proclaimed the gospel with courage, Paul was only a man. He had to have been a little gun-shy. Thus, he wrote of those times saying, “I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling.”
It was probably a bittersweet time for him, though. In the midst of his fear and frustrations, he had new friends and fellow-workers. And, in-time, the Lord sent him reinforcements, bolstering his courage. Take a look at vv. 5-8.
5 When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. 6 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.” 7 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. 8 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.
Notice how, in this passage, we see encouragement, frustration, and then encouragement again.
Silas and Timothy arrived in Corinth, bringing Paul exciting news about the Thessalonian church, news of spiritual growth and goodwill, which greatly encouraged him. He wrote to the Thessalonian church about it, and we have in 1 Thess. 3:6-8 Paul’s words:
6 But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you— 7 for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. 8 For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.
Silas and Timothy brought more than just encouraging news, however. They also brought a missionary offering of money from the church in Philippi. Remember that little church, meeting in Lydia’s home? He addresses this blessing 2 Cor. 11:9 and Phil. 4:14-15. Paul was certainly encouraged by these things. Some of his closest friends, fellow missionaries, had arrived bringing good tidings and financial assistance.
Paul was now able to apply himself fully to the proclamation of the gospel. So, he did. However, even applying himself full-time, we see that not many people were believing. In fact, opposition in the form of insults and abuse finally reared its ugly head, as usual. Surely Paul expected this, because it had happened over and over again. And he probably expected the physical abuse or imprisonment that normally came soon after.
Frustrated and just done with the Jews hard-heartedness, Paul “shook out his garments” so that not a speck of dust would be on them from the synagogue. And he said to them (in a warning of God’s judgment), “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”
Providentially, he didn’t have to go far. Next door, in fact. This seemed to be just what was needed, too. For, right after this move, many people started to come to Christ. Even the head of the synagogue, Crispus, came to believe in Jesus.
But now the Jews were stirred up. Perhaps Paul was just waiting for the shoe to drop and the Jews to do some horrible thing to him – again. He had good reason to be afraid. Reason to be discouraged. And, it seems he was so discouraged by this fear that he was in danger of giving up on his mission in Corinth.
Now, the Lord, caring for his servant and for those he had chosen, in Corinth, that had not yet heard the gospel, the Lord lovingly spoke an encouraging word to Paul. Look at vv. 9-10.
9 And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 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.”
What an encouraging word! The Lord basically told Paul to keep-on drive-on driving-on, to keep on speaking, in the way he had been doing, by reasoning, witnessing, and teaching.The Lord’s word was a guarantee against failure! And this was a turning point for Paul. Divinely encouraged, v. 11 tells us, “And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.”
Over this 18-month period, the Jews agitation must have worked up to a frenzy, and they were just looking for an opportunity to get Paul. In vv. 12-17 we have an account of their attack, when it came.
12 But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, 13 saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” 14 But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. 15 But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.” 16 And he drove them from the tribunal. 17 And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this.
The Lord was true to his word. No-one brought any harm to Paul. Hence, we have, in the first part of v.18:
18 After this, Paul stayed many days longer and then took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila.
What a story! What a journey! In the daunting metropolis of Corinth, Paul began his mission with not much more than the clothes on his back. There he dealt with frustration, fear and discouragement, facing constant opposition. Along the way, friends, God’s provision, and people coming to the Lord encouraged him. He even received a word of encouragement from God himself. Paul’s stay in Corinth ended up longer than any other time in his missionary career up to that point. All sorts of people believed the gospel, and Paul trained them as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Now, if you’ve been a disciple of Jesus Christ for any time at all, you know that discouragement is constantly lurking, as you seek to follow the Lord in obedience—particularly as you confess Christ to the world. But, the Lord has given us the body of Christ (our fellow believers) to encourage us, as we follow the Lord. We are not alone.
How important are we to each other?
Well, the story that is told of a man who had suddenly stopped going to church. After some weeks, the pastor went to visit him. It was a chilly evening, and he found the man at home, sitting before a blazing fire. Guessing the reason for the visit, the man welcomed the pastor, led him to a big chair by the fireplace, and waited.
The pastor made himself comfortable and said nothing. In silence, he contemplated the play of the flames around the burning logs. After some time, he took the tongs, picked up a brightly burning ember and placed it to one side of the hearth. Then he sat back in his chair, still silent. The host watched all this in quiet fascination. As the lone ember’s flame diminished, there was a momentary glow, but then its fire was no more and it was cold and dead. Not a word had been spoken. But as the pastor rose to leave, the host said, “Thank you so much for your visit—and especially for your fiery sermon. I shall be at church next Sunday.” 
My friends, we should not isolate ourselves from the body of Christ. Not only should we continue to gather together for worship, but not isolating ourselves means a bit more than just showing up on Sunday. It’s possible to worship, even pew-sitting in the sanctuary on Sunday, and be isolated. Yet, that just will not do. It is critical to our walk with Christ that we have fellowship with one-another, not only on Sunday, but during the week.
And, it’s exponentially more difficult to fellowship with one-another when exclusively “doing church” while alone, whether by the creek bank, or merely listening to or watching a church service on the radio, internet, or TV. Sometimes these things are necessary, like during these COVID times, but only in a temporary way. Going too long without in-person fellowship just makes it that much harder to return to the body.
And we mustn’t forget the homebound folks, who need visiting for fellowship. I know with COVID, that may be tricky, but don’t forget them.
As it is, having no real contact with the body of Christ, in fellowship, is just not sufficient for healthy Christian living. Indeed, there comes a point to where such avoidances move into the realm of disobedience. Consider Hebrews 10:24-25:
24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Brothers and sisters, God has given us each other for encouragement, love, and accountability. We need each other. We need face-to-face fellowship. It’s the way God has designed us and his church (Acts 2:42; 1 Jn. 1:3, 7). Without fellowship, we’re outside God’s design, and things don’t go so well out there. Be deliberate. Reach out to each other, as brothers and sisters, in fellowship with Christ. We need each other.
Furthermore, alongside this need for fellowship, there is the imperative that Christians stay in God’s Word. Where else do we get an encouraging word from the Lord to help us stay faithful and to continue our mission? The Bible is full of the Lord’s promises. Read it. Meditate on it. Your fears will be quieted, and you will be encouraged in your walk with Christ. In the Lord’s Word, we learn that, like he told Paul, Jesus is always with us. Matthew 28:20, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
But remember, sometimes (even in our faithfulness, as we walk with the Lord, pursuing the mission he has given us in this life, doing the right things) we can get discouraged. All sorts of difficulties come our way in life. The world opposes us and would oppress us by instilling fear in us. It can be a daunting task to stay faithful.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33). He is always with you. You have the Word of God, the Bible, full of every promise of God. You have the Spirit of God to support and strengthen you as you press on. You have the body of Christ, other believers, with whom you have fellowship that support and encourage you, just as you support and encourage them, as we follow Christ together.
Every day, as you strive to be faithful to the Lord in your walk with him, be encouraged. Since Christians are not alone, we should be encouraged as we confess Christ before a hostile world.
 C. S. Lewis, Present Concerns: Essays by C.S. Lewis, ed. Walter Hooper (New York, NY: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1986), 73-74.
 Cf. James Montgomery Boice, Acts: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1997), 303.
 Michael P. Green, ed., 1500 Illustrations for Biblical Preaching (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 60.