Now, coming to chapter 18, we find ourselves with the apostle Paul on his second missionary journey. And as he comes to chapter 18, he is in the city of Corinth. And Corinth was the center of vice and the center of immorality of the world of its day.
Now, as we saw in our study two weeks ago, as Paul came to Corinth, the trouble that he was going to face was not only the trouble of that kind of a city, but it was the trouble that he himself was experiencing in his own life. As best as we can ascertain, he was a very troubled man. He was discouraged; he was tired; he was weary; he was perhaps even ill physically.
And so, this was a difficult time, a most difficult city, and a most depressed man. And yet he knew, as always he knew in every city, that God had a ministry for him. But, you know, before he could ever really get into to that ministry, he needed to be encouraged. I think all of us have been there. All of us have been to those places wherein our ministry we know God has something for us, and we know something awaits us. And yet, there’s just that encouragement that we desperately need to really pursue. And Paul is at that place.
Now, this whole secondary missionary journey had started on a sour note. The first journey had been Paul and Barnabas, and what a sweet time they’d had, even though there was persecution. They returned with great victories, and they celebrated when they got back to Antioch.
And then they decided to take a second journey, and this time Paul and Barnabas started to go, and before they ever left Antioch, they had an argument, and a very severe argument. And they fought over whether they should include John Mark on the journey. Because John Mark had proven himself unfaithful, Paul said no. Because John Mark had somewhat redeemed himself, Barnabas said yes. And so, the fight went on, and finally they split. And the second journey started on a sad note, as Paul and Barnabas severed relationships, and Paul took Silas in the place of Barnabas and set out.
But immediately the ministry was greeted with joy, because in Syria and Cilicia they had a marvelous time. They went to Galatia, strengthened the churches, confirmed the churches there, and even added to their team a young man by the name of Timothy.
They followed the leading of the Holy Spirit then, as the Spirit led them really to the edge of Macedonia or Greece, the edge of Europe. And there they picked up another one to add to the team by the name of Luke, the one who wrote the book of Acts. And so, the team is four: Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke.
They crossed over, and they found themselves in Europe, and they came to the first city that they were to minister in, the city of Philippi. And immediately, again, they were greeted with a joyous time as Lydia and her whole household received Jesus Christ. But then it began, for no sooner had that happened than Satan began his attack and persecution broke out.
Eventually, Paul and Silas were thrown into the inner dungeon of a jail. They were put in stocks, and they were left there. God, by a miraculous earthquake, released them, freed them, but they had to leave town. And so, they left, and they hurried off to Thessalonica. And there they began to preach, and God blessed, and some were saved, but persecution arose as some angry Jews started a riot, and they had to flee for their lives.
And they fled to a place called Berea. And Berea had some noble Jews who searched the Scriptures and received Christ. And there was rest at Berea for a little while, until those riotous, angry Jews from Thessalonica finally arrived. And they arrived in their pursuit of Paul and Silas and created so much trouble that Paul had to run again. He left Timothy, and he left Silas, but he hurried on himself to Athens.
When he got to Athens, he was all alone. And Athens was a formidable place, a city of philosophy and religion, and a city of sin. And he was all alone and somewhat discouraged already. And nevertheless he had a fruitful ministry in terms of his preaching. In chapter 17 it tells how he preached both to the Jews and the Gentiles. And the masterful sermon on getting to know the unknown God in chapter 17:22 and following.
And yet, at the end of all of that, there were only a few who believed. Just a few. And so, he was perhaps somewhat discouraged at the results. But he knew God called him yet further, and so he trudged on alone to the city of Corinth.
And by the time we arrive in chapter 18, verse 1, he is again alone at Corinth. And he faces a two-fold problem: the problem of a sinful, vile city and a discouraged, depressed, disheartened, weary, tired apostle.
Now, the city of Corinth deserves some mention. Verse 1 says, “After these things, Paul departed from Athens and came to Corinth” – Corinth was not just a city; it was what I called a couple of weeks ago the Vanity Fair of the Roman Empire. It was sin city. It was debauched at every level. When you wanted to describe a person as utterly corrupt, you said he acted like a Corinthian. It was synonymous with vice.
In fact, I don’t know if you remember this, but it is from the city of Corinth that Paul wrote Romans. And when he wrote Romans 1, he was writing it not only by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but he was writing it out of the context of his experience in Corinth. And Romans 1:24 to 32 is really a catalog of the activity of the Corinthians.
Turn in your Bible to Romans 1, and I just want to give you an idea of what the city was like. And you’ll be able better to appreciate his ministry there and appreciate why he was discouraged and fearful. And incidentally, he was fearful when he got there. He says, “I came in much fear.” He was fearful. He was fearful because of the corruption, because of what he saw, and because of his own weakness.
But verse 24 of Romans 1 – remember now, he’s writing to the Romans, but he’s writing from Corinth; and so, the experience most vivid in his mind is the vision that he has seen of the Corinthians. Here is a description of them, as of all pagans, but dominantly so the characterization of Corinth, “Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves” – and here you have the idea not only of – of interpersonal, sexual activity, but of bestiality – that is sexual relationships with animals.
Verse 25, “Who exchanged the truth of God for a lie, who worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up until vile affections: for even their women did exchange he natural use for that which is against nature” – lesbianism. And then homosexuality in 27, “Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the women, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was fitting,” or which they deserve for such activity.
Verse 28, “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not seemly; being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication” – that’s porneía from which we get pornography, sexual uncleanness – “wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity” – that’s verbal, out-loud slander – “whispers” – that’s behind-the-back slanders – “backbiters, haters of God, insolent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things” – they didn’t have enough to do; they invented some new sin – “disobedient to parents” – notice God catalogs that with those other things – “without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection” – that has to do with the family; they didn’t have normal family relationships – “implacable, unmerciful: who knowing the judgment of God, that they who commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.” They not only loved their sin, but they loved sinners. They not only were glad to do the sin, but they actually rejoiced in the others who did it with them. They were debauched.
In that city there were all kinds of shows and things going on where you could go see sin and vice displayed. There was a vulgar display of wealth; there was the most corrupt and indecent practices imaginable. It was a vile place.
And here was Paul, alone in this place. And not being at the top of his strength, being somewhat fearful and somewhat hesitant, and overwhelmed with the corruption of the place and his own weakness. He was hesitant, but oh, my, if we learn anything from dear Paul, we learn when he wrote back to the Corinthians that he said this, “When I am weak” – what? – “then I am strong, for God’s strength is made perfect in my weakness.”
And so, though he may not have stopped to realize, what he wrote later in 2 Corinthians, right here, in the confession of his own inadequacy was the basis of his own effectiveness. That’s a great principle, isn’t it?
And Paul, later on in 2 Corinthians, says, “Wherefore I have learned to glory in affirmity – in infirmity. I’ve learned to glory in distress. I’ve learned to glory in affliction, for when I am weak, then I am strong.” And so, the apostle Paul confronts a rotten city.
You know, just to show you the intensity of this corruptness, the church itself was started by Paul. He ministered in that church perhaps for as long as nearly two years.
Now, you’d say that’s a good beginning for a church, right? I mean to be founded by the apostle Paul, the greatest Bible teacher alive in the world, maybe the greatest who ever lived, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; to be taught by that man all that time. You’d say, “There’s a church that really would have a great start.”
Yes, and in 1 Corinthians 1, he says, “You come behind in no gift.” Boy, they had it all. Balance. But you know what happened to that church? By the time he turns back to write 1 Corinthians, they are so corrupted that it just beggars description. And you know what that says to me? That says that the intensity of the corruptness of Corinth was practically irresistible.
And I – just to show you what I mean by that, turn to 1 Corinthians chapter 5, and I want to show you the vile character of Corinth as evidenced by what it did to the church. Believe me; you can see it even in our day today. The society that we live in has a tremendous effect on the Church. Tremendous effect.
Almost everything that our society does, that dominates our society, finds its way into the life of the Church. And it was true in Corinth, and the vile nature of city found its way into the Church.
1 Corinthians 5:1, “It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you” – sexual sin. This wasn’t some one-time deal; this is everybody’s talking about your sexual sin in the church. And when a church gets a reputation like that, boy, that’s really something. And it’s not just, you know, normal kind of fornication, if there is any such thing; it’s “fornication that isn’t even named among the heathen.” You’ve got some that isn’t even normal for them, “that one should have his father’s wife.” Somebody having relationships with his mother; now maybe his stepmother, but nevertheless it’s with his mother or his stepmother. This is something you’re doing, and, “It’s coming to me from all sides,” he says.
And the worst of it is verse 2, “And you are puffed up” – you’re bragging about it. Can you imagine? It’s one thing that it would even be done, but then to spread it around and brag about it, that is unbelievable. In the church. Like feathers in your cap. “You have not rather mourned, that you had – that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.” And then he goes on to say, “Get that guy out of there. Don’t you know that one rotten apple spoils a barrel?”
“You turn him over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his soul may be saved. Get him out.” But listen, when that kind of sexual impurity gets into the church, something’s wrong. That’s a pretty powerful system; that’s a pretty powerful culture to infiltrate that fast that much.
Look over in verse 9, “I wrote unto you an epistle not to company with fornicators” – now, he has heard also that they were hanging around people in sexual sin. Don’t company with those; you have no business with them. Boy, beloved, choose your friends wisely. “Yet not altogether with the fornicators of the world” – yeah, it’s bad enough that you company with the fornicators of the world but – “with the covetous, or extortioners, idolaters; for then must you needs go out of the world.” In other words, you have no part with them.
“But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, covetous, idolater, railer, or a drunk, or an extortioner; no, don’t even go to his house for dinner.”
See, it was one thing that this people were living outside the church, but the problem was they had gotten inside the church. And he says, “Cut yourself off from those people.” What a powerful influence of sin and evil was finding its domination against that church.
Now, in verse 9 of chapter 6, it tells us something else in characterization of the Corinthian situation. “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, adulterers” – those are people who have sexual relations outside their marriage – “no effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkard, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” Listen, “And such” – what? – “were some of you” – this is typical – this is a typical cross section of the culture of Corinth.
You want to know how to describe the Corinthians? There it is. They were fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, abusers of themselves, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, and extortioners. Now, I’m sure that didn’t come out in their little brochure put out by the chamber of commerce, but that was true.
Now, over in verses 13 and following, I want to show you something else. They had another problem. They were gluttonous. And Paul is really sarcastic. He says, in verse 13, “Foods for the body, and the body for foods” – in other words, boy, all you people can think of is eating – “but God shall destroy both it and them.” Both your body and your food is going to go.
And then he goes on to say, “And the body isn’t for fornication, but for the Lord.” Some of the people in the church, some Christians were actually entertaining harlots, prostitutes. And they were not even hiding it. Verse 15, “Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? Shall I take the members of Christ and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid.”
Now, you read a little bit in 1 Corinthians, you’ll get the idea that God isn’t real happy with premarital and extramarital sex. Not at all. He gets very upset about it. In fact, if you go over to chapter 7, verse 2, they had another problem. They were just having a big sex deal, and they weren’t even bothering to get married. It sounds like today.
Verse 2, “Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and every woman have her own husband.” They were just putting marriage aside and living it up. God says, “You get married. Over in chapter 10, verse 8, this is an interesting view of it. I’ve had young people say to me, “Well, I know that we have sexual relationships and we’re not married, but we love each other. Well, that comes under the biblical category of fornication. And I’ll give you an idea of how God feels about it, chapter 10, verse 8, “Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand.” Now, when God executes 23,000 people for fornication, that means he’s serious about it. Twenty-three thousand people were executed by God for committing sexual acts apart from marriage. That’s serious business.
Over in verse 20 of chapter 10, he says another problem is Corinth is they worship demons, “I say that the things which the heathen sacrifice they sacrifice to demons, and not to God: and I don’t want you to have fellowship with demons.” So, this was really a messed up society. And they’re characterized very clearly in the book of 1 Corinthians by their influence on the church.
Now, Paul arrives here, and he’s alone. I mean that’s kind of a formidable enemy. Before he can ever begin anything, God has to encourage him. There’s got to be a buoying up of his sunken spirits. And, oh, my God is a God of encouragement. I love the fact that he is.
You know, I have discouraging times, and so do you, but I never get to the place where I get discouraged but what immediately into my life comes God’s encouragement. You know, Jesus had just unloaded a real bomb on His disciples in John 13 when He told them he was going to leave, and immediately He saw their reaction. And He says to them in 14:1, “Let not your heart” – what? – “be troubled.” He is super sensitive to the comfort of His saints. Always. Always.
The Lord is a compassionate, compassionate Lord. I think of Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus where He cried. And He was moved with compassion when He saw Mary cry. And when He saw His disciples all sorrowing in John 16, He said, “Look, boys.” He says, “You’re sorrow shall be turned to joy; trust Me.” He’s a God of comfort, a God of compassion.
Oh, there are discouraging times, but just wait. You’re learning in the discouraging time, and you’re just waiting for the encouragement. You know, there were two prophets in the Old Testament who must have gotten more discouraged than anybody else. A lot of prophets got discouraged, but the two guys that really, really took it on the nose, from the beginning to the end of their ministry, were Isaiah and Jeremiah.
Do you know that God said to both of them, “I want you to spend your whole life being my prophet, but I want to tell you one thing: nobody’ll listen to anything you ever say.” Well, that’s a rough call. I mean that’s – that’s tough to handle. And that’s what both of those guys heard from the beginning.
And yet, they were so faithful that they carried out their entire ministry without ever much of a response except antagonism. And Isaiah got discouraged. He got discouraged a lot of times. And when he got discouraged, sometimes Israel got discouraged, too. But I love what it says in 43:1 to 3. God speaks, and He says, “But now thus saith the Lord who created thee, O Jacob, and who formed thee, O Israel, ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed thee; I have called they by thy name; thou art Mine.’” I like that. Don’t you like that? And when you really get discouraged, remember who you belong to. “‘When thou passest through the waters, I’ll be with thee; through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Savior.’” Emphasis on the “thy.” Oh, God is a God of encouragement.
You know, Jeremiah wrote a whole book about his weepings. It’s called Lamentations. That’s just weepings. Jeremiah’s weepings. That’s what the whole book’s about. And he wept form the beginning to the end because he was weeping over Israel. They never listened to him. And he knew the captivity was coming, and they never listened. And he cried a whole lot. You know, he was called the weeping prophet. Spent his whole ministry crying because nobody ever listened.
And I love it; in Lamentations 3:17, he’s I the midst of crying. He says in verse 15, “He’s filled me with bitterness and made me drink wormwood and broken my teeth with gravel stones.” I feel like I’ve been chewing rocks. “He’s covered me with ashes, and Thou hast removed my soul far off from peace: I forgot prosperity.” In other words, “I’ve lost the peace. I’ve forgotten when it used to be good times and happy times.”
“And I said, ‘My strength and my hope are perished from the Lord’” – I got nothing anymore. Just flat out discouraged. Eh. He says, “My soul hath them still in remembrance.” And then he says some memories begin to trickle back. And he says in 21, “This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is because of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed” - says Jeremiah; listen to this – “because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning” – and then this statement – “great is Thy faithfulness.” I like that.
I love what he says in the next verse, “The Lord is my portion, says my soul; therefore will I hope in Him.” Listen to this one, “The Lord is good unto those who wait for Him” – boy, sometimes you have to wait, isn’t that true? Through the discouraging times?
You know, God has a lot of names in the Bible, but one of my favorites is this one. Have you ever remembered this as God’s name? Listen. “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Mercies” – now watch this one – “and the God of all Comforts. Isn’t that a beautiful thought? The God of all comforts. That’s His name: Compassion, Comfort, Encouragement.
You know, in Acts 9, after all the hassles the church had been through under the persecution of Saul, it finally says the – that the church had rest, and they were comforted with the comfort of the Holy Spirit. And what is the Holy Spirit’s name? He is called the Comforter. God is in the business of encouragement. Wait on Him and see.
Well, here’s Paul, and he’s at the bottom, and he’s flat, and he’s dried up, and he sees a tremendous obstacle in this vast panorama of vice in the city of Corinth, and he just kind of stands around. And I’m sure he doesn’t know what exactly is going to be the approach. And God moves to comfort Paul. And I believe, in this passage – and there are a lot of ways you could teach these passage. As I’ve said many times, every one’s like a diamond; you could hit any facet. But I just want to pull out of this passage four ways that God comforts His apostle.
So four ways that God desires to comfort Paul: companionship, apostleship, fellowship, and hardship. He first of all brings into his life companionship. My, isn’t it a true thing that friends are a great comfort to us? What do we do? We all know the terrible emptiness that comes when we are alone. Loneliness. Oh, we all need some time alone, but there’s a difference between being alone and being lonely. And friends are a blessing.
So, God knows that, one, a guy in a city like that, all alone, needs friends. And so, first of all is companionship; his friends. Let’s look at verse 2. Well, he gets to Corinth, and he found a certain Jew named Aquila. Now, this Jew had a Latin name, and he had a wife named Priscilla. We don’t know whether she was a Jew or not; she may have been a Gentile lady. Some would say she was a very high-class Gentile; that’s why she’s listed first in the other listings of the two. It’s Priscilla and Aquila, which may indicate that she was kind of a high-class Gentile. But we don’t know that; she might have been a Jew.
Anyway, Aquila was from Pontus, which was just by the Caspian of the Black Sea, where Turkey would be today. And they had been in Italy, but they got kicked out of Italy because Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome. So, Aquila and Priscilla had moved to Corinth; they were living there. They were plying their trade there. And the apostle Paul came unto them.
And you say, “Well, how did that happen?”
Well, verse 3 says, “Because he was of the same craft” - or he had the same trade – “he abode with them and worked; for by their occupation, they were also tentmakers.” Now, the word literally means leather workers. So – and we mentioned last time that they may have met each other at the synagogue because it was, in some synagogues, a custom to seat people according to their trade. And so, maybe they met there. Other than that, Paul may have just gone looking for a job among the people who did what he did.
But nevertheless, he made two friends. And I told you two weeks ago that I believe these two were already Christians. And so, God had two choice people waiting for him. God encouraged him with friendship. He found a home to live in. He found beloved friends, saints in Christ to nourish him and to cherish him, and to encourage him, and to share fellowship with him. And he worked with them. And they opened their home.
It says in verse 3, “He abode with them.” Boy, I’m telling, you, they just opened up to him. Well, you know, that they were as rewarded as he was, because what he had to offer maybe no man ever had to offer. And so, a beautiful friendship began. And Paul then really was encouraged, I’m sure, by those two friends.
Now, also, he worked. And I just pinpointed last time the fact that he worked probably for two reasons. One, sustenance; he needed to work. The Bible says that’s a principle. You work, you eat. You don’t work, you don’t eat. Now, Paul had to work because he had to eat.
But the second thing, and you’ll see this in a minute, as I cover some other passages, he worked because he was always very sensitive to the fact that he never wanted pagans to think that Christianity was a commercial enterprise. He always wanted them to know that Christianity could pay its own way. That was so important. He was no freeloader. And I mean when this guy worked, he worked hard. And he didn’t just work at Corinth, you know; he worked everywhere he went. Unless there was some provision made, he just automatically went to work.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:9, he says, “Now, when I was with you in Thessalonica, I labored night and day because we would not be chargeable unto any of you.”
In other words, “I was not going to make myself an obligation to you; I didn’t want to be chargeable to you. So, I worked; and I worked all day, and I worked all night. In addition to that, I preached the Gospel of God.”
And in 2 Thessalonians – he says this so many times, you know it was a real thing with him – 2 Thessalonians 3:8, “Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nothing.” “I didn’t take handouts,” he said.
You say, “Why not, Paul? I mean it was a gift of love.”
No, at the very beginning of his initiation of a ministry, he wanted to make sure that people understood that Christianity was not a commercial operation. He said, “I didn’t take any man’s bread for nothing, but I wrought with labor and travailed night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you.”
So, he said that to the Thessalonians. It was typical of Paul that he did not want to freeload on anybody. Now, when he wrote back to the Corinthians, I want to show you something I think is very interesting, because he repeats it so many times, I know it’s important. In 1 Corinthians 4:11, he writes back to the Corinthians, and he tells them his whole attitude toward this supplying his own need thing. Listen to what he says, 1 Corinthians 4:11, “Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place” – now, I mean that’s quite a deal, isn’t it? That’s having absolutely nothing.
And he says, “And, of course, since that’s the case, we labor, working with our own hands.” Paul says, “It’s not different now, as I write this letter to you, than it was when I was with you. I’m still without anything, working with my hands to provide my bread, my clothes, and my place to rest.” And that’s really a part of his life.
Over in chapter 9, as if we didn’t get the message, he says it again. He says in verse 11, “If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?” In other words, he says, “Now that you’ve come along a little ways, it’s not wrong for us to expect something from you. And if you have ministers there, you ought to pay them. If others be partakers of this right over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless, we have not used this right, but bear all things lest we should hinder the Gospel of Christ. He says, “It’s right that you should pay the preacher, but we have never asked for it because we don’t want to hinder the Gospel.” When you offer it, that’s one thing. And, of course, he can write here from a distance and say what he couldn’t have said when he was there, because that would have been like begging.
In verse 14, he says, “The Lord has ordained that they who preach the Gospel should live of it.” In other words, if you make your life to preach it, then you ought to be supported from your preaching.” But that certainly should be at the discretion of the people.
You know, it was interesting, at this conference; I have never, in all of my teaching and preaching everywhere, never, ever, ever, at any time, put a price on my preaching or my ministry. Some do. I think that’s really bad in my mind. Now, that’s just my personal opinion. I think when you put a price tag on your ministry, you have eliminated yourself from the liberty to let the spirit do what he wants to do.
So, I finished this conference this week, speaking to the Conservative Baptists in Palm Springs. And there for a couple of days. And I got all finished, and a man came to me, and he says, “Now, I’m going to write you a check. How much do we owe you?”
And I said, “I don’t know how – what do you mean how much do you owe me?”
He says, “Well, what price did you come for?”
I said, “Well, I didn’t come for any price.”
He said, “Well, you must have had a contract or some agreement worked out for your fee.”
And I was blinking, you know, and is aid. “No.” I said, “I have – I have no fee.” I said, “You know, do whatever you want or do nothing; it doesn’t matter to me.”
And he’s – “Oh,” he said. “Uh, we better have a meeting on this.” And he says, “W-w-w-we’ll – you’ll hear from us; you’ll hear from us.” You know?
Well, I guess, bless his heart, he was so used to people setting a price on their ministry that he just assumed that. God help us when we do that. I’m available to the Holy Spirit. If I go somewhere and speak, and they give me money; that’s good. If I go somewhere and speak and give them some money, that’s good. I just want to do what the Spirit wants. I don’t want to put a price tag on it.
Well, Paul is saying, “Sure, it’s right to preach and to live by the Gospel, but that’s up to you.” And he says, “I’m not going to come in there and set a tag on myself. I’m not going to push anything. I’ll just work, if need be, till you recognize the need.”
Well, that was his attitude toward it. And incidentally, he didn’t quite there. In 2 Corinthians, he says it again. This really was important to him. Apparently, there were a lot of phony religions, and all their would-be profits marching around, making money. And, boy, that’s true today. Believe me; it’s true. Beloved me. And you see it all the time. Boy, we who are Christians, who know the truth of the Gospel, must never make merchandise out of the Gospel. Never. Because there are those doing it. The false teachers, you know, who for covetousness’ sake, see, fleece the sheep. Never make merchandise of the Gospel.
And Paul, in 2 Corinthians 11:7, he says, “Have I committed an offense in abasing myself that you might be exalted, because I have preached to you the Gospel of God freely?” Verse 9, “When I was present with you and lacked, I was chargeable to no man: I just waited, and that which was lacking was brought to me from Macedonia.” Remember, they took an offering up there, and Silas brought it. But he didn’t ask for anything.
Well, so, he worked. And while he worked, he made some friends. And you know what was good about it? Those friends were life-long, precious friends. And he mentions them at least three more times in the rest of the New Testament.
Well, now look at verse 4. While he was making tents all week long, “He reasoned in the synagogues every Sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks.” He took Sabbath day to do his preaching. He worked, and then he preached on the Sabbath.
You say, “When did he have his day off?”
Guess again. Verse 5, “And when Silas and Timothy were come from Macedonia” – now, here’s the next feature; his friends, first of all, were new friends: Aquila and Priscilla. But what’s just as good, or maybe better, than new friends? Old friends. And Silas and Timothy arrived and just thrilled his heart.
Listen, friendship is important. It is important. There are a couple of statements in the Proverbs – maybe I’ll take a minute just to give you these. I think you might want to use these. Listen to this, just a beautiful statement. Proverbs 27:9, “Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart” – that’s just to set up a contrast or an illustration. Listen to the next statement – “so doth the sweetness of a man’s friend” – isn’t that good?
You say, “Boy, I’d like to have a friend like that. I’d like to have a friend that was that kind of sweetness.”
You ready for this? Proverbs 18:24, “A man who hath friends must show himself friendly.” Practical. First of all, God encourages him with companionship. Secondly, with apostleship. If it was first with his friends, it was second with his converts. And if here’s anything more wonderful than friends, it’s converts. I-I love the people that I love, but I’ll tell you something else: I sure get excited about new people that come into the kingdom.
And God encourages him through his apostleship with converts, verse 5, “When Silas and Timothy were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ.” Now, I have to clear this verse up a little bit, because there are later manuscript evidence that indicates the phrase “pressed in the spirit” is not the best phrase. But what it says here is, and the New American Standard has this correctly, “That he began devoting himself completely to the Word.” So, the verse would read, if you have Authorized, this way, “When Silas and Timothy were come from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the Word.” In other words, when Silas brought the money from the Philippians, he was freed up to quit making tents, and he could give himself entirely to his preaching.
Now, really, that’s what the apostle was supposed to do anyway. When the time came, God provided. And, oh, he longed to do it. What does he say in 1 Corinthians 9:16? “But necessity is laid upon me; woe is unto me if I preach not the Gospel!” This was his passion. His passion. And so, here comes an offering frees him up, and he began devoting himself completely to the Word.”
You say, “What does a good apostle do with this time?”
There’s what he does with his time. You can find that back in Acts chapter 6. Sure, we studied that in detail. In 6:1, listen, they were having an argument because there was some little parts of the program that weren’t going, and they weren’t getting enough food over here to the Greek Jews. Their widows thought they were getting cheated.
So, “The apostles called” - in verse 2 of 6, Acts – “The apostles called a multitude of the disciples and said unto them, “Now, it’s not fitting that we should leave the Word of God and serve tables.”
“Now, we apostles, we can’t get involved in all of this kind of thing, which is taking care of the widows, which is a good ministry; but for us, it is not the necessary thing.”
So, he says, “Brethren, you look among you for seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.”
“Now, we’ll get some other men to do this” - and watch verse 4 – “and we will give ourselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the Word.” Did you get that? “We will give ourselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the Word.”
Do you know what the role of an apostle was? Prayer and the Word, prayer and the Word, prayer and the Word, prayer and the Word. And that is it. And, beloved, I still believe, though there are no apostles today, that that is the absolute priority in the ministry.
Now, churches need a complex of men, and there are many who can do many different things, but somewhere in the – in the eldership of the church, there must be those who are given to labor in the Word and doctrine. That’s what Paul said. That is the crying need today.
When Paul wrote to Timothy – now I’m going to get on my hobby horse – when Paul wrote to Timothy, he said in 1 Timothy 4:13, “Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.” You know what that means? That means read the text, explain the text, and apply the text. Paul said to Timothy, “Till I get there, you just worry about the Word. Don’t neglect it.”
Verse 15, “Meditate upon these things; give thyself partly to them” - is that what it says? – “wholly to them.” Your whole life should be saturated in the Word. He says to Timothy, “Here’s two things that make up your ministry: take heed to yourself and to doctrine.” What does that mean? That means take care of your own righteousness and the Word of God. And believe me, beloved, that is my commitment in my own heart: to be concerned with my own life; and to spend myself, my time and myself in prayer and the teaching of the Word. And I think that is what makes the difference. I believe that.
And we have new members’ meetings, and people come in and give their testimonies. I would say nine out of ten people say the same thing, “I came here because we got taught the Word.” It’s invariably what they say.
And, you know, if I speak to five pastors, four of them will ask me, “John, how can I ever get freed up from all of the paraphernalia to actually study the Word?”
Well, what you have to do is exactly what they did in Acts 6. You’ve got to find men full of the Holy Spirit and put them over the stuff and free yourself up to do what’s the priority. Paul said to Timothy, “Preach the Word. Be instant in season and out of season.” Don’t stop doing that; that’s what matters. As soon as a guy dries up in the pulpit, that’s when his people dry up. That’s right.
Well, and what was he preaching? Well, his message was he was preaching the Word of God, and he was testifying to the Jews that Jesus was Messiah. Nothing new. It was always his message.
You say, “What was the response?”
Take a guess. Just figure what it was every other time when he told Jews Jesus was Messiah. And then read verse 6, “And when they opposed themselves and blasphemed” – that’s what the response always is. And the idea of the word “opposed” there is a very strong word. It speaks of a strong, organized resistance. And I mean it’s such a strong word that Peter uses it when he says, “God resists the proud.” It’s the same word that speaks of God in opposition to a man. It’s a strong opposition.
Now, it says that they blasphemed. Oh, my, that’s a serious word. To blaspheme is to ridicule the person of Christ. It is to mock the person of Christ. Oh, be careful. That is such a severe thing. You know, to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, in Matthew 12, was to attribute the works of Christ to Satan. It is to depreciate His character. You know, Paul used to do that. Oh, yeah, 1 Timothy 1:13 says, “I was a blasphemer.” In Acts 26:11, he said, “I used to make Christians blaspheme.” But he got changed. He says, “Who before was a blasphemer.”
I’ll give you an illustration of blasphemy that’s clear. Luke 22:63. And this is the crucifixion, just prior to it, when Jesus was taken to be tried. It says in verse 63 of Luke 22, “And the men that held Jesus mocked Him and smote Him” – which means they punched Him. They smashed Him in the face. “And when they had blindfolded Him, they struck Him on the face” – they blindfolded Christ and just kept pounding on His face with their fists – “and they asked Him saying, ‘Prophesy, who is it that smote Thee?’” Oh, you can just see the sarcasm and the blasphemy and the mockery.
And the next verse says, “And many other things blasphemously spoke they against Him.” So, a definition of blasphemy is to mock Jesus.
James 2:7 says, “Do not they blaspheme that worthy name?” Do you know how God feels about blasphemy? God says in Leviticus 24:16, “If you find a blasphemer, kill him.”
Well, Paul was so infuriated at the blasphemy, that “He shook out his raiment” - verse 6 – “and said unto them, ‘Your blood be upon your own heads; I’m clean; from now on I’ll go to the Gentiles.”
He says to those Jews, he says, “I’m finished with you. I’ve exercised my responsibility. I’ve given you opportunity. You’ve blasphemed Jesus Christ. I’m shaking the dust off my clothes. The blood’s on your head; I’m going to the Gentiles.” And I told you, two weeks ago, that he just marched out of that synagogue, turning his back on Israel.
Now, we found that he didn’t go very far. Verse 7 says, “He departed from there, entered into a certain man’s house, named Titus Justus, one who worshipped God, whose house was next door to the synagogue.”
So, down deep inside, he never got rid of the burden for Israel. He says, “I’m living, and goes next door.”
Now, you’ll notice in verse 7 that the man was named Titus Justus. And Titus Justus was the first so named convert, apparently, in the city of Corinth.
You say, ‘How do you know he was saved? It doesn’t say he was.”
Well, it says he was one who worshipped God, which means he was a Gentile who attached to the synagogue. He was a God-fearing Gentile. But the reason we think he was a Christian was because we think he’s the same one as Gaius, whose name appears in 1 Corinthians 1:14 and Romans 16:23. And in those two verses, it speaks of Gaius. In fact, it says two were baptized by Paul: Crispus and Gaius. And since the two were associated there and associated in verses 7 and 8, we assume that Titus Justus was also Gaius. So, he was saved then, and what a blessing. All the discouragement, all the persecution, Paul shakes his cloak, and he runs out, and he’s just – he’s completely torn up. He just had nowhere to go. He goes into this house, and this guy comes to Christ. And God begins to encourage him with a convert.
And then, to add to that, unbelievably, verse 8, and this is so fantastic, “Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house” – now, if he wasn’t encouraged enough with Titus Justus, he was encouraged now when the head guy of the whole synagogue, and his entire household got saved. And on top of that, many of the Corinthians, imperfect tense verbs, were hearing, were believing, and were being baptized, showing a daily sequence of growth.
Man, I tell you, when God side effects out to encourage his saints, he does it. He didn’t see one convert; he didn’t see two converts; he saw one, and then a whole household, and then every day, every day, every day more Corinthians being saved.
And I’ll tell you, you could be at the bottom of the doldrums, and that’ll get you on top faster than anything. And those were the two that he baptized, Crispus and Gaius, and that got the church rolling. And what a great thing, to see God encourage his own with converts. That’s the encouragement of is companionship and his apostleship.
Thirdly, he encouraged him with fellowship. Now, if I get encouraged by my friends, and I get encouraged by converts, boy, I get encouraged by God. Fellowship is encouragement from His God. God comes to him personally. You know, when he’s really low, when he’s really down, because you know that when those people got saved in verse 8 and kept getting saved, the persecution didn’t stop. Right? It just got hotter and hotter and hotter. You find that if you read carefully 1 Thessalonians 2:15 and 16 and 2 Thessalonians 3:1 and 2, which we read two weeks ago. But the persecution just got more hot all the time.
And so, it was still a rough thing. And so, God says, “Well, his friends are good, and his converts are good, but I think I’ll go down and talk to him myself.” God reserves special times of intervention. You think about the Old Testament. I think about Jonah, where God finally had to go to him in person, encourage poor old prophet Jonah. Nothing encouraged him. And God came to him.
Well, God had special times for Paul. When Paul just got against the wall, and he just was at the end of his rope – I think the first time was he had tried to go, you know, into Asia Minor, and the Spirit said, “No.” He tried to go to Bithynia. The Spirit said, “No.” He can’t go backwards; he’s been there.
He walks that little, thin line, and he finally gets to the sea, and he’s at the end of his rope. God says, “No, no, no, no.” He doesn’t know what to do. And immediately what happens? He comes to the edge of Macedonia, chapter 16, verse 9, and a vision appeared to Paul in the night. He was at the point where he didn’t know what to do, didn’t know where to go, at the end of his Rope. And God comes to him and sends a man of Macedonia who says, “Come to Macedonia and help us,” and he gets a direction from God and takes off.
The next time he had a vision’s in chapter 18. The next time he had a vision’s in chapter 22. Again, he was at the end of his tether. He just didn’t know where to go, where to turn. Chapter 22, verse 17, “And it came to pass that when I was come again to Jerusalem, even while I prayed in the temple, I was in a trance.” He was in there praying, and I’m sure he was saying, “God, I don’t know whether to stay in Jerusalem or whether to get out of here.” He had just been through some terrible things.
And so, he’s in this thing, and all of a sudden, he says, “And saw Him saying unto me, ‘Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem, for they will not receive thy testimony concerning Me.’
“And I said, ‘Lord, they know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue those that believed on Thee. And when the blood of the martyr Stephen was shed, I was standing by, consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him.’”
He said, “But wait a minute, God, they might not realize where I stand. I might be all right.”
“And God says, ‘Depart. I’ll send you far from here unto the Gentiles.’”
So, here again, the end of his rope, not knowing where to go, God comes personally and speaks. Chapter 23, here’s another one. Verse 11, “And the night following, the Lord stood by him” - and he was discouraged, really discouraged. Well, he’d been taken by the soldiers. They really were rough on him. Boy, it says in verse 10 they would have pulled him in pieces. And he’s just really low.
And the Lord comes to him and says, “‘Paul, cheer up, for as you have testified of Me in Jerusalem, so must you bear witness also at Rome.’” “I got a mission for you at Rome, don’t worry about being a prisoner.’”
And, you know, another time, the last time he had one of these visions, chapter 27, Paul says, “There stood by me this night an angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, saying, ‘Fear not, Paul.’” Listen, you know why he said that to him? He was having a shipwreck. He didn’t know what was going to happen. “‘Don’t be afraid, Paul. Thou must be brought before Caesar. And, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.’” Nobody’s going to drown.
So, he goes back to the group and says, “Sirs, be of good cheer, for I believe God.” So, you see, at least five times in the book of Acts, when Paul comes against a crisis, where there’s no way to go and no clear direction, God himself intervenes.
And so, here comes God. This is pure fellowship, believe me. And God gives him a message. Look at this, verse 9, “Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace.” “Paul, don’t stop preaching.” Now, this implies that Paul was getting kind of a little tentative about whether he ought to keep preaching.
You know, the thing was getting so hot, he figured, “Maybe I’ll cool it a little while.”
God says, “Paul, don’t stop.” And I love this.
Well, you’d immediately say, “Well, God, have You considered the situation?” “I mean that’s easy for You to say. You know, You’re up there running everything. I’m in the middle of it.”
So, He says, “Don’t stop,” and then he gives him three reasons. God is always ready to give us the answer we need. Reason one; I love this, “For I am” – verse 10 – “with thee.” And the Greek, it’s emphatic, “For I Myself am with thee personally.” The first reason to keep going, “Paul, is I Myself am with thee.” Oh, man, how comforting that is.
A parallel thing that I think of is Joshua, who was given the awesome responsibility of leading the children of Israel to conquer the Promised Land. Can you imagine? Forty years they’ve been roaming in the desert. They’re a bunch of nomads, and they’re going to knock off a whole nation.
And God says to Joshua, in 1:5, “There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with thee. I will not fail thee nor forsake thee. Be strong and of good courage.” Verse 9, “Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of good courage. Be not afraid, neither be dismayed, for the Lord thy God is with thee wherever thou goest.”
You say, “Boy, I wish I had that promise.”
You do. Jesus said in Matthew 28:20, “Lo, I am with you” – what? – “always.” What a promise. You know what God’s name is? You know what Jesus’ name is? He was born in the world, and in Matthew 1:23, they said, “His name is Emmanuel, which being interpreted is ‘God with us.’” That’s what a Christian is.
“I am with you Myself.” Listen, I stop to think about those kind of things, and I could get myself into any mess and have confidence.
In Isaiah 41:10, there’s a couple of verses that I can’t resist reading. Isaiah, again, is always in a situation where he’s afraid because things aren’t turning out well. And Israel, of course, had somewhat of the same fears. And so, in 41:10, “Fear thou not, for I am with thee. Be not dismayed, for I am thy God. I will strengthen thee; I will help thee; I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness.” Boy, what strength, what confidence.
And then dear Jeremiah, at the very beginning, when God just told him that nobody’s going to listen, Jeremiah 1:17, He says, “Well, gird up thy loins, Jeremiah, and arise, and speak unto them all that I command thee. Be not dismayed at their faces.” They’re going to make faces at you, don’t let it bother you. “For behold” – I love this – “I have made thee this day a fortified city” – listen to this – “an iron pillar, a bronze wall” – man alive, that’s fantastic. He says you can go out there and, verse 19, “They shall fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with thee.” Oh, I like that. Oh, tremendous.
So, He says, “Paul, don’t stop. I Myself am with you.”
Second thing, “Don’t stop, for no man shall set on thee to hurt thee.” No man shall set on thee to hurt thee; that’s the negative side of it. You have nothing to fear, nobody is going to touch you.
Boy, I’ll tell you; you know, I think about the two witnesses in Revelation, and the whole world tries to kill them, you know, in the 11th chapter. And all that happens is they just breathe fire out of their mouth and destroy their enemies. You can’t tough God’s anointed. Listen to what God said to Isaiah, “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper” - Isaiah 54:17 – “and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn.” Now, listen to this, “This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord.” If you’re a servant of the Lord, there isn’t a weapon in the world that can touch you. Boy, whatever happens in this world, it absolutely doesn’t touch you outside of God’s power and God’s design.
And to dear Jeremiah, “I’ll make unto thee, unto this people, a fortified bronze wall, and they shall fight against thee, but they shall not prevail against thee, for I am with thee to save thee and deliver thee.” And He says later on, “I’ll redeem thee out of the hand of the terrible.” “It doesn’t matter how bad they are; I’ll handle it.”
So, “Don’t stop; I’m with you. Don’t stop; nobody’ll hurt you.” Third, “Don’t stop” – verse 10 – “for I have many people in this city.” Don’t stop preaching, because all of the elect are not yet saved.
You say, “John, do you believe in election?”
Well, how else would you explain that verse? “I have many people in this city.”
You say, “You believe that God chooses people to be saved?”
Of course, that’s what it says in Ephesians 1:4, “According as He hath chosen us in Him” – when? – “before the foundation of the world.”
You say, “John MacArthur, you believe that you were chosen to be saved before the foundation of the world?”
Yes. That’s because the Bible says that.
You say, “Oh, but wait a minute.”
Well, you wait a minute. Revelation 13:8 says, “My name was written in the Lamb’s book of life from before the foundation of the world.”
You say, “Well, what about human responsibility?”
Oh, I believe that, too. Sure. Look at verse 6, “You blood be upon” – what? – “your own heads.” Listen; if you come to Jesus Christ, you know why you came to him? Because you were chosen before the world began. If you reject Jesus Christ, it’s your own responsibility.
You say, “Those two don’t go together.”
Right. But I’ve told you before, and I say again, “You must allow in the Scripture for the paradox of sovereignty and responsibility.” Realize that we have little pea brains. And God is the God bigger than the universe. And when God reduces His mind to the little pea brain, there’s got to be some spillage. See? So, we are not – we are not rattled because we can’t justify sovereignty with responsibility; we just let the two exist. Because, you see, that paradox exists in every other major doctrine.
I’ll ask you this: who wrote the book of Acts? You’ll say, “Luke,” and then I’ll say, “The Holy Spirit.” And which one’s right? And yet it wasn’t Luke and the Holy Spirit working together. No, sir. Every word was chosen by the Holy Spirit, and yet Luke himself had all those words in his own vocabulary. It was a perfect paradox.
You say, “Who lives the Christian life? I do.”
Wait a minute. Wait a minute. “Without Me, you can do...”
“I do; He does.”
“We both do it together.”
“He does in me.”
Well, that’s sort of it. It’s a paradox. Who was Jesus Christ – God or Man? Both. That’s a paradox: 100 percent God, 100 percent Man. You can’t be 200 percent of something. That’s a paradox.
You see, in every major biblical doctrine where God reduces Himself to human terms, there is paradox. And I say this, if a man goes to hell, it is his own responsibility for rejecting Christ. The Bible says if he goes to heaven, it is because he was chosen before the foundation of the world.
I’ll tell you what I love, though. I love the fact that the Bible closes with these words, “Whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely.” Listen; if you want to come to Jesus, you come. How God fits that into His sovereignty is his problem. He’ll do it, and you don’t need to worry about it. Boy, I’m glad I don’t understand God, because as I’ve said before, if I understood God, I’d be God. And if I was God, we’d be in lots of trouble.
And so, God, here, encourages Paul. And He encourages Paul with three tremendous things that are the encouragement for us. Listen to this: first of all with his power, “I am with you;” with His preservation, “No man shall ever hurt you;” thirdly with His promise, “I have many people in this city.” Did you know that God promises you to have fruit? “I have ordained you that you should go forth and bring forth fruit.”
Oh, as a Christian, I get excited about His power, His preservation, and His promise.
You say, “You mean, John, that all Christians are supposed to bear fruit?”
No, I mean all Christians do bear fruit. That’s a promise. Well, we’ll stop there, and I’ll talk about that next time. Well, I just know this. I know that God is a God of comfort. And I praise God that He has comforted me with friends, converts, and with his own presence. Let’s pray.
Father, we thank You for what we’ve seen today. And we just trust that the Spirit has taken the humble words and human words and human thoughts and somehow given them a divine kind of baptism and placed them into the minds of those of us who desperately need to know Thy truth.
We thank You for being the God you are, the God of all comforts, the Father of Mercies; the God who has made of us an iron pillar and a fortified bronze wall, a city. That, Father, we know that no – no agency of the world or of Satan can harm us, because You are with us. They cannot hurt us. And that our ministry shall bear fruit because you have ordained it to be so.
Encourage us, Father. Encourage us with companionship, with the call to the ministry, whatever it is that You have called us to do, and with Thyself. We think of David, who was greatly distressed. But as it says in 1 Samuel 30, “He encouraged himself in the Lord his God.”
Thank You for being a God of encouragement. We give You the praise in Jesus’ name, amen.
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