GREAT IS THY FAITHFULNESS ACTS 18:1-17
This morning, I want us to be reminded of one of the great attributes of God. And that attribute found in the Bible is that “God is Faithful” (1 Cor. 10:13). When we seriously think about the subject of faithfulness we realize that it is a rare commodity. We know from experience that people who we consider most trustworthy can let us down. In fact, we may consider ourselves to be pretty faithful, but have found times where we have let others down. But God is always faithful. Now there are times where it may seem that God has let us down, but God is never unfaithful. People may let us down, but God is always faithful.
God’s faithfulness has been proven time and time again in Scripture. I want to give you a few examples of it before we look at our passage. God proved to be faithful to Moses and the people of Israel when he delivered them from the bondage of Egypt. He rescued them from their enemies, provided for them in the wilderness, and brought them into the Promised Land just as he promised.
He was faithful to David in making him King of Israel. Remember David defeated the giant Goliath as a young man with a slingshot and stone. He kept him save from Saul and a couple of his sons who tried a coup against him. He was even faithful in helping David prepare his son Solomon to build a temple for him.
God’s faithfulness was shown to Daniel when he ended up in captivity by allowing him to have favor in the eyes of Nebuchadnezzar. He delivered Daniel from the mouths of the lions when Darius through him in the lion’s den because of his uncompromising ways for the Lord. He proved himself faithful to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego when they refused to bow down to a idol made to the king and they were thrown into the fiery furnace. In fact, he showed in the midst of that fire and kept their hair and clothes from even being singed.
God’s faithfulness was proven over and over again to the disciples even have they lacked faith in him. He had kept his promises to them throughout their entire ministries. God’s faithfulness was seen in the promise he made to our first parents Adam and Eve in the promise of the Messiah in Genesis 3.
Jeremiah, who experienced all kinds of heartaches in the ministry, wrote these words, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning, great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).
In our passage, we will notice God’s faithfulness to the Apostle Paul in the midst of a difficulty. In fact, we can learn that in the midst of our troubles that God always promises to be faithful. I remind you that we serve an encouraging God. So let this passage speak to you the next time you find yourself in a difficulty.
If I ask you to describe the Apostle Paul to me in one word, what word would you pick? Most of us would pick words like “determined,” “brave,” “fearless,” or “courageous.” J. C. Ryle, a 19th century Anglican bishop, would have used the word zealous. In his book Practical Religion, he wrote:
“A zealous man in religion is pre-eminently a man of one thing. It is not enough to say that he is earnest, hearty, uncompromising, through-going, whole-hearted, (and) fervent in spirit. He only sees one thing, he cares for one thing, he lives for one thing, he is swallowed up in one thing; and that one thing is to please God. Whether he lives, or whether he dies, whether he has health, or whether he has sickness, whether he is rich, or whether he is poor, whether he pleases man, or whether he gives offense, whether he is thought wise, or whether he is thought foolish, whether he gets blame, or whether he gets praise, whether he gets honor, or whether he gets shame, for all this the zealous man cares nothing at all. He burns for one thing; and that one thing is to please God, and to advance God’s glory. If he is consumed in the very burning, he cares not for it; he is content. He feels that, like a lamp, he is made to burn; and if consumed in burning, he has but done the work for which God appointed him . . . This is what I mean when I speak of “zeal” in religion.”
Well, that definitely is a word that describes the Apostle Paul. But that is not how Paul would describe himself as he enters the city of Corinth. Paul described himself as “weak,” “afraid,” and “trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3). In fact, Paul in his early days at Corinth said he was “distressed” (1 Thess. 3:7). Why? Well, if you recall since Paul had arrived in Europe: he was beaten and jailed in Philippi, run out of town in Thessalonica and Berea, and scorned and mocked with very little harvest in Athens. He left his partners Timothy and Silas in Berea, while he was alone in the intellectual center of the world. After leaving there, he made a fifty mile journey by himself to Corinth where he was out of money and in a city known for its immorality. Today, we would call it Vanity Fair because everything under the sun went on in this city.
Corinth was a key city in Greece. If you recall from geography class that Greece was cut in two by the sea. On one side you have the Sardonic Gulf and the other side had the Corinthian Gulf. And between the two was a neck of land about five miles across, in which stood Corinth. It was the “market place of Greece.” There was traffic that went north and south through this city, as well as, traffic that went east and west across this five mile stretch. Sailors would put there cargo on carts and walk across the land rather than making the dangerous sail around Malea.
Corinth was the home of the Isthmian Games second only to the Olympic Games. It was a wicked city. And the Greeks had a verb “to play the Corinthian or Corinthianize” which meant a life of lustful debauchery. Also, the Greeks were known for their plays and they would depict a person from Corinth as drunk.
Corinth was dominated by a hill called the Acropolis, which a temple to Aphrodite was built. In its heyday it hosted a thousand temple prostitutes, who came down every evening and make their trade in the city streets. It had become a proverb, “Not every man can afford a journey to Corinth.” This is the city that Paul lived and worked for a year and a half. So you can imagine what Paul was experiencing in his heart when he arrived there. But God proved himself faithful during this time in Paul’s life.
I believe the heart of the message is found in verses 9 and 10 of this chapter. Here was Paul who had just gone through culture shock in Athens and now moral shock in Corinth. You can sense in your heart that Paul was thinking here we go again. R. Kent Hughes, in his commentary, wrote, “Paul may have felt like a football that had taken the right bounces and refused to be fumbled, and yet every time his team scored he was spiked to the turf mercilessly and then kicked the length of the field. In fact, the better he performed, the more he was spiked and kicked!”
Well, God proved himself faithful to Paul in this difficult time in life. How? He brought companions, comfort, converts, and counsel. First, let us look at the companions that Paul had.
Companions – 1-4
In these verses, Paul meets a Jewish couple named Aquila and Priscilla. We are not sure whether they are saved or not at this point, but they were definitely a source of companionship for a lonely apostle. Aquila was a Jew from Pontus and we know that some Jews from Pontus were in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost when Peter preached and some were saved. His wife, Priscilla, was from a well to do family and this might have been the reason why when they are mentioned in the Scriptures that see is mentioned first.
Luke says that they were in Italy until they were asked to leave because of an edict given by Claudius, who expelled all Jews from Rome. Suetonius (a.d. 69=140), a biographer of Roman emperors, described what may have been the occasion for such a decree. In his Life of Claudius (25. 4) he referred to the constant riots of the Jews at the instigation of Chrestus. Possibly the name Chrestus is a reference to Christ. So Aquila and Priscilla leave Italy and travel to Corinth to live.
Here Paul meets the couple who happen to be of the same trade as Paul, a tentmaker. According to Jewish practice, rabbis must have a trade. And if you recall Paul was rising quickly within the ranks of Judaism through the Pharisees. He was a rabbi (teacher of the law). For rabbis were to take no money for preaching or teaching, but were to make their own living. The Jews glorified work. They said, “Love work, he who does not teach his son a trade teaches him robbery.” So rabbis followed respectable trades and Paul was a tentmaker.
In the ancient economy, people of the same trade did not compete with one another as they do today. They usually lived together in the same part of town and formed trade guilds. Their trade guilds normally adopted a patron deity, and they ate sacrificial food at their regular banquets together. This cultic orientation of trade guilds would exclude practicing Jews from the fellowship, making Jews delighted to find other Jews of their own trade. Paul probably met them in the synagogue or in the street.
Paul worked during the week and reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath. In other words, he was a bi-vocational pastor for the time being because he had run out of to support his ministry. Therefore, he had to labor to pay his way in society, until God proved himself faithful again. So God provided companions, next,
COMFORT – 5
In verse 5, Luke says that Paul was comforted by these two men. I believe they brought comfort to Paul in at least three ways. First, they were companions that Paul was well acquainted with and I am sure that Paul had been concerned about them. He was probably glad to see that they were doing well. Second, they were bringing word about the churches in Thessalonica and Berea, which Paul was eager to hear. Paul wrote, in 1 Thessalonians 3:6-8, “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—for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.”
Finally, Timothy and Silas brought comfort to Paul by bringing a love offering from the church at Philippi. Remember, Paul was out of money so he worked a trade when he first arrived in Corinth. Now that these two men arrived in Corinth, Paul was able to occupy himself with the word. In other words, he could be full time preaching the gospel because of this gift. He was limited in his time to preach because he had to take care of himself financially, but now he could be fully absorbed in the work of preaching the gospel.
And when he did the Jews did not like it according to verse 6. They opposed (in battle array or face to face) and reviled (spoke against to injure his reputation) him. So Paul was deeply stirred and displayed a very vivid picture of exasperation through the shaking out of the garments. Paul’s declaration was not a curse, but a solemn disclaimer of responsibility. In other words, Paul performed his duty of telling them about Jesus but they refused to listen. So from now Paul was going to the Gentiles. God proved himself faithful by providing companions, comfort, and next,
CONVERTS – 7-8
Paul leaves the Jews and goes to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. Some reports say this is a famous family of potters in Corinth. Whoever he was we know that he was a worshiper of god and hosted Paul in his home which was next door to the synagogue. Here we see the lines being drawn between the Christians and the Jews drawn by the Jews themselves.
Luke comments that one of Paul’s converts was a ruler of the synagogue named Crispus along with his household. This was one of several household salvations that took place in Acts. Also, there were many other Corinthians who heard Paul, believed and were baptized. Notice for a moment the order: hearing, believing, and baptizing (Romans 10:14). Paul lists former fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminates, homosexuals, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers as making up the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
Yet, as we know from many of Paul’s experiences that when things began to go well that it wasn’t long before things got worse. So the Lord knowing the apostle’s heart gives the apostle great counsel. This is the final provision of God’s faithfulness toward Paul in this difficult situation. We have seen God’s faithfulness in bringing companions, comfort, converts and now
COUNSEL – 9-10
The Lord said to not be afraid, but to go on speaking without being silent. In the Greek, it literally reads, “Stop fearing and go on speaking.” Speaking is what got Paul in trouble, but God told him to continue on. Even in experiencing spiritual success Paul was given to fear. He is not the only person in the Bible to do so. Remember Elijah after his battle on Mount Carmel with the prophets of Baal. God consumed his sacrifice and their gods did not answer them. After this, Jezebel was ready to kill the prophet and he asked God to take his life. So Paul was having a moment of fear because of previous experiences like this one.
Paul was borrowing trouble before they happened. He was worried about things he had yet to face. We feel harassed as we wait for something disastrous and unpleasant to happen. We know the social event will flop? What if it rains on our picnic? Or what if so-and-so shows up to twist our words? We go through thousands of tribulations that will probably never happen.
When Lincoln was on his way to Washington to be inaugurated, he spent some time in New York with Horace Greely and told him an anecdote which was meant to be an answer to the question which everybody was asking him: Are we really to have Civil War? In his circuit-riding days Lincoln and his companions, riding to the next session of court, had crossed many swollen rivers. But the Fox River was still ahead of them; and they said one to another, “If these streams give us so much trouble, how shall we get over the Fox River?”
When darkness fell, they stopped for the night at a log tavern, where they fell in with the Methodist presiding elder of the district who rode through the country in all kinds of weather and knew all about the Fox River. They gathered about him and asked him about the present state of the river. “Oh yes,” replied the circuit rider, “I know all about the Fox River. I have crossed it often and understand it well. But I have one fixed rule with regard to the Fox River—I never cross it till I reach it.”
Too many times we are frightened by what might happen rather than what is actually going to happen. So stop borrowing troubles and being worried about tomorrow. But God says keep on preaching. Folks, we need to remind ourselves that if God gives a task to do that he also gives the power to do it. God’s power is made perfect in our weakness.
This vision shows us God’s presence, protection and purpose. First, God’s presence “I am with you.” God promises his believers that he will never leave them nor forsake them. He is a very present help in times of trouble. Hildebert offers some comforting words: “God is over all things; outside all; within but not enclosed; without but not excluded; above but not raised up; below but not depressed; wholly above, presiding; wholly beneath, sustaining; wholly within, filling.” In other words, God is here. John Wesley’s dying words were “The best of all is God is with us!” What a great comfort that is to know that whatever we go through God is with us.
Next, God’s protection “no one will attack you to harm you.” Notice that God did not say that Paul is not going to have opposition. Paul was opposed in verses 12-17, but no one physically harmed him like they did in Lystra or Philippi. The Jews tried to win the favor of the new proconsul Gallio, but to no avail. Here was a man who was not going to be persuaded by their pleas. He was going to hear the case if Paul had committed a crime. But he saw that their complaint was about words and names and their own law.
This decision of Gallio does not establish Christianity in preference to Judaism. It simply means that the case was plainly that Christianity was a form of Judaism and as such was not opposed to Roman law. This decision opened the door for Paul’s preaching all over the Roman Empire. Later Paul himself argues (Rom. 9 to 11) that in fact Christianity is the true, the spiritual Judaism.
So God promised no hurt to come to Paul in Corinth. Think about like this: we are on God’s football team and we are in the backfield carrying the gospel wherever we go. But like football that has its big men to protect the quarterback from being sacked so God has his big boys Michael and Gabriel and other angels to keep us safe. No one can touch anyone on God’s team unless he allows it.
Finally, we see God’s purpose for Paul. “I have many in this city who are my people.” In other words, Paul your labor will not be fruitless. There will be those who come to Christ because of your ministry. Folks, God has those in Sylacauga and Talladega county who are out there in our community who will come to Christ if we are faithful to the Lord.
So the message that Paul received from the Lord and be for us: “Do not be afraid. Stop borrowing trouble. Look to me! I love you. Keep ministering. Keep caring. Keep speaking my name. Inactivity will only imprison your fears. Believe that I am with you and that I will give you all the protection you need. Believe that your life will bear fruit—I promise.”
According to an ancient story, when Leonides, the noble hero of the Spartans who defended Greece from the Persians, was in battle against thousands of invaders, one of his men said to him, “General, when the Persians shoot their arrows, there are so many of them that they darken the sky.” Leonides replied, “Then we will fight in the shade.” We must continue to serve the Lord and be faithful regardless of our feelings and the circumstances around the horizon just as Paul did.