Date: 10 September 2023
Speaker: Eld Sim Chow Meng
Sermon Text: Acts 18:1-22
I’m sure everyone of you knows who this man is. Yes, he is the founder of KFC. He was born in 1890 and was left to be the man of the house at a young age when his father died, leaving him with a mother and two younger siblings.
By the age of 7, he had started cooking and soon after, he was working several odd jobs.
At the age of 40, he had mastered the perfect fried chicken recipe and had even opened a restaurant to service the high demand for his food.
At the age of 60, he had to shut down his restaurant because a highway was being built where his restaurant was located. Colonel Sanders decided to retire, but at age 65, he decided to franchise his chicken recipe.
He started traveling to different restaurants, cooking his fried chicken on the spot for restaurant owners. If the owners liked the chicken, they would be sold the recipe.
However, Colonel Sanders was denied 1,009 times before he made his first sale.
Today, KFC is one of the largest fast-food franchises worldwide. You will be surprised that it wasn’t an easy thing for him to do.
Colonel Sanders’ life inspires us because of his perseverance and determination to succeed despite many rejections.
How about us?
I’m sure all of us have moments in our lives when everything seems to be falling apart. We feel discouraged because it seems that no matter what we do, nothing seems to get better.
Today, we are going to learn about Paul going through one of his difficult moments and his discouragement and fears.
Before we begin, let’s go to the Lord in prayer.
We have been studying Paul’s second missionary journey for several weeks.
Paul’s second missionary journey consist of five cities, namely, Philippi in Acts 16, Thessalonica, Berea and Athens in Acts 17, and finally Corinth in Acts 18:1-22.
We begin with Acts 18:1.
In verse 1, we read “After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth.” Acts 18:1
When we read, ”After this”, it actually tells us that something happened to Paul in his previous journey.
So, let’s that a looked back to Acts 17 when Paul was in Athens. We know that Athens was a city that was very advanced. People there were very well educated. They were culturally inclined. And so when Paul went there, the first thing that came to his mind was that maybe he could convince them with my superior wisdom and logic. We know that Paul himself was a top Pharisee, well trained by Gamaliel. But we found out from Acts 17:32-33, and this is what we read, “32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33 So Paul went out from their midst.” From these verses we could deduce that the Athenians were obstinate, indifferent, or rebellious. And we read that Paul went out from Athens. We get a sense that Paul might have felt dejected. And we also know that when he left, there were only a few converts and no new church.
He left Athens without waiting for Silas and Timothy to join him. This also tells us that Paul couldn’t take it anymore. So he left Athens and went to Corinth.
Corinth was about 50 miles directly west of Athens. Journeying by land takes 2 days.
What was Corinth like?
Corinth was the Les Vagas of the Ancient World. When we talk about Les Vagas, certain things come to mind. Corinth had an estimated population of 600,000, considered a huge city during Paul’s time. Many people of different races, languages and culture came to Corinth. Because of its location, it was a center of commerce and industry, a maritime city, and economic powerhouse.. She was famous for its “pleasure industry” with lots of theaters, temples to Roman deities, casinos, and brothels. So much so that Corinth is known for people living loosely with loose lives, many of them with sexually immoral lives.
As a religious center, Corinth has many cults and religions. The most famous cult is that of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. The cult has about 1000 so-called “priestesses” or ritual prostitutes. When evening came, these women would descend on the city to look for men. And then the men would commit adultery with them, all under the disguise that they were worshipping the deity, Aphrodite.
So we asked the question now, how was Paul’s state of mind like as he walked fifty miles to Corinth, which is about 2 days of walking.
Recall that Paul had already suffered many oppressions and beatings.
In the first city, Philippi, Paul and Silas were accused of violating the law. They were stripped, beaten and severely flogged (Acts 16: 16-24). Then in the cities of Thessalonica and Berea, Paul had to be taken out of the cities when the jealous Jews created a mob and caused civil unrest. (Acts 17:5-10, 13-15). In Athens, he had limited success. While he had companions in his previous trips, now he was alone as Silas and Timothy was not with him. So, as he entered Corinth, we see a Paul somewhat physically and mentally weakened, and fearful and maybe a bit discouraged. We get a glimpse of how Paul felt in 1 Corinthians 2:1-3.
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling.
I believe the Lord sometimes allow setbacks to come into our lives. This is to remind us not to depend on our own wisdom and strength. We can get so caught up with our strategies, cleverness, and smartness, so much so that sometimes, we forget the more needful things. What might be the needful things? That God’s work must be done in God’s way, in His strength, by His word and according to His will. I believe I echoed Paul’s words which he wrote in 1 Cor 2:4.
and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
In essence, Paul was determined to magnify only Jesus Christ and the cross, to depend solely on the Holy Spirit, and to present the Gospel in its simplicity.
Understanding how Paul felt, we can to an important turning point in Acts 18:2.
“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.’
Aquila and Priscilla were residents of Rome. From history, we learnt that the Roman Emperor Claudius, issued an edit, around AD49 to 50, ordering the Jews to leave Rome. The authorities had viewed the spread of Judaism as a threat to Rome. Jewish businessmen aroused the resentment of their non-Jewish competitors. Jews were scorned for refusing to burn incense before the emperor's statue.
What was Aquila and Priscilla’s state of mind?
Aquila and Priscilla were probably confused as to why they were driven out of Rome where they were making such a good living. Probably they already had a profitable business established in Rome.
However, what seemed to be a tragedy became the greatest blessing of all for both Aquila and Priscilla. They will soon discover that what seemed to be a major life setback was just the opposite. What they lost in business in Rome, they more than made up for in their relationship with the apostle Paul. If we look at Acts, Romans, 1 Cor and 2 Timothy where Aquila and Priscilla were mentioned again, we could see that they were actively serving and planting churches and that reflects their relationship with apostle Paul. They grew spiritually. They became closer to the Lord.
So we are reminded by Aquila and Priscilla’s lives that sometimes, setbacks are God’s opportunities. They couldn’t have seen it then, but later on, when they met Paul, when they look back at their lives, they knew that God was working in their lives.
We also know what Aquila and Priscilla experienced, in Romans 8:28, that "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
So how did the LORD encourage Paul?
The first encouragement that God gave to Paul was devoted helpers and is through Aquila and Priscilla.
And so we read in verse 2, we are told that Paul found Aquila and Priscilla. We are not sure where they met. It could be in the synagogue where they worship. Or it could be in the marketplace, but it does not matter. What is more significant is that God brought them together. And when God brought Paul together with Aquila and Priscilla, Paul’s need for shelter and financial support was met, because Paul worked with Aquila and Priscilla as tentmakers.
nd in the process, encouraged Paul who was alone, in need of fellowship and financial means to support himself. Through Aquila and Priscilla, Paul found fellowship, a house to stay in and work to support himself.
And so we read in verse 3 and 4,
“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.”
So Paul went to work during the weekday and preach and teach during the Sabbath. That was Paul’s initial routine when he first came to Corinth. He worked during the week while he preached and taught during Sabbath. Why didn’t Paul asked for financial support from Aquila or Priscilla or the Christians there even though he had a right to do so?
In Corinth, there were many philosophers and itinerant teachers. They were taking advantage of the people there, preying on their ignorance and superstition, and get the money from them.
So, even though Paul had a right to ask, he didn’t do that because he wanted to separate themselves from them,
These group of people would prey on the ignorant and superstitious population. Even though Paul has a right to get finance support from Aquila or Priscilla or the Christians there, he didn’t ask or depended on them for financial support. Paul wanted to separate himself from them. Paul did not want to be identified with the charlatans in Corinth who were feeding off other people and cause anyone to stumble. Paul did not want to give these Corinthians the idea that he was also like them, preaching the gospel of Christ for their money, so he worked with his hands to support himself. He didn’t want to be associated with the charlatans. So, Paul decided to make his own living by supporting himself.
Perhaps God wanted Paul to spend the weekdays with the Aquila and Priscilla, to take a step back, to renew his strength and to clarify his vision. Sometimes just talking about the past challenges and disappointment could help put them in perspective and move on.
The second encouragement that we see from the Lord was the arrival of Silas and Timothy.
In verse 5,
When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus.
Silas and Timothy came with two things. First, Silas and Timothy can with financial aid
as we read from 2 Cor 11:9.
“… for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need” 2 Cor 11:9
The second thing that Sila and Timothy bought as the good news. The good news is that the churches there in Macedonia were growing in their faith,
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.
We have always considered Paul a towering spiritual giant. Everyone would agree that Paul was a great Christian and a great missionary evangelist. But in the past five verses alone, we see how the Lord had to encourage Paul, first with the fellowship of Aquila and Priscilla, then the arrival of Silas and Timothy with financial aid from the generous believers in Macedonia. Would Paul have achieved as much if he was alone?
Ministry work is never a solo effort. God expects us to belong to a church community and to serve together. Some of you may already know that the word “Team”, as an acronym means “Together everyone achieved more”. We also read in 1 Peter 4:10,
“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace”.
We are to use our talents to serve one another so that we can be encouraged to keep going for the Lord. Perhaps that is why Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12 to remind us that we are all members of one body, because we need each other.
Discouragement can be a real killer of one’s ministry. According to one research, 38% of pastors are thinking of quitting the ministry. 52% of pastors feel overworked and cannot meet their church's unrealistic expectations.
Contrary to wide misconception, pastors do not have an easy job. 24 by7 if I may use the phrase. They are heavily and emotionally burdened as they support Hermon.
How can we encourage our pastors so that their labour in the Lord may continue to be a joyful and fruitful one? Get to know your pastors, let them know that they are loved, extend grace to them because no one is perfect, pray for them and support and follow their lead.
We now come to verse 6.
No one should be surprised when opposition comes to us. Rather, we should see such opposition as proof of God working in our midst. Of course, the enemy will get angry when we are doing God’s work and doing it successfully. As the great British preacher C. H. Spurgeon said, Satan never kicks a dead horse.
We know that Paul did not run away, Paul decided to stay on. But before he left, he said this, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent.” This is an expressions clearing oneself of all responsibilities. It’s like using our modern phrase “I wash my hands of it," and was in effect a symbolic way of saying he had done all that can be done and therefore he had no further responsibility for their rejection of the Gospel.
What seemed like a setback actually turned out to be a blessing for Paul’s ministry. We read in verse 7.
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.
Just at the right time, God brought another friend into Paul’s life. And Titius’ house was just beside the Synagogue. The Jews tried to get Paul out of the synagogue and out of sight. But God put Paul right beside the synagogue. Imagine how the Jews felt every time they walk pass the synagogue and Paul is right in front of them preaching and teaching. If Paul looked back at the Jews and grinned at them, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Then to put the icing on the cake, the ruler of the synagogue and his whole family also believed in the Lord Jesus. And God also blessed Paul’s ministry by adding many Corinthians to the church. We read in verse 18
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.
We would imagine that Paul should be all charged up and ready for more with the results he was seeing. However, we can infer from verse 9-10, we can infer that Paul was becoming afraid. We are not told what caused Paul’s despondency, but we know that he is because Jesus actually appeared to him in a vision. The conversion of Crispus would have opened more opportunities for evangelism. Undoubtedly, it would also bring more
So, in verse 9 we read,
“Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”
In these two verses, there are three commands and three promises.
First, “Do not be afraid”, “I am with you”
Second, “Keep on speaking”, “No one will attack you to harm you”
Third, “Do not be silent”, “Because I have many people in this city”
Jesus told Paul not to be afraid and he appeared to him in a vision, and because of that, Jesus showed Paul that he loved him. Because of this great love that Jesus had for Paul, it overcame Paul’s great fear. We are told in 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” So Paul experienced Christ’s love and that gave him the strength to continue to fight on.
Jesus also told Paul to go on speaking because no one is going to attack and harm him. Proverbs 29:25 tells us, “The fear of man lays a snare,but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” Doubts sometimes can discourage us, but the Lord tells us that we should continue to trust him. Continue to work.
We know that God is sovereign in all things. God’s protection does not mean that we will be free from difficulties, but God will never allow us to face more than we can bear. From this experience, Paul wrote in 1 Cor 10:13
13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
Lastly, Jesus commanded Paul not to be silent because there are many more people in the city to be saved. These are encouraging words for Paul. I think it is very encouraging when the Lord tells us that a lot of people are waiting to be saved. And even today, there are still people waiting to be saved even as we preach the Gospel.
As a result, Paul remained in Corinth for 18 months as stated in verse 11:
And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
During Paul’s continued stay in Corinth, we can be sure that he continued to face many obstacles and opposition. The Lord delivered Paul from them all as he had promised. Luke records for us one such opposition in verse 12 and 13.
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.”
Luke’s narrative suggests that the Jews seized the opportunity afforded by the arrival of a new governor to make an attack on Paul.
What was the accusation? The Jews were trying to accuse Paul that his teaching was against the Roman Law. They were also trying to put forward to Gallio that Paul’s teaching was “something new and un-Jewish”, different from Judaism which was an authorised religion in Rome.
Paul was ready to defend himself as a Roman citizen just as he did in Acts 16. However, it was not necessary as Gallio defended Paul.
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.
When we can infer from these verses that the proconsul, Gallio, understood what the Jews were trying to do. The real issue was not the application of the Roman law but one of semantics. In other words, Gallio was saying that the Jews were nitpicking details that weren’t important or different.
What was the final verdict? Gallio saw Christianity as part of the Jewish group and any issue relating to it should be handled by the local synagogue. In essence, Gallio was saying that the Christians have the same privileges as the Jew and Christianity is legal. This meant that Paul was allowed to continue his missionary work and the Christians can meet freely.
Just as God has promised, Paul was protected from harm. In fact, God used the incident and turned it to an advantage for the Christians. The attempts by the Jews to Paul backfired. Again, we see here that setbacks are God’s opportunities.
Now we come to this man, Sosthenes. He apparently took over Crispus’ role as ruler of the synagogue. We read in verse 17,
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.
Who do the words ‘they all’ refer to?
Perhaps “all” refers to the Jews who were disappointed and frustrated with how Sosthenes handled the case. Or perhaps “all” refers to the Greeks and Roman citizens who beat Sosthenes up as a penalty for an attempted persecution based on slander.
We can’t be sure. But interesting there is a verse in 1 Cor 1:1.
1 Cor 1:1 Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes.
If Sosthenes was the same person in Acts and Corinthians, that what we can say is that it was a life changing moment for him. When he was beaten him, he probably woke up and he decided to accept Christ as his Lord and Saviour.
When we first looked at Acts 18:1, the verse began with, “After this”. Now in Acts 18:18, again we see this phrase “After this”. Verse 18 reads,
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. At Cenchreae he had cut his hair, for he was under a vow.
We see a very different Paul. A ”new” Paul.
At the start, Paul came to Corinth alone, dejected and somewhat discouraged. But now, in verse 18, we read of Paul remaining in Corinth many days longer. He was not in a hurry to go anywhere yet. There was no need to. Also, he had faithful companions with him, labouring together for the Gospel. Instead of feeling down, he was living with much gratitude and thankfulness. He had cut his hair, for he was under a vow. Though we are not told exactly why Paul took a vow, at least we know that it was something related to a special dedication to God or an expression of gratitude to God for all he had done for him and his associates.
We also see Paul now walking intimately with the Lord. We are told in verse 19 that he went to Ephesus with Priscilla and Aquila. When the Ephesians asked him to stay longer with them, he declined but encouraged them by assuring them that he will return if God wills in verse 20.
Having experienced God’s providence in Corinth, Paul knew that what mattered most is “God’s will” for him. “If God will” has become Paul’s continuous strength and encouragement for his life and ministry.
And we shall see in Acts 21 when a prophet Agabus said that Paul will be bounded and delivered to the Gentiles, at that most critical time in his life and ministry, Paul found courage in affirming, “The will of the Lord be done” (Acts 21:14).
“13What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.” Acts 21:13-14
Let me conclude today’s sermons with the key points.
Setbacks are God’s opportunities – We see this in Aquila and Priscilla’s lives. And how God turn the table around and made Christianity a legal religion so that Paul’s missionary work could continue, and the Christians could gather safely.
Gospel proclamation may invite opposition – This shouldn’t surprise us. The New Testament is filled with examples of persecution. John 15:20, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” But Jesus doesn’t want us to stop proclaiming the Gospel.
The Lord encourages us with gospel partners – We have seen how God brought Aquila and Priscilla together, then later on Silas and Timothy. On top of that, we had Crispus, Titus Jutus and many of the Corinthians Christians that joined Paul.
Jesus assures us of his presence and protection – In the great commission, he told his disciples, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”. Just as Jesus promised Paul, no harm will come to us unless it is in His Sovereign will. And if that should happen, we can trust that it will be for his good purposes and for his glory.
I started my sermon this morning by mentioning Colonel Sanders, the founder of KFC. We learnt that he had to try 1,009 times before he had his first breakthrough in selling his chicken recipe. He wasn’t a Christian then till much later. He persevered until he succeeded. Let us also persevered in proclaiming the Gospel despite difficulties and opposition. Unlike Colonel Sanders, the difference here is that we have God on our side. He will encourage us, assures us, and protects us.
May we continue to do God’s work courageously, without fear. Because the Lord will keep us. Amen.