Paul was a human being with strengths and weaknesses. He was incredibly brave. At times he seemed fearless in preaching the gospel. As we read through the Book of Acts weve often watched him pursued by angry mobs, and he didnt always escape. On occasion they caught him and stoned or beat him badly. Yet he always seemed to get up and march off to the next city. So it might be hard for us to accept the fact that this great apostle could have moments when he too felt overwhelmed, when the pressure of it all grew too much for him, when he felt alone and afraid. But this was the condition he was in when he arrived in Corinth. So when he began to preach there, and that predictable pattern of anger began to emerge, when the threat of violence grew stronger by the day, he faithfully kept preaching, even though he wanted to run away. It almost hurts to say it, but he didnt want to be hit again. He had been hit so hard, so often, it had begun to take its toll. But in that season of weakness Jesus didnt scold Paul, He completely understood how he felt, Hed felt the same way. So He took care of him. He brought people who would stand beside him so he wouldnt be alone. He prompted believers who loved him to send a timely gift, and above all He spoke to him. And that loneliness and fear left. Luke beautifully captures the change in Paul when he says, and he sat down a year and six months, teaching among them the Word of God (literal). He was at peace and able to finish his assignment.
There are, undoubtedly, people among us today who, like Paul, have not stopped serving the Lord, but inside feel alone and afraid. So as we watch the way Jesus kindly and patiently cares for Paul, his weakness actually encourages us. If this great apostle can struggle this deeply, then surely we can too. And if Jesus will come and minister to him, then Hell come and minister to us, too. Pauls weakness becomes an invitation from the Lord to admit our own weakness, and receive His care.
Arriving in Corinth (Ac 18:1-5)
So, Paul arrived in Corinth: worried, lonely, disappointed in himself, physically weak, and in serious financial need. The greatness of this man is shown, not by the fact that he was somehow able to function without the human weaknesses that afflict the rest of us, but by faithfully beginning to preach in spite of them.
A predictable pattern (Ac 18:6-8)
As usual, Paul initially focused his preaching on the synagogue (v5), but as had been the case in one city after another, it didnt take long for opposition to arise. To describe what happened, Luke uses a word which pictures one army lining up in order to engage another army in battle. He may have chosen this word because Paul was confronted by a line of angry men who prevented him from entering the synagogue and who threatened to hurt him. Luke also mentions that these men blasphemed, meaning they said horrible things about Jesus. Sadly, such violent moments had become common in Pauls life (Ac 13:50, 51; 14:4-6, 19; 16:22-24; 17:5, 13). By symbolically shaking out his robes and telling them their blood guiltiness was on their own head, Paul was warning them he had done all he could to save them, and that by refusing the gospel they had placed themselves under condemnation. Then he added, From now on, I will go to the nations (Gentiles).
Walking past them, he went into a house that was literally next door to the synagogue. It was owned by a Greek man named Titius Justus who had been attending the synagogue and had responded when Paul preached the gospel. To avoid violence, Paul stopped attending the synagogue, but he didnt go far. He began holding meetings next door, undoubtedly with the hope that more of his Jewish brothers and sisters would grow curious and come in to listen. And they did. One man who came, along with his entire family, was the chief elder who supervised the services in the synagogue.
A growing fear (Ac 18:9-11)
As time passed, many Corinthians came into that house to listen to Paul, and believed and were baptized. On the one hand, Paul must have been delighted that so many were coming to Christ, but on the other, a growing church right next door to a synagogue meant the tension between the two groups would grow, and based on past experience, it was only a matter of time before the situation exploded into violence. And as brave as he had been in one violent situation after another, Paul had become weary of being beaten. He began to dread the violence that would surely come. But before that fear grew so strong it took control of him, Jesus came to him at night in a vision saying, Do not fear, but speak. Do not become silent, because I am with you, and no one will hit you to injure you, for I have many people who belong to Me in this city (my translation).
Recognizing our need
There has to be a rhythm in our lives between giving and receiving. No one, except God, can be a constant source for others. Those who give, must receive; those who serve, must be served; those who love, must be loved; those who teach the Word, must hear the Word; those who heal, must be healed. And this is especially true when it comes to ministry. Opposition and internal struggles are always there. Even the strongest resolve will be worn down. People who minister must continually be refreshed in order to keep going. And we must not become isolated. The pressures are too much for one person to bear alone. We must always be part of a ministering community.
These truths are like the law of gravity. They are unchangeable. No one escapes. Luke is very respectful in the way he describes this moment of struggle in Pauls life, but Paul is brutally honest about it in his letters. He says he arrived in Corinth weak, fearful and trembling (1Co 2:3), yet, if Luke didnt show us all the gory details of Pauls struggle, he did show us the most important part. He showed us how Jesus cared for him.
Ministering to Paul
Well learn a lot about our own needs if we observe how Jesus cared for Paul. When Paul was weak, the Lord gave Him the things He knew he needed. What were they?
1) People who do what you do. Paul already had a lot of people in his life, but at the moment he didnt have the right kind of people. He had people who loved him and needed him, but he didnt have partners, people who shared the same call, people who understood what he was doing and what he was up against, people with enough history and knowledge to minister to him. Silas and Timothy were still in Macedonia, Luke had remained in Philippi. So Jesus did two things. First, He provided Paul with a divine appointment. He needed a job and a place to stay, he needed a safe place with people who would be loyal and help him. Is it any accident that Aquila and Priscilla had just arrived from Rome, and had a room (or a tent?) and a job available? They would become two of Pauls dearest friends and partners in ministry. And second, Jesus saw that Silas and Timothy arrived soon afterward.
2) A good report. Paul had been so worried about the churches hed left behind in Macedonia, and he was probably discouraged by how few people he had reached in Athens. So when Silas and Timothy arrived with great news about the churches he had suffered so much to plant, Paul was deeply encouraged. It had been worth every blow, every insult, every humiliating flight for his life. He had not labored in vain.
3) A loving gift. Luke doesnt mention the financial gift Silas and Timothy brought with them from Philippi. He only says when those men arrived Paul was able to devote himself to preaching the Word. But Paul sure mentions it (Php 4:15, 16; 2 Co 11:9). It was more than money to him. It was a gift of love from people who believed in him. Its quite possible that Paul was so poor at that time that he was ragged (1Co 4:11). Apparently, he looked so bad the Corinthians had a hard time respecting him. So when that gift came from Lydia, the jailer, Luke, and others in that church, it allowed a weary man to stop sewing tents six days a week, but more than that it told a lonely man he was loved.
4) A fresh call. Its not that Paul hadnt heard Jesus speak to him before. He had. But there come times when ministrys hard, when obstacles seem huge, when we no longer feel up to the demands of it all, when we need to hear Him call us again. Its not that we dont know what Hell say. Its that our loneliness goes deeper than any human can fill. We need to know that were still on track, that Hes pleased with what were doing, and that Hes ultimately in charge of whats happening to us, that He wont let us be overwhelmed, that there are limits to what He will allow us to suffer. And we need to hear Him speak a word of hope, assuring us that He has many people in this city. And these are the things Jesus spoke into Paul. In effect, He gave him a fresh call.
Ministering to us
God is not surprised by our weakness. The Bible says: Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Hm. For He Himself knows our frame, He is mindful that we are but dust (Ps 103:13, 14).
And He knows our limits, and sets boundaries around us. Paul would later assure these same Corinthians: No temptation (or testing) has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted (tested) beyond what you are able, but with the temptation (test) will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it (1Co 10:13).
After all, Jesus truly understands what were feeling in those moments. He Himself endured the very same things. Hebrews says:
For since He Himself was tempted in that which He suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted (Heb 2:18).
Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb 4:16).
After weve been strong for everyone else, after weve been attacked, after ministering alone, after speaking about Jesus, preaching the Word, ministering in the power of the Spirit, after confronting injustice, standing for truth in the face of ridicule or resentment, after speaking the truth in love, seeking to reconcile a broken relationship, after walking with someone through surgery, death, divorce, and tragic personal failure
we can find ourselves feeling alone and afraid. But were not. Jesus will care for us, as surely as He cared for Paul.
1) Who would you consider a partner in ministry with you? Whats different about the way you can talk to them than the way you talk to other people?
2) After serving the Lord bravely, have you ever felt alone and afraid? Is there an example you could share with us?
3) Has Jesus spoken to you lately? If so, what did He say? How did that change you?