Faithful to the Work
Sermon Text: Acts 18:1-22
Sermon Theme: Because God is faithful to us, especially in times of difficulty, we should respond with faithful service to Him.
Though Paul was entitled to support from the churches he planted, and from the people to whom he preached, yet he worked at his calling. An honest trade, by which a man may get his bread, is not to be looked upon with contempt by any. It was the custom of the Jews to bring up their children to some trade, though they gave them learning or estates. Paul was careful to prevent prejudices, even the most unreasonable. The love of Christ is the best bond of the saints; and the communing of the saints with each other, sweeten labor, contempt, and even persecution. Most of the Jews persisted in contradicting the gospel of Christ, and blasphemed. They would not believe themselves, and did all they could to keep others from believing. … The Jews could not complain, for they had the first offer. When some oppose the gospel, we must turn to others. Grief that many persist in unbelief should not prevent gratitude for the conversion of some to Christ.
The Lord knows those that are his and those that shall be his; for it is by his work upon them that they become his. Let us not despair concerning any place, when even in wicked Corinth Christ had much people. He will gather in his chosen flock from the places where they are scattered. Thus encouraged, the apostle continued at Corinth, and a numerous and flourishing church grew up.
Paul was about to show that he did not teach men to worship God contrary to law; but the judge would not allow the Jews to complain to him of what was not within his office. It was right in Gallio that he left the Jews to themselves in matters relating to their religion, but yet would not let them, under pretense of that, persecute another. But it was wrong to speak slightly of a law and religion which he might have known to be of God, and which he ought to have acquainted himself with. In what way God is to be worshipped, whether Jesus be the Messiah, and whether the gospel be a Divine revelation, are not questions of words and names, they are questions of vast importance. Gallio spoke as if he boasted of his ignorance of the Scriptures, as if the law of God was beneath his notice. Gallio cared for none of these things. If he cared not for the affronts of bad men, it was commendable; but if he concerned not himself for the abuses done to good men, his indifference was carried too far. And those who see and hear of the sufferings of God’s people, and have no feeling with them, or care for them, who do not pity and pray for them, are of the same spirit as Gallio, who cared for none of these things.
While Paul found he labored not in vain, he continued laboring. Our times are in God’s hand; we purpose, but he disposes; therefore we must make all promises with submission to the will of God; not only if providence permits, but if God does not otherwise direct our motions. A very good refreshment it is to a faithful minister, to have for awhile the society of his brethren. Disciples are compassed about with infirmity; ministers must do what they can to strengthen them, by directing them to Christ, who is their Strength. Let us earnestly seek, in our several places, to promote the cause of Christ, forming plans that appear to us most proper, but relying on the Lord to bring them to pass if he sees good.
[From Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary]
- No matter where Paul did ministry, he met opposition and suffered terribly: beaten and thrown in prison in Philippi, verbally harassed and rejected in Thessalonica, and then widespread indifference in Athens. Are you surprised that spiritual advancement will almost always meet satanic opposition? Are you being discouraged in reaching the lost and feeling the unrelenting persistence of evil by Satan’s tactics? Take courage and remember that the “God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3), who “comforts the depressed” (2 Corinthians 7:6), did not leave Paul in his downtrodden condition. He encouraged his struggling servant through four means: the companionship of friends, the blessing of converts, the fellowship of God, and the frustration of his enemies. These are the very blessings any depressed servant of the Lord can cling to for encouragement and bring rejuvenation to their soul. For God is faithful in His promises, especially in times of difficulty. So, let us respond by faithful service to Him, holding firmly to the truth of His Word, even when we’re under attack.
- Do you ever wake up in the morning and say to yourself “I really don’t think I can live this Christian life?” Paul had ample cause to be discouraged and no doubt was, just as we have causes to be discouraged and sometimes feel overwhelmed of what we have to get through. Self-doubt may be plaguing you. Or it may be even worse than that — you may be grappling with a deep sense of self-loathing. Whatever the particular flavor of your insecurities, most believers question from time to time whether we have what it takes for life as an authentic, selfless follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. The key question is: “Who is sufficient for these things” (2 Corinthians 2:16)? The surprising thing is that our sufficiency, our adequacy, our qualification for the task has nothing to do with us, but it flows from the fact that God himself speaks through His Word. Paul insists that he (along with his companions, and by extension, all servants of Christ) speak as “men of sincerity, as commissioned by God” (2 Corinthians 2:17). Paul spells out the reason for this distinctive approach at the end of 2 Corinthians 2:17: ”in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” Speaking before God, in Christ — speaking in a way which is marked by the sincerity that comes from knowing we are accountable to God, and by the depth of insight and knowledge that comes to us through our union with Christ — is what makes inadequate people like us adequate for this task. Paul is saying we are up to the task of proclaiming the gospel, if we will simply speak the truth as men of sincerity: “as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” For we, like Paul, spread the fragrance of Christ by speaking the gospel of Christ, knowing that God speaks through us when we speak the gospel. And this is the role that God gives us. Are we up to the task of proclaiming the gospel? Will we speak in the power of Christ about Christ with sincerity? Then yes, we are adequate for the task because it is God who speaks through us when we speak the gospel. For the Lord Jesus Christ has already won the definitive victory over sin, death and Satan, and it is our role and privilege to spread that powerful news in our world, as God works in salvation and judgment. That’s the first reason we can forget about ourselves and get on with serving Christ.
- Everyone agrees that Paul was a great Christian and a great missionary evangelist, but how much would Paul have accomplished alone? Friends like Aquila and Priscilla, Silas and Timothy, and the generous believers in Macedonia made it possible for Paul to serve the Lord effectively. His Christian friends, new and old, encouraged him at a time when he needed it the most. And this should remind us that we should encourage our friends in the work of the Lord. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “God evidently does not intend us all to be rich, or powerful, or great, but He does intend us all to be friends.” “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2) is the way Paul expressed it. For when we are saved, He gives us a new heart; filled with the Holy Spirit and we become members of one another in the body of Christ; under Jesus Christ our living Head. God did not design us to go it alone. We desperately need each other. All Christian work is supposed to be a team effort; where we complement one another, pray for one another, and bear one another’s burdens. When you see somebody who seems to be doing a good work but who is perhaps carrying on without a great deal of encouragement, do what you can to encourage or help that person or just be present. You don’t have say the right thing or know the right next step — you just have to be present. There is a sense in which anyone who is doing anything worthwhile is in a lonely position. Seek out such people. Speak a good word. Be present.
- Are you being a watchman doing your duty? As so often happened when Paul presented the gospel to his countrymen, many in Corinth’s Jewish community rejected it. They organized themselves to fight Paul’s teaching and even blasphemed the name of Christ — a most serious sin (cf. Matthew 12:31-32; Luke 22:64-65). At length Paul, realizing the futility of continuing to throw pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6), shook out his garments in the traditional, dramatic Jewish gesture of rejection and responded to the Jews with: “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6). For Paul’s saying has its roots in the Old Testament. Ezekiel 33:1-5 describes a watchman’s job. A watchman was to survey the land and communicate what he saw to the people. If he saw an enemy coming, he was to blow the trumpet and warn the people. But if the people heard the trumpet and ignored the warning, their blood was on their own heads. The watchman had performed his duty and was now considered innocent if the citizens were to die. Paul indicates that he is a watchman and has proclaimed a warning of impending danger: spiritual separation from God. But the Jews have heard the trumpet call of the gospel and chosen to reject it. Thus, Paul has done exactly what he was called to do. The people’s rejection, resistance, and blasphemy are now their own responsibility. For God calls his people to faithfulness, not necessarily fruitfulness. We could not save ourselves. We cannot, therefore, save another person from their sin. Only God can work salvation for “salvation is of the LORD” (Jonah 2:9). Our job, our calling, our mission is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. We do this unapologetically and boldly, and offer the gospel to all people. That is our task and our responsibility. The work of salvation, however, belongs in the sovereign hands of our God. We can, therefore, proclaim the gospel with confidence, knowing that we cannot fail. We only fail if we remain silent.
- Are you confident that God can use you in confirming His purpose and will? “For I have many people in this city.” God is referring to His elect, chosen before the foundation of the world in Christ Jesus. God knew each one by name, but Paul didn’t know who they were until they put their trust in Christ. He had to proclaim the gospel to them so that they could believe. Some may argue that the doctrine of election discourages evangelism, because if God chose them, then it’s a done deal, so we don’t have to do anything. But God ordained not only their salvation, but also the means of their salvation, the proclaiming of the gospel. The doctrine of election ought to encourage us and motivate us to proclaim the gospel knowing that God has prepared the hearts of many people to receive the message of salvation. If salvation is up to man’s so-called “free will,” no one will ever be saved when you witness to them, because no man can understand the gospel in his fallen condition apart from God’s sovereign grace (Romans 3:10-13; 1 Corinthians 2:14; 2 Corinthians 4:4). Given a free choice, every fallen sinner will choose sin. But if God purpose is to save a sinner, and Jesus shed His blood to redeem him, and the Holy Spirit imparts eternal life and saving faith to him when he hears the gospel, then there is hope when we share the gospel. That’s why Paul later wrote, “For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10).
1) One of the greatest description of Christian zeal was given by the famous nineteenth-century Anglican bishop J. C. Ryle in his book Practical Religion: “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, 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 offence, 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 mans 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.” Paul was such a man. [Biblical Illustrator Commentary]
2) The Value of Unsuccessful Missionaries
While we praise the successful missionaries for the sacrifices and services they have wrought in the name of Christ we should not forget the unsuccessful ones, those who have done their best, but in circumstances where they could reap but little, and perhaps cut off in an untimely way and thrust out of their field with never an opportunity to do what they had an ambition to do. What about them? Think of George Schmidt with his heart burning to preach in Africa, who went there and was driven off by the settlers and not allowed to return, and who used to pray day after day, “Lord, permit me to go to Africa,” until he was found dead on his knees without ever going back. Think of that noble Bishop Patteson, so splendidly endowed that they said, “Why waste your talents on the heathen?” Yet he went to the Pacific Islands, and they took him as an enemy. As he was saying, “Peace be unto you,” they slew him, and, like his Lord, he was sent back from the very people that he came to bless with five bleeding wounds upon his person. Think of Melville Cox, that noble Methodist who went out from America, who had a consuming passion to preach the gospel on the western coast of Africa. He had hardly reached the shore when he was stricken down with fever, and all there is left of him is a grave, with the words, “Though a thousand fall, let not Africa be given up.” Then think of Adam M’Call, who, stricken down, dying, said, “Lord Jesus, Thou knowest that I consecrated my life to Africa. If Thou dost choose to take me instead of the work which I purposed to do for Thee, what is that to me? Thy will be done.” Where was their success? If they could speak to us they would say in the words of the great missionary St. Paul, “I have but one ambition, that, whether I be absent from the body or present with the Lord, I may be well-pleasing unto Him” (2 Corinthians 5:8-9). [Biblical Illustrator Commentary, author unknown]
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