A man was shoveling snow from his driveway when two boys carrying shovels approached him. “Shovel your snow, mister? Only five dollars!” The man looked at the two boys with a puzzled look and he said, “Can’t you see that I am doing it myself.” The two boys replied, “Well, mister, that is how we get most of our business; from people who are half-way through and feel like quitting.”
Perhaps there are some of us who are half-way through in our work for the Lord and we feel like quitting. People who are active in doing God’s work often get tired, weary, and discouraged. It is normal for us to feel like quitting the work that God has given to us do. Some of God’s best servants in the Bible got discouraged in such a way. Consider Moses, who in the midst of his work of leading the people through the wilderness, would cry out to his God, “Why have you been so hard on your servants and why have I not found favor in your sight, that you would lay the burden of all of those people on me? Was it I who conceived all of those people? Was it I who brought them forth as you would say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom as a nurse carries a nursing infant to the land which He did swear to their fathers.’ So, if you are going to deal in this way with me, please kill me at once if I have found favor in your sight.”
Or, consider Elijah who had defeated the prophets of Baal in a spectacular display of God’s power on Mount Carmel, only to feel like quitting when Jezebel chased after him. He fled into the wilderness and he prayed there, “It is enough. Now, O Lord, take my life.”
In this study we read of Paul’s journey to Corinth. I think Paul was fighting discouragement as he came into that spectacular city. I think so, because of what we have read already in light of what Paul has experienced throughout his journey, up to this point. We remember that he arrived, first, in Philippi in Acts 16, and in Philippi what happened? He was severely flogged and he was thrown into the inner most portion of the dungeon, still bloody and beaten. He had his feet locked up in stocks.
From there he would travel to Thessalonica where a mod and a riot would surround him and chase him by violent force out of the city. The same thing would happen in Berea. Then he came to Athens and while Athens didn’t seem to reveal physical violence against him, Athens was just so spiritually dark that it was apathetic. There were only a few, we read in Acts 17, who came to the Lord and if Paul wasn’t feeling like a failure, perhaps at least, he was feeling very discouraged at the results that were taking place.
In 2 Corinthians 4, the letter that Paul would write to this church that he now comes to in Acts 18, Paul is going to say,
8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; (we are) perplexed, but not in despair; 9 (we are) persecuted, but (we are) not abandoned; (we are) struck down, but (we are) not destroyed.
This prompts the question: “How was it that Paul was hard pressed on every side, persecuted, and struck down, and yet he did not quit? What caused him to persevere in the work that God had given to him to accomplish? Why didn’t he quit at this point?” As we read and study these seventeen verses we are going discover five encouragements that help us to persevere when we feel like quitting the work that God has given us to do. Perhaps you are active in the work but you have grown weary and discouraged. Perhaps at some point in your past you have grown weary and discouraged and you have quit already, or you are in a stage of quitting.
There is great hope and encouragement for us as we engage the Word of God and receive encouragement from our Lord.
The first encouragement we find the encouragement of partnership with God’s people. We never work alone when we work in God’s field. In Verse 1, we see:
After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth.
As he arrives in Corinth he is arriving all alone. He had to leave Silas and Timothy, his teammates, behind in Macedonia because they needed to continue to teach the Word of God and to establish the church that was started. When Paul arrives in Corinth he arrives all alone.
Athens, the city from which he came, was the cultural and intellectual center of the Roman Empire. Corinth is going to be the business, or commercial, center of the Roman Empire. Athens will have only about 10,000 people. Corinth is going to have nearly 750.000 people. It is a huge, huge city. There are trade routes that run through Corinth that go north and south and, also, east and west; almost every good that was made in the known world past through Corinth. One commentator would write that, in Corinth, one could find Arabian balsam, Egyptian papyrus, Phoenician dates, Libyan ivory, Babylonian carpets, Sicilian goat’s hair, Lycaonian wool, and Phrygian slaves.
Paul saw and understood the strategic importance of this city and undoubtedly, as a Gospel man, he considered that if goods and material things all must pass through Corinth and then arrive at all portions of the world as a result of coming through Corinth, surely the Gospel will also pass through Corinth and arrives throughout all the regions of the known world.
Athens has a deep, spiritual problem with idolatry. Corinth has a deep, spiritual problem with immorality. In fact, the Greek verb “Korinthiazomai” meant to “practice immorality”. For five hundred years the name of the city became a verb which meant to practice immorality. In Corinth there was a huge temple to the goddess Aphrodite who was the goddess of love. In that temple there were over 1,000 temple prostitutes who, everyday, would come out and practice immorality as a part of the worship to the goddess Aphrodite. Homosexuality was rampant in this city, but Paul knew that the Gospel could make a dramatic impact.
It is interesting that it is, to this city, Paul would write in 2 Corinthians 5 (NKJV):
17 …if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
It is in Corinth that Paul presented the same Gospel that he brought to every other city. He didn’t alter the Gospel because certain commands of the Gospel would confront the darkness of the immorality of this culture. No, he came to this city and he said, “You, also, must repent and you must believe in Jesus Christ.” He knew that the power of the Gospel resided there for the people to grab hold of if they would only believe in Jesus Christ and as they did, he saw many, many come to know God and to come to have their lives dramatically changed.
Yet, Paul arrives in this city all alone. Sometimes we think that we don’t need other people in order to do the work that God has set aside for us to do, but the truth of the matter is, on the basis of the Word of God, when we work alone we are in great danger of despair, discouragement, and grief. God’s Word tells us that we need one another. Paul arrived in Corinth for good reasons, but God knew that Paul needed others in order to continue to do His work.
We read, then, in Verses 2 and 3:
2 There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, 3 and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them.
Here we have this husband and wife team of Pricilla and Aquila who would become very close friends with Paul and who would begin working together with him as co-workers. Aquila and Pricilla are going to be referred to six times in the New Testament and one of those is in Romans 16, at the very end, as Paul is sending his greetings. Read what Paul writes in regards to Pricilla and Aquila. He meets them in Corinth, for the first time, but he carries on a life long relationship with them. He says,
3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. 4 They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.
It is partnership with God’s people that brings encouragement to us to stay the course and to preserver. We need partnership with God’s people. God sent Pricilla and Aquila to Corinth so that Paul would be encouraged and so that they would be encouraged in the work. We don’t see that from the human aspect of this, but imagine Pricilla and Aquila in Italy enjoying life; they have their home and they have their family and they have their friends. They have everything established. They have no mind to moving, and yet Claudius, in his rage against Christians in that region, begins a persecution that drives them out of their home.
If you are Pricilla and Aquila and you have been driven out of your home by the ruler of your land, undoubtedly, you would ask questions like, “Why, God, would you do this to us? Are you still in control? Do you know what you are doing?” Those are questions that are reasonable and that would come to our minds, but here, time and time again, God reveals Himself, throughout Scripture, to be the Sovereign Ruler and Controller over everything that happens. God has designed the driving of Pricilla and Aquila out of Italy so that they would meet Paul in Corinth, so that they would be an encouragement to him, and so that they would come along side of him, being his co-workers, so that their lives might be full of ministry. Paul was most blessed by the people that God sent to him.
In Verse 5, we read not only of Pricilla and Aquila, but Paul is rejoined by Silas and Timothy when they came from Macedonia. Their work was finished in establishing the church and it was time for them to rejoin Paul.
5 When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.
God sends Silas and Timothy knowing that to persevere in God’s work we need to partnership with other people that God sends to us to work along side of us.
There are two applications to be made with this point. First, don’t try to go it alone when you are involved in the work of God. Seek Kingdom friends who will work along side of you. Pricilla and Aquila were a husband and wife team – that is a good place to start, isn’t it – to look at the life partner that God has given you by saying, “How can we work together? How can we encourage each other in the work?” Then there are these other Kingdom friends who become life long friends that are committed to risking their very lives for one another and they joined hands and arms for the sake of the Gospel. Don’t try to go it alone.
Secondly, when you see somebody who seems to be doing a good work in God’s Kingdom and who is carrying on without a great deal of encouragement, know that God is sending you to provide encouragement for them. There is a sense in which anyone who is doing anything worthwhile feels alone. That, again, is part of the work: it is a sense of feeling alone, but when we feel alone we need others to come along, we need to seek them out, and we also need others to come along to seek us out so that we would be encouraged. Seek out such people. Speak a good word to them. Anyone can be a friend and perhaps you would be the one that God is sending as a result of difficult circumstances that you are going through that you come along side to other people and you are able to bring encouragement to them. Seek them out.
I remember the story of the farmer whose cart got stuck in the mud. He was a poor farmer. He only had one mule, Old Betsy, who was blind. She was strong, but she was blind. He needed to pull this real, heavy cart out of the mud so he hooked Betsy up. An onlooker was observing and wondering if Betsy was going to be able to pull this huge cart, with its heavy load, out of the mud. He heard the farmer cry out, “Pull, Betsy!” Then he heard the farmer cry out, “Pull, Brutus,” and again, “Pull, Susie,” and upon this last try, Old Betsy starts off and struggles and finally, sure enough, she pulled the cart out of the mud. The observer came up to the farmer and said, “What is the deal? I see that you only have one donkey hitched up. Why did you cry out, ‘Pull, Betsy; pull, Brutus; pull, Susie!’” The farmer said, “If Susie thought she was all alone in this work she would have never started. She needed to think that there were others pulling with her.”
We need to have the sense of others who are pulling along side with us in the work of the Kingdom.
The second encouragement is the provision of God’s resources. Prior to arriving in Corinth, Paul was supported financially by gifts from the church that sent him and then churches along the way. But, money, as he arrived in Corinth had run out. We have already noted that Paul had become a tent maker with Pricilla and Aquila. He did that out of necessity because he had no more funds whereby he could devote himself exclusively to work of the Gospel. Now he had to ply the trade that he had learned as a small boy.
There is a rabbinical saying that says, “He who does not teach his son to work teaches him to steal.” Paul was raised in a respectful Jewish family and he had learned the trade when he was little so he had learned how to work. He didn’t go into Gospel ministry because he didn’t want to work, but he was more than willing to go back and ply the trade of making tents in order to have resources whereby he could spend the rest of his time sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, encouraging saints, and talking to those who didn’t know God as Savior.
From this, we get the term “tent maker”. Today in missions there are those who are called “tent makers” from Acts 18. This refers to one who works for pay in employment so that they are able to stay in a certain area of the world, and when they leave that place of employment they are able to talk to neighbors in the community about the Gospel and build the church of Jesus Christ. More and more, this becomes a mission’s necessity in our world today, and it is a necessity for two reasons: one, there are many countries closed to missionaries and would not give visas to missionaries. Some of my friends go to China and other places in the world where they are not able to go as a missionary, but they are able to go, for instance, as a doctor. This is also a necessity because the church, as you know, is growing throughout the world so, as the church in China, the church in South American, and the church in Africa is growing, they, too, want to participate in the missions work that God is doing and yet they are poor. They have no means by which to support a fulltime missionary who is free from having to work while they are in the country and culture that they are going to, so Chinese Christians, and South American Christians, and African Christians leave their homes and become missionaries by “tent making”.
In Verse 5, we read,
When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching….
Why was Paul able to do that? The answer is because Silas and Timothy brought a gift that the church in Macedonia had taken to provide for Paul, so now, Paul was no longer having to spend eight to ten hours a day making tents, cutting goat hair, and sewing it together, but now he was able to spend all of his time in the church. They were saying that this was a value; that they wanted Paul to be able to spend all of his time in Corinth to share the Gospel and to minister to the people there.
In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul will speak of the Macedonian’s generosity. Listen to what he says:
1 And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.
These were churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, and probably Berea. They were saying that it was too important to get the Gospel to the people throughout the world and they wanted to share that with Paul and in the ministry in which he was involved. What encouragement this must have been to Paul as he received this gift so that he could devote himself entirely to the proclamation of the Gospel. It is the provision of God’s resources that provides encouragement.
There are two applications: first of all, I want to thank you, as members of Bethany Baptist Church for supporting the work of the Gospel here at Bethany. Personally, there is such great joy that I experience in the freedom of devoting myself exclusively to studying, teaching, witnessing, disciplining, comforting, and praying for the people of this church and throughout our community. But, also, I find great joy, and I thank you, in knowing that God’s workers have what they need to do ministry to this church: Sunday school teachers have curriculum and have resources; missionaries that we send out into the field are supplied with what they need; AWANA workers, MOPS leaders, Bible study leaders, and youth leaders, in all of these ministries, they are supplied. That has to be an encouragement for all of us who are involved in ministry, to know that, together, God resources come so that we can accomplish the work that He has given us.
The second application is that when you give, understand that you share in the ministry of all that happens through your gift, whether it be a gift of time, your gift of energy, and your gift of money. This is the way that we can give with joy and this is why the Macedonian church pleaded with Paul because they wanted to share in the ministry. We know that when we give financially, that money that we place in the hands of God to do His work serves an eternal purpose. As we give, we understand that our gift is not effective for now, but whatever happens 20, 30, 50, or 100 years from now, we are recipients of those who gave 30 years ago, and that those people, many of whom have already died, have still provided an investment that is living on beyond them and they are sharing in the work that is happening to this day.
The third encouragement that we find from this passage is the peace of fulfilled responsibility. What an encouragement is in knowing that we can go to bed at night with a clear conscience. Read how Paul talks about it in Verse 6:
6 But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”
There is no easy place for ministry and there never is a convenient time for ministry. We will always face opposition when we do God’s work, but don’t quit before the work is finished. God has given you and me specific works to accomplish in our lifetime (Ephesians 2).
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus (for) good works, which God (has) prepared (beforehand) for us to do.
Beloved, this peace can only be enjoyed as we accomplish and fulfill the responsibilities that God has given to us. Paul had this peace and this was his encouragement. The application I would give is, simply, this: it is too early to quit. I don’t know what tempts you to quit God’s work, but it is too early for whatever the temptation is.
Perhaps, you are a mom and dad and you have a hectic schedule with little ones running around, and all of their schedules to take care of and you feel as though you need to take a break. It is too early to quit!
Perhaps you are a senior citizen and you are tired and weary and you believe that it would be great to have a break and a time for yourselves. It is too early to quit!
Perhaps you are middle age and you have been discouraged by other people. You have been around the block enough to know that ministry is not all fun and games and that there is a lot of hardships and hard times, and there are people who won’t appreciate you. It is too early to quit!
There is a peace that comes to us from fulfilling the responsibility that God gives us.
The fourth encouragement that we find from this passage is: the power of God’s message, as we see in Verses 7 and 8:
7 Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. 8 Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Bible transforms lives. Why would we back away from a ministry and a message when we know that this ministry and message which God has given to us offers life and hope to so many who need it? This is one of the most exciting aspects of my life; that of seeing lives transformed and changed by the power of the message of the Gospel. The power of the message of the Gospel has changed me and to help me to be free from sin and to help me to be free from the enslavement that I would otherwise would be in, but also, the freedom and the joy to see others embrace the message of the Gospel and be changed.
Nothing else is like the message of the Gospel that God has given to us. This message is what? Paul talks about it at the end of Verse 5: Jesus is the Messiah! Anyone is within reach of this life changing testimony. Look at who it is who came to believe, in Corinth – this was Crispus. Crispus was the leader of the synagogue; he had a vested interest not to believe. His entire reputation and his entire lively hood, everything in his life depended upon his not believing in Jesus, and yet who was the one who first believed in Jesus? It is Crispus, the leader of the synagogue. And, not just Crispus, but his entire household said, “Yes, we are willing to pay the price with the head of the family, Crispus.” His wife didn’t leave him and he children didn’t say that it would be too hard. They all believed in the testimony of the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Let’s turn to 1 Corinthians, a letter that Paul would write to this church. We read in Chapter 1:
14 I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. 17For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel…18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
I wonder if the message of the cross has reached your life. Have you believed in Jesus Christ as your Savior and as your Lord? Have you been changed and transformed and radically made new to a whole new creation and life? This is the offer and it is freely extended to each one of us through Jesus.
The fifth encouragement that I want to look at is: the promise of God’s presence and His protection as we see in Verses 9 and 10:
9 One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.”
I believe that God meets us when we are discouraged and He meets us in special ways. He met Paul in the midst of this discouraging time and told him to keep on speaking. There is a two-fold promise, also; first, “I am with you” and second, “no one is going to attack you and harm you. I am going to protect you.”
Do you ever wonder whether God is really with you? Sometimes we get into such a dark place that we wonder if anybody else, particularly God, is still around. The promise of Scripture is this (Hebrews 13:5b):
“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
Sometimes we feel abandoned by God, but God does not leave us as orphans in this world. Isaiah the Prophet would say (Isaiah 41:10):
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Isn’t that a great encouragement to keep on and to persevere in the work: “I will strengthen you…I will uphold you.” The promise is a certainty.
John Wesley last words, on this earth, before he died were these: “The best of all is God is with us.” That is the best thing that we can possibly know.
Then God says: “I will protect you.” God’s protection does not mean that we are free from afflictions or hardships, but it means that God is in control and whatever occurs in our life occurs with a design to work out for our future joy and benefit. Paul said, in Verse 10: “I have many people in this city and it is going to be alright.”
Let’s read Verse 11:
So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.
Paul didn’t quit and I would urge you not to quit either. Through hardship and discouragement and imprisonment, his soul was free. He maintained his hope in God’s rich provision for him.
Let me ask – are you participating today in something that is eternal? Are you doing something that you will look back upon in your life, perhaps if God gives you ninety years, and you will be able to look back at ninety and say, “Yes, I was a part of this.”
In a conversation with a senior saint, it was fascinating to me as they spoke of their life and one of the things they talked about was a time in their life when they served the Lord in working with children. Their face was aglow as they talked about that time when they served God with children and with what God was doing. We were talking and that was the first thing that they brought up.
I wonder, when we are eighty or ninety years old, will we be able to look back at our life and say, “Let me tell you about some of the most exciting time in my life.” Or, have we quit too early and lost the joy.
Beloved, let us live unto God for eternity. It is then that our joy will be full.