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When God Has Your Back

Date: Jun. 1, 2014

Author: Bob Henkins

Acts 18:1-17

Key Verse: Acts 18:9-10

“One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” 

Growing up on the south side of Chicago made for an interesting time. Not all of it was easy but at least I made it through. I remember one time I was with my friend Tim and somehow we ended up in a confrontation with a few guys from the Luther South high school football team. We were near their practice field when Tim got into a fight with one of the guys he had been having problems with. The rest of us were just hanging around watching them. When Tim started to get the upper hand in the fight, one of the other guys ran up and pushed Tim and he fell over a tree log and landed on his back with his legs lying on top of the log. It was an awkward position where he couldn’t get any leverage to get up and he was getting beat pretty bad. As soon as I saw the other guy jump in, I jumped in too and through him to the ground. The next thing I know, I got smashed in the head with a cast from one of the other guys and it was getting pretty crazy because I heard some yelling and when I looked up I could see the rest of the football team running toward us. That’s when Tim and I decided it was best for us to leave. It is nice to know that when you get into trouble, you have some friends that are there to protect your back. That day, I was there and had my friend’s back but what about when we’re alone, who has our back then? In today’s passage, we follow Paul as he makes his way to Corinth where he preaches the gospel and he finds out that God has his back.

From verse one, we see that Paul left Athens and headed to Corinth which was located at the southern end of an isthmus. (which is a narrow strip of land that connects two larger land masses) This isthmus connected Sparta, Corinth and other cities to the Greek mainland. Corinth had two ports, on the west there was Lechaeum which gave access to the Adriatic Sea and Cenchrea on the east, which opened up to the Aegean Sea. The isthmus was only 3.5 miles wide at its narrowest point and Nero had started to dig a canal there to connect the two seas but it wasn’t finished at this point. During Paul’s time, ships were often unloaded in one port and the goods transported the short distance over land and reloaded onto another ship in the other port. Small ships could even be placed on carts and driven across a special roadway designed to move them from port to port. It was shorter and safer than sailing through the dangerous stormy ocean waters. Because of its location, Corinth was the largest, most cosmopolitan city of Greece with a population of approximately 500,000 the majority being slaves. All of this, made Corinth the Greek center for east-west trade. But along with all that activity came some undesirable elements that often plagues port cities. The Greeks even came up with a word for it called, “corinthianized,” which meant to live immorally. Literally it was translated into; “To live like a Corinthian,” which meant to live in complete sexual immorality. The temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, commanded the city from its perch upon the top of the Acrocorinth, a 1900 ft hill that dominated the city. There was said to be over a 1000 shrine prostitutes that worked in the temple night and day. You can imagine everything that was going on in the city. One might be tempted to say that there is no way that the gospel could take root there, because it was so corrupt, but on the other hand, maybe it was ripe for the gospel, just as Antioch was.

When Paul arrived in Corinth, he was all alone, for Silas and Timothy had been left in Berea. He must have felt lonely and maybe he was running low on money. However, God was guiding his servant step by step. Take a look at verses 3-4. “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 Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them.” It wasn’t long before Paul met a Jew named Aquila and his wife Priscilla who were already in Corinth. They, together with all the other Jews in Rome, had been ordered to leave by the Emperor Claudius. Apparently there had been some problems in Rome between Jews and Christians and some riots broke out. Emperor Claudius saw the Jewish Christians as the ringleaders and thus they received the brunt of his edict and they were deported out of Rome. I find this interesting because it means that by A.D. 50 the approximate time of this event, the gospel had already spread to Rome before Paul even got there. This shows how wide spread the gospel was. Immediately Paul connected with Priscilla and Aquila because not only were they fellow Jews and fellow tent makers but, more importantly they were also fellow Christians.

As a student of the law, Paul had been required to learn a trade. The Rabbi’s did this for two reasons; first they didn’t want their minds to become idle and second they shouldn’t make a profit from teaching the law.There is a saying that goes something like, “idle minds are the devils playground” which means when you’re idle you don’t have any particular goal in mind and thus you can be easily distracted. And when a person doesn't have anything to occupy themselves with, they will be tempted to occupy themselves with sin. So it’s really not good for any of us to be idle. So Paul was a tent maker. Actually he was more of a leather worker and tents were made from leather. This was a needed trade, one he could support himself with. Maybe we can compare it to modern day jobs like construction worker, computer programmer, auto mechanic, or a nurse. Paul worked hard to support himself and do God’s work at the same time. By day he worked as a tentmaker, and by night he worked as a Bible teacher. I think we can understand Paul’s situation here a little bit. It’s hard to support ourselves during the day and serve God’s work at night. There never seems to be enough time for everything we need to do. We have to make sacrifices in our personal lives in order to make time for God’s work. And we do it all without pay because we shouldn’t make a profit from teaching the Bible. Sometimes I wonder if we are crazy. May God have mercy on us and keep us humble so that our labor in the Lord is not in vain.

After some time, Silas and Timothy joined Paul in Corinth. It was then that “Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah” (5). When Paul had the opportunity, he gave his full attention to preparing and delivering gospel messages. The main point in Paul’s message was that Jesus is the Messiah. Why did Paul always proclaim this same message and what does it mean that Jesus was the Messiah? All of us are looking for some kind of Savior. For some of us, we are looking to be saved by getting a good job. For others we may be looking for that someone special to sweep us off our feet. And yet for others they may be looking to be saved through their school. Basically we are looking to be saved into a better situation. But all of these examples are just symptoms of the real problem which of course is sin. Sin is what kills us all. Sin cuts us off from the people we love and from God who created us. Therefore we need a savior, but not to be saved from our situation, but from our sin. The Jews understood this, so they were waiting for the Messiah to come and to save them. So when Jesus revealed himself to Paul as the Messiah and Paul found that it was true, he wanted to tell all the Jews that he found the Messiah. He knew his people’s situation and how much they longed for salvation. And he wanted to give it to them so everywhere he went, he found the first synagogue he could find and went in and tried to reason with them and persuade them about Jesus. But as usual they didn’t accept his message. Instead, they opposed Paul and became abusive. They could not accept Jesus as the Messiah, because he didn’t fit what their idea was of a Savior. What did Paul do? 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” (6). Paul accepted their rejection as God’s guidance to serve the Gentiles. This was God’s will; That Paul would be a light to the Gentiles (13:47).

So Paul left the synagogue. But he didn’t go far. He went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God (7). Apparently, this became the location of the Christian church in Corinth. Look at verse 8. “Crispus, the synagogue leader, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized.” The synagogue ruler was the one who took care of the building and organized the worship service. He was not the spiritual leader but still an important person none the less. However it was amazing that the synagogue ruler was converted. And when he was converted, his entire household and many other Corinthians were also converted. The Christian church at Corinth was beginning to grow, right next door to the synagogue. On one hand this was a great blessing but on the other hand, we can imagine how much Paul must have suffered being so close to those who opposed him.

Look at verses 9-10. “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.”” Paul seemed to be doing ok. Sure, he had been kicked out of the synagogue, but he won a great victory when the synagogue ruler and his family became believers. God even provided him a place of worship, sure it was right next door to his opponents but at least he had a place to go and many Corinthians believed and were baptized. Paul wasn’t in a difficult situation and yet the Lord encouraged him in a vision, why? If we investigate what the Lord said to him, we get a better picture of what’s going on inside Paul’s heart.

When we look at verses 9-10 we see two points the God is making, first God comforts him. The Lord said, “Do not be afraid.” Paul was a warrior of faith. In Lystra, he was stoned and left for dead and yet the Lord helped him to get up and go back into the city (Ac 14:20). In Philippi, he was arrested beaten and severely flogged and thrown in jail and yet he sang and prayed all night (Ac 16:25). In Thessalonica, he bravely preached the gospel to gangster-like opponents who ran him out of town (Ac 17:3). To us, Paul looks courageous and strong. Who would think that Paul was fearful? We have come to think of Paul as a super Christian, but he is human like us and the Lord saw his inner heart, and there was fear. If there wasn’t why would he say to Paul, “Don’t be afraid.” However I find it strange that Paul was fearful after such a clear victory. Why was he afraid? This reminded me of Abraham after he won a great victory, defeating five kings and rescued his nephew Lot. (Gen 14-15) Even after a great victory still Abraham’s heart was empty because he longed for a son, but God came to him and said, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” Even though Abraham won a victory, he was worrying about what was going to happen tomorrow, when those five kings regrouped. God wanted Abraham to understand that he would be his shield and protect him. It was the same with Paul. Paul was probably tired of the constant abuse he received by the Jews. Who wouldn’t? Paul said, “I face death every day” (1 Co15:31) as an expression of the suffering that he went through. Maybe he began to have bad dreams, worrying about what was to come. Have you ever been kept awake worrying about what might happen tomorrow? And you toss and turn unable to fall asleep? The Lord spoke to his heart, “Do not be afraid.” The Lord was like a loving mother who comforts her child in the middle of the night. The love of God melted all fear from Paul’s heart (1Jn 4:18).

The Lord continued, “For I am with you” During his missionary life, Paul had experienced the same results over and over again. After initial success in preaching, he ends up having to face strong opposition, next came persecution and eventually rejection. It happened every time. Now the Corinthians had begun to believe, it was happening like before so Paul was expecting persecution and rejection. Maybe the angry faces of his enemies popped into his dreams. Paul had experienced God being with him many times, like when he was in prison, and protected him when he was stoned. And yet he still needed to be reminded that Jesus was with him. So the Lord spoke to his heart, “I am with you.” Jesus is Almighty God. Jesus is a mighty rock of salvation. Jesus is the Sovereign Ruler of history. When Jesus was with Paul, he could feel safe and secure, even in the midst of enemies. We live in a time where we are more “connected” than any other point in history. We have more “friends” and linkedin connections and yet we are more isolated than ever before. We stay in our homes and have virtual relationship instead of real ones. I believe that this is Satan’s deception to divide and conquer us. He replaces real relationships with fake virtual ones that leave us more empty inside at the same time we are deceived thinking we are more connected. Here I am reminded of the past week’s tragedy with Elliot Rodgers. He was a college student that felt alone, unloved and rejected. In the end he went on a killing spree leaving several people dead before taking his own life. We need a community, we can’t be alone. We need Christian community. Hebrews 10:24-25 tell us, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” And Acts 2 shows us how the disciples kept meeting together day after day after day. Sometimes we may not feel like being with one another but we need to keep meeting and having good Christian fellowship spurring one another on. Still sometimes we may feel alone and disconnected we need to know that Jesus is with us. Jesus gave us his promise “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt 28:20)

The Lord continued, “and no one is going to attack and harm you because I have many people in this city.” What Paul didn’t know was that the Risen Christ, was working ahead of him and had a great harvest planned in Corinth. Paul was on the verge of being used greatly, but he might have felt like giving up. This reminds me of the prophet Elijah after he had won the victory over 450 priests of Baal. (1 Ki 18-19) Elijah wanted to give up, but God showed him 7000 Israelites that hadn’t bowed a knee to Baal. Likewise at that time, the Risen Christ encouraged Paul by giving him his vision with the hope of many believers in Corinth. Strengthened by this vision, Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching the word of God boldly. When we get discouraged, we have to come to God for his word, through which we are empowered to run the race of faith to the end.

The second thought we see is, the Lord didn’t want to be idle and relax in his comfort. The Lord said, “...keep on speaking, do not be silent.” It seems maybe Paul had considered not speaking anymore–giving up his preaching ministry. But the Lord said, “...keep on speaking, do not be silent.” Have you ever felt like not speaking about Jesus? Have you ever been discouraged? In the course of carrying out our ministry, many unexpected things happen. Sometimes we give everything we have to plant one word of God in someone’s heart, but they respond with indifference or even criticism. Maybe just get tired and have a sense of failure and want to give up. But the Lord says, “...keep on speaking, do not be silent.”

Of course, the opposition was still there. The Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him into court. They charged him with holding illegal worship services. However, Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia, completely dismissed their charges. Gallio paid no attention to them at all, though they began to beat Sosthenes in front of him. In this way, God protected Paul which made preaching the gospel possible in Corinth. God used Gallio to save Paul but Sothsenes didn’t like that. God is the Sovereign Ruler of man and the world. When God is for us, no one can stand against us. Maybe there were so many people who were ready to hear the good news because so many people’s hearts were broken down, lonely and hurting. Thankfully, we can take comfort in the fact that God has our back, but it’s not just to make us comfortable, we still have to keep moving. We must turn to God, trust in him knowing that he has our back, but we still have his work to do.

Please listen to the audio for the conclusion.

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Amos 6:1-14

Key Verse: 6:8b

The Lord GOD has sworn by himself, declares the LORD, the God of hosts:

  “I abhor the pride of Jacob
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