PERSEVERANCE IN MINISTRY FEEDS ON DIVINE ENCOURAGEMENT
By the time the Apostle Paul arrived in Corinth, he had many reasons to be discouraged and fearful in the ministry.
– Remember his call in Acts 9:15-16 “he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” We have seen that sobering prophecy fulfilled in city after city.
– Acts 13:50-52 – first missionary journey in Pisidia Antioch – persecution instigated by the Jews arose and Paul had to shake the dust off his feet and leave the district and head over to Iconium
– Acts 14:5 – attempt was made to stone the missionary team – they escaped
– Acts 14:19-22 – they fled to Lystra where Paul healed the lame man – here the attempt to stone him was successful and Paul was left for dead … but he was revived by the Lord and went back into the city to finish the job – “encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying ‘Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.’” Paul was an expert when it came to tribulations
– Internal debate among church leaders in Acts 15 over the controversy surrounding circumcision – probably some pretty heated discussions; a lot of stress
– Painful parting of ways with Barnabas over the issue of taking John Mark with them as they set out on the second missionary journey
– Then the pattern kept repeating itself of ministry success and jealous opposition and painful persecution – beaten with rods and imprisoned in Philippi (16:23); hidden by Jason and the brethren in Thessalonica from the angry mob and snuck out of town to Berea; chased there by the same folks so that he had to flee to Athens where he ministered all alone against a bunch of intellectuals who ended up mocking the message of the resurrection for the most part
So by the time he gets to Corinth, he is still lonely and ministering by himself; he is physically exhausted and probably still suffering from earlier beatings; he has new challenges ahead because of the depressing sinful state of this commercial hub and seafaring town; plus he was out of money and would not have much time for ministry because of the need to work to support himself
Cole: when Paul describes how he felt during his early days in Corinth, he uses “distress” (1 Thess. 3:7), “weakness,” “fear,” and “much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3). Even though he was a giant in the faith, Paul struggled with the same emotions that we all struggle with. . . So the spiritual concerns and discouragement about his ministry, the constant opposition, loneliness, physical pain and weariness, and the lack of funds, were weighing on Paul.
Paul had every reason to be discouraged and fearful in ministry and to throw in the towel
We all face situations where we need divine encouragement to press on in ministry
PERSEVERANCE IN MINISTRY FEEDS ON DIVINE ENCOURAGEMENT
4 COMPASS POINTS OF YOUR MINISTRY MINDSET
Keeps you going in the right direction:
– As individuals
– As families
– As churches
I. (:1-4) MINISTRY IDENTITY – KNOW WHO YOU ARE AND THE ROLE GOD WANTS YOU TO PLAY IN KINGDOM EXPANSION –
ENCOURAGEMENT FROM NEW MINISTRY PARTNERS
A. (:1) Progressive Approach to Church Planting – Strategic Location
“After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth.”
53 mile journey to Corinth
Why did he end up in Corinth?? Family there? Liked their sports teams?? Great climate??
He ended up there because he was responding to the Macedonian call to bring the gospel to those who were lost in sin and darkness – Paul knew who he was in terms of Ministry Identity —
Focused his attention in the larger cities that were the most strategic for the spread of the gospel
Commercial center – trade routes north and south as well as travel by sea
Kent: The city was served by two ports on the opposite sides of the four-mile-wide neck of land . . . To save the two hundred mile voyage around the Peloponnesus, traders often put their ships on rollers and moved them overland from one port to the other. . . Corinth was famed for its Temple of Aphrodite on its acropolis, in which one thousand sacred prostitutes contributed their sordid influence to the morals of the city.
Stott: Corinth was a city of seafarers, of maritime merchants, and it is hardly surprising that Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, whom the Romans called Neptune, was worshipped there. F. W Farrar imagined its markets stocked with cosmopolitan goods – “Arabian balsam, Egyptian papyrus, Phoenician dates, Libyan ivory, Babylonian carpets, Cilician goats’-hair, Lycaonian wool, Phrygian slaves.” Paul must have seen its strategic importance. If trade could radiate from Corinth in all directions, so could the gospel
Blaiklock: So notorious was the city for its debauchery that the phrase “to play the Corinthian” found its place in Greek to express the lowest of loose living”
S. Lewis Johnson: One well-known commentator has said, “If Athens was a center of clouded light, Corinth was a center of corrupt life. If Athens was full of idolatry, Corinth was full of sensuality.”
Paul was in need of much encouragement
B. (:2) Providential Supporting Partners – Aquila and Priscilla
“And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them,”
Probably already believers; had come from Rome where a church already existed (Rom. 1:7-8); they knew what it was to be on the run from political persecution
Rom. 16:3-4 very dedicated and brave workers for the Lord – “Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.” Quite a commendation from Paul
Ended up helping Paul with the church in Ephesus and hosting it in their home – Acts 18:18-28; 1 Cor. 16:19
The Lord brought them together somehow and they were gracious to invite Paul into their home and include him in their business pursuits; what an encouragement to once again have support and fellowship in the gospel ministry
C. (:3) Practical Job Skills for Self Support
“and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working; for by trade they were tent-makers.”
Leather workers; Cilicia, Paul’s home area, was noted for its goat hair and skins.
Wiersbe: this was one of the way Paul separated himself from the religious hucksters of his day. Jewish rabbis did not accept money from their students but earned their way by practicing a trade. “He who does not teach his son to work, teaches him to steal.”
Lots of applications could be made here with respect to correcting wrong ideas in the church about support for Christian leaders
– Presumptuous to prepare for full-time Christian ministry without having any other means of supporting yourself and your family – as if God is always intending to support you full time
– Paul was not some type of failure during the times when he worked full time at secular jobs to support himself – he needed to set the example for working hard – an example that is not understood or appreciated by many Christian ministers today
– His Ministry Identity was not conditioned on where he was getting his money – he was a gifted apostle and church planter regardless of whether he was freed up financially to devote all of his time to those pursuits or not
D. (:4) Priority on Gospel Persuasion
“And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.”
Worked hard six days at his trade and only had the Sabbath day free for extended gospel debates
Imperfect – kept trying to persuade them
“every Sabbath” – didn’t miss any opportunities
Second compass point of his ministry mindset:
II. (:5-6) MINISTRY FOCUS – FAITHFULLY STAY ON TASK –
ENCOURAGEMENT FROM OLD MINISTRY PARTNERS AND FINANCIAL SUPPORTERS
A. (:5) Committed Concentration
But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself
completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.
Kent: they brought a gift which freed him to devote more time to his missionary efforts
2 Cor. 11:8-9 “when the brethren came from Macedonia they fully supplied my need, and in everything I kept myself from being a burden to you, and will continue to do so”
Phil. 4:14-15 “no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone”
Also brought good news about the young believers at Thessalonica (1 Thess. 3:6-10)
Students at college can take a number of subjects; but they have one area of concentration; they select a major and give that their priority and focus
1. Focused on the Word
Longenecker: Lit. “Paul held himself to the word” The verb syneicheto is reflexive (middle voice), durative (imperfect tense), and inchoative (a function of the imperfect), suggesting that with the coming of Silas and Timothy, Paul began to devote himself exclusively to the ministry of the word and continued to do so throughout his stay in Corinth.
2. Focused on Evangelism
3. Focused on Jesus Christ
1 Cor. 2:1-5 Paul determined to minister in humility, to magnify Jesus Christ and the message of the cross; to preach the gospel in simplicity and power
B. (:6a) Clean Conscience
“And when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said to them, ‘Your blood be upon your own heads! I am clean.’”
Ezekiel 33:1-20 Account of the watchman’s duty
Wiersbe: To have blood on your hands means that you bear the responsibility for another’s death because you were not faithful to warn him. The image comes from the watchman on the city walls whose task it was to stay alert and warn of coming danger (Ezek. 3:17-21; 33:1-9). But to have blood on your head means that you are to blame for your own judgment.
C. (:6b) Changed Course
“From now on I shall go to the Gentiles.”
Need to be flexible and adjust the game plan – criticism of Cam
Not a once for all decision – but in this particular locale
III. (:7-8) MINISTRY MOMENTUM – EXPECT KEY CONVERTS –
ENCOURAGEMENT FROM NEW CONVERTS
A. (:7) God-fearing Gentile
“And he departed from there and went to the house of a certain man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God, whose house was next to the synagogue.”
B. (:8a) Synagogue Ruler
“And Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household,”
1 Cor. 1:14-16 – obviously a prominent convert – listed first among those Paul personally baptized
C. (:8b) General Mix
“and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized.”
Utley: I do not believe it [baptism] is the channel for receiving the grace of God or the Spirit. It was that public opportunity for new believers to express their faith in a very public and decisive way. No NT believer would ask, “Must I be baptized to be saved?” Jesus did it! Jesus commanded the church to do it! Do it!” Baptism is still a major decisive public declaration of one’s personal faith, especially in non-Christian cultures.
IV. (:9-11) MINISTRY PERSEVERANCE – BOLDLY KEEP SPEAKING THE TRUTH – ENCOURAGEMENT FROM GOD HIMSELF
A. (:9a) Divine Encounter
“And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision,”
Kent: At crucial periods in Paul’s life the Lord appeared to him. At Corinth the Lord knew the plot which was in store and encouraged him.
B. (:9b) Divine Exhortation – Be Bold
“Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent;”
Deffinbaugh: The Jews were provoked to jealousy by the belief of many Gentiles,3 and it was this jealousy which prompted their opposition. Paul is now experiencing success in his ministry to the Gentiles; why should he not anticipate intensified opposition from the Jews? It was Paul’s success which posed the danger.
C. (:10) Divine Encouragement – The Presence and Protection of God
“for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.”
1) The Lord confirmed His presence.
2) The Lord confirmed His protection.
3) The Lord confirmed His purpose.
Look at how Paul fulfilled the Great Commission – received assurance, “Lo, I am with you always”
Don’t underestimate the forces of God
Example of Elijah – 1 Kings 19 – 7,000 remaining who have not bowed the knee to Baal
Example of Elisha – 2 Kings 6:15-17
John 10:16 “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also”
Lord knows His elect even before they have responded in repentance and faith to the gospel
D. (:11) Diligent Edification
“And he settled there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.”
Might have been tempted to bug out of town early on; but the divine encouragement stopped his fears and caused him to settle in for long term profitable ministry
They didn’t need human wisdom or psychology to address their areas of behavior dysfunction; they needed the practical truths of the Word of God
Stedman: It’s Always Too Soon to Quit
Illustration: A man was shoveling snow from his driveway when two boys carrying snow shovels approached him. “Shovel your snow, mister?” one of them asked. Puzzled, the man replied, “Can’t you see that I’m doing it myself?” “Sure,” said the enterprising lad: “that’s why we asked. We get most of our business from people who are half through and feel like quitting!”
Dr. V. Raymond Edman used to say to the students at Wheaton (Illinois) College, “It’s always too soon to quit!” And Charles Spurgeon reminded his London congregation, “By perseverance, the snail reached the ark.”
We need divine encouragement to fuel our perseverance … that comes to us in many ways
– As we hold on to our Ministry Identity and receive encouragement from new friends
– As we maintain our Ministry Focus and labor together with partners in the gospel
– As we are blessed with the fruit of new converts and experience some Ministry Momentum
– And as we persevere in ministry with the promise of God’s presence and protection and good favor
1 Cor. 6:9-11 the transforming power of the gospel