Don’t be afraid, speak out…

“After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks. When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue. Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.” (Acts 18:1-11 ESV)

One of the great privileges of living in the United States are the freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution and Bill of Rights or the Amendments to the Constitution and the awesome responsibility of protecting those rights. While the Constitution is an incredible document in so many ways, it is fascinating to realize that our Founding Fathers recognized early and, apparently, often that it was incomplete. Thus, we now have the Bill of Rights or the First Ten Amendments to the original Constitution of the United States of America. The very first of those Amendments begins: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”

While I consider myself patriotic, I am also quick to proclaim that my first and highest loyalty is to Jesus, my Christ. I love this country, but I love my Lord and my God most. Sometimes this puts me at odds with some folks, but I don’t really mind. I would rather be obedient to God than pleasing to men. Living in the United States affords me, and others, the great privilege of being able to obey and follow the proclamations of our faith and participate in worship without fear of reprisal or suppression. While the social fabric and culture in America is certainly shifting, we still have the right to live out and proclaim our faith corporately, personally and publicly. But to borrow a phrase, with great power comes great responsibility. We are not only privileged and empowered to proclaim, we are responsible to proclaim our faith. If you don’t feel that responsibility, something’s wrong. Desperately wrong.

In today’s focal passage, Paul has left Athens and traveled fifty miles further west to the city of Corinth. Corinth was a port city and a Roman colony that had been destroyed several times during the Peloponnesian wars, and during Paul’s visit was most recently rebuilt in 44 BC and established as the capital of that region. Due to its strategic location on the Greek isthmus, it was a thriving and very rich city. To avoid the dangerous open seas of Mediterranean, cargo ships would make port one side of the isthmus, offload their cargo and transfer it to wagons and take it across the narrow land bridge to the port and a waiting ship on the opposite side. If the ship was small enough, the entire ship would be brought ashore and “rolled” across the isthmus on logs and placed back in the port on the opposite side. About 30 years after Paul’s visit, Roman Emperor Nero would unsuccessfully attempt to dig a canal across the isthmus using 6,000 Jewish prisoners of war (it was finally dug in the late 19th century).

On a personal note, in modern times there was ferry that ran between Corinth and Catania, Sicily where my older brother lives. I guess I really do need to go see my brother, and also visit Corinth.

Upon his arrival in Corinth, Paul meets a Jewish couple named Aquila and Priscilla. Luke tells us that they had recently arrived in Corinth from Rome due to the expulsion of Jews from Rome by Emperor Claudius. According to historical records by the Roman Historian Suetonius, Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome due to an uprising or riot over someone called “Chrestus” or Christ. While it is possible that someone other than Jesus might be referenced as “a Christ” it seems more likely that He is the one referenced by Suetonius simply as “Christ.” So, Aquila and Priscilla must have been involved in the “uprising” since they were forced to leave Rome and it appears that they were Jewish Christians since they quickly aligned themselves with Paul.

Aquila and Priscilla offer Paul their home and a job in their tent-making business while he’s in Corinth. All young Jewish boys are taught a trade regardless of their social position or financial need to work because of the Mosaic law commands. So, Paul was taught tent-making when he was a young man and he uses that skill to make a living while he pursues his main purpose, sharing the gospel of Jesus. While we aren’t exactly certain where and when Aquila and Priscilla first heard the gospel, we do know that some Jews from Pontus were in Jerusalem and heard Peter’s Pentecost sermon (see Acts 2:9). It is possible that Aquila was present, or he may have heard the gospel from a friend in Pontus who was present in Jerusalem. I do believe that they were already disciples of Christ when Paul arrived in Corinth or Luke would have noted their conversion. Regardless of when, we do know they became disciples of Christ and they quickly made friends with Paul and their home became his “base of operations” to reach Corinth.

Paul begins to dialogue or reason (dialego; dia = through or from one side to the other, lego = speech or speaking) with the Jews in the Synagogue each Sabbath. In many ways, we’ve lost the ability to have a dialogue of competing ideas in our modern culture. Instead of speaking, reasoning and then listening to their response, we yell and then refuse to listen to each other. If we would just stop yelling and simply listen, we might actually learn a lot from each other. For example, when you tell someone about Christ and the truth of the gospel, if you really listen to their response you will often hear the reasons for their rejection or their real struggles with the Christian faith. Listening to those responses give us the opportunity to not only hear why but how to best respond to their questions, doubts, fears and struggles.

But notice, Paul wasn’t just talking ABOUT Christ. Instead, he was trying to persuade them to follow Christ. You might often talk about Christ and your faith with others, but if you aren’t aiming at persuading them to follow Him then your talk may have no real goal or purpose. If you don’t aim, you’ll miss your target most of the time. Not all of us have the gift of evangelism, like Paul did. I know I don’t. It appears, to me, that Aquila and Priscilla didn’t. You may or may not. But, you don’t need to be an evangelist to aim at persuading others regarding faith in Christ. During my 40 plus years of ministry, I have known many who have the gift of evangelism but I know many, many more who don’t possess that specific gift but each of them is essential to the overall purpose and mission of Christ and the life and health of the Church.

In a very real sense, this blog is an example of those differences. I love to write and always have. I also like to teach and preach. But, I know I do not have the gift of evangelism. That may sound odd coming from a pastor, especially one who writes a weekly blog, but Paul tells these Corinthian Christians that God gives spiritual gifts as He sees fit (see 1 Cor. 12:11, 12:18). But, what I really want you to understand on this subject is that God uses each Christian with our unique God-given spiritual gifts for the express purpose of making other disciples and we ought to aim for that goal. Paul was using his spiritual gifts with the intentional goal of persuading others through reason and dialogue. My goal is the same. If you are reading this, then my goal is to persuade you through my writing, reasoning and teaching to place your trust in Jesus as the one and only Son of God and savior of the world. If you are already a fellow believer, then you should be intentionally using your unique spiritual gifts to make disciples.

Next, we are told that when Silas and Timothy arrive in Corinth Paul is able to be “occupied by the word.” This phrase really means that he’s able to fully devote himself to this singular purpose, or be “occupied” by it. This seems to imply that Silas and Timothy are able to take much of the load for earning money to sustain their needs while Paul is fully occupied in evangelism and reasoning with the Jews regarding Christ. Paul becomes frustrated by their rejection of Jesus when they opposed and reviled him, and he responds by shaking out his garments and declaring that their blood is on their own heads. This is very similar to what Jesus commanded the disciples to do when they encountered resistance: “But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.” (Luke 10:10-12 ESV)

It is important to understand that we are commanded to go, but when people refuse to hear or outright reject the gospel message, we are told to let them know that God will hold this against them and then go somewhere else and to someone else that is receptive. To be honest, this is never easy and it was hard for Paul, too. He talks in Romans about his desire to see his fellow Jews come to faith in Christ…

“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:1-4 ESV)

In essence, Paul followed Christ’s command the disciples in Luke 10. The Jews of Corinth rejected Christ and opposed and reviled Paul’s work. So, he abandoned his attempts at reaching the Jews of Corinth and went to the Gentiles who worshiped and feared God and sought out the truth regarding the Messiah. So, a fledgling church was born in the home of Titius Justus, who happened to live next door to the synagogue, along with Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue and his entire household.

Finally, I want you to notice that all of this conflict and the struggle of trying to reach the Jews of Corinth had a significant impact on Paul’s attitude and spirit. Luke notes at the very end of this section that Paul must have been struggling emotionally and spiritually because he received a visit from Jesus in a night vision. I think we often look at the Apostle Paul as a “super Christian” who did everything right and never had any doubts or fears. This passage makes it very clear, that is NOT the case. He obviously struggled and he apparently struggled enough that he must have been considering the very things Jesus cautioned him about not doing. “Don’t be afraid, don’t be silent, don’t be afraid of possible attacks, keep on speaking out for I am with you and I have many in this city.”

We often need to hear these same assurances. Don’t be afraid, don’t be silent, I’ll be with you, I have many in this city. As culture grows increasingly hostile towards our faith, it is tempting to grow silent out of fear. It is attractive to retreat into our holy hideouts (our churches) seeking its safety and security. But, to do so is to deny our purpose and to doubt our Lord’s power. Honestly, He never promised us safety or security but He did promise His presence and His power. We must learn to rely on them, His presence and power, while we pursue our purpose.

Don’t misunderstand me. We will face difficulties. We all struggle with questions, doubts and fears. We may even face physical challenges and personal attacks. Paul did, though not in Corinth. God knew exactly what Paul needed and when he needed it. He had withstood prison in Philippi and attacks throughout Macedonia and seems to have grown weary with the battle. But Jesus brings him assurance, encouragement and strength at just the right time. He will for you, too…

Let me share a story that I read many years ago by an incredible Christian saint, Corrie Ten Boom. You might be familiar with her book, The Hiding Place, that tells the challenges her family faced when they hid and protected Jews during World War II. In a prequel to The Hiding Place, called Father Ten Boom, she tells of asking her father when God would give her the courage and strength she needed because she felt very afraid and alone. Her wise father asked her about a train trip they had recently taken and when he had given her the ticket for the train. She replied, “just before we boarded the train.” He responded, “that’s when God gives us the things we need. Just before we need them.”

That’s when God gives us what we need, just before we need them. Trust Him. Lean into Him. Feel His presence and power… then speak up and speak out!

Let me add one final thought. Many of you who follow this site and read these words, do not live in the United States and do not share the same protections and freedoms that I enjoy and treasure. I do not say this lightly, stay faithful, stay obedient, do not stay silent. He will provide what you need, just when you need it.

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