“DO NOT BE AFRAID; KEEP ON SPEAKING”
Key verse 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.’”
When we think about Apostle Paul, what kind of person comes to our minds? One of courage, boldness, faithful to his mission, very sacrificial and without flaw. We would say that he is the greatest missionary who ever lived. But in today’s passage we see that he was actually afraid. We see that he struggled in his mission life like you and me. Mission life was really hard especially when his own people opposed him and violently rejected him no matter where he went. But the Lord who had called Paul (9:15-16) did not leave him. The Lord came to him in a vision at night to encourage him, “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack you and harm you because I have many people in this city.”
In our mission life the Lord’s great promise is that he will be with us. He promises to be with us as we speak his words of life to the world that he commanded us to go into. After this event, Apostle Paul was strengthened to speak God’s word and to teach God’s word. He also helped Aquila and Priscilla and coworked with them, so they became a model house church, the first one mentioned in the New Testament. In addition, in this passage, we see how Paul coworked with a few precious men of God such as Silas and Timothy. They quietly helped Paul and supported him in his work. Through this passage, may God open your ears to hear his voice for this summer ministry, “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.” May God encourage you and use you at work, at school and in your homes to speak his word.
Part 1. Paul, a Tentmaker Missionary (1-4)
After Paul left Athens, he left for Corinth. Corinth was a big cosmopolitan seaport city of about 500,000 people. It was an important place where east met west in terms of economies, cultures and ideologies. It had many social ills known even to modern man as well as it was godless, immoral and idolatrous. It was known as a sailor’s paradise and a virtuous woman’s hell.
While Paul was there he met a Jew named Aquila and his wife Priscilla. Let’s read verses 2-3, “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, and because he was a tent maker as they were, he stayed and worked with them.” Here we can see another side of Paul that we have not yet seen. Paul is what we call a tent maker missionary. This means he supported himself. It is also called a lay missionary. Paul probably acquired the skill of making tents while he was a boy. This might also have become a talent that God gave him.
In order to win people over to the gospel, Paul did not hide his talent in the ground, but used it whenever he was given the opportunity. Because Paul was alone in Corinth, he looked to find and make coworkers. When Paul met Aquila and Priscilla one day in Corinth they were working on their tents in their street side store. Paul began to talk about his experience with tent making and how learned it when he was young. He told them all the different techniques he had learned and shared it with them. He stayed with them and worked with them and talked about all kinds of things with them and he also received some income with them. Then he began to tell them the gospel of Jesus, the good news of God.
To Paul, the gospel of Jesus was of first importance. Everything he did revolved around proclaiming and preaching the gospel. He did everything for the sake of the gospel so that the gospel could be preached. He became all things to all people in order to win them over to the gospel. He said later in 1 Corinthians 9:22-23, “…I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”
Paul did not beg for donations for financial support, but instead he often worked hard to support himself and even to help other believers in their needs. Later he said in Acts 20:34-35, “You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering what our Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” He also said in 1 Thessalonians 2:9, “Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.”
The UBF ministry has tried to copy Paul’s tent making missionary example instead of relying on donations from others to support missionary work. This not only has helped us financially and materially, but also helps us to understand people so that we can win them over to Jesus. When God sent Esther Lee, Grace Park and Rebekah Lim to America, it was to use them as tentmaker missionaries. They all came over as nurses but could not establish a nurse’s position right away due to their English problem. M. Rebekah worked in a hotel cleaning up and vacuuming floors. M. Grace worked in Japanese restaurant. They took any job in order to support themselves and understand American life while teaching the Bible to college students. Eventually, they all found employment as nurses in area hospitals and nursing homes. Because of their jobs, God could help them and their families to live comfortably and without worry, in addition to serving many American students with delicious food and even opening their houses for them to live in.
This tent making missionary life didn’t just end with employment. Many missionaries went back to school, not necessarily for a degree, but for the sake of trying to understand American college students a little bit better. When we become students again, we realize how busy school life is and what a challenge it is for students to keep their Bible study appointments and even to come to Bible study.
Through being tent maker missionaries, God can use us as his servants all over the world. Especially these days it would be impossible to get a visa and go to China as a pastor. But we can go as English teachers like Philip Brown. It is easy for him to get a visa and go as an English teacher and then do God’s work there at the same time. The same is true in Muslim countries where missionaries can go as much needed doctors and nurses.
Look at verse 4, “Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.” Paul could have been tired from working all week and just wanted to relax and rest on the Sabbath. But he instead he chose to work for God in the synagogue trying to persuade both Jews and Greeks. Who wants to rest and relax after a long day of work and school? We all do. But instead of resting and relaxing, let’s follow Paul’s example and put priority in going campus visiting and teaching the Bible. Those who participate in this after a long tiring day of work and long tiring day of school are the most blessed people because they are putting God first before themselves.
Part 2. I Have Many People in this City (5-17)
Upon the arrival of Silas and Timothy, Paul’s ministry was strengthened. Then Paul began to devote himself exclusively to preaching, instead of just trying to persuade. Perhaps upon Silas and Timothy’s arrival, they formed a vessel of prayer and they prayed often together, morning, noon and night. Silas and Timothy helped support Paul. They were very precious and valuable partners with in him the gospel. Paul preached to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. How did the Jews react to Paul’s preaching? Verse 6 says that they opposed Paul and became abusive. They reacted the way most of the other Jews had when Paul preached to them in other lands. They could not accept that Jesus was the Christ. They hardened their hearts, closed their ears and shut their eyes to the gospel and became like those who condemned and crucified Jesus.
Paul was clearly upset. This is because he loved his own people. Their stubborn and unrepentant hearts made him exasperated. So he shook out his clothes in protest of them 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.” Paul realized that no matter how much preaching and persuading and proclaiming he did to them, they would not believe. Paul had given his heart to them, but they rejected God’s love when they rejected the message. They were responsible for their actions and words of denying Jesus. They were the ones who would be accountable for their words and actions on judgment day when they would have to stand before the Lord Jesus.
The Jews rejection of Paul’s message and Jesus himself began a turning point in Paul’s ministry. From now on he devoted himself to preach the message to the Gentiles, for God had also made him a light to the Gentiles for their salvation. However, his heart was still very much on his own people. The hardening of the Jews to the message of the gospel was the work of God’s sovereign hand until the full number of the Gentiles had come in.
So what did Paul do? Paul pressed on towards his goal, as we must press on towards the goal of the heavenly prize, when we are rejected by our own people and by those whom we love when we chose to stand in faith. Paul left that synagogue and went to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. At that house he met others and proclaimed the word to them. In addition he preached to many others. What was the result? Look at verse 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,”
On the outside, things appeared well. But on the inside of Paul, in his heart, Paul was struggling greatly. Paul had developed a deep sense of fear in his heart. As we know, fear is the opposite of faith. Fear is the greatest enemy of our faith. So how did the Lord help him? Let’s read verses 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 harm you, because I have many people in this city.”
The Lord visited him in a vision and first told him, “Do not be afraid…” It is surprising that the great Apostle Paul had fear. We don’t envision him being afraid of anything. However, Paul wasn’t Jesus, he was a sinner just like you and me. What was it that made Paul afraid? Perhaps it was the violent objections he was receiving as he preached the message to the Jews. In the city of Lystra, he was stoned and almost died. In Philippi, he was thrown in prison. In Thessalonica, the Jews rounded up some bad characters from the market place and formed a mob and started a riot and wanted to get Paul. Now, just previously here in Corinth, the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive.
Paul seemed to have no rest. Think how you would feel if every time you went campus visiting or tried to teach the Bible that there were big groups of angry students yelling obscenities at you and shouting at you waiting to harm you and beat you up and chasing you. You might just be afraid and you probably would not want to say anything that had to do with the Bible or Jesus. The Lord’s word to Paul was perfect in this time, “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.”
Why should Paul not be afraid? It was because The Lord was with him, verse 10. God said, “For I am with you.” These are the words that God has given his people throughout the ages. These are the most comforting words and encouraging words to us when we are alone and when we experience rejection after rejection and hardship after hardship and when we feel like giving up. Sometimes I feel this way at GMU. When I went campus visiting I was rejected again and again. I began to feel that liberalism and atheism were taking over the campus. I fell into despair about those who said they were Christians but showed no desire for Bible study or care that reading the Bible was even important. Sometimes I felt that students might harm me when they looked at me with angry eyes. But the Lord said, “I am with you…” I also remembered Psalm 118:6-7, “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? The Lord is with me; he is my helper…”
I realize that I don’t have to be afraid and feel alone, because the Lord is my helper. He will be with me and help me to do his work as long as I claim this very great promise of God. The Lord said, “For I am with you…” Sometimes we don’t want to speak the word of the Lord because of what others might think and say. We might not want to speak out of fear of being different. But we should not be afraid to speak these words of life. Many people use obscenities and misuse God’s name in public all the time. They are not afraid to speak those words. Why should we be afraid to speak God’s words of life?
The Lord promised to be with Paul and also promised that no one was going to attack him and harm him. God made this promise to Paul and also said that he has many people in this city. What does this mean, “because I have many people in this city”? What God meant was that he had preserved a remnant of his people in the city of Corinth who would believe the message. Wherever we go to do the work of God, God has prepared a people for himself, there is a remnant. We shouldn’t complain that there is no one who wants to study the Bible and shows no interest.
Back in the time of Elijah the prophet, the people of Israel were living in great spiritual adultery under the wicked King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. Elijah challenged their wicked lives and yet he was being persecuted. In his time, many of the Lord’s prophets were being killed because they would not compromise their faith. Elijah felt like he was the only one left. He became afraid and ran for his life and then sat down under a tree and prayed that God would take his life away, “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” But God told him, “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” (1 Kings 19:10,14)
So there are the people of God whom God has reserved for his salvation work. We just need to pray and then go and speak God’s word and God will lead us to his chosen ones.
What did Paul do after the Lord came to him in a vision? Look at verse 11, “So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.” Paul obeyed the Lord. He was revived by God’s word. He spoke boldly once again and the gospel took root and spread in Corinth because Paul claimed this promise of God in verses 9-10.
However, Paul was still in danger, still he was persecuted. In verse 12, the Jews made a united attack on Paul. They brought him to court and said in verse 13 that he was persuading people to worship God in ways contrary to the Law. Paul wanted to speak, however, Gallio, the proconsul, interrupted him because he saw their complaint had nothing to do with the law of the land, just something about the law of the Jews. He said they should settle it themselves. So God used Gallio to extinguish this possible harm on Paul, just as God said, God said, “ no one is going to attack you or harm you. “ God kept his promise to Paul and used Gallio in this event. Gallio had them all ejected from the court.
Part 3. The House Church of Aquila and Priscilla (18-28)
In Corinth, Paul had influenced a husband and wife whom we met earlier, Priscilla and Aquila. Priscilla had been born of noble birth. They had good heart soil and eagerly accepted the message of the gospel from Paul. As a result, they went to go with Paul and become his coworkers for the gospel work. Verse 18 says this, “…Then he left the brothers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila.”
Then Paul, and this family came to Ephesus. Paul decided to leave Aquila and Priscilla there. At that time Paul was eager to go back to Antioch. He spent time there in order to encourage his fellow believers in Antioch. Look at verse 22, “When he landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church and went down to Antioch.”After he spent time in Antioch, he went to start on his third missionary journey going to the region of Galatia and Phrygia and strengthening all the disciples, according to verse 23.
We can now see how the house church of Priscilla and Aquilla became influential. When a man named Apollos, began doing the work of God, he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately. However, he only knew about the baptism of John. So perhaps all he could tell people was to repent, like John the Baptist. He did not know the grace and mercy of Jesus. However, he really was trying to do the will of God, but he needed a Bible teacher and some good influence.
Let’s read verse 26, “He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquilla heard him, they invited him to their home and explained the way of the Lord to him more adequately.” Here we see the house church of Aquilla and Priscilla and how God used them. They did not know Apollos personally. However, they saw his love for the Lord. Through this they had patience to help him and sit down with him and have Bible study with him. Aquilla taught him the Bible while Priscilla cooked a delicious meal. Then they all ate together and talked more about the Lord. They prayed together and after that they spoke more. Apollos might have even spent the night there.
The house church of Aquilla and Priscilla became a model church because of its sacrifice. Back then there were no church buildings. Believers met in their homes. They sacrificed their private lives in order to serve fellow believers and strengthen them and encourage them. They had meetings there and Bible study. Let’s look at what Paul said about this house church of Aquila and Priscilla. In Romans 16:3-5 he says, “Greet Priscilla and Aquilla, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house.”
In 1 Corinthians 16:19 Paul also writes, “The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquilla and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets in their house.” So we can see how important house churches are. Look at verse 27, “When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.”
We see here how they helped Apollos and got him on the right track. God wants to raise up house churches like this in America. This is why we pray for 5,000 house churches for America. God wants to use our families and our houses to do his work. When we open our houses, God will do his work. At GMU, we are using our homes for Bible study on Friday nights for students to come and study the Bible with us. It is our hope and vision that by offering our homes for God’s work God will bring many students who need our help and who will come to know the Lord Jesus.
In today’s passage, we learned the mission life of Paul. God used his coworking with Silas, Timothy and the house church of Aquilla and Priscilla to bring the gospel to Corinth and to help one disciple named Apollos. Especially we learn today how important is that we hear the Lord’s voice to us in times of fear and despair. The Lord says, “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to harm you, because I have many people in this city.” May God help you to claim and hold to this promise this summer.