Last week we continued to follow the apostle Paul as he left Athens and went alone on to Corinth. It seemed an impossible task, one man against a city of very devoted sinners. Of course, it wasn’t the first time God sent a man alone against unbelief like that, but it was an intimidating prospect, nonetheless.
But Paul did not stay alone for long. He reached out on common ground, met like-minded people, and before long a small congregation was blossoming. In fact, this pattern repeated most places he went. Even where he was forcibly driven out, he left behind a contingent of the faithful who continued the work after he departed. Though he made his rounds, sharing Jesus, strengthening churches, and moving on, each place he worked carried on the work without him.
Today, it is that effect in particular that we want to look at. That from the efforts of one, many can come to faith by God’s power. And each one of those many can reach out to just as many more. Let’s begin by taking a look at our reading for today, from Acts 18:
Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sisters and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchreae because of a vow he had taken. They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. When they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined. But as he left, he promised, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” Then he set sail from Ephesus. When he landed at Caesarea, he went up to Jerusalem and greeted the church and then went down to Antioch.
After spending some time in Antioch, Paul set out from there and traveled from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.
Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.
One hates to talk numbers when discussing the church. God wants all people to be saved. He does not measure success in numerical terms. The effectiveness of the Gospel or a congregation should not be measured in numerical growth. It’s a slippery slope to talk numbers.
That being said.
Foregoing issues of doctrinal divide and incorrect teachings, the number of people in the world with saving faith in Jesus could probably be estimated in the hundreds of millions. The number of people who have passed to heaven in the faith in the last 2000 years makes that number significantly higher. Imagine what that number would look like though, if Paul had been the only one teaching people about Jesus. If everyone who had come to faith by his efforts simply took that faith home and enjoyed it for themselves and that was that? God is all-powerful, but humanly speaking – how fast can one person share the faith with the world?
In fact, even Jesus himself said the task was too great. He said the workers were too few and to ask for more workers. He turned to his disciples, told them to pray for more workers that the lost and helpless sheep might get what they so desperately need.
And we’ve seen through the book of Acts how desperately people need Jesus. And people haven’t changed much since our time. As we look at the people in Acts who need Jesus, we don’t just see the same people in our world, we even see ourselves. We see either what we once were or struggle every day not to turn into.
We saw the group that loved just indulging in everything life had to offer in order to try to find happiness on any given day. Do you know that person? Have you tried it yourself? Or even given into it a little bit? The rush of whatever is great… but at the end you have to face reality. And it’s never the same the second time. You have to go bigger and better. And you get caught in an endless loop of one-upping everything that went before. Doesn’t even have to be a sinful vice. Could just be a hobby or vacation or something. You’re working towards that one thing that you say, “when I get here, I’ll be happy and content and everything will be good.” But it’s a hamster wheel. It doesn’t work. And you just have to do it all over again. It’s a hollow chasing of the wind.
We saw the group that preferred to work for satisfaction. That’s just as deceptive a trap. Either you work really hard and end up with a false sense of security from how great you are… or you more likely stumble and make mistakes and end up utterly discouraged that you just can’t seem to get it right. It’s just as bad as chasing those hollow pleasures to think that somehow my life, my worth, my joy has to come from how good I am at something. I can’t stop moving and working because if I do, I’ll realize how empty it really is and it’ll all come crashing down.
And the less said about the town of Corinth and their worship of Aphrodite, the better. Sexual sin is some of the most prevalent in our world. We all know someone caught up in it and we’d be utterly foolish to think that as Christian believers we are above it or immune to it.
All of these people in our world are people chasing empty lives, knowing on some level that something is missing but unable to fill it. And before we look down our nose, they are exactly what you and I would be except for God’s grace in saving us. They need someone to save them. They need a God who died to make these things right. To give them joy and comfort that lasts, water they can drink and never be thirsty again. They need Jesus to fill that void and calm their desperate pursuits.
Just like we needed Jesus to do the same for us. And to help us daily that we don’t go back to those ways. We’re here to plant Jesus in the heart of North Raleigh and beyond…because North Raleigh is full of hurting people who desperately need it.
But this is not a job that one man can do. It’s not even a job that a small team of called workers can do. It is the calling of every Christian to multiply the faith wherever you go.
Jesus told the disciples to pray for workers and then what happened next? He made his disciples workers and sent them out to work. Paul made friends of Priscilla and Aquilla and before long they were travelling with Paul and teaching other believers
And what about that list of people Paul sent greetings to in Rome? You know, at the point Paul wrote that letter, Paul himself had never even been to Rome? And yet he had a laundry list of people he personally knew who had gone there to carry out ministry for Jesus.
The mission of the church can be summed up simply in two words: Grow and Go. We are to grow the faith of existing believers and we are to go with that faith to share it with others. If you look at Jesus’ great commission that is exactly the directive you’ll find him giving. But the great way about how God works is that each person the Holy Spirit works on and brings to faith is another person to carry out that same mission. One reaches many, the many reach many more, and on and on it goes.
We are a congregation. A gathering. We are very different, with different backgrounds, different attitudes and quirks and foibles. But we are united as a gathering of believers in Christ to carry out his mission. This is not a passive club that we show up to, put our dues in the offering plate and go home with a little bit of salvation. The believers are the church and the church is the believers. Yes, to guide our path we call a man specially trained to lead and shepherd us. Yes, we call teachers to bring up our children. Yes, we appoint leaders to help keep the chaos a bit organized. But you are still the church.
And the ministry of the church is more than Pastor Kiecker can do alone. It’s more than the preschool teachers can do alone. It’s more than the church council can even do alone. It’s up to all of us. Every believer working together to accomplish that mission to multiply the church, to share the gospel message, give the Holy Spirit his moment to work and bring others to the faith you know and treasure.
We’ve talked about the people who are hurting, we know how badly they need it. We know that could just as easily be you or me. And yes, maybe they’ll reject it. God doesn’t hold us accountable for that. He does hold us accountable if we never speak up. If we never do anything. How can anyone believe if they don’t hear and how can they hear if we don’t speak?
Now, I know we’re not all equally equipped. That’s part of the reason we have different roles in the church. We are not all here to do exactly the same things. But we all have gifts that can be used to carry out this ministry. Use them! Maybe it’s not a direct outreach effort, but it’s still work that supports that outreach. Whether it’s helping worship run smoothly for the visitor or keeping our facility beautiful to glorify God or taking some task off another’s plate so they can focus on larger priorities – we all talents and gifts to contribute to the ministry.
And let me just backpedal for a second and point out that ministry is not all about outreach, either. Remember I said the mission of the church is to Grow and Go. Becoming a believer means we are saved, 100%. But it’s also not the end of our earthly walk with God. Faith needs to be fed, nurtured, and grown. The ministry to strengthen faith right here in our own midst through regular worship and study and devotion is just as vital as the ministry to reach outside of our congregation. Look at Priscilla, Aquilla, and Apollos strengthening each other through instruction and study of God’s word prior to really tackling the task of reaching out.
What are you doing to grow? Are you making a point to attend Sunday bible study or one of the mid-week groups? Do you have a devotional habit to dig into scripture regularly on your own? Do you have someone you can reach out to for help when you wrestle with a difficult section of the Bible? If you don’t feel up to the task of reaching out, then start by reaching in – grow your faith in the Word here and help others do the same. And, if you’re not sure where to start – which is super common, then ask. Ask Pastor Kiecker, ask me, ask the leadership. Any of us can point you in the right direction and give you resources to get started.
Brothers and sisters, we are the church. We are the gathering of believers called to do his work. Study his word, learn from him regularly, build yourself up in that truth and then share it out there with those who so desperately need it. Ultimately the work of salvation is up to the Holy Spirit. He is the one who changes hearts and brings people to faith. The success of our mission is in his hands, not ours. But he has chosen to rely on us for the opportunity. Study the gospel, share the gospel, that more can know Jesus, that more can share Jesus, that the most can be saved. Amen.
Throughout our study of ACTS, maybe you’ve noticed something: The Gospel is unstoppable.
It’s like a locomotive. It keeps going. It keeps moving. (Don’t get in its way). You can’t stop it.
It’s like a Boeing jet. It keeps going. It keeps moving. (It travels long distances). You can’t stop it.
It’s like a toddler after a bunch of fruit snacks. It keeps going. It keeps moving. (It doesn’t even crash after the sugar rush). You can’t stop it.
Will the run of the Gospel continue? Before we study God’s Word, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. When Workers are Few…
The lesson comes from Acts 18. Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. (18:1) Corinth was located about 45 miles east of Athens. The best way to get there was a long dirt road. That’s how Paul got there. He walked on his own down a long dirt road by himself.
As he approached, he would have seen a grand city. Corinth had one of the largest populations of the ancient world. It contained a large marketplace where all kinds of merchants gathered to sell their goods. It was money driven. People liked the finer goods of life. They were always busy buying and selling.
Corinth was also the location of the temple to Aphrodite. She was the goddess of love and sex. Just as the worship of Athena, the goddess of wisdom, influenced the philosophy and wisdom of Athens, the worship of Aphrodite, the goddess of sex, influenced the city of Corinth. People were very loose with their sexuality.
In fact, it is recorded that once a week, the one thousand priestesses of Aphrodite would come down from the temple. They’d enter the city and “ply their wares.” They’d sleep with men. They’d sleep with women. They’d sleep with a bunch of men and women.
If preaching the Gospel in Athens was like talking amongst a large group of philosophy professors, preaching the Gospel in Corinth was like catching a group of porn actors on their smoke break.
Put yourself in Paul’s sandals.
As he walked towards the city.
On a dirt road.
Seeing the city in the distance.
He might have thought:
How am I going to do this?
I’m by myself, God! This Corinth? It has over 1,000 temple prostitutes.
And you teach that sex is a special gift for one and one woman in marriage.
These people? They sleep with one man and one woman before the morning coffee break! (It’s embedded in their culture.)
And…how am I going to get throughout the entire city? It’s huge. Markets and merchants everywhere.
Where am I even going to stay? The only hotel rooms come with a voluptuous roommate and a red light special?
God, is this the end of Gospel ministry?
But if Paul had those concerns, God answered Paul.
Not with words.
Paul met a Jew named Aquila…and his wife Priscilla. Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. (v.2,3)
Tentmaking was an important ancient trade. Because people walked from city to city, tents were brought along in case you had to set up shelter and spend the night along the roadway. These tents were generally made from animal skins. Over time, those skins would wear and tear in the wind and grit. A tent maker would prepare the skin for being a shelter, sew it together, and fix up any tears in it.
Paul had training in this skillset. Granted, he had been busy preaching the Gospel. He hadn’t used these skills for a while. But as he walked around Corinth, unsure of where to go and what to do, the tentmaking shop felt familiar.
Hey guys! I’m a tentmaker, too.
I was trained up at Tentmaker Tech in Jerusalem. You?
How long have you been in the business?
Is that a Craftsman skinning knife in your hands? I love those.
Do you have a favorite animal skin? I’m especially fond of North African camel myself.
Eventually the tentmaking conversation leads to a job.
The job leads to housing.
The housing leads to Paul telling them about Jesus.
Before you know it, Paul has friends.
He has supporters.
He has funding.
He has a place to stay.
He has fellow believers and partners in his Gospel ministry.
And the Gospel doesn’t stop. Instead, it spread. Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. (v.4)
When WORKERS are few, God provides MORE.
This is something that we’ve seen in the history of Gethsemane church.
Gethsemane church started about 47 years ago when a group of people started worship services in their living room. They’d gather the family around one of those big old TV sets, turn off the TV, and put a cross on top. Instant altar. Then, they’d listen to worship cassettes (do you remember cassettes?) of neighboring church services that they had received in the mail.
All the while -- they had the hope that God would provide a pastor to help them Plant Jesus in the Heart of North Raleigh.
And God did. A guy named Pastor Paul Schmiege who moved to Raleigh and helped plant the very church building that we are blessed to set foot inside of.
God provided More workers.
And God has kept doing that.
When we’ve needed musicians? God provided.
When we’ve needed someone who’s good with finances? God provided.
When we needed someone who’s good with technology? God provided.
When we needed an architect, a construction manager, and data analysts to help build the new facility to reach others with the Gospel? God provided.
Really recently – we needed someone to help teach PreK 4 students about Jesus. We sent a request to our church body’s worker training school. Get this -- there were hundreds of requests and only about 1/3 of them would be filled. I even received a phone call from our District President that said “Be prepared. We might not have anyone for you.” And yet – God provided. He gifted us a new teacher (some of you met her last week).
The same is true in your personal Gospel ministry.
If you’re the only believer…
…in your family.
…at the gym.
Remember: When workers are few, God provides more.
You’re the MORE.
II. When Some Reject
God kept providing more. Weeks later, reinforcements arrived. Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, so Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. (v.5)
This was Paul’s normal plan. He’d go to a city. He’d spend time in the local synagogue. He’d meet with the Jews: people who believed in Biblically defined marriage, who read the Old Testament Scriptures, and who were familiar with the concept of the Messiah.
This seems like a good plan.
The Jews opposed Paul and became abusive. (v.6)
Ok. Enough lecturing us on sin. Why don’t you go out into the world and tell those Corinthians about sin?
Stop telling us about a Savior. Have you seen what’s happening out there in sex-crazed Corinth?
Get out of our face. We don’t need you. We don’t need the Gospel.
And Paul listened to them.
He turned around.
He shook out his robe. (Just to get the stench of unbelief off it).
He walked out the exit.
He walked down the dirt path.
He turned right.
He walked up the entry path to the house next door.
In fact, Scripture says this: Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. Notice it doesn’t call Titius Justus (let’s call him “TJ”) a Jew. Luke, the author of this book, usually records if someone is a Jew. He doesn’t here. It means TJ wasn’t a part of the Jewish synagogue. In fact, his name is Latin. He’s a Corinthian!
And just like most Corinthians, TJ probably had his own sexual history.
It could have been:
Sleeping with his boss’ daughter.
Experimenting with the guy at the bar.
Those Saturday nights with all the booze and all the wrong choices.
All of it left him feeling unclean.
Like there were these awful areas of his life that he couldn’t scrub off his soul.
Can you relate?
And even though he lived next door to a religious place like the synagogue, they hadn’t let him become a part of it.
He wasn’t worthy.
He didn’t belong.
Paul walked right up to his door.
Paul told him about Jesus.
About how Jesus lived perfectly, died innocently and rose triumphantly.
About how Jesus cleans us from the inside out.
About how Jesus transforms people…
From unclean to pure.
From just a body to an eternal soul.
From nothing more than a cheap thrill to a blood bought soul.
From sexual sinner to forgiven.
Get this: TJ doesn’t just become a believer. He becomes an active partner in the ministry: The Bible says: Crispus, whose name always makes me think of cereal, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized. (v7-8)
When the Gospel is THROWN OUT, it just goes NEXT DOOR.
That means if someone’s sharing the Gospel with you, don’t reject it.
Don’t try to stop it.
Don’t throw it out the door.
Because you won’t be able to stop it.
It’ll just move next door.
So will the promises of forgiveness, eternal life, and transformation.
But if you hold onto it.
No matter your past.
No matter your sexual past.
In Jesus you become pure, eternal and forgiven.
If someone’s sharing the Gospel with you, don’t reject it. Cling to it.
And if you’re sharing the Gospel and someone rejects it, don’t quit. Just…go next door.
A while back, I was walking around the neighborhood, sharing information about our church and inviting them to learn about Jesus. I had been to a couple of doors where they said things like: “I don’t need your religion.” “I don’t have time.” And “Get off my porch step.”
After many rejections, I knocked on one more door. It was opened by a large middle Eastern man with some big muscles. He had just moved from Iraq. In fact, he had fought in the Iraqi army.
I remember thinking: “This is probably not going to go well.”
So, I invited him to worship.
Years later? He’s a baptized member of our congregation.
If you’re sharing the Gospel and someone rejects it, don’t stop sharing the Gospel.
Just do what Paul did.
Shake your clothes out.
And move next door.
To the next cubicle.
To the next Facebook friend.
To the next, next door neighbor.
Keep sharing the Unstoppable Gospel Message.
III. When Persecution Happens
But for Paul, it all seemed too familiar. He’d had this happen before. He preaches the Gospel in the synagogue. Some believe. Some reject the message. He preaches until…
…A plot against his life.
None of this had happened yet, but based on his experiences, Paul may have been thinking of an escape route.
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.” (v.9-10)
So, he stuck around.
His haters stood in the background glaring, whispering, and folding their arms angrily, but Paul kept preaching.
Until one day, The Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him to the place of judgment. “This man,” they said, “is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.”
You do know the Roman law, Roman governor?
New religions are illegal.
Greek mythology? That’s cool.
Roman mythology? Fine.
Thanks to your gracious ruling, Judaism is fine as well.
But this guy preaches new stuff!
He should be fined and arrested.
As they spoke, I know what I would have been thinking.
I would have started wracking my brain about a good defense:
How this really wasn’t a new religion.
How the Gospel was the real message of the Old Testament.
How Jesus was your Savior too, Your Eminency.
But before Paul could speak.
“If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law – settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.” (v.14-15)
And with that – he threw the case out.
It’s exactly like God said.
And here’s the thing. That declaration of Gallio set a precedent. Paul was now free to continue to preach the Gospel in Corinth and there’s nothing anyone could do to stop it.
The Gospel is unstoppable because…it’s God.
Think about it:
God is the content of the Gospel.
God is the power of the Gospel.
God is the will of the Gospel.
God is the promise of the Gospel.
God is the deliverer of the Gospel.
God is in control of the Gospel.
God is the one that makes sure that his Gospel NEVER stops.
Because God doesn’t stop.
Even when some angry men arrested God.
Beat God up.
And nailed God hand and foot to the cross.
That didn’t stop God.
Three days later, he came back to life.
And the Gospel spread.
If death can’t stop the Gospel message, then nothing will.
In fact, look at the concluding verse to the Corinthian account: Then the crowd there turned on Sosthenes the synagogue leader and beat him in front of the proconsul; and Gallio showed no concern whatever. (Acts 18:17) The Jews were upset that Sosthenes – the leader of their revolt against the Gospel – did not do his job. Paul wasn’t convicted. The Gospel kept going.
Years later, Paul writes a letter to the congregation at Corinth.
Years later, He writes to believers to tell them about Jesus’ love for them.
Years later, in the very first verse, Paul writes this:
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes. (1 Corinthians 1:1)
Did you see that? Sosthenes isn’t a very common name.
And in Corinth?
The Gospel did it again.
An enemy of the Gospel.
Not only becoming a believer in the Gospel.
But joining the movement and becoming a partner in the Gospel.
The Gospel doesn’t stop.
Join the movement.
Hop on the unstoppable train. Amen.
Last we left Paul, he was sharing the Gospel of Jesus in the city of Philippi. A time in his mission work that is filled with amazing stories: