Tough Crowd: In Acts 18 we see Paul leaving Athens to travel to Corinth and he ends up staying there for a year and a half. Corinth is significant in the history of the church because of the ministry of the apostle Paul in response to his Macedonian vision (Acts 16:9–10). He established churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, and possibly Athens on his way to Corinth. These churches were all apart of the initial establishment of the Gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:8).
If you know anything about the church in Corinth (1 & 2 Corinthians), you know that this church was far from a healthy church, although God still did great things among them. This church was born during a time of great paganism and had to go through serious birth pangs as it grew. Paul’s letters to the group of believers there reflects a large list of troubles for Christians in the first century, a list not unlike the problems of Christians today.
Here’s a short list from 1 Corinthians: They compared other pastors/leaders against one another. They boasted in the prosperity of obedient believers. They were flagrantly sexually immoral (so immoral, that even pagans considered it immoral) Christians were sued by one another. Members were having “casual sex” and wondering “what’s the big deal?” Broken marriages, unfaithfulness, Christians putting down other non-superior Christians, oppressing the poor, abusing communion, misusing spiritual gifts, disorderly worship services, unruly, gossiping women, disrespecting their husbands. And worst of all, many didn’t believe in the resurrection. This church was a tough crowd.
Do you think the modern day picture of a soft, all loving, pushover pastor is fit to lead the church in Corinth? Are you kidding me? They’d work him over, walk all over him, chew him up and then spit him out! Plus, he’d be dishonoring to the Lord in not shepherding the flock and protecting them and teaching them. Love is not accepting everything. Love is bold. Love is correction. Love is truth. Love is doing what’s right, not what’s easy. This call to ministry means you need to be tough and will be talked about and judged and told you lack grace, humility, etc… It comes with the territory.
So I want to do 2 things tonight. 1) I want to look at the life of Paul in his Corinth ministry as written here in Acts 18; 2) then I want to look at the proper motivation and purpose Paul had that allowed him to continue in this impossible work.
Tough Leader: I’m just gonna outline this passage thru verse 18 and paint a picture of what being in ministry could entail and some do’s and don’ts along the way:
*Verses 1-3 says he got a job (tentmaker and preacher). 1st things 1st….get a job man! Don’t be a lazy punk who tries to skate by on everyone else’s tab, especially not your wife’s….Paul was determined, devoted to advancing God’s kingdom whether ministry paid him or not.
*Verse 4 says he reasoned with the Jews in the synagogue. He knew the word and defended it….You don’t accidentally just know and understand the word. You need to first know Jesus. Then you need to discipline yourself to spend time with Him in the word. Hide it in your heart so that what you read and learn doesn’t sit up in your mind and be useless.
*Verse 5 says when Timothy and Silas came to town he was occupied with the Word, not with meddling in non-productive, unfruitful chores or leisures. He wasn’t idol…
*Verse 6 says that the Jews opposed and reviled him…so he shook it off, didn’t take it personal, and took the Gospel to those who would listen. He didn’t go in a corner and cry, complain, and say “They were mean to me, they gossiped about me or slandered me. He hit me!” No, he shook off his garment and went about the work of ministry knowing that his identity and success was tied up in the person and work of Jesus.
*Verses 7-8 says he went and hung out at the home of a man who worshiped God; and then God began to pour out the fruit and many began to be saved and baptized. Live life with people. Share life. Meet throughout the week. Open up your home. Be ready to make new friends and lose old friends. Be comfortable being uncomfortable.
*Verses 9-10 shows God speak to him and encourage him and Paul put his hope in that. This is what Scripture can be for us and the Holy Spirit will speak to us as we are in the Word.
*Verse 11 Paul stayed and started to invest and disciple. Wherever you are right now, invest in people’s lives. If you can;t invest now, don’t even think about ministry.
*Verses 12-18 show Paul getting attacked again, sent to court, and then was let go. Paul stayed many days longer, then took a break to get a breather only to go to more towns to plant more churches. That’s a dude with a clear purpose. The only way Paul could stick out ministry and church planting (my opinion), was because he has a rock solid, clear and certain purpose.
Clear Purpose: Read Isaiah 61:1-3.
The beginning of a new life: The Lord speaks (Isa. 61:1–9). Jesus quoted from this passage when He spoke in the synagogue in Nazareth, and He applied this Scripture to Himself (Luke 4:16–21). (Note that Isa. 61:1 names the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.)
The background of this passage is the “Year of Jubilee” described in Leviticus 25:7. Every seven years, the Jews were to observe a “sabbatical year” and allow the land to rest. After seven cycles of seven years, or forty-nine years, they were to celebrate the fiftieth year as the “Year of Jubilee.” During that year, all debts were canceled, all land was returned to the original owners, the slaves were freed, and everybody was given a fresh new beginning. This was the Lord’s way of balancing the economy and keeping the rich from exploiting the poor.
If you have trusted our Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, you are living today in a spiritual “Year of Jubilee.” You have been set free from bondage; your spiritual debt to the Lord has been paid; you are living in “the acceptable year of the Lord.” Instead of the ashes of mourning, you have a crown on your head; for He has made you a king (Rev. 1:6). You have been anointed with the oil of the Holy Spirit, and you wear a garment of righteousness (Isa. 61:3, 10).
Verse 3b: “THAT” in Hebrew is this small symbol (ו): The fundamental use of this prefix is that of a simple conjunction that connects words, phrases and complete sentences. Read Isaiah 61:1-3 again & see what the word “that” at the beginning of verse that is connecting.
All that justice stuff in verses 1-3a… that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. (literally in Hebrew: “that He may display His beauty) We are trophies made by God, for God…”Look at what God did, look how magnificent God is, look at the beauty of Christ through that trophy…WOW!”
So this passage is telling us that our clear, rock solid, unchanging purpose in life is to: DISPLAY THE BEAUTY & WORTH OF CHRIST JESUS TO THE WORLD.
In her days of rebellion, Israel was like a fading oak and a waterless garden (1:30); but in the kingdom, she will be like a watered garden (58:11) and a tree (oak) of righteousness (61:3). But all of God’s people should be His trees (Ps. 1:1–3), “the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified” (Isa. 61:3; John 13:34-35; 15:8).
One thing you will never see a tree doing is picking it’s own fruit, hoarding it’s seeds and yelling at birds, telling them to stop perching and resting on it’s branches. It will never tell a person to stop enjoying it’s shade and it will never complain when it gets pruned, or even cut down. A tree freely gives life and doesn’t seek to keep what it’s been given to itself. This is a picture of the oak of righteousness that we were created to be in Christ Jesus. This is what it looks like to display the beauty and worth of Jesus!
This is the kind of life Paul lived. We can read it in many places, but one passage in particular stands out to me. During a pit stop visit to the elders in Ephesus, Paul tells them this: “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24)
In my interpretation, Paul said: “I do not consider myself to truly be living or worth anything if I am not displaying the beauty and worth of Jesus to the world so that I would make much of Jesus.” To testify to the gospel of the grace of God is to display the infinite beauty and worth of Jesus…
Paul could only say these words because he treasured Jesus. Do you treasure Jesus? Can you say today that you treasure Jesus and your life shows it? Are other people looking at you saying, “That girl treasures Jesus. That dude is no joke. He loves Jesus more than anything.” If not, our life will be wasted, because to treasure Jesus is to display His beauty and worth to the world…our entire purpose in life.
We need more ministers in the schools, workplaces, homes, mission field, churches, etc… This means we need leaders who are willing to face a tough crowd, be a tough leader and discipline themselves to have a clear purpose. It starts with what you’re doing now…What are you in it for… God’s glory or yours? To the extent that you are in it to display God’s beauty, will be the extent that you will be in it for the long haul.