#ENDURINGCHURCH - CORINTH
Read Acts 18:1-17
Corinth was one of the largest cities in the Greco-Roman empire with an estimated population of 200,000. Located strategically on an isthmus in Southern Greece, it became one of the ancient world’s most important commercial centers. As such, good and luxuries from all over the world were available in the city. Alongside its reputation as commercial center, Corinth also developed a reputation for being a center of licentiousness and decadence. The Greeks even coined a term, “corinthainize”, as way to describe immoral behavior. This city of comfort and pleasure was a very difficult context for Paul to bring his message of repentance.
When Paul arrived in Corinth, we see similar scene play out. Paul first goes to the synagogue to reason with his fellow Jewish people as well as the God-fearing Greeks who attended the synagogue. Just like in Iconium, Thessalonica, Berea, Paul encountered resistance. This time it got personal. The Jewish people strongly opposed him (this word is used only here in the NT) and reviled him (TNIV, “became abusive”). Paul’s response was intense. In essence, his symbolic actions and pronouncement said, “I’m done with you” (v6). We get the strong sense that Paul was weary, tired and struggling with fear as he faced the challenges enduring in the call God had given him. So, in v9, God meets Paul in a very rare and special way - He speaks to Paul in a vision. What God said to Paul then remains incredibly relevant for our own struggles, fears and challenges today.
“Do not be afraid” This is the most repeated command in the Bible. God knows we all gravitate so easily from faith to fear. He knows the power fear has over us. Instead of rebuking us - “What’s wrong with you!”, “Why is your faith so weak?”, or minimizing our fears - “It isn’t that bad.”, Jesus comforts us by acknowledging our fear. He sees and knows all about it. We don’t have to hide our fear. He comes to us gently as says, “Don’t be afraid”.
“Go on speaking, and don’t be silent” At first this seems like a strange encouragement. Speaking (see I Cor 2:2) was exactly what was causing Paul fear and weariness. What we learn from this is that Jesus is telling Paul (and us), “The way out of your fears is not around them and not away from them, it is in and through them.” Why? It’s moving into our fears that exposes & disarms them. It’s in our fear where we learn that we are not in control and that God can use us and work in us most powerfully in our weakness, fear and trembling (1 Cor. 2:2).
“For I am with you” in large part, the power of our fears is not just about what it is we fear will happen but the greater fear that we will be alone, helpless in hardships and struggle. The four short, simple words, “I am with you” carry enormous power and weight when read in the context of the biblical story. These are words of unbreakable covenant commitment and loving purpose. “I am with you” means God is for us for our good. He will never abandon us or forsake us. Whatever He calls us to do, He gives us strength to carry out. Wherever he calls us to go, He goes before us. Whatever happens to us is never outside his greater covenantal purpose for us – to work all things for our good.
“No one will attack you to harm you” Though this statement is not a blanket promise of physical protection (Paul did encounter harm later in Acts), it was a statement of God’s protection of Paul during this season of his ministry. What was at stake here was not just Paul’s emotional health or personal comfort. If he was stuck in his fears, he would have missed the very reason why God had called him to this city. Here we learn an important truth - Dealing with our fears is not just for our personal benefit but for the sake of identifying and fulfilling the calling God has given us to bless and serve the world. Fear turns us inward where God calls us outward. God is telling Paul (and us) here – wherever I call you to go, you can trust me to take care of you.
“For I have many in this city who are my people” It appears that Paul was discouraged because of the big challenges he faced in Corinth. But the vision reminded Paul that God is able to work in the most unexpected places, even in the most broken and sinful places. Jesus is saying, “Despite what you might see as a difficult place with many obstacles/barriers for people embracing Jesus and establishing a healthy church, I am at work here.” What’s fascinating to note is that there is still a church in the city of Corinth today. This church can trace its lineage all the way back to this moment. Jesus saying, “I have a 2000 year plan I'm working on here Paul, this is year one.” Our fears give us an exaggerated sense of our own importance and ability to control things – Jesus assures us He has a larger purpose and He is in control, even when we lose sight of these things.
1. What about the sermon stood out to you or impacted you most? Do you have any follow up questions about the sermon?
2. In what ways do you need to hear “do not be afraid”? Are you facing weariness or challenges in life? What are you afraid of? How is your fear affecting you?
3. How do you handle times when things are going well outwardly but inwardly you aren’t doing well? How does God help you press on and give you fresh vision? What role does community play in your life in times like this?
4. How are you avoiding the question “What am I afraid of?” when it comes to fulfilling your calling (vocation) from God? (This could be in your job, family – marriage or parenting, area of ministry, etc).
5. How do you regain perspective of the bigger picture when you are discouraged and fearful? How does the perfect love of God in the gospel for you drive out your fears (I Jn 4:8)? How does knowing that Jesus was forsaken so we would never be reframe even our greatest fears?
ACTION Fresh Vision to Endure. Where are you struggling to endure? Use the five phrases from God’s vision to Paul as a framework for prayer. Write each phrase down. Underneath each phrase write how it specifically can encourage you or provide new perspective.