September 29, 2019
Pastor Ricky Smith
I’m excited about our opportunity to continue studying through Acts. As we look at the text, we’re going to examine the life of Paul, and I think what we will have the opportunity to learn is, by following his example, we can get better and stronger over time.
Now, to help us with this idea, I think it’s important that we think about some things in our world that seem to get better over time. I’ll throw out five, and the first would be wine. Jesus, said in Luke chapter five that the older wine is better.
Another one would be a cast iron skillet. Some of you know what I’m talking about. In my house, the cast iron skillet is seasoned. I have one cast iron skillet for which the only thing that is allowed to be cooked in it is corn bread. That is it. It is the exclusive corn bread pan, and it just gets better with age. That was ingrained in us as children early on about the corn bread pan.
Have you ever had a 45-day aged steak? I mean, you’ve had a steak, but if you’ve had a 45-day aged steak, it just gets better with time. What about a seedling? Obviously, it may be beautiful and small, gentle and fragile even. But over time, it gets better. It grows to become whatever God intended it to be. Maybe it’s a shrub, a vegetable plant, a tree. Hopefully, over time, it even gets to the point where it is producing whatever fruit that Creator God intended it to produce. -a vegetable, a nut, or whatever.
This next one may be questionable. Do people get better over time? Of course, we would like to think sometimes we can. We should. I would love to think that the 20-year-old version of me was better than the 10-year-old version of me. I would like to think that the 40-year-old version of me is better than the 20-year-old version. And, I would like to think that the 60-year-old version of me will be better than the 40-year-old version.
I should get better over time, but that doesn’t just happen without some hard work. In fact, I would say that every one of us would certainly hope that over time, we’ve gotten better. But I will tell you, that only happens if we’re submitting to the authority of Christ and we’re living as a lifelong learner.
I am constantly learning, and I am constantly growing. In fact, Jay Strack, who is the founder of Student Leadership University, teaches this idea. He would say that you will be the same person five years from now that you are today, with the exception of these four things: the people that you meet, the places you go, the books that you read, and the Scripture that you memorize.
That’s pretty good when you think about it, because the places we go, the people we meet, the books we read, the Word of God that settles into our hearts, certainly help change the trajectory. That’s great truth in and of itself, but I still don’t think it’s enough.
I believe that in the text, specifically in Acts chapter 18, we will have the opportunity to learn some things that were true in the life of Paul and the church that we’re made aware of, and you and I can apply them to our lives to help us get better.
I. Commit to live on mission with others
The reality is, we get better if we don’t try to do it alone. I encourage you to write this down: Commit to live life on mission with others. We’re going to see this in the first four verses of 1Corinthians 18:
1 After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 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, 3 and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. 4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.
Here we see this relationship that will begin to be formed, and this relationship with Aquila and Priscilla is mentioned over and over throughout Paul’s writings. In fact, Romans 16, 1 Corinthians 16, 2 Timothy 4 are some examples where we see this relationship, this common commitment to advancing the Gospel between Aquila, Priscilla and Paul.
I think what we will learn or what we observe from Aquila and Priscilla is, they are very devoted to Christ. They are very committed to advancing the Gospel, and I think this is one of those moments for the logical sceptic. Sometimes, we may doubt the authority of Scripture, and these are moments where the Lord will give us some external, verifiable evidence to make sure that we can see that these are real people at a real place in time.
And it’s helpful for us to pay attention to the clue that we get here. We learned that Aquila and Priscilla came to Corinth because they were kicked out of Rome by Claudius. We can verify that in history. We know that this situation happened somewhere between January of AD 51 and August of AD 52 because of the historical record. This actually happened that Claudius kicked all of the Jews out of Rome. So, that’s a helpful piece of evidence that we can see, verifying the authority of Scripture.
A. Shared journey
But, the reason that I want to draw our attention to this is, what are some things that we can learn from the relationship that Paul had with Aquila and Priscilla? We see it come out here. The first one is, they had a shared journey. Here’s what I think is important: Paul was led by the Holy Spirit from Athens to go next to Corinth. In that journey, he had no idea that he would encounter Aquila and Priscilla.
Simultaneously, happening in what seemed like the other side of the world, here Aquila and Priscilla are, and they are forced to leave their home. Claudius has kicked all the Jews out of Rome. So where did they go? To Corinth. They had this shared journey that brought them to this place.
This is a moment where we can see and trust the sovereign hand of God at work. This is a moment where we can look and learn from the life of Aquila and Priscilla, where they had what seemed to be a very disruptive, painful, even persecution-level experience, and we see that God used that to position them right where He wanted them to be at a perfect point of time in history.
Now, when I see that and I make that observation, it begs the question. Can you look at painful moments, storms in your life, life-changing events, and can you look back and see where God has used that disruption or that pain for your good and for His ultimate glory? I sure hope that you can. I hope you’re looking for that, because God’s sovereign hand will time and time again, over and over again, show us where He can use those beauty-for-ashes moments to help us be positioned where He desires us to be.
B. Shared faith
And so, in this shared journey that Paul, Aquila, and Priscilla were on, they were mutually trusting God, mutually following God, and He puts them in a place in this shared journey. And it’s made even stronger by their shared faith. That’s the second thing I want you to make note of.
This is affirmed in all the letters of Paul. In Roman 16, he reminds him, “Hey, greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus.” 1 Corinthians 16, verse 19, “The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord.”
We find evidence that when we see Aquila and Priscilla here, they had a shared faith and a shared commitment to advancing the Gospel. They weren’t just casual in it. They were committed to it, even to the point that they had a house church that they led. This is encouraging.
C. Shared interest
So this relationship, this shared journey, is strengthened by a shared faith. And I think perhaps it is their shared interest that even led them to one another. We notice here that they are tent makers, just like Paul, and we have to read into it and use our imaginations here for a minute. Maybe it was in the marketplace. Maybe they were both trying to sell their tents, and they were competitors, and they made a connection that way. Or maybe, as they’re walking through, they noticed some techniques that the other was using, and they started to ask some questions to sharpen their craft.
Whatever it may have been, the point is that their shared interest created a level of affinity for them to strengthen and grow a bond. Here’s what’s amazing for me about this: When we understand the size of Corinth in that day, most historians project that at this time (between AD 51 and 52), there were approximately 700,000 people living in the city of Corinth. That’s a lot of people! But in God’s sovereignty, in all of these hundreds of thousands of people, he led Paul, Aquila, and Priscilla together.
Maybe it was their shared affinity toward using the craft and skill of tent making that brought them together, but what we will notice in this text moving forward in this passage and connecting other passages is that this shared interest led to shared experiences. In 1 Corinthians 4, we see that they labor, working with their hands. In 1 Thessalonians 2, they’re laboring and toiling, working night and day.
D. Shared experience
Here’s what I think is important: They had shared faith. They had a shared journey. It brought them to some shared experiences, so that together, they could advance the Gospel even more.
What in the world does that have to do with you and me? It has a lot to do with you and me. Most of us are not from around these parts. I grew up in South Atlanta. A beautiful woman got me to Columbus. I don’t know what got you here, but you know what? You’re here. We see the beauty of God’s plan, where He, in His sovereignty, brings people together because He wants us to live life together on mission together.
It’s an invaluable thing, but it’s way more than just coming and breathing the same air as other people. It’s about moving even closer together in LifeGroups, in community, where we are truly living life together. There is tremendous value in that. That’s the place where we know others, we are known by others, and we’re living on mission together.
Are you part of a LifeGroup? If you’re not, can you give me a really good reason why you shouldn’t become part of one? Now, you’ve got to answer that question yourself, but we need each other. As Paul committed to live on mission with others, he got better over time. He also got better with time in his commitment to preach the Gospel.
II. Continue to tell the story of Jesus and His love
In fact, that’s the second point. Continue to tell the story of Jesus and his love. I grew up singing this hymn. “I love to tell the story. It will be my theme in glory, to tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love.” Let’s read verses 5 through 11 and see what we can learn.
5 When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. 6 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.” 7 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. 8 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. 9 And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 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.” 11 And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
I want to go back and make some comments on what some of the words mean, because they are really important. He was occupied with the Word. This literally means that it had seized him. It had taken a hold of his heart. In other words, he was bound by the necessity and compelled to speak. He was occupied with it. He couldn’t help himself but to speak the name of Jesus.
Why? Because God had wrecked his heart with the Gospel. Why? We remember from the beginning of Acts chapter 17 that he was in the habit of looking around and seeing the depravity of man, and it compelled him to preach. Here, he’s moving on to the next city, and it’s just growing stronger and stronger in him. “I can’t help but preach to you about who Jesus is.” He’s occupied with it.
The next word is, he was testifying to them. What does that mean? He was giving them a witness to who Jesus was, what He had done in his life and what He would want to do in their life. “Let me tell you about my friend. His name is Jesus.” He was occupied; he testified.
But, you know what? Not everybody listened. He experienced that rejection that we talk about from time to time. And what does he do? He shakes things off. What he’s doing is, he’s applying what Jesus commanded the Twelve to do in Luke chapter 9. Go back and read it later. When Jesus sent the Twelve out to preach the Gospel, He told them, “Hey, if you go into a house or you go into a community and they reject and don’t listen, just shake the dust off of your robe and head on.”
It’s as if to say, “Listen, I’ve done my part. I’m moving on.” It’s as if to say, “You and I are clearly not on the same sheet of music,” and that’s painful. It’s as if he just wipes his hands in frustration, and he moves on. In fact, his response is so bold, he says, “Hey, you know what? From now on, I’m just going to go speak to the Gentiles.”
Now, it’s important to clarify, when we look further, every time he goes to a city, he continues his pattern of going into the synagogue. What he’s saying now is applying to this group of people in Corinth. They said, “Listen, Jews. I’ve tried to start with you. You’re rejecting it. I wipe my hands. I shake the dust off. The rest of the time I’m in Corinth, I’m going to spend my time ministering to the Gentiles.”
What should we notice about Paul’s actions here, and how do they apply to us?
Here’s what I think is important. Here are some lessons I think that we can learn from him. The first is this: Notice his tenacity. Notice the resilience. Notice the fervor. Notice the intentionality. Notice the occupation, being bound, gripped at the heart level. “I have to tell you about Jesus!” There’s a level of tenacity there that I think we can learn from.
Let’s rewind the clock and look at the example of Paul. -the number of times he’s been beaten, imprisoned, rejected. If anybody would have a reason to say, “Hey look, I did my part. I’m going to shake the dust off, and I’m just going to head to the house for a little while,” it would be him. We would have been like, “Yeah, I get it. That’s fair. Thanks for trying, Paul. Next man up.” We would have understood it.
But no; he’s not that way. His tenacity, it continues to grow. He continues to intensify. He continues. He continues. He continues. I look at that example of Paul, and I reflect on the way most of us in American culture tend to operate. Most of us in American culture, as we grow older with time in the faith, we develop this “sit back and chill” philosophy and say, “Well, you know what? It’s time for the kids and the teenagers to step up to the plate. I’ve served my time. I’ve invested enough, and let’s let somebody else have a chance now.”
We don’t see that here. Here’s the challenge and what I think this means for us: Our heart for the Gospel should grow stronger over time. Our commitment to the Gospel should intensify with age. Our obsession with telling others the truth about who Jesus is should only be greater and more tenacious over time. There’s so much to learn from Paul here in that example, thinking about how God shapes, changes us, and refines us as that refiner’s fire.
Our heart for the Gospel should grow stronger with time
I’m encouraged by what he says later to the same group of people in 2 Corinthians 3:18. He says,”And we all with unveiled face beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, for this comes from the Lord, who is this Spirit.” God is constantly trying to conform us more and more to look like Jesus.
B. Timely affirmation
Here’s the second thing I think we learn from the example of Paul here. It’s the timely affirmation. What does he do? He shakes the dust off of his feet. He just goes right next door to the house of a Gentile who is worshiping God. He says, “I’m going to go invest time there.” And you can sense this discouragement in Paul. Maybe he’s a little defeated. Maybe he’s a little frustrated. “Here’s another rejection that’s come my way.”
But God affirms him. What does he affirm him in? In this same synagogue that he just left, Crispus, who is the leader of that synagogue, gives his heart to Jesus, and not just Crispus, but his entire family. And more about this cool guy named Crispus, we read in 1 Corinthians 1, verse 14 that he didn’t just believe Paul; Paul even baptized him. He went all in.
So, even as he experienced rejection, God allowed him to see some level of success. I’m so thankful that God does that, because let’s just be honest; it’s easy to get discouraged. It’s easy to get defeated. When we’re working hard, grinding it out, trying to live a good example with our kids, trying to share Jesus at home and at work, trying to work hard and provide for our family, trying to do all the things that we feel like God has called us to do, there come those moments when it’s just one beat down after another. They were like, “God, can I get a break?”
Notice the timely affirmation that the Spirit of God brings to Paul. Not only does he given the affirmation, not only does he prove to him again that God is always on time. I want you to notice in verse 10 the level of teamwork that we see, because in the midst of Paul’s discouragement, God not only allows him to see some results that may give him a little bit of motivation to continue, he says, “Oh, by the way, I’ve got lots of other people around you who are on my team; you’re not all by yourself.”
Here’s the trap that is so easy for all of us to fall into: Maybe we’ve had a setback. Maybe we’ve experienced rejection. Maybe something hasn’t gone well. Maybe the Lord hasn’t answered our prayers like we wanted Him to answer them, when we wanted Him to answer them. Maybe we’re struggling with anxiety. Maybe we’re wrestling with depression. Maybe we’re feeling discouraged and defeated.
Here’s what we do: We step back, and we start to isolate ourselves. We begin to believe a lie that the enemy is so good at convincing us of. -that nobody but you is going through this. You are all alone on an island.
You start to believe it, and you retreat more and more. You isolate more and more. You begin to believe,”Yeah, I am alone. I am all by myself. Nobody cares. If you only knew what I was going through…” Those are the things you start to tell yourself when you begin to step back in isolation.
We start to see Paul doing that here, and the Spirit of God comes to him and says, “No, no, no, no. You are not by yourself. I’ve got people all around you who are following me.” I mean, what if he, in that moment, could trust the same sovereign God who just allowed him to connect with Aquila and Priscilla in the middle of 700,000 people? Surely if He did it then, couldn’t He do it again? In the timeliness of Him giving me this affirming word and letting me see some results just when I needed it, if He did it then, couldn’t He do it again?
You, who may be feeling isolated, you are not alone. Please, have the courage to be transparent and open your heart and share the pain with somebody. You will probably find that there is somebody sitting very close to you who is going through or has gone through the exact same thing. You are not alone.
III. Culture is confused by conflict in the church
What could we continue to learn, beginning in verses 12 through 17? It’s that culture is confused by conflict in the church. Let’s read. I think there are important things for us to pay attention to.
12 But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, 13 saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” 14 But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. 15 But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.” 16 And he drove them from the tribunal. 17 And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this.
Here’s the danger of being part of the army of God: One, we isolate ourselves. Two, it’s the only army that I know of that shoots one another and shoots its own wounded. We are the first to kick a man when he’s down, in the name of Jesus. In the moment that we need to rally behind and heal and encourage and lift up, we’ll beat each other down in a heartbeat.
Why? I think there’s a powerful insight for us to learn here, but we have to look at this through the lens of Gallio. Here, this Corinthian man, likely influenced by his pagan culture, did not have the ability to discern any difference between Jew and Christian at this moment. He just saw these people who were teaching about this name, Jesus. It’s as if he lumped them all together. He couldn’t understand the difference.
He just sees them fighting with each other, and he is forced to step back and say, “You all mind your own business and figure this out. I don’t want to touch this with a 10-foot pole.” I wonder what sometimes judges in our world may think when they see Christians take each other to court, rather than following Matthew 18, the biblical mandate to deal with conflict.
I wonder if sometimes, intentionally or unintentionally, we give people a reason to reject by our conduct. Culture is confused. But even in this conflict, even in this crisis, even in the mob’s activity, I think there is a glimpse of the power of the Gospel, and it’s in this person who seems to be the next man up leading the synagogue, called Sosthenes.
It isn’t explicitly stated, but when we read 1 Corinthians 1, verse one, which is the letter that Paul later writes back to this same group of people, in verse one of 1 Corinthians 1, he says, “I’m writing this letter with Sosthenes.” That’s really interesting to me. Could it be that maybe that’s the reason why they decided, “We’re just going to beat down Sosthenes in this moment. We’ve got to take our anger out on somebody, and now, Sosthenes is starting to believe, just like Crispus did.”
So, even in the midst of this, we see that God can take a painful tragedy and turn it into beauty. But it does beg the question: Does the conduct of Jesus’s church give people a reason to come, or an excuse to reject? Or let me let me flip it with a statement that’s more on the positive side. The unity and love of God’s people is attractive.
The unity and love of God’s people is attractive
Here’s what I know about people: We are beings made in the image of God. We desire community. We desire to be connected to people. I think that’s one of the reasons why college football is so big in the South. We just want to find some reason to have an opportunity to connect with somebody.
But the most beautiful picture of community, of love, of unity, should be Jesus’ church. And if we’re seen that way, walking in love, walking under the Spirit’s direction, walking in peace and harmony with each other, wow!
It’s the power of that attractive message of the Gospel that may cause someone say, “I want to be loved like that! I want to be a part of that! How do I get that?” There’s so much power in together, doing life together, being on mission together, growing in our commitment to be stronger for the Gospel over time. Understand the danger of the message that we can send when we don’t walk in love.
IV. Choose to be faithful for the long haul
The last point is, when we live on mission together, it clearly points to Jesus, and I hope it compels us to choose to be faithful for the long haul. Let’s read verses 18 through 23:
18 After this, Paul stayed many days longer and then took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had cut his hair, for he was under a vow. 19 And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to stay for a longer period, he declined. 21 But on taking leave of them he said, “I will return to you if God wills,” and he set sail from Ephesus. 22 When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and then went down to Antioch. 23 After spending some time there, he departed and went from one place to the next through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.
Paul was faithful to:
1. Trust God’s plan for direction
Notice here in the last couple of verses, Paul’s intentional connection with churches that he had served in the past. He worked hard at that. That was a deliberate thing for him. But I think there’s even some additional things we can learn about Paul in these verses. The first is this: We see in verses 18 and 19 that he trusted in God’s plan for direction.
I could even go further to say, not only did he trust God’s plan for direction, but he trusted God’s time for direction. If we rewind in the story of Acts, Paul wanted to go to this region known as Asia two years ago, and the Lord said, “No, not yet.” Now, he’s allowed to go. He’s released now to go to this area in Asia where the Holy Spirit prevented him from going earlier. And he’s trusting God’s time.
This is powerful for you and for me. Do I trust the timing of God? Maybe I want something now. I want it to be fixed now. I want healing now. I want reconciliation now. I want an answer now. And God says, “Trust me. Trust my timing.”
2. Trust God with the weight of his burden
The next thing we know is that he trusted God with the weight of his burden. He’s clearly being a good Jew in this moment. He’s following the Nazarite custom of a vow where he shaves his head. Usually, they would do this for about 30 days, and the vow would not be complete until he went into the synagogue.
Why I think this is interesting is, we don’t really know exactly what the motive behind this vow was. It may be linked all the way back to the Macedonian call that he experienced. Maybe it is linked back to the burden that he felt for the people in Athens. Maybe it was something that happened during this near two-year time that he is in Corinth.
Whatever it is, this is what the thing that is noteworthy for us to understand: He didn’t just say it. He lived it. He lived out his faith, and that’s an important thing for us to understand. It makes a difference when you practice what you preach. It makes a difference when you don’t just say, “Read the Bible,” but you do it. Parents, we’re the worst at this. When you live it out and actually practice what you preach, it validates your message.
Practice what you preach
3. Trust God with relationships
Third, and lastly, he trusted God with his relationships. Relationships are worth the effort to go out of your way to circle back and strengthen. Relationships are worth your effort to stay in touch with those people whom you’ve loved. Relationships are worth the effort.
But notice what he says here in verse 21. “Hey, I love you. I care about you. I’m going to come back, if it’s God’s will. Notice his priority. What a beautiful mantra for you and me to live by! “Hey, I’m going to do ____, if it’s God’s will. I’m going to commit to you if it’s the Lord’s will.” -because ultimately, at the end of the day, my commitment to God and His timing trumps everything else. It’s powerful. There’s so much here that we can learn from the life of Paul that we can apply in our lives.
• I commit to live life on mission with others. I will be in LifeGroup this week!
• I choose to trust in God’s timing.
• I choose to place my trust in God and begin a relationship with Him.
- Paul’s commitment to carry the hope of the Gospel to the world grew over time. How can we ensure that our heart for the Gospel grows over time and is built on faith, rather than emotion?
- God affirmed Paul’s obedience in a timely way. Re-read Acts 18:5-11, and share how God has given you encouragement and affirmation when you were discouraged.
- Re-read Acts 18:22-23. Paul was faithful to stay connected with believers, even though he had been away for a while. Why is this important, and how should this look in our lives?