I’ve been reading and studying the Book of Acts independently and then further studying and dialoging with a small group regarding these detailed, historical accounts, as written by Dr. Luke. I have chosen to take a few moments to write as I close chapter 19. The last two chapters in the city of Corinth have made me eager to engage but the meeting with my friends remains two weeks away.
There’s something about the way God designed us that makes it incredibly consoling when we can talk to others who have been though the same thing we have been through. For that reason, learning that Paul, the exemplar preacher, could become discouraged in his ministry provided me with great comfort. All believers have a gospel ministry. When Jesus is a central part of your walk and not just an accessory, there is a natural overflow of that jeweled alignment into your everyday life.
Making disciples, the first command Jesus gave before his ascension, can be a provoking mission. It can weigh on our hearts when we encounter people with closed minds and even more deeply closed hearts. We have a hard time conceiving that Paul could have any weariness, fear or temptation to keep his mouth quiet about Jesus of Nazareth being the Messiah but it seems he indeed did.
Lest we forget that Paul was human, we should reread his experience in Corinth, where he stayed for 18 months. He had just left Athens where no church was built. His missionary journey thus far brought him ridicule, stoning and left for dead, imprisonment and overwhelming despair in the midst of raging idolatrous worship.
So, by the time he arrives in Corinth, we realize that Paul has a bit of his wind taken out of him. He may have been physically weak. He may have felt despair. He may have developed fear from his ongoing encounters with persecution in all forms. It could have been a combination of the all of these elements but we do know that he was simply preaching on the Sabbath (Act 18:4). That wasn’t Paul’s typical modus operandi. In his travels, a new city was met with constant reasoning and teaching.
The Lord also tells us that Paul was fearful by speaking to Paul in a vision (Acts 18:9): “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.”
Jesus doesn’t tell us, as He did Paul in Corinth specifically, that we need not fear situations because they will turn out just fine or fruitful. He does, however, promise us, if we love Him, He is with us. As Jesus stated in John 14:20, “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” For that reason, we can remind ourselves, when we are feeling down in our ministries, that fear is less reasonable when we know God is with us always.
Now, Paul, like us, was ardent about teaching what he knew to be true about Jesus. He found himself engaged in the highs and lows of bringing people to faith. His teachings brought many to believe. Yet, he also walked through barren fields of faith. We know that the good report from Timothy regarding the Thessalonians and how well their church community was getting along was a spirit lifter. Don’t we, too, react with like joy when we know we have brought someone to faith in Christ? Luke’s writing about Paul can relax all of us who get anxious about our mission. There are changes in seasons, ups and downs, encouragements and discouragements. We know this. It even happened to Paul. And ultimately, remember that we are not responsible for anyone’s conversion. Always be prepared to give a reason for your hope (1 Peter 3:15) but there will be some who will not see or hear. Jesus said that.