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“Ministry in Two Dimensions”

Acts 18:1-17
Bob DeGray
March 13, 2005

Key Sentence

Long term ministry has to be done with others in dependence on God.


I. Doing ministry with others (Acts 18:1-8)
II. Doing ministry in dependence on God. (Acts 18:9-17)


        Last week I ran across some 35mm slides in my office that I’d almost entirely forgotten. They were on a shelf in the corner, and some of them went all the way back to my teen and college years. These were pictures I didn’t remember having of at least some of the people I was involved with in ministry in my early years as a Christian. If you’ll indulge me a little purposeful sentimentality, I want to show you these people from my youth, many of whom I’ve mentioned from this pulpit. In high school, in our Presbyterian Church, I was led to faith in Christ by the youth pastor, the guy on the left, Pete Fosberg. When I became a believer I was very involved in Boy Scouts, and the Lord allowed me to lead the guys in my patrol to Christ, including my best friend Ned Powell, and another friend named Peter Lenz - the lower guy in this picture. Peter contacted me a few years back to say he was walking with the Lord again after many years. But my best friend in the Lord, and my closest ministry partner in high school and college was this guy, John Hays. Together we helped to organize the Walk for Mankind, which raised over $50,000 in one day for Project Concern and other charities. And we were involved in a number of missions trips to Appalachia. I found a lot of slides of the year we worked on this outreach center, a bunch of high school and young college kids, chaperoned by the parents of one my good friends, Mark Campbell. And yes, I am in that picture, and yes that’s when I discovered the truth, if not the words, of being sold out for Jesus - 100 percent committed to serve him in dependence on him.

        Then there was college, Stevens Institute of Technology in beautiful downtown Hoboken, New Jersey. Among the slides I found one picture of Varoujan Mazmanian, the advisor to our Christian Fellowship and mentor to generations of young Christians. In college I had the privilege of discipling others, including Mark Cambell, who I knew from my home church. The last I heard Mark was an elder at an Evangelical Free Church in California. Then there was Paul Jones, my college roommate and co-worker in the Stevens Christian Fellowship, and my best man. The point of this reflection on my distant past is that ministry is done with others and in dependence on God. God builds us into a community of believers, and most effective ministry is done through that community. And yet it is also true that it is ultimately God who does the work, and we always depend on God as we do ministry together. We’re going to see all this today as we look at Acts 18:1-17. Luke sketches a picture of how Paul worked in the midst of horizontal relationships that were very important to his ministry. But Luke also takes the time to show that whatever was accomplished was accomplished by a sovereign God, and that Paul himself had to consciously depend on the presence and promises of God in order to continue in ministry. The Biblical truth illustrated in this passage is that long term ministry has to be done with others in dependence on God.

I. Doing ministry with others (Acts 18:1-8)

        Let’s start by looking at the horizontal relationships surrounding Paul’s ministry. Acts 18:1-8 After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, 3and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. 4Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. 5When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. 6But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, "Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles." 7Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. 8Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.

        After apparently spending a rather short time in Athens, Paul went on to Corinth. In his first letter to the Corinthians he says that he “resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.” John Stott contends that Paul felt especially intimidated in approaching Corinth because of the pride and immorality of this major Greek city. Up to this time Paul has ministered in relatively small towns. Even proud Athens was probably only ten or twenty thousand people. But Corinth was upwards of a half a million, and the Corinthians were a proud people, proud of their city, which Julius Caesar had beautifully rebuilt in 46 BC, proud of their wealth and culture and political prestige as the capital of Achaia, dominant even over Athens. But Paul’s message was a challenge to this pride, because Jesus opposes human self exaltation. He insists that we sinners have absolutely nothing with which to buy, or even contribute to, our salvation. No wonder that, according to 1st Corinthians, not many wise, influential or upper_class Corinthians responded to the gospel!

        Secondly, Corinth was associated in everybody’s mind with immorality. Behind the city, nearly 2,000 feet above sea level, rose the rocky eminence called the Acrocorinth. On its flat summit stood the temple of Aphrodite or Venus, the goddess of love. A thousand female slaves served her and roamed the city’s streets by night as prostitutes. The promiscuity of Corinth was so proverbial that the Greek’s had a verb, korinthiazomai that meant ‘to practice immorality’. But the gospel of Christ crucified summoned the Corinthians to repentance and holiness. Christ’s cross, which Paul had resolved to know among them, was their only hope. And the same is true in Western culture. Did you notice the study this week that found that Hispanics in the United States who spoke English were almost three times as likely engage in unmarried sex than their Spanish speaking peers. The author of the study was baffled, but it’s obvious it wasn’t English that caused their downfall - it was our permissive culture that did it, and it does so all over the world.

        So Paul arrived in proud, immoral Corinth by himself, but God soon provided ministry companions, a Jewish couple named Aquila and Priscilla, natives of Pontus, who had recently come from Rome. This couple, whom Paul called his ‘fellow_workers in Christ Jesus’, had been driven from Rome by an edict of the emperor. One ancient historian, Suetonius said ‘because the Jews were making disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, [Claudius] banished them from Rome’. ‘Chrestus’ is almost certainly ‘Christ’, in which case at least some of the Jews expelled were Christians and the disturbances in the Jewish community had been caused by the gospel. Presumably, then, Aquila and Priscilla were already believers before they reached Corinth. Because Paul was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. Paul often supported himself by working, so as not to be a burden on those he was evangelizing, which is where we get the idea of a tentmaking missionary.

        Notice that Paul made himself part of a ministry team. He didn’t like to work in a vacuum as he had had to do in Athens. He preferred to find an Aquila and Priscilla and partner with them in the ministry of the Gospel. So he worked at his trade during the week, but every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and God-fearing Greeks who attended synagogue worship. During that time two more of Paul’s ministry partners, Silas and Timothy, arrived from Macedonia. Paul later reminds the Thessalonians that Silas and Timothy brought news of their faith and love, and also a gift for the ministry. See, that’s it again, the community of believers ministering together to enable ministry. Now Paul can devote himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.

        It was only after meeting stubborn resistance to this concentrated effort that Paul repeated the drastic step he had first taken in Pisidian Antioch, turning to the Gentiles. He shook out his clothes, and said to the Jews “your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles”. To do so Paul took advantage of another relationship that had grown up in these weeks, and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God and apparently already a believer. He was joined there by an unlikely convert, Crispus, who was the head of the synagogue where Paul had been so strongly opposed. He and his household believed in the Lord, and as time went on they were joined by a large number of Gentile converts who believed and were baptized.

        So Paul begins an effective ministry in Corinth, and if you look at verse 11 you’ll see that this was long term ministry; he stayed in Corinth for 18 months, the longest of any place so far. And we’ve seen the first of two reasons this ministry was effective over the long term - because he had others around as workers and supporters. Paul mentions these people in his letters, the Timothys, the Pricillas, the Aquilas, as fellow workers, fellow servants, fellow soldiers, brothers and sisters. He conceives of Christian ministry being done, by workers, soldiers, servants, but never solo. The fellowship he had with those around was vital to the success of that ministry.

        And of course, the same thing is true here at Trinity. We’re going to have our annual meeting this afternoon, and one of the things we’re going to be emphasizing is developing leaders by bringing people alongside to be coached and to be apprentices in ministry, so ministry is being done by teams and in partnerships. But we’re also going to emphasize the ministry of small groups, brothers and sisters in Christ who ‘do life together’ - because we are stronger and more stable when we’re in fellowship, and when we’re praying with one another, and wrestling with the Word. And we will do these things inasmuch as we are imitating Paul’s attitude, the same attitude I began to learn in high school and college: that as a Christian nothing is more important than serving the Savior. It’s not just part of your life; it’s your life. Christians are to live for Jesus, which in practice means loving one another in the family of Christ and working together in that love to make an impact on those who do not yet know Christ. The relationships God gives you in the body of Christ are not just for your comfort, but to involve you in His work. I remember those people in the slides so well because we were on a mission - not a missions trip but a life mission of following and imitating Jesus.

        So long term ministry has to be done with others. That’s how God designed the system, and here at Trinity we’ve got to do ministry as a community. I urge you as you are working in Awana or Sunday School or in the youth or adult leadership of the youth group, or on a worship team, or in a backyard Bible club, or even in office remodeling: look around, see who is ministering with you, take strength from them, give strength to them, pray for them and pray with them, and as the letter to the Hebrews says, encourage one another toward love and good works. Long term ministry is done with others. It’s often been said there should be no ‘Lone Ranger’ Christians, riding in on a white horse to rescue a situation and then riding off into the sunset. If anyone could be expected to be the Lone Ranger, it would be the Apostle Paul. But he wasn’t. He did ministry in community. So must we.

II. Doing ministry in dependence on God. (Acts 18:9-17)

        But the second part of the equation is equally important: we have to do this ministry with God and in dependence on him and his promises. Acts 18:9-17 One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: "Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city." 11So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God. 12While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him into court. 13"This man," they charged, "is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law." 14Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, "If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. 15But 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." 16So he had them ejected from the court. 17Then they all turned on Sosthenes the synagogue ruler and beat him in front of the court. But Gallio showed no concern whatever.

        God has this wild, crazy wonderful idea that he wants to be with his people and care for them. These eight verses are a simple instance of God making that promise and keeping it. Paul is apparently still concerned about what is happening in Corinth, where he now faces not only the pride and immorality of the Gentiles but also the antagonism of the Jews. But God isn’t worried and in a vision at night, Jesus comes to Paul; it is ‘the Lord’ who speaks, but Luke consistently uses ‘the Lord’ to mean ‘the Lord Jesus’. Yet his message is given in the terminology used by God in the Old Testament. Both the prohibition ‘Do not be afraid’ and the promise ‘I am with you’ were regularly given by Yahweh to his people. Now Jesus says the same things to Paul: ‘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’. He was to carry on, fortified by the presence and protection of Christ, and by the assurance that Christ had in Corinth ‘many people’. Some of these had not yet believed in him, but they would do so, because already, according to his purpose, they belonged to him. This is a great encouragement to ministry, and it motivates Paul to stay 18 months, teaching the word of God - because God uses his word to make people wise for salvation, so that they put their trust in Christ.

        So ministry happens in community, but it also happens in dependence on God. Paul was worried about Corinth; God was not. Paul was unable to save anybody; God had many he was planning to save. Paul couldn’t protect himself from the opposition of the Jews; God could promise complete protection and then provide it - and that’s what the rest of the episode shows. At some point during that 18 months Jewish opposition to the gospel, which had earlier led Paul to turn to the Gentiles, erupted again: The Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him ‘before the tribunal’, the bëma seat of judgment, ‘a large, raised platform that stood in the central market square, in front of the residence of the proconsul and served as a forum where he tried cases’. One of the ways Jesus kept his promise to Paul was by allowing this to happen while Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, which would have been A.D. 51 or 52. Gallio was a friend of justice and truth. He was the younger brother of Seneca, the Stoic philosopher, and Seneca spoke of his brother’s tolerant kindness. Incidentally, Luke was right to call Gallio ‘proconsul’, since ‘Achaia was at this time a senatoria” province of the Empire, governed by a proconsul, as opposed to an imperial province, governed by a legate. One of the great testimonies to the historical reliability of Luke’s writings is that he keeps getting these things right.

        So the Jews accused Paul before Gallio: ‘this man’, they charged, ‘persuades the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law’. But which law? Gallio understood them to mean what he called ‘your own law’, but they both knew that debates about the Jewish law were beyond his jurisdiction. So they must have been trying to make out that Paul’s teaching was against Roman law. Judaism was a religio licita, an authorized religion. But Paul’s teaching was something new and un-Jewish; it was, they urged, an illicit religion, which thus ought to be banned by Roman law.

        The proconsul gave the accused no opportunity to reply to this charge, for he refused to hear it himself. Gallio said ‘If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime (that is, an obvious offence against Roman law), it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. But since it involves bickerings about words and names and your own law — settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things’. Then Gallio had them ejected from the court.

        An unpleasant example of mob rule followed. It is not certain who is meant by ‘they all’ in verse 17. It could be that the Gentile onlookers, in an outbreak of anti-semitism, used Gallio’s rebuff as an excuse to grab the leading Jewish representative and beat him mercilessly. Or it’s possible that the unity of the Jews broke down and they vented their frustration on their own leader, the new synagogue head, Sosthenes. In any event, Gallio chose to turn a blind eye to this episode, judging that the dispute was of no interest to Rome. Stott says that this established an important principle - though the Christians had been kicked out of Rome, it was done to them as Jews, and Gallio establishes the precedent that the dispute between the Jews and the Christians would be considered an internal dispute. Thus no Roman mandate would obstruct the free spread of the Gospel - and none did for many years.

        Ministry happens because God does it. He’s the one who is at work in people’s lives and in our circumstances to bring about any good thing, whether that’s reaching people for Christ, or helping people grow, or living as believers in families, or supporting one another in difficulties, or providing for each other in need. All of those ministries are acts of God on our behalf. Nonetheless, the other half of the equation is true too that ministry is done in community, when a group of people together rely on God’s presence to be with them, and so they minister without fear to one another and to others. My prayer is that Trinity would be just that - a bold, dependent, mutually supportive community.

        I’ve used some of the ministries I was involved in as a youth to illustrate this truth, but before I close in prayer I’ve asked Jim Berreth, who is on the ballot to be affirmed as an elder this afternoon, to come and share some ways he has seen effective ministry done with others in dependence on God.