Fear Not, For I Am with You (Acts 18:1-17)
Rev. Erik Veerman
Fear Not, For I Am with You
In our journey through Acts we’ve arrived in the great city of Corinth. Many have called it an ancient version of Las Vegas. That’s because it boasted of its immorality. Maybe they said, “What happens in Corinth, stays in Corinth.” A new word was even coined… Korinthiazomai. It referred to someone who was sexually immoral. The Goddess Aphrodite, the love Goddess, was Corinth’s local deity. She was worshiped on a 1900 foot high mountain top near the city – the Acrocorinth - Prostitutes would come down from her temple and entice travelers who arrived at one of the city’s ports.
But I think probably a better modern-day association would be Amsterdam. Not only is Amsterdam known for legal prostitution and immorality, but it’s a central hub in Europe – people passing through from here to there. Corinth was similar. If you can picture in your mind the Mediterranean coast of Greece. Corinth is situated west of Athens by about 40 miles. It was a gateway between the Aegean Sea on the East and the Ionian Sea on the West. Its greatest achievement was a dry canal between the seas. Ships could be hoisted out of the water and transported to the other side… and thus avoid the dangerous waters of the Mediterranean.
And so Corinth was at a significant crossroads. It connected north and south, east and west. Because of that it was one of the largest cities in the Mediterranean with about 200-300,000 people. That’s about 5-6 times larger than the population of Athens at the time. The city buzzed with trade and travel and with all its immoral trappings.
And it’s here in Corinth in about the year 51 AD where the Apostle Paul arrived. He’d come from Athens – the philosophical center of the ancient near east, to now its commerce center, Corinth.
And Paul arrived with a level of weariness and fear. For one, in Athens he had many many Gospel conversations, but only 2 conversions are recorded. He was mocked by some after his Mars Hill speech. Neither was he able to plant a church in Athens. After all the positive Gospel ministry and church planting in Asia Minor and Macedonia, he was discouraged. After seeing the lifestyle of the Corinthians, maybe he thought, “will anyone come to faith in Corinth?”
And besides that weariness and discouragement, Paul had endured a lot of persecution. Going back a couple chapters, in Philippi, Paul and Silas were publicly beaten with rods. The physical and mental scars were still fresh. Next Jews stirred up the crowds in Berea, so much so that he had to flee. Thessalonica was similar, a mob had threatened them and Paul was whisked off to Athens.
And Paul was alone. He was afraid. In his first letter to the Corinthian church after his visit, he wrote this, “I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling.” That fear included two things: (1) a concern that he may experience more physical persecution, and (2) a worry that the Corinthian people wouldn’t respond to the Gospel.
If you look down to verses 9 and 10, you can get a sense of both of those fears. God said to Paul in a vision, verse 9: “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and (1) no one will attack you to harm you, for (2) I have many in this city who are my people.” God was assuring Paul that, first, he would not be physically harmed, and second, that there were many in Corinth who were his people. In other words, who had not yet professed Christ.
Now, some have interpreted this to mean there were already Christians in Corinth who would protect Paul. However, the emphasis here is that Paul should continue speaking. He should not be silent. Why? Because there were many, God’s elect, whom had yet to believe. What other assurance would Paul need? God was saying, “you need to continue speaking because I’m going to open the hearts of many to respond, and no one would harm you”
In fact, Paul had already been preaching the Gospel. And many had already come to faith in Christ. So in essence, this vision was an encouragement to continue and not be afraid. As a result, for a year and a half, Paul stayed in Corinth teaching the word of God. That’s a long time for him! And God used him because many believed.
Well, I wanted to start out there. Giving you a sense of Corinth and some background on Paul’s fear. Because the vision that God gave Paul is very specific. It was for that time and place. In other cities, Paul was physically persecuted. In yet other cities, only a few people believed. So the assurance in verses 9 and 10 is not a blank check, for you and for me. No, we can’t cash it in, so to speak. We can’t say it applies to any situation. Some have tried that! But mis-applying it will only bring discouragement and even disillusionment – when persecution comes, or people don’t respond.
Now, I’m not saying that we can’t apply these verses. Of course, we can! And I think we can in 2 ways. A more specific way and a broader way. You may be able to relate to Paul’s discouragement. It’s easy to get discouraged when you’re being faithful to share the hope of Christ, but no one is responding. Right? It’s hard. We can feel like a failure. All the effort may seem wasted. Yet these verses remind us that it’s God at work. He’s the one who calls people to faith in him. And the encouragement is to press on. There are people whom God calls his own, who have yet to believe.
On a broader level, though, it’s quite amazing in this text… how God has gone before Paul to Corinth. How he is present with Paul, and how it is God who protects Paul in ways that he couldn’t even imagine.
And so now, let’s take both the specific application and broader application and work them out in these verses.
Three points of application this morning – you can see that outline on the back of your bulletin:
• Fear not, for God will go before you (Acts 18:1-8)
• Fear not, for God will be with you (Acts 18:9-11)
• Fear not, for God will prevail for you (Acts 18:12-17)
1.) Fear not, for God will go before you (Acts 18:1-8)
So first, fear not, for God will go before you.
The first glimpse that Paul gets of how God amazingly works out his plan – is Paul meets this amazing couple - Priscilla and Aquilla. Some of you know, they’re mentioned in several places in the New Testament. We’ll talk about them more next week.
God had uniquely gifted Priscilla and Aquila in hospitality and teaching. And it’s most likely they were already believers in Jesus when Paul met them. I say that for two reasons. First, Luke doesn’t record their testimony of faith, but second, verse 2 says that they fled Rome because the Jews were commanded to leave. We know from other sources that the reason was because of a riot over a man named Crestus or Cristus – the Latin for Christ. So Christianity had already reached Rome. And all the Jews and the Christians had to leave. The Christians were seen by Rome as a sect of Judaism. So Priscilla and Aquila traveled to Corinth.
Was it by chance that they had to leave Rome? Or by chance that they happened to be in the same trade as Paul? Or that Paul happened to need to work for a period of time? Or that Paul happened to come across Priscilla and Aquila among all the tent makers in Corinth? No! This was not a random chance thing! No, God was going before Paul.
Or jump down to verses 6 and 7. Another example of how God had prepared the way. Paul had been testifying to the Jews about Jesus. That was his usual method. But by and large, the Jewish people there rejected Jesus. So Paul decided to focus on the Gentiles. Well, was it by chance that a Gentile right next door to the synagogue believed – he and his family? No, it wasn’t by chance. Rather, God had prepared Titius Justus to believe in Christ. He had been attending the synagogue as a Gentile. And there’s his house, right next to the synagogue for all to see.
And next, we see another example of God working out his plan, going before Paul. Crispus, the very ruler of the synagogue believed. Think about that. Crispus had heard Paul say that he was innocent of their blood. Paul was saying, really, that they were condemned. Talk about fighting words! God used that stark language and Paul’s teaching about Jesus as the Messiah to bring Crispus to faith in Christ.
You see, God had been working in so many ways. He’d been orchestrating Priscilla and Aquila’s path to Corinth; intersecting their path with Paul’s; working in the hearts and minds of different Jews and Gentiles to believe – prominent people and places. God had been revealing to Paul the amazing mysterious ways in which he, in his wisdom, has so planned and choreographed everything that came to pass.
I was thinking about our own journey a new church. One of the many hurdles last spring from the pandemic was… we lost our original place to worship. I was really down about it. Even 3-4 weeks before our re-scheduled launch, we still didn’t have a place. I was worried and anxious (I tried not to show it). We prayed and fasted.
And then one day, I was driving by this place – the restaurant had been closed, but there was a car in the parking lot. I turned around, pulled in and went up to the front entrance, knocked on the door. And guess what they said? “the BBQ restaurant is closed.” I responded, “actually I wanted to see if the owner would consider renting this out on Sunday mornings.” Well, turns out the gentleman I was speaking with was the owner. Many of you have met him over this past year. And not only that, he and his daughter were cleaning this place so that they could rent it out. Talk about God preparing the way for us. They were so excited not only to rent this place but to rent it to us as a new church.
But let me go back 20 years. The establishment that was here back then was not a god-honoring place. It was a club of sorts. The platform here and those lights mounted on the ceiling are remnants of that (by the way, they’re actually multi-colored lights). Well, some of you heard Beka, one of our members, share this story. 20 years ago, she remembers driving by this place. Her mom was driving. And her mom pulled the car over and said, “we’re going to pray that God redeems this place.” And she prayed. 20 years later, I pulled into the parking lot here… little did I know, but God had gone before us.
Beloved, that’s only a small glimpse of all the ways that God prepared the way for us – imagine all the ways that we don’t even see! God is faithful.
• He is preparing hearts and minds as you are faithful to share the hope of Christ.
• God is going before you as you seek to be faithful to his leading – in whatever situation you’re in - a new school, new job, new place to live, and others.
What a great comfort… as it was for Paul.
Fear not, for God will go before you.
2.) Fear not, for God will be with you (Acts 18:9-11)
That brings us to a second encouragement. Fear not, for God will be with you. This great promise that God gave Paul is a promise for all believers in Christ. That’s the promise at the beginning of verse 10. And it directly applies to you and me.
In fact, this verse 10 promise is all throughout the Scriptures – Old Testament and New Testament. God was merely echoing his promise to Paul… that he has given his people down through the ages.
• The promise that God will be with you is part of the covenant promise that God gave to the patriarchs of Israel - Abraham, and Isaac and Jacob and Joseph. God affirmed it over and over. In Genesis chapter 28, he said to Jacob “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.” And chapter 48, Jacob affirmed this to Joseph, his son. “God will be with you”
• This is the promise found in Deuteronomy 31… when Moses handed off his leadership to Joshua. Twice he affirmed almost these same words. Moses told the people, “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear,” he said. He went on, “for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” And 2 verses later, in Deuteronomy 31:8, he says almost the same thing, and really this one verse encapsulates our whole passage this morning, “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”
• This is also the promise of 1 Kings 11:38 – Where God said to King David’s son Solomon, that if he walked in God’s ways, observing his statutes and His commandments, then he would be with Solomon.
• It’s is the same promise that God spoke through Isaiah the prophet in Isaiah 41:10 “‘Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”
• This is one of the great promises of Psalm 23 – “Yeah though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. you rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
Beloved, this is only a small glimpse of this great biblical promise. Over and over that God affirmed to his people… his presence with them.
Let me say it this way: The great overarching promise of Scripture and the purpose of God’s redemptive plan IS that he will be with his people.
So when God spoke to Paul here when he was fearful, God was confirming this great promise.
It’s a promise for you. “Fear not, for I will be with you.” It’s so easy in times of uncertainty, or loneliness, or pain to feel that God is not there. Or like in this context, when you feel like your ministry efforts or your evangelism efforts are futile, or you are fearful from threats when standing for God’s Word… But if you are his, through Christ, God is with you. He will never leave you or forsake you.
Jesus last words on earth as recorded by Matthew are these: “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Even through the valley of the shadow of death – when that day comes that you depart this life – God is especially with you. And in that day, you will experience the overwhelming, glorious, eternal presence of God in Christ. He will be with you today, tomorrow, and forever.
3.) Fear not, for God will prevail for you (Acts 18:12-17)
So first, Fear not, for God will go before you. Second, Fear not, for God will be with you.
And now third -and last. Fear not, for God will prevail for you.
In the apostle Paul’s specific situation, God had promised that Paul would not be harmed. Yet we get to verse 12, and just like in prior cities, the Jews attacked Paul. They brought him before the Roman tribunal. Their desire was to get him arrested and perhaps beaten. Had God already forgotten his specific promise to Paul? Well, we already know the end of the story, of course.
But the amazing thing is that God used the Roman proconsul to protect Paul. And by the way, Gallio was the brother of the famous Roman philosopher, Senica. The one who tutored Nero, the future Emperor of the Roman kingdom. Well, Gallio saw right through the Jew’s plan. They were trying to bring Paul up on charges related to Jewish law, yet they brought Paul before a Roman court.
And just as Paul was about to open his mouth and speak – Gallio stepped in. He dismissed the case and threw them all out of the tribunal. God used this Roman judge to prevail over Paul’s accusers.
And to be sure – Gallio was no friend of Paul or Christianity or really any religion. We get a clear sense of that in verse 17. Gallio looked away as the Jews seized Sosthenes and beat him. Sosthenes was the ruler of the synagogue, but it’s possible he had become a Christian. We know at some point he professed faith because in 1 Corinthians chapter 1 verse 1, Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church is also addressed from Sosthenes – from Paul and Sosthenes. Or if Sosthenes is not yet a believer here, maybe this beating by his own Jewish people… led him to see their hard hearts. Whatever the case, God turned the tables here… in multiple ways. He prevailed over Paul’s enemies. He delivered him from them, and God even saved yet another synagogue ruler – the second one in this chapter alone.
I think this is similar to our cultural situation. In our country we have the freedom to proclaim Christ. God used the hard work and sacrifice of many for that. But as you know, there are many Christians through out the world, who do not have that freedom… the freedom that Paul had in Corinth or the freedom that we have here – yet God is prevailing. But may we be faithful to heed the God’s word to Paul – “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent”
In all of this, fear not, for God will prevail for you. It’s part of his promise that he will always be with you. And I’m not saying that this life will not bring troubles and persecution. No, you know that. But the promise that God will prevail is because God has already prevailed for us.
He’s prevailed for you in Christ. Just as God turned the tables on Paul’s enemies here, so God turned the tables on Jesus’ enemies. The difference is, though, in Jesus’ trial the Roman authority did give him over to be executed.
• The Jews thought they had Jesus forever defeated – he was dead and buried.
• But what they didn’t realize is that God had used them - his enemies - to accomplish his purposes.
• The very thing his enemies pursued, Jesus’ death, is the very thing that God used to prevail over them.
• God turned the tables because death could not hold him. Jesus was resurrected. And in the resurrection, not only did Jesus prevail over his own death and his enemies, but in it, he prevailed for us.
• And because he prevailed for us, he will never leave us or forsake us! God will be with us forever.
In all of it, we have nothing to fear… God has gone before us in Christ. His will be with us in Christ, and he has prevailed for us in Christ.
Not only did God promise that he would be with Paul, but God used Paul in a tremendous way in Corinth. Paul witnessed the many people in Corinth, indeed who were God’s people, come to faith in him. In that city with much darkness and immorality came the light of the Gospel. May we not be afraid, but know that God goes before us, is with us, and has prevailed.