There is a lot of encouraging material to be found in this chapter:
The Apostle Paul told us that ‘all scripture is … profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness’ (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Thus the Christian in his daily Bible reading should be getting something of real value out of what he has just perused. The Spirit should be bringing God’s word to life as we read it and study it.
I am back in the book of Acts once again, and I was struck by how chapter 18 seems to be filled with all sorts of valuable lessons for the contemporary believer. These are not just stories of what has happened long ago, but life-changing truths for us today. Three major lessons at least popped out at me, so let me look at each one in turn.
Acts 18:5-6 When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. But when they 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 innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.
A few obvious truths emerge from this incident. One, those who share the Christian gospel WILL get opposition. There is no getting around this. And Jesus had said that this would of course take place, as we find in Luke 10:3: “Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.”
Or as he said in Luke 6:22-23: “Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets.”
Two, there will be instances when we should no longer spend time with those who reject the gospel. When folks close themselves off to the gospel, it may well be time to move on. Jesus himself instructed the disciples on this matter in Matthew 10:11-15:
And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.
Jesus also spoke about not casting your pearls before swine and the like (Matthew 7:6). So we need wisdom and discernment when we share truth with others, be it evangelistic truth, or truth about the culture wars and so on. Not everyone will be receptive to the message, and it can become counterproductive and a waste of time to spend too much time with some of these folks. We need to be prayerful and careful here.
Acts 18:9-11 One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “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.” So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.
Let me proceed with a bit of caution here. Not all biblical promises are universal in scope and application. While this was a specific word to Paul for a particular time, it did not always apply to him. We know that he was attacked and harmed often. Simply read his various lists of hardships and persecutions, such as in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28:
Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
And not all of us will be able to claim that no one will attack us or harm us, as millions of believers throughout church history well know. So this was a specific one-off promise to Paul. But still, there is some great stuff here that we can take hold of.
The part of this passage that I especially want to emphasise is in verse 9: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you.” That is something all believers can embrace and take to heart. We must keep speaking out. We must keep sharing truth.
We must not remain silent in other words. We dare not zip the lip when the world is starved of truth and is so very desperately in need of hearing it. And yes, what I said above needs to be tied in here. The world needs the gospel, but we should move on from those who want nothing to do with it and go to those who seem to be more open and receptive.
And the promise of God being with us is something we can all rejoice in. That is what makes our evangelistic and missionary efforts – indeed, all our Christian efforts – worthwhile and effective. Without God being with us we have no hope of doing anything of value for Christ and the Kingdom. But with him and in his power and for his glory we can do great things.
Acts 18:27-28 When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.
Two things can be mentioned here. First, this is just one of many occasions in which the disciples publicly took part in debates and discussions with Jews and others. Indeed, earlier in the chapter we read about how Paul was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks (v. 4).
This practice of seeking to debate, argue, reason and persuade is found in many places in the book of Acts. And usually the same Greek word is used for what Peter had said about “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). In both cases our English word ‘apologetics’ comes from this Greek term.
So there is certainly a place to defend the faith, to deal with objections and questions, and to seek to show the reasonableness of the gospel. Apologetics is a type of pre-evangelism where we seek to clear up misconceptions and deal with wrong views about gospel truths. It is defending the faith.
And second, notice how the disciple did not shy away from doing all this boldly and bravely in public. So often today we have wimpy or lefty Christians telling us that such public debates and discussions are not worth engaging in, and we should just win people over by building relationships and by being nice and loving.
Sure, sometimes we need wisdom in when and where is the best time to share with others. And often it is neat if we can have a nice cup of coffee with a non-Christian friend as we share truth with them. But developing long-term relationships first is not always possible or desirable.
If that was the only way for Christian witness to properly take place, then notice that Jesus and the disciples almost always got it wrong. In the great majority of cases they simply proclaimed public truth to complete strangers – often large crowds of strangers.
They did not have time or make time to have nice one-on-one-chats with folks over a nice leisurely meal at their fave restaurant. Things like that may have happened now and then, but for the most part they proclaimed the gospel wherever they went and to whoever they met. There was no prior relationship-building going on, nor was there any thoughts that just being nice would suffice.
Indeed, while we certainly should be loving, biblical love always means willing the highest good for the other person. The most loving thing we can do for non-Christians is to share biblical truth with them. It is NOT loving to withhold from them that which they need the most. They need to hear the gospel, plain and simple.
And as Paul made clear in Romans 10:14-17:
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
So proclaiming the gospel – with words – will always be necessary. And that we find happening in just about every chapter of the book of Acts. If that was good enough for the early church, that should be good enough for us. So let us take heart here and let us redouble our efforts to share truth far and wide.