When stripped down to our historical foundation, IFCA International is a Bible movement. Our churches and ministries exist to preach Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:23), a prospect that has never been acceptable to the world and is rejected by the apostate church. Like the Apostle Paul, we do not shrink from declaring the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). We believe that God has spoken without error and that His Word has never failed. We believe that the Word of God rules over the Church and God’s people, and that this authority extends to all humanity whether it accepts it or not. We believe the Bible, and this should have a direct impact upon how we minister in the preaching of the Word.
“Our Lord attracted sinners because He was different. They drew near to Him because they felt that there was something different about Him. And the world should see us to be different. This idea that you are going to win people to the Christian faith by showing them that after-all you are remarkably like them, is theologically and psychologically a profound blunder.”—D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Criticism is a hard thing to deal with. This past week as I was digging through some old files on my computer I found a file that I had labeled “problems.” I currently have a paper file labeled the same in my desk drawer where complaint letters are kept. Thankfully it doesn’t have too many letters in it…yet.
Going back to the other day, I knew that I shouldn’t open the file and look inside, but curiosity got the better of me and I did. Inside I found some letters from when I was a pastor in California. The memories of those occasions had mercifully faded, but the letters instantly brought back those difficult days.
Ministry can be a lonely place. Sometimes there are very few people that could understand what you re going through, and there aren’t many that you can share your thoughts and struggles with. Ministry partnerships and fellowship can definitely help alleviate this, but there is still the reality that the road of ministry leadership is sometimes still fraught with times of isolation and discouragement.
Finally, The Lord Provides for ministry when he gives us encouragement.
He Gives Us Encouragement
“And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.” (Acts 18:9-10, NASB95)
Think about the English word, “encouragement.” It has the word “courage” right in the middle of it. This English word originally was, in-courage, and it meant “to give courage.” And that is what the Lord is doing in verses 9-10. In a vision one night, the Lord reminded Paul what he often told his prophets in the Old Testament, “do not be afraid!”
In Exodus 3:2, as God called Moses to redeem his people from Egypt, He told him that He would be with him. In Deuteronomy 31:6, Moses told Israel to trust the Lord as they entered the promised land. In Joshua 1:5, 9, the Lord encouraged Joshua that he would be with him as he was with Moses and that he needed to be strong and courageous. In Isaiah 41:10, the Lord told the prophet Isaiah that he is not to fear or be dismayed, because the Lord God will strengthen him, help him, and uphold him. And in Jeremiah 1:8, when Jeremiah was called to go out as the prophet of the Lord, God told him that he was not to be afraid of them because the Lord was with him to deliver him from all dangers.
Paul needed that kind of supernatural encouragement as he faced the daunting task of the ministry the Lord had given to him. And so he gave Paul these instructions:
“Don’t be afraid any longer”…When we react in fear we are lacking faith in the Lord our God who is our strong tower. In our fear we must trust the Lord and turn to him by faith to accomplish his will.
“Go on speaking and do not be silent”…Fear of persecution often silences the faithful witness. Paul needed to be courageous and keep on speaking the truth, in spite of the high probability that he would continue to suffer greatly for the gospel.
And then he gave him three encouragements:
“For I am with you”…Paul was never alone. God was always with him. Just as he was with Moses, Joshua, Israel, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Habakkuk, and so many others.
“No man will attack you in order to harm you”…No one can touch us if God’s protective hand is upon us. This would be limited to the time that Paul was evangelizing in Corinth until those God would save had been saved. It wasn’t a promise that Paul would never be attacked again. But it was an assurance that for a while, Paul would be able to do the work of the ministry without violence breaking out in Corinth for a while.
“I have many people in this city”…The Lord was saying to Paul, “there were many people left who would be saved. Go find them!” When the time to move on had come, the Lord would let Paul know. He was to be encouraged with the fact that there was a good harvest of souls right there in that city.
We know how the Great Story ends, don’t we? No matter how dark things get, no matter what twists and unforeseen trials we encounter, in the end, Jesus has already won! Therefore, we need to be encouraged and see with the eyes of the Ascended Christ. He is not dead and in the tomb. He is seated at the right hand on high. He is coming again. And he has given us work to do.
Let your hands be strengthened with this truth and carry on with the Lord’s work. Look at our last verse, verse 11: “And he settled there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.” (Acts 18:11, NASB95). Do you see the result of these provisions? God had provided co-workers, finances, focus, boldness, souls saved, and words of encouragement. And Paul continued on and so we must carry on as well.
Maybe it’s an American thing, but it seems that there is too much entrepreneurialism in the church today. Every up and coming church is looking to be innovative and cutting-edge. Along with this entrepreneurial spirit comes an equally troubling reality–that man-centered ministry is produced by a man-centered power. It makes sense: if you throw out the book on how to pursue ministry, why would you seek to be empowered in a biblical manner? For the man of God who wants to do things according to God’s Word, we need to remember that God provides in every way for every need.
“But when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” (Acts 18:6, NASB95)
Hard hearts are a result of the sinfulness of mankind. It goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. We shouldn’t be surprised that Paul faced the rejection and mockery of the crowds in Corinth as he had in many cities he preached in. And it shouldn’t surprise us when we see that happen to us as well. It’s nothing new and we should expect it. But we should also expect that the Lord will provide us with gospel boldness as well, so that we can respond as we should in the face of opposition.
In verse 6, Paul can no longer stand the resistance of the Jewish people’s hardened hearts. Their objections degenerated into blasphemies against Christ himself. Paul shook out his garment, a sign of disgust and complete rejection, and rebuked them for their hardness. Paul had done what the Lord said was required in Ezekiel 3:18-19, “When I say to the wicked, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. “Yet if you have warned the wicked and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered yourself.” (Ezekiel 3:18-19, NASB95)
Paul wasn’t fooling around. He had come to complete the King’s business and he didn’t want to waste his time on foolish scoffers.
Some people call alcohol “liquid courage” because it lowers the inhibitions and allows people to say and do things they would never do or say when sober. However, Ephesians 5:18 says, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit,” (Ephesians 5:18, NASB95). Here, the influence of drunkenness is compared to the influence of being filled with the Holy Spirit. Paul was a Spirit-filled man and this is demonstrated in the fact that with great courage and boldness he spoke out against the rejection and mockery of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
John Calvin once said to the Queen of France, “A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God’s truth is attacked and yet would remain silent.” God offers this same gospel boldness as well. I think that too many Christians are okay with being quiet wallflowers, even when their Lord is blasphemed in their presence. We must pray for the Lord to fill our mouths with a courageous testimony, even in the face of opposition.