Preaching to a City Full of God's People

When Paul arrived in Corinth, he was afraid of becoming the first century version of a megachurch pastor, preaching less about sin and blood, more about tolerance and being good. People love that sort of preaching, but God hates it, and so instead of a feel-good message, Paul preached Christ crucified.

That sort of message sure didn’t make him rich. In need of money when he got to Corinth, he joined Aquila and Priscilla in their leatherworking shop, using the trade that he had learned as a young man so as not to burden anyone. Paul worked during the week and preached on the Sabbath until his partners arrived with a gift from the Macedonian churches that enabled him to resume preaching full time. He then preached until the Jews rejected the message and cursed him out of the synagogue.

When Paul left the synagogue, it was not a retreat. He started preaching right next door, taking Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, with him. His customary pattern would have been to preach to the Gentiles for a few weeks and then move on to a new city. But here in Corinth, the Lord Jesus appeared to weak, trembling, fearful Paul in a vision, encouraging his soul and instructing him to stay in the city. Jesus gave three powerful reasons why Paul should not be afraid to keep preaching in Corinth:

Presence – “I am with you.” Jesus says. “Wherever you go in this city, I’m there too. Whatever abuse you take, whatever rejection you receive, I am with you.” What a comfort to a fearful servant!

Protection – “No one will attack you to harm you.” Paul has already been and would continue to be opposed, but Jesus promised to protect him. God in his kindness gave him a break from the usual pattern, and promised that he wouldn’t be stoned or jailed or beaten in Corinth.

Predestination – Paul’s ministry in Corinth would be very successful because many people whom God had chosen for salvation lived there. They had not repented and believed yet, but that’s why Paul was there, that’s why he should stay, and that’s why he can keep preaching without fear.

Jesus encourages Paul through His presence, His protection, and the reality of predestination. When Paul preaches to the Corinthians, he preaches to a city full of God’s people, and many who heard Paul believed and were baptized. After the vision, Paul remained in Corinth for 18 months, teaching the Word of God to the new church.

But at the end of that time, the Jews tried to convince the new proconsul Gallio that Paul was breaking the law by preaching a new religion. Gallio, refusing to split theological hairs, rejected the case and sent the mob away. Gallio does with Paul what Pilate should have done with Jesus, and this is exactly the protection that Jesus had promised to Paul. This protection had a huge impact on Paul’s mission – a Roman proconsul had judged Christian worship and preaching to be completely legal. Rome didn’t realize it yet, but she had just opened the lion’s cage.

Three lessons for us: 1) Don’t build up to the cross someday; lead with the cross right now. Could the way you live your life be explained without the cross? If so, you need to ask yourself “What is Christian about my life?” The cross is bloody, offensive, and foolish, but preaching or living based on anything else is a waste of time.

2) Don’t be ashamed to work hard with your hands – the kingdom of God has room for both tentmakers and preachers. Every lawful calling is pleasing to God if it’s done for His glory. Faithfully pounding nails, raising kids, catching theft, giving legal or financial counsel, selling products or services – all these things are worthwhile in God’s sight.

3) Don’t retreat from conflict with those who don’t believe – go to where the action is. Although the specific promises Jesus makes to Paul in this vision do not apply directly to you, these general truths do: Jesus is with you. Jesus protects you. Jesus has many people to save in Annapolis, and you are living proof that He is saving people right here, right now. So don’t be afraid to live a bold, cross-centered life.

Posted on Wednesday, February 11, 2015 by CJ Bowen