GETTING THE MESSAGE/It is the Lord who builds his church
This is a lengthy, seemingly diverse passage, but the unifying theme is Christ growing and providing for his church as he promised. In this passage (Acts 18: 12-28) we see the conclusion of Paul’s second missionary trip, the beginning of his third, and the appearance of a great gift to the church--a man named Apollos.
We also see the protective love Christ has for his church. Paul is still in Corinth. He was fearful and on the verge of leaving due to the opposition he faced, but the Lord appeared to him in a vision and promised to protect him while he was in Corinth. So Paul stayed, and the gospel spread.
In Acts 18:12-17, we see the Lord keeping his promise to Paul. The Jews decided to take Paul to court, apparently in an endeavor to get the pro-counsel, the ruler in the province, named Gallio, to rule that the Christian religion was not Jewish and therefore not recognized by the Roman government.
But Gallio not only dismisses the charges, he is indifferent to the beating the Jewish synagogue ruler receives from the crowd after the ruling. So the Lord not only keeps his promise to Paul but portends the vengeance he will take upon all his enemies in due time.
We also see the Lord’s providing love in this passage. Paul will suffer abuse from men in the future and eventually die at the hands of men. But at the end of his life in his last book (2nd Timothy), he recounts to Timothy how the Lord had delivered him from the “lion’s mouth,” meaning the attacks of Satan upon his faith. So Paul, in prison and awaiting his execution, writes, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.”
This will be the testimony of all the Lord’s people. The Lord provided for me. In verse 23 we read that Paul began his third missionary trip by visiting churches in Galatia to “strengthen the disciples.” Paul had told the churches they must endure much tribulation, so how did he strengthen them? He provided God’s word, and the truth about Christ; things that point to the greatness of salvation in Christ.
Though Joseph’s brothers wronged him, when they returned to him, he loved them and fed them. Jesus calls himself our “brother.” We threw him into a pit by our sin, but he made known to us the famine of our souls and called us back to himself. And now he feeds our souls with his word. Paul said Christ loved him. How did Christ love him? He gave himself for me, the apostle says.
This is where you find a feast in a wilderness. Christ died that I might live. He has paid my bill, taken all my debt away, and clothed me in righteousness that I may have boldness to stand in the majesty of God. And nothing in this world can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
This passage again reminds us it is the Lord who builds his church. In verse 21 when Paul is leaving Ephesus, he tells the church he will return to them if “the Lord wills.” The Lord had stopped him from going to Asia earlier and directed him to Greece. He was run out of Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. He would have left Corinth, but the Lord kept him there 18 months. It is little wonder that Paul tells the brothers in Ephesus he will return “if the Lord wills.”
The Lord is the supreme commander of building his church. He is sovereign over where the gospel goes, who will hear it, and what the results will be. It is he who pours out his grace. In verse 27 we don’t read that the ministry of Apollos greatly helped those who through their own wisdom had believed. Rather, we read “he greatly helped those who ‘through grace’ had believed.” Therefore honor the Lord for your faith, or seek his help if you have none. It is he who provides.
We see the fruitfulness of Paul’s ministry and also that of Apollos (verses 24-28). But you don’t have to be a minister to be fruitful. All Christians are to be fruitful. The Lord tells us how. We must have faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God.
Put your faith into practice, first by loving Christ your Redeemer. That was the secret to Paul’s diligence, obedience, and faithfulness. Love is not just on one side; it is on both sides. In a loving relationship there is both a giving and returning of love. So seek to do good out of love to Christ.
The Rev. Chris Shelton is pastor of Union’s First Presbyterian Church.