MANIFOLD MINISTRY (Acts 18:1-23)
Ministry Places (Acts 18:1)
Ministry Partnerships (Acts 18:2-3)
Ministry Provision (18:4-5)
Ministry Pain (Acts 18:6-8)
Ministry Providence (6:9-17)
This morning we continue our study through the book of Acts as we come to Acts 18 and see how Paul’s second missionary journey ends. It’s a passage which gives us so many helpful insights into gospel ministry, into what we are supposed to be doing as Christians and how we are supposed to be doing it. So I’ve entitled this message “Manifold Ministry” because the passage we will be looking at provides us with so many insights into the manner and means of ministry for Christ. And then I’ll close with what I believe is the burden of the text, or the main point of the passage..
Ministry and places, partnerships, provision, pain, providence
1: Ministry and Places (18:1)
Let’s start by looking at a map of Paul’s Missionary journey’s
· The coloured regions are provinces, the equivalent of our Gauteng, Limpopo, Cape Province and so on.
· On the first missionary journey Paul set out from Antioch, went across to the island of Cypris which was Barnabas’ home territory, worked from the capital on the East to the capital on the West. Then they went to Lycia on the North coast of the Mediterranean Sea and up to Galatia. So they worked they way through 3 Roman provinces on the first missionary journey in Acts 13-14, visiting the major cities in each of these regions. They then retraced their steps, encouraging the churches that had been planted and returned to reported back to Antioch before going down to Jerusalem for that important counsel in Acts 15 to clarify whether the Gentiles were required to keep the Mosaic Law or not.
· Paul set out on his second missionary journey intending to go back and visit these churches and then go into Asia and Bythinia. But God had other plans and he directed Paul to Troas and then to go over to Macedonia in Acts 16, where he soon found himself in jail and yet God went on the plant the Philippian, Berean and Thessalonian churches in this region. Paul then made his way down to Athens and Corinth which were in the Roman provinces of Achaia before he headed back to Jerusalem and then back up to Antioch to report on his second missionary journey in Acts 18.
When you look at the map you immediately see that Paul had a very definite strategy. He wanted to work his way through all the provinces of the Roman empire and establish solid churches in each of the capital cities of major cities in that region. Presumably he expected those churches to continue reaching out with the gospel and planting other churches who would in turn plant other churches who would reach out with the gospel until the entire region was permeated with a gospel witness.
This is exactly what he explains to the Christians at Rome in Romans 15:15 that Christ had gifted him to be a minister of the gospel to the Gentiles and that he had, by that same grace, fulfilled the ministry of the gospel from Jerusalem all the way to Illyricum and was now seeking to visit Rome so that they could assist him to reach out to the regions further West.
It’s obvious that the gospel is meant to go places, in fact that it’s meant to go to all places and churches are meant to be established in every place who will saturate that place with the message of Christ. That lines up with the key verse in Acts, Acts 1:8…”Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, to the ends of the world. That is how each of the four gospels close out, with some form of the great commission. As they seek to record the message and ministry of Christ they all conclude with some version of “This message of the kingdom must be preached as a testimony to all nations and then the end will come.”
Every church is to be a missionary church and play its part in taking the gospel to the ends of the world. This is what makes a church vibrant and healthy – when we vibrantly lay hold of the Great Commission and at great cost, play our part in the mission of Christ. That’s why, as we consider the ministries of the church, we consider them under 6 headings: 1)Evangelism 2) Corporate Worship 3) Every member ministry 4) Leadership Development 5) Infrastructure 6) Missions. We start with evangelism and end with missions because that is God’s pattern. When the gospel comes to us it ultimately bears fruit in foreign missions as we are built up in order to send out.
When the ministry of the church is only about building itself up – then it becomes the dead sea rather than a gospel ocean.
Oswald smith “Any church that is not seriously involved in helping fuflill the great commission has forfitted its biblical right to exist.”
2: Ministry and partnerships (2)
When Paul came into a region, what is the first things he looks for? Other Christians. In most places he went, there were no established churches, so he sought to establish one.
At the end of Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, he sends greetings to “Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus” (Rom 16:3). So they evidently came from Rome in Italy and found their way back there, possibly visiting family, or perhaps they were able to return more permanently. But we find them later on ministering in Ephesus alongside Paul and discipling Apollos who was a great preacher who needed some more theological training.
So this marriage was obviously a ministry marriage, as every marriage should be. Marriage is not merely for our enjoyment and selfish pleasure. Through marriage God is providing us with a ministry partner and what a gift it is to be able to serve the Lord together.
In the other instances where this couple is mentioned, they are always mentioned together and Priscilla is mentioned first, so she was evidently not a silent partner either.
This is surely a testimony to the vital role that women play in marriage and ministry. Headship in the family and the church is assigned to men, but that shouldn’t mean that women are consigned to the kitchen. Women are co-workers, fellow-labourers in gospel ministry. As a women, you may be a wife or a mother, but you are first and foremost a servant of Christ and a minister of the gospel. Never let your gospel calling become buried under piles of washing and dishes.
Claudius – Chrestus
The text says he was a Jew and was expelled by an order from Claudius. There is an ancient biography on the life of Claudius which mentions this edict and gives the reason “As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he banished them from Rome.” Most scholars understand that to be a reference to Christ. Before Christianity was recognised and established as a religion in its own right, it was seen as a sect of Judaism and one that was causing a great deal of disturbance throughout the empire by proclaiming Jesus as the Christ, the messiah.
So it would seem that the gospel has already made its way to Rome ahead of Paul and was turning that part of the world upside down, even as we see it doing in every place in the book of Acts. Priscilla and Aquilla were thus Jewish by ancestry but Christians by faith and the Christians throughout the empire found each other out in order to support and encourage one another. That’s what the greetings at the end of each of the N.T letters are all about – Christians staying in touch, Christians sharing fellowship and communicating mutual concern. It’s not that Paul didn’t know how else to close his letters, it’s that this was a vital aspect of Christian partnership in the gospel, Christian fellowship.
We are ministers together, partners together in marriage, in ministry, in the church. There is no such thing as lone Christians, when we are saved we are saved into Christ and into His body. We become member together of one body, inter-dependant on one another.
Application: Wherever you are, do you seek out and fellowship with believers. Is your life inter-meshed with other believers where you work and eat and play and pray together? If this was vital for Paul, we better understand how vital it is for us.
Midweek fellowship – make it a priority next year.
3: Ministry and provision (18:3-5)
In this case, they not only ministered together, they worked together. Vs 3 says they were of the same trade, which the text goes on to say was “tent-making.” They literally manufactured tents, or worked in leather, or both.
This, of course, speaks to the sanctity of work. When God calls someone to Christ, He doesn’t call them out of this world, but to do ministry in this world and ministry in this world involves food and clothes and shelter and the other daily necessities of life.
Paul was trained as a Jewish Rabbi and Rabbi’s were required to learn a trade as part of their training. The Bible doesn’t separate secular and sacred occupations. Christ doesn’t call some Christians to sacred gospel ministry and others to secular occupations whose only value is to support those in ministry.
In Corinthians and Thessalonians (1 Thess 2:9, 2 Thess 3:8; 2 Cor 12:13) Paul spoke about what we see here in Acts, that he diligently laboured with his own hands to support his ministry and the ministry of his co-workers. So it seems that Paul’s tentmaking business was at times used to support the gospel ministry of Timothy and Titus and others. The idea that work is an unnecessary distraction from gospel ministry, is foreign to the Bible and would have been nonsense to Paul. At times he chose to work in order to be an example to other believers and to avoid any questions being raised as to his motives. Many false teachers were in the ministry for the money and Paul wanted to be sure not to be associated with them, so he sometimes refused any financial support from those he ministered to.
Application: Unreached tentmaking
Sometimes this is what it takes to reach out with the gospel in a particular region.
Almost all the unreached people groups that remain, are in what we call “closed countries.” These are countries where you can’t get a visa as a missionary. You can’t go in as a gospel worker, you can’t officially be a church planter, but you can be a school teacher, or an Engineer, or a electrician. We are currently supporting missionaries to a country like that. We are trying to help them get a business going, not because they are interested in making money, but because the business provides them with access to the country which gives them a platform for gospel ministry.
The final frontier of missions requires Christians and churches to adopt the very mindset we see here in Paul and Priscilla and Aquilla. We need more Christians to be immigrating to closed countries, not to better countries, to live easier lives and earn more money – but to more difficult countries, where they will struggle just to eek out a living in order to establish a beachhead for the gospel among the 12 000 people groups who have yet to hear the gospel in their own language.
Please stop working for Nike takkies and BMW’s and start working for Jesus Christ and His gospel….
Most businessmen and women are more worried about money than missions and God has set things up that in order to be obedient to the Great Commisson in our generation– we are going to have to see Chrisian’s be more interested in missions than money.
Supporting missions (5)
In vs 5 we see the balancing view. When Silas and Timothy arrived, Paul was occupied with the word. In vs 4, he really only had time to preach on the Sabbaths, on the weekends. In vs 5 he is occupied with gospel preaching 7 days a week. It may be that Timothy and Silas took over some of his tent-making responsibilities, but it’s more likely that they brought a gift from the Philippian church. They had just come from Macedonia, and Paul speaks in Philippians 4 about how the church at Philippi had partnered with him in gospel ministry and sent him aid time and again.
So, while we are not to despise working with our own hands, what a blessing when a church has such a vision for gospel ministry that they collect money and send it on, so that gospel ministers can be more focussed on gospel preaching.
It seems that the Phillippian church was giving to missions and sending out missionaries before they even had their own paid pastor and Paul commends them for it.
As John Stott puts it, “The church is the only institution that exists for the benefit of its non-members.”
Did you get that, do you believe it? The church is the only institution that exists for the benefit of its non-members…..We are not to be collecting money to spend on ourselves and the endless assortment of ministries that are designed to entertain fat, lazy members who only come to overeat.
Yes, of course we are to build up our members – but again, this foundation is to be a platform for gospel outreach because the gospel by its very nature must keep going out, keep being sent out until it has permeated every place and culture and people with the glory of Christ.
4: Ministry and pain (18:6-7)
The German martyr and theologian, Deitrich Bonhoffer put it this way,
“The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
I hope you are seeing the pattern…
· 13:50 (Psidian Antioch) “But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas and drove them out of their district and they shook of the dust from their feet.”
· 14:5 (Iconium) “When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their ulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, they learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe”
· 14:19 (Lystra/Derbe) “But the Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead.”
· And Paul went on to encourage the disciples saying “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (14:22)
· 16:19 (Philippi); 17:5(Thessalonica); 17:13 (Berea)….
· Paul preaches Christ and ends up being persecuted and driven out of town.
· Now the thing about getting a beating, is that it never gets easier… You never get accustomed to pain. You don’t say, “I’ve done this many, many times before, it’s a walk in the park.” Each and every time it’s still painful and seems no less painful than the last time.
· Jesus could say, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him renounce himself, and take up his cross and follow me…for whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever would lose his life for me and the gospel will save it.” (Mk 8:34)
· Paul could say to Timothy, “If anyone desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus, he will be persecuted”
· Or to the Philippians church, “It has been granted to you, as a special privilege, not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for his sake.”
Application: If you are living for posessions and comfort and ease – then you are not living for Christ.
5: Ministry and providence (18:8-17)
So we come to what I believe is the burden, the purpose of this text….
Luke tells us why he was inspired to write, basically in order to give Gentile believers certainty about the gospel they had heard. This certainty comes from them seeing the continuity between Jesus ministry and Peter’s ministry and Paul’s ministry. The same message, the same miracles, the same power and same preaching. The Gentile believers are to understand that the gospel has come to them not by mistake, or by chance, or even by human purpose and planning – but by God’s providence.
The providence of God is his eternal purpose by which He has ordained whatever comes to pass. God has a plan and His plan is unfolding exactly as planned, exactly on time, exactly according to His purpose. If we have come to hear and believe the gospel – that is by God’s grace and providence. It’s God’s gift to us and God’s providence that has brought it about.
Although pain and persecution is inevitably a part of gospel preaching, so is vs 8. Crispus believed and his entire household and many Corinthians. Wherever the gospel is preached God has planned to save people. Our preaching is never in vain. Not everyone will believe, some will reject the message and try to silence the messenger – but some will believe.
Note what Jesus said in vs 10 when he appeared to Paul to encourage him, “I have many in this city who are my people.” Paul is only starting his ministry there and Jesus can say, don’t worry, you ministry will be fruitful because I have many in this city who belong to me. In God’s providence, we belong to Him before we even know it.
· In Eph 1:3 Paul can remind us that, “Before the foundation of the world we were specifically and personally handpicked in order to belong to Christ and be reconciled to God through faith.”
· The gospel will bear fruit because God’s has planned and purposed for people to be reconciled to Him through faith in this simple message.
Don’t be afraid (9)
Jesus says to Paul in vs 9, “Don’t be afraid and then says twice, don’t be silent, do go on speaking.”
· We know why Paul would be afraid, because beatings and imprisonments awaited him at ever corner and those don’t get any easier to handle.
· But here he has the promise – in this city, in this place- I have ordained a fruitful ministry for you, and no-one will attack you to harm you. You will enjoy a time of respite, a time of freedom to preach the gospel and nobody will be able to stop you.
· The next verse (11) says Paul stayed there a year and six months which was the longest he stayed in any one place. The patterns as we have seen in every other place was to preach and then persecution arose on account of the preaching and Paul was beaten and driven out…
· Vs 12 goes on to show how the Jews tried the same here. They even took the matter to Gallio, the proconsul and tried to gain his support against Paul. And in vs 17 when they couldn’t get at Paul they beat Sothsenes and he had to face the persecution – but despite all the threats and attempts to cause unrest and turn Gallio against Paul – they get nowhere.
· Because God in His providence had a different plan for Paul in this place. Jesus reveals His plan and is with Paul to carry it out – and Paul is invincible here.
· As Rom 8:31 can say, “If God is for us, who can be against us….in all these things we are more than conqueres through him who loved us.”
· If the God of the universe, who upholds the life of every creature and directs the course of every virus and every nation. If the God who before the world was created, planned exactly what He would do with the world and has been bringing that plan to pass exactly as He has purposed, if that God has purposed something for our life and our circumstances and if He has made a promise – then nothing is more sure….
· People can rage and plot and plan and assemble and throw all their money and resources and political clout at the issue and they can do nothing to thwart the purposes of God.
We might not know whether God has purposed pain and or peace for this chapter in our lives, but we can know that Christ is with us and will strengthen us to carry out His plans, whatever they include.
You and I are in this country, at this time, in the specific job and family and circumstances that we find ourselves in – not by chance but by divine providence. Christ is with us and His plan is to sustain our gospel witness and produce fruitfulness for His glory.
You might be afraid, you might be beaten down this morning and feeling totally overwhelmed. The outlook might seem very bleak. AS we serve Gods gospel purpose for our lives – as we are part of making disciples of all nations – we can know that Christ is with us – that promise is for us in Matt 18:18-20 – and we can see here that all the tempests of hell cannot prevail against us as we walk in Christ’s service – we overwhelmingly conquer through him who loves us.