Week of February 12

The God of Overcoming!

Read: Leviticus 15-17; Acts 18
“Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”
Acts 18:9–10, ESV


Robert Frost once said, “Freedom lies in being bold.” It has always amazed me at the courage Paul demonstrated even as the cauldron of opposition grew increasingly hotter. He arrived in Corinth and began to preach Jesus to the Jews until they rebelled against his words and reviled him (cf. 1 Peter 2:21-25). He shook out his garments and boldly announced that their blood was on their own hands (cf. Ezekiel 33:1-7). Paul’s actions symbolized “repudiation of the Jews’ opposition” (EBC). Declaring his innocence, he left and set up shop right next door to the synagogue (18:7)! I chuckled as I wrote the last sentence because this introductory paragraph tells just half the story!
Corinth always brings to my mind the severe challenges that often come with church life. The outside world rejects you (see above), there are those with other religious views that combat you, and there are even those within the church that oppose you (cf. focal verses and 1 Corinthians 3:1-4; 2 Corinthians 10:1-2)! I sometimes wonder what could possibly be edifying about all the conflict and how Paul could carry on. It was more than optimism; indeed, it was what I will term “Spirit-mism.” The Holy Spirit bore Paul aloft on eagle’s wings (Isaiah 40:31). Let’s consider the kingdom advancement that God brings despite the clashes that seem to engulf us.

The Meaning of the Text

Words for our hearts
John Polhill writes a poignant statement that I find to be laden with meaning today: “Luke’s method was selective—to depict the establishment of work in the various areas where Paul worked and to relate individual episodes that were typical of Paul’s experiences and edifying for his Christian readers” (italics mine; NAC). Yes! We need to know how to carry on rather than muddle through when challenges in the Christian life seem to be overwhelming. Let me point to two key trials that Paul overcame with the Spirit’s help.
The challenge of the setting
The city of Corinth was built on an acropolis rising 1,886 feet, thus providing a near-impregnable fortress. It boasted 200,000 inhabitants, the Temple Aphrodite with its 1000 “sacred” prostitutes, and travelers from around the world. Its sheer size and challenges surely towered over the Apostle in his weakness. However, he was bold because God was present in the Spirit’s power! The Lord visited him in a vision that filled his heart with fresh courage. He now knew that the Macedonian vision was not a nightmare, but a reality that would soon be realized in Corinth. So, he took heart and was encouraged (2 Timothy 4:7; “fought the good fight”).
The challenge of gospel opponents
This same man endured anxiety over the looming threat of persecution in Thessalonica, his recent stoning in Lystra, the cool reception in Athens, and now insult and rejection in Corinth. It is too simplistic to think his boldness was due to his personality, even though he could be quite forceful (7:58; 8:3). Most believe that he entered Corinth discouraged and beaten down by all that he had endured previously.
How to overcome opposition and obstacles
Paul was greatly strengthened and freed to devote his full energies to preaching and teaching the gospel when Silas and Timothy arrived with an offering from Philippi. Even so, it is too sentimental to believe that it was this Hallmark moment that emboldened him. Surely, he had to wonder whether the previous pattern of a promising start followed by opposition would recur. It is too silly, though, to think that he was just stubborn.
Luke provides us with an answer in verses 9-11. God has chosen to make His presence known in His church! The passage is termed a “divine commissioning narrative,” where God or His angel appears, gives an assignment to be completed, and guarantees the Lord’s presence (see also 5:17-21; 9:10-18; 16:6-10; cf. Matthew 28:18-20, “I am with you always”).
This statement in these verses is the game changer. Victory is assured over all of the evil forces arrayed against us. The readers of the Book of Acts would recognize that God sustains His people and enables them to enjoy success because He is Lord over His church, and He abides there. We can continue the work because we know that God is present and at work in it!

The Message for Our Lives

Upon what anvil is your confidence being beaten today? Helen Keller once said, “All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming.” God certainly helped her to overcome great adversity and rise to great achievement. Helen was born a healthy child in 1880 and had begun to talk at six months and walk by the age of one. A mysterious illness left her both blind and deaf, but through the aid of her teacher Anne Sullivan she learned to both speak and write, eventually receiving her bachelor’s degree and gaining worldwide acclaim.
Blinded and deafened by life’s circumstances, the Lord lifted her up by the hand and guided her throughout her life. Miss Sullivan had introduced Helen to the famous preacher Phillips Brooks, who told Helen about God, who He was, and what He had done for her in Jesus Christ. She listened carefully, then looked up and said, “Mr. Brooks, I knew all that before, but I didn’t know His name. His name is Jehovah Nissi, the Lord is our Banner (cf. Exodus 17:15), and He is present in power to loosen the shackles of fear and doubt and free us for bold service unto Him!”

Here is a word of encouragement for our hearts today. George Mueller once said, “Nine-tenths of the difficulties are overcome when our hearts are ready to do the Lord’s will, whatever it may be. When one is truly in this state, it is usually but a little way to the knowledge of what His will is.” To be bold like Paul, we only need to be entirely submissive to the Father. He will take care of the rest.

For Thought and Action

1. What circumstance(s) in ministry is causing you to despair? God says, “Do not be afraid . . . for I am with you.” Tell God that you trust Him. Write a statement of commitment to follow the Lord and to depend upon His strength.
2. For Families: Our kids need this passage today, don’t they? Their parents might need it too! The inspiring and heartening challenge to all of us is to trust God, do not fear, and keep following Him.

Before your children go to bed this evening, gather them around you and ask them if they are facing something very big that scares them. Are there huge problems they worry about? Encourage them to share from their hearts a moment. Then tell them about this passage and Paul, and ask them to memorize the verse below. It has three commands and two promises.

Have them write the phrases with a fine-tipped magic marker or pen on their fingers and thumb, one for each digit. Now have them get their school shoes for the next day and turn them upside down. Encourage them to write “I Trust God” boldly on each sole. In the morning, before they step out for school, ask them what promise they are walking on today. “I trust God!” Now ask for their memory verse, its commands and promises. Then pray that they will remember them all day long.
“Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent,
for I am with you,
and no one will attack you to harm you.”
(Acts 18:9)
May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock