How Can I Reach Someone Who Is Skeptical of Christianity?
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How Can I Reach Someone Who Is Skeptical of Christianity?

Do You Need Encouragement? {Acts 18:1–23}

This article is part of our weekly series, “The Book of Acts and the Church Today.” You can see all articles in the series here. 

Does it ever seem like you are running without resting? Do you feel stretched, inching closer to a breaking point? Paul might have answered “yes” to these questions before he arrived in Corinth. He faced constant harassment. The spiritual opposition and pace of ministry must have been draining.

And while life in Corinth wasn’t easy either, Paul enjoyed at least three blessings in Corinth that can encourage us too (see Acts 18:1–23).

The Encouragement of Godly Fellowship

Paul “found” Aquila and Priscilla, like how one finds a treasure (Acts 18:2). They were all exiles; Aquila and Priscilla were driven from home by royal edict. Paul had traded his home for the mission field. But hard, lonesome work is made easier with the help of godly friends. The three could talk shop—they were all in the leather trade. But they could also encourage each other in the gospel and “[risk] their necks” for each other’s lives (Rom. 16:4). Paul also enjoyed the kinship of Silas and Timothy. Genuine spiritual friendship is a gift.

Encouraged by his friends, for theological, practical, and personal reasons, Paul started preaching again in the synagogue.Theologically, Paul knew that Christ must first be preached to the Jews (Acts 13:46). Practically, the synagogues demonstrated surprising toleration in receiving foreign preachers and provided a ready audience for gospel preaching. Personally, Paul deeply loved the Jewish nation (Rom. 10:1).

At first, Paul “reasoned in the synagogue … and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4). Perhaps to maintain an audience, he started preaching about general things: “righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment” (Acts 24:25). Paul “tempered his doctrine as occasion did serve.”[1] Later, Paul testified “to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus” (Acts 18:5). By preaching Christ, Paul’s message reached a flash point in his hearers’ hearts. “They opposed and reviled him” (Acts 18:6). But Paul wasn’t alone. He had friends to help him face the opposition.

Paul’s reaction to trouble reveals another surprising encouragement.

The Encouragement of a Clear Conscience

Paul responded to Jewish antagonism by announcing his innocence. He would not be held responsible for their rejection of the gospel (cf. Acts 20:26). Paul was a messenger. He had fulfilled his calling by delivering God’s message. He could not make anyone believe. It wasn’t his responsibility to force a message that his audience didn’t want to hear. Paul left the synagogue with a warning: “Your blood be on your own heads!” (Acts 18:6).

With a clear conscience, Paul was free to move on to what he hoped would be more fruitful fields of labor: the Gentiles. And they were. “Many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized”—even Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, “together with his entire household” (Acts 18:8). How encouraging!

Due to the success of his preaching, “the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal” of the proconsul Gallio, charging him with instigating unlawful worship of God (Acts 18:12, 13). Paul, having a clear conscience, was prepared to defend himself. But he didn’t have to. Gallio refused to hear the case! This is another of many instances in which Paul was cleared of wrongdoing by Roman magistrates (Acts 16:39; 25:26; 26:32). Gallio didn’t exactly approve the gospel message. But he did declare that there is nothing in the gospel contrary to natural law or public well-being.

The Encouragement of God’s Involvement

Following the unified Jewish opposition, Jesus further encouraged Paul with a personal visit and a vital message. This is a unique historical event that we can’t expect to be repeated. But the essence of these verses can encourage believers today. “And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, ‘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 the city who are my people” (Acts 18:9–10).

Commands may not seem encouraging. But by telling Paul to be bold and continue preaching, Jesus was telling him that God approved of the work of his good and faithful servant, despite the opposition of his enemies. And God explained why Paul should continue working fearlessly. First, Jesus promised his presence and protection. Everywhere Paul went, Jesus is. His promise to his children is sure, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). And while believers will struggle, God promises “to provide us with everything good and protect us from all evil or turn it to our profit.”[2] Nothing can truly ruin a believer. Second, Jesus urged Paul to continue on account of divine election. “I have many in this city who are my people.” The people of Corinth, quite like the men of Sodom, were “wicked, great sinners” (Gen. 13:13). But people would be saved even there. So Paul had, and we have, every reason to continue. God will claim his elect!

“The Apostle’s work in Corinth being completed, he left without any ostensible reason. It seems to have been the one place he left in quietness and peace on this journey.”[3] Corinth to Paul was like a calm in the storm. His ministry invites us to receive the encouragement that God gives and press on in faithful service.

[1] John Calvin, Commentary upon the Acts of the Apostles, 182.

[2] From the first form for the baptism of infants in the URCNA.

[3] G. Campbell Morgan, Acts, 426.

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William Boekestein

William Boekestein is the pastor of Immanuel Fellowship Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He has written several books and numerous articles. He and his wife, Amy, have four children.