Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
The Lowest Point
What's your limit? When is enough enough? Do you ever get to a place that so many bad things are happening around you that you simply can't see a way to go on even one more minute without bursting into a thousand pieces?
Did you know that the Apostle Paul had such times? But at one of his darkest hours, he received something that allowed him to keep going - and even start a dynamic ministry. And at our darkest time, we can receive help to keep going too.
Vs 1 - 2
Suetonius (the historian) says that the Jews in Rome were indulging in riots because of someone named Chrestus (a Latin term meaning: useful). Its thought that Chrestus was actually a misunderstanding of the word Christus - which would have meant nothing to the Romans, but everything to Christians. Because of this, the emperor Claudius ordered all Jews to leave the city.
It could be that the Jews so hated the preaching of the gospel in Rome that they resisted it strenuously.
So that sent Aquila and Priscilla to Corinth.
Tentmakers - Either they made heavy cloth from goats' hair, or they were leather workers. The Jewish Rabbis were not paid, so Paul developed the trade of making tents. That's where we get the expression - those involved in ministry but not paid for it are providing for their families by "making tents."
So is this the norm? Are vocational pastors wrong? No, actually. Later on, when Paul wrote a letter to the very church he started in Corinth, he takes the opposite view.
1 Cor 9:3-12
3 This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. 4 Don't we have the right to food and drink? 5 Don't we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord's brothers and Cephas? 6 Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living?
7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk? 8 Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn't the Law say the same thing? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses: "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain." Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10 Surely he says this for us, doesn't he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. 11 If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 12 If others have this right of support from you, shouldn't we have it all the more?
But we did not use this right.
What does this mean to us? It means all of us can minister, whether or not we're paid for it. It means making tents is an honorable way to provide for your family while you give out for the Lord.
It also means that we shouldn't just rely on vocational ministers to help us learn about and become like the Lord. You're not off the hook - the Lord wants to use you too. You must study, you must learn, you must look for ministry opportunities.
Vs 5 - 6
There is a time when you might be called to vocational ministry. It might not be for the rest of your life - but be willing and flexible enough to let Him use you as He wants.
Finally, after all the trials and tribulations and accusations from the Jews - Paul gives up and says he is going exclusively to the Gentiles. I wonder why he didn't do this sooner.
Vs 9 - 11
Why did this happen? Why at this time did the Lord need to assure Paul? Why didn't He when Paul was dragged before the authorities and imprisoned in Philippi? Why not after the Jews stoned Paul in Lystra?
2 things going on here -
1) Paul made a pretty strong statement by refusing to preach to the Jews and go only to the Gentiles. He could have felt at the end of his rope - and perhaps that he had tried and tried to reach his brothers with the gospel but to no avail. Maybe he doubted himself, maybe he thought he had made a mistake.
2) Another factor - the vehement Jewish opposition. Paul could have been afraid of more harm, physical or otherwise. Perhaps he feared long imprisonment.
For us: Are you under attack? Have you taken a stand, perhaps left something behind, or struck out on something? Are you feeling fear, unrest, doubt?
The Lord said six things to Paul - six things that I think we need to hear as well.
1) "Do not be afraid"
From the word where we get "phobia". We all have specific things we fear - rejection, poor health, financial problems, physical harm, etc. The enemy knows what we fear and uses his power to try to make us believe those fears will become reality.
But God says "don't be afraid".
Matthew 14:25 During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear. 27 But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid."
The storms will still rage, the fears still haunt you, but when Jesus is with you you need not fear - be like Peter, focus your eyes on the Lord, and walk on water - walk over the storm, triumph over adversity, put fear to shame.
2) "Keep on speaking"
The biggest aim of the enemy is to muzzle you. If he can keep you from speaking the truth about Jesus and what He's done for you, then Satan has won. If he can keep you from stepping out where you feel God wants you to step out, the victory is his.
The Lord says - speak. Luke 21:12-15
12 "But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 This will result in your being witnesses to them. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict."
Don't hold back your witness for fear of embarrassment, or retribution. Don't stop up your mouth when God wants to you encourage a brother or sister. The words will be there.
3) "Do not be silent"
The Greek word conveys the idea of an involuntary silencing. There are times when you choose not to speak, then there are times when circumstances around you attempt to muzzle you.
The word to us is: don't let others, or your circumstances stop your ministry for the Lord. Now I'm not saying violate company policy by jumping up on your desk and shouting hell fire and damnation to your co-workers.
Maybe the attempt to muzzle you comes from those who say you are not mature enough, or not good enough, or not dedicated enough to do anything for God. Operate within the gifts He's given you, and the ministry he's called you to. Don't just accept defeat just because it appears as if you can't do anything.
4) "I am with you"
This statement alone should bring great comfort to us. "I will never leave you nor forsake you", "no one can snatch them out of my hand."
There is something incredibly powerful just knowing that the Lord is with us. He's there when you face your biggest fears. He's there when you travel through your darkest trials. He's with you even when things seem to go sour. His presence doesn't guarantee things will go smoothly, but it does guarantee that He will be present with you through it all.
5) "No one will attack you"
From the Greek meaning: "to put worthlessness upon you." After the Lord said this to Paul it didn't end attacks - and reading this doesn't mean attacks won't come.
It means that evil will not triumph. It means that in the big picture, in the long haul, the Lord is in control. Don't be cowed by looking for a baseball bat to strike out at you around every corner.
6) "I have many people in this city"
There's a lot that goes on behind the scenes that you and I never see. The Lord has many people in the city of your situation too. Elijah despaired after his greatest triumph and told God that he was alone - but the Lord replied that He had 7,000 in Israel that had not bowed the knee to Baal.
Look for brothers and sisters when times are tough and when you feel like giving up. Lean on them, pray with them, gain comfort from them.
Perhaps you are one of those people the Lord has. Maybe He's calling you to be there for someone else - someone you may not even know.
Vs 12 - 17
This reaction by Gallio is interesting - in previous times the Romans hadn't been particularly interested in justice - they put Paul in jail without even considering due process in Phillipi, but here the man dismisses the claims outright. God fulfilled his word to Paul - the attack was blunted.
It is interesting that while Paul told the Gentiles they did not have to follow the Jewish ceremonial laws, he himself continued to practice many of the Jewish traditions.
Commentators differ as to who actually fulfilled this vow - Paul or Aquila. The Greek construction of the sentence is unclear.
But, whoever it was, it was not uncommon for Jews to make these kinds of vows - which was for a prescribed period of time when the person let his hair grow and did not drink fermented beverages. At the end they cut their hair and performed a ceremony involving sacrifices.
Paul, if it was him, may have done this to show the Jews that he didn't despise their laws. Sometimes it behooves us to follow traditions of the people around us to show that we do not despise our society.
Vs 24 - 28
I think there are a couple of things we can learn from Apollos. As with many Jews, Apollos had heard the preaching of John the Baptist - that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah. There is plenty of Scriptural teaching about the Messiah, so Apollos, who was very familiar with the Torah, would have had much to preach on.
Unfortunately, he hadn't heard of Christ's death the resurrection. So he was missing a vital piece of the picture. Aquila and Priscilla take him aside the give him a more accurate picture of Jesus total ministry.
He takes this knowledge and uses it very successfully to win converts from the Jews. So much so that he was later referred to as a leader in the church at Corinth.
1. God gave someone to reach the Jews after Paul gave up on them.
2. Be willing to receive correction if it brings a more accurate view of the Scripture.
3. Apollos received instruction from a woman. Your instruction might come from a surprising source as well. I'm not saying you should take everything that everyone says to you as gospel - we learned last week to check out everything to see if these things be so. But I learn from my kids, I certainly learn from my wife, I learn from you - God may speak from a source that is unexpected, but if it is His voice - you need to put aside your own preconceptions and learn.
A couple of notes in conclusion:
- Paul came to a low point in his ministry at Corinth, but after the Lord spoke to him, and brought him a new colleague in Apollos, he ended up staying there for a year and a half. Sometimes God brings you to the lowest point in your life, and ends up breaking you, then using you in more powerful ways than you imagined - sometimes the place you never thought you would thrive in ministry is exactly where God wants to use you the most.
- It's great to have friends in ministry. There are few things more comforting to know that your colleagues are co-laboring with you toward a common end. We should all strive towards that end - pray for common vision, then press ahead, strengthening and encouraging one another to keep it up.
- You don't have to be perfect to do good for God. Apollos did not have a full understanding theologically, yet God used him. Seek out that understanding, yes, but be willing to be used, no matter what stage you are in.