IF IT’S THE WILL OF GOD
Key Verse 18:21
“But as he left, he promised, ‘I will come back if it is God’s will.’ Then he set sail from Ephesus.”
We left off at the Lord’s words to Paul. The Lord Jesus, spoke both revealing and consoling words to Paul’s ears. “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. (10) For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” To someone like the Apostle Paul, we’d have to wonder why he would need such words. When a man decides to run back into the city that just stoned him, we’d have to wonder why he would have cause to fear. He already seems fearless. But as is written in Scripture, the Lord looks not at the outer appearance like people do, but at the heart. The Lord sees you, and he sees your fears and mine. Even when no one else seems to understand, the Lord sees us as we really are. That should provide great comfort. As we’re on the topic of fears, what might be yours? What are they?! I think one of our greatest fears from time to time, believe it or not is the will of God. Even the most faithful and devout fear the pursuit of God’s will from time to time. Especially when we know the sacrifice that this pursuit entails. Sometimes it requires us to give up something close to our hearts, like a personal goal, some of our time, or maybe a relationship that’s ungodly. Whatever the matter is, people generally fear to surrender to the will of God. And if we didn’t, then everyone would be doing it. Paul isn’t the only great man of God who feared in this way, but our ancestor Abraham, feared when there were difficult tasks to follow. For example, when the Lord asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac. And not just Abraham, but even our Lord Jesus, feared when he had to give up himself to receive the wrath of God on the cross for our sins. Sometimes the will of God can be a fearful thing. There’s just no way to sugar-coat it. Many people have spent most of their lives talking themselves out of God’s will because of fear. But let’s take these words that our Lord gave to Paul and apply them to our lives as well. Apply it to your fears. Maybe no one is out to attack you, but Jesus still doesn’t want us ruled by fear of doing his will. He wants us free and liberated so that we be can his agent of blessing. Because His will ultimately leads to a blessed life, for you or for someone else through you.
But though we may be afraid from time to time, and though our Lord deeply understands this, it is not an excuse to avoid what God would have us do. Recall for example the Parable of the Talents. In this parable, there was a Master who entrusted his money to three of his servants. These servants were to invest the master’s money for a return to one day pay back the Master. Two of the servants invested the money, one didn’t. The one that didn’t invest thought the master was a hard man and was afraid to invest. And therefore, he lived before Him in fear and could not bear fruit with what was entrusted to him. Our Lord is gracious and understanding of our weaknesses. But at the same he is the Grand Investor and will come back expecting a return on the things he has invested in us, whether it be time, love or talents. Although he understands our fears, that is not an excuse to put dampers on the will of God for our lives. Especially when we have His consoling voice echoing throughout scripture. The word of God is there to help us walk in his will. It is there to point us to our Sovereign Father and it shows us how to entrust our lives to him. Part of our Savior’s redeeming work on the cross was to enable us to serve him without fear… (Luke 1:74)
What was Paul’s response to the Lord’s counsel? “So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and half, teaching them the word of God.” (verse 11) Because of his open heart to the word of God, Paul decided to stay a considerable amount of time in Corinth. This is why we, as children of God, need to constantly be meditating on the word of God. We need to have His word in us at all times. It’s necessary for strengthening our spirits, and building perspective, and keeping in touch with the grace of God, especially during difficult times. It’s so important for us to have His word on our lips. If you ask me, “Timothy, what word of God is on your heart today?” I should always have a ready response. Or Timothy, “I need a word of God for this situation I’m in, can you give me one?” We are needy people. We are in constant need of encouragement and direction, of which the word of God is there for. For a year and a half, Paul stayed and taught the word of God. We don’t have a record of signs and wonders, nor do we have a record of acts of service for this visit. And Luke could have said anything about Paul’s stay. But we are told simply that he stayed teaching them the word of God. I think Luke was intentional defining Paul’s stay in Corinth this way. And to our amazement, a godly church was born in the heart of this godless city.
Some of you are already familiar with the type of city that Corinth was. But just as a reminder, they were involved with the worship of several different gods and goddesses. These practices stirred up a highly immoral and promiscuous culture. In fact, even among the Romans, they coined the term corinthianized as a derogatory term for someone behaving overly loose and lustful. It was like saying galilean as an insult for dim-witted person from the country. Not to mention the city of Corinth had many temples of worship that played a significant role of influence in the Corinthian society. Today it might be seen as just a religious thing, but the city’s loyalty to the worship of their gods and goddesses was deeply tied to their loyalty to the emperor. This meant that anyone who decided to threaten their patterns of worship also threatened their political and economic status as a Roman colony— which may have been a cause for the initial sense of fear to staying there. Corinth was also a safer passageway both by land and sea, where many traders and travelers stopped by as they voyaged from one part of Rome to another. With all of its visitors, Paul could serve the people as a tentmaker, while perhaps giving them the gospel message. For many reasons this place was an intimidating place to start a church. This city could be compared to the Las Vegas of today. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to hear of a U.B.F. emerging from Las Vegas and flourishing among its people? Plainly put, if someone wanted to have a good time, and indulge in their sinful desires, they knew they could count on the City of Corinth to provide those opportunities. This is where the Apostle Paul was asked to stay and teach God’s word. Knowing this about the city may provide some understanding to the type of struggles they had when you read Paul’s epistles to the church there.
Understanding this about Corinth, we now have some context for the Jew’s accusation against Paul. Let’s read verses 12 and 13. “While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews of Corinth made a united attack on Paul and brought him to the place of judgment. ‘This man,’ they charged, ‘is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.’” For one reason or another, the Jews of Corinth had thought that Gallio was the person to bring up their accusation before against Paul. They were so sure that with this kind of charge, Gallio would make a move of judgment against him. They made a “united attack on Paul,” similarly to how the Jews brought Jesus before Pilate. But unlike Pilate, Gallio turned out not to be the person to be pressured this way. He turned out to be a man who had no desire to compromise the law even if it meant sending away this intense crowd who was bent on ridding the land of Paul. They must have all looked shocked as they couldn’t understand why in the world Gallio wouldn’t work in their favor. With the majority, culture, and social pressure on their side, it was a definitely a wonder as to why their charge against Paul was not honored. But there was no question with Paul. The whole reason for Paul’s presence in this land was because the Lord of all the earth had given him His unwavering word of protection. And the same goes for us. When the reason we are where we are, whether it be our job, our home or another land, is purely based on God’s word, then we should have nothing to fear. Even if the experience is not a pleasant one, the Lord’s word is sure and firm. He does not change his word or character like people often do. His word is not an empty promise. It is what brought forth this whole world and everything in it. As the Apostle Peter says, There are many who deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came to being and the earth was formed (2 Peter 3:5) People forget this, and so they base their lives, their direction, their identity on something else. And when that happens, all of those things are prone to come crashing down on them. But when our life direction is based on the sure and firm word of God, there is no need to worry about our life.
Let’s Read verses 18-22. As we come to Paul’s visit and departure from Ephesus, we’re not told a whole lot about this visit. But we know that based off of verse 19 this was probably one of his more pleasant visits. This was one of the few if not the only place where it seemed like the Jews received Paul and the gospel message without any reservations. I believe that something similar happened to Bamidele and myself several years ago. We decided to go evangelizing at Triton College. It was in the summer and on a Saturday. A day where most likely no students were around to meet. But in the cafeteria, we saw a young man with glasses, semi-lengthy hair, and rather involved with his mac book. Thinking he looked too busy to give us the time of day we nervously approached him asked, “Hi, do you want to study the bible?” He looked at us and said, “Yea…” “Okay great, would like to study right now?” “Yea…” “Wonderful, how about we start at Genesis, is that alright with you?” “Yea…” And so we began to study the Bible. About a third of the way in it, He stops us asks, “Do you have any more these somewhere, perhaps with more people?” And that led to a long history of Mr. Jens Stangeland and his family becoming dear friends of our church. But campus evangelism, and evangelism in general is seldom that simple. A place like this would be an easy spot for Paul to stay for a while. And while this might be so, Paul decides to leave.
But as we look at this passage, Paul did not stay in Ephesus, though his Jewish brothers pleaded with him. Doesn’t this seem like Paul’s ideal evangelism ground, so why wouldn’t he stay? Please let’s read verse 21, which is our key verse. “But as he left, he promised, ‘I will come back if it is God’s will.’ Then he set sail from Ephesus.” These words right here are the heart of this passage. “If it is God’s will.” Let it sink in for a moment. “If it is God’s will.” People these days are so cliché with these words as if it’s a slogan or something. But to Paul these words are so meaningful. He meant it with all his heart. “If it is God’s will.” They echo the very reason behind all he did. He lived by these words. “If it is God’s will.” At the end of your life, it would be great if this was the legacy you left behind for the family of God, and as your mark on this world. These words come from heart of a person who has given himself to God’s will on every front. This is the greatest blessing of the Christian life, that is, to understand and to live by ‘the will of God’. Paul had this perspective behind everything he did. “Is it the will of God or not?” The apostle James said, “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” (James 4:13-15) “If it’s the Lord’s will” should also be the conviction that echoes from all of our motives and deeds. Why? Because the truth is that our lives do not belong to us; they belong to the Lord, and by practicing this conviction we acknowledge this truth. May the Lord help us to humbly come to him for help to make this a conviction as well as a life direction as it was for the apostle Paul.
Let’s read verses 24-28. Imagine how surprised Aquila and Priscilla were the day they sat in the synagogue and heard Apollos preaching a incomplete gospel. Apollos was a wise man. He was a scholar of the Old Testament and had a passion for speaking about the Lord Jesus and the way of the Christ. He was from Alexandria, the second largest city of Egypt. It was named after Alexander the great, a place of many philosophers, schools, libraries, and brilliant scholarly minds. Somewhere there in the midst of all this intelligence, he had come to hear of Jesus and had believed in him. He tried to live in a way that honors Christ. He then took it upon himself to become a preacher of the Jesus and the way, or at least of what he knew of him. And he was very sincere. It wouldn’t be too far fetch to think that this man had been through his fair share of own persecutions from the Jews. We have to note that still, through everything, he had a great passion to speak of Jesus. But it was clear that the gospel he was acquainted with was incomplete, for he was missing key elements of the Lord’s gospel of grace.
As Apollos spoke in the synagogue, what did this couple do? Did they point him out in front of everyone as being ignorant of the gospel, or criticize him saying, “you’re preaching the wrong thing!”? Did they even consider saying: “Okay you stick to your beliefs and we’ll stick to ours”, and then selfishly part ways? On the contrary, look at what they did! They waited until all was done, and invited Apollos to their home. First they welcomed him into their home. And they served him in love as a Christian house church. Perhaps they fed him with much delicious food until he was stuffed, and made a doggie bag for him to take back with him to his apartment. Finally they discussed with him the gospel at length. They filled in all the gaps that he was not acquainted with. They taught him the Bible as they had been taught by Paul, about Jesus’ suffering and death and resurrection, about his ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Apollos had only known the baptism of John, meaning that he had only known the message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He had known much about the life of Jesus, and it was all accurate. But he had not known the Jesus the Messiah had fulfilled the Scripture regarding the atonement of sins and the salvation that comes through faith in him. Apollos lived in repentance, but he did not experience the joy of forgiveness and the blessing of the Holy Spirit who liberates believers and empowers them with the spirit of Christ to live a new life. Finally Apollos was able to grow into the preacher God intended him to be.
Luke says in their home, they explained the word of God to Apollos more adequately. It may have been weeks or days, but they taught him the Bible until he was well equipped as a gospel servant. This simple couple was really great. They did not even think to hold Apollos back when he had a heart to continue traveling and preaching the gospel. They knew that he loved the Lord and they wanted to support his passion to preach the Christ. Apollos was like Stephen, a great Apologist who could even refute the wisest of Jewish minds. Not only here, but throughout the New Testament we hear of Apollo’s influence. We know that he led many not only to repentance but also to faith in Christ. The gospel needs people like Aquila and Priscilla who can serve to raise preachers like Apollos, and the gospel needs people like Apollos who are great preachers of the gospel. Whatever our calling and passion, whether for teaching or serving or for defending the faith through preaching, let’s carry that torch high. If we have neglected it, let’s rekindle its fire. You are very much needed in the gospel work.
Thank God for couples like Aquila and Priscilla, who truly wanted to follow the will of God. This is why they could handle everything from the departure of Paul, to the passing through of Apollos with grace and be a great source of encouragement. They too had Paul’s deep life conviction of “If it is the Lord’s will”. They too lived for the will of God and fulfilled it. May God give us the heartbeat of a soul that has renounced itself completely to Christ in order to do the Lord’s will. May the Lord bless you.