As we have been walking through the book of Acts, it has been fascinating to see the complexities of living out the Great Commission:
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
This book, The Acts of the Apostles, shows us this commissioning being lived out–not in some polished, perfect, painless fictional rendition, but in its beauty and horror, success and failure, joy and sorrow, fun and dread.
Last week we looked at Paul and his living out the commission in the different cultures of Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens. And today we will see the commissioning continuing beyond just Paul and the apostles. And again, in a moment when that could be a polished telling of how great, easy, fun, perfect that all was, it is a real telling with all the spots, wrinkles and trainwrecks. We are going to look at the narrative in Acts, but also pull in what was happening with these people in the months and years to come in scripture.
Today, as we walk into Acts 18, insecurity is a clear option in this text. I want us to talk a little about insecurity, look at the narrative in Acts 18, and look at these people reappearing later in Scripture.
I want us to see that we are all commissioned and that we are all important/vital in living out the commission, and I want us to keep in focus that while these first two things are true, the center of the process is Jesus.
In all of this, insecurity is available.
There are moments when happiness is available–not a guarantee, but available. There are lots of things available at different times of our life: contentment, focus, productivity, harmony, connectedness, inspiration… There are many moments where these things are available, and while that availability is amazing, it is not a guarantee.
The same is true at the other end of emotion and feeling: frustration, shame, greed, self-destructiveness, insecurity… There are many moments when these are available. But while they are available, it is not a guarantee, promise or curse.
So, to build some shared foundation as to where we are going today and to build deeper connection with the people you are sitting with, let's talk about insecurity.
How does insecurity change as a person ages?
In the same way that it is easy to think that insecurities can be grown out of, it is easy to think that connection to Jesus will eliminate insecurity. Remember the tone of Acts is that even in the imperfections of this world, Jesus is still the savior, and the commission is still being successful.
I love the words of Acts 12:24. Even in the midst of the mess of what was happening:
But the word of God continued to spread and flourish. (Acts 12:24)
So let’s set aside some utopian expectations connected to faith in Jesus and be real. This is a great moment to just listen, to contemplate, to be vulnerable, to think out loud:
How do faith in Jesus and insecurity often interact?
Paul is still on his second missionary journey. He is over a 30-hour drive in a car away from Jerusalem, where he had started. He has just been to Thessalonica, and while many believed, there was resistance that led him to have to flee. He has just been to Berea, where the people believed and took on responsibility for growing their belief as they scoured the scriptures in order to confirm what Paul was saying–but the people of Thessalonica came back into the picture and he had to flee again. He was just in Athens where he saw their religiosity, and he used their statue of the unknown god to tell them about Jesus.
From there Paul went to Corinth, which was a major crossroads city for trade, a city that had been destroyed and rebuilt, and a city widely known for its celebration of immoral sexuality.
The ancient Greek city of Corinth was destroyed by the Romans in 146 BC but was rebuilt a century later by Julius Caesar. In the time of Paul, Corinth was a busy Roman trading city on the narrow strip of land between the Ionian Sea and the Aegean Sea. It had two harbors–Lechaeum on the Gulf of Corinth to the west, and Cenchreae on the Aegean Sea to the east. It made huge profits by taxing cargoes that were transported overland between the two ports to avoid the dangerous waters around the Peloponnese. The first attempt to build a canal across the isthmus at Corinth was started by Emperor Nero in c.66 AD but was soon abandoned. The present-day Corinth Canal was completed in 1893.
After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. (Acts 18:1-5)
Right away a foundation is being built for what is to come in our conversation today. Paul here was on his second missionary journey, and when he arrives in Corinth, he is making tents and teaching on the Sabbath. He was not too important to be a tentmaker. Making tents with Priscilla and Aquila was hard work, tedious, and not glamorous, but it also was an opportunity for conversation, discipleship, and relationship.
I can feel the availability of insecurity in this moment: “I came all this way and have done all these things and now here I am making tents every day with some people that were kicked out of Rome for being Jews…”
When Silas and Timothy arrived, Paul was able to devote all of his time to teaching. Some followed Jesus, some resisted, and some persecuted:
One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God. (Acts 18:9-11)
Wow. After all Paul had experienced–being hated, persecuted, chased out of town, arrested, even stoned and left for dead, he is given a vision of encouragement. Does this mean great favor ahead, easy street, no more insecurity?
Here are the next words–a united attack on Paul:
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.” Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to them, “If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law—settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.” So he drove them off. Then the crowd there turned on Sosthenes the synagogue leader and beat him in front of the proconsul; and Gallio showed no concern whatever. (Acts 18:12-17)
The quiet hyperlink in this is what Jesus faced as he was arrested and before Pilate:
When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” (Matthew 27:24)
There are so many encouraging verses in the Bible of protection, provision, sustenance and blessing:
You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry. (Psalm 10:17)
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:4-6)
And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)
“Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38)
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)
There are important questions about bringing God’s blessing and hardship together, about how a good God could allow suffering. Talk through the different sides of this question:
How do God’s promises and life’s hardships affect your security and insecurity?
After 18 months in Corinth Paul moves on. He is starting his journey back to Syria, back towards Jerusalem.
Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sisters and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchreae because of a vow he had taken. They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. When they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined. But as he left, he promised, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” Then he set sail from Ephesus. When he landed at Caesarea, he went up to Jerusalem and greeted the church and then went down to Antioch. After spending some time in Antioch, Paul set out from there and traveled from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples. (Acts 18:18-23)
And then comes a “meanwhile” moment. Paul goes on, but meanwhile, Priscilla and Aquila…
Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah. (Acts 18:24-28)
Paul had spent 18 months with new friends Priscilla and Aquila, discipling, teaching, caring, listening, sharing, working, laughin, working together, struggling, hurting. Then he moved on.
Paul was important, vital, valuable–but when they parted company, effectiveness wasn’t crippled.
How can others fulfilling the commission of God be beautiful but also cause insecurity?
What does it communicate about God that the work that Paul started continued and even flourished in Paul’s absence?
I love that Priscilla and Aquila didn’t disappear from the Biblical narrative:
The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house. All the brothers and sisters here send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss. (1 Corinthians 16:19-20)
Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. (Romans 16:3-4)
Greet Priscilla and Aquila and the household of Onesiphorus. Erastus stayed in Corinth, and I left Trophimus sick in Miletus. Do your best to get here before winter. Eubulus greets you, and so do Pudens, Linus, Claudia and all the brothers and sisters. The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you all. (2 Timothy 4:19-22)
Paul felt great affection and appreciation for them for the rest of his life. But the complexity doesn’t end.
Apollos didn’t disappear either. He pops back up in 1 Corinthians and it is in a moment of tension, of complexity. He shows up not as a central figure but a cause of division.
Apollos had been living out the commission in the region, and many had become followers of Jesus. He was well liked, bold, zealous, focused, and effective. But there was division:
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:10-17)
Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Corinthians 3:1-9)
So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God. (1 Corinthians 3:21-23)
This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God. Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other. For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? (1 Corinthians 4:1-7)
Every time there seems to be a happy ending coming in Acts, all we need to do is turn the page to find complexity.
We have talked about insecurity today, and about the reality of insecurity inside of faith. We have verbalized the complexities of God working outside of me, of us.
It is beautiful that Priscilla and Aquila invested in Apolos, but complexity still surfaced.
We are going to process with two last questions:
Why is it easy to associate following other people as part of being a follower of Christ?
How do you keep the focus on Jesus while living out His commission to us?
Take It Deeper Questions:
- Read Acts 18.
- What hobby do you have that you could use to make money?
- What challenges are there in building meaningful relationships with people you work with?
- What is the value of building meaningful relationships with people you work with?
- What is a good, clear, meaningful definition of “making disciples”?
- How are you challenged, focused, confused, and/or challenged by this text?
Bible Reading Plan:
- Joshua 9
- Joshua 10
- Joshua 11
- Acts 21
- Acts 22
- Acts 23