4 Every Sabbath Paul reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.
5 When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. 6 But when they opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”
7 Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. 8 Crispus, the synagogue leader, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized.
9 One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “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, for many people in this city belong to me.” 11 So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.
In this passage, Paul is frustrated with the Jews and shakes off the dust saying he is going to the Greeks only and not the Jews. How far does he end up moving? Right next door! What is the result of his declaration? The synagogue leader of the Jews and his entire family ends up becoming believers.
Paul is allowed to be frustrated and make changes according to his frustration, but in the midst of it all there is a surrender to the ways of God. The result of him declaring that he is done with the Jews is to have the chief leader of the Jewish synagogue become a Christian. I hope the irony of it all doesn't escape you.
This amazing situation is followed by a vision from God in which God says, "Do not be afraid; I am with you! I have many people in this city!" Despite the salvation of these people, God recognizes the frustration, the fear and perhaps the idea that Paul is about to lose heart. God steps in and encourages Paul and states - "do not be afraid; I am with you! Not only that but that there are many people in this city that belong to me!" The words of encouragement from God work! Paul is so energized that he remains in the city for another year and a half.
Paul is not the only person in the Bible to almost lose heart and need encouragement from the Lord. It also happened with Elijah. In Elijah's story, Elijah is also coming off of a big moment, where God came through and proved himself above all other "gods" (you can read about it in I Kings 18). But afterwards, Elijah loses heart and runs away because he feels like he is all alone in his battle. The Lord comes to him and also encourages him with similar words to what He told Paul:
I Kings 19:18
"Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him."
In this story the Lord confirms that Elijah is not alone, God is with him but there are also others that Elijah hasn't even seen who are walking purely.
There are several things that I see as I reflect on these two passages:
- Our hope and confidence cannot come from our "spiritual highs." In both of these passages, great things have just happened - the head leader of the Jews in this city just became saved and in the case of Elijah, God has manifested Himself in a way that cannot be denied. But those incidences were not enough to keep Paul and Elijah encouraged. If our confidence and the way we measure what we are doing comes from "our success" then we too will find ourselves losing heart.
- We are not alone! It is nice to see that at times, even men of great faith feel like they are all alone. The LORD reminds both of those men that only He sees people's hearts and only He knows what is truly going on in a city. Instead of feeling all alone, we can rest in the fact that there is a bigger story going on than we can see and that the LORD knows those who belong to Him.
- Keeping our eyes fixed on God is the way to succeed. After God's encouragement - do not be afraid I am with you - Paul continues ministering for a year and a half in that city. Elijah gets back up and returns to the people. They both realize they are doing what they are doing because of who God is, not only to them but to the people He has put in their sphere of influence.
Hebrews 12:1-2 sums up these reflections:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Photo courtesy of Melanie Guest Photography