Keep Speaking

My sermon today is based mainly on one observation from Acts 18 which is that Paul reasoned with the people in Corinth as to why he believed that Jesus was the Messiah.  I want to first look at Paul’s context in which he reasoned, then move into application and give reasons that you could share with others as to why we believe the Bible and God and Jesus.  Then I want to end with how we keep the ministry fires burning.

When I was 18 I went with my parents to go and visit my brother Charles in Vermont.  My brother is 9 years older than me, I am definitely the baby of the family.  He is a chemical engineer and was working for IBM in Vermont at the time.  Something had changed with my brother.  He was not a believer when he went to Vermont.  But now he was reading his Bible and speaking very passionately about this gospel of Jesus Christ.  See, he and a co-worker of his at IBM became friends and started hanging out together.  They chatted, they worked out at the gym in the morning.  This co-worker told my brother one morning, “you know Charles, you think you have everything figured out.  You are on top of everything at work and you think you have this life solved.  But you are not in control and you do not have this figured out.  You do not know Jesus.” This conversation sparked a massive shift in my brother and he started asking a lot of questions and soon after became a believer in the Bible and Jesus Christ.

So here I am, 18, hanging out with my brother who is the same but different now that he became a believer.  I remember us chatting and riding in the car and we came to an intersection and he asked me the question: “Mike, if we get hit by a bus right now and you die, where would you go?”  Ok, so if you haven’t guessed yet, my brother can be a little intense.  And yes that question was rather blunt.  But for me as an 18 year old looking forward to my freshman year of college, it was a very challenging question because I hadn’t thought about that, and frankly did not want to.  I hadn’t read my Bible much.  I didn’t have an answer for him.  I’m not sure if I told him or not, but my answer was “I’ll do that later in life.  I want to be free to experience college without having these Christian rules hanging over my head.  Yes I think Christianity is important, but I’ll do that later in life.”

Like my brother’s experience, I didn’t get saved on the spot, but walked away thinking through some tough questions.  I headed to my freshman year of college as an unbeliever but sub consciously in the back of my mind thinking through my brother’s question.  It’s amazing what a little reasoning and questioning will do to challenge ourselves and others, even to an 18 year old.

Reason with Others

This leads us into an observation from Acts 18 where we see Paul “reasoning” with others, or “persuading” others.

Why did Paul have to reason or persuade others about Jesus?  It’s because they didn’t believe that Jesus was the long awaited promised Messiah.

And for us, if we are honest with ourselves, it is not obvious why anyone would believe that a person who you can’t see, who lived 2000 years ago is in control of this world, is judge of the universe, judge of your life when you die, is God, and has the right to be the Lord of your life.  If we are honest with ourselves, and I implying that we should be honest with ourselves, this reality about Jesus is a huge jump for people to make.  And so, we need to share with people why we believe Jesus is in control of all things, has authority over all things, and that Jesus is real.

Paul’s Context

Let’s first look at Paul’s context in Acts 18 and I want to note some encouraging things I saw in relation to sharing our faith. I have three.

First, Paul worked a job.

So, Paul comes to Corinth from Athens, and Luke wants us to know the things that Paul did. Paul worked.  Paul made tents. And he also tried to persuade people to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, the promised one, God in the flesh.  And at first in Corinth, Paul did this once a week.  Verse 4 says “And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.”

This was probably slow daily life for Paul with not many big conversations.  You could have been discouraged if you were Paul.  I mean you are in Corinth and working all day all week and only getting the Sabbath to have the time to really share and interact with people.  We also feel this I am sure, like we’re not accomplishing anything.  And yet big picture, Paul made significant impacts on the people over the course of a year, even if he shared only once a week.

For Paul he shared on Sunday’s. For us it may be once here and there at work or with a neighbor.  The point is, it may feel slow and insignificant, but it’s not.

In verse 8 we read that many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.  Paul’s seemingly small efforts had impacts on the people.

I am encouraged that Paul shared his faith while working a job. I’m an engineer. I work full time. I even travel a fair bit for work. And most of you also do something other than full time ministry.  It may feel really slow and insignificant but I want to encourage you that even sharing here and there is not a waste.

Second, Paul faced opposition.

Was there opposition for Paul?  Oh yeah.  Verse 6 says “And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”  Paul encountered push back as he reasoned.

We can be encouraged that Paul was the minority in Corinth and he shared his faith.  We too in our context are the minority.  Be encouraged that you don’t have to wait for the perfect opportunity to be the accepted religion before you can talk about Jesus.

Third, there was a team.

Did Paul go at this alone?  No.  Teamwork was very important to Paul and teamwork is very important for us at Cities Church, which is a major reason why we organize ourselves into Community Groups.  

Several people are mentioned in these first verses of Acts 18.

When Paul got to Corinth he intentionally pursued and met up with Aquila and Priscilla.  They had the same trade.  They worked together making tents.  This is normal daily life stuff for Paul, Aquila, and Priscilla.  They worked together, hung out together and did ministry together.

Then in verse 5 we learn that Silas and Timothy came to town to bring support for Paul so that he could start doing his ministry full time.  Supporters have an important role.

And then we learn about Titius Justus in verse 7.  Titius was so committed to Jesus that he opened up his home to Paul to have a base of operation for the gospel.

You could think of the first community group in Corinth meeting at Titius’ house and Paul leading with others like Aquila, Priscilla, Silas, and Timothy attending.  And don’t forget Crispus who was the ruler of the synagogue who believed in Jesus.

As you can see, people play different types of roles in Community Groups.  We want to function as a team to work together to take the gospel forward in the Twin Cities.

Paul had community, and we have been intentional to organize the church into community groups.  Our community group leaders are intentionally working to develop a sense of teamwork in our community groups.

So from Paul’s context I noted three encouragements: Paul worked, Paul faced opposition, and Paul had community.

Our Context 

See, Paul shared his faith in very similar contexts and situations that you and I live in.  So if Paul reasoned with those around him, what might it look like for us?  What reasons do we have for why we believe that Jesus is real?

So for application I’d like to actually give examples of reasons why we believe that Jesus is real.  There are obviously many reasons, but I organized a few into three categories.

Personal reasons why you believe that Jesus is real

I think it’s important to first consider why you believe in Jesus.  This personal approach is a powerful way to explain to others why you believe the Bible is the word of God and why you think Jesus is real.

So what I want to do now is go back to when I was 18 and give my example.  Why would a freshman in college, studying chemical engineering, rowing on the crew team, living at a fraternity ever believe in Jesus?

For me, the death question really got my attention because I hadn’t thought much about it.  “What happens when you die” is a question that helps ground me when I start to think about whether or not Jesus is real.

Death is also very personal for me not only at the age of 18 but also at age 32.

When our 5 and a half old son Henryk passed away, it was so obvious that two truths took place: one, he didn’t take anything with him because we still had his body and clothes.  And two, he wasn’t there anymore.  He was gone.  He left.  His soul departed.  Where did Henryk go?  This a real question to think about.

In general, everyone has a differing opinion on what happens after you die.  If I ask 5 people this question I’d probably get 5 different answers on this.  So this tells me that I need to look for answers from some source outside myself.  We can’t all be right. The Bible is objective Truth in that it stands alone apart from what I think about it.  My opinion although it is very interesting is irrelevant in comparison to what the Bible says.  And I find peace in that because it takes the pressure off of me to come up with some new answer.  I can find help from God through what he has given us in the Bible.

Before I offer an answer, I want to look at two popular responses that people often offer:

First, some believe that nothing happens after you die.  This is naturalism.  Nature is all that exists, no supernatural, no soul.

Basically, you live your life and then you die, nothing more.  To me this is really sad and goes against what I think is in all of us.  Human beings were created with a desire for something more.  We feel this.  We don’t believe that we are here on earth for a period of time and then we die and nothing happens.

A second response to the death question that I often hear is why worry about it? Have fun while you still have today. We should eat, drink, and be merry.  Everyone will die at some point anyways so why worry about it.

So, Lily is obsessed with band aids.  I literally tried to find a band aid the other day in our clearly labeled bin in its designated spot in the closet, and there were no band aids left.  Emily had just bought a big box - Gone!  Where did they all go?  Lily used them.  Lily loves to cover up any scrape or pain with a band aid.

We all have pain points in our life and they are not fun.  They are painful.  By definition pain is not fun.  One way to push the pain away is to live by this mantra that we should be happy while we still have today.  In this sense, we are just putting band aids on our pain and trying to ignore them and trying to cover them up to get through the day.

See, pursuing happiness or trying to be merry is not the problem. We are all going to do that no matter what anyone says. The issue is: where do we find joy? Eat drink and be merry is an attractive idea.  I tend to want to believe this myself. And yet, the issue with this one is that deep down we can see that things are not perfect and not how they ought to be in this world.  There are many wonderful things in our lives.  And for all of us, there are also many painful aspects of our life.

As I said earlier, Emily and I had a son pass away.  This theology of eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die offered us no hope and no help when facing life’s tragedy.  And you also have your own painful points in your life.

What does our experience tell us? Covering up pain doesn’t help resolve the issue.

The Bible offers the deepest solution to our pain and our joy problem and offers the greatest answer to the death question – we can have joy in this world through the reality that Jesus died for our sins and reconciled us to God. Jesus said on the cross “it is finished”.  All our guilt and shame and failures, paid for by Jesus. Debt paid in full. Everything we are trying to be in life to justify ourselves, completed! No one, not even death can take this joy from you.  Death has lost its sting!  Jesus paid our debts on the cross.

The gospel offers us free joy that no one can touch, not even death.

This is why we named our daughter Francine Joy because Francine means free.  So “free joy”.  Some may think that we included Joy in her name because now we have joy because we have a healthy baby.  Nope, there is never a guarantee our children will live a long healthy life.  We named her Francine Joy because in the midst of the most painful part of our life in parenting our son as he passes away we still had a deep joy that could not be taken from us and the joy of the gospel was our rock to stand on as our world was crumbling around us.  And now in light of that, we can have free joy that does not center on a healthy baby.  We can offer Francine unconditional love and free joy not expecting or needing anything from her, because our joy is secure in Christ.

Jesus conquered death by dying in our place to remove our guilt so that when we die, our list of debts (and we all have them) will not be used against us because they’ve been nailed to the cross.

So this is an example of some of my personal reasons why I believe that Jesus is real.  And it’s good for you to think through why you believe that Jesus is real.

Reasoning that responds to culture

The common belief in culture right now is relativism, which is that everyone can believe their own thing and what’s true for them is true for them.  Everyone can be right. Truth is relative and each person has their own.

This idea that everyone can have their own truth doesn’t make sense to me.  How can two people who claim exclusively different things both be right?

It sounds so nice and so good to say that everyone can be right.  In the arena of treating others with respect and appreciating their opinions, yes everyone can be right in that sense.  But in reality, actually having two people both be sincerely right in their beliefs even if they are directly opposed to one another is impossible.  If one person says, nothing happens after you die and another says, yes, something does happen after you die, how can both people be right?

Yes, be respectful, and be humble and listen well to others.  Absolutely.  But it can’t be that two opposing arguments can both be right. That’s why we need to believe in something outside ourselves.  We need to look to a source of Truth outside ourselves that stands alone.

The Bible says that Jesus is the only way.  Other religions say their god is the only way.  My encouragement for us is to look at the Bible with others and make a determination whether or not Jesus is real.  Look at the Bible yourself.  I highly recommend the book of John when looking at who Jesus is.

Talking about Jesus directly

One example is to look at the resurrection.  Where did Jesus go?  Where is his body? They never found it.  It’s gone.  See, the Romans did an awesome job of guarding the tomb so that the possibility of someone stealing his body is very slim.  The tomb was guarded yet his body is gone.

Moreover, the Bible says more than 500 people saw the risen Christ.  And, these accounts were written while these people were still alive.  The chances of writing a false account with 500 people who were still alive is unlikely.

So if Jesus’ body was never found and he appeared to people after he died, then so it is that Jesus is alive and he is real.

The resurrection is a critical place to start when reasoning if Jesus is real or not.  If he’s not God, and he died like anyone else, then where is his body?

These are just a few reasons and there are many more that you could all think of as well.

This wraps up the section on Paul reasoning with others in Corinth, and us thinking through reasons why we believe Jesus is real, which we can share with others.

Persuading Others Can Be Discouraging

Now I’d like to go back to Acts 18 and look at what’s going on inside Paul.  How’s he doing in his context of reasoning?

Paul got discouraged, and we know this because Jesus showed up to encourage Paul.  Let’s look at verses 9 to 11.

“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 this city who are my people. And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.”

We can learn a lot from this interaction with Jesus.

For starters, as I’ve already said, the apostle Paul must’ve been discouraged.  It’s important to see that discouragement is going to happen.

Second, Jesus is really smart.  He knows what happens when people get discouraged in the realm of reasoning with others.  Jesus says two main things – don’t be afraid and don’t stop talking.

These are the first things that happen when we start sharing our faith and no one listens.  We get scared and we stop talking.  Jesus says, no!  Don’t be afraid and don’t stop talking.  Keep on sharing your faith.

It must be discouraging at times and must be tough, otherwise Jesus wouldn’t have had to show up to encourage Paul.

The question becomes, how do we keep going when people aren’t interested and there is opposition?

How in the world can we be bold and not be afraid and go on speaking?  How do we deal with these emotions?

You know there are three elements that you need in order to have fire, it’s called the fire triangle, you need: heat, fuel, and oxygen.  So, what are the three components needed to keep the ministry fires going?

First, the heat is Jesus saying “I am with you”. 

It’s the gospel.  We saw this in Acts 18:10.

Jesus is with us because we believe in him and he is with us because he says I am with you.  This ignites us or prompts us to speak and not be afraid.

By Jesus saying “I am with you” we have the comfort and peace to start the conversation with others.  We are not going at this alone.

This pattern of God calling us to be strong and courageous and bold coupled with him saying that he is with us starts in the Old Testament.

One of the most famous persons in the Old Testament is Moses.  He was the one who parted the Red Sea and brought the people out of Egypt and Moses received the Ten Commandments from God.  Really well known events.  A lesser known figure is Joshua.  Moses dies and God comes to Joshua and says that Joshua needs to take over and lead this massive nation of Israel into a new land.  Conquering a new land is difficult enough, but leading thousands of people to be on mission, trust God, and go into a new land is crazy.  Who could do this?

As God looks on at Joshua and probably notices that Joshua is ready to fold and turn back and crawl back in a cave God says to Joshua “Be strong and courageous.” Sound familiar?  This is very similar to the theme of our Acts series, bold for the Cities. God says to Joshua, “Be strong, be courageous.” Then God says to Joshua “do not be frightened”.  This is very similar to what Jesus just said to Paul.  If you are Joshua having to lead thousands of people into a new land how in the world would you NOT be scared?  God gives Joshua an answer “For the Lord your God is with you, wherever you go.”  That’s the ignition source.  God is with you.

Second, the fuel for the fire is Christian community.

As we saw in the first part of Acts 18, Paul didn’t go at this alone.  He sought out and made it a point to develop community.  They worked together and lived together and did Bible study together and they ministered together.

This has been a theme in Acts.  In the midst of opposition, the community of believers come together to encourage and help and serve one another.  If someone has a need, another meets it.

Paul didn’t go at this alone and here at Cities Church we aren’t either.  Community Groups are vital to the life of this church.

The oxygen is us sharing our faith.

Paul shared his faith on a regular basis.  We saw him do this in Corinth and then later in the chapter when he gets to Ephesus.

Ken Currie a pastor that mentored me in college once said that sharing his faith was like breathing.  Oxygen for the fire comes along to keep the fire going.  Not speaking can starve the fire of oxygen.

So there is an element to this fire that includes us taking some risks and sharing our faith with those around us.  Start doing it. Keep oxygen for the fire.

Jesus Is with Us

Now to close, I’d like to take the theme of Jesus being with us from the Old Testament to the New Testament.

This theme of God being with us continues to the New Testament and is fulfilled perfectly by Jesus.

It is interesting that Matthew records right before the Great Commission that even some of Jesus’ disciples, those who knew him best, while looking at Jesus still doubted! I can’t believe Matthew included that.  But he did, and it is helpful.

We doubt.  But, the gospel message centers on Christ dying for you to save you and to forgive you of your sins, not you earning God’s favor.

Jesus says in the Great Commission that he is always with us.  Jesus said “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus being with us is not one and done.  He doesn’t show up just to get you out there and speaking.  Jesus says that he is with us always.  And always means always, so this must mean he is also with us even when things are not going well.  Even when we get scared.  And even when we fail to speak.  Jesus is always with us because he died for us.  He is the perfect one, not us.  Take comfort that Jesus is with us even at our worst moments.