Have you heard the words, “There is no hope for them”? Maybe you were the one saying those words or a phrase like it. Maybe someone said it about you. Often we say these words about a person who has a pattern of making bad choices, or a stubborn streak, and they seem unteachable, unreachable and arrogant. We know intellectually that no one is beyond hope, but sometimes we give up on people when they rebuff our repeated attempts to help them or get to know them. The moment comes when we say, “I’m done!” and we turn and walk away.
As we continue studying Acts 18, in Corinth, Paul had an “I’m done” moment. In the previous post, we learned that he teamed up with Aquilla and Priscilla who were in the tent-making business like Paul. Together they got involved in the leather-working trade, but that wasn’t all. Read verses 4-5.
Paul continued his normal ministry practice of going to the Jewish synagogue and preaching there, we read, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. Eventually Silas and Timothy travel to Corinth as well. Remember that Paul had left them in Berea, which we read in chapter 17:15. Most likely, Silas and Timothy brought missionary support donations from the churches in Macedonia, because we read that once they arrive, Paul is able to resume full-time ministry.
As has been the case in nearly every city Paul visits, it doesn’t go well for him in Corinth. In the Jewish synagogue, he tries to teach the Jews that Jesus is the promised Messiah. Some believe, but some Jews have a strong reaction against Paul, including being abusive to him. Abusive? What does that mean? It is the word, “blaspheme.” So the Jews are not physically hurting him, but they are insulting him or trying to destroy his reputation. It is verbal abuse.
This time, it seems, Paul has reached his limit. Read verses 6-8.
Paul is done with them. He says that from that day forward he is changing his focus and method, and now he will preach to the Gentiles. And what happens? People believe in Jesus, including the synagogue ruler and his family! And they are baptized.
That’s not what I expected to happen! You’d think that after the abuse from the Jews and the strong response from Paul, the last person to believe in Jesus would be the leader of the Jewish synagogue! It is a reminder to us of the sometimes surprising work of the Spirit, and that we shouldn’t write people off, even the person you think is least likely to want to have a spiritual conversation or take Jesus seriously.
Again, we do not view people as spiritual projects. Thus we shouldn’t be obnoxious in our presentation of the good news. It is a tricky balance, because we should trust in the Spirit to be at work, and we should believe in Jesus’ parable about God’s loving heart to leave the 99 in order to go after the 1. But we should also be wise and loving and gracious about how we present ourselves, as we tell the story of Jesus, holding onto hope, asking God to be at work in their lives.
Clearly, in any abusive situation, Paul is an example to us of moving on. We should not allow ourselves to be a doormat or receive abuse of any kind. But we can continue to pray for people, as Jesus taught us, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” These are difficult words, and they require great caution and wisdom. But let us not give up hope on people.
Back in Corinth, then, out of the difficulty the Jews were giving Paul, a light emerges as the synagogue ruler and his family believe and baptized. A new church has been started! Does the presence of a new church mean that Paul’s mission is complete? We’ll find out in the next post!