Well, good morning one and all. Congratulations on coming here at such an hour of the day when you should either be asleep or in bed or work or something. And Richard, thank you for that extremely misleading introduction. Just to think that an ex-businessman of his quality would go for a blind date with somebody that he’s never even heard of and expose him to you lot. It really amazes me.
Anyway, I want to encourage you this morning. End of the week, rains come, here’s some encouragement from the good Lord and I want to do so by lifting your eyes to what just one person can do for the cause of Christ. I’m going to take a very interesting passage out of the Acts of the Apostles and I’m going to read it to you and then talk about it a bit.
(Acts 18) After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them and because he was the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together. By trade, they were tent makers. Every Sabbath, he would argue in the synagogue and would try to convince Jews and Greeks. And when Silas and Timothy, his friends, came from Macedonia, Paul got gripped with the Word, and he started testifying to the Jews that the Messiah was Jesus. And when they opposed and reviled him, in protest, he shook the dust from his clothes and said to him, your blood be on your own head. I’m innocent. From now on, I’m going to the Gentiles. Then he left the synagogue and went to the house of a man called Titius Justus. A worshiper of God, his house was next door to the synagogue. Crispus, the official of the synagogue became a believer in the Lord….Can you believe that…..together with all his household and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul became believers and were baptized.
It must have been absolute carnage going on in the synagogue circles in Corinth.
One night, the Lord said to Paul in the vision, don’t be afraid but speak and do not be silent for I am with you. And no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people. He stayed there for a year and six months teaching the Word of God among them.
Let’s try and get the picture. Greece, you know, broadly, the picture of Greece comes to a very narrow waist, like a beautiful girl, very narrow waist in the middle, and then it sort of, goes out to the Peloponnese at the bottom. And Corinth was situated on that narrow waist, just five miles across. And, because it was very dangerous going round the bottom, they weren’t very good seafarers, so to avoid going around Cape Maina at the bottom, which was a bit like Cape Horn is to our generation, they would pull into one harbor at Corinth, and they’d pull goods and small boats across those five miles. They got a special sort of pulling machine to put it onto a harbor on the other side. And therefore, as you can see, businesspeople like yourselves, you’ve got the north south trade route in Greece. Now you’ve got an east west trade route. Inevitably, Corinth is gonna become a very wealthy and important place. And it was, and it had an interesting history. As you know, the Romans gobbled up everything within range and in 146 BC, they decided to get a grip of Greece, which they did.
And the Roman general who came there, a man called Mummius, he found it full of argumentative philosophers. And so, he locked them all in one room like this and he said, you guys have got to agree within 12 hours, or I will raze the city to the ground. They didn’t. He did. And for a hundred years, it lay desolate. It was rebuilt by Julius Caesar shortly before Paul’s time. And by this passage in Acts 18 that I just read to you, it was a very wealthy city again. And, for a short period, it was the capital of Greece, but it wasn’t an easy place to try and plant a church. I’ve just been planting a church in Raleigh, North Carolina, tremendous thrill to do that over a couple of years, but it’s not easy. You’ve really got to give yourself to it. And this place was a lot more difficult than Raleigh.
It was a Roman colony and that means to say that it was, the inhabitants were tough Roman ex-centurions, ex-Sergeant majors, people who had been bumping folks off in the wars that the Romans did for 25 years. And as a reward, they got Roman citizenship and a place like Corinth to live in. Not easy to persuade them about some new faith. It was a Greek city full of intellectuals traveling around giving lectures and all that sort of highfaluting stuff. It was an athletic center, in between the Olympic games, which happened every four years. You had the Isthmian games which happened every two years. And that happened at the Isthmus of Corinth. So, there were lots of athletes in training there and they didn’t especially want to hear about God. They were interested in 200 meters.
It was also an oriental city. It was a seaport. And of course, you know what seaports alike and this one was no different, except it was perhaps a bit more special. They had an enormous hill in the middle, the acrocorinth, and on the top of that, they had a temple to Aphrodite the prostitute goddess of love. And they had at least a thousand prostitutes that roamed the streets of Corinth at night. So, this was not a very promising place when Paul came here in the autumn of 50 A.D. We are fortunate in being able to fix the date.
How can you plant a Christian faith in such a difficult place? Maybe you are situated in a difficult place, difficult business, and you say, I better keep my head down. How on earth can I make any impact for Jesus Christ in this place? Well, look how it happened here. And I think that will bring us encouragement as we go onto our day’s work today.
First of all, I notice it all began with one man. Remember that first verse I read after Paul left Athens, he went to Corinth. Paul arrived alone and reading between the lines, I guess he must have been pretty discouraged. He had been preaching in north Greece, in Philippi, where he had been scourged, thrown into prison, and involved in an earthquake. He then moved on to Thessalonika where he got kicked out, went on to Berea, and the Thessalonians came and stirred them to kick him out as well. And then his last stop had been in Athens where he was met with polite amusement, and yet from this discouraged man, as I guess he was, a mighty work of God emerged. We’ve got a memorial to it in two long letters to the Corinthians, which make up quite a sizable portion of the New Testament.
The thing that I learn from this one man going to Corinth is that one person, plus God is always a majority. Would you say that with me? One person plus God is always a majority. That’s not an exaggeration. Think of Abraham. One man who trusted God and from him three great monotheistic religions emerged. Think of Jesus. One man, bumped off before he had reached the age of most of you in this room, bumped off in the most excruciating circumstances, reviled and rejected by the country He’d come to reach. And now, 2000 years later, 34% of humankind professes allegiance to Him; over 2 billion people. One person plus God, a majority.
When I was in Latin America some little time ago, I came across the Canchir tribe; a rather vapid clueless tribe that spreads vaguely over three Latin American countries. And they had been very resistant to any attempts to reach them with a Christian gospel.
And along came one man who had the sense to realize that these people were pig farmers. So, he became a pig farmer, and he was a better pig farmer than they were. And so, before long, he got people gathering around him and he told them the good news of Jesus Christ and some of them believed. And then it grew, it grew, and it grew. By the time I was there, there were about 25,000 of this big tribe, the Canchir, that had become Christians, through the influence of this man. And he was a tough guy.
I remember going in his Land Rover and there, you got machete marks all over it, where he’d been attacked and, you know, he’d survived in the early days, some very tough things, but he had seen fruit. One man plus God had made that majority difference in the Canchir tribe.
On another occasion, I was in Australia and came across the trail of another fascinating bloke. He was a pavement artist, and he only wrote one word, and he would write on a pavement in different colors, one word, eternity. Now, you know, that sort a brash, see, you see what you get, sort of Aussies. When they saw “eternity” written on the road in front of them, they said, goodness, me. And when he died, there was an enormous crowd at his funeral, lots of people who had been brought to consider life and eternity through him and had become Christians.
You see, that’s just, in each of those cases, there’s just one person with a vision and some guts and some initiative. I’ve seen it in an ambassador in Saudi Arabia. A man went out there, who’d recently become a Christian, a British ambassador there and so he said, all right, let’s have a Carol service. They never had a Carol service in the embassy in Saudi Arabia before, but let’s do it. You can’t, the Saudis can’t do anything to him when it’s on his own property. And so, he did, and he had me to preach at it and is very amusing because all the loudspeakers that were geared towards the community roundabout, somebody forgot to turn them off.
So, I not only preached to about 300 people there including your own ambassador and various others, but it went out into the Muslim quarter around. And it’s very lovely, the next night we had a supper party for about 130 people, and many of those came to put their faith in Jesus Christ. Now all of that is done in the embassy in Saudi Arabia, and it still goes on in Rayed, and it’s the initiative and the drive and the vision of one person living within what is just possible, what he could just risk getting away with. And I love that sort of spirit. It’s very, very attractive indeed.
I think of a woman in a department store here in the states, a senior buyer who had such an incredible impact on the sales force in that shop. She was dedicated to Jesus Christ. She was fearless and she wasn’t at all sort of prissy or pompous about it; had a very, very big effect. Or I think of a school master in the other Birmingham, Birmingham in England, where I was doing an outreach not long ago. And this guy got 30 of his fellow school masters to a meeting that I was speaking at, they didn’t know me from Adam. They didn’t want to come to the Beachley meeting, but they respected him so much this Christian man, that when he asked them to come, they came, and it was a very profitable early evening.
So, there’s the first thing that I see from this wonderful story. It all began with one person and maybe that the good Lord is wanting to start something through you in your neck of the woods. But here’s the second thing it needed Christian fellowship. The Gospel is not a solitary thing. It’s all about community, a community of people like you that Jesus brings into being. And although he was a pioneer, Paul was no solo merchant. He was no prima donna. In verse two, the English says that he found a Jew called Aquila and his wife Priscilla, but actually the original language says he found after searching, he looked for some Christian fellowship and he looked in the natural area of his own workplace, the people who did the same job as him, this guy was a tent maker. And so, he looked amongst the tentmakers, and he found it. He found people of the same nationality. They were Jews like him, same job like him, same faith like him. And so instead of one person, you got a little trio to make some impact in the city of Corinth, only very small trio, but it was a start.
And, you know, we can do that. I remember years ago going into the army for national service and the first night in the army is pretty average hell. The some of you I see, have been there and remember it. The non-commissioned officers see it as their business to break you. And there a lot of 30 very miserable men will, in the barrack room and I, bull in boots and I remember that when it was time to go to bed, I thought, shall I or shan’t I go and kneel by my bed. It’s a bit risky because Radio Luxemburg was blaring away above my head. And, anyhow, I got down for a moment. I don’t suppose I prayed much, but at least I raised the flag and there are a few boots hurling through the air and so on.
But the next morning, a guy from the bed opposite came up to me and said, hey mate, can you help me? I’ve got wife trouble. Well, I hadn’t even got a wife by that stage, let alone wife trouble. But very soon we had a group of about eight of us taking a public stand for Christ in that barrack room. We found a friendly Sergeant. We started doing a Bible study in his room and before long we were let out and started preaching in the open air. And so, it was great fun, and it is great fun when you go really whole full effort for Jesus Christ, when you sort of sit on the edge of the swimming pool and say, well, the water’s cold. I don’t think I’m really going to do anything about it. It’s no good, but when you’ve got some Christian fellowship with you, you can go in partnership.
So, I think what I would encourage you to do is to do what somebody in a business in England did, just put a small notice, only the size of a stamp really, on the firm notice board saying any Christians like to meet at one o’clock in room such and such, and two or three people turned up. And that was the beginning of a little Christian group in that workplace. And, you know, I guess you could do that. Perhaps, you know somebody who’s already a Christian in your firm. Wouldn’t it be great to spend a little bit of lunchtime, if you manage to get a lunchtime, praying for the firm, praying for the difficult people, praying for the boss who may well be a pain, praying for God to use you guys in that business, it’s a lovely thing to do. It needed Christian fellowship, and we all need that because on our own we are not up to much.
Here’s the third thing that I see from this lovely story is it resulted in a shared home. We are told that Paul went to actually live with Aquila and Priscilla; pretty decent of them to have him in their home. I guess. I think he was quite a prickly character to have in anybody’s home, especially if they were newly married. Lots of students have shared households and it seems to work quite well. It’s usually an absolute tip when you go into it, but nevertheless, they get along well, and there’s a lot of mutual encouragement. I’ve just been in New Haven before I came here, up in Yale. And it was fascinating to find youth with a mission, who I always consider as the sort of Christian commandos.
These people were living in shared household and there was a small baby that sort got passed from one to another and seemed to be equally happy whosever lap it sat on. But you don’t need to have a shared house. You do need to see your house as a place from which the good news can spring out. During the nights that I’ve been in the city here, I have been entertained in home after home in the evening. And one of them stands out. It was not just a lovely evening with delightful people, but the host said, okay, let’s just raise now some questions we’d like to talk to Michael about. And so, it was an evening with a purpose, and it was very useful. Some of the other evenings were just social and they were fine, but you can use it, you can use your home in a more positive way like that.
Again, it might be the place where the church standing committee meets for a supper and business. You get much further over supper and business than you do sitting in a church hall, trying to work out policies. It might be a place to entertain the youth leaders every now and again. It might be a place for a home-based Bible study. It could be a place where some agnostics come to supper and where you say to them, now you tell me what you don’t believe, and I’ll tell you what I do believe and why, and we’ll see where it goes. That’s a very worthwhile thing to do. I’ve done many of these agnostics anonymous supper parties like that. More, just a couple or two that you invite in for dinner in the evening.
I remember one memorable occasion when we invited a couple of people in and we’d had the first course and the dessert was ice cream and chocolate sauce. And so, as I was dishing out the ice cream, I said to the folks, would you like to hear the most amazing discovery I’ve ever made? And they said, yeah. And I said, are you sure? And they said, yeah. So, I said, it’s the fact that Jesus Christ is alive, have some more chocolate sauce. And this was an amazing evening that emerged from all that. And they became Christians in due course. And I guess they still are today. If they’re still alive. You can actually hit a whole city this way.
There’s an amazing organization called Harvest Ministries. And they’re fairly dictatorial. They say to about 50 people, right, you go and in such and such a city and they go into this city and you gotta do two things. You gotta find somewhere to live and you gotta find a job to do. And in the course of a year, you’ve got to get to know 50 people. That’s the job. And so, but the, the first year they get to know 50 people and then, they have them into their home and they get to become friends with them on good easy terms. Year two, the preachers move in, and they do a crusade and all sorts of people come to faith. Where do they go afterwards? Why they go into these 50 homes to be built up and before long, those 50 homes become 50 churches. That’s not a theory. It’s happened. It works. So, your home is really your greatest asset. Give a bit of thought as to how you might use that for the cause of Jesus Christ if you are a follower of His already.
And then I notice that here at Corinth, this led to certain speaking opportunities. We read that in the synagogue and in homes and also in the open-air Paul and his friends did some actual speaking about Christ. A lot of people who are Christians today, don’t want to speak about Him. They say, well, let my life speak. And I won’t say anything. Of course, the life is critical. Unless our life is significant, nobody’s gonna hear what we have to say. They just think we’re a bunch of hypocrites. They think that about the church anyway. But if those first Christians had never said anything, they just lived nice lives, we’d never have anything today.
If you just live a nice life, people will just think you’re a decent chap. They don’t really know, of course, but that’s what they’ll think. And you want to say, hey, if there’s any difference in my life, it’s because of the difference Jesus Christ has made, and there’s all sorts of ways of doing it. And there’s four ways that I mentioned in this little passage that I’ve read. Verse five, says, they gave witness. And a witness is a very interesting person. He’s not a preacher or anything like that. He’s just somebody who’s seen something and says so. If there was a crash outside here this morning, a couple of cars got wrecked and somebody had been breaking a red light and there was a case brought against that person and you happened to be standing by, you might be pulled in as a witness.
You wouldn’t tell a magistrate what he’s got to find in the case, you would simply say, well, sir, I was there. This is what I saw. This is how it appeared to me. And he would then make his own decision. Now that is the word that’s used constantly in the New Testament of every Christian. You cannot be a Christian without being a witness. You may be a silent witness. You may be a bad witness, but you are a witness. If you belong to Jesus Christ, then your life one way or another points to Him. And that simple way of saying I have seen, or I have found is something that’s available to all of us.
I have found in a time of great crisis that I don’t know how I’d have coped with it without Jesus Christ. My wife walked out on me, and I found I’d have gone into a spiral of despair unless I’d known Jesus Christ. Just a sentence like that will very often prick somebody’s interest and give you a chance to take it further. It’s very powerful, that personal witness, because, you see people don’t like preachers, we must have done a very bad job, but they love to hear people’s stories. And if you are able to say, hey, I have found, and give your own personal recommendation. That cuts a lot of ice. I don’t know how many people there are in here, but it’d be wonderful, it’d be terrible if you were all preachers. The business of Birmingham would collapse.
But if you were all witnesses going out of here, willing and able to say when opportunity makes it appropriate. Yeah. I’ve found Jesus Christ. It’s not just church, it’s a person. He makes a power difference. That’s absolutely wonderful. If you could do that. The tie I am wearing today comes from a rather select club at Oxford University, the top athletes in the university called Vincent’s Club. And, when I was a rector in the city, we did a tremendous amount of work amongst the undergraduates. And you get these enormous great rowers or football players and the best of them got into Vincent’s Club. Well, I happened to be a member myself and so, what we did was two or three times a year, we would have a drinks party there. And the Christians would invite their non-Christian Vincent’s members to come to this thing and I would be the speaker, but I wouldn’t just stand up. I was much older than them. I wouldn’t just stand up and try and talk to them. I’d get the captain of rowing to stand up and say, well, I don’t know much about it, but I know Jesus Christ made a power difference to my life. Michael will tell you about it. And he sits down.
And there, you see? See the power of witness. And that gives me street cred to stand up and to get on with it, which I did. And it’s wonderful. It was one patch of carpet. I could show you there today. Where on two successive years, the two successive captains of cricket who are mighty men, I know you don’t play cricket, but nevertheless, it is a great game worldwide. It has far more recognition worldwide than baseball, but don’t tell anyone. And the captain of cricket on this piece of carpet entrusted his life to Christ then and there on two successive occasions like this.
So, witness is great. Second word. They held dialogue, verse four, dialogue with the Jews and the Greeks. Not enough of that goes on in the Christian scene, too much preaching, not nearly enough comeback and argy-bargy. What is the truth of this stuff? Can we believe it? Is it credible today? And Paul was doing that. I love debating atheists because they don’t actually have a very strong case although there is an increasing atheistic movement in the United States today, and it’s all over Europe, but the arguments they have are not by any means foolproof.
And just recently I did it in the University of Florida, to a man who was a professor and professor of philosophy and of religion. And he was an atheist paid up atheist. And so, we had a tremendous evening and people just piled in afterwards. They wanted to hear more about the Gospel. The next night we had a special meeting for them. Various people came to Christ and others formed an inquiry group to look into it. When I was in Raleigh, North Carolina, we did a similar thing at State University, and they got up their champion and we had a go on the existence of God. And we took the biggest room in the university, and they had a thousand chairs out and I said, that’s not gonna be enough. And so, they put another 250 chairs out. And when the night came, these chairs quickly filled up, from students. Let nobody tell you, students are not interested in issues like that. They are. They filled up. And, then I said, okay, if you’re Christians, get up outta your chair and stand against the wall and give your chair to somebody else. And so that led in another great horde of people. And then, folks started sitting on the floor, right the way up to the podium. And if the fire marshals had come in there would’ve been hell to pay. But they didn’t. And they sent 500 people away and about 1900 crammed into that room and they heard the truth of the Gospel. And the next night we went into the basketball court, and we had over a thousand there to hear the way to Christian faith. You know, there really is a value in holding dialogue. We have not followed cunningly devised fables that’s truth in this stuff.
And then the third word that’s used here is they offered teaching, verse 11. He was teaching the Word of God for the whole year. Regular instruction of converts is vital. Yesterday in the Cathedral, we had a call for people to come forward and entrust their lives to Christ and lots of people did. And that was very moving and in Episcopal cathedral, very unusual. But now what’s important is for these people to be properly looked after and cared for. There’s got to be regular instruction. Short courses I’ve been doing in Raleigh, a six-week foundation course on how people could get really their foundations clear as Christians. Courses on marriage much needed when here, I guess that it’s a more than 50% divorce rate in this day and age. And it’s extremely worrying. Short courses on ethical issues, maybe the training of prayer counselors, training in personal evangelism, teaching in Sunday school. There’s that form of opening your mouth, giving witness, holding dialogue, offering teaching.
And the last word he mentions here is persuaded. It’s an imperfect in the Greek. He was trying to persuade Jews and Greeks, verse four, trying to convince. There is need for a good apologetic today. There’s nothing apologetic about apologetics. Apologetics is not saying, I’m terribly sorry. It’s the Greek word for giving a good reason for the hope that is within you.
I’ve now finished in Raleigh. I’ve just gone back to Oxford University and with Professor Alistair McGrath and John Lennox and various people have been out here. We are training people in apologetics, giving a reason for the hope that is within us. And if you’ve got six weeks that you could spare, we could have you, if you’ve got a year you could spare, we could have you even more. If you had a week on a summer school, you might even enjoy that too.
But there do need to be people who, after a challenging talk or a good conversation, can take a friend for a coffee or a beer and sit them down and say, what did you make of that? And then be able to deal one on one with the issues. And it’s much better if you haven’t got a dog collar around your neck. It’s much better if you are just an ordinary person like them. And one speaks from conviction and the other isn’t there yet. It’s a great privilege. These speaking opportunities came for Paul and his friends, and they’ll come for you, as well.
And the message that they proclaimed was really very simple. A Paul in these first chapter of the first letter to the Corinthians says he was determined to know nothing amongst them, except Jesus Christ and him crucified. He was saying that the long-awaited Messiah was none other than a crucified carpenter and that this crucified carpenter was the key to all history, to humankind’s past and present and future, Jesus and His cross. He tells us in that same chapter of one Corinthians, how he concentrates on the cross because it challenged the two biggest problems at Corinth. One was all their dilettante intellectualism with all these teachers and the other was their nighttime immorality with all these prostitutes and the cross of Jesus Christ simply cut at the root of both of those. Paul admits that the cross seems foolishness to people who are perishing, but to those who are being saved, it’s the very power of God.
And it does seem foolishness, doesn’t it? What more ludicrous than to say to sophisticated Greeks or members of Birmingham, for that matter, that God’s wisdom and rescue lay in a despised and executed criminal. What could be more offensive to religious people like the Jews in Corinth, or in Birmingham, then to assert that none of our good deeds can bring us to God, only what the Messiah has achieved in bearing personal responsibility for our wrongdoing, on the cross. And yet those who believed, found this to be the power of God then, and the wisdom of God then, and it still is today. It’s wonderful to see lives being changed. As people come to the cross and say, God, I’ve blown it. Thank goodness for what Jesus done for me. Here I am. I’m at your disposal. That was the life changing message in Corinth. And boy, it still is today. I’ve seen it in every one of the five continents.
And I notice also that this encouraging movement at Corinth transformed a variety of types. You’ve got the religious types embodied in Crispus who was the official of the synagogue. To think, now I’ve seen a number of Jewish people come to recognize their Messiah, and when they do, they’re the most enthusiastic followers of Jesus, you could find in a long day’s walk. But this chap Crispus, was the guy that ran the synagogue, and he packed it all in in order to follow Jesus Christ, must have been a very, very gutsy man. Imagine the stir when he and his family became Christians. Well, we’ve actually got a broken lintel stone of the synagogue at Corinth that he ran. “Goge Hebr” is what’s left. [Syna] goge hebr [aion]. The synagogue of the Hebrews, and that was carved into stone. It’s still in Corinth today, a reminder that God can break through even to religious types.
And then there was immoral types. Listen to this, Paul writing to the Corinthians, he says, don’t be deceived. Fornicators, idols, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers, none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you used to be, but you are washed, you’re sanctified. You’re justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. In other words, a lot of people in the church in Corinth were just scooped up off the waterfront. They’d been people who’d been into all this stuff. They’d been drunk on the sidewalks. They’d been robbing people. Their sexual morality was up the spiral and Jesus had transformed them.
Isn’t it wonderful that the Gospel does this? I remember leading a prostitute to Christ one time and taking her around a hospital to bear testimony to Jesus. Wonderful. So, you’d got the immoral types and the religious types, and then you’ve got the business types. In Romans 16:23, we just get a little mention of a man called Erastus. You know, Erastus sends his love at the end of the letter. And we’ve got an interesting inscription in Corinth that says, “Erastus gives gratitude for his treasurer ship of the city and he laid this pavement at his own expense.”
Now in the Romans verse, it tells us that Erastus was the treasurer of Corinth. And now you’ve got this inscription that says, I’m very glad to have been treasurer of the city. And I give this to posterity this marble pavement as a mark of my gratitude.
I mean, it still happens, doesn’t it? So, the glory of God and in memory of so and so, and so and so, and so and so, and it’s their memory that gets glorified. So, you’ve got the business types. The business community was impacted by this chap and then there’s marginalized people, if I’d read on in Acts 18, there was a bit of a riot in front of the Roman governor, and he couldn’t get interested in these Jewish arguments. And so, they got so frustrated, they turned on this guy Sosthenes who had succeeded Crispus as head of the synagogue, and they scragged him. They beat him up. And poor old Sosthenes had a very painful day with lots of bruises and that in due course led him to Christ. And so, when Paul to the Corinthians, he writes Paul to the church in Corinth and Sosthenes, our brother. Isn’t that delightful? He brings this marginalized Sosthenes into his sharing of the letter to the Corinthians. Clearly the Gospel reached out to all types and it still does today.
Don’t just think that it’s only the religious people that are interested. It’s not. Usually, they’re the people that are least interested because they think they’re the cat’s whiskers anyway. It’s the ordinary bloke who doesn’t give a cat’s whistle for God. Those are the people that can respond to your approach. One man, plus God, always a majority.
And I noticed, just we’re nearly through, but I noticed a couple of things before I close. One was that all of this required a deep dependence on the Lord. You see, when you read the Acts story, as I’ve read just now, it all looks very impressive. Paul comes in, his mates come, they get a grip of the city, they preach the cross. All sorts of people respond. Woohoo. But behind the scenes, what was Paul thinking? In one Corinthians two verses one to five, he tells us, he says he came to this forbidding city, this vanity fair of the ancient world. He came, he says, in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. And we’ll be like that when we get out of our comfort zones and try and do something for the Lord. Along with the gutsy initiative inside there’s fear and trembling.
But two things propped him up, not his previous experience, I think, not his eloquence, but the message of the cross. And in that passage, he talks about the power of the Holy Spirit. Once you’ve got Christ inside your life, you’re unstoppable. You’ve got the Spirit of the Creator and the Redeemer of the world living inside you. And that is what props you up when the heart beats a bit faster. And when you think, how on earth am I gonna cope with this situation? Here’s the last thing.
This enterprise of Paul’s needed a lot of encouragement, and all new initiatives do. I bet when you started this work amongst men, (a) it was small, (b) you panicked, and (c) it needed a lot of encouragement. It’s always the way. And Paul has encouragement from two sources. First, his friends, when Silas and Timothy arrive from north Greece, Macedonia, Paul got gripped with the Word. The translations that most have he got occupied with preaching. That’s not really what it means. I guess Paul’s own Bible study and prayer got pretty flat. He was on his own, fairly miserable. And then his mates came, hey, Paul, we’ll be up at seven. Let’s get reading the scriptures together. Let’s pray to the good Lord. Let’s sock it to this city. And Paul, his tail begins to wag, and he gets gripped with it all over again. And friends do that to us.
God has put you in a marvelous fellowship of men, and I know it’s broken down into small groups and those are the people to whom you can really spill the beans. Really tell how you feel. I mean, women do this, don’t they, they witter-witter-witter and they talk about their feelings. And we don’t talk about our feelings. We’re men, we’re macho. We keep it in, but it’s well worth sharing it with a close group that you can trust because otherwise the stuff goes bad inside us.
I remember in this church that I had the privilege of leading in Oxford, we had a lay leadership team of five lay leaders, and we would meet early in the morning like this from time to time. And every one of us has wept amongst his mates on one occasion or another. I think we make the mistake of not getting the value, the full spiritual value of friends, because we don’t tell them what’s going on.
Well, anyway, that’s what happened to Paul, and I do commend it. You’ve got groups of friends. Make use of them. And then the other thing was very remarkable. Let me read it to you again. One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, do not be afraid but speak and do not be silent, for I am with you. And no one will a hand on you to harm you for, there are many people in this city who are going to be mine.
The Lord loves to encourage people with that other side of the brain. We are probably mainly left brainers here, people with linear thoughts, people who see what the market is, see what the product is, see how one can be taken to the other. Come on, let’s go, with all the initiative for which America is famous and that’s great, but there is another half of our brain, and the artists pick it up. The musicians pick it up, and God made both halves of the brain. And He can not only speak through our reason. He can also speak through mental pictures that come sometimes in the daytime; you have a picture of something. Sometimes at night you have a dream that may come two or three times, and lots of Christians who have these sort of seeings, but they don’t don’t know what to do with them.
They’ve never been taught that they’re valuable. I think we need to work for an atmosphere in a group like this, or in a church where people feel unembarrassed to say, do you know, I had a strange dream the other night. It was such and such. I can remember it vividly but having a what it means and somebody else in the group says, huh, well, I think I guessed what it, what it might mean. Try this for size and low and behold, you can sometimes get guidance from God in that way. Of course, it’s risky. And sometimes people have dreams like this because they’ve had too much blue cheese before going to bed, but when God is in it, there’s usually unanimity in the little group about whether it comes from God or not. And it’s always fits with Scripture.
Take the words here I am with you, fear not. Those are massive scriptural words, right? From one end of the Bible to the other. So here was a vision that seemed authentic and there are four great words in it that would help us, I think, as we go out into today the last day of the week, thank goodness.
One, fear not, for am with you. We may well fear what we have to face today, but He is with us, and He is not going to forsake us. Secondly, speak and do not be silent. That may be a long-range program for you. God wants you to thaw those frozen lips. When the time comes, thirdly, nobody is going to harm you. Oh, they will. They’ll rough you up. They’ll try and beat you down in business. But in the long run, if your life is in the hand of Christ, you are invulnerable until the moment that He whispers in your ear, It’s time to come home. Amen.
And finally, there will be fruit. I have much people in this city, much people in Corinth, in Birmingham, who are currently still strangers to God, but who will come through your faithfulness to know him? Well, it was a long haul in Corinth. It involved tussles with the civic authorities and with the religious establishment. And usually new initiatives do face both of those problems. Christian work is never easy, but the words of that vision came true. He is with you as you launch out for Him. Nobody can ultimately harm you. You are in God’s hand and He’s with you. He has many, many people in this city and you’ll find them as you live in warm fellowship, taking initiative, getting involved with non-Christian neighbors. And as you bear witness with joy, press on, be encouraged, hold forth the word of life, shine like a light in society, and God will use you mightily. And remember, that one person plus God is always a majority. Thank you very much.