Acts 18:1-11 Many in this City are My People (Erik Veerman)

Mar 24, 2024    Erik Veerman

Acts 18:1-11

Many in this City Are My People

We’re taking a one week break today from our Proverbs study. Next week, we’ll resume. It will be an Easter sermon from Proverbs. That’ll be interesting.

But today, as part of our focus on outreach, I wanted to consider the call and importance of Gospel ministry to the community in which God has placed us.

To do that, we are going back to the book of Acts. Our very first sermon series was in Acts. Acts gives us the beginnings of the church after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. In it, we learn a lot about missions and ministry. Acts testifies to the apostles and early Christians fulfilling the great commission.

From a macro view, we see the Gospel spreading from region to region. And from a micro view, we see how God directs ministry in a city.

That’s what we’ll be doing today. Zooming in on the city of Corinth to see how God uses his people to reach his people.

Our text this morning is from Acts 18. We’ll be reading verses 1-11 but mainly focusing on verses 5-11. You can find that on page 1102 in the pew Bible.

The first time I preached this chapter, we considered verses 1-17, and I remember wishing I had more time to focus on the middle section, so that’s what we’ll be doing today.

Reading of Acts 18:1-11


Every city in the ancient world had a unique characteristic. Rome, for example, was the seat of authority in the whole region – the center of the Roman empire. Ephesus boasted of its entertainment and sport. The heart of Athens was its philosophical and religious beliefs. The city of Antioch brought trade and traders from east and west. And Corinth was the city of sensuality. I think nearly every commentator I’ve read and every sermon I’ve heard about Corinth calls it the Las Vegas of the ancient world. A city caught up in the worship of sexual gods with an anything-goes promiscuous culture.

We don’t know for sure what the apostle Paul was thinking when he arrived in Corinth. But we do know that he had just come from Athens. And Athens had been a let-down for Paul. Athens was the only major city where Paul did not plant a church. Furthermore, he left Athens after only a small handful of people believed. And he headed to Corinth, only 50 miles away,.. another major city with its own idolatry.

So, I think likely, Paul felt apprehensive about how he would be received. But nonetheless, he persevered in his calling. And just like in other cities, he began by going to the Jewish synagogue. Look what it says in verse 4. Every sabbath, he went to the synagogue to try and persuade the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks to believe.

And what happened? Well, Paul’s fears were realized. They would not believe! In fact, verse 6 says they “opposed and reviled” Paul. They didn’t just ignore Paul. They actively opposed him. That’s a strong word there. Reviled. It means to actively defame someone by insulting or slandering or cursing them. Of course, this response wasn’t new for Paul, but given the let-down in Athens, Paul was aggravated.

Look at his response at the end of verse 6. “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” As he was saying that, he shook off the dust of his garments. If you won’t believe, then that’s on you! You see, he desperately wanted them to believe, but they didn’t and he was disappointed because they rejected the truth.

Can you relate? Maybe you don’t have the passion of the apostle Paul. But have you ever felt like your words were falling on deaf ears - those in your family; your neighbors; your co-workers. You’ve shared your faith. You’ve sought to be faithful. You wanted to see others come to faith, but it seemed like your efforts were wasted. Have you ever wanted to say or think what the apostle Paul said? “I’m giving up on you!” For Paul, it was, “forget you Jews! I’m now going to the Gentiles.”

Now, if you take that verse out of context, you are going to think that you should walk away if your efforts are not fruitful. You may think that this verse means that if a group of people are not hearing the word… then you should move on. But that understanding is not true!

Paul said, “From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” But the fact is, he continued to proclaim the Gospel to both the Jews and Gentiles! When he left the synagogue, he went next door. He wasn’t giving up.  In fact, and at the end of the very same chapter, chapter 18, Paul was travelling through Ephesus for the first time. And what did he do? He went to the synagogue. That first visit in Ephesus was just a brief stop. After that stop, he went back to Antioch, but he soon returned to Ephesus in chapter 19. And guess what he does back in Ephesus? He went back to the synagogue. Even though he said he would focus on the Gentiles, yet he continued to bring the Gospel to the Jews.

But there’s another surprising thing that happened. Look at verse 8 of Chapter 18. Remember, Paul had just said, your blood on you, I’m going to the Gentiles. But look what happens! Verse 8 - “Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue,” it says, “believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.”

So, Paul had just shaken off the dust from his garments and he had left the synagogue with a parting word about their unbelief… But look who then believes! The ruler of the synagogue! The very guy in charge! And not just him, but his whole household. And not just his whole household, but it says many of the Corinthians believed and were baptized.

Talk about a turnaround. After all the opposition, the Lord turned the hearts of many Jews and gentiles to him.

10-12 years ago, I was involved in an English as a second language ministry. It was for international graduate students and their spouses. Besides offering English classes, we offered a class called Christianity Explored. Some of you may be familiar with it.

Every semester we had a small handful of students. Some were Christians and others just curious about Christianity since they didn’t know any Christians in their home country. And there was a period of time I was discouraged. We weren’t seeing any fruit, so to speak. But we continued faithfully.

One semester we had a visiting scholar at Emory University attend. Her academic focus was feminism. She was very curious. She had lots of questions. And one of the very first question she asked was this: Why didn’t God send twins, a boy and a girl? It was a serious question. She wasn’t combative or anything. It came to mind given her feminist studies. I don’t remember exactly how I replied! I fumbled through some kind of answer. She was satisfied, I guessed because she stuck with the class.

Well, the Christianity Explored curriculum begins with what the Gospel is, and who Jesus is… It begins with the good news about Jesus. He is the eternal Son of God. He has come to offer life. We are dead in our sin, but through faith in Jesus Christ, God forgives.

But about half-way through the curriculum shifts to ask more personal questions. And I remember I was teaching one evening and I asked the question, “do you believe?” Now, when I asked it, I asked it in kind of a rhetorical way. But she looked at me and she said “yes, I believe.”

I was not expecting that! I’m not sure why I didn’t expect that. I mean, that’s what God does. He works through his Word, using his people, and through that endeavor, people come to faith. The Holy Spirit is the one who turns someone’s heart to believe.

But sometimes we get discouraged, thinking our efforts are not working. And we forget it is God who does the work, and we are merely called to be faithful. And we don’t even know the half of what God is doing! …as far as changing hearts and mind.

By the way, we baptized this woman, she returned to her home country. She found a faithful church. Her daughter came to faith in Christ, as well. What a tremendous testimony of God’s work.

Well, the apostle Paul experienced, as he had experienced before, a tremendous work of God’s grace. He went from a drought of belief to an exciting response to the Word.

Now, that did not change the fact that many were still opposing Paul’s ministry.

And we learn that one night, the Lord himself spoke to Paul in a vision… verses 9 and 10 “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.” Paul needed this encouragement.

Now, to be sure, these promises were spoken to Paul, and some of it is very specific for Paul. The middle of the promise is an example: “No one will attack or harm you.” The Lord promised to preserve Paul for that moment in that city. Later in Paul’s life, we know he would be killed for the sake of the Gospel like the other apostles before him. But in Corinth for that moment God had more work for Paul to do and he promised to protect him.

What I’m saying is we have to be careful about applying the promises and prophecies in Scripture directly to our situation. Sometimes they do apply to us. For example, the first part of the promise is true for us. It says, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking, and do not be silent, for I am with you.” We know that this promise to Paul is also for us because we’re given that same promise elsewhere.

Jesus promised that he will be with us to the end of the age. That promise is part of the great commission in Matthew chapter 28. Or take what the apostle Paul said in Romans 8. Nothing will separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our lord… “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation.” None of that will separate you from the love of God. As he puts it, “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

So, that part of the promise to Paul is also a promise that God has given to us. He will be with us as we faithfully fulfill the Great commission.

Let’s now consider the last part of God’s promise to Paul. It’s an important one for us to know. It’s there at the end of verse 10, “for I have many in this city who are my people.”

The Lord was saying to the apostle Paul “go on speaking” why? “for there are many in this city who are my people.” These people still needed to hear the good news!

I heard another pastor put it this way… there were people in Corinth who were God’s people, but they did not yet know they were God’s people. They had yet to believe! But they would believe, and God would use Paul and the church in Corinth to proclaim the good news.

It’s a promise specifically for Paul, but it certainly has relevance to us. You see, we don’t know who God will call to be his people. We don’t know whose hearts and minds the Holy Spirit will open up to hear the Word and believe. And we don’t know if or when God would use something we have said in the life of our friends or neighbors. It could be years down the road that the Lord brings to their minds what you said, and they hear. You see, we don’t know, but God does. And that is the very reason we should be faithful and not lose heart in the task. God is the one at work.

There are many people in Tucker, in Lilburn, in Clarkston, in Decatur, or wherever you live, who are God’s people but who do not yet know it. And we need to find them and tell them the good news of Jesus. And do you know how we find them? We tell as many people as we can about the good news of Jesus and the Lord reveals them.

Let me take a brief tangent. Like many of you, I did not grow up in a Presbyterian church or a reformed church. Some of you may not know what I mean when I use the words Presbyterian and reformed. So let me briefly define them.

We are a Presbyterian church, as you know. A Presbyterian church believes that qualified elders are called to oversee the church. We believe the Bible teaches that. A faithful Presbyterian church is also Reformed. That means we believe the Scriptures teach that the Old Testament and New Testament present one unified story of Salvation. And we believe that the Scriptures teach that God is sovereign over salvation. So, we believe the centrality of the Bible as God’s Word, which teaches that God is sovereign over salvation – really over all things.

Let me take you back 30 years. I was a senior in college. It wasn’t until then that God gave me a passion to study his Word. And I had this great job. I was a security guard in a big corporate building. I mostly worked from midnight to 7am. Actually, when I got the job, my grades went up, because I was essentially paid to study. Well, I had this deep desire to understand the Bible, and I had a lot of time to study.

You may have heard me share this before, but in the middle of the night for months and months, I was reading through the New Testament and cross referencing every single Old Testament cross reference. It was transformative in my life.

One of the main things I learned is that it’s through God’s sovereign grace that people believe… from beginning to end. Here’s what I mean: From before the foundation of the world, God determined those who would believe. The term used in the New Testament is the term elect. God has elected his people to be his people. He’s chosen them. He’s the one who turns hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. He gives us ears to hear and eyes to see. We were dead in the sins and trespasses of our heart, but God made us alive in him.

This idea of God’s sovereign grace is infused all throughout the New Testament. Jesus speaks about those whom the Father has given him. The apostle Peter clearly testifies about how God choses and elects his people in Christ. The book of Ephesian and Romans walk us through God’s gracious choice in election. Over and over and over.

But this is not just a New Testament teaching. No, the Old Testament testifies to this as well. Over and over, God chose people. He chose Noah and his family. He chose Abraham. He chose the people of Israel to be his people. Not because they were better than anyone else or because they deserved to be God’s people. No, rather he chose them to demonstrate his undeserved lovingkindness. That is what sovereign grace is about. We read earlier from Ephesian chapter 2 how we were dead in our sins but God made us alive together with Christ, by grace, it says, you have been saved.

To say it again, from before the foundations of the world, God elected his people to be his people.

You may be thinking… “wait, if God has elected people to be his people, then what is the point of evangelism?” That is a very important question. The answer is that God uses his people. He uses us to be the mouthpiece of the Gospel. As the message goes forth, the Holy Spirit turns hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. People hear the truth and grace of God because they are given ears to hear. And when they are spiritually awakened, they repent and believe. It’s a beautiful thing for God to use his people to reach his people.

Romans chapter 10 captures it well. Listen to these words. “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’”

Do you see, there’s a chain there. It’s given to us in reverse order. Here’s the logical order:

1. Number 1 - we’re sent. That’s the Great Commission. God sends us all to bring his good news.

2. Step 2 - we’re faithful in going and declaring the Gospel. That looks different in different contexts and situations, but the Gospel message is the same.

3. Then number 3 – people hear. There are two sides to this. The outward call of the Gospel, which is what we do. The Gospel goes forth in words – spoken or written. And then there’s the inward call as God open ears to hear the good news.

4. And last, people believe! And I don’t have to tell you that, you know that because you believed! You believed and called on the name of the Lord, who saved you. Maybe you don’t remember the exact day that you heard and believed because you grew up in a home where the Gospel was always taught. Or maybe you do remember the day when you called upon the Lord and were saved. Either way, you did believe by faith.

To summarize: God uses us, according to his sovereign will, to bring the Gospel to his elect.

There’s no disconnect in the Bible between God’s sovereignty over salvation and his call for us to proclaim the good news of Jesus. In fact, they go together.

It is precisely because of God’s sovereignty that we have hope in the great commission! And not only hope, but confidence - confidence not in ourselves or our words, but confidence in God who is at work in the hearts and mind.

Think back to the apostle Paul again. What an amazing promise from God that there were more people in Corinth who were his people… more people who would hear and believe. Paul had seen it already and he would see it again. Just when he thought the Jews were a lost cause, God redeemed their synagogue leader. And then people from all walks of life believed. And a church was planted in Corinth. And Paul would continue on and leave Priscilla and Aquila to lead that fledgling congregation.

And beloved, God has and is using us. He’s using you in ways you do not realize. It may seem like the ground is hard. You may feel like your friends or family members are a lost cause, but do not underestimate the Sovereign will of our sovereign God, who in his sovereignty can call anyone from death to life.

So, may we press on individually and press on as a church in the great call to be a light of the Gospel here where God has placed us…  whether that’s your neighborhood, your work, your family. Whether that’s in Tucker, or Clarkston or in Lilburn or around the school here or wherever the Lord leads. May we trust in the Lord’s work and be faithful in the call. Just as the apostle Paul was faithful in Corinth, may we also be faithful to the call where God has placed us.