Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Mar 29 2020 - Acts 18:1-23 – Whose mission is it anyway?

When Paul arrived at Corinth his preaching and the reaction to it followed a familiar pattern. There was controversy and division in the synagogue and Paul declared that he would henceforth speak to the Gentiles. Many of the Jews seemed determined to stir up trouble against him.

In the night, the Lord spoke to Paul in a dream, telling him not to be afraid but to continue preaching. As he had promised the original eleven before his ascension, so now the Lord Jesus promises Paul that he will be with him. The Lord’s presence will ensure that his ministry will result in many converts for, the Lord says, “Many people in this city are mine” (Acts 18:10).

Here we are reminded that the mission conducted by Paul is not his own, it is the mission of the risen Lord Jesus, into which Paul has been recruited as a helper. Christ has gone before him and Christ will now go with him in his mission.

Nevertheless, the Jews who opposed Paul’s message dragged him before Gallio, the proconsul of Achaiah, and charged him with “persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law” (18:13). Gallio will have none of it. If Paul has been guilty of some crime he is quite prepared to listen to the charges of Paul’s opponents but if it is merely a matter of their religious customs, Gallio considers this to be none of his business. Indeed, he seems to have viewed the Jews and their religious disputes as rather troublesome for he is quite prepared for them to beat up their synagogue leader in front of him and take no action.

In the Book of Acts, Luke is concerned to show that the Christian message, while proclaiming that Jesus Christ is Lord, is no threat to good government; it is no threat to human flourishing. But equally, the Christian message does not need the active support and promotion of civil government. Christ is at work building his church and he is the one who will ensure its success.

In past centuries, the church sought to have a privileged position within the state even to the point of arguing that part of the role of civil government is to uphold God’s law. The Christendom project has now collapsed. In many parts of the world we now see Christians suffering at the hand of those who argue that the state’s role is to preserve a very different religious order and to oppose those who will not conform to the privileged religion. We live in world in many ways similar to that of the first century Roman Empire. Christianity has no privileged position and must demonstrate that it is no threat to good order but promises blessing to those who follow the crucified Messiah. There are welcome signs that this message is being heard in China where suspicion is slowly giving way to respect.

We need to take courage from the words of the risen Saviour to Paul and to remember that he has said, “I will build my church.” He is the one who is still at work in the world by the power of his word and his Spirit to bring many to know him and to follow him. He neither needs state support nor can be stopped by state opposition.

Thank you, Lord, that you have a part for each of us to play in your mission of transforming the world. Help us to be faithful and diligent in the work you have given us to do, but help us to remember that without you we can do nothing. Strengthen and encourage your people who face persecution that they may have wisdom to know how to remain faithful to you and to their calling in the midst of trials. Lord, build your church. May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Peter Misselbrook