The following was originally addressed to the Missionary Trainees at To Every Tribe’s Center for Pioneer Church Planting 2016 Graduation Ceremony.
One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city’” (Acts 18:9-10). This is the tenth anniversary of the first graduating class of the Center for Pioneer Church Planting and certainly God has been faithful to this ministry through these years. As you embark on your calling to your field of service, you may have some sense of fear and trepidation as even Paul the Apostle, had going into Corinth.
If you wanted me to describe the Apostle Paul, I probably wouldn’t use words such as frightened, alarmed or fearful. The words I would use are fearless, and courageous, and determined. Yet when Paul describes in 1 Thessalonians 3:7 how he felt during his early days in Corinth, he uses the word “distressed.” Then, in 1 Corinthians 2:3, he says, “I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling.”
Why would this spiritual giant be afraid? It’s because he was struggling with the same emotions that we all struggle with. In Athens, Paul had faced persecution and ridicule wherever he preached. Now he was going to Corinth, the “Sin City” of Greece. The city was so notorious for its immorality that in the fifth century B.C., the Greeks coined a verb, “to Corinthianize,” that meant to commit sexual immorality.
Fear has a paralyzing effect on all of us. Even the Apostle Paul. He was made of the same flesh and blood that we are. God has never promised us to be exempt from trials and hardships. There is no promise of a “rose garden.” All of God’s servants go through difficult times and calamities. Missionary David Sitton said, “We have learned that our particular ministry (pioneer work among the unreached) makes us high-priority targets for the Enemy.”
Just at the precise time, the Lord appears to Paul in a vision and gives him words of encouragement and comfort. The Lord appears to him and says, “Don’t be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent.” He then gives Paul three statements to support His exhortation.
1. “I am with you.”
Having the presence of the Lord is paramount to accomplishing any task in the Name of Jesus. In the Great Commission Jesus promised, “I will be with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). The Prophet Isaiah records, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:1-3). To know that the Lord is with you in whatever you endeavor to do is an unspeakable comfort.
2. “No man will attack you in order to harm you.”
What a blessing to know the protective hand of God’s mercy. Does that mean we will never have physical harm or danger? No. This is a general promise that doesn’t apply to every situation. Paul was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, and put into prison wherever he preached the gospel. The application is not that God’s servants have assurance of safety. After all, the history of the Church is filled with martyrs because of their testimony. The application is that no one can touch us without the Father’s permission and purpose. As long as God has a purpose for your life to fulfill His mission, He will protect you.
3. “For I have many people in this city.”
This is the most encouraging thing that the Lord could say to Paul. When you preach the gospel in Corinth, there will be those that will hear and respond. He is referring to the “elect”−the ones whom God has chosen. God has not only ordained their salvation but also the means. Paul would be a part of that means in the preaching of the gospel. If unredeemed man were given a free choice, every sinner would choose sin. But if God the Father purposed to save a sinner, and Jesus has given His life to save that sinner, and the Holy Spirit grants him faith, then there is salvation for that sinner. Paul says, “For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10).
God would not have told Paul not to be afraid unless he was afraid. May the Lord give us boldness and determination to preach the gospel in the midst of opposition. Continue speaking and do not be silent.
*Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the September 2016 edition of To Every Tribe’s Ekballo Magazine.