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Trusting God's Providence

November 19, 2023 Preacher: Jeff Griffis Series: Acts of the Holy Spirit Through the Apostles

Scripture: Acts 18:1–11

Trusting God's Providence – Acts 18:1–11

PRAY & INTRO:

When we study the book of Acts, one of the interesting and helpful things we see, in certain section especially, is the reality of the things taught other places in the NT playing out in the lives of the Apostles and their fellow Christian disciples.

Of course, I’m speaking of thing beyond the predominant demonstration from the author that Jesus is fulfilling his own promise to them from the beginning of Acts throughout the rest of Acts.

Acts 1:8 ESV

8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Luke continues to show plainly that God, by the work of his Spirit through Christ’s Apostles, this promise is being fulfilled.

Let me give you another example of something taught in the NT which you may even have memorized, and yes which you should believe and live accordingly, that the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome.

Romans 8:28 ESV

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

For the benefit of other Christians, potentially in difficult or even dangerous circumstances, Paul can say such things because he has experienced trusting God this way in his own life. So it is not merely a theological idea. Such theological truth is a practical reality in the lives of those who are actively trusting God’s providence.

When we come to Acts 18, Paul’s ministry in Corinth gives us an example and a pattern for trusting God’s providence as we seek to serve him.

Over the next two weeks, I want Paul’s experience of God’s providence to abundantly evident, and I want you to be overwhelmed with the realization that God is up to the same thing with all of his creation, and particularly on your behalf, if you are in Christ Jesus.

Acts 18:1–11 ESV

1 After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, 3 and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. 4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks. 5 When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. 6 And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” 7 And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue. 8 Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. 9 And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 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.” 11 And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

On this final major stop of his second missionary journey, we can observe from Paul’s ministry in Corinth an example and a pattern for trusting God’s providence as we seek to serve him.

What are we saying when we refer to God’s providence?

Providence is God’s governing power and activity as he oversees his creation and works out his plans for it. [repeat slowly]

God’s providence is not some nebulous and intangible concept. Rather, God is providing in concrete, definite ways, and he is even providing in intangible ways that are no less real and operative (functional and practical).

And providence is a needful doctrine because it takes us a level deeper into God’s sovereignty in terms of what that means about his activity. God is not merely the supreme ruler above and beyond all time and creation, which he is. But God also is actively involved in the purposeful directing and providing for his creation.

And if God is actively governing all this creation in providence, imagine his power and care in providing for those whom he has chosen and are seeking him and serving him.

Now… one more word before we continue in the text, and this about our side of trusting God’s providential working: While it is obvious to us that serving God is active, perhaps it may sound to us like trust is a passive endeavor. But our trust in God’s providence must be active, otherwise we will begin to trust in other things—our own strength, our own thinking, our own plans… or we will trust in other men, in their political power, influence, or ability. Indeed, trusting in God to provide is an active endeavor.

So as we finish out Paul’s second missionary journey with him, let’s carefully observe the various ways that God is providing in Paul’s life and ministry in Corinth, and let us think in terms of how we ought to trust God with similar provision.

We trust God to provide co-laborers in ministry.

-Paul left Athens and came to Corinth. Who would Paul encounter, and how would ministry proceed there?

[map] Corinth was west of Athens, and at this time a more prominent city. It was the Roman capital of Achaia and the political and economic center of Greece. [isthmus map] All trade and traffic between southern Greece and the mainland had to pass through the Isthmus of Corinth. The red line crossing the isthmus from east to west is the diolkos, a track where many ships traveling across between Italy and Asia chose to drag across rather than take the dangerous journey around southern Greece.  So combined with the port at Cenchrea (Kenchreai), Corinth was important to the economic development more broadly for the entire region.

That also meant that it had an eclectic blend of people and visitors to the city, and although the city had been rebuilt by the Romans after its destruction in war, its historical fame for debauchery and immorality seemed to continue in the days of Paul.

So what kind of welcome did Paul expect to find there, except that such a big city was likely to have a synagogue, which it did. And Paul’s training as a Rabbi afforded him the privilege of teaching in the synagogues, at least until he would get kicked out for proclaiming Christ. Plus, as he comes to Corinth, we learn from his letters that he had evidently sent both Timothy (1 Thess 3:1-2) and Silas (Ac 18:5) back on errands (probably with letters) to the churches in Macedonia. Like in Athens, Paul arrives in Corinth alone. But by God’s providence, he wouldn’t remain so for long.

-Aquila (originally from Pontus [map - southern coastline of the Black Sea, above Cappadocia]), and his wife Priscilla had recently come from Italy, because Emperor Claudius commanded the Jews to leave Rome. We do not know for sure what caused him to expel the Jewish community from Rome. It is possible that there was some controversy and disturbance amongst Jews there about Jesus being the Messiah, since it seems quite plausible that Aquila and Priscilla were already Christians when they met Paul.

-Nonetheless, see God’s clear providential work in the the lives of Aquila and Priscilla, including their relationship to Paul. ***

And Paul would regain Silas and Timothy in God’s timing. Not only that, but God would provide unlikely allies and coworkers in Titius Justus and Crispus. Titius Justus evidently had a large home adjacent to the synagogue, which allowed for Paul to continue teaching nearby. Although this undoubtedly angered some of the Jews, it also led to the salvation of Crispus and his household, and he would have been well-to-do and very influential in Corinth, at least among the Jews.

Consider the expanse of God’s provision for co-laborers in ministry… from Paul to us… from believers in the middle east to Europe, from Europe to the farthest reaches of the globe… from fellow ministers in your local church to fellow ministers in the local church of a distant city, culture, and language. The scope of God’s provision for making a people for his name, and provision for his people, should cause us us to drop open our mouths in awe... and to shout, sing, or whisper his praises from hearts that adore him.

Do you view yourself as a co-laborer in ministry for the advancement of the gospel, and for the care and maturation of Christ’s people? We trust God to equip us for ministry.

(Not only do we see that we can trust God to provide co-laborers in ministry, but in the text these partners in ministry are also closely connected to God’s provision for Paul’s physical needs.)

We trust God to provide for our material needs and physical protection as he deems best.

It seems clear from Paul’s letters and from Acts that he was sometimes supported in the missionary work by churches and fellow Christians who were grateful to God for his ministry and wanted to stay involved in it in any way they could. So sometimes Paul was fully supported through such donations, and sometimes Paul was partially supported and supplemented that with working at a trade with his hands to provide for material needs, and sometimes he was almost entirely dependent on God’s provision through that additional skill God had given him.

*** tentmaking or leather-working...

-I actually think it is fair to say that this is more a necessity than it is a goal. I believe the evidence would suggest that Paul using tentmaking to support himself while in ministry is more of a necessity at times than it is an ideal.

-God’s provision for our material needs may be the most obvious way we think of God’s provision, but it is no less crucial to our active trust in God.

Matthew 6:26 ESV

26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

Does God provide for you without you? Sometimes. But oftentimes he provides for you through you, and that is not to say that he deserves any less credit, or you any more!

Are you actively trusting God’s provision for you?

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”

Matthew 6:33 ESV

33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

You demonstrate active trust in God’s provision by seeking Christ’s kingdom first in stewardship of everything that God has already given you.

The ability to work is God’s grace to you. The provision of food and shelter is God’s grace to you. The ability to give and to share is God’s grace to you, and to others.

-For many of us, our mission field (or at least a significant part of it) is associated with where God has us working (as he provides through that means for our material needs).

-Work is by God’s design and should be done to honor him: Col 3:23-24

Colossians 3:23–24 ESV

23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

Even (or especially) in your prayers, I encourage you to actively trust God’s provision for your material needs and physical protection… according to his will.

And what about physical safety? In v. 9, Paul is reassured by God one night in a vision that he did not need to fear. (Paul experienced fear for his physical safety? Uh yeah, by nature of being human and of all that he had already experienced.) “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent [which would be the temptation from fearing what men might do to him], for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you.”

Many other times Paul would suffer physical harm, but not right now. For now he would experience relatively peaceful ministry in Corinth. And how was God going to do this? God’s plan was to save many people in Corinth, and that would also result in Paul’s continued safety: “for I have many in this city who are my people.”

Now that phrase is also extremely significant to our final application as we observe God’s providence in Paul’s Corinthian ministry.

We trust God to provide saving faith to his people.

This truth shows itself robustly in this passage in both negative and positive forms. In the first case we see Paul’s willingness to move on from those who persist in resisting the truth, and in the second we hear God’s comfort to Paul that he will not be harmed and that he should go on speaking because there were many in the city “who are my people,” God says.

God’s providential work in this regard does not remove human agency, in either the witness concerning Christ or the right response of repentance from sin and faith in Christ. So we trust God to save his people through faithful proclamation according to his will.

Therefore, if they persist in refusing Christ and opposing us, we may willingly warn them and move on. This does not mean we have given up on the saving power of God’s grace to other sinners like us, but it does mean that we might prayerfully choose to invest our energies elsewhere. (Notice that Paul can say that he is innocent of their blood, meaning their judgment, because he has faithfully proclaimed Jesus as God’s Messiah. And notice too that Paul never fully gives up on the hope that some Jews will be saved (which occurs with Crispus and his household). And still further confirmation of God blessing Paul’s shift in emphasis away from the synagogue is “and many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.”)

The positive, affirming statement of God saving his people, of Jesus’s sheep responding to his voice when he calls (Jn 10:27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.), is in this text made clear in God’s comfort to Paul. ***

  1. 11 - Paul would have fruitful ministry. Not only with respect to Corinth itself, but during this time (we believe) Paul wrote 1 & 2 Thessalonians.

[Next week] We trust God’s presence & preservation in political realities. [This, and more, next time] 

Conclusion:

God is trustworthy, so seek God’s provision with trusting submission.

When we trust God’s providence… we seek God’s provision of partners in ministry… we seek God’s provision for our material needs… we seek for God to save his people… we seek God’s presence & strength in our political realities.

… knowing God is present, knowing God is working, and knowing God is good and his plans are good. (Especially when things are not happening according to OUR plan… we submit to God, trusting in his presence, knowing he is working, and that he is good and his plans are good.)

I hope now you will read and meditate differently on Paul’s words to encourage you from Romans 8:28, which I encourage you to also read in context.

Romans 8:28 ESV

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

PRAY

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Suggestions for Further Discussion:

  1. Describe God’s providence in your own words. Why is it helpful for our understanding and our daily living to define our theological terms?
  1. Which evidence of God’s providence from this text in God’s word most grips you in your present situation of life? Why? In what way do you need to actively trust more in God’s provision?
  1. What other texts (or themes) of Scripture stand out to you as either clear descriptions of God’s providence or clear examples of God working according to his good plans?
  1. Look ahead in Acts 18 and see if you can describe other evidences of God’s providential working in Paul’s life (and in the lives of his coworkers). Bonus points if you can spot more than God’s power over political realities. ;-)

More in Acts of the Holy Spirit Through the Apostles

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Resisting Injustice, Trusting God

April 7, 2024

Christ’s Continued Work & Presence in His People

March 31, 2024

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