Being Consistent Through Inconsistency

Read Acts 18.

What comes to mind when you think of a person’s legacy? Perhaps it is a series of accomplishments. As an avid fan of college football, I quickly recall seeing how accomplishments go a long way into defining the legacy a person leaves in this realm of life. Maybe a person’s character is what you consider when you determine their legacy. We have seen a great deal of fallout in places such as the government, Hollywood, or in sports when a person is exposed for having character that is not very upstanding. We could also consider the influence of a person’s teachings as to what they are remembered for. Many people respect individuals such as Mr. Rogers or Gandhi based solely off their teachings. There are many things that could contribute to a person’s legacy and it tends to be characterized by that which is most consistent in their lives.
In Acts 18, Luke takes a step back from the more detailed accounts of Paul’s ministry and gives the reader more of a bird’s-eye view of his ministry instead. When you examine Paul’s ministry from the lens of chapter 18, you will see two specific patterns that Paul committed himself to: 1) Paul’s commitment to the word of God and 2) Paul’s commitment to the mission of God.

The first thing we should take note of is Paul’s commitment to the word of God. Paul was committed to teaching Scripture wherever he was. In verse 5 we read that Paul was “devoted to the word.” Verse 11 says, “He stayed there a year and six months teaching the word of God.” Scripture was the source of everything Paul had to say. However, we see in chapter 18 that Paul did not just teach Scripture to others. We see this because of a couple in this chapter named Priscilla and Acquila. They spent a great deal of their time with Paul for a couple years. Yet, we see in verse 26 that they were able to teach others how to interpret the word of God “more accurately.” This means that Paul is not only teaching others what the Scripture says, but teaching others how Scripture should be handled. Apollos was then taught how to handle Scripture by this couple and then released to serve the church and reach the lost. We see in verses 27 and 28 that he “greatly helped” believers and also “powerfully refuted the Jews” by showing from Scripture that Jesus was the Christ. Have you ever considered that your faithfulness to the Bible, the way you teach it, and the way you teach others to handle it could lead to generation shaping movements in the foreseeable future?

I am reminded of a fascinating chain of events that was triggered simply by the prayers and commitment of a Sunday school teacher named Edward Kimball. Kimball greatly desired that his students would come to know Jesus. One day he was privileged to lead one of his students to the Lord. This student was named D.L. Moody. Moody went on to preach to thousands of people across two continents during his lifetime in the 1800s. Under Moody’s preaching, an individual named Wilbur Chapman came to faith. He went on to have an influential ministry of his own, preaching to thousands. One of the more popular people to be touched by Chapman’s ministry was a man named Billy Sunday. Sunday was a professional baseball player who just so happened to have a day off when he decided to attend one of Chapman’s events. It was here that he heard the gospel and was saved. Sunday quit baseball and joined Chapman’s ministry team before eventually launching his own ministry and putting on his own crusades. During one of his crusades, a young man was converted named Mordecai Ham. Eventually Ham would put on multiple events in Charlotte, NC that would be attended by an individual who would come to faith and go on to have, arguably, the most influential ministry to this date. This person was named Billy Graham.

Surely we cannot ignore the fact that God had clearly ordained this series of events. As we see this script unfold we cannot help but be curious about what other sort of things God has done, is doing, or will do. However, we cannot ignore the fact that this all started with a normal man who was committed to praying for and faithfully teaching those under his influence. Is your influence one that will be carried out into the next generations or die out? You do not have to be an eloquent speaker or a seminary graduate to be committed to faithfully handling Scripture. You do not have to teach the thousands for those around you to catch your passion for Jesus.

The second pattern worth considering in this chapter is Paul’s commitment to the mission of God. As it can be seen all over the book of Acts, Paul was actively sharing the gospel in a variety of settings. Due to the fact that Paul preached in a variety of settings, the responses varied as well. In verse 6 we read that he was “opposed and reviled.” It is fascinating that Paul left this group of people once they got a little snippy with him. He was always preaching to hostile crowds, to the point where he was often stoned. However, it seems as if Paul was able to discern that his efforts would be best served elsewhere. This does not mean that we should flee once difficulty arises. This simply means that we should be willing to move on from the door that does not open. Paul moved on and immediately began to experience fruit again. In verse 8 we read that as Paul moved on, many people believed.
Have you ever wondered what motivated the apostle Paul? There is a wide variety of things that can give missionaries comfort and hope, but what is it that motivates them when life gets difficult? How do they keep going when their greatest efforts seem like a complete waste of time? How do they stay committed when all of their sacrifices seem to be for nothing? How do they stay encouraged when everyone around them seems to be against them? Not every missionary lives a horror story, but Paul did. Consider this, in this chapter, Paul experiences hostility, a word of motivation from God, and then a “united attack” which led to a court appearance. Sure, Paul experienced fruit in verse 8 and encouragement in verses 9-10. Everything else Paul experienced in this chapter was stuff we may find quite difficult: angry mobs, harsh words, court appearances, saying goodbye, etc. How would you feel if these things defined your life? It is very likely that we would feel pretty frustrated, maybe even defeated. However, God gives Paul an exhortation that fuels him in verses 9-10:
“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.”

There are several things to take note of in this exhortation. First, notice how the words of Jesus from the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 are reflected here, “Do not be afraid…for I am with you.” No matter what Paul would face, God was with him and because of this he could have confidence that he was never alone in his trials. Secondly, God reinforces Paul’s calling. “Go on speaking and do not be silent.” In other words, God reminds Paul that this is what he has been called to do and disobedience is not an option. Thirdly, Paul is assured that he will not die. This is not a luxury that most people get. However, this allows Paul to be a little more steadfast and bold. It does not mean that nothing will happen to him. God says, “no one will attack you to harm you.” That does not mean that he would not be attacked, but rather that he would not be harmed. Paul still lived his life with the expectation of persecution. Finally, Paul is informed that God had many people in the city. In other words, God is assuring Paul that his work will be fruitful because God was going to work in it. It was a guarantee that people would come to Jesus because of his perseverance. How motivating is it to know that despite everything you are going through, your work will not be in vain because God is control? Would that not be a comforting truth for us to have assurance in?

Like Paul, we can rest in the truth that God is at work in us and through us. We are told in Revelation 5:9 that God will “ransom people from every tribe, language, people, and nation.” Wherever we are, whatever we are doing, God is working to bring about a people for Himself and we get to play a role in that. As we find ourselves on mission in our daily lives, there is no greater motivation for us to be faithful than the fact that God is working and has guaranteed the outcome of the battle we currently face.