The Assault of Discouragement

Intro: You are asked to give counsel to a young man who wanted to preach the gospel. What do you tell him is the greatest danger he will face? What warnings do you issue? Listen to Paul as he counseled Timothy…

  • Stay true to the word; preach the word in season and out of season; keep yourself pure; protect your conscience and your reputation
  • wage the good warfare having faith and a good conscience;
  • exercise yourself toward godliness.
  • be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.
  • give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine… Meditate on these things…Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine.
  • Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people’s sins; keep yourself pure.
  • having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.
  • Beware of covetousness, and much more. This is good counsel. But I am also convinced that one of the greatest dangers facing those who preach and teach in this difficult world is discouragement.

I. The Assault of Discouragement: Many of God’s servants have experienced the assault of a discouraging spirit. They have experienced times of despondency and despair. They have felt the burden.

A. Moses cried out to the Lord: “Why hast Thou been so hard on Thy servant? And why have I not found favor in Thy sight, that Thou hast laid the burden of all this people on me? (Number 11:11-15)

B. Following Israel’s defeat at Ai, Joshua said, “Alas, O Lord God, why didst Thou ever bring this people over the Jordan, only to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? If only we had been willing to dwell beyond the Jordan!” (Josh 7:7)

C. Elijah plunged from the exhilaration of his dramatic victory at Mt Carmel to the pit of despair under the Juniper tree. He said to God, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:4).

D. Others such as King Hezekiah, righteous Job, weeping Jeremiah, and even Jesus was described as “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isa 53:3).

II. A Discouraging Time: Read Acts 18:1-11 – The beginning of Acts 18 accounts Paul’s arrival in Corinth. There is some evidence that this was a low time for the apostle. Certainly, we can recognize the arduous journey he experienced on his way here.

A. After traveling through Asia Minor “strengthening the churches” (Acts 15:41), he crossed the Aegean Sea to the Greek mainland. He healed a demon-possessed girl in Philippi, but sparked a riot, and he and Silas were beaten and thrown into prison. After being released following a devastating earthquake, he was forced to leave the city (16:39-40).

B. From there he went to Thessalonica, where he converted some (17:4). But persecution arose and he was forced him to flee to Berea (17:10). More were converted (17:12).

C. When persecution followed him there from Thessalonica, Paul was again forced to run for his life (17:14). He arrived alone in the great city of Athens, where his brilliant speech in defense of Christianity was largely been ignored (17:19-32). He then walked 53 miles to Corinth.

D. A Discouraging Place: Corinth presented a daunting challenge to the gospel message. The city had replaced Athens as the leading political and commercial center of Greece. It was also a center of vice and debauchery. The very term “Corinthian” came to describe reckless living; one who was grossly self-indulgent. “to Corinthianize” meant to practice whoredom;

1. Everett Harrison describes the scene in these words… “As he arrived in Corinth, Paul felt greater discouragement. “The combination of only limited success at Athens, loneliness, and the prospect of facing this city, with its commerce and vice, accounts for the weakness and fear that gripped the apostle as he arrived to begin his work” (Everett F. Harrison, Interpreting Acts: The Expanding Church [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986].)

2. Later when Paul himself described his arrival in Corinth he said, “I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling” (1 Cor 2:3). He also spoke of his trial in his first letter to the Thessalonians, written from Corinth. In 1 Thess 3:7, Paul wrote, “For this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith.” Their faith was a beacon of hope in his darkness.

III. God’s Remedy to Discouragement: Paul spoke of God as the “God of all comfort” (2 Cor 1:3), who “comforts the depressed” (2 Cor 7:6). He makes it clear that God did not leave him alone in this depressed condition. He sent him comfort and encouragement. How did Jesus encourage the apostle? How does God provide for Paul in this circumstance?

A. The companionship of fellow workersActs 18:2-3 –And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them. 3 So, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked; for by occupation they were tentmakers.

1. It is difficult to serve God alone. With Silas and Timothy still in Macedonia (v. 5), God knew Paul needed a companion in the work. God provided Paul help in the persons of a certain Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, and his wife Priscilla. They shared in the spiritual and physical work that defined the mission.

2. We need each other. We need to recognize that just being a part of the same group is not enough. We need to share in the physical elements of life as well. We need to struggle together across the board, bearing each other’s burdens.

3. Priscilla and Aquilla become two of Paul’s closest friends, even eventually risking their lives for him (Rom 16:3-4) Paul was encouraged to work alongside Aquila and Priscilla during the week, reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks (Acts 18:4)

4. Later, the Lord encouraged Paul with the arrival of two familiar helpers, Silas and Timothy from Macedonia. (v. 5)

B. The blessing of Converts (even unexpected ones)As always the preaching of the apostle was opposed. “they opposed him and blasphemed,” (18:6) Resisted (opposed) means to “to arrange in battle array” (Lenski, Acts, 748). They organized themselves to fight Paul’s teaching and even blasphemed the name of Christ — the most serious sin. A setting for discouragement again. Paul shakes off his garments (symbolic of his rejection of his Jewish opponents. He was taking the gospel to the gentiles. He declared himself free form the responsibility of their rebellion and disobedience.

1. As discouraging as this move must have been, God provided fruit to encourage the work. Paul converted the Justus, guy next door to the synagogue. (not what you would expect – Mamie Gardner). And then the real shocker – Crispus, the ruler of the very synagogue you just were forced to vacate?

C. The words of Jesus Himself: Acts 18:9-10 – Now the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.

1. This is one of six visions Paul received in Acts (9:12; 16:9-10; 22:17-18; 23:11; 27:23-24), all coming at crucial points in his ministry. What an enormous boost if must have been to hear the voice of Jesus (the voice he had heard before). Paul was obedient to such a vision and remained in Corinth “a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (Acts 18:11).

2. “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent” answered the struggle in Paul’s mind. He could confidently pursue the mission without fear. Someone has suggested that the vision provided four reasons for Paul to not give up the mission:

a. First, God commanded it specifically when He said “go on speaking.”

b. Second, God reminded him, “I am with you.” He gave a similar revelation to Joshua when he assumed the leadership of Israel after Moses’ death: No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. …Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Josh 1:5, 9) If God was with him, Paul could accomplish everything God intended.

1) At the end of his ministry Paul wrote – 2 Tim 4:17-18 – But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. Also I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. 18 And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen! God gives us the same assurance. He will not forsake us.

c. Third, God promised Paul that “no man will attack you in order to harm you.” This must have been a real good thing to hear! God’s protection freed Paul to focus on the spiritual aspect of his work. Jesus tells us “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on…”Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Matt 6:25-33)

d. Finally, Jesus tells Paul, I have many people in this city.” (Acts 18:10). There was more fruit to bear. This points to the fact that it was not Paul’s work, but Jesus’. He was the One who could change hearts and give new life to dead souls.

3. Jesus wanted to Paul to see something that we often fail to see.

a. He wants us to see souls. For our purposes, we are reminded that it is people who need the gospel. It’s those who are yet in their sins that must “call on the name of the Lord.” “But how are they to 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?” (Rom.10:14). It’s in seeing souls, lost people who are in need of the saving gospel of Christ that motivates us to keep looking for opportunities to open our mouths and “go on speaking and not remain silent” (vs.9).

b. He wants us to see His power. God was at work, even in those discouraging circumstances. The Hebrew writer assures us that the word of God is “living and powerful” (Heb.4:12). James assures us that the prayer of a righteous person “has great power” (Jam.5:16). We just need to open our eyes and see how God’s presence and the assurance of such power can change everything. We have no reason to be afraid.

Conclusion: Paul stayed at the task of preaching and teaching for a year and a half (vs.11), perhaps even longer (vs.18). He would not be easily discouraged or deterred from his work of seeking the lost. How we need such a spirit of determination. Seeking the lost and praying for doors of opportunity is hard work, work that can be filled with frustrations. But we must stay on task. We can’t afford to drift into despair or give up because we haven’t seen fruit in over a year. Let us have endurance for the mission. Let us “not lose heart in doing good” (Gal.6:9), but remain “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Cor.15:58). God promises that our labor will not be in vain.