Acts Part 15

Notes on Acts

Part Fifteen




Read Acts 18:1-17.


“A little appreciated truth about the ministry is that pastors and missionaries, perhaps more than other believers, are subject to discouragement. Charles Spurgeon explains that


‘good men are promised tribulation in this world, and ministers may expect a larger share than others, that they may learn sympathy with the Lord’s suffering people, and so may be fitting shepherds of an ailing flock.’


Some of God’s choicest servants have undergone times of severe despondency and despair. Burdened with the weight of a rebellious, grumbling people, Moses cried out to the Lord:


So Moses said to the Lord, “Why have You been so hard on Your servant? And why have I not found favor in Your sight, that You have laid the burden of all this people on me?

12     “Was it I who conceived all this people? Was it I who brought them forth, that You should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom as a anurse carries a nursing infant, to the land which You swore to their fathers’?

13     “Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me, saying, ‘Give us meat that we may eat!’

14     “I alone am not able to carry all this people, because it is too burdensome for me.

15     “So if You are going to deal thus with me, please kill me at once, if I have found favor in Your sight, and do not let me see my wretchedness.”[1]


Following Israel’s defeat at Ai, Joshua said, ‘Alas, O Yahweh God, why did you 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! (Joshua 7:7)’ Elijah knew what it was to plunge from the height of success to the pit of despair. Following his dramatic victory over the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (I Kings 18:20ff), he fled into the wilderness in fear of Jezebel. There he despaired of life and said, ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers’ (I Kings 19:4). Faced with the prospect of imminent death, godly king Hezekiah wept and pleaded with the Lord (Isaiah 38:1-20). After his world collapsed and his God seemingly abandoned him, Job cursed the day of his birth (Job 3:1ff) and complained bitterly about God’s treatment of him (Job 9:16ff). Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet, and even our Lord was described as ‘a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief (Is. 53:3).


Nor did the apostle Paul escape the throes of discouragement. The opening of Acts 18 finds him at a low point in his grueling ministry. His second missionary journey had been arduous. After traveling through Asia Minor ‘strengthening the churches,’ he crossed the Aegean Sea to the Greek mainland. His healing of a demon-possessed girl in Philippi sparked a riot, and he and Silas had been beaten and thrown into prison. After being released following a devastating earthquake, he was forced to leave the city. From there he went to Thessalonica, where his ministry enjoyed a great success (17:4). He arrived alone in the great city of Athens, where his brilliant speech in defense of Christianity had largely been ignored. He then left Athens and went to Corinth, a fifty-three mile walk.”[2]


But God “did not leave Paul in his downtrodden condition. He encouraged his struggling servant through four means: the companionship of friends, the blessing of converts, the fellowship of God, and the frustration of his enemies. These are the very blessings and depressed servant of the Lord can cling to for encouragement.”[3]


Let us consider each of these four, as developed by MacArthur:


The Companionship of Friends


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…[4]


“Paul’s struggle was made more intense because he had to bear it alone. With Silas and Timothy still in Macedonia, God knew Paul needed someone else to help him shoulder the formidable burdens he carried. Paul found that desperately needed companionship in a certain Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. In Corith Paul first met this husband and wife team who were to become two of his closest friends, even eventually risking their lives for him (Romans 16:3-4). Pontus, Aquila’s home region, was located in Asia Minor, on the south shore of the Black Sea. Because his wife Priscilla is named first four out of the six times the couple is mentioned, some have speculated that she was a Roman woman of higher social rank than Aquila. More likely, she is mentioned first because she was the more prominent of the two in service to the church. Paul always refers to he by her formal name, Prisca (Rom. 16:3; I Cor. 16:19; 2 Tim 4:19), while Luke always uses the diminutive form Priscilla.”[5]


It is God’s design and plan to have the husband be the spiritual leader. This is normative. However, there may be times when the wife must take this role. This not the Lord’s ideal situation, but it is better than having no leading at all in a particular family. The situations that might call for the wife to take up the mantle are:


  • When the husband is not a disciple. If the wife is the only child of God in the home then she should teach her husband the truths of the Lord found in Scripture with the hope that he will come to saving faith.
  • When the husband claims faith, but shows little interest in the commands and duties of the Lord. (Such a person is likely not regenerated, but that is not germane to the point. We ought to still teach those who have little interest, as long as they are willing to hear.)
  • When the wife is gifted with a greater abundance in the supply of the Spirit and is fervent for the Lord, able to teach. The husband, in such instances, should still take the lead in Bible studies and, especially, home worship; but, he can be open to his wife’s greater understanding. This seems to have been the case with Aquila and Priscilla. It appears that they taught others together as a couple, but Priscilla may have been the one doing most of the teaching (if MacArthur’s assessment is correct).


Our “take-away” from this experience of Paul’s is that we need friendships in Christ. When we are down, our friends can encourage us. When they are down we can encourage them. Friendships are a gift from the Lord!


Then, Silas and Timothy also came to Paul. Their arrival emboldened him even more.


The Blessings of Converts


…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. [6]


Silas and Timothy had brought a monetary gift from the Macedonians (2 Cor 11:9; Phil. 4:15). This allowed Paul to cease his tent-making (for income) and devote himself completely to the word. Using the Scriptures he was solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.


When the Jews resisted this truth and even spoke evil of Christ, “he shook out his garments.” This means that “he did not want any of the dust from the synagogue where that blasphemy had taken place to cling to his clothes. His shocking stetment, ‘Your blood be upon your own heads! I am innocent.’ indicated that his opponents were fully responsible for what they were doing.”[7]


The fact that many came to the Lord through Paul’s speaking must have been a great encouragement to him. We have this same experience, do we not? When someone comes to faith through our feeble efforts, we feel much joy and encouragement. We feel as if we have done what is pleasing to the Lord and it lightens us! It brightens us. Indeed, the best way (as far as what we can do) to bring oneself out of the doldrums is to simply work for the Lord. Many times our poor feelings are due to a lack of purpose in our lives. But not just any purpose will do. We need the Lord’s purposes!


The Fellowship of God


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. [8]


The greatest experience of being lifted up is having the Lord Himself commune with us. The Lord came to Paul in a vision. In this vision he heard the Lord speak. This means is quite rare, even for Paul. Most Christians have never had a vision at all. We have seen before that the Lord can speak to us in a dream. When we are sure that the dream was from the Lord,[9] we can have great consolation in the midst of difficulty or stress.


There is also the sense of the Lord’s presence that cannot be adequately described. It has nothing to do with any kind of propositional communication, as one would receive from words or stories via a vision or dream. It is just a sense (not one of the five) that the Lord is with us. Of course, if we belong to him, he is always with us. But, there can be a greater sense of his nearness, his presence, at times. I (CR) have had this experience only a few times. One time it was associated with God blessing me. All the other times it had to do with difficult times. The experience is precious and stirs up a greater love for the Lord.


Fellowship with God Himself is the best kind of comfort!


The Frustration of his Enemies


But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, 13 saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” 14 But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. 15 But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.” 16 And he drove them from the tribunal. 17 And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this. [10]


When we see the Lord make our enemies’ efforts come to nothing, this is a great encouragement to us. We ought not to think that the Lord does not wish to see our enemies defeated. He does! Especially, if they are his enemies, too. Our Lord said that we should love our enemies. This does not mean to have good feelings for them. That is hardly possible if a person or persons wish you harm. It means to desire their best interest. Most times, their best interest is to be defeated!


The defeat of one’s enemies was a frequent request of David, of whom God said had a heart like His!


Wondrously show your steadfast love,

O Savior of those who seek refuge

from their adversaries at your right hand.

8    Keep me as the apple of your eye;

hide me in the shadow of your wings,

9    from the wicked who do me violence,

my deadly enemies who surround me. [11]


As with the prayers where David asked for God’s favor to be upon him, we can personalize this prayer and any prayer found in the Psalms.


You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies;

     you anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows. [12]


Disciples are very familiar with the twenty-third Psalm, but this portion of it shows that God is blessing David with three blessings even though his enemies were trying to kill him! He will do the same for you!


O my God, in you I trust;

let me not be put to shame;

let not my enemies exult over me.

3    Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame;

they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. [13]


Consider how many are my foes,

and with what violent hatred they hate me.

20   Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me!

Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. [14]


My times are in your hand;

rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!

16   Make your face shine on your servant;

save me in your steadfast love!

17   O Lord, let me not be put to shame,

for I call upon you;

     let the wicked be put to shame;

let them go silently to Sheol. [15]


Sheol is the grave. David is wishing that his enemies die! David was right to wish this. The implication is that, if they would not repent, they should die; for, repentance has always been the goal when the prophets spoke.


Oh, how abundant is your goodness,

which you have stored up for those who fear you

     and worked for those who take refuge in you,

in the sight of the children of mankind!

20   In the cover of your presence you hide them

from the plots of men;

     you store them in your shelter

from the strife of tongues. [16]


By this I know that you delight in me:

my enemy will not shout in triumph over me. [17]



These passages are only a small sampling. There are many dozens of such. The Lord will grant you victory over your enemies! When he does, may your spirit be lifted!


The same four means that lifted Paul will lift you. God is true to his promise:


He gives strength to the weary,

And to him who lacks might He increases power.

30         Though youths grow weary and tired,

And vigorous young men stumble badly,

31         Yet those who wait for the Lord

Will gain new strength;

They will mount up with wings like eagles,

They will run and not get tired,

They will walk and not become weary.[18]




[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Nu 11:11–15). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[2] John Macarthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary, Acts Part 2 (Moody Publishers; 1996), 144-145.

[3] Ibid.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 18:2–5). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] MacArthur, 147.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 18:5–8). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[7] MacArthur, 149.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 18:9–11). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[9] It is not always easy to tell! Sometimes, we are not convinced until after the Lord’s words (or images) come to pass. But, even so, they can still be an encouragement to us.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 18:12–17). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 17:7–9). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[12] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 23:5). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[13] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 25:2–3). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[14] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 25:19–20). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[15] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 31:15–17). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[16] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 31:19–20). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[17] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 41:11). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[18] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Is 40:29–31). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.