Christians face deep suffering in many parts of the world. In our country immorality has not only become politically correct, it is rapidly becoming the law of the land. In our own lives we face challenges and trials. Are you becoming discouraged? You have company—the Apostle Paul. In Acts 18:9–10, Luke points you to the encouragement the Lord gave his servant—and gives you as well.
Jesus Christ is with you. He is with you even in difficult situations. Its location made it a commercial power, but also became a proverbial center of immorality. Those temptations continued to plague the church that was planted there, as Paul’s first letter to that body indicates. Paul had faced a pattern of strong, violent opposition. While we are not told explicitly that the apostle was discouraged, that is a fair conclusion given the content of the vision. You face opposition from outside and discouragement from within.
The Emmanuel principle is still true. The Lord spoke to his discouraged apostle in a vision. God has not abandoned his people. He is still with you. The comfort here echos the assurance that God gave Elijah at Horeb, that he was not alone—there were 7,000 in Israel who had not bowed to Baal. The promise of God’s presence becomes explicit in the prophecy of Isaiah 7. The principle is found throughout Scripture: Isaiah 41:10; Jeremiah 1:8; and the pillar of cloud and fire. This holy God can be with you only if he deals with your sins in the person and work of his Son, Jesus Christ. Take rich comfort in the doctrine of union with Christ!
The Lord has more to say to his apostle. Christ has his people in this city. Christ has chosen his own. Think of the repetitive opposition and persecution Paul had received. Do you, like him, wonder if God has his people in your city, as Paul wondered about Corinth? God has his chosen people, Ephesians 1:4–6. He chooses, not just a group, but his people individually. The doctrine of election stands, even though we do not know who may be chosen. Appreciate the comfort of knowing that you are in God’s hands because he has chosen you as his own! And he, as the ascended Lord, is not idle. He is continuing to build his church.
“After Jesus died and was raised, it became much clearer to his disciples that the kingdom he preached — the kingdom with all its benefits of forgiveness, righteousness, and eternal life — was acquired by his suffering and death; and that he has been raised and glorified by the Father precisely to the end that he would apply these benefits to his own. The application is inseparable from the acquisition. It is one work that the mediator has been mandated to accomplish; and he will not rest until he can deliver in toto the whole kingdom to the Father.”Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3, p. 498
The Lord forms his own people. People is one of the terms by which God identified Israel. He took them and formed them into his people as he made his covenant with them at Sinai. Just as the Old Testament People of Israel were formed by the majestic events of the Exodus, the new people are formed by the redemptive work of one greater than Moses. His death was the purchase price he paid, and his powerful resurrection constitutes them as his own.
“In the transition from Moses, mediator of the exodus from slavery, to Joshua, captain of the conquest of the Gentiles, the Lord assured Joshua: ‘As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you’ (Josh. 1:5 NIV). So now Jesus, whose earthly ministry, death, and resurrection have accomplished the supreme exodus from slavery for his people, assures the messengers through whom he carries out his conquest of the Gentiles, ‘I am with you.’”Dennis E. Johnson, The Message of Acts in the History of Redemption, p. 24
What Christ did in Corinth he continues to do. He is the Lord and King of his church, and he is still forming his people, in part by bringing in the nations. He concludes his Great Commission with the assurance of his presence.
So, speak boldly! Do not be afraid! You may not have had a vision like Paul did, but with good reason. You have something better—God’s full revelation in the Scriptures. Included is this passage, so that you can take to heart the comfort and assurance the Lord gave to Paul. Christ is with you, never to leave or forsake you. Hold onto that comfort when persecution swirls around you. Rest in that assurance when the night is long and the way uncertain.
Don’t just avoid fear. Keep on speaking. One of the criticisms of the doctrine of election, sometimes thrown at Calvinists, is that the doctrine removes the motive for evangelism. No author of Scripture, however, speaks more clearly of God’s choice of you in love in Christ than Paul, and no one was a more effective and earnest missionary than Paul. It is God’s choice of his own, his building of his people that motives evangelism and gives the hope and confidence to carry it out. You are called to live and speak faithfully. God sovereignly uses those means to build his church.
Christ works, not from problem to crisis, not from the unexpected to plan B, but rather he fulfills his Father’s plan. He is with you and will never forsake you. Take comfort in that and live boldly to his glory.