And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision,Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.Acts 18:9-10
What the Lord literally said when he appeared to Paul in this night vision was,
Stop being afraid, but keep right on speaking. This reveals that Paul was indeed becoming afraid. It is quite understandable that he would, for a very familiar pattern was developing. He had seen it before many times. He had come to the synagogue and spoken to the Jews. They had rejected his message. He turned to the Gentiles and there was immediate response, a great flood of people coming in. This aroused the anger and hostility of the Jews, and he knew that the next step was trouble.
Is that not beautifully descriptive of the humanity of this man? We sometimes think of Paul as being so bold, so fearless — yet he suffered just as we do from apprehensions, forebodings, and fears. In fact in a letter to these very Corinthians he says so. In First Corinthians 2, he says,
When I came to you...I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling... (1 Corinthians 2:1a, 2:3 RSV). He was very much afraid of what would happen to him there.
The reason was that the city was responding to the gospel and the strongholds of evil were being broken down. The life of the city was being disrupted by the awakening which was spreading because of Paul's teaching. I find many churches today that measure their success by what is going on in the congregation, but that is not the mark of success. The church is successful only when things start happening in the world. The Lord Jesus said,
You are the salt of the earth ... you are the light of the world... (Matthew 5:13a, 5:14a RSV). It is the world that God is aiming at. Until something starts happening in the community, the church is a failure.
This is so evident in our day. It bothers me greatly to come into a city and find it filled with church buildings on every side, but to find also that the city is locked into patterns of violence and hatred. It tells me that there is something wrong with the churches of that city, for God always aims at the world. All the evils we have in our modern day were present in Corinth. But now this revolutionary message of the gospel was striking right at the very core of the life of the city, breaking down the patterns of evil that had locked men and women into bondage. As Paul saw this beginning to happen he knew that he was in for trouble.
But this is why the Lord appeared to him. How gracious and reassuring are his words:
Paul, don't let your fears grip you! Stop being afraid and don't keep silent, but keep right on preaching, because I am going to protect you. No one is going to hurt you, for I have a lot of work for you to do yet in this city. Some of the Lord's most encouraging words are,
I have yet many people in this city. They had not yet become Christians — but the Lord knew they were there. There is nothing more encouraging to me in going into a strange situation than the realization that God has brought me there because there are people who he already knows about and who will respond to what I have to say. So it was with the apostle. He was greatly strengthened, and for a year and a half he was able to preach the truth until there was a great stirring in this city.
Father, thank you for this account which encourages me, for I know that you are at work today just as you were then. Lord, help me to stay committed to the task given to me by the Lord when he gave me spiritual gifts and the power of his resurrection.
Paul's experience tells us that fear is 'common to man.' Paul was God's man faithfully fulfilling God's calling when God promised His protective care. Are we boldly following God's calling to reach out to unbelievers with God's message of hope and redemption, confident in His promises to be with us always?