When Ministry Doesn't Go the Way You Thought It Would Go

Acts   •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented
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Life doesn’t always go the way that we planned it and that can be even more the case when it comes to ministry. I have known many bible college students who were rearing to go in Bible college and then life seems to have caught up with them and they never ended up where they thought they were going to go. My own example of being a missionary in NE India is an example of this very thing. Sometimes God redirects our paths and puts us on a different path than we anticipated. It is at those moments that we can become discouraged, fearful, or give up.
This morning we are going to be talking about when ministry doesn’t go the way you thought it would go. When I use the word ministry, I am not using it in its limited sense. I am not speaking only of preachers, missionaries and evangelists. Ministry is anything that we have poured our hearts and souls into in the service of God. Sunday school teachers, nursery workers, those who do soul-winning, those participating in outreach programs, the choir, even secretarial and janitorial service is all ministry. And we face, little disappointments all the time that can eventually grow to become big disappointments in our lives.
Maybe a project you have poured your heart into gets scraped.
People are flacky and you are left scrambling to fix things behind them.
No one seems to respond after you have poured hours of preparation into a lesson or sermon.
Your contributions in the ministry seem to be overlooked.
You feel all alone.
You feel sidelined from what you planned your whole life to do.
All of these can be moments to despair.
When you think of Paul, you think of a man who was brave, constantly pressing on and never discouraged right? Our text gives us a glimpse into the heart of Paul. He wasn’t always this confident, rearing to go preacher. In fact out text says that He was afraid. In vs 11, God gives Paul three commands:
Be not afraid
Hold not thy peace
The phrase Be not afraid literally means Stop being afraid. You don’t tell someone to stop something they haven’t started doing. Elsewhere, Paul would tell the Corinthians what it was like being in Corinth for him. In 1 Cor 2:3 “And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.” As we go through the text, we will see why Paul was afraid; but the important thing to see in this text is that ministry didn’t go the way Paul had planned. So what can we learn from the example of Paul in times of disappointment.

Paul was willing to become bi-vocational in order to keep serving God

Vs 1-4 When Paul leaves Athens, it seems as if he does it alone. He comes to the city of Corinth which in our bibles is a city that gets a lot of attention. Corinth was a city on an isthmus with ports on both sides. It was wealthy, free and influential. In fact out of all the cities that we see Paul going to on his missionary journeys, Corinth and Ephesus are perhaps some of the most important cities he visits. But as Paul comes into Corinth, we find that he did not have support to live off of. Paul would love to be out there preaching every single day, but he finds that he has to provide a living somehow.
In Vs 2, Paul finds Aquila and Priscilla, Jews from Rome. According to the verse, they had been kicked out of Rome by Emperor Claudius. Most likely this was in AD 49. Early on in his reign Claudius did much to pacify turmoil between Jews and the surrounding cultures. After issues between the Jews in Alexandria and the Greeks, Claudius told them to let the Jews practice their culture and not be restricted to any certain parts of the city. They on the other hand were not to disrupt the Greek games. Early on, he seemed to be trying to smooth things over and respected the Jews. There is evidence to support the idea that later on between AD 44-49, Jewish Christians had become a problem in Rome and so Jews were cast out. This expulsion was because of someone named Christus or in other words Jesus Christ.
Vs 3 Because Paul needed to support, he joins Aquila and Priscilla’s business of tentmaking. It seems as if this had been a previous occupation that Paul had had and it was an industry that could bring in a lot of money in Corinth. Why did Paul make the decision to work with his own hands to make money in Corinth? In his epistles, Paul gives us two reasons:
So he wouldn’t be a burden 1 Thess 2:9 “For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.” Paul wanted to do something for God but he did not want to become a burden to people. Maybe the churches couldn’t afford it at the time or there were other things they needed to do, but Paul didn’t want to add extra stress on their lives.
So they wouldn’t think he was trying to sell something or get one over on them- 1 Cor 9:18 “What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.” The ministry is service and sometimes people can get it stuck in their head that the preacher is just in it for the money. Would you serve without pay? Many of you do every single week.
Paul doesn’t assume that he must receive support from the outside if he is going to do a work for God. He was willing to be what we call a bi-vocational minister. Paul was willing to be flexible and yet he still did something. Being Bi-vocational at the time was a means to an end. He didn’t become so preoccupied with life, that his ministry just drifted off.
He knew what God had called him to do and he was going to keep on pursuing that even when it became harder.

Paul remained faithful to preach the gospel.

Vs 5 Eventually, support did come. Silas and Timothy returned from a trip through the churches of Macedonia bringing support with them. This freed Paul up to become more focused on ministry. Obviously bi-vocational ministry is not the ideal. The verse says that Paul was pressed in the spirit- this phrase means to become fully engaged in or become fully occupied with. With this new found freedom, Paul gave himself completely to the work of God. No more tentmaking.
Paul was consumed with preaching Christ Jesus. 1 Cor 2:1-5 “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”
This is what I want to point out from Paul’s example: he was faithful. When things don’t go the way we plan them often times, we start to slack off. We let things go that we shouldn’t let go. We fail to meet our responsibilities and obligations.
Faithfulness is doing what you are supposed to do no matter what. Being dependable, trustworthy. Proverbs 25:19 “Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble Is like a broken tooth, and a foot out of joint.” Its like leaning on a broken leg when someone is unfaithful. You expect them to be there to prop you up but you fall because they aren’t functioning the way they should.
It is easy to let things slip when we face disappointment and plans don’t go the way we expected. But it is in those times that we just need to remain faithful. Keep the course. This will not last forever.
Sometimes we make really bad decisions in those moments of waiting. We are too eager to do something else. I almost made a decision like this when it seemed like God was never going to use me in full-time ministry. We had been kicked out of India, our work with refugees was not working out and I didn’t have any clear guidance on what to do. I was waiting and I became discouraged. So I tried to join the police academy. I was successful. Passed all the tests, interviews, polygraphs tests, psychological evaluations and physicals. But my first week there, God kept hounding me with this thought If you do this you are giving up on everything I have planned for you. I dropped out and started working my way back towards ministry of some kind. It was soon after that that the Lord led us here. I still wasn’t able to be in ministry full-time, but I was determined that wasn’t going to stop me. I was going to minister as best as I could.
I want to encourage you not to give up when things get hard. When they aren’t going according to plan, don’t quite. The burdens of life can sometimes weigh us down and so maybe we step back from somethings and that is fine, but don’t give up on serving God. Don’t lose your vision for what God wants to do. Stay faithful.

God encouraged Paul not to give up just because of an initial negative response

Vs 6-10 Paul stays faithful to preach the word. He enters into the synagogue to preach to the Jews just like he normally did; but he runs into an obstacle and some resistance. vs 6 when they opposed themselves- this phrase is awkward in English, but it just means that they set themselves in opposition to Paul. This was an organized effort to resist what Paul was preaching. Not everyone is going to be receptive to your ministry and there may be times when people fight what you are trying to do.
These Jews didn’t like what Paul was doing, they organized resistance to it and then they slandered Paul. Often times when people do not like what you are doing or they feel the need to justify themselves, they will attack you personally. They think that by attacking you, they can silence or disprove your argument. In debate this is called an ad hominem attack. But the use of the word blasphemed may speak to not just an attack on Paul, but on Jesus Christ Himself.
When Paul was faced with opposition from people with hard hearts, he responded in three ways:
he shook his raiment- This action is related to a scene from the book of Nehemiah Neh 5:13 “Also I shook my lap, and said, So God shake out every man from his house, and from his labour, that performeth not this promise, even thus be he shaken out, and emptied. And all the congregation said, Amen, and praised the Lord. And the people did according to this promise.” In a way, it was a promise of judgment.
said, your blood be upon your own heads Ezekiel 33:1-5 “Again the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, speak to the children of thy people, and say unto them, When I bring the sword upon a land, if the people of the land take a man of their coasts, and set him for their watchman: If when he seeth the sword come upon the land, he blow the trumpet, and warn the people; Then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not warning; his blood shall be upon him. But he that taketh warning shall deliver his soul.” When we have the message of salvation and reconciliation, when we know the danger that is coming and we don’t warn others about that danger; the implication of Paul’s usage of this verse is that we will be held responsible for their souls and their blood will be on our hands. But when we have warned and witness and they refuse, God will hold them accountable for their own rejection and we are clear. In Paul’s words, I am clean. God has not called us to make everyone believe; He has called us to preach the gospel.
he worked with those who wanted to hear- When faced with opposition, Paul turned to those who wanted to hear: the Gentiles. This reminds me of the words of Jesus Matt 7:6 “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.”
Vs 7, When it says Paul departed, it doesn’t mean he left Corinth, but rather that he left Aquila and Priscilla’s house. In vs 8 Crispus the cheif ruler of the synagogue gets saved and his house. This is a man of importance and so his conversion likely would have caused a lot of problems. Especially when we take into account that the Jews had already opposed Paul and now their rabbi has converted. Paul is potentially facing another situation like what happened in Thessalonica and Berea. When persecution had come up in the past, Paul had moved on to other towns.
As I mentioned in the introduction, Paul is scared. Sometimes we dehumanize bible characters. Wouldn’t you be scared if Jews had stoned you and left you for dead in the past and it just seems like the same thing is going to happen here.
It is at this moment of weakness in Paul, that God comes to Him. 2 Cor 12:9-10 “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”
God commands Paul don’t be afraid but faithfully preach the gospel. But then He gives him three reasons:
I am with you- God promises to be with Him
No one will hurt you- God is going to take care of you. Obviously God didn’t promise to protect Paul in this way for the rest of his life because Paul would eventually be beheaded by Nero according to Eusebius. I love the quote by John Patton
I realized that I was immortal till my Master’s work with me was done. The assurance came to me, as if a voice out of Heaven had spoken, that not a musket would be fired to wound us, not a club prevail to strike us, not a spear leave the hand in which it was held vibrating to be thrown, not an arrow leave the bow, or a killing stone the fingers, without the permission of Jesus Christ, whose is all power in Heaven and on Earth. He rules all Nature, animate and inanimate, and restrains even the Savage of the South Seas.
there are many who will be saved here- We may not see the results right now and it is easy to get discouraged. Those with my spiritual gift tend to be especially susceptible to this. But God allowed Paul to see further than the immediate. By looking forward to what God was going to do, but hadn’t done yet; Paul could take comfort.
Eccl 11:5 “As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all.” We don’t know what the end of our journey will entail. When the road take turns that we didn’t expect, we should trust in the God who set us on that path.
Paul received strength and comfort to continue on because He knew three things:
God was with Him
God would take care of Him
God’s plans never fail
Isa 55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are my ways higher than your ways, And my thoughts than your thoughts.”
When you are tempted to give up, don’t quite. Be faithful, but find your courage by remembering God is with you, God will take care of you and His plans never fail.
I close with these words by Minnie Haskins poem The Gate of the Year
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: "Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown". And he replied: "Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way". So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.
So heart be still: What need our little life Our human life to know, If God hath comprehension? In all the dizzy strife Of things both high and low, God hideth His intention.
God knows. His will Is best. The stretch of years Which wind ahead, so dim To our imperfect vision, Are clear to God. Our fears Are premature; In Him, All time hath full provision.
Then rest: until God moves to lift the veil From our impatient eyes, When, as the sweeter features Of Life's stern face we hail, Fair beyond all surmise God's thought around His creatures Our mind shall fill.[3]
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