October 22nd, 1978 @ 10:50 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-22-78 10:50 a.m.
And once again, welcome to the thousands uncounted, who join with the thousands in this sanctuary of the First Baptist Church in Dallas over television, over radio, listening to an exposition of the Word of the Lord. In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we have come to chapter 18. And this is the text:
After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth; And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome: and he came unto them. And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought: (for by their occupation they were tentmakers.)
And that gives rise to the title of the sermon, God’s Tentmakers.
And Paul reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks.
And when Silas and Timothy were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ.
And when they opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go to the Gentiles.
And he departed thence, and entered into a certain man’s house, named Justus, one that worshipped God –
He was a proselyte of the gate.
whose house joined hard to the synagogue.
And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized.
Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace:
For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city –
which will be the text for the sermon tonight. "For I have much people in this city": the city church –
And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
This is once again one of those significant and dramatic and pivotal moments in human history. One was described in the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Acts, when the apostle on this second missionary journey stands in the midst of Athens, which is the university academic center of the world. Then, no less is it poignantly significant that he comes to this ancient merchandising city, commercial city of Corinth. The city was destroyed by the Roman legionnaires under Mummius in 146 BC.
And in the triumphal march granted to Mummius through the streets of Rome, he carried with him hundreds and hundreds of wagons filled with the art treasures that he had plundered from Corinth. In 46 BC, Julius Caesar rebuilt the city, and it flourished immediately. It was a meeting place between the West and the East. Corinth had a port on both seas: the western sea and the eastern sea. It was a city of about two hundred thousand freemen and five hundred thousand slaves – which is a proportion you would find in all of that ancient empire – two hundred thousand freemen, five hundred thousand slaves.
It was Corinth and not Athens that was the capital of the Roman province of Achaia. And although Athens was the cultural center of that ancient world, Corinth, no less, had a place in the sun in the arts and dramatics and treasures and sculptors and paintings of the time. For example, Corinthian bronze was famous throughout the world. And to this day, the most beautiful column that has ever been constructed we call the Corinthian column. But the city worshipped at the altars of vice and debauchery and degradation.
On the Acrocorinth right there; by far the most prominent of all of those outcroppings that I have seen in a city; on the Acrocorinth right there was the temple of Aphrodite. And there were one thousand prostitutes dedicated to the worship of Aphrodite. And the practice just deepened the sad vice and immorality of that Greek city.
So Paul, coming from Athens, walks across the Corinthian isthmus and comes to that famous ancient Greek metropolis. While he was there, he found his way into the Jewish community which seemingly was rather large in Corinth. For Dr. Luke writes that Claudius Caesar had just promulgated an edict, expelling all the Jews from Rome. The Latin historian Suetonius speaks of that Claudian edict. Suetonius says that the edict was promulgated because of the tumult and riot in the Jewish community in Rome over Christes – with an "e" – Christes. And there are many scholars who think that Suetonius did not hear the word correctly, but should have written Christis – with an "i" – referring to the Messiah Christ.
There was such trouble and turmoil in the community of Jews over the Jesus of Nazareth that finally, Suetonius says, Claudius just expelled all of them from the city. Whether that is true or not, the edict was signed and all of the Jews had to leave Rome. Consequently, many of them being merchandising people, came to the greatest merchandising, mercantile center in the world: they came to Corinth.
And Paul found his way into that community. And in the community, he found two Jewish Christians. The name of the husband is Aquila or "Eagle," and the name of his wife is Priscilla, which is a diminutive of Prisca [Acts 18:1-2]. Prisca is the name of one of the noblest of ancient Roman families; and almost certainly, she belonged in some way to the circle of that family, though a Jewess. And in the providence of God, this couple became so much a part of the early Christian church.
Six times is the couple named in the New Testament, and half of the times Priscilla is named first. For example, when I turn the page in my Bible in this same chapter, I look at verse 18. She is named first: "with him Priscilla and Aquila" [Acts 18:18]. And as I read through the chapter, it is this couple, Priscilla and Aquila, who lead the most brilliant of all of the preachers of the New Testament; Apollos of Alexandria, the brilliant theologian, who I think wrote the epistle to the Hebrews. It is Priscilla and Aquila who instruct Apollos in the deep things of God, interpreting to him the Scriptures of the Old Testament [Acts 18:26].
So she must have been a woman of vast and significant gifts. And it is with that couple that Paul joins himself in that Jewish community [Acts 18:3]. And I can imagine when hand touched hand; it was as though they had been friends from eternity; for thus are the purposes of God wrought out in human life.
Now another thing bound them together. When Paul came into the community to find work and to earn bread, he was joined to them also because they were in the same trade, and in the same occupation; they were tentmakers. So Paul is making tents with his hands to support himself, as he did in Thessalonica. He works with his hands at a trade and supports himself while he testifies to the Jews, and to the Greeks, that Jesus is the Messiah Christ. What do you think of that? A man who works with his hands and earns a living, while he preaches the gospel, and as he pastors a little church, what do you think of that?
I have seen that all over the world. And wherever I have seen it, I have looked upon it with deepest gratitude for the loving devotion of a man who ministers to a congregation too small, too weak, and too poor to support him. So he supports himself. He works with his hands while he ministers and mediates the love of God to his people.
When I was done preaching at the eight-fifteen service, there came a pastor to me who lives in Kentucky. And he said, "For ten years, I worked and pastored my little church because they were so poor they could not afford to pay me. Now," he says, "we have grown and they support me, and I give my whole time to the gospel of Christ." I shook his hand, doubly warmly, and told him how much I admired him and thanked God for him. God’s tentmakers, who work with their hands because the congregation is too small; and he supports himself while he preaches the gospel and shepherds the Lord’s people. I suppose one of the most moving things that I have experienced in my life was just like that.
In a little town, in a resort town in New Mexico, I went to church and sitting there, the pastor in the little church recognized me. And he came out of the pulpit, and he said to me, "Please, won’t you come and preach for us today?"
I said, "No, I have come to worship God with you."
But he said, "I am ashamed to preach in your presence." He said to me, "I am an uneducated man, I am an untrained man, and I am ashamed to preach the gospel in your presence. Please, come."
I said, "My brother, you will not have a more sympathetic listener than I. And I will love God with you as you name His name. You go back up there where you belong and you preach the gospel and it will bless my heart."
At my insistence, so he did. And after the service was over – an unlearned man, talked like an uneducated man, but loved God, and blessed me – after the service was over, he visited with me, and he said, he said, "You see, I was called into the ministry after I was grown, and I had no opportunity to go to school and to train for the task. So I just preach," he said, "the best that I can. And I work with my hands." He said, "I am a carpenter." And he said to me, "I built this church." He said, "That little mobile home right back of the church, that is where I live." And he said, "I go to a town where they don’t have any church, and I build the house with my own hands. And then I preach the gospel and I win people to Jesus. And I baptize my converts. And then after I have built the church, then I turn it over to a pastor. And I go some other place and there preach and testify and build a church house with my own hands."
I said to him, I said, "My brother, our Lord was a carpenter just like you, and He worked with His hands at the carpenter’s trade." And I said to him something else, I said, "You do things I can’t do, or even begin to do. I could never build a house. I have no idea how you build a house, much less a pretty little church house. I could not do it, but you do. And it is beautiful what you do, and you honor God in what you do."
He is one of God’s carpenters. He is one of God’s tentmakers – laboring with his hands and serving the Lord, supporting himself. I have seen it, I say, all over the world. And wherever I look upon it, I praise God. I thank God and I am moved by the deep devotion of those children of Jesus.
So Paul was a tentmaker. And he worked with his hands, and supported himself, as he preached the gospel in these pagan and heathen cities. The very nomenclature that Paul uses sometimes will arise out of his tent-making industry.
Look at this. When I went to the seminary – our Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky – walking up the way across the top of the porch of Norton Hall, the administrative building, I read, and I stood there so impressed by the words, I read, Orthotomounta ton logon tes aletheias, 2 Timothy 2:15, "rightly dividing the Word of truth." "Rightly dividing," that’s the way the King James translates it. The word literally is "straight cutting." Straight cutting – orthos, straight, tomeō, cut; and it is a participial word – "rightly cutting, straight cutting the Word of truth." That is, when Paul made tents, the panels had to be cut just straight so that the tent would hang right when the pieces were sewn together. He was a tentmaker and as such supported himself while he preached the gospel in places that had never known the name of the Lord.
Thus, while he is in Corinth, making tents, preaching the gospel, it says that Silas and Timothy, his co-workers, came down from Macedonia, and they greatly encouraged Paul. We are all that way. It is so meaningful when we are encouraged in the faith and in the work of the Lord. And it says, "Paul was pressed in the Spirit, and testified of the Lord Jesus" [Acts 18:5]. That’s this Textus Receptus – suneicheto toi pneumati, "pressed in the Spirit." The ancient manuscripts changed that just a little bit: suneicheto toi logoi – toi logoi, "in the Word; pressed in the Word." I know exactly how that feels.
In the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Acts, the word describing Paul as he stood in the midst of the great cultural academic center of Athens. When he saw the idolatry of the city it says he was moved in a paroxysm of emotion [Acts 17:16]. The Greek word is paroxymos – just everything inside of him moved as he saw the idolatry of the city. Now, that is exactly what this refers to in this passage.
As Paul saw the demoralized and debauched Corinthians, he was "pressed in the Word." The saving Word of God moved in his soul, burned in his heart, and he delivered the message, testifying that Jesus is the Christ [Acts 18:5]. And God blessed him, wonderfully blessed him. It says here that Justus, a Gentile proselyte, was saved. And he moved into the home of Justus and stayed there [Acts 18:7]. Then it says that Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, was saved. And then it adds, akouontes, that is a present indicative participle signifying continuous action, "the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized" [Acts 18:8]. They kept on hearing and they kept on believing and they continued being baptized. Every day there were those who believed, and every day there were those who were being baptized. What a magnificent blessing of God upon his work. Every day, people saved; every day, people being baptized, hearing the Word of the Lord.
Then the apostle was encouraged by Jesus Himself. Many times in the Bible will you find the Lord speaking to Paul, as He spoke to him on the way to Damascus [Acts 9:4-6]. As He spoke to him in the awful storm at sea [Acts 27:23-24], He speaks to him here. "Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: for I am with thee . . . for I have much people in this city" [Acts 18:9, 10].
I suppose that the apostle facing such inordinate difficulties in Corinth was proposing to leave, and that is why the Lord spoke to him. It is never easy in a city. It is always difficult in a city and how much more so it must have been in the life of this apostle. Writing to this church in the First Corinthian letter, the apostle describes the reception of the gospel in the city. He said to the Jews, it’s an offense [1 Corinthians 1:23]. The Greek word is skandalon. That a man would come saying that this crucified, executed Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah of God is a scandal; it is an offense. Then he said, to the Greeks it is foolishness, idiocy [1 Corinthians 1:23]. The Greek word is morian, moronic.
A thinking man, a man of culture and education, would never conceive of such a gospel. And of course to the rabble-rousers it was an occasion of persecution, and stoning, and death. Many trying attendants, corollaries, in this ministry of the apostle Paul; difficult and hard, and evidently he was thinking of leaving. And then the Lord speaks to him and said, "Paul, speak. Speak. Hold not thy peace. Speak" [Acts 18:9].
Every minister needs that admonition from heaven. It is so easy for a preacher to trim the gospel; to chisel off its rough edges, to make it palatable and acceptable to so-called cultured audiences. That is a temptation every minister goes through. The gospel message is sharp, and its edges are jagged and rough! When a man preaches the gospel, what he preaches is that we are lost sinners, all of us. All of us have "sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God" [Romans 3:23] – all of us. We are lost sinners, and we face an ultimate and final judgment. And if we die in unforgiven sins, we are cast out forever and ever, away from the presence of God [Revelation 20:15].
But the only way that a man shall ever see God’s face and live, is through the forgiveness, the atoning grace of Jesus Christ [Ephesians 2:8]. That’s the gospel. We are all alike; sinners alike, all alike; need saving alike, all of us [Romans 3:23]. "Paul, speak. Speak" [Acts 18:9]. How many times are we tempted to send Samson down into Philistia, there they might learn culture. No, just as God delivers it. "Speak, Paul, speak . . . for," He says, "I am with thee" [Acts 18:10]. Don’t look at yourself. Don’t look at these dissolute Corinthians. Don’t look at these rabble-rousers who seek to threaten your life. "Paul, look to Me. Look to Me. I am with thee. And I will help thee and deliver thee." What a God-blessed encouragement from heaven. "Deliver My Word. Preach My gospel. And I will be with thee, Paul. I will never forsake thee. Then He adds, "for I have much people in this city" [Acts 18:10].
God had taken a census of Corinth. What an amazing thing for God to do. God had taken a census of Corinth, and He said to Paul, "I have counted them every one, and I have much people in this Greek city." Did you know we so often times think what a minority we are and what a small percentage of the citizenry are we? And sometimes we have a tendency to fall in the same kind of "juniper-itis" that afflicted Elijah, when he sat under that tree [1 Kings 19:4] and said, "Lord, I am the only one that is it left – the only one!" [1 Kings 19:10].
And the Lord said to Elijah, "Elijah, Elijah! I have seven thousand in Israel that have not bowed the knee to Baal, or kissed his hand" [1 Kings 19:18]. "Seven thousand have I reserved for Myself. You are not alone." God [had] taken a census of the city and He said, "These are Mine, and these are Mine, and these are Mine."
And as Paul was faithful to that word of the Lord and stayed in Corinth, the gospel message that he preached entered the highest councils of the city [Acts 18:11-15]. And we learn in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Romans that Erastus, the chamberlain of the city, we would say the treasurer of the city, was converted and his household [Romans 16:23]. And we read in that same sixteenth chapter of the Book of Romans that Gaius, who appears to be a very affluent man [Romans 16:23], he was saved and baptized, and his household [1 Corinthians 1:14]. And the church in Corinth met in his house.
And we read in the sixteenth chapter of the First Corinthian letter that the household of Stephanas, and of Fortunatus, and of Achaicus [1 Corinthians 16:15-18] – apparently noble citizens in Corinth – they were saved and baptized and their households. And we just read here that Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, and his household believed and were baptized [Acts 18:8]. God says, "I have taken a census. I have counted them and I have My own all through this city. Speak, Paul, and look to Me – and look to Me!" [Acts 18:9-10].
That’s the most encouraging thing that I know that can ever be said to any preacher. "You preach God; look, you preach God’s Word. You be faithful to the gospel, and I will send you converts. I know them by name [John 10:3]. I have chosen them and elected them. They are Mine, and you be faithful in delivering the message, and I will send you a precious harvest." O Lord, that’s the best thing in the world!
When a man stands up to preach the gospel faithfully, he’s not going to win everybody. They won’t all turn. He’s not going to win an entire city. They never believe; not all. He is not going to win everybody, but bless God! The most encouraging thing from the Lord that He could ever say to a preacher ". . . but I will give you some, I will not forget. I know them by name, and I will give you some." And He never fails.
You know, in one of the most poignant moments in my pastorate here, when I first came, now so many years ago – when I first came, I got on my knees and on my face. And I asked the Lord, "Lord, please, if I preach the gospel faithfully, and if I am true to Your Book, will You send us people? Nobody lives close to the church. Anybody that comes, comes for miles and miles. There’s no one close by. Lord, if I’m faithful, and preach the gospel, and this blessed Word, will You send us people? Will You?"
And I had a conviction in my soul, as deep as though You had answered that supplication. The Lord said to me in my heart, "If you will be faithful and preach the gospel and be true to My Word, I will send you people. I will send you people."
And for these thirty-five years now, God has not forgotten. Just this last Friday, I spoke with a couple. He, reared in a communion so different from ours, and she in a different faith from ours; and there they sit by my side, asking me about the Lord, asking me about being baptized, asking me about being members of this dear church. I never saw them before. I never heard of them before. Where do they come from? I told them as I am saying to you, "God did it."
He knows where you are; He knows your name, and He has called and chosen you [Romans 8:28-30]. And I just rejoice to see what God does. Now, in these thirty-five years there has never been a morning, there has never been an evening, without that harvest. Always, God gives us a harvest, "Paul, speak! Preach! For I have much people in this city [Acts 18:9-10]. I know them, and when you give the appeal, they will respond. For My Spirit has spoken to them, and My angels are guiding them in the way."
I have had a thousand times a thousand people say to me, the dearest part of the services in the First Baptist Church in Dallas is that invitation and to see people come to Jesus. Amen. It is like heaven to see people walk down that stairway, walk down this aisle, "Pastor, I have taken the Lord as my Savior, and this is my open confession. Here I am." And God will do it again this precious hour. And if it is you, if it is you, if it is you make that decision now. If God has bid you, come. Make that decision now and stand by me. "Pastor, I give you my hand. I have given my heart to God." Or, "Pastor, this is my wife and these are our children. All of us are coming today." Maybe a couple, maybe just one somebody you, but while we sing this appeal and while we pray and wait, when you stand up, stand up walking down that stairway, walking down this aisle. "Here I am, pastor. Here I come." Do it now. Make the decision now, and make this God’s great day for you. May the Spirit lead as you respond with your life, while we stand and while we sing.
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. Paul comes to Corinth
A. Tremendous city of commerce, culture, art – East meets West
1. Worshiped at the altars of vice, debauchery and degradation
B. Found his way into the Jewish community
1. Claudius had expelled Jews from Rome
C. Met two Jewish Christians – Priscilla and Aquila(Acts 18:18)
D. Joins community to find work – making tents as in Thessalonica
1. Pastor from Kentucky
2. Untrained pastor in New Mexico, a carpenter
E. His nomenclature sometimes arises out of his tentmaking(2 Timothy 2:15)
II. Encouraged by Silas and Timothy
A. Suneichetotoilogoi – "pressed in the Word"(Acts 18:5)
1. As Paul sawthe debauched Corinthians, Word of God moved his soul
B. God wonderfully blessed him(Acts 18:8)
III. Encouraged by the Lord(Acts 18:9)
A. "Speak, Paul, speak!"
1. It is never easy in a city(1 Corinthians 1:23)
2. Every minister needs that admonition from heaven
a. Easily tempted to trim the gospel(Romans 3:23)
B. "For I am with you"
1. Look to God
C. "For I have much people in this city"
1. God had taken a census
2. Juniper-itis(1 Kings 19:18)
D. As Paul was faithful, the gospel entered the highest councils of the city
E. God will always give some