How Long Does it Take?

After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And 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, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.

When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. 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.” 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. 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. 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. – Acts 19:1-11

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Kaiser Wilhelm Church which was severely damaged in WW-II was also served by a pastor who was opposed to Hitler’s programs.

Build a tower of blocks in 5 minutes. Knock it down in less than 5 seconds. Make an intricate sand castle at the seashore in 2 hours. See it taken out by a wave in 2 minutes. Spend 18 months working with people to start up a church, only to see it divided and racked with troubles so severe you consider it better if no one would gather for worship not many years later. It always amazes me how long it can take to make something good happen, and how quickly the good can be undone.

Paul goes from Athens where he is met with minimal success to Corinth where he manages to stay for 18 months, teaching and sharing the Gospel message. Not only that, he is joined by a husband and wife team of great promise and mutual interest. Aquila and Priscilla join Paul in their tent making ministry. Later they would even help Apollos become more clear in his teaching about Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

Not too many years later, however, Corinth will require one of the most severe letters Paul ever writes. Among the corrections he offers to them include the stunning statement, “When you come together it is not for the better when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse” (1 Corinthians 11:17). I have even said that the Corinthian church was so troubled, that if you feel as though your current church has troubles, just read 1 Corinthians. They had trouble with worship, the role of women, spiritual gifts, divisions, the Lords’ Supper, marriage, and even questions about incestuous relationships! They had it all.

But they had the Gospel; the good news of Jesus’ love, forgiveness and salvation. In fact, however, Paul’s concerns for them in 1 Corinthians was so that they would not lose the salvation Jesus had won for them and Paul had preached there.

I have seen my work undone in certain situations – leading me almost to the point of despair. How could I have done better? What might I have done to ensure that the gains we had achieved would not evaporate in my absence? Thankfully, however, God is faithful and manages to preserve his people and his church through all the foibles of sinful men and women.

Sometimes I think it’s a miracle that the Christian Church exists at all. I deeply resonate with Martin Luther when in his sacristy prayer he prays:

Lord God, You have appointed me as a Bishop and Pastor in Your Church, but you see how unsuited I am to meet so great and difficult a task. If I had lacked Your help, I would have ruined everything long ago. Therefore, I call upon You: I wish to devote my mouth and my heart to you; I shall teach the people. I myself will learn and ponder diligently upon Your Word. Use me as Your instrument — but do not forsake me, for if ever I should be on my own, I would easily wreck it all.

God is gracious and faithful. He forgives sins, and restores broken people and revives dysfunctional churches. He even forgives sinful men and women and uses them for the cause of his kingdom. That’s a good thing; otherwise none of us would be able to serve him.

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