Have you ever had that moment when the Spirit tells you to talk to a person, and they completely reject what you have to say? It has left me asking why God put me there in the first place. I’ve seen this before in my life. The Spirit tells me to go talk to someone and he completely rejects what I have to say. Did I pollute God’s voice with my own thoughts? If not, God, why did You put me up to this in the first place?
|Ancient Corinth. Picture via Realm of History.|
When Paul came to Corinth from Athens, his ministry initially seemed mild. He was making tents with Aquila and Priscilla and reasoning in the temple for a while. But then God called Him to something more.
And when Silas and Timotheus 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 unto the Gentiles. –Acts 18:5-6
Being “pressed in the spirit” is from the Greek word sunechó, which means “to be held fast,” “to be seized,” “oppressed,” “afflicted,” or “constrained.” It does not directly tell us that this is of the Spirit, but it’s a logical jump to make. An individual with a close walk with God will experience being “pressed in the spirit” by the convicting work of the Holy Spirit.
Paul was urged to go all out in preaching the gospel to the Jews in Corinth. But, in our eyes, he saw no success. The Jews in Corinth opposed him and blasphemed.
It could have been easy in that moment to look at what transpired as failure. His goal was to convert, and it didn’t happen. But we have to look at it with Heaven’s eyes.
Think of the wider, long-term consequences. This was a huge moment in Paul’s ministry for two reasons. First, the Jews in Corinth heard the gospel. That’s never a bad thing, no matter the reaction. Now, if they choose to reject Christ, they do it in full knowledge, and no one else can be blamed for their unbelief. They were given the opportunity, and that’s all we’re responsible for.
Second, this was when Paul doubled down on bringing the gospel to the Gentiles, which was still a fairly new thing. It was a watershed moment that illuminated Paul’s path that God had laid for him.
|William Borden. Picture via The Traveling Team.|
It’s not that God used failure. There was no failure. We define success in numbers or stories. God defines it in obedience. He knows the end. We have to trust Him, obey Him, and leave the consequences to Him.
We could look at the lives of people like William Borden or David Brainerd. Surely dying in your 20’s before your ministry takes off is a failure. Surely being born into poverty and the victim of abortion attempts is failure. Surely Joseph being a slave and a prisoner for years is failure. Surely Jeremiah’s ministry of being ignored and ridiculed was failure. But in all these things God had a purpose.
Surely a man’s ministry ending in crucifixion is failure. But it was our salvation.
God’s ability to exercise His Providence is not predicated on our understanding. Our following Him is never failure.
The lesson to learn from Paul’s time in Corinth is that the Spirit will call us to do things that will end in failure in the world’s eyes. We have to trust that God sees the bigger picture and has a reason for what might seem futile in our eyes.