The last thing God did to encourage Paul was to speak with him, saying he would bless the work in Corinth. Let’s continue our look at what God said.
3. “I am with you” (v. 10). This was a virtual repetition of what Jesus had said to the disciples in the Great Commission, and I am sure Paul recognized it as such: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20).
Did Paul ever find himself wondering if God really was with him? I think probably that in his mind he never did. He knew that God was with him, just like you and I know that God is with us. God says, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Heb. 13:5; cf. Deut. 31:6). If He says it, it’s true. At the same time, I wonder if in his discouragement, Paul did not also doubt this truth emotionally, just as we do.
Do you ever find yourself trying to do what you think God wants you to do—whether to be a witness in your office, live morally when faced with temptation, or whatever it might be—and have so much trouble that you begin to think, “Is God really with me? Is it worth it? Should I perhaps just give up?” If so, you need to hear what God said to Paul. God said, “I am with you,” after He had first said, “Do not be afraid,” and “Keep on speaking.”
4. No one is going to attack and harm you” (v. 10). This word was particularly suited to Paul on this occasion, because earlier people had attacked him and harmed him. Moreover, the same sort of trouble was brewing here. We read about it in the next verse: “The Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him into court” (v. 12). They tried to hurt him, but they failed. Gallio was the proconsul in Corinth. He was a wise administrator and recognized that this was not a matter for civil jurisdiction. It was a dispute about religion. So he wisely and properly threw the case out of court.
5. “I have many people in this city” (v. 10). Of all the things God said to Paul in this vision undoubtedly this was the most important. What people was God talking about? It was not the ones to whom Paul had already spoken, who had already believed, because there were not many of them, only a few. If God said, “I have many people in this city,” it must have been because God, who alone is able to see the future and determine it, was looking ahead, saying, “By the preaching of the Word through your ministry, I am going to bring many people to faith in Jesus Christ. They are my people, and they are going to stand together as a church and bear a witness in this most corrupt city.”
All this had a great effect on Paul because immediately after having received this word from heaven, we read, “So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the Word of God” (v. 11). Before this Paul had moved from place to place. But as soon as God told him, “Don’t be afraid; no one will hurt you; keep on speaking; I have many people in this city,” Paul changed his tactics and stayed on. And do you know what happened? People believed and came to Jesus Christ. Moreover, this was such a turning point that it affected everything Paul did from this point on.
The next great city he visited was Ephesus; he stayed there two years. Then he was imprisoned in Caesarea for two years. Eventually he got to Rome, and he spent several years there. Paul was no longer a missionary gadfly, even though he recognized that he still had the same call to take the Gospel throughout the Roman world. It is as if he now put down roots and began to teach in- depth over a period of time in order that those who were being won to Christ might be faithfully grounded in the Bible.
We cannot take a text like this and simply transfer it to ourselves, as if God is saying the identical things to us: “Nobody will ever attack you; nobody will harm you; I have many people in this city.” But I cannot help but think that if God has placed us in a particular place, it is because He has a work for us to do there, and for that very reason we should be encouraged and stay on and do it to the best of our ability.