As we know, Paul engaged in the intellectually and emotionally rigorous work of reasoning with Jews and Greeks. As some believed and others did not, opposition increased. No doubt, Paul spent relational capital as he dealt with opposition and shepherded new believers who were also. All of us in battle, either physically or spiritually, know that it is natural to fear enemies and opponents, or at the very least to allow their presence to cause us to worry about the implications of their opposition.
How many times I quoted Psalm 56:3 to myself as a child, I do not know: “When I am afraid, I will trust in you.” Children have fears, and we all come to learn that fear keeps creeping into our hearts regardless of our age or stage in life. How can Christians effectively battle fear?
The Lord even had to come to the Apostle Paul in a vision by night to remind him “Do not be afraid” when Paul was in Corinth (Acts 18:9). Strikingly, the Lord comes to Paul at the zenith of his early ministry in Corinth as recorded in Acts 18:8 “And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.” If Paul was so successful, why was he fearful? And what can we learn from his experience to equip us to fight fear in our hearts?
Here are a few of the factors that might have inclined Paul towards fearfulness in the heart of his second missionary journey. They are all factors that we experience in some measure:
- Loneliness. Paul had left Luke in Philippi and Timothy and Silas in Berea. He did meet up with other believers in Corinth, like Aquila and Priscilla, and Silas and Timothy would catch up with Paul later in Corinth, but he came to the city without his ministry partners (Acts 18:1-2). We all know how loneliness and separation can lead us to be fearful.
- Uncertainty. Paul had been driven out of city after city from Philippi to Athens, and at this stage in his ministry, he wondered, for instance, if the saints in Thessalonica had been carried away from the faith by the tempter (1 Thess. 3:5). In our own lives, fear of the unknown often leads us to paralysis.
Discouragement. The Lord directed Paul to go to Macedonia in a prior vision (Acts 16:6-10), and the wind was in his sails, literally and figuratively as he took the gospel there (Acts 16:11). But, the word of God was often rejected, and in some cases few responded.