Except for Bible class studies, we may not think very much about Paul's troubles. One of the travel periods of Paul's life was really hard. It opens with an argument that separates him from his best preaching friend, Barnabas. They leave separately, not together (Acts 15:37-40). Put any spin you want on that event, I believe Paul was heartsick over it. As a bright spot, he picks up a new disciple in Lystra, named Timothy (16:1). But the Holy Spirit will not allow Paul to go preach in Asia or Bithynia. They finally go to Macedonia.
The work in Philippi starts good with the conversion of Lydia (16:14ff). But soon sours and after a beating and a night in jail, though he does convert the jailer! He is "thrown out" of town (16:38-9). Paul, Silas and Timothy move on to Thessalonica, to preach and soon a riot soon breaks out and they escape under cover of darkness (17:10). In the next town, Berea, they find some very willing students of the gospel but just as real headway is being made, the mob that ran them out of Thessalonica finds them and creates another scene. The new brethren send Paul away for his own safety, off to the coast and down to Athens, Greece, where he is left all alone.
Athens is an awful town. It's big, bustling, and filled with idolatry. After engaging the local philosophers in discussion (this is Athens after all, as in Plato, Socrates, Aristotle!?) he gets an official invite to address the "thinkers". But, it doesn't go well. They patronize him and he leaves, rejected again, down to Corinth (17:32-18:1), still alone.
By this time Paul was really down. He was in "weakness and fear and trembling," he would later tell the Corinth church (1 Cor. 2:3). Was he ready to quit? He limits his preaching to Saturday and goes back to making tents (Acts 18:3). When Silas and Timothy finally catch up with him, he throws himself back into full-time preaching (18:5). Now even the fact that the Jews refuse to hear the gospel does not deter him (6-7) and he begins his greatest work in any major city.
On the heels of so much heartache Paul finally finds some comfort. Paul's need here was so great that the Lord came to Paul in a dream to comfort him saying that he didn't have to be afraid in this town because no one will hurt him. Paul ends up staying 1 1/2 years, making many converts (8-11). Sometimes we despair in life when our troubles abound. But can you imagine trading places with Paul? Though completely engaged in God's work, his life was a terrible struggle. yet, even with troubles surrounding him, he had Heaven as his goal and would say, "we do not lose heart" (2 Cor. 4:16).
- Tim Orbison