"Then the Lord spoke to Paul during the night in a vision, "Don't be afraid. Continue to speak of Me, and don't go quiet; for I am with you, and no one will be able to stop you or harm you, for I have many people in this city" (Acts 18:9-10)
Paul is in Corinth, a magnificent Grecian city known for its wealth. The Corinthians loved their luxuries, and were renowned for their 'anything goes' lifestyles. Paul seems to have been the first person to tell the Corinthians about Jesus. The response to Paul's message seemed favorable at first, but it wasn't long before Paul became the target of violent opposition. He appears to have become greatly discouraged by the Jews hatred and the Gentiles' vice; both of which he was seemingly unable to effect. He was almost ready to give up his evangelism efforts and move to another city.
Then God, who brings comfort in times of discouragement, appeared to Paul in a vision, and promised that though the days were dark and discouraging, his evangelism in Corinth would be met with stunning success. God told him,
"I have many people in this city!"Encouraged by these words, Paul continued in Corinth another year and six months, at the end of which a large and flourishing group of people called themselves followers of Jesus Christ.
In what sense did God have 'many people' in Corinth? When God said this to Paul, very few people had actually embraced faith in Christ. Most Corinthians were still addicted to their pleasurable vices and could not care less about God or repentance of their sins. But God had many people in that city whose names were 'written in the book of life,' whom He had purposed to make 'trophies of grace,' whom He had given to Christ to redeem, and whom He'd predestined to become His children.
But if God gave these 'many people' in Corinth to Christ to save and He had already predestined them to eternal life, why was it necessary for Paul to stay in Corinth and preach the gospel? Will not those whom God has chosen to salvation be saved?
The reason God gave for Paul staying in Corinth and continuing in evangelism was that He had 'many people.' God's declaration became Paul's chief source of encouragement to stay. Paul knew the Corinthians were 'dead in their sins.' He understood that he had no power to change their lives. He realized they would perish in their sins unless God intervened in their lives.
It was incredibly cheerful news to Paul when he heard God say, "I have many people in Corinth." These words energized and sustained the Apostle. He kept going, not only in Corinth, but in other places of ministry where he faced similar discouragements. "I endure all things," he would later write, "for the elect's sake" (II Timothy 2:10). The fact that God has chosen 'many people' is our only hope in evangelism and missions.
It is a mistake for anyone to consider the doctrine of election a discouragement. God intends election to be the ground of hope to all who share the good news. Declaring the gospel is the appointed means through which God saves His people. He will send the gospel to those He intends to save, and since God had 'many people' in Corinth, He sent Paul to that city and both sustained him and encouraged him with the promise of election.
Wherever God in His providence causes His gospel to be faithfully preached, we have reason to believe He has there a chosen people. His Word will not return void, but will accomplish that which He pleases. And what is God's purpose in sending Paul to Corinth, or any other evangelist to preach the good news? "To open their eyes, and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive the forgiveness of sins and the inheritance of all those whom He has set aside for deliverance." (Acts 26:18)
God has many people in this world. Let this thought encourage us. Let us be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that our labor is not in vain.
Post Adapted from a Sermon by:
Dr. Bennet Tyler (1753-1858)
President, Dartmouth College