And so to Corinth!


Acts 18

Paul left Athens and, since Silas and Timothy had still not arrived from Berea, he continued on his way alone, eventually arriving in Corinth. The Christian life is not primarily about things and events. It is about people. So it is instructive to keep track of the many people with whom Paul came into contact as he went along. Indeed, this is what we have been doing as we have followed his journey. In many cases, there was opposition from the Jewish inhabitants. In other cases, there were problems from the city authorities but, in every case, there were those who responded to the word of God and who decided to make Jesus the Lord of their lives. If we resolve to live our own lives in this way, it will surely be an exciting thing one day to be able to look back on our lives and remember the times when others made a decision to follow Jesus as a result of things that we have said.

Acts 18:1-17

Corinth had a reputation for great wickedness and immorality. A temple to Aphrodite - the goddess of love and war - had been built on the large hill behind the city. In this popular religion, people worshipped the goddess by giving money to the temple and taking part in sexual acts with male and female temple prostitutes. Paul found Corinth a challenge but also a great opportunity for Christian service. Later, he would write a series of letters to believers at Corinth, dealing in part with the problems of immorality. (First and Second Corinthians are two of those letters in the New Testament.)

Second missionary journey

Claudius had become the Roman emperor and had dictated that all Jewish people were to be expelled from Rome. Two people who left Rome under these circumstances were Aquila and his wife Priscilla. They were tent-makers by trade, like Paul himself, so when he went to visit them, he stayed with them and worked with them. Tents were used to house soldiers and these tents may have been sold to the Roman army. Having a skill that could be used in this way allowed Paul to go wherever God led him, earning his livelihood as he went.

When Silas and Timothy caught up with Paul on their way back from Macedonia, they found him at the Jewish synagogue, where he joined in worship each week, expounding the teaching of the Old Testament scriptures about the Messiah and relating this to Jesus. The arrival of his companions allowed Paul to spend much more of his time in preaching and teaching. The synagogue was the place where Jewish people met, but non-Jewish people ("Gentiles") also met there, so Paul also spoke to the Greeks in Corinth. To begin with, there were no Christians in that place but, as his message spread, things began to change. For example, the man next door to the synagogue, Titius Justus, became a believer as did the ruler of the synagogue, Crispus, together with his entire household. (Acts 18:8)

This caused a sharp division amongst those who attended the synagogue. As seemed always to be the case, the opposition became abusive. This kind of response can happen today whenever God moves in power by His Holy Spirit among His people. Those who want to receive the challenge offered by Him and to move on in their Christian lives are frequently opposed by those who are happy to stick with the familiarity and routine of their long-standing, religious traditions.

What about us? When God challenges us with new ideas and new plans, what do we do? Do we oppose those who bring them, or do we retreat into our comfort zones and exclaim that we don’t want to be touched by "that" - whatever "that" may be - perhaps missing out on the most exciting and challenging opportunity of our lives? All too often, people are in danger of missing out on salvation – the eternal destiny that God has planned for them.

Paul responded to the rejection and abuse from the Jewish traditionalists by simply shaking out his clothes and reminding them that they could take responsibility for their own eternal future. (Acts 18:6-7) Others who became Christians in Corinth were: Phoebe (Romans 16:1 - Cenchrea was the port city of Corinth); Tertius (Romans 16:22); Erastus (Romans 16:23); Quartus (Romans 16:23); Chloe (1 Corinthians 1:11); Gaius (1 Corinthians 1:14); Stephanas and his household (1 Corinthians 16:15); Fortunatus (1 Corinthians 16:17) and Achaicus (1 Corinthians 16:17).

The opposition was not simply a "storm in a teacup". It continued relentlessly and Paul must have gone through much soul-searching, wondering if he was bringing his faith into disrepute! Fortunately, the Father had gone before and warned Paul of what to expect and how to react. We may sometimes feel the same if we seem to be opposing the established direction in which people are moving. Indeed, those who oppose us may even be friends with sincerely held beliefs. However, if they are sincerely wrong, a stand needs to be taken, otherwise error will triumph because good people have done nothing. Please understand that this is a difficult point and should only be undertaken when we know from the Holy Spirit that He wants us to stand firm. This perhaps was Paul’s dilemma here. (See Acts 18:9-11; Romans 8:31-32.)

Sure enough, one day the Jews made a united attack on Paul, accusing him of persuading people to worship God in ways that were unlawful. (Acts 18:12-13) They took him to court but, before Paul even had a chance to stand up and defend himself, Gallio (the proconsul or presiding judge) himself intervened. Judaism was a recognised religion under Roman law. As long as Christians were regarded as being part of Judaism, the court saw no immediate threat to citizens at large. Gallio's primary concern was to uphold Roman law and he saw immediately that the case against Paul had nothing to do with criminal actions or conduct. So far as he was concerned, this was some sort of theological dispute about the finer points of the Jewish religion and it would be a waste of the court's time to get involved. It was an important, judicial decision for the spread of the gospel in the Roman empire.

The people left the courtroom and turned on Sosthenes, who was the new ruler of the synagogue, replacing Crispus who, with his entire family, had become believers. They beat him, but Gallio paid no attention whatever to it. For him, it had become a Jewish matter – far below the level of things to be dealt with by the Romans! The frustrated crowd attacked Sosthenes for losing the case and, perhaps, damaging the reputation of the synagogue but Gallio was a fine judge of when to intervene and when to "turn a blind eye". Incidentally, a person named Sosthenes is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:1 - "From: Paul, chosen by God to be Jesus Christ's missionary, and from brother Sosthenes". Many believe this was the same man who, in time, became a convert and a companion of Paul.

Acts 18:18-22

Timeline of Paul's missionary journeys

Paul remained in Corinth for some time. The attacks diminished after the court case but, eventually, it was time to say goodbye and move on. There is a time in the establishment of every work of the Lord when the person establishing it needs to move on – for the sake of those he or she is leaving behind. People, even new believers, need to be given space to grow in their own environment. In due course, Paul decided that it was time to move on and set sail for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila.

On the right, there is an approximate timeline of Paul’s first two "missionary journeys" taking him back to his centre of operations at Antioch, from where he later embarked on a third journey. It is interesting to see the way in which Paul develops and follows a strategic plan to visit new cities and plant churches but, all the while, remains open to where God may be leading him instead. We saw it earlier (in study nineteen) when Paul and his companions were diverted by the Holy Spirit from continuing into Asia and sent off to Macedonia instead. We see it now as Paul heads back home again. Luke slips in that Paul had taken a vow, as a result of which he had his hair cut off. Scholars debate precisely what vow this might have been - possibly a Nazirite vow which involved shaving the head and offering the hair as a sacrifice. (See Numbers 6:18) Whatever it was, it indicates clearly that Paul took his relationship with God very seriously at all times.

On the way back to Syria, the ship stopped off at Ephesus. For Aquila and Priscilla, this was their destination. Paul, as was his custom, went directly to the synagogue where he reasoned with the Jewish people. When they asked him back, he promised to return, "if it was God’s will." Listening to God was important to Paul throughout his life. It is sometimes important to spend only a short period of time with people to whom God leads us. We should never divert from our main course unless we know that God is asking us to do so. Paul left Aquila and Priscilla in Ephesus and we read later in the chapter that they continued to preach the gospel there. Meanwhile, Paul landed at Caesarea, encouraged the believers there, then returned to Antioch, from where he had set out some two years earlier.

Paul's third missionary journey

Acts 18:23-28. The start of Paul’s third missionary journey (AD 53-57)

Paul was not a man to stand still for long. I am sure that the time he spent in Antioch would have been exhilarating, but he was a man driven by an over-riding purpose. He was totally focused on ensuring that non-Jewish people (Gentiles) should hear the word of God for themselves and he was not a man to sit on his laurels. He loved people so much that he was prepared to die so that they might have the opportunity to make decisions for themselves. We don’t know, but we can presume from his previous return from his first missionary journey, that when Paul arrived back in Antioch, he reported on what had happened to his home church who had sent him out, prayed for him and encouraged him in the first place. There would have been opportunities to share his experiences and to encourage others and to hear what had happened in their lives.

Fellowship with other believers is just as important today. When we hear of how God has used ordinary people for extraordinary work, it often challenges us to allow the Holy Spirit to speak to us as well. If we are of a mind to receive from Him, we may be surprised by how far and to what depths God will use us. All that is required is for us to be open to listen to God honestly and to obey Him. So Paul left Antioch for his third missionary journey. (Acts 18:23)

The Ephesian church became the focal point for the final section of Acts, chapter 18. We now begin to see the global nature of the church. While Paul is going from place to place throughout Galatia and Phrygia, Apollos (who was a native of Alexandria in Egypt and had become a believer) arrives in Ephesus. He also went to the synagogue (like Paul, to whom he had probably not yet been introduced) and began to teach the worshippers there. Aquila and Priscilla (who heard him and recognised his gifts) asked him back to their home. When it became apparent that he had not been baptised in the Holy Spirit, they explained to him what he didn’t know and he received what they had to say.

question time

We also need to understand that the baptism in the Holy Spirit equips us for God’s service. Without the power of the Holy Spirit moving freely in our lives of total surrender to Him, we may find ourselves trying to do God's will in our own strength  abd suffer burnout. Without that baptism, Apollos would have been unable to adequately deal with the Jews in Achaia.

"Apollos had been thinking about going to Greece, and the believers encouraged him in this. They wrote to their fellow-believers there, telling them to welcome him. Upon his arrival in Greece, he was greatly used of God to strengthen the church, for he powerfully refuted all the Jewish arguments in public debate, showing by the scriptures that Jesus is indeed the Messiah." (Acts 8:27-28)

Many people are desperate to discover Jesus. But they will never find the way to Him unless someone tells them the truth. Claims that "many paths lead to God" need to be exposed as contrary to what Jesus said. Then those who are seeking the truth will find a clear and direct way to put their lives in order and to receive salvation from Jesus. Apollos is a great example to us as we step out boldly to serve Jesus, honestly and truthfully.

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