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PAUL IN CORINTH

Acts 18:1-18:17
Key Verse: 18:9-10

Last week we could think of Paul in Athens. Paul's great distress upon seeing so many idols was the expression of his jealousy for God and his heart for the people in Athens, the empire’s intellectual metropolis. Then Paul proclaimed the message of God’s creation and repentance and judgment by Jesus. Today’s passage is concerning Paul in Corinth, how he pioneered Corinth. We can think about how he served the Corinthians and how the Lord helped him.

First, Paul’s persuasive reasoning and devoted preaching of Christ (1-8). Look at verse 1. “After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth.” It is interesting that in all other cities Paul was with his mission cowokers, but in Athens he was alone. Yet, he was not daunted at all in such a human intellect-dominant city. Rather, he was full of shepherd heart and delivered a comprehensive gospel message. After hearing Paul’s message about the resurrection of Jesus, some said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” But Paul left Athens, certainly following God’s leading. He came to Corinth.

It is true that some of the town Paul visited were small and insignificant. This could not be said of Athens, Corinth and Ephesus, however. It has been reckoned that while Athens may have had less than 10,000 inhabitants, Ephesus had half a million, and Corinth at it zenith had three-quarters of million. All three were leading cities of the Roman Empire, situated round the shores of the Aegean Sea, while Corinth and Ephesus were also provincial capitals. Athens was the intellectual centre of the ancient world. Corinth was above all a great commercial centre, a world-famous emporium (trade centre); Corinth was a city of seafarers, of maritime merchants, and it is hardly surprising that Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, whom the Romans called Neptune, was worshipped there. It was said that its markets were stocked with cosmopolitan goods—‘Arabian balsam, Egyptian papyrus, Phoenician dates, Libyan ivory, Babylonian carpets, Cilician goats-hair, Lycaonian wool, Phrygian slaves. Paul must have seen its strategic importance. If trade could radiate from Corinth in all directions, so could the gospel.

Look at verse 2. “There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome.” Born in Pontus on the southern shore of the Black Sea, Aquila had migrated to Italy. Presumably, Aquila and Priscilla were already believers before they reached Corinth. What an encouragement it must have been to Paul that he met this couple! This kind of thing never happened in other places Paul had gone to. It was likely that when Paul was alone out of nowhere God sent this couple, gospel coworkers. When Paul wrote his personal greeting to the saints in Rome in the Epistle Romans, he mentioned this couple, Priscilla and Aquila, first among 29 fellow workers. He said, “They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them” (Ro 16:4). They were expelled from Rome and their future security would be uncertain. Yet, their priority was serving the Lord and his gospel work. So they became gospel coworkers to Paul right away. It was God’s grace that Paul met such precious people in Corinth. Look at verse 2b and 3. “Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them.” What a coincidence that they had the same job as tentmakers! They were coworkers doubly, having more time together.

Look at verse 4. “Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.” In Thessalonica Paul reasoned in the synagogue on three Sabbath days. But in Corinth he did so every Sabbath, although we do not know how many Sabbath days. And he tried to persuade (or convince) Jews and Greeks. It shows Paul made every effort to serve the Corinthians before God. And verse 5 says, “When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.”

When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, however, after staying in Berea (17:14) and visiting Thessalonica, they brought with them not only the good news of the Thessalonians’ faith and love (1 Thes. 3:6) but also a gift (Cf. Phil 4:15-16; 2 Cor 11:8-9). As a result, Paul was able to give up his tent-making. Instead he now devoted himself exclusively to preaching the word. He wanted to give such a whole time and heart to serving Corinthians through his preaching. In NASB it is translated, “…Paul began devoting himself completely to the word…”, in ESV, “…Paul was occupied with the word…” and NRSV, “…Paul was occupied with proclaiming the word.”

Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:1-4, “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” So when Paul reasoned and tried to persuade the Jews and the Greeks in Corinth, he did not use human means of persuasive speech. Rather, he relied on the persuasive power of Jesus’ crucifixion itself. He himself was first moved by the fact that Jesus was crucified for man’s sins--it was only then that he could speak persuasively.

Paul said continually in 2:3-5, “I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” What intimidated Paul, to the point that he confessed, “I came in weakness and fear and with much trembling”? It was surely the pride and immorality of the Corinthian people, since the cross comes into direct collision with both. The Corinthians were a proud people. Their intellectual arrogance emerges clearly in Paul’s correspondence with them. They were also proud of their city, which Julius Caesar had beautifully rebuilt in 46 B.C. They boasted of its wealth and culture and of its political prestige as the capital of provincial Achaia, taking precedence even over Athens. Secondly, Corinth was associated in everybody’s mind with immorality. Behind the city, nearly 600m (2,000 feet) above sea level, rose the rocky eminence called the Acrocorinth. On its flat summit stood the temple of Aphrodite or Venus, the goddess of love. A thousand female slaves served her and roamed the city’s streets by night as prostitutes. The sexual promiscuity of Corinth was proverbial, so to become “corinthianized” implied sexual immorality. Considering this now we can understand better Paul’s fear and his determination to know only Christ and him crucified. In his weakness and fear Paul all the more depended on the power of the Spirit as he preached Christ. The gospel of Christ crucified summoned the Corinthians to repentance and holiness, and warned them, that the sexually immoral would not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10).

The main point of Paul’s message was that Jesus was the Christ. He said in 1 Corinthians 1:22-23, “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Christ is the power of God, because through him who was crucified man’s sins God saves sinners. No power can saves sinners. Christ crucified is not the weakness of God, but the power of God. It seems that military power or political power is real power. Machiavelli claimed in his treatise, “The Prince”, that by ignoring the morals of his conscience, a sovereign was able to make decisions that brought the most benefits, no matter what the means to the end were. Monarchy seems to rule, that ignores the conscience and uses any means to bring about the desired result. But the power of God is different. The power of God is Christ crucified and risen. He said in Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” This salvation includes Christ’ redeeming us from the curse of the law. Galatians 3:14 says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’” The curse of law is too horrible to think when we read Deuteronomy 28:15-68. But Christ removed the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. Truly, Christ is the power of God. And it is for the salvation of everyone who believes. God, who is full of wisdom, chose this way of the cross. What a wisdom it is that the cross of Jesus is the way of salvation for everyone and for all those who believe. When Jesus was crucified by the hands of evil men, Satan seemed to win the victory. But God raised Jesus from the dead. What power and what wisdom! Thank and praise God for the power and wisdom of God that is Christ. This is the reason Paul preached the gospel of Christ as of first importance in his life (1 Cor 15:3-4).

When Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying that Jesus was the Christ, there was a strong opposition. The Jews opposed Paul and became abusive. The Paul shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, “Your blood be on your own head! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” This also should be the attitude of all gospel servants. Then what happened next?

Look at verse 7. “Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God.” Now Paul turned from the Jews to the Gentiles and from the synagogue, public place to house, private place. Titius was Gaius, who was Paul’s precious gospel coworker. God used his house preciously as a house of preaching. Look at verse 8. “Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord, and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized (Ro 16:23; 1 Cor 1:14). God accepted all of Paul’s persuasive reasoning and devoted and exclusive preaching worked in his way.

Second, the Lord spoke to Paul, “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking” (9-17). Look at verses 9-10. “One night the Lord spoke Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” Fear is one of the major problems of mankind. We remember the fear of Abraham, Isaac, Moses, Joshua, Elijah, etc. Such great men had fear. How courageous and fearless Paul was! In Lystra he was stoned almost to death, having been thrown out of the city. But he got up and went back to the city. When Paul and Silas were put in prison after being flogged in Philippi, he could even sing along with Silas to God. Then the foundations of the prison cell were shaken. He was dauntless and mighty. But in Corinth he was fearful as we studied, seeing the power of sin of pride and immorality and sensing the power of Satan’s stronghold. By depending the Spirit’s power he preached. He could overcome the Jews’ opposition and abusiveness. Yet, he had inner fear. No one knew it, but the Lord, the gentle and tender shepherd Jesus knew it and appeared to Paul in a vision and spoke to him, “Do not be afraid.” The Lord Jesus did not say, “I understand your fear; just endure a little more.” No he said, “Do not be afraid.” Here we see that fear is not something that we are to accept fatalistically, but reject absolutely with faith in the Lord Jesus who is with us.

After saying, “Do not be afraid,” The Lord Jesus said continually, “Keep on speaking, do not be silent.” Most probably Paul wanted to go to a new mission field. But the Lord wanted him to stay there and keep on speaking. Especially he had to keep on speaking that Jesus is the Christ. He had not to be silent in proclamation of Christ Jesus. Satan’s work is to shut the mouths of the gospel servants and make them silent. But our Lord Jesus says, “Keep on speaking; do not be silent.”

The reason is “because I have many people in this city.” It is surprising that the Lord Jesus had many people, not a few, to save in the city Corinth, such a corrupted city. Corinth seemed to be the last mission field. But Paul challenged it by the power of the gospel and now the Lord showed his broken shepherd heart for the people in Corinth and his vision to Paul. In the Old Testament Nineveh was the city of Israel’s enemy country that killed the Israelites mercilessly. So Jonah was reluctant to preach the message of judgment there when he was called. The conclusion of the book of Jonah is this: “But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” (Jonah 4:10). Our Lord Jesus wants us to know that God’s heart for sinners is boundless. But the Lord Jesus is bounded and limited because he cannot save the souls unless his gospel servants speak. This was the reason the Lord spoke to Paul, “Do not be afraid. Keep on speaking; do not be silent.” Paul was obedient to this direction by the Lord and stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God. In the same way our Lord Jesus wants us to participate in his boundless shepherd for perishing souls by keep on speaking that Jesus is the Christ so that his boundless soul saving work may be done without stopping.

In verses 12-17, God indeed protected Paul using Gallio, proconsul of Achaia. When the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him in court and charged him, saying, “This man is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law,” Gallio rejected the case, saying that was not his business, because that was not misdemeanor or serious crime. In this way God legally protected the preaching of the gospel of Christ. Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time, not now because of his vision of Jesus, but because of the judicial decision of Gallio.

We thank and praise God for the message of salvation that Jesus is Christ. May we speak this gospel of Christ by depending on the Spirit’s power and keep on speaking at any situation so that the Lord Jesus may save many souls one by one in this city through us.

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