Tag Archives: 1 Corinthians

Paul at Corinth

 

After setting the background for the city of Corinth a few weeks ago in a previous post, here we’ll work briefly through the context of Acts 18, specifically the first half of this chapter which focuses on Paul’s ministry in Corinth.

The chapter opens with Paul finding two Italian believers who were part of the deportation of Jews from Rome by order of the Emperor Claudius (Acts 18:2), Priscilla and Aquilla.  They, like Paul, were tent makers and their names are familiar among the Apostle’s epistles, so most likely he  developed a good relationship with them.  This encounter is probably where they first met, and it’s clear they became a power-couple for the advancement of the Gospel joining later alongside the Apostle in future cities (Ephesus and Rome).

In Acts 18:4, “And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks” we find the strategy of evangelism that Paul employed early on, namely that of preaching in the synagogues and appealing to the light of the Old Testament which the Jews and some of the “God-fearers” likely had.  In time, two familiar names arrive on the scene at Corinth in verse 5, Silas and Timothy, who likely were bringing support (financial?) to the Apostle (2 Cor. 11:7-9).

As we think about the importance that Corinth had in the global advancement of the Gospel, being a large multi-port city of significance in the Roman Empire, we find not only Paul, but Aquilla, Priscilla, Silas, Timothy and soon Apollos will be added to their ministry.  Humanly speaking, if a church was going to be built in a city as idolatrous and pagan as Corinth, there was an evangelistic all-star team in place.

However, because evangelism is not merely a human endeavor, in verses 5-11 we are introduced to the frustrations of preaching the Gospel that the Apostle Paul was experiencing, a sort of narrative within the narrative describing the opposition that Paul faced.

When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue. Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” 11 And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.” I Corinthians 15:5-11

As seen above, Paul responds to this opposition by shaking out his garments, a token symbol for cutting them off along with the reply, “your blood be on your own heads!  I am innocent.  From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”

From here we find the apostle entering immediately into the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God.  The Reformation Study Bible footnote is instructive here, “The first home of the Corinthian church.  Titius Justus is a Gentile adherent to the faith at the synagogue, and a Roman citizen.”  Almost inherent within the ministry of Paul you can see him working out his theology of making the Jews jealous by going to the Gentiles (Romans 11:11-14), and here he goes to the one right next door to the synagogue!  Presumably, Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue was in the house of Titius, and it is here he is converted to Christ along with his entire household.  Additionally, “many of the Corinthians” who heard Paul, believed, and were baptized.

In the face of opposition and discouragement that the Apostle must have felt from his own kinsmen, despite the conversion of Crispus, he receives an encouraging word from the Lord in a vision with respect to this difficult and wicked city, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”  Upon that word of God’s sovereignty in salvation, we find that Paul stayed and ministered in the city of Corinth 18 months.

As we move toward the end of Paul’s time at Corinth according to Acts 18, we arrive again at more opposition he faced in preaching the gospel,   But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, saying, ‘This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.’” Acts 18:12-13  In this particular instance, the Apostle was spared, by the grace of God, from further trials or persecutions and from Corinth, Paul begins his journey for Ephesus where he would minister to the saints there and write his epistles to the Corinthian church

All of this is by way of background, i.e. the missionary journey of Paul as recorded in Acts, gives us an introduction to these epistles that Paul wrote to this young, immature church at Corinth as well as providing insight into the investment that he and his team made there and why he so passionately addressed them and pleaded for their pursuit of holiness from a correct understanding of the gospel.

Additionally, we see the complexities of the region, the influx of Jewish refugees, the presence of pagan idolaters, God-fearers, and Christians in the city, the range of backgrounds and religious baggage was diverse and this becomes evident through the numerous topics and errors that he addresses in his letters.

As we read through 1 Corinthians (actually the 2nd epistle that Paul penned to Corinth), we find of a fascinating statement in regards to the people Paul was exhorting, 9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

What an amazing display of the power of gospel and a humbling display of the mercy of God that He would condescend Himself to a vile people such as those in Corinth, yet He had many people in that city and as Paul records above.  They were washed from their vileness, sanctified from their corruption, and justified from the condemnation of their sins by the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.  Let us not be dismissive of our own wicked regions or individual “sin cities” that we regard as hopeless for the Gospel, but let us labor as the Apostle to minister to a people whom God has set aside for His own glory, calling them to repentance and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Soli Deo Gloria!

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The Church at Sin City

 

In Acts 17, Luke, writing under the Divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, gives an account of the Apostle Paul’s second missionary journey (Acts 15:40-18:23a).  In the opening verses of the chapter we find him in Thessalonica, then moving on to Berea, before finally arriving in Athens.  Here, the Apostle is confronted by the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers regarding the content of the gospel message which he was proclaiming

“And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.  And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” Acts 17:18-20

These rival schools of philosophy found a common enemy in the preaching of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The Epicureans rejected a belief in the afterlife, thinking that the body and soul were annihilated upon death.  On the other hand, the Stoics were more of a mixed bag regarding the afterlife, though a consistent denial of eternal life was common among them.  These were the chief opponents of the Apostle Paul’s message in and around the Balkan Peninsula.

As a consequence of their disagreement, Paul was escorted to the Areopagus[1] where he gives his infamous speech on Mars Hill regarding the “Unknown god” (Acts. 17:22).  Key to the context of our discussion here is Paul’s statement, 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead. Acts 17:30-31

To which we read of the hearers response, 32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33 So Paul went out from their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.”

All of this, by way of contextual introduction leads us into Acts 18, where we find Paul leaving Athens, traveling a short distance – about 50 miles – to Corinth.  The doctrinal continuity between Paul’s message in Acts 17, its reception, and Acts 18, is his proclamation of Christ’s resurrection.

By all respects, Corinth was a melting pot of immigration and subsequently varying religious views.  It’s political and economic hey-day had come during the Hellenistic period some 200 years before Paul’s arrival.  Prior to its collapse in 146 B.C. at the hand of the Roman Empire, Corinth had a population anywhere from 100,000-200,000 people (though some have suggested upwards of 400,000).

Left desolate after its destruction as a devotion to the gods, it was rebuilt 100 years later (~46 BC) under the administration of Julius Caesar and became one of the most important cities in the Roman Empire due to its location of 2 major ports on the sea.  Its geographic location was largely responsible for the migration of people (and their religious views), particularly Romans, Jews deported from Rome, and migrants from Athens.  Corinth was also home to the temple of Aphrodite, as well as a multitude of other temples and pagan shrines as noted in the paragraph below describing the tour of ancient Greece by 2nd century historian Pausanias[2]:

“Upon entering Corinth through the gate which probably bore the name of Cenchreae, Pausanias proceeded to the Agora, where the greatest number of temples stood. He mentions an Artemis Ephesia;–two wooden statues of Dionysus;–a temple of Tyché (Fortune);–a temple sacred to all the gods;–near the latter a fountain, issuing from a dolphin at the foot of a Poseidon in bronze;–statues of Apollo Clarius, Aphrodite, Hermes, and Zeus. In the middle of the Agora was a statue of a bronze Athena, on the basis of which were the figures of the Muses in the relief. Above the Agora was a temple of Octavia, the sister of Augustus.”[3]

Some accounts note that Corinth was such a drunken, lust-filled city that the name was actually turned into a verb, to corinthize, a derogatory term meaning to fornicate.  Others have stated that due to the high traffic, transient nature of the port city, visitors did not and could not bring with them enough money to satisfy all the desires of the flesh that Corinth offered.  Still others have recounted that the city was home to 1000 temple prostitutes that descended upon the city each night.

This was the climate into which the Apostle Paul was bringing the gospel.  The challenges that he faced are well documented in Acts 18, as well as the two epistles to the immature church at Corinth.  Understanding this cultural and religious background is helpful for clarifying what the Apostle was facing in during his Second Missionary journey and why he wrote the epistles to Corinth addressing the various errors that he did while asserting specific truths that they needed reaffirmed.

We sometimes think that our current cultural malaise is the worst in history, but we needn’t go far to find comparable if not substantially worse cultural times.  Yet despite that, the gospel was not thwarted and the light was not overcome with darkness.  If that was true then, how much more so is it in our day?  Let us not be afraid nor ashamed to take the gospel into the darkest, depressed regions and trust that in our day, though rejection and suffering may come, may God likewise say “for I have many in this city who are My people”. Acts 18:10

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Areopagus

[2] http://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/ancient/pausanias-bk2.asp

[3] http://www.bible-history.com/maps/romanempire/Corinth.html