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.
“5 When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. 6 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.” 7 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. 8 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. 9 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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