Monday, December 10, 2007

Acts 18:1-17

Corinth had become Greece's most important city. It was both its economic as well as cultural center, and was also a major sponsor for the Isthmian games, a biannual set of games located not too far from Corinth. When Emperor Claudius forced the Jews to leave Rome in AD 49, many of them came to Corinth.

When Paul arrived at Corinth (a fifty mile walk from Athens), he headed to the marketplace to set up shop. Tentmaking was in high demand due to the Isthmian games, but also due to the fact that so many new people were moving into the city. He soon met a fellow Jew by the name of Aquila, one of those who had been forced to leave Rome. His wife's name was Priscilla. They made tents for a living and were both believers. Paul was delighted to meet them, and was even more delighted to learn that there had been a group of believers in Rome, a city he hoped to visit soon.

Paul went to the synagogue on his first Sabbath in Corinth and was again given the opportunity to speak. Once again, he shared about Jesus. Soon after this Silas and Timothy arrived in Corinth, bringing word on how the churches in Thessalonica and Berea were doing (see 1 Thess. 3:1-6 for Timothy's report on the church in Thessalonica).

On one Sabbath, the Jews opposed Paul, so he left and went to the Gentiles, specifically to the home of Titius Justus, whose home, coincidentally, happened to be located next door to the synagogue. The Jewish leaders must have hated this. However, tensions would grow even more when Crispus, the leader of the synagogue believed in Jesus. The word was spreading, transformation was taking place, and people were getting baptized. Paul, though, was growing weary, and discouragement and despair were setting in.

This may sound morbid, but it's kind of nice to see that Paul is actually human. He had faced so much pain and rejection up to this point but kept going. When thrown in prison wrongfully, he had responded with worship. When beaten and left for dead, and had gone back for more. Yet even for a man like Paul, he had his limits. Corinth was a complicated city. First, it was extremely overcrowded, especially since so many Jews had fled there. Second, because it was a port city, it was very busy. Goods were bought and sold 24 hours a day. Third, and this was due in part to the fact that it was a port city, Corinth was very diverse, both ethnically and socially. Fourth, Corinth was known for its perversion. The saying "Anything Goes" was an understatement in Corinth. It is said that Plato used the term "Corinthian girl" in reference to a prostitute. And the temple of Aphrodite had 1000 prostitutes. This had to have had an impact on Paul as well.

God knew Paul's limitations better than Paul knew them himself. At the time when Paul needed it most, God gave grace and affirmation. God spoke to Paul through a dream, telling him that he didn't need to be afraid and that he should continue doing what he had been doing, for God was going to protect him. He then let Paul in on a little secret: "For I have many in this city who are my people" (Acts 18:10). Whereas in the past, Paul never stayed in a city more than a couple of months, God allowed him to remain in Corinth for a year and a half. He used this time to strengthen this new church that was filled with gifts and talents, but who down the road would need the fatherly discipline of Paul.

After 18 months had passed, some of the Jews appealed to Gallio, the proconsul of Corinth, that Paul needed to be stopped. Gallio wanted nothing to do with squabbles between these Jews, so he dismissed them, before Paul could even give his defense. The Jews had made a mistake, though. They had stirred the crowd into such a frenzy that they had to let out their aggression on someone. That someone turned out to be Sosthenes, the man who had replaced Crispus as ruler of the synagogue. The mob seized him and beat him right in front of Gallio, who did nothing. It is very interesting to read 1 Corinthians 1:1 in light of this story:

Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes...
How ironic is it that this man turned out to be Paul's co-author years later!

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