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"For I Have Many People in This City"
Wednesday Evening Home Bible Study
December 10, 2008
Theme: This portion tells us of Paul's ministry in the ancient city of Corinth.
Of all the communities of Christians that Paul involved himself with, he carried on the most correspondences with the Christians in the ancient city of Corinth. The order of letters seems to be that he first wrote to them, in a letter that we do not have, to urge them to live pure lives and separate lives in the context of the culture around them (1 Corinthians 5:9). Later, they wrote back and asked him for further clarification on a variety of different issues (1 Corinthians 7:1). He then wrote back to them in response to their request in the letter that we have in our Bibles as 1 Corinthians. Then, because of strong resistance to his teaching, he wrote another harsh letter that we do not have (2 Corinthians 2:3-4); and after further correspondence through some coworkers that Paul had sent to them, he then wrote a final letter that we have in our Bibles as 2 Corinthians. In our passage tonight, we see the historical background of much of his ministry to them.
Corinth was the capital city of Achaia. It was about fifty miles west of Athens. While Athens was a cultural center, Corinth was a commercial center. It was so situated that it allowed easy transport to Asia Minor to the east and Italy to the west. But it was also a religious center—chiefly of the immoral worship of Aphrodite.
We read much, in the letters of 1 and 2 Corinthians, of the moral and ethical problems that plagued the ancient Corinthian Christian. But in this important 'background' story in Acts 18, we discover that the Lord Jesus had great plans for the people in it. Even though Corinth seemed like an unlikely place for a great work of God to occur, our Lord made it clear to Paul that, "I have many people in this city" (Acts 18:10).
I. PAUL'S 'TENT-MAKING' MINISTRY (vv. 1-4).
A. After leaving Athens, Paul made his way westerly to the capital city of Corinth (v. 1). And upon arriving, he found a certain Jewish man named Aquila (v. 2). Aquilla had been born in Pontus (in Asia Minor; see 1 Peter 1:1); but had, at some point, moved to Italy. His wife's name was Priscilla. We read much of this godly couple—not only in Acts 18 (see vv. 18-19 and 26); but also in others of Paul's letters (Romans 16:3; 1 Corinthians 16:19). They become very a important part of the support team of Paul's ministry. They ended up in Corinth because the emperor Claudius had commanded all Jews to leave Italy. It may be that Aquilla and Priscilla heard the gospel while in the Galatian region; but however it was that they heard, Paul became attached to them (perhaps at first in part because they were Jewish, and would allow an opportunity for him to build a relationship with the Jews in Corinth; and perhaps in part because they were in the tent-making trade, and that this also was Paul's trade.
B. While staying with Aquilla and Pricilla—and as he waited for Silas and Timothy to come to him (see 17:14)—Paul was not idle. He worked in the tent-making trade with them; perhaps helping them in their business in order to pay for his own room and board (v. 3). But while with them, he went to the synagogue every Sabbath, and "persuaded both Jews and Greeks"—talking to them about Jesus (v. 4; see also v. 5).
C. Many missionaries and pastors have adopted Paul's method. Some have underwritten their ministries through outside work; others have so worked simply in order to be among the people that they sought to reach. This practice of Paul's later became an opportunity for him to emphasize the integrity of his own ministry among the Corinthians (see 1 Corinthians 4:12 and 2 Corinthians 11:7-9).
II. PAUL'S MOVE TO THE GENTILES (vv. 5-11).
A. Once Silas and Timothy came to Paul from Macedonia (v. 5), we read that Paul's ministry among the Corinthians intensified. He was "compelled by the Spirit"; or as the New American Standard version has it, "Paul began devoting himself completely to the word". He apparently ceased his tent-making work, and devoted all his energies to reaching the Corinthians. This may have been made possible by a generous gift that had come to him by the Macedonian Christians through the hands of Silas and Timothy (see 2 Corinthians 11:9).
B. Paul's appeal to the Jews was that "Jesus is the Christ" (that is, the Messiah). But when they opposed him, he shook his garments (probably in an act similar to that commanded by our Lord in Matthew 10:14); and said, "Your blood be upon your own heads (see Ezek. 33:4; also Acts 20:26). Paul further said, "From now on I will go to the Gentiles" (v. 6). Paul was, here, simply acting in keeping with his policy of preaching to the Jews first, and only to the Gentiles if the Jews rejected the gospel. But though he left them, he didn't go far—just next door (v. 7). He went to the house of a man named Justus (Titius Justus, in some texts; and many scholars believe his full name was Guias Titius Justus and identify him with the "Guias" of 1 Corinthians 1:14)—apparently a Gentile who worshiped God. It was from this man's house that Paul continued to teach. His close proximity to the Jews must have had an impact on them; because Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed—and Paul then baptized him and his household (also see 1 Corinthians 1:14 regarding this).
C. The opposition must have affected Paul with a measure of uncertainty about his ongoing ministry in Corinth. And it's then that we read that the Lord Himself came and confirmed this ministry to Paul (vv. 9-10)—telling him in a vision that (1) he was not to be afraid, that (2) he was to speak and not keep silent, that (3) the Lord Himself was with him, that (4) no one would harm him, and that (5) the Lord had many people in the city of Corinth. Known to the Lord alone are those that He has chosen for salvation; but this assures us that the gospel that is preached to them will always have success. This encouragement kept Paul ministering there for another year and a half in teaching the word to the Corinthians (v. 11).
III. PAUL'S CHALLENGE BEFORE THE JUDGMENT SEAT (vv. 12-17).
A. After a year and a half, the Jews finally rose up and sought official action against Paul. The approached Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia; and brought a charge against Paul "to the judgment seat" (v. 12). Their argument was that Paul was persuading men to worship God "contrary to the law" (v. 13). This may have referred to the fact that proselytizing a Roman citizen was illegal.
B. In one of the rare occasions in Scripture, Paul is said to open his mouth to speak—and yet, nothing came out. Before he could say a word, Gallio jumped in to demonstrate that he was not impressed with the charges brought against him. The proconsul told the Jews that, as far as he was concerned, this was a matter of the details concerning their own religion (vv. 14-15); and that he wouldn't be a judge in such matters. He then drove the Jews out of his presence (v. 16). The Greeks observed these proceedings; and it apparently angered them against the Jews. They took a representative Jew—Sosthenese, the new ruler of the synagogue—and beat him before Gallio (v. 17). And yet, Gallio was unmoved by this. Apparently, however, Sosthenese was moved—because we read later that he became "a brother" (1 Corinthians 1:1)
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One of the great lessons of Paul's ministry in Corinth is that the sovereign God knows who it is that He has set apart for Himself. Even in the most unlikely of places (and Corinth was a very unlikely place for a work of God), the Lord knows who it is that He has sovereignly chosen for Himself. Therefore, we can go confidently into those places He sends us; bearing the saving message of Christ, and knowing that those He has chosen for Himself in those places will hear and believe.
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