Acts 18 – Paul in Corinth

Read Acts 18

The city of Corinth was one of the major trade cities in the Roman empire.  Sitting directly on an isthmus that separated northern and southern Greece, Corinth was the place to stop either for getting supplies for the long journey ahead or for offloading all the trade goods that a ship was carrying.  It was actually easier for them, in that day, to carry a ship full of trade goods across the isthmus and then reload another ship on the other side than it was to sail around the southern tip of Greece.

Corinth was a very strategic city for both the Roman Empire and for the spread of Christianity.  Like Israel’s placement at the “crossroads” of the known world (the area joining Asia, Europe, and Africa), Corinth was the crossroads for trade at that time.  Obviously, God knew this.  He kept Paul there for a year and a half helping to set up the church and strengthening the believers.  Paul develops deep relationships here and a great affection for the Corinthian church which we will see more of when we read Paul’s correspondences to them later.

One thing that struck me here is God’s message to Paul.  God said, “I have many people in this city…”  Paul had never been to Corinth prior to this.  There is no record of any Christians going to Corinth prior to Paul’s visit, yet God already had many people there.  The way had been prepared for Paul long before he physically arrived, and the Spirit was at work before Paul even knew it.

Sometimes we wonder if we will “have an effect” when we share the Gospel.  Remember, God has been at work for far longer and in much deeper ways than we will ever know and we must trust Him.

 



Day 345: 1 Thessalonians 1-3; Paul's First Letter

Chronologically speaking, the book of 1 Thessalonians is the first letter that Paul wrote to a church in the New Testament.  The Church at Thessalonica, now known as modern day Thessaloniki in Greece was one of the cities that Paul visited on his second missionary journey (reference Acts 17).  Some would say that this is one of the first churches that Paul set up as well.  It wasn’t as rosy as it sounds though as apparently Paul was driven out of the city because of intense persecution by Jews who opposed the teaching of Christ.

Before we continue into the content of our reading, I think it is interesting to note here some of what we read in Acts 17 about the Thessalonian church.  Luke, the writer of Acts, mentions “not a few leading women.”  Now, it is generally understood that Paul wrote this letter from Corinth, another church that Paul started whose letters we have recently read as well.  This understanding of the leadership of women seems to show very clearly that women in leadership within the church is a very acceptable thing.  We cannot dismiss these writings while holding up others such as Paul’s writing to the Corinthian church where he says that women “should be silent in worship” in chapter 14.  It is important that we keep in mind both context and content as we read.  The Thessalonian church benefited and prospered while having women in leadership positions, while the church in Corinth may have had some work to do before this would have been acceptable.  Let us take from both examples, not just the one that we wish to hold up, and work to further God’s Kingdom by utilizing all the gifts of God’s people.

Returning to our reading today, Paul is writing to the Thessalonian believers soon after he has been driven from the city in order to encourage and reassure them in their persecution, and to offer guidance to them as they seek to live a faithful life.  He talks about this right at the beginning of the letter, how they have been faithful and, in many things, he doesn’t feel the need to worry about them at all.

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.  For we know,brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.

Paul also makes a point of telling the Thessalonian believers that his visit, though short, was not one that was in vain.

For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain.  But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.  For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.

I think that as Americans we tend to lean towards what Paul is trying to counter here.  Western culture pushes us towards production, showing a result of our labor as a way of proving that we have accomplished something.  In this light, if we started a project and then were forced out of it, we would often consider it a failure rather than a success.  To this Paul says, that though they were only there for a short time and they had been persecuted in other cities as well, the visit was not in vain.  God is clearly at work here in greater ways than can be measured by human hands.

Often, this idea of productivity is measured in our church mission work as well, both local and abroad.  What is it that people so very often ask missionaries when they come to visit?  “How many conversions have you had?”  What do we ask ourselves in church when we look at the past year?  “Have we grown in number?”  Its as if we think that the only work that God does is with numbers.  If more people are coming to our church or are getting converted by our missionaries, then that means God is giving us success and we are clearly in God’s will.  I think Paul kind of addresses this here as well.  What is it that is really important?  Lives that are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

You can have a church with a very a great speaker that draws thousands and thousands of people to that building, but if lives aren’t being transformed then we really aren’t doing much more than good motivational speaking.  We can get people to pray “the sinner’s prayer” in droves, but if they aren’t truly coming to faith, and their lives aren’t being changed by the Gospel, then are we simply revealing Christ as some sort of cosmic fire insurance?  This is not the Good News of the Gospel, because it leaves us still in bondage to sin.  Christ did not come so that we could get our “get out of hell free” card and then live in the same ways of the world that we had always lived… Christ came that we might be set free from the Law and from Sin, that our lives may be transformed by the Gospel and that we may be brought to newness of life by the grace of God in Christ Jesus, through the Power of the Holy Spirit!



Day 338: 2 Corinthians 11-13; Corruption, Sufferings, and Grace

Our reading for today is kind of a unique reading.  I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it at first.  It seems like Paul is boasting quite a bit about the things that have troubled him lately and all the resistance that was happening in his ministry.  So when I first read it, my thoughts were drawn to this scripture in Jesus’ farewell discourse in John.

John 16:32-33, “Jesus answered them, ‘Do you now believe?  Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me.  I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.’

I thought maybe that Paul was warning the church in Corinth about the things that would happen to them as they were doing ministry, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all those in Corinth.  There would be those who would claim to preach in the name of Jesus, but would only do it for their own profit.  Paul says that these people are not to be listened to, they are false (kind of like the tele-evangelists of today, or even those the preach the prosperity gospel).  Perhaps this is a warning of sorts.

But then it seems like Paul goes back to boasting again, talking about all of his sufferings, the beatings and punishment that he has taken and even this idea of a thorn in his flesh.  I was trying to put it all together as I was reading when I read this verse in chapter 12:

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

I think that this is the key to today’s reading.  Paul is laying out for the church in Corinth, and everywhere really, that following after Jesus is not something that is easy, or that it is going to make life perfect and care free.  In fact, generally speaking, the Christian life is not one of comfort where we can just go to our churches with our friends to hang out once or twice a week.  What Paul is saying here, or what I think he is saying here, is that if we are living out our Christian lives as true disciples of Christ, then we should be encountering resistance.  To that end, I would dare say that if we are not encountering some resistance from Satan, we should probably be questioning whether or not what we are doing is of God at all.  Even in periods of resting should we be feeling, at least a little bit, the prod of the evil one trying to disrupt our lives and get us off track.

What does this have to do with grace?  Well, if we think about it, everything has to do with grace.  God says to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Translation: “you were never going to be able to do this on your own, you are only human, but that’s ok because I am God and I am working through you.  Whatever imperfections and weaknesses you have, I will cover them.  Whatever you can’t do, I can do through you.”  This addresses another huge excuse that is running rampant in the Church of today, we don’t think that we can do things because of this or that.  Often times we leave the evangelism to the pastors and missionaries.  Over 99% of the church hasn’t gone to seminary… which means they aren’t “theologically trained” to do these things.  But hey… news flash… neither were any of the disciples.  By the grace of God we have been chosen for such a time as this, to be God’s ambassadors in this world.  No… we don’t have the strength in ourselves to do what God has called us to.  God doesn’t necessarily call the equipped, He equips the called.  His grace is sufficient for us.  His power is made perfect in our weakness.



Day 335: 2 Corinthians 1-4; Intro to Second Corinthians

As we enter into reading the second letter that Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, we need to start by recognizing two things.  First, we have to remember that this isn’t a direct continuation of the first letter that he wrote, as if the letter was so long that he couldn’t put it into just one volume.  A period of time has passed since the writing of 1 Corinthians, a period in which is seems that Paul has indeed visited the church and that the visit was “painful.”  We also need to take into consideration, as this writing takes place, that there may have been several correspondences that took place between the time of the writing of 1 Corinthians and now, some of which may have been added into this writing as it took shape as one of the books of the Bible.

Paul opens his letter with a greeting, like many of the other greetings that he writes in the different letters to the churches throughout the Roman Empire.  He then talks about the current situation that he and his traveling companions have found themselves in.  Yet even in the many trials that Paul has faced, he doesn’t lose faith in God and even points to the greater desire of God in these hard times to turn to Him and rely completely on His strength.  However, Paul is not saying this in a way that is showing how good he is while at the same time showing how bad the believers at the church in Corinth are.  Instead, Paul is giving God the glory for the faithfulness that He has show in their sufferings.

In his writing, Paul talks about some of the issues that have been going on with his journey and his change of plans.  He seems to go into considerable detail about why the plans are changing and even feels the need to defend his decision to not return to Corinth.  In this, he also talks about a “sinner” among them.  It could be that these situations are related and that there is some conflict that is going on within the church in Corinth or possible between some leaders and Paul.  In any case, Paul has been directed by God not to return to Corinth and is instead writing to them to explain all of this.

The final chunk of today’s reading comes in the form of a discussion about the New Covenant and its superiority over the old.  Paul talks about the triumph that they had in Troas, preaching the Gospel of Christ there.  It seems that they had considerable success in their spreading of the Good News there, yet even in this Paul remains humble and gives the credit to Jesus Christ.  It is not what they do or even what they writing that is the main thing, but what the Spirit of God is doing on the hearts of those who hear the Gospel that is important to Paul.  He then makes a turn towards relating this to the people of Israel and their handling of the Old Covenant as well.  So concerned they are with what has been written and even what Moses said, and yet it is like a veil over their hearts as that cannot truly understand what actually means.

Really, we have said this many times before, but here Paul is saying it again, the Law is not something that brings salvation and neither do the sacrifices of animals bring about forgiveness.  These are things that were set in place to give light to a greater hope in the grace of God in Christ Jesus.  The Law dictates things to do in order to remain in God, yet in Jesus Christ these things are done and fulfilled.  It is, however, only through these things that we can really understand the significance of what Jesus did on the cross.

It is this hope, Paul goes on to say, that causes us to not lose heart.  In Jesus Christ we have a hope for something greater, something better than the struggles of this life.  He writes at the end of chapter four, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,  as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.



Day 334: 1 Corinthians 14-16; The Resurrection

After talking a great deal about the content and happenings of corporate worship, Paul then turns to the many different people that are present within those worship service.  Much of what he has to say in chapter 15 of today’s reading is very applicable for today’s church goers.  There will always be people that come to church that don’t believe; those who come because its what they did as kids, because their parents are making them, or people that go because it is the thing to do in particular social circles.  Here Paul speaks both to believers and non-believers alike, a sort of “Gospel reprise” as it were.

The first thing that I noticed when I read this was that Paul was indeed talking about believing the Word of God and also what it means to “believe in vain.”  These are folks that are not holding to the Word of God, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ that Paul had originally presented to them.  I’m sure that every church in the history of the Church has had people like this in their midst.  What Paul is saying here is that there are people like this in our midst.  What Paul isn’t saying here it is our job to seek them out, hunt them down, and expel them from our churches.  In fact, he doesn’t say anything about that right here, not like he did earlier when we was addressing the issues of the church in the first half of this letter.  Remember, as he is challenging the church in Corinth about some of the things that they are allowing to happen within their midst, he clearly points out the need for church discipline and even the removal of certain people.  This is not the case here.

It happens often in churches that we conduct our own type of “witch hunt” for those that aren’t believing quite the way we are, or “worse yet” aren’t getting involved in different things within the community of faith.  But this isn’t what Paul is calling the church towards in his addressing the church in Corinth.  In fact he doesn’t say anything about it here.  We cannot take on the Spirit’s role of working in the hearts those that God has called to that particular place of worship.  Like when we talk about election and not truly knowing who is elect and who is not, so too should we not question the hearts of those who are gathered to worship but rather continue constantly to preach and teach the Gospel in order to encourage all those into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.

Paul then goes on to talk about the Resurrection, both Jesus’ resurrection and the resurrection of our bodies when Jesus comes again.  There is really little that we know about the nature of the second coming except that it is going to happen and that it will be when Jesus physically returns to this earth.  We also know here what Paul teaches about the resurrection of our bodies.  He talks about the resurrection in terms of planting and gardening metaphor.  One cannot truly imagine what a plant will look like until the seed is planting.  We cannot look at a seed and know the exact shape and size of it, but we know that it is going to grow up into something that is greater than the seed it came from.  So too will we be transformed.  Our physical bodies in this life are like a seed and what we will be in the resurrection will be so much greater.  I think that we like to spend a great deal of time talking about what we think this will actually be like, which is not bad.  We may even disagree with friends or brothers and sisters from other denominational backgrounds.  However, what is important here and what Paul makes clear without actually saying it, is that the fact that it is going to happen is certain, and really that is the hope that we hold to.  In Christ Jesus we have received grace, salvation from our sins and the promise of eternal life.  This is the hope of all humanity, and the hope to which we attest in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.



Day 332: 1 Corinthians 5-9; Questions and Answers

There are two main purposes that Paul had in writing this letter to the church in Corinth.  The first reason, as we saw yesterday, was to deal with some pretty major issues that the believers were dealing with.  Some of the first things that we saw Paul addressing in this community of faith were divisions that had cropped up among them.  People were raising up the teachings of some higher than that of others and this was causing a divide among them.  After addressing that, we see today that Paul is moving on to what one of my Bibles calls “disorder” in the church.  I would say this is an understatement as the first thing that is brought up in 1 Corinthians 5 is that of incest.  To be honest, I think this passage is a bit shocking for many people to read as we don’t hear much about incest today… but issues just as horrific as this are present in church communities across the world aren’t they?

We’ve seen hundreds of clergy, religious leaders, and pastors brought into the public eye for the criminal sexual abuse that they had been committing over the course of many years.  The Roman Catholic church is still reeling from the vast number of pedophilic church leaders that were brought into the public eye over the past decade.  Even more people turn a blind eye to the domestic issues of people within our congregations as well.  Child and spousal abuse run rampant throughout our communities and we look the other way.  I wonder what Paul was referring to when he was talking about the boasting of the church in Corinth.  Could they have been honestly been proud and boasting about this man and his “father’s wife” (aka. HIS MOTHER)?  Or maybe it was that they were boasting about the great community that their church had while turning a blind eye to this particular happening.

That might hit a bit more close to home for us.  We talk often about our churches and how we can make them more welcoming, ignoring the fact that people in oppressive relationships walk through our doors every week and we do nothing for them.  Paul doesn’t mince words when he talks about this stuff going on.  “A little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough,” he says.  He says too that we need to get rid of these people; remove them from the body.  Now, I think that this may seem a bit harsh, especially for today’s standards.  What about “let him who is without sin cast the first stone?”  It is true that, even as a community of faith, we are all sinners.  Yet in our redemption through Christ’s blood we are called away from a life of sin and into that of Christ.  Anyone living in sin like this, blatantly disregarding the Word of God, ought not to be allowed among other believers who may also fall into this lifestyle.  Church discipline is one of the most difficult things that a Church has to do, and it is not the Church’s way of allowing itself to be the judge and jury, but rather something that is done in love in an effort to correct and reconcile a person or people.  Never are we called to hate the sinner, lest we would find ourselves filled with self-hatred, but rather to understand that the Love of Christ is poured our for them as well as us, in equal measures.  Corrective action such as church discipline, like that which Paul speaks of here, is ultimately meant to awaken someone to that love so that they may turn from their ways and be healed.

The second main purpose of Paul’s writing this letter to the church in Corinth is to answer questions that the church apparently asked him in a prior correspondence.  Paul makes a sharp transition towards these questions, which he will address throughout the rest of this book, in chapter seven.  These folks had a lot of interesting questions that came up for Paul.  While Paul addresses a great many things around the subject of marriage and singleness, as well as that of food that is sacrificed to idols, and even Christian freedom, all of it revolves around the same point: keeping Christ at the center of it all.  Note that Paul advice on marriage doesn’t have so much to do with marriage as much as it has to do with living a life that is pleasing to God and ultimately following and growing in Him.  Even for those that are “unequally yolked” in marriage to a non-Christian, Paul encourages them to continue in that relationship.  He says that the unbelieving spouse will be “sanctified” by the believing spouse.  There is much discussion around this topic, but what Paul writes here is quite clear.  The use of the word ‘sanctified’ is also very telling as sanctification has to do with the continuing work of the Holy Spirit on the lives of people.  Perhaps Paul is revealing how the Holy Spirit would be working in the lives all family members through the life of a believing member.

Paul has much to say, and I think it deserves noting here, about divorce as well.  “To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband.  But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.”  In a culture where divorce happens to almost one in every two marriages, even in the church, this is a very telling statement and I think that it stands pretty well on its own.  There are often debates about situations of spousal abuse, etc.  I would submit that these are not what is being addressed here and are special situations.

Finally, Paul turns his attention to Christian freedom.  A lot of what he says here also stands on its own and needs little explanation.  The main thrust of what he is saying is that, like he writes to the church in Rome, being free from sin and given salvation does not grant the right to live however we want.  Paul didn’t do whatever he wanted, instead he did whatever was NEEDED to win more people for Christ.  This, I think is very important, and not something that we can just do when the need strikes.  Like an athlete that trains for each game, not knowing what will happen when he or she plays, Paul too says that he did and we must work hard so that we can be ready to win people for Christ at any time, wherever we are.



Day 331: 1 Corinthians 1-4; Intro to 1 Corinthians

Unlike our journey through the Old Testament, the transition between the books of the Bible is going be a lot quicker as we jump from letter to letter for the remainder of the year.  1 Corinthians is the first of two recorded letters that Paul wrote to the church in Corinth.  However, it is one of possibly four total letters, of which we can assume also that there were correspondences back from the church there as well.  Paul’s writing in this letter, which is quite possibly the second letter that he actually wrote to the church in Corinth, was written to address a variety of issues that were apparently going on in the church at that time.

The city of Corinth was one of the major cities of the Roman Empire in that region, located on an isthmus, the narrow stretch of land that joins the Peloponnesus to the mainland of Greece, and that also separated the Aegean Sea from the Gulf of Corinth.  Those wanting to do trade with anything west of Greece would have had to sail around the rest of Greece, bringing them into the greater Mediterranean Sea.  To this end, they would be risking storms, piracy, and any number of other dangers not to mention adding a great deal of time to their journey.  For many, it was simply easier to dock in Corinth, offload their goods and transport them on land to the other side of the isthmus and have them loaded on to another ship to continue their journey.  Naturally, this made the City of Corinth both important and very busy.  With all the hustle and bustle, with many people coming and going, this was also a hotbed for an large amount of idol worship, mostly centered around the pantheon of Greek and Roman gods.  This would have included many temples, most notably he temple of Aphrodite the Greek goddess of love.  The worship that took place in that temple would have likely involved cult prostitutes and sacrifices to idols, as well as other things that the church in Corinth would have to deal with.

Paul begins his letter to the church by immediately getting down to business.  There are divisions that are forming within the church that his very first appeal is that all agree together and be united.  One of the very first issues that the church is dealing with is a crisis of leadership.  Disagreements have arisen about who is the leader of the church and likely whose teachings are better than others.  Immediately though, Paul takes this argument and turns it on its head.  “Is Christ divided?” No one in the Church is baptized into any name except that of Christ Jesus.  Interestingly I think that this is an argument that we can take to heart in the Church today as well.  In the age of denominationalism, where it seems as though the Church itself is divided on so many things, fighting within itself about who is more correct in their doctrines, perhaps we need to be asking ourselves whether Christ is divided or not.  We are all baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and members of one body.  Perhaps it is time that we embrace each other as brothers, accept the diversity of the Church, and understand that we are in agreement about the main things, letting peripheral issues remain just that and serving as ways for us to learn from each other rather than fight against each other.  Paul will circle back to this in chapter three as well.

Another important argument is also made here in today’s reading.  Paul’s exposition on the wisdom of Christ and the preaching of the Gospel also has a great deal to say to us.  He talks about not bringing any sort of human wisdom when he preached among them in Corinth.  Instead of laying out such a lofty logical argument, as some might have done, he instead sticks to the message of Christ Crucified.  This, he says, is wisdom to those who believe and foolishness to those who are perishing.  Sometimes I think that the Church uses this as an excuse… we don’t need scholars or educated folks, we just need to preach Christ Crucified and we’ll be fine.  I think Paul would disagree.

Let’s contrast this with Paul’s address to the men of Athens, in the Aeropagus, recorded in Acts 17.  Here Paul takes on the Greek philosophers by using the message of Christ and Greek philosophy.  Paul is wise in doing so as those who were there would not have otherwise listened to him.  In fact, it is entirely possible, at least in the beginning, that the church in Corinth was composed of very poor, uneducated people, and therefore Paul’s message had to be both understandable and applicable to them.  This may be one of Paul’s way of saying that as Christians, we need to know our audience and be able to engage with whomever they are.

There is more here too though, Paul also talks about how his message was a demonstration of the Spirit “so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”  Paul makes the point of discerning that, had he given the same wisdom filled speech that he did at the Areopagus, the people may have not seen the power of the Spirit, but simply Paul’s wisdom.  This would likely have been a stumbling block for a bunch of peasants who didn’t know any better.

It has probably always been something present in the church, but it seems that in the last two decades there has been a sharp increase in the “mega-churches” and those that follow only certain pastors because of their abilities to speak.  These leaders have done incredible good in the world and brought many to Christ, there is no doubt of this, but the burden they and all pastors must remember and carry is the need to keep the main thing the main thing.  Paul’s message here is not to simply preach Christ Crucified while ignoring the issues of the world in which the church lives and operates.  However, it is important that we keep Christ at the center of it all.  The Cross of Christ, the grace, salvation, and reconciliation which He offers us through His blood is to be at the center of the message of the Church.  All else, though important, pales in comparison.  Pastors, leaders, and all brothers and sisters in Christ, do not forget our center.  Do not forget from where our help, our love, and our salvation comes from.  Even as we engage the myriad of issues surrounding the Church today, let us approach them from our center in Jesus Christ.