When looking that the letters and epistles of the New Testament, we are always driven back to the book of Acts for primary information on the expanse of the gospel in various locations, involving also various characters. And to do this for the Corinthians, we go back to the account in Acts chapter 18.
There may well have been some followers of Jesus in the city before Paul arrived, though it is highly unlikely that they were formed together into anything resembling a church. More likely, they were struggling to maintain some footing within the synagogue in Corinth. Likely also surrounding the activities of the synagogue were Gentile peoples who may have been turned off by the licentious behaviors in this pagan city, being attracted to the monotheism of the Jewish faith. However, the pathway forward was complicated and strewn with identity obstacles.
Paul was likely interested in getting a gospel foothold in this uniquely secular city, knowing of the great need for this truth. And beyond that, with the coming and goings of people in and out of this center of trade, the gospel message would also be heard and forwarded elsewhere.
As Paul arrives, he is coming off a very difficult recent season of ministry. The response to the preaching of Christ in Athens was rather tepid, and great difficulties and conflicts in Macedonia (Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea) with the hostile Jewish element were not far past.
As Paul arrives in Corinth we see that he meets and stays with a Jewish couple – Aquila and Priscilla.
Acts 18:1 – After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, 3 and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. 4 Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.
We don’t know if they all knew each other previously, if this couple had become Christians in the past, or if their salvation was through this association with Paul. Perhaps they merely came into partnership because of the common trade of tent making (leather working). This likely also indicates that Paul needed to make some money for personal sustenance. But when Silas and Timothy arrive, they bring an offering that thereby set Paul free to concentrate on preaching.
Acts 18:5 – When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. 6 But when they opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.
Ugh! It happens again – Jewish opposition. You can’t blame Paul for being very disgusted and exclaiming how he would focus now on Gentile ministry.
Acts 18:7 – Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. 8 Crispus, the synagogue leader, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized.
There is a humorous component to this story, in that Paul ends up teaching immediately next door to the synagogue, along with Crispus (the former synagogue leader) coming to faith. Surely it was a daily irritation for the stubborn and intransigent Jews to see the life of the growing church immediately next door, including their former leader! And I could imagine how this difficulty would add to the many other wearying elements in Paul’s life. And the Lord gives Paul a timely word of encouragement …
Acts 18:9 – One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” 11 So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.
I’ve never had a vision in the night, but I have had a couple of incidents in ministry where the weariness, discouragement and opposition brought me to a point of nearly quitting it all … and God intervened with a timely and unexpected encouragement from some person or circumstance to keep me going.
But the main point I want us to remember from this passage, along with just the background to inform our understanding throughout this series, is the specific revelation from the Lord that: I have many people in this city. Isn’t God’s grace the greatest thing!! Corinth! Many people chosen by God!
While in this unique place of ministry, Paul gets the encouragement of a positive outcome in court, seeing his opponents disgraced and driven away…
Acts 17:12 – While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews of Corinth made a united attack on Paul and brought him to the place of judgment. 13 “This man,” they charged, “is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.” 14 Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to them, “If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. 15 But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law—settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.” 16 So he drove them off. 17 Then the crowd there turned on Sosthenes the synagogue leader and beat him in front of the proconsul; and Gallio showed no concern whatever.
So the new synagogue leader takes a beating – this event probably also revealing some anti-Semitic sentiment in this secular city. It also set a legal precedent that this Jesus teaching was (in Roman eyes) just a dispute within Judaism rather than an illegal new religion.
Just keep on talking and preaching the Word – that was the encouragement from the Lord to Paul. Out of Paul’s talking in these 18 months in Corinth would come the effective discipling of Aquila and Priscilla. As well, many in the church at Corinth would be discipled toward the growth of a substantial body of believers.
Likewise for us, we should not be discouraged but continue to keep on speaking truth. Someone said in the Scriptures to “not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Oh … wait … Paul said that! (Galatians 6:9)