Acts18v1to11: PAUL AT CORINTH

(A) Introduction (Read the reference.)

It should be evident by now that Paul never had it easy. He was greatly used by God's spirit to bring salvation to the Gentiles but everywhere he proclaimed the gospel Paul was opposed. Those of my readers who preach doubtless long to be used as Paul was used. I wonder how many of us would be able to withstant the hostility Paul attracted. It is very unusual for Satan to leave a successful evangelist alone!

In Corinth Paul experienced many encouragements and discouragements. It was a dangerous city to work in but the LORD afforded the apostle a measure of protection and he was able to stay there for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God. v11.

(B) Discouragements.

(1) Paul was daunted by the task facing him.
Corinth was never going to be an easy place to witness for Jesus. It was sited on the narrow isthmus of land that joined Northern to Southern Greece. This important strategic situation meant Corinth became a great market town and the home of the Isthmian games. Corinth was also a very wicked city. Located on a hill overlooking the city was a temple to Aphrodite. The shrine was serviced by 1000 priestesses who acted as so called sacred prostitutes. Every evening they would go down into Corinth to ply their trade.

Paul felt inadequate for the work Jesus had called him to do. The lion-hearted apostle was apprehensive about preaching the gospel in such a cess pool of iniquity. He wrote later to the church at Corinth: I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. 1Cor2v3.

Paul's example should both comfort and challenge us when we are fearful about doing God's will. Sometimes we are given a hard job to do. We may be called to: care for a sick relative, visit a dying man in hospital, discipline an erring brother, go on a long and dangerous journey, give our testimony to non-Christians or run a youth club for difficult children. It is a comfort to know that Paul experienced weakness and fear. It is a challenge to realise that notwithstanding his apprehension Paul preached Christ crucified with a demonstration of the Spirit's power. 1Cor2v4.

(2) Limited success in the synagogue.
Once again the Jews resisted Paul's ministry in the synagogue. Luke suggests this when he writes: Every sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. v4. Paul failed to convinced the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah and in the end they actively oppose him.

It is hard to cope with failure. I had been a reasonably successful teacher until I resigned to care for my father. When I resumed teaching in another school I inherited a run down department. For two years the GCSE results of my pupils were the worst in the school. It was absolutely sickening to appear such a failure. It was wormwood and gall to my ego.

One of the reasons an increasing number of non-conformist pastors in England burn out, succumb to stress and break down is the intense disappointment of ministering to the gospel hardened. I was talking recently to a long retired pastor who said, "I couldn't be a minister today. When I was a young man in the 1960's there was some movement - conversions occurred on a regular basis. It was encouraging. Now - nothing happens." Year in and year out God's servants proclaim Christ crucified and there are no conversions. This is depressing. It deadens zeal. No farmer would be enthusiastic about sowing the precious seed if summer after summer there was no harvest.

(c) Paul suffered personal rejection.
But when the Jews 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 clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles." v6.

Paul did what Jesus instructed his disciples to do: If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. Mt10v14. It was a gesture symbolic of separation. Paul was breaking from the abusive Jews. He wanted nothing more to do with them - he shakes even their dust from his clothing. Paul also warns his countrymen: "Your blood be on your head." This is a reference to Ezekiel33v4to9. It means that the Jews must carry the responsibility of their own sins and decisions. Something of Paul's disgust at the behaviour of his own people is conveyed by 1Thes2v15and16: They (the Jews) displease God and are hostile to all men in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.

We are sometimes too gentle with the opponents of Jesus! Compared to Paul we are pussy cats!

Rejection is hard to take. Paul was always hurt by it. At a later date the Corinthian Christians rejected him and he finds it necessary to defend his apostleship. He writes: For some say, "His letters are weighty and forceful but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing." Such people should realise that what we are in our letters when we are absent, we will be in our actions when we are present. 2Cor10v10and11.

Several Old Testament characters experienced the bitterness of rejection. Jeremiah laments: "I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. .... So the word of the LORD has brought me insult and reproach all day long. .... Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and end my days in shame." Jer20vs7,8,18.

Moses was rejected by his people. When he intervened to stop two Hebrews fighting the one in the wrong said, "Who made you ruler and judge over us? Ex2v14. This probably represented the view of most of the Israelite slaves who were resentful of Moses' privileged upbringing. Forty years later Moses still remembered his rejection and he was very reluctant to obey God and return to Egypt. His first objection was: "What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, 'The LORD did not appear to you.' Ex4v1.

I have sometimes watched as two children have picked sides for a football or rounders match. There are always two or three little sprogs left at the end who no-one wants. I feel very sorry for them because I myself hate being rejected. How it rankles!

I never looked forward to that time of year when pupils at school chose their options. They were able to continue or discontinue studying Geography. I am not the sort of person who rejoiced at those who opted for the subject but rather the sort of person who grieved over those who dropped it. I felt that everyone who chose History rather than Geography was rejecting me!

Rejection in Christian service is, perhaps, more difficult to cope with than anything else. It requires a lot of grace when a denomination, a church or individuals within a church fail to recognise your gifts. One of the things I have found very disappointing is that several Christian leaders whom I have know well for many years have never invited me to speak in their churches.

It is probably appropriate at this juncture to look to the great apostle Paul for advice. He found rejection disturbing and upsetting but he was able to write:

Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour is not in vain. 1Cor15v58

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. Gal6v9.

Scriptures like these are able to sweeten and invigorate the most disappointed and disillusioned.

(C) Encouragement.

(1) Christian Friends.
In Corinth Paul was able to work at his trade with two other Jewish Christian tent makers - Aquila and Priscilla. They were natives of Pontus on the shores of the Black Sea who had worked in Rome until the Jews were expelled by Claudius.

It can be a great blessing to work with Christians. My father was never paid enough to support his family as a Grace Baptist pastor and so, like Paul, he needed other employment. For a short time he worked on Mr Stanley Sharpe's farm in Stanningfield. Stanley Sharpe was a good Christian man. My father had to cycle 6 miles to and from work but he always whistled cheerily as he peddled off each morning. My mother said it was the happiest he ever was in secular employment. Stanley respected my father as a Christian minister.

Paul must have enjoyed fellowship with Aquila and Priscilla as they stitched leather together. I expect they encouraged Paul in the ministry. Our Christian friends should support and encourage us in the work we do for Jesus. I am very grateful to the congregations of the small churches at which I have preached regularly for many, many years for their appreciation. I have also been helped to persevere with this website, when my enthusiasm has waned, by the occasional e-mail from America expressing gratitude.

(2) Love offerings from our fellow Christians.
Luke writes: When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching. v5. Silas and Timothy brought a gift from the church at Philippi and this allowed Paul to devote himself wholly to gospel preaching.

Financial gifts are a great encouragement to Christian workers. Generous giving has always facilitated God's work. This week I finished reading a little book called, 'And Flour came in Ten Stone Sacks'. It was about the boyhood memories of E.G. White who lived in Cockfield, Suffolk. When people in the village who met together for worship in the large living room of a cottage decided to build a chapel, Mr Bradley contributed 23 in gold sovereigns. This was more than half a years wages for him as at the time he retired he was earning much less than 1 per week.

A nice gift is a mark of appreciation. When my father died I gave the Christian couple, Henry and Jesse, who helped me care for him when I most needed assistance a china ornament. I hope whenever they look at it they remember the service they did me, my father and their Lord.

(3) Unexpected blessing.
Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptised. v8.

As I have indicated Paul was apprehensive about witnessing in Corinth. He must have been surprised when Crispus, the synagogue ruler, believed in Jesus and immensely heartened when the Corinthian Gentiles started to get converted. This is what Paul wrote in 1Cor6v9to11: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the Kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God. Isn't that wonderful! Paul saw the transforming power of the gospel in operation at Corinth. His preaching was mightily used by God's Spirit to bring salvation and reconciliation to the greatest of sinners.

There is no greater blessing or encouragement than to be God's instrument in bringing salvation to sinners. Nothing compares to the joy and satisfaction this gives. It is also very cheering to help Christians grow in grace and the knowledge of God.

(4) Paul had a word from the Lord.
One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: "Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no-one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city." v9.

This message from Jesus must have been very reassuring for Paul. His Lord was with him, he would be protected and success was assured because the Master had many people in the city of Corinth. Paul did not suspect that there were many potential converts in Corinth but his Lord knew better. There is a lesson for us in that. Sometimes converts are made in the most unlikely places and amongst the most unpromising people.

It is an encouragement to have a word from the Lord. Jesus does not often speak to us in a vision as he did to Paul but his Spirit will use the Word to guide and reassure us in times of real difficulty.

Quite recently my role in the church of which I am elder was criticised by representatives of the Association to which the church belongs. This made me wonder whether I should leave for the benefit of all concerned. I was perplexed and uncertain about what to do for the best. During this time I read a passage in Wiersbe's book on Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians. He was dealing with the seventh chapter and I found his remarks very helpful. This was God's word for me: Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. 1Cor7v17. I was in no doubt that the Lord was speaking to me and it gave me strength. It is nearly always too soon to quit!

ANY COMMENTS FOR JOHN REED: E-mail jfmreed@talktalk.net

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