Sometime after Paul’s defense before the council in Athens, he left and Luke doesn’t say how long he was there, but Luke was interested in his encounters with the pagan philosophers of the day. They’d evaluated, scorned, ridiculed, dismissed him.
On the whole, there was no consensus on whether or not Paul could/should continue preaching, so he moved on to Corinth.
These were trying times, he’d been prevented from preaching in Asia, he’d been directed by God to go to Macedonia – he had some successes, but many disappointments, including fleeing from the Jews.
If he wanted to go to Rome (many scholars think he did), he was prevented from doing so by political reasons.
He was often dismissed and ridiculed.
He was concerned about the converts (in danger from angry Jews) in Thessalonica.
1 Thess. 2:3-7 – here is his concern for them.
In the meantime he has received good news from Timothy and Silas who allay his concerns for the Thessalonian believers.
“When we were torn away from you (in person, not thought), we wanted to come to you, made every effort, but Satan stopped us. But what is our hope, joy, glory? Is it not you? Indeed, you are. So, when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to stay in Athens, we sent Timothy – our brother – to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so no one would be unsettled by these trials. In fact, we kept telling you we’d be persecuted, and we were. So, when I could stand it no longer, I wanted to find out about your faith, I feared Satan would tempt you beyond your control, but Timothy has told us of your faith and love, and how you long to see us as we also long to see you. So, we were encouraged about you because of your faith.”
Paul was encouraged by the good news Timothy brought back.
When Paul was there, there were riots, chaos, Jason was beaten, they had to make a quick escape.
Now, Paul is traveling to Corinth and doesn’t know what to expect. He was leaving the university city of Athens, for a fast-moving commercial district of Corinth.
It had been destroyed, but rebuilt by Rome. Became the capital of the Roman province Acea?
It was a very strategic, major commercial center – over 200,000 people, 2 ports, metropolis, and “Sin City” (as many port cities) – did a lot of trade in the pleasures of the flesh.
“Play the Corinthian” or “Corinthianize” = you are lustful and live on your lusts.
It had many cults throughout the years – Aphrodite – goddess of love (lust) – temple housed 1,000 prostitute priestesses.
It had a big, bad reputation for sexual sin.
That was reflected in the church that Paul started – shown in his first letter to the Corinthians:
“Neither lusters, theives, drunkards, men who have sex with men, etc, etc…will inherit the kingdom of God. And such WERE some of you. BUT, you’ve been justified, sanctified, washed, and cleansed and made pure and holy.”
Paul warned them that Christians can’t continue in immorality.
1 Cor. 5:1-2 “It is reported that there is sexual immorality and such that is not even named among the Gentiles. That a man has his father’s wife. And you are proud and have not mourned that he who has done this is not taken away from you.”
Even this terrible sin was present in the church in Corinth – pagans didn’t do that.
“All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be controlled by anything. Food is for the stomach and the stomach for food, but God will destroy them both. The body is not for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.”
“All things are lawful” = an idiom of the time
(maybe like “freedom” in other nations)
These things aren’t “illegal” per se, but they aren’t helpful to other Christians.
Example: It isn’t illegal to say “I prefer THAT pastor” but it also isn’t helpful. One pastor planted, one pastor watered, but GOD made you grow. We want to point to Jesus, find our hope and life in him, build each other up.
Ex: not illegal to sue a Christian brother, but totally not helpful and didn’t do the Christian testimony any good. “Why not suffer wrong? Better that than bring the whole church under disrepute.”
Ex: Not illegal to eat meat, but if you do so in front of a vegetarian brother, you may tempt him, cause him to sin, hurt him – and it just isn’t helpful.
Ex: in Corinth, prostitutes, one-night-stands, etc probably wasn’t illegal, BUT it also wasn’t helpful.
The word for “lawful” and “power” had similar meanings.
Paul is saying “I have the power to do these things, but I will not be brought under the power of these things.”
“Your body is not your own! You were bought at a price! Therefore, honor God with your bodies!”
This isn’t easy, especially given the cultural background, and their many failures. But Paul emphasizes, “With God’s help, it is possible, and through repentance, cleansing is possible.”
And those who repented found favor with the Lord – “he who confesses his sins finds favor with the Lord” those who refuse to repent are chastened (disciplined) by the Lord.
2 Cor 12:20-21
In defense of his own apostleship – from the accusations of false teachers
“For I fear, when I come, I shall not find you as I wish, and you will find me as you don’t want. There may be selfishness, gossip, conceit, fights, etc. Or, when I come again, God will humble me among you, and you have not repented of your lewdness, lust, etc.”
Many problems in the church there.
But it was despite these problems, the gospel took root here, and in the majority, the HS triumphed over the lusts of the flesh.
Intellectual Athens showed much less interest in the message of salvation, than in the flesh-bought Corinth. It was here that God’s word worked mightily, and Paul rejoiced here in his greatest successes.
So, against this background, we can see Paul’s work and understand it better.
Aquila and Priscilla – had recently come (deported) from Rome (AD 49 – Claudius’ reign) – the Jews at that time had been in many riots because of the Christians (opposing them). So, the emperor tried to solve that problem, by banishing all the Jews from Rome.
Eventually, the Jews did return (possibly the edict was not enforced). It’s certain that Priscilla and Aquila did return.
Romans 16:3 – Paul sends greetings to them.
“Greet them, they risked their own necks for me, and the whole church rejoices for them.”
The couple did eventually return to Rome.
But Paul stayed with them in Corinth for a while because they (and he) were tent-makers (like leather work). So, Paul joined them.
But he also continued preaching in the synagogues on Sundays, and Timothy and Silas rejoined him, and they brought good news about the Thessalonians.
1 Thess 3:6-7 “But now that Timothy has come from you and that you always have faith and love and remember us and desire to see us, therefore, in all our distress we were comforted by your faith.”
Timothy also brought money from Philippi.
These two things greatly encouraged Paul, so he began to exclusively preach the gospel.
As usual, some Jews opposed him, so he couldn’t preach in the synagogue, and he shook out his clothes, and said “I will go to the Gentiles.”
Shaking off the dust = breaking fellowship.
Paul also shook the dust from his feet in Antioch (Acts 13:51).
And he used a Jewish phrase “your blood be on your own heads” showing he’d done his responsibility of preaching to them.
Paul was saying that he’d been a faithful messenger and was not accountable for their rejection of his message (Ezekiel 36).
In other places, Paul went to the synagogues, but because he was often rejected, he would go next door.
The next door was Justus, and Crispus was baptized and believed (v. 8).
Paul may have anticipated more opposition from the Jews, maybe he’s getting tired of this. So, the Lord appeared to him in a vision to encourage him “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not keep silent, for I am with you and no one will attack you to hurt you, for I have many people in this city.”
So, Paul remained for 18 months in the city.
There was further opposition, but Paul was protected. The Jews accused him before the government, but their plot failed, and the government protected the Christian church and set a precedent for Christian churches elsewhere.
The Jews probably thought they could influence him, test him, against Paul and his religion. But when the Jews brought him forward, Gallio wasn’t impressed.
As Paul was about to testify in his own defense, but Gallio said, “There’s no crime here. If it’s about words and names in your own holy books, I won’t judge.” So their plans backfired, and became an advantage to the church. So the people beat up the synagogue leader (Antisemitism), and Gallio ignored it.
Then he left.
At Cenchrea, Paul had his hair cut. He never held other Jews to do what he did himself.
The elite poo-pooed the gospel (in Athens).
But the fleshly pagans accepted the gospel readily.
Humble yourselves before God and he will lift you up.
Paul would be at home here today, there are many sexual problems in the culture (and in the church) today. And just as in that day, in Corinth, if we humble ourselves, God will give us grace, forgiveness, and lift us up.