II. The Founding of the Church
It was on his second missionary journey that Paul crossed into Europe for the first time. Sailing from Troas he landed at Neapolis in Macedonia, and took Philippi, "the foremost town of the district of Macedonia" (Acts 16:12), as the starting point of his labors. There, at Thessalonica, at Beroea, and in all likelihood in neighboring places, he accomplished an extensive and important work which he was compelled to leave because of the determined hostility of the Jews. Very reluctantly he gave up Macedonia, for he felt that his work there had not been finished. There was no alternative but to get away, at least for a time, so his friends escorted him as far as Athens (Acts 17:15). Here he was to await the coming of Timothy and Silas, who were expected to join him as soon as possible. Timothy came bringing favorable news, and was immediately sent back to Thessalonica to strengthen and encourage those who had been faithful. Though Silas is not mentioned, he also came to Athens and was given, in all probability, a like mission to Philippi. Paul with his mind and heart still fixed upon Macedonia, was left alone in Athens.
It was during his wanderings about its streets that he became pressed and saddened by the idolatry of this university city. As was his custom, he argued with the Jews in their synagogue, but with no success. The impressive event of his brief stay was his address on the Areopagus, wherein with "words of wisdom" he sought to win his hearers, who responded only with sneers and ridicule. Three converts were the result of this brief ministry in Athens. Dispirited, lonely, half sick (i Cor. 2:3), he resolved to go on to Corinth. Upon his arrival he naturally sought out the Jews' quarter, and in order to support himself, the bazaar of the tentmakers. Here he came across Aquila, a fellow craftsman, who had recently come with his wife, Priscilla, from Italy, both of them having been driven out by the anti-Jewish edict of the Emperor, Claudius (Acts 18:2). Cheered by these friends, who were, in all probability, Christians, he began to preach in the Jewish Synagogue. How he preached is set plainly in i Cor. 2:1-4. He sought to convince the Jews that the Messiah was Jesus, but he met with little success. They opposed and abused him as they had done in Macedonia.
Paul, however, had been nerved by the good news from Macedonia (i Thess. 3:6-9), and from, the same source freed from the burden of daily toil by the contribution of funds towards his support; in consequence, he made up his mind that he would not be driven out again by the Jews, but would turn to the Gentiles (Acts 18:6). The house of Titus Justus, a Roman proselyte, was offered him as a center for work and gladly accepted. It was a critical moment in the mission of the Apostle. The Jews were now embittered; the city was in spirit a foe to his message. Could he make any impression upon it? Luke tells us of a vision given him at this time by the Lord, who said to him, "Have no fear, speak on and never stop, for I am with you, and no one will attack and injure you. I have many people in this city" (Acts i8:10). This completely settled the matter, and Paul "sat down" as the original expresses it, resolved to stay and give himself wholly to his ministry. The brief record is that "many of the Corinthians listened, believed and were baptized" (Acts i8:8). The Jews made one more attempt to get him put away. They brought him up before the Pro-consul Gallio, with the charge that he was inciting men "to worship God contrary to the Law," i.e., that Paul was interfering with their religion and by implication establishing a new religion, which was not allowed by Roman law, as was Judaism. Gallio refused to see the matter in this light, and not only dismissed the charge but winked at the beating which the populace gave the Jewish leader (Acts 18:17). Thus was fulfilled the promise that "no one will attack and injure." Paul continued his work for sixteen months, and then left for Syria.
"The church of God in Corinth" (i Cor. 1:2). How suggestive of earnest, effective spiritual labor the statement is and also how pregnant with contrasts it is! There is good reason to believe that a large Christian church was built up in this wicked city. From what Paul says in I Cor. 1:27-28, viz, that God has chosen what is foolish, what is weak, what is mean and despised — those who are so insignificant as to be considered nonentities, it has been concluded that only the poor and ignorant were persuaded to accept Christ. The majority perhaps were poor, but there are evidences from the letter itself that a goodly number of the better class had also become members. We know of Crispus, "the ruler of the synagogue" (Acts 18:8); of Erastus, the city treasurer (Rom. 16:23); and of Gaius, who was "hospitable to the whole church" (Rom. 16:23). While no one in the church could "plume himself in his advanced education or in his descent from an old family," yet there were, doubtless, freed people who were people of ability and had to some degree prospered in business. Even the slaves were not of the most degraded kind, for household slaves and town slaves enjoyed many privileges.
The congregation was a mixture not only of people of different races, but also of different social classes. There was ample opportunity for the exercise of charity and tolerance. It is notable from the epistle itself "that moral transformation had been accompanied by mental quickening" and this latter slipped easily into manifestations of itself that were characteristic of the intellectual life of the city, such as, e,g., a fondness for "words of wisdom," pretensions to knowledge, love of disputation, or some form of mental display. All of this points to a level of social position quite above the lowest. The "saints" of the Corinthian church were for the most part an eager, mentally undisciplined company who needed much instruction both as regards the way and the spirit of true Christian living. With it was a matter of deepest thanksgiving that he had been enabled to gather into a new unity such a group from the paganism of Corinth.
From I Epistle to the Corinthians by professor James S. Riggs, Auburn Theological Seminary. Published by the MacMillan Company in 1922. Lightly updated to the language of the 21st century by D. N. Pham. (c) 2013. This conversion is not completed.
Insights of the past for the present
To the Corinthians - J.S. Riggs
ON THE BOOK SHELF
May your insights be worthy.