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Sat, Jan 19, 2002

1 - Introduction

Acts 18 by Robert Dean
Series:1st Corinthians (2002)
Duration:53 mins 53 secs

1 Corinthians

 

Introduction

 

This is going to be a fascinating study because Corinthians more than any other epistle in the New Testament is written to address problems. It was written to one of the most screwed up congregations, one of the most carnal congregations, one of the most out-of-fellowship congregations that possibly has ever existed.

Paul first came to Corinth in approximately 51 AD. We know that date is pretty sure because Gallio was the proconsul there and that date is secure. In Acts 18 we come to the middle of Paul's second missionary journey and what took place when Paul came to Corinth and established the church there. Acts 18:1 NASB "After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth."  Acts was written by Luke, and Luke's major point in writing Acts was to explain the expansion of the church into the Gentile world, that as the Holy Spirit has come upon the apostles on the day of Pentecost that He is establishing a new work. The church is distinct from Israel and the church is going to incorporate both Jew and gentile into a new body, the body of Christ where Jew and Gentile distinctions are no longer relevant. He is explaining the expansion of Christianity to the Gentile world through the three missionary journeys of Paul. A second thing that he brings out, especially in this chapter, is that Christianity is a legitimate religion. This is established in this chapter because there will be a court case involving the legitimacy of what Paul is doing. The Jews in jealousy will take him to court and it is basically going to be thrown out of court. There is a certain amount of irony here from the Holy Spirit because of all the places in the ancient world it is the Roman court in Corinth where the legal status of Christianity is first established. This isn't going to hold a lot of press as time goes on because it will not be granted true legal status in the Roman empire until after Constantine's conversion in about 300 AD. So this is just a way of protecting the gospel at this particular point in time, in the early stages around the middle of the first century.

Corinth was a major port city. Its history is really divided into two stages. The early city ended in 150 BC. It had flourished during the golden age of Greece in the fifth century BC and from about 200-150 BC it was the leader of the Achaian league. Corinth became the leader of a consortium of cities, an alliance for trade, and they became involved in a war around 150 BC with Sparta. The problem with that was that Sparta had an alliance with Rome, so as soon as Corinth went to war with Sparta, Sparta called on Rome. Rome came in and in 146 BC Corinth was defeated and destroyed. All of the citizens were either killed or enslaved. That was the end of the ancient city of Corinth, and it was of the ancient city of Corinth that the proverb was framed about Corinthians being the epitome of immorality so that the slang term for sexual immorality was to "Corinthianize." That was their reputation in the ancient city before it was founded a second time and re-established by Julius Caesar in 44 BC as a Roman colony. All indications of the Roman colony were that the same dynamics were found at that time, and so the basic culture of Corinth was pretty much the same as it was in the ancient city.

As a seaport town it had all of this commerce coming, so it was a trade city, and money always attracts money, and after 44 BC it was a place where people quickly came and established themselves in order to seek their fortune. It rapidly became a center point and it was the capital of the senatorial province of Achaia, which was the southern part of Greece. By the second century AD it became the largest city in terms of population in Greece.

Acts 18:1-3 NASB "After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them, and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working, for by trade they were tent-makers." This was Paul's way of supporting himself initially. He has left Paul and Silas behind in Thessalonica and until they came to help support him he had to work to support himself. The arrival of Aquila and Priscilla in Corinth was an evidence of the ethnic mix of the city. We know from Acts 18 that there are a number of different people there whose names signify their background. So Paul began by supporting himself and then he followed his standard operating procedure and went to the synagogue. He would go into the synagogue and would get an opportunity to stand up and go through Old Testament Scriptures in order to demonstrate that Jesus Christ was the fulfilment of all of the prophecies related to the coming of the Messiah. He was trying to persuade Jews and Greeks, i.e. Gentiles, converts or proselytes who had joined the Jewish synagogue. [4] "And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks." The word "persuade" is the Greek word PEITHO [peiqw] which has the idea of convincing someone of the truth. In some passages it is used almost as a synonym for faith, that is, in order to have faith you have to first be persuaded of the truth of something. It is a word that relates to the intellect, to thinking. You don't put your brain in neutral to be a Christian! [5] "But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul {began} devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ." Paul is now able to devote his full time to the ministry. This is a very important concept for the support of ministry. Silas and Timothy come in to provide the logistical grace support for the apostle Paul and now he is now able not to be distracted by his every day cares. He promoted himself now primarily to teaching the Word.

Any time you start teaching the truth there is going to be a reaction, and there was a reaction in the synagogue there. Acts 18:6 NASB "But when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said to them, "Your blood {be} on your own heads! I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles." Paul really challenges them here, confronts them with their own rejection of the truth and makes some very strong statements against them. He leaves them and now is going to take the gospel to the Gentiles. He then does a very clever thing which resulted in producing a mixed-ethnic church in Corinth. This is part of the reason why the congregation ends up getting so screwed up eventually, but here we see the sovereignty of God at work because if it weren't for the screwed up congregation with all the problems that Paul had to deal with we would not have this epistle which answers many questions about many different issues.

Acts 18:7 NASB "Then he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God, whose house was next to the synagogue." Paul is not going to the other side of town, he is going to first of all challenge the Jews with their rebellion and he is going to go right next door and hang out his shingle so that he is going to continue to rub their nose in their rejection of the truth. [8] "Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized." So Paul now begins to have an impact amongst the Corinthians. It takes a while. People have to think about the gospel a little, you don't just see automatic response. Even if people are positive they have to stop and think and they have to be persuaded of the truth of the gospel. As things progress more and more are believing. This creates a negative reaction among the synagogue. [10] "for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city." Apparently Paul had been threatened on many occasions and there were threats against his life. God says he is going to protect him. There were many people here who were positive and were going to respond to the gospel and he would have a successful ministry here.

Verse 11 tells us that Paul settled there for a year and six months. That is a lot of time and he communicated a tremendous amount of doctrine in that time, especially when we get into the epistle and realize how much he seems to be saying, "I taught you this before, why haven't you figured it out yet?" Apparently he covered the entire realm of doctrine during those 18 months. But that created a hostility among the Jews.

Acts 18:12 NASB "But while Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him before the judgment seat." The question here would be whether Christianity would be legitimate in the eyes of Rome. In Roman religion by this time they were worshipping the emperor, Caesar, and all other religions also had to worship Caesar. It didn't matter what religious system you bought into as long as you also worshipped Caesar—except for the Jews who were monotheists. The Jews had continuously resisted any idea of worshipping the emperor, so finally Judaism as a monotheistic religion had been legalized. They had been given a special dispensation from Rome not to worship Caesar. That goes all the way back to the Maccabaean revolt in the 2nd century BC. What happens here is they bring this charge that Christianity can't be covered by that dispensation because it wasn't Judaism. So they go to Gallio and try to conv9ince him that he needs to condemn what Paul is doing. [13] "saying, "This man persuades men to worship God contrary to the [Roman] law. [14] But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, "If it were a matter of wrong or of vicious crime, O Jews, it would be reasonable for me to put up with you; [15] but if there are questions about words and names and your own law, look after it yourselves; I am unwilling to be a judge of these matters." Gallio throws the whole thing out of court. He doesn't want to recognize that what Paul is teaching is in any way different or distinct from Judaism and so he dismisses the whole thing.

As a result of this and because of the anti-Semitic environment here the Jews are going to come under attack and they are driven away from the judgment seat, and in frustration they took hold of Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue. Sosthenes has succeeded Crispus as the leader of the synagogue. They took him and started beating him up in front of the judgment seat and Gallio just ignored the whole proceeding. That tells us the basic story of the founding of the church at Corinth.

The church at Corinth has quite a history and as we get into the epistle we will review some of the characteristics that we will discover. Nothing much more could happen to a church than happens to them. They have divisions, they have flagrant sexual immorality in the church, they are plagued with open divorce, they have idolatry and are still going into the temples eating meat sacrificed to idols. They are taking the spiritual gifts and making an issue out of them as if that makes them spiritually mature, and their whole misunderstanding and distortion of spiritual gifts is because of what was emphasized in the pagan religions. They brought all of this religious baggage with them from their pagan past and that is causing them to misunderstand and misinterpret what the Scriptures are teaching. As well as that they have various other problems that are going on. There is not much else that you could discover bad in a church than what is going on here. We read in 1:11 that there are internal divisions and these are developed even more in chapter 3. There was immorality there (5:1), a type of immorality that wasn't even typical among the pagan Gentiles. In 6:13 they justified this with a slogan, and this was that just as food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, sex is just like food. If you have a physical craving for food, go satisfy it; if you have a physical craving for sex, go satisfy it. This is what they meant by their slogan. It was just a euphemism for sexual licence. In 6:4 they were having law suits against one another and dragging other believers before the secular courts in order to solve their problems. Chapter 11 deals with getting drunk in the communion service, and they were having a great time of gluttony and drunkenness at the Lord's table. There was chaos in the spiritual gifts. There is one major doctrinal problem, and that is the denial of the physical resurrection. So there is also theological apostasy in the church.

Paul deals with every one of these problems from a doctrinal viewpoint. Throughout the entire situation Paul is going to address them as believers, and this is one of the most important things we can understand as we approach 1 Corinthians. The Corinthians, as screwed up as they were, as pagan as they were, as immoral as they were, as arrogant as they were, as divisive as they were, as apostate as they were, as carnal as they were, Paul always addresses them as believers. He addresses the epistle to "those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus." He treats them as set apart, positionally sanctified and called to be saints in chapter one, verse 2. Second, he says, "I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ…, vv. 4-7. In verse 9 he says they were called into fellowship "with His Son." This is equivalent to being saved. He calls them brothers and sisters in 1:10, 11. Twenty-four times Paul uses the plural ADLEPHOS [a)delfoj], for "brother," to describe the Corinthians. That means he views them as fellow believers and members of the body of Christ. In 3:16; 6:19 he says that they (all of them) are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and that is referring to each individual. Collectively he refers to the fact that all of them are believers and individually each body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. In 6:11 he says, "Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were [all] sanctified, but you were [all] justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God."