Scriptures

Paul’s Trip To Corinth

Introduction

How did Paul come to have contact with Corinth in the first place?

You may remember that it was in the course of that 2nd Missionary Journey which began at Antioch in Pisidia. And we have to say that it didn’t begin very well! Perhaps it was because, whilst the first journey was undertaken at the direction of the Holy Spirit, the 2nd was the suggestion of Barnabas. They didn’t wait for the leading of the Spirit.

What we can say with certainty is that, it got off to a bad start because there was a terrible dispute between Paul and Barnabas because Barnabas wanted to take with them his nephew, John Mark, and Paul objected to the suggestion in no uncertain terms, because that young man was to have gone with them on their first journey, but turned back before it had barely started.

He deserted them and went home. And Paul evidently didn’t think the young man had the stomach for the journey, Acts 15:36-41. Perhaps the lad wanted his mother!

The dispute was no mild disagreement, the word used to describe is the word that gives us the words ‘paroxysm’; and ‘earthquake’. And the outcome was that these two fine men went their different ways. Barnabas took John Mark and went to his native Cyprus, whilst Paul took Silas and shortly after, Timothy, and travelled north. The sad fact is that Paul and Barnabas never worked together again. So, that was a depressing start to the 2nd journey, and it didn’t improve!

He wanted to preach the Gospel in the province of Asia, and the Spirit said ‘No!’ Acts 16:6. We are told that Paul wanted to go into Bithynia, but the Holy Spirit prohibited him, again, Acts 16:7.

So, Paul found himself travelling North and West, without any idea what lay in store for him. Eventually he and his companions reached Troas, Troy, on the coast of the Aegean Sea quite bewildered, because they could go no farther.

Then, in the night he had a vision in which a man of Macedonia, northern Greece, stood by his side saying,

‘Come over into Macedonia and help us!’ Acts 16:9

and Paul know what he had to do. Out there, across that narrow stretch of ocean, he could see the towering Mount Athos, in Europe, and he knew that the Gospel had to be taken there. But, here again, the work did not go smoothly. They came to Philippi, a Roman colony, and thanks to the opposition of the Jews in that city, they were arrested, beaten, thrown into prison with their feet made fast in the stocks, Acts 16:12-24.

When they were released from prison Paul and his companions continued to travel westward. They passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia without preaching, because these were two Roman Military towns, full of Roman soldiers and continued until they reached Thessalonica a town given the name of his sister, Thessala, by Alexander the great.

And, at Thessalonica, they had some success, until the militant Jews once again stirred up the citizens so that Paul was again, taken by friends under cover of night, to a small town off the main highway to Berea.

But the Jews of Thessalonica heard this, and were determined to follow him, so that the brethren in Berea took him as though they were about to put him on a ship and send him home to Caesarea, Acts 17:10. What those new converts did was tremendous! They escorted him 200 miles south to Athens, where they left him and made their way home again! Acts 17:15.

So, Paul arrived in Athens but he was anxious about Timothy and Silas, who had remained in Berea having been instructed to come to him in Athens as soon as possible, and we see a weary Apostle there in the ‘agora’, the market place, confronted my more altars and images than he had ever seen before in his life! Some of those altars bear the names of several so-called gods.

In fact, there were so many gods in Athens that they said it was easier to find a god than to find a man in the city! And Paul was so disturbed by what he saw; especially when he saw an altar inscribed to

‘THE UNKNOWN GOD’

that he was moved to speak about the

‘ONE TRUE GOD’.

It was then that he came to the attention of the Areop-ogites. These were an elite group of philosophers and rulers who were officially retired but who formed a society which met regularly on the Areopagus which we call Mars Hill, although it is nothing more than a little mound in the shadow of the Coliseum, to discuss and hear and tell

‘some new idea’. Acts 17:21-31

They heard that this new fellow had been speaking about ‘the resurrection from the dead’, and so they sent for him and had him brought to the Areopagus to explain what he was preaching.

Now, you might have thought that this would be a great opportunity to present the Gospel to the leaders and thinkers of Athens, but surprisingly, he never mentioned Jesus, didn’t preach the Gospel, but appears to have tried to meet them on their own ground, even quoting one of their Poets. He spoke about God, and Judgment and resurrection. And they mocked him, they laughed at him and dismissed him saying,

‘We’ll hear you again on this matter’. Acts 17:32-34

And Luke tells us,

‘Paul departed from them’.

Timothy and Silas had not yet come, and Paul was anxious, and departed from Athens. His visit was not altogether fruitless. There were some converts. Two of whom are mentioned by name, one man, Dionysius, who was an Areopagite and the other a woman named Damaris. But we do not read in the New Testament of a church being established in Athens.

When he arrived in Corinth, after all the stress and tension of the journey up that point, and the fact that his two companions had still not come although he had ‘given command’, that they should come without delay, and the unsatisfactory experience he had had in Athens, he must have been a weary man.

It is my view that he probably regretted having dealt with the wise men of Athens the way he did, and the way the discussion had gone.

We shouldn’t think that, because he was an Apostle he was infallible or inspired every time he opened his mouth, because that would not be true. Although we are inclined to put him on a pedestal and look up to him as something of a superhuman being.

He seems capable of anything. No hardship he is not willing to bear. No danger that he will not face, no problem he cannot solve! But he was not superhuman as we see when you read through 1 Corinthians.

The first evidence of the humanity of Paul is seen in Acts 18:9-10 after he arrives in Corinth he has a vision in which God says to him.

1. Do not be afraid, but speak and do not hold your peace.

2. For I am with you, and

3. No one shall set on you to harm you

4. I have many people in this city!

The first fact that we should notice are stated in these verses is that when Paul arrived in Corinth he was afraid, because he was human, he could misjudge situations, he could experience physical weariness, and he could feel intimidated!

As he looked back over that journey which had begun with his parting from Barnabas, nothing, absolutely nothing had gone smoothly. And now, here he was, in one of the most wicked cities of the Ancient World. And the stress and strain and physical and mental weakness was making itself felt. It’s a fact that spiritual vision often breaks down as the result of physical weariness, and we would do well always o remember this.

The problems at Corinth Paul knew about the reputation of Corinth, as did most of the Roman world. The morality of Corinth was infamous. Every sin and vice known to mankind could be found there. It was a city with two seaports, one on either side of the narrow neck of land on which it was situated.

And because of this association with the sea and shipping and sailors, just like any major sea port today, it attracted a certain kind of women who were prepared to accommodate the seamen, and others, of course, who arrived at Corinth with money to spend after long periods at sea.

Drunkenness was commonplace

So, that when-ever a Corinthian was represented on the stage or in the theatre, it was as a drunkard. In fact, there was a well-known saying in those days which was used to describe a person living a wild, reckless life.

‘He lives as they live in Corinth’.

Under normal circumstances Paul would have been ready for any challenge that Corinth could present. But he came to Corinth after a long journey of stress and danger. And, in a word, he was not himself!

Weary

Probably depressed by the way things had gone in Athens, and anxious because Timothy and Silas still had not joined him, as he had instructed.

That’s why Luke tells us, in Acts 18:9-10 that Paul received a very significant and important vision. And Luke must have been told about it by Paul himself. But, before I speak about it, let me point out that the vision didn’t come immediately on his arrival in the city. At first Paul remained uncharacteristically silent! That is, he did not immediately begin to preach the Gospel. Instead he met two Jews, who had been turned out of Rome by clouds, who had banished all Jews from Rome.

And, because they were tent-makers, like Paul himself, he stayed with them and worked with them. Like any good Jew, he attended he synagogue regularly, and, like any devout Jew, he discussed the scriptures. Remember that the Synagogue was at the heart of any Jewish community in the Empire. It was the centre for social contact. Benevolence and discussion of the scriptures.

So, those whom he met in this Synagogue didn’t know him as Paul, the leading exponent of what they would have considered a new, false religion which was said to be everywhere spoken against. To them, Paul was a just a tentmaker who was remarkably well-versed in the scriptures, who had some strange ideas. And who argued very convincingly! And they saw nothing wrong in that!

This continued until Timothy and Sills eventually came to Corinth and found him, probably after searching for him in Athens, and it was after their arrival that he changed his presentation. He felt

‘constrained in the spirit’ Acts 18:5

compelled by his heart to openly testify

‘that Jesus was Christ’.

His message was radically different from what he had presented at Mars Hill in Athens.

In 1 Corinthians, you will see that he changed his method, his approach, his message! He says,

‘When I came to you I did not come using excellency of speech or worldly wisdom. I determined not to know ANYTHING among you, except Jesus Christ and Him crucified’ 1 Corinthians 2:1-2

and, as you read through 1 Corinthians, you shall see how often he criticises worldly, human wisdom, and worldly-wise men, contrasting the wisdom of the world with the wisdom of God.

He says, for example, that

‘The wisdom of the world is foolishness with God, and that the world, with its wisdom, does not know God’. 1 Corinthians 1:21-31

Just look out for this in the first few chapters! Because we see a Paul who is very different from the Paul whom we saw in Athens!

Also, as you read 1 Corinthians you see just how many problems had developed in the church at Corinth within a short time after Paul’s departure.

Chapter Breakdown

1. Division.

Declaring themselves followers of the various preachers and teachers who had visited Corinth, or about Whom they had heard.

5. Immorality.

One man was having an affair with his Stepmother.

6. Litigation.

They were taking each other to Court;

7. Marriage Problems about Christian Marriage.

8. The eating of meat from Pagan Temples.

10. Their abuse of Christian Liberty.

11. Their abuse of the Lord’s Supper

12-14. Spiritual Gifts, their purpose and their proper use.

15. Doctrinal Problems Resurrection from the Dead.

It’s significant that Paul introduces his letter by reminding the Corinthians of his Apostolic Authority and mentions it repeatedly throughout the letter. For example, 1 Corinthians 4:21,

‘What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit?’

If such a troubled church existed today I’m not sure I would want to be a member of it!

Conclusions

From Paul, we learn that even the greatest of men aren’t immune from the stressful experiences of life. They can make errors when physical weakness or tiredness affects their judgment. But, like Paul, they learn from such experiences and become better people.

From the church at Corinth, we learn that because the church consists of human beings, no congregation is ever perfect!

‘Too many hypocrites in the Church!’

Come inside! There is always room for one more.

 

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you."

1 Peter 5:7

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