Summary: This continues in my expository series through the book of Acts.
What are some reasons the question “Is God faithful” is a valid question? Why might even Paul himself have questioned this?
News flash: Paul was human like the rest of us, and that’s one of the things that I think we need to be constantly reminded of. We ought at this point to entertain the likely possibility that the apostle Paul, for all his boldness, was wavering a bit. He wrote in I Cor. 2:3 that he had come to Corinth “in weakness and fear, and with much trembling”. He had been driven out of all three Macedonian cities which he’d visited (even after hearing the call of the Macedonian man saying, “come over into Macedonia and help us”), and he’d been dismissed from Athens with what Richard Longenecker calls “quiet contempt rather than being violently driven out”. How were things going with the Christians in Thessalonica? What would await him in Corinth? After all, this city was like Vegas, New Orleans, and Seattle all rolled into one; the pride and immorality of the Corinthians was headed for a head-on collision with the gospel of Jesus Christ which stands in opposition to sexual immorality and human pride. The Corinthians boasted in their learning and in their status as Corinthians, and Paul mentions, when he writes to the church there years later, that there weren’t many from the upper crust who accepted the message of the gospel in Corinth. He may have still been ailing from his beating at Philippi. Seen from one perspective, his mission hadn’t been all that successful; was he depressed? And what was his breaking point?
He had done everything right, or at least most things; he had laid it on the line for the Lord, driven by his zeal and passion for the things of God and his love for people, yet he’d been through the wringer of rejection, the pain of persecution, the frustration of physical ailment, and the heartache of hatred. Yeah, he was Paul, and he was doing God’s work, but would God be faithful to him in a time like this, or would God abandon him as a used up, washed-up has-been? Does God follow that Stoic philosophy of “keep a stiff upper lip”, grit your teeth and hang on, buck up and don’t be such a wimp? Or is God faithful to the fallen, strength to the suffering, a real refuge in the time of storm?
If Athens was the intellectual center of the ancient world, Corinth was a great commercial trade center, a seaport junction of sea routes both west and east, and a junction of land routes north and south; it seemed as if all roads led to Corinth. But in vengeance for a revolt against Rome, a Roman general had leveled the city to the ground 200 years before Paul came. Exactly 100 years later, Julius Caesar had rebuilt the city, naming it in his honor (as guys like him seemed to love doing), and quickly, Corinth was rebuilt as a powerful center of commerce and licentious living. In fact, so sordid were the ways of the citizens of Corinth that a verb “to Corinthianize”, and a phrase “act the Corinthian”, were in common parlance, and meant “to live a lifestyle of promiscuous sexual gratification”. The temple of Aphrodite, on the Acrocorinth, gave religious sanction to this lifestyle. Every evening, 1000 temple prostitutes descended from the Acrocorinth to ply their trade on the mean streets; anything could be bought in the city. Yet, the fact that trade radiated outward from Corinth, that the world’s civilizations met at this crossroads, portended the possibility that the gospel could likewise radiate outward from this strategic center.
But this was no easy place to minister, that’s for sure. Paul, in writing later to the Corinthian church, had to tackle head on the fact that the church at Corinth had way too much Corinth in the church, the fact that some of the sexual mores which the Corinthian believers were to leave behind hadn’t been left behind nearly so easily. Paul ministered in an immoral society. We are called to minister both God’s love and God’s holiness. To those who know they are sinners before God, we focus on His love. To those who would justify their sinfulness, we minister His holiness, calling them to repent of their sin. The calling is the same, wherever we are: God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself…gave us the ministry of reconciliation…entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us (II Corinthians 5:18-20).
I. God is Faithful to bring friends alongside us to minister. :1-5
Not long after he got to Corinth, Paul made lifetime friends of a couple who shared a line of work with him: tentmaking (or, more generally, leather-working). Paul practiced this trade from time to time in order to pay the bills and be able to evangelize. Priscilla and Aquila, driven from Rome by the emperor Claudius as were many other non-citizen Jews, had likely become believers even prior to coming to Corinth, but they’d prove to be very valuable to Paul as leaders of the Corinthian church.