Summary: we can be confident in sharing the gospel with our friends and neighbours because we know that God has already called out people to hear and respond when they hear the good news of salvation.
I want to finish this part of our series on Acts by reflecting on the way God continued to encourage and support Paul in his preaching of the gospel, despite the great opposition he faced. God’s empowering was such that many people came to believe in Jesus. Paul was able to keep going despite the weakness he experienced from time to time because of God’s encouragement. And it’s fitting that we do that as we come to his visit to Corinth, because, as you’ll remember from our sermon series last year, the theme of 2 Corinthians is power in weakness: the power that God supplies despite our personal weaknesses and limitations. And that’s obviously a lesson Paul learnt while he was there in Corinth for 18 months or so.
Corinth was a major centre of trade - a 2 port city. It had a population perhaps of 750,000 people. Athens had about 10,000, Ephesus 500,000. So it was one of the leading cities of the Roman empire. And it was a great commercial and trading centre. Anything that could be bought would have been there. Arabian balsam, Egyptian papyrus, Phoenician dates, Libyan ivory, Babylonian carpets, Cilician goats’ hair, Lycaonian wool, Phrygian slaves, etc. So it was an incredibly strategic place to preach the gospel. If these traders were converted they’d take the gospel with them to all the ends of the earth.
But because of it’s size and importance the Corinthians were perhaps prouder than some. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians begins with him reminding them that when he came to them he determined to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified. Why? Because Christ’s crucifixion challenged the pride and wisdom of the Greeks. One of the products of the preaching of the gospel is humility on the part of its hearers. The cross removes all grounds for human pride, both because of the example of Jesus Christ who humbled himself to die the lowest death imaginable and because it says that we sinners have nothing to offer by which we can earn or even contribute to earning our salvation. And that was a message that was vital for them to hear, just as it’s vital for us in the west to hear it today.
Mind you it wasn’t necessarily a popular message. Paul points out that "not many of [them] were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. (1 Cor 1:26)"
What’s more Corinth was a notoriously immoral city. Again, 1 Corinthians makes that very clear and again the preaching of the cross is a call to repentance from an immoral lifestyle.
So it’s no wonder that Paul in 1 Corinthians 2 says he came to them with much fear and trembling, yet determined that Christ’s death and resurrection would be his sole focus.
When he got to Corinth he found a Jew named Aquila who worked as a tent maker, Paul’s own profession. It seems that Aquila and his wife Priscilla , who, interestingly, is named first in most other occurrences of their names, had been converted previously. They’d come to Corinth after Claudius had banished all Christians from Rome for causing a disturbance among the Jews. Whether Paul knew them from a previous encounter isn’t said, but if not, he soon made friends with them and in fact began working with them in their trade as tentmakers. He says later, in his letters to Corinth and to Thessalonica, that he had decided to support himself so he wouldn’t be a burden on his converts. He may also have been avoiding the slander of some that he was trying to make a living out of the gospel.
In any case this partnership with Aquila and Priscilla became more than just a business partnership. In fact when he left Corinth to go to Ephesus, they went with him. Now we’re not looking at the end of the chapter today but what we find there is that in the end Paul left them in Ephesus to pastor the church while he went on to Jerusalem. And when Apollos arrived from Alexandria they were the ones who discipled him, filling in the gaps in his knowledge of Jesus and the gospel, so that he could then go back to Corinth and do the work of an evangelist and teacher there.
But back to Corinth. What we find in this section is a pattern that we’ve seen before and that now repeats itself in Corinth and again in Ephesus in ch19.
1. He reasons with the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah
Paul worked as a tent maker during the week and on the Sabbath he went to the synagogue where he reasoned with the Jews arguing that Jesus was the Messiah. This seems to have gone on for some time, during which time Silas and Timothy arrived from Thessalonica.