Chapter 20: The birth of a church in a sleazy city
1 After these things Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth. 2 And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them. 3 So, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked; for by occupation they were tentmakers. 4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.
5 When Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia, Paul was compelled by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ. 6 But when they opposed him and blasphemed, he shook his garments and said to them, ‘Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.’ 7 And he departed from there and entered the house of a certain man named Justus, one who worshiped God, whose house was next door to the synagogue. 8 Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized.
9 Now the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.’ 11 And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. 12 When Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him to the judgment seat, 13 saying, ‘This fellow persuades men to worship God contrary to the law.’ 14 And when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, ‘If it were a matter of wrongdoing or wicked crimes, O Jews, there would be reason why I should bear with you. 15 But if it is a question of words and names and your own law, look to it yourselves; for I do not want to be a judge of such matters.’ 16 And he drove them from the judgment seat. 17 Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat. But Gallio took no notice of these things.
18 So Paul still remained a good while. Then he took leave of the brethren and sailed for Syria, and Priscilla and Aquila were with him. He had his hair cut off at Cenchrea, for he had taken a vow.
From Athens to Corinth: friends, work and witness
Paul moves on from Athens, without Silas or Timothy, to Corinth. This city is the main Greek city for politics, culture, trade and commerce. It is also the critical trade route hub between north and south Greece. But Corinth is so sleazy morally that to ‘Corinthianise’ is used by many to describe a place with no moral boundaries whatsoever.1 Anything goes. This big city, with many people visiting from far and wide, is an immoral cesspit. Its citizens are proud of its temple of Aphrodite, the mythical goddess of love and the sensual mother of Eros from which we have derived the word ‘erotic’. Those who come to Christ at Corinth will need God’s grace and help to live holy lives in a dirty world.
Claudius Caesar, the Roman Emperor from ad 41 to 54, expelled Jews from Rome. A husband and wife team, Aquila and Priscilla, are among them. They make tents for a living. Paul, also a tentmaker by trade, meets them in Corinth and works with them. They become colleagues and firm friends.2
Paul regards the Gentiles as his special mission field, just as Peter regards the Jews as his special burden.3 But we see here again that Paul nevertheless starts his witness in Corinth every Sabbath in the synagogue among the Jews and the Greeks who attend there. This is an example to Christians to witness to everyone about the need to come to Christ even if there is a special burden for a particular geographical area or people group. Peter also witnesses to Gentiles despite his prime calling to Jews. Like John Wesley, centuries later, they each can say ‘The world is my parish’.
Concentrating on the Gentiles
Silas and Timothy, having been asked by Paul through the Berean Christians to join him, do so.4 Paul is compelled by the Holy Spirit to tell ‘the Jews that Jesus is the Christ’. When met by opposition and blasphemy, Paul symbolically shakes his garment, which is like shaking the dust off his feet in protest. He holds each of his opposers personally responsible by saying, ‘Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean’. He has discharged his responsibility to tell them about Christ. Perhaps his action of leaving them in their rejection may move some of them to conviction of sin and faith in Christ, as the Holy Spirit works in them later. Paul certainly formerly rejected the gospel vigorously himself. He now declares again his main burden: ‘From now on I will go to the Gentiles’. He does what he says, and moves to the house adjoining the synagogue to witness to Justus. He appears to be another Gentile. He seeks to worship God, probably at the neighbouring synagogue.5 In God’s wonderful overruling power and grace, who then gets converted? Not a Gentile, but the ruler of the synagogue, Crispus, and his household. This has an effect on many Corinthians. These Gentiles hear God’s message of salvation through Jesus Christ alone, believe on Him in their hearts, and are baptised as an act of obedience, identification and witness.
That sequence is important: to be saved you have first to hear the truth that Jesus, God in the flesh, has borne the punishment for your sins and risen again to ascend into Heaven. Having heard that good news you are saved when you believe on the Son of God by receiving Him into your life. Then being baptised means something real and personal to you, and proclaims to others that you now intend to live a new life of death to selfishness and sin. It marks a life of daily surrender to your risen Lord.
God promises to protect Paul—and keeps His promise
If Paul is at times fearful for his life we understand why. He is a godly man, but only a man. His experiences of violence and hatred at the hands of others take their toll and need every ounce of God’s amazing grace to help him overcome and continue to tell people about His Saviour. God not only gives him that daily grace6 but strengthens His apostle with a direct night vision to him. Bear in mind that Paul is an apostle and as such receives direct revelation, and that he has no completed New Testament to read as we have. So God comforts him in this direct personal way. He reminds Paul, in different words, of the original commission and promise of protection which He made at his conversion on the Damascus Road.7 Now God says ‘Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent’. He tells him again, as He does to Christians today too, that He is with His servant.8 God specifically promises Paul physical protection in these particular circumstances. As we have seen, Paul, like every other Christian, can be given God’s grace either to escape or to endure persecution and suffering. Some even have endured death by that same grace.9 But God’s immediate plan is to protect the apostle as he witnesses for His Lord. He also tells Paul that He has ‘many people in this city’. This encourages Paul that God will work through His evangelistic apostle as he persuades the citizens and residents of Corinth to call on Christ to save them. Encouraged by all God has told him, Paul continues teaching God’s word among the Corinthians, in that environment so hostile to the gospel, for eighteen months. God keeps His gospel proclamation promise and His personal protection promise.
But now God keeps His promises in a dramatic way through Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia. Achaia is the region of Greece in which Corinth is located. The Jews, as one man, bring Paul to Gallio’s judgment seat where they charge him of trying to persuade ‘men to follow God contrary to the law’. Gallio is a good lawyer and a decisive man. Before Paul can say a word, the proconsul throws out their case. In the pervading Roman environment no law of Rome has been broken. Christianity is seen by the Romans as an offshoot of Judaism. Thus Gallio sees the Jewish complaint as a relatively petty squabble between members of a related religious group. If this were serious crime or wrongdoing he would be interested. But he will not ‘be a judge of such matters’. He drives them out. Perhaps, under God’s sovereign hand, he has more sympathy with the educated free-born Roman accused than with his hostile Jewish accusers who do not understand Roman law. The Greeks listening in the judgment seat ‘go with the flow.’ In front of Gallio they beat Sosthenes, the synagogue ruler who presumably represents the Jews against Paul. Gallio is unimpressed even by this outrage and ignores what they do. God did say to Paul in that vision, ‘No-one will attack you to hurt you’. God keeps His word in a situation in which Paul could so easily have been badly battered again.
God has a great plan for your life, if you turn to Jesus, ask for His pardon and presence, and surrender to Him. He will turn you from being a one-person mission field into a Christ-centred missionary. If you had a terrible and fatal disease and then were healed by a wonder cure that was free, would you keep that to yourself? If your family and friends, or your colleagues at work or at school, college or university, developed the same disease and you knew where they could freely get the cure, what would you do? Wouldn’t you tell everyone that they could be cured and healed and urge them to take the cure? Sin is a terrible and eternally fatal illness. The cure is to look to the cross where your sins were paid for and your punishment taken. Call on the now living Saviour to forgive you, turn from your sin, and trust Him. You will then share Paul’s passion to make Christ known to others, as we see in action in Corinth.
Paul on the move again for the gospel
Under God’s protecting and blessing hand Paul remains ‘a good while’ at Corinth, making the good news known to many. But now he plans to leave his brothers in Christ there and travel to Syria with his new friends, Aquila and Priscilla. He will soon complete his second missionary journey which has already seen God perform some amazing acts as the message of Jesus has been heralded far and wide.
Questions on Chapter 20
Acts 18:1–18 The birth of a church in a sleazy City
A. What do you think about Aquila and Priscilla? As Paul stays with them what does he do to earn his living and how and when does his main witnessing about Jesus take place?
Acts 18:1–4, Romans 16:3, 1 Corinthians 16:9, 2 Timothy 4:19
B. What ups and downs in serving God in the gospel does Paul now experience?
Acts 18:5–8, Acts 17:14–15, Romans 9:1–3, Psalm 126:5–6, 1 Corinthians 2:1–5
C. Consider how God now keeps His promises to Paul? Does He keep His promises to you?
Acts 18:9–18, Acts 26:12–18, Hebrews 13:6, Matthew 28:20; 2 Corinthians 1:20, Titus 1:2
- To ‘Corinthianise’ means ‘to become or behave like a Corinthian.’ ↩
- Romans 16:3–5, 1 Corinthians 16:19, 2 Timothy 4:19 ↩
- Galatians 2:8 ↩
- Acts 17:14–15 ↩
- Justus is a Roman name, and this man could well be a Roman who is seeking God through Judaism. ↩
- 2 Corinthians 12:9 ↩
- Acts 26:12–18 ↩
- Matthew 28:20, Hebrews 13:5 ↩
- Hebrews 11:37 ↩