Lesson 18: Introduction to FIRST CORINTHIANS (continued)

Acts 18:1--20:3

This is lesson #18. Welcome back to our study! Now, I suppose you are thinking: what does all this have to do with the First Corinthians? Well, it may seem a little far fetched, at first; but, to understand Paul's epistles to that church requires understanding the background first. Once you get the place pictured in your mind and you are able to visualize the kind of people the Corinthians were, identify with their cosmopolitan and social problems, get a glimpse of their spiritual condition; you see, it helps to understand why Paul said what he said and why he emphasized this or that when he wrote to them.
Before the break, we got to where the litigation was about ready to begin. Paul was being brought before what I suppose to be the highest tribunal in the country of Achaia. If you can imagine the tension of the Christians as that crowd gathered and eye balls flashed that day; just think about the strain Paul was under. The Lord had made Paul a definite promise. We asked the question in our last lesson: why would the Jews take such a dispute to the civil authorities? If you get a good enough lawyer, of course, he'll come up with something. That, the emperor was not in love with the Jews is evident from what is said about Claudius requiring the Jews to leave the capital city of Rome; the very thing that had brought Aquila and Priscilla to Corinth. Surely this good tent making Christian man and his good Christian wife, Priscilla, were present that day to hear Paul's defense and to learn the outcome.   However, Judaism was a legal religion in the Roman empire and had been for about a hundred years, and there's quite a history behind that; but, we won't get into that here. You see, religions had to be licensed with the Roman state. They didn't have separation of church and state as we know it. Undoubtedly the strategy of the Jewish lawyers went something like this: since the Jews practiced their religion legally in the Roman empire their contention WAS that Paul was not teaching Judaism.   According to them, Paul was teaching a false and corrupted form of religion that had broken off, or been extracted from the Jews' religion. Therefore, since Paul's teaching of Christianity did not fit under Judaism, they argued; it was an illegal religion in the Roman empire. You can see, that if the judge had decided with the Jews; it would have brought Rome down on the church; which eventually did happen almost a half century later. We'll save that for the book of Revelation. Right now, put your eyes on Acts 18:13.    Luke records the Jewish argument in front of deputy Gallic like this: "This fellow persuadeth men to worship God contrary to the law." Evidently meaning the Roman law, you see. When the Jews had presented their arguments before deputy Gallio and it was Paul's turn to speak in his own defense and in defense of Christianity (v.14) says, "when Paul was now about to open his mouth"); Gallio suddenly interrupted Paul and gave his judgment in the matter in a premature sort of way, without hearing Paul's defense at all. Evidently Gallio sensed the design of the Jewish argument in trying to use the Roman law to accomplish a religious purpose for the Jews, so, Gallio said this, (it starts in v. 14) "If it were a matter of wrong or wicked lewdness, O ye Jews, reason would that I should bear with you: but if it be a question of words and names, and of your law, look ye to it; for I will be no judge of such masters." In other words, Gallio did not consider the dispute as hinging on Roman law.   Then v.16 says, "he drove them from the judgement seat," i.e. clear the court! Next case! This case ended with about as peculiar a twist as the Jews had used to docket the case to start with. There must have been much suspense in the case and evidently some of the Greeks, i.e. Christian converts, I would assume; were undoubtedly even expecting that the deputy of Achaia might even rule their new founded and new espoused religion of Christianity as illegal in the Roman empire.     Which, of course, had great implications for them. When they saw that Gallio didn't take up for the Jews: they beat up on old Sosthenes, the new synagogue ruler that replaced Crispus; thus I sense from this act that these Greeks, at least, believed and considered Sosthenes was undoubtedly the ring leader largely responsible for dragging the Christians before deputy Gallio to start with. However, this valence was not a very Christian thing for those Geeks to do and I would assume - that is one of the things -Luke wants us to see; although, Gallio turned his head on this occasion and did not punish them for that act. That's in v. 17.
 
You can see, they had a different sense of justice back then, and, Christians don't always conduct themselves as Christians should even today, you know that. As a matter of fact, I get the impression this may have been a rather mild act for some of the church members at Corinth; comparatively speaking. Later when the apostle wrote that book we call First Corinthians, after listing about every criminal and immoral thing the apostle could undoubtedly think of; he said in I Cor. 6:11, "and such were some of you," so it's quite evident, the church at Corinth was made up of some that had been pretty rough characters. However, in that same verse, the apostle hastened to add: "BUT ye are washed, but ye are sanctified..." evidently making reference to their obedience and their baptism for the remission of sins. Notwithstanding, it is generally conceded that, in spite of the rough timber from which the Corinthians were cut, (so-to-speak), the Corinthian church was probably one of the best taught churches of any that Paul founded, at least up to that time. Notice that Acts 18:11 said, "he continued there a year and six months, [now listen] TEACHING THE WORD OF GOD AMONG THEM." Obviously, that was much more time than Paul had spent at Philippi, Thessalonica or Berea and most likely much more time than was spent at any Asian church founded on the first missionary journey.
Eventually, Paul departed from Corinth. His friends Aquila and Priscilla went with him as far as Ephesus (city # 33). We find that down in v.l 8-19. In the first few lessons of this course, we talked about v. 22-23 at length. These two verses are all that we know about the first half of Paul's third missionary journey...read it close. But, after Paul had gone over the churches of Galatia and Phrygia in order as it says in v.23: he eventually returned to Ephesus as Paul had promised to do here in v.21. Now, ch. 19 is a summary of Paul's work at Ephesus, where he spent three whole years according to Paul's own statement in Acts 20:31. It was while Paul was at Ephesus that he wrote the letter we call First Corinthians. I would recommend you re=read Acts. Ch. 19 to refresh your memory of the circumstances under which Paul was laboring when he wrote the letter we're embarking upon, that was sent back to the church of Corinth.

I don't want to overdo the geography; but, get a fresh look at Ephesus in relation to Corinth on your map. Ephesus was a seaport also, directly across that big pond called the Aegean Sea; maybe 250 miles directly east of Corinth and Cenchreae, or perhaps much less than a week's journey when the wind was right. Thus, it's obvious, that during that three year period Paul spent at Ephesus; many of his Christian friends must have communicated by sending word across that body of water that separated them. We have evidence that some of the Corinthians even came to see Paul, and we have evidence that Paul had corresponded with the church of Corinth, even though we don't have the letter(s) to prove it. For example, look at I Cor. 5:9, Paul said, "I wrote you ;{i.e. I wrote to you Corinthians] in an epistle not to company with fornicators..." Now, we won't get into the fornication part here; but, it is a clear and distinct statement of Paul that he had written to the Corinthians before. Then, flip on down to I Cor. 7:1, Paul said, "now concerning the things whereof y wrote unto me..." so-and-so. Therefore we must realize that first Corinthians (as we call it) was not the first correspondence between Paul and the Corinthian church, so this poses somewhat of a dilemma for us. Not only do we hear only one side of the conversation, so-t-speak, i.w. what Paul said to the Corinthians in the letter we have; but, we don't know how many conversations went on before that, and, considering a tune span of three years that Paul was at ephesus; I can conceive of Paul taking a few days off from his disputing in that 'school of one Tyrannus" mentioned in Acts 19:9 and crossing over to Corinth for what we might call a gospel meeting, when the sailing weather was good. It would seem that the first verse of ch. 2 in Second Corinthians may be a reference to just such a trip. However, even if Paul didn't cross back over to Corinth at all during that three year period; he likely sent others for such a purpose. In I cor. 4:17, Paul Told the Corinthians, "For this cause have I sent unto you Timothy, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which e in Christ, as I teach every where in every church." As Paul closed out this epistle (I Cor. 16:10) he made reference again to Timothy's visit; but as we shall see, Timothy may not have arrived at Corinth as anticipated. However, it's most likely that Paul didn't go more than 30 days at anytime during that three years without receiving some kind of intelligence concerning the church at Corinth.

I should call your attention to another preacher named Apollos, that spent a good bit of time in Corinth. Apollos is mentioned in Acts 18:24 for the first time and a little resume of Apollos is given there (v.24-28). Please read that! In the beginning of Acts c. 19, we learn that in spite of Apollos' eloquence; he did not know the scriptures as well as he should. However, Apollos was obviously a humble man and willing to correct his lack of understanding. Aquila and Priscilla "expounded unto him the way of god more perfectly" and seems from v.27, that this polished preacher much have accepted and appreciated that help. When it says in v.27 he went on to Achaia; that probably means Corinth, or at the very least, it includes Corinth. I trust you caught on, that Apollos was at ephesus while Paul was taking that tour over Asia Minor, Galatia and Phrygia. Apollos had gone on to Achaia before Paul returned to Ephesus. Paul made reference to this polished preacher several times in First Corinthians. Just how Paul knew Apollos is not clear at first; but, finally in the last chapter of mis book we learn that Apollos had returned to Ephesus and was working with Paul at the time Paul wrote this book.
Nevertheless, as we begin to comb through the book of First Corinthians we quickly discover some radical changes, i.e. things were different than in Acts ch. 18. There were real problems! First, the congregation had factionalized into parties. We'll get to that quickly, but, that was not the only problem. As happens even today, when you get into problems; the problems seem to compound themselves. You can solve most problems quickly if everything else is right and proper and orderly. However, if everything else is not orderly and proper; then things begin to avalanche.
You may want to jot these things down for future reference in this study; but, some of the things Paul touched on in this letter of First Corinthians involved (1st) there was the congregational DIVISION, we've already mentioned. Then the (2nd) thing I would call: ARROGANCE. Paul said in essence they were trying to solve their problems with worldly wisdom. Perhaps some of these things were said for the benefit of the whole congregation while others may have been more to certain individual Christians. Of course, all these things carry a strong message to us. In the (3rd) place was the problem of IMMORALITY. Paul mentioned a specific case; but, much of what he said applies to immorality in general. Another thing (4th), was LAWSUITS BETWEEN CHRISTIANS. We don't know the details of who was suing who; but, we can deduct several things from what is said. Then, it would seem possibly a certain faction of that congregation had submitted these questions. These questions seemed to involved (#5) MARRIAGE, and (6th) EATING MEAT offered to idols. (7th) seemed to involve certain aspects of Christian Worship. The LORD'S SUPPER. Also, (8th) the PLACE OF WOMEN in public worship. Then (9th), again relating to public worship, a question undoubtedly relating to SPIRITUAL GIFTS and public speaking. (10th) There was undoubtedly another technical question concerning THE RESURRECTION of the dead and just how that will be. Paul also commented (11th) on the COLLECTION of funds for the church, i.e. laying by in store. As usual, Paul made a few more personal remarks in closing his letter.
Now, although we do NOT know all the details relating to these things; we can get a sort of empirical view of some of the thinking and problems in the church at Corinth, i.e. at the time Paul wrote this letter. We must concede, that although these things are embedded in a historical context; the apostle Paul through the wisdom of the Holy Spirit answers many questions for our benefit. It is from this point of view that the book is so valuable to us. We must constantly ask ourselves: how do these things apply to us.
As we approach the context, itself, we must realize there were personalities in conflict at Corinth. We must realize that this was a church of our Lord Jesus Christ and although it seems many things were in serious need of correction; they had obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine (Rom. 6:17) that had made them free from their alien sins and the Lord had added them to His church. Thus, this was written to soldiers of the cross, so-to-speak, in spite of the fact that many in that body were erring soldiers at that time. We must learn the lesson that our errors in like manner are correctable by the same medicine Paul was administering to erring Corinthian Christians by this epistle. We need to understand that just as Paul was rescuing some Corinthian church members from hell by the spiritual remedies herein recorded; we can be rescued to spiritual safety by applying these same spiritual remedies to our own lives. We'll get down to that ask in Lesson #19. Until then, have a good day.

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