We’re continuing through the missionary journeys of Paul, travelling with him from city to city, particularly as he has been called to bring the gospel to the Greeks, and here now he is in Greece with the Gospel. In Acts 18, we find Paul in Corinth. Corinth was the provincial capital of the southern province of Greece. It was nearly the size of Ottawa, and one of the leading business centres of the Ancient world. Corinth is a fascinating city, a city of staggering immorality - in fact, they Greeks had turn the name of the city into a verb referring to sexual immorality. But what’s conspicuous about this chapter, in which the gospel goes to Corinth, is how very little details Luke provides us about the mission there. I’ll read chapter 18 from Acts, but put a map on the screen so you can follow along. Chapter 17 ended with Paul in Athens.
Acts 18:1 After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, 3 and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. 4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.
Acts 18:5 When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. 6 And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” 7 And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue. 8 Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. 9 And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” 11 And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
Acts 18:12 But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, 13 saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” 14 But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. 15 But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.” 16 And he drove them from the tribunal. 17 And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this.
Acts 18:18 After this, Paul stayed many days longer and then took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had cut his hair, for he was under a vow. 19 And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to stay for a longer period, he declined. 21 But on taking leave of them he said, “I will return to you if God wills,” and he set sail from Ephesus.
Acts 18:22 When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and then went down to Antioch. 23 After spending some time there, he departed and went from one place to the next through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.
Acts 18:24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.
You see, there’s not a lot of detail given. We’re told that Paul spends at least 1.5 years there, the longest time spent in any city thus far, but very little is recorded out side of the the conversion of Crispus, the head of the synagogue, and the tribunal before Gallio, which surprisingly, had a pretty positive outcome for Paul. Other than that, the chapter is almost a travelogue, introducing us to some new places and people, but nothing else. It’s one of the chapters that is quite frankly, easy to skim through as we make our way through Acts.
God Uses Many Workers to Build His Church
One of the things that is striking about this chapter is the way that God and the missionary teams moved people from town to town as they went around pointing people to Christ and establishing churches.
In Corinth we see from the beginning God adding to this ministry team which is going to shape the church. Paul enters the city by himself, having left Silas, Timothy in Luke behind in Thessalonica and Berea, but he soon meets this amazing couple, Priscilla and Aquila. They become some of Paul’s closest friends, they live and work and minister together. They were likely Christians before meeting Paul, having been expelled from Rome on account of a disturbance that arose because of the Jews. An ancient source outside of the Bible remark that these disturbances were attributed to one called Chrestos, which most scholars think is a misspelling of Christ. Here is one of the first indications we have that the gospel is spreading even beyond the reach of the missionaries, as individual Christians were taking their faith around the empire. We’re finding Christians popping up in places we don’t expect, and it seems that Priscilla and Aquila were part of a church in Rome made up of people who initially may have heard the gospel at Pentecost. Therefore, it is likely that Priscilla and Aquila came to Corinth already Christians, and having already suffered on account of their faith. They must have been like a cup of refreshing water to Paul, and they took him into their own home and business until the arrival of Silas and Timothy freed up Paul to preach the gospel full time.
At the end of this chapter, Priscilla and Aquila are in Ephesus and a man arrives from Alexandria, again, another one of these indicators that the gospel has progressed faster than the missionaries, for Apollos is from North Africa. However, it seems that he has not heard the entire story of Jesus, for though he knows much of the life of Christ, there are gaps:
It is not possible to be sure which Christian truths Apollos knew when he taught ‘accurately’ and which were explained to him ‘more accurately’. On the one hand, Luke could hardly have described him as ‘instructed in the way of the Lord’ if at that stage he was still completely ignorant of the death and resurrection of Jesus. On the other hand, if his knowledge was largely limited to John’s baptism and teaching, his grasp of these events may have been minimal, and he will also have needed to hear about Jesus’ commission, exaltation and gift of the Spirit. Such truths as these Priscilla and Aquila taught him. Their ministry was timely and discreet.
And so God uses Priiscilla and Aquila, to help this teacher become more accurately grounded in the Way of Christ - you have to admire the sensitivity and the patience that they displayed in doing so. Yet it is evident that Apollos is a gifted teacher, and so they send him back to Corinth, from where they had just arrived, so that he could use his gifts there, teaching the church and defending the faith. It is this sending and receiving and humble cooperation of these gifted men and women in this chapter that reminds us that the mission of God is larger than any one worker, and that God uses many workers to build up His church. It’s a message that Paul reminds the Corinthians of in his letter to them:
1Cor. 3:5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? [Who is Priscilla and Aquila of that matter?] Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
This is the main takeaway I am left with from the Acts chapter 18. This is God’s mission, not my mission. Not your mission. God graciously uses us and our different gifts, but it is he who sends, he who equips, He who provides the growth. There is no room for pride in Christian ministry. No room for ego, or for making our own individual kingdoms. God uses many workers to build his church and with that in mind there are three applications, all of which Paul writes to the Corinthians years later.
1. Be Careful Of Making Someone Your Christ
Paul writes these things to the Corinthians because it seems that they are having problems in their church putting their leaders on pedestals. God uniquely used man that many different people in establishing the Corinthian church, but it seems that Satan was using that fact to divide the church at Corinth.
1Cor. 1:10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
Paul is not Christ. Apollos is not Christ. Peter is not Christ. What are Paul and Apollos? Servant through whom you came to believe. They are servants, not the saviour. We should watch out here because there is at least two common ways we make Christ’s servants our saviours:
Celebrity Worship: Huge problem in the US church, but it’s creeping up into Canada.
Uncritical Devotion: I didn’t really know what to call this, but here’s what I mean. It is proper for us to have affection for our teachers, our pastors, our mentors, because they love us, they pour into us, they counsel us, the care for us, and hopefully they like us to. Paul later writes to these Corinthians: 2Cor. 6:11 We have spoken freely to you,1 Corinthians; our heart is wide open. 12 You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. 13 In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also. And so there is a proper affection. But when affection gross improperly and spills over into uncritical devotion - that’s when it is unhealthy, because you’ve made a man your christ, a servant you saviour. Let me give you an examples:
- When a leader or a pastor leaveschurch or a ministry to serve elsewhere, people are so attached and devoted to them that they leave and scatter, rather than giving a new pastor or leader a chance to build new relationships. This happens in churches around the pastor, but it also happens in youth ministry, and any ministry of the church really. And maybe we don’t leave, but we’re always comparing. My old guy was more fun, my old leader was smarter, its just not the same. That comparison brings up the second application:
2. We’re Not in Competition With One Another
Understanding that God uses many workers to build up his church, we need to guard against the jealousy and competition. As Paul goes on in that passage in 1 Cor 3
1 Corinthians 3:8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. 10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
We need to root out any hint of competition when it comes to Christian ministry. That includes inside of a church and between churches. Inside of the church, because there are many hands working together here, and we’re all seeking to build on the foundation of Christ, but we’ve all been given different tools to build. Pastor David and I have different gifts, different personalities, different strengths and different weakness, but we are not in competition, but God uses many workers to build his church. Pastor Matt at Calvary down the street, and Pastor Jason at Celebration! This is not a competition, we are co-laborers in the mission of God, bringing the light of Christ to Ottawa.
3. We Work For God's Approval, Not Man’s
Understanding that God uses many workers to build up his church, we work for God’s approval, not man’s.
1Cor. 4:1 This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.
Do not compare yourself to others: You be faithful to serve where God places you with the gifts He’s given you.