Corinth: The Sovereign Origin of a Local Church--Part 1 (Acts 18:1-16)
A portion of the Apostle Paul's second missionary journey led from Athens to Corinth. Athens was one of the primary centers of culture and learning in the known world during the 1st century AD. Paul shared Christ with the stout intellectuals of Athens, and some believed in Jesus. Now, Paul faced a new challenge some 60 miles away in Corinth, the region's commercial, political, and entertainment center. Corinth was the capital of the province of Achaia in the Roman empire. Religion played an essential part in the culture of this city. The god Aphrodite, the goddess of love, was the primary god of worship and the reason for excessive sexual immorality. The temple of Aphrodite stood high on a rocky hill above the city. Paul wrote about his apprehension of visiting Corinth in II Cor. 2:1-5. He noted that he came to Corinth in "fear and much trembling" and with speech that relied not on wisdom of the day, but "in demonstration of the Spirit and of power". Paul also knew that he was perceived by some in Corinth as intellectually strong in his written letters, but not in his physical appearance or eloquence in speech (II Cor. 10:9-10, 17). However, this did not stop him from going to the city, planting a church, and preaching the gospel to all. In these first 16 verses of Acts 18, we learn that a local church is conceived, born, and nurtured under God's direct sovereignty. It is further nourished by obedient followers of Jesus that share the gospel and make disciples together. It is wholly dependent on and confident in God to overcome the enemies that oppose it. In this article, we will observe the humble beginnings of the church of Corinth.
In the infant stages of the church of Corinth, we can observe that local churches are intentionally and generationally birth by God to benefit his elect and to serve his eternal purposes. God prepared the ground for Paul so that there was already a God-fearing Jewish couple living in Corinth when he arrived. Priscilla and Aquilla were driven out of Rome by an edict from Emperor Claudius in AD 49. So, we can see that the plan for a church in Corinth began well before Paul left Athens for Corinth. The sovereignty of God is on display for all to see in these first three verses. The convergence of Paul, the Apostle and tentmaker, from Ephesus and Aquilla and Priscilla, tentmakers in Corinth, originally from Rome, is a God engineered beginning.
Soon after Paul arrived in Corinth, Silas and Timothy came to him bearing a gift of money that would allow him to leave his tentmaking and minister more freely with his time (2 Cor. 11:9). Paul taught about Jesus in the synagogue every Sabbath. The attendees rejected his message, so he turned his attention to the Gentiles. Outside the synagogue, a man named Titius Justus, a worshipper of God, invited Paul to minister in his home. In Titius' home, Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in Jesus as Lord. The result was many Corinthians came to know Christ and were baptized.
What can we learn in these first six verses of Acts 18? First, Paul was obedient, even though he was afraid to follow God's leading to start a church in Corinth. Paul reminds us of the importance of exercising faith and obedience to God, even when you cannot see the outcome. At some point in your life, God may call you to do or say something that scares you or intimidates you. Second, Paul was not alone in the work God had assigned to him. You may feel alone in your calling, but God is always working in you and around you and in others too. You are not alone, and neither was Paul. God had prepared a field in Corinth and workers to till the ground alongside Paul. Third, it is essential to note that not all who Paul preached to initially received his message. His teaching was rejected many times before it was received.
Paul persevered through personal fear and public rejection, and the result was the founding of the church of Corinth. The church included some of the most unlikely people, such as Crispus, the ruler of the Synagogue in Corinth. We never know what God is up to or who he is calling, but we know that he is sovereign, intentional in carrying out his eternal covenant purposes and that he is always good.