Corinth: The Sovereign Origin of a Local Church--Part 2 (Acts 18:1-16)
There are times in life when God's mission for us is encumbered with great adversity and resistance. These obstacles can be observed in financial hardships, marriage strains, physical sickness, or personal setbacks of all kinds. It is essential to know that even though you don't know what is to come tomorrow, be it a blessing or heartache, God is preparing you for it now and will go with you through the valley of the shadow and will celebrate with you in your blessing. Such was the case with Paul in Acts 18. He initially experiences resistance to the sharing of the gospel in Corinth. However, God developed a small nucleus of believers to begin a new work in a dark godless city. Now, Paul is about to face another wave of resistance that is larger and stronger than before. God knows he will need an extra measure of encouragement and confidence, so he visits Paul in a vision. Acts 18: 9-11 says, "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." In these verses, God encourages Paul with his words and the promise of his enduring presence, no matter what the apostle was to face in the coming days. The message of God to Paul was both comforting, practical, and courage giving. He knew what Paul would face in the coming weeks, and God wanted to reassure him that no matter how big the trial or the enemies, Yahweh was greater, and his sovereign plans would prevail. Paul heeded the words of God and persevered to see the church of Corinth become established. So, what was to happen that required such a preemptive visit by God?
Following God's visit to Paul in a vision, the Jewish religious leaders rally and unify against Paul (18:12-17). This time they brought the Romans into the accusations and sought legal action against him. Paul was summoned to court, and Gallio, brother to Seneca and the Roman Proconsul leader, presided over the trial. His judgment would carry great influence for better or worse for Corinth's church and the spread of the gospel in the area. The accusation of the Jewish religious leaders was that Paul was violating the religious laws of the Romans. Romans approved all religions in their day, and they approved Judaism as a legal religion. The Jews sought to prove that Paul was introducing a new religion that was not a part of Judaism. Therefore, he deserved to be punished, and his new religion needed to be banned from Corinth. However, God's sovereignty is not submissive to the will of earthly leaders; Especially when it pertains to the governance and fulfillment of his eternal purposes for his people. In a surprising act, Gallio sided with Paul and Christianity was legalized in Corinth and the broader Achaia region. Gallio said to Jews in verses 14b-15, "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." After saying this Gallio drove them out of his courtroom. The Corinthians in the courtroom seized the new ruler of the Synagogue, Sosthenes, and beat him in front of all. Gallio was indifferent to this latter action and "paid no attention at all" to the beating of this man.
There are a few takeaways to emphasize in this section of scripture.
First, let us consider the big picture truth in this passage. It is as follows: A local church is conceived, born, and nurtured under the direct sovereignty of God. 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. Proverbs 19:21 says, "Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand." In Isaiah 14:24, God says, "The LORD of hosts has sworn: "As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand." In Matt. 16:18, Jesus said, "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." In Rom. 8:28 Paul writes, "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."
Second, we must acknowledge that God is with us in moments of fiery trials and the quieter spaces between them. He is a good Father with a great heart, and he gives us what we need when we need it to survive and thrive in the good and bad times. In Isaiah 43:1-2, God says to his people, "But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you." In Heb. 13:5 Jesus says, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."
Third, there is no person or group, religious or political, that can stand in the way of God carrying out his divine purposes for his people. He can use those vehemently opposed to his purposes and those who are merely indifferent and ignorant of his eternal sovereignty. Prov. 21:1 says, "The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will." Rom. 9:17-18 says, "For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills."