The Most Important Intersection of Life
1. Look at a map: the major locations are places where a number of routes intersect.
a. There are intersections in life, too – points in time when the forces that decide character and determine destiny converge.
b. These intersections are where the big choices of life are to be made.
2. There is a particular setting in which the most meaningful influences – God, his family, the individual person, and the real world – all intersect: it’s a local church.
3. This may be observed very clearly from the record we have of the beginning of the church of God in the great world city of Corinth.
a. Much of what we know about the possibilities in a congregation, its practical responsibilities, and the potential problems, we know from Paul’s letters to them.
b. Acts 18:1-17 tells us how their life together started, and it illustrates the important forces which intersect in a local church.
1. The first powerful force of life which is present in this account is the world.
a. These were real people at a very real place and time in history.
i. Paul left Athens and went about 45 miles west and south to Corinth (v.1).
(1) It was a city of about 500,000 at the time, capital of the Roman province of Achaia, and ancient Greece’s most important trade center.
(2) Ideally situated on the narrow strip of land connecting the Peloponnesian peninsula with central Greece and the rest of Europe, it had a harbor to the Ionian Sea on the west and another to the Aegean Sea on the east.
(3) The ruins of the ancient city confirm what a magnificent place it was: outlying grain fields, vineyards and olive groves; the city enclosed by walls six miles in circumference; a marble-paved marketplace in the middle of town where daily business was conducted; the Temple of Apollo towering above the marketplace with each of its 24-feet columns cut from a single piece of stone; and rising more than 1500 feet above the city to the south the Acrocorinth, the fortified hill which was crowned by the infamous Temple of Aphrodite; the great road through the middle of town, and the whole world passing over it.
ii. Paul found people who were in Corinth because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome (v. 2).
(1) Claudius, regarded by secular history as kind of an odd character, was the Roman emperor from 41 A.D. to 54.
(2) In 49 or 50, he ordered the expulsion of all Jews from Rome.
(3) Seutonius, the historian, wrote that he did it “because they were constantly rioting at the instigation of Chrestus”
iii. When Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, Paul was brought before the tribunal (v. 12).
(1) An inscription at Delphi, recording a proclamation of Claudius, indicates that Gallio was appointed proconsul in July of 51.
(2) Junius Gallio was the highly esteemed brother of Seneca, the Stoic philosopher who was at this time the tutor of young Nero, the next emperor of Rome.
(3) The tribunal where this meeting occurred has been excavated. It was a magnificent judgement-seat, covered with blue and white marble.
b. The world involves a very real spirit.
i. At Corinth it was more clear than anywhere else that “the world” is a realm of values, attitudes and behaviors that leave God out and make room for anything.
ii. Worldliness was the prevailing culture there.
(1) Merchants and sailors, anxious to work the docks, migrated to Corinth. Professional gambles and athletes, betting on the Isthmian games, took up residence. Slaves, sometimes freed but with no place to go, roamed the streets day and night. And prostitutes, both male and female, were abundant. People from all over the Mediterranean world relished the lack of standards and freedom of thought that prevailed in the city. Most of the Corinthians had lived in this godless society all their lives.
(2) Still, competing religious views, from Judaism to the worst idolatry, swirled all around.
(3) 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
iii. People in that environment would be tempted to be impressed with good talkers and strong personalities, interested in experiences and attention, and influenced by immorality and cliques.
2. The second influence which enters the picture in this account is the church.
a. The church is the product of the good news of Christ in whatever place the gospel is presented.
i. At Corinth Paul started trying to convince people that the Christ was Jesus by reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath (v.4). Archaeologists have discovered the marble crosspiece of a door which with the inscription, “Synagogue of the Hebrews.”
ii. Eventually he moved next door to the house of Titius Justus, a God-fearing Gentile who was wealthy enough to have a house big enough for this purpose (v. 7).
iii. Verse 8
iv. These people are addressed in both Paul’s letters to the Corinthians as “the church of God ...at Corinth.” (1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1).
v. “All those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” as verse 8 says the Corinthians did are the church. (Cf. 1 Cor. 1:2)
b. The church occupies itself in making the gospel known to others.
i. Paul “stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (v. 11).
ii. Efforts were made to reason, to persuade, to offer evidence, and to teach people to worship God through Christ.
iii. The gospel was lived as Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, and Titius Justus, the Gentile next door, became brothers in the Lord. Nothing but the power of the gospel could have made such a thing possible.
3. The third force of life that comes into view at Corinth is the personal responsibility of the individual.
a. The fact that many did believe when they heard, and that they were baptized, proves that anyone could have been.
i. The pressing culture of ungodliness in the city was no excuse.
ii. Neither did their response depend on whether the church had perfect character and flawless ability.
iii. It was still each person and his own accountability before the Lord that made the difference.
b. Verse 6 shows how the apostle applied this principle to the Corinthians who responded to the gospel in the opposite way.
i. Shaking out the garments or shaking off the dust from the shoes was a visual way of breaking off association.
ii. “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent” was a reference to the work of a watchman in the days of the prophets. (Ezek. 3:18; 33:8)
(1) If the watchman knew of approaching danger but failed to warn the people, their blood was on his hands.
(2) If, on the other hand, he informed them but they failed to act, what happened to them was their own responsibility.
iii. Since his own countrymen had opposed the gospel, Paul was saying, he would turn to people who might receive the gift of God.
4. The fourth influence at work in these events is the providence of the God of heaven.
a. Think of the brave and talented people whose lives, for various reasons, all intersected the great world city of Corinth at the same time.
i. Aquila and Priscilla, tent-makers like Paul, people who had the loyalty to risk their necks for a friend and the talent to explain the way of God, came because they had been run out of Rome.
ii. Paul, disappointed about the idolatry and mockery of Christ he had found at Athens and worried about the infant congregations in Thessalonica and Philippi, found a job and a place to say with them, as well as dear friends and co-workers in the gospel.
iii. Silas and Timothy soon arrived from Macedonia, bring good news about young congregations there and support from them, both of which encouraged Paul and strengthened his efforts. Was it God’s providence which brought them all together at the right place and the right time?
b. What took place at Corinth proved that the Lord was involved.
i. It may not be obvious to us in the first few verses of this chapter, but Paul later wrote that when he went to Corinth it was “in weakness and in fear and much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3). Maybe we can imagine why.
ii. Verse 9, 14-15
iii. This was a hugely important moment: it set the stage for the legality of Paul’s preaching the gospel in Roman cities for the next ten years!
1. Something of the power of this situation may be observed by thinking of the Sosthenes who is mentioned in verse 17. Is he the same man as “our brother Sosthenes” in 1 Corinthians 1:1? Is he the second ruler of the synagogue who obeyed the gospel?
2. The world, the Lord’s people, the individual person, and the living God – where these four profound influences come together is the most important intersection of life.
3. It’s where life’s biggest choice is made.
a. When you have heard, what will you do?
b. Will you believe and be baptized and act as a member of the household of God, or not?