Paul at Corinth.

Acts 18.

As one pursues the study of the life of Paul, nothing so arrests the attention as his unwearying devotedness, and the remarkable display of the energy of the Spirit of God in connection with his labours. If Paul were not the perfect servant who could say, "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work," he yet followed very closely in his Master's steps. There were but few pauses (and these enforced) in his activity; and hence we find in this chapter, that as soon as his work was done at Athens he came to Corinth. This was a noted city in the apostle's day, a busy mart of the Eastern world, noted both for its prosperity and its profligacy, alike in its former and later history. If Athens was celebrated for its schools of philosophy and for its devotion to idolatry, Corinth was famed far and wide for its wealth and for its mercantile activity.

It would seem that Paul made this journey alone, and that his arrival in the commercial capital of Greece was unheralded, unwelcomed, and even unknown. The first thing recorded of him in this place is, that he "found a certain Jew named Aquila … with his wife Priscilla … and came unto them. And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought: for by their occupation they were tent-makers." (vv. 2, 3.) It was a custom among the Jews, says the writer referred to in a former paper, that all boys should learn a trade. "What is commanded of a father towards his son?" asks a Talmudic writer. "To circumcise him, to teach him the law, to teach him a trade." And another Rabbi wrote, "He that teacheth not his son a trade doth the same as if he taught him to be a thief." In accordance with these maxims, the father of Paul (Saul) had him instructed in the art of tent-making; and on his coming to Corinth it was his first concern, it would seem, to discover the means of carrying on his occupation, that, independent of man, and forbearing to use his right to "live of the gospel," he might "make the gospel of Christ without charge." (See 1 Cor. 9:11-49.) This explains the circumstance of his joining Aquila and Priscilla on this occasion.*

*The question has often been debated whether Aquila and Priscilla were at this time Christians. That they were so afterwards is certain; and if they were led to the truth through Paul's instrumentality, it only so much the more magnifies the grace of God.

It is well to pause and reflect upon the scene here presented. Paul was the Lord's chosen vessel, minister both of the gospel "which was preached to every creature which is under heaven," and of "the mystery" which had never before been divulged; and at this moment he had come to this celebrated city, charged with the execution of his mission as the Lord's messenger. But so far from being attended with any outward signs of the nature of his calling, or being accredited by any special display of his Lord's power and support, he ministered with his own hands unto his necessities, and afterwards to the necessities of his companions. (Chap. 20:34; 1 Cor. 4:12; 1 Thess. 2:9.) There are those who imagine that a worldly position and influence can further the interests of Christ in this world, maintaining that by a "judicious" use of these a readier access can be obtained to the "upper classes" of society. Let all such ponder the spectacle of the great apostle of the Gentiles working with Aquila and Priscilla at his trade of tent-making; and let them also read his words, addressed afterwards to the converts in this city, "God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in His presence."

During the week days, or at least five of them, Paul laboured with his own hands; but "he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks." According to his wont he went to the Jew first (see chapters 13, 14 etc.), and while thus engaged, Silas and Timotheus joined him from Macedonia, to his joy and comfort; for, busy as he had been in Corinth, he had been much concerned about his converts in Thessalonica, and he was much encouraged when Timothy came to Corinth and brought him good tidings of their faith and charity, and that they had good remembrance of him always, desiring greatly to see him as he also to see them. (1 Thess. 2.) Notwithstanding his tender concern for the saints he had so recently left, Silas and Timotheus found Paul "pressed in the Spirit" (or, according to another reading, "pressed in respect of the word") in his testimony to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. We understand this to mean that his message to them lay as a heavy burden upon his soul, and that he deeply felt his responsibility as to it. But in proportion to the ardour and urgency of the preacher was the activity of Satan in stirring up the enmity of the hearers; and so persistent and wilful was their opposition that Paul, having thrown the responsibility of rejecting his message upon their own souls, left them, saying, "From henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles."

This marked the second phase of the apostle's labours in Corinth, and, as is apparent by the subsequent history, the hand of the Lord was with him in this new departure. First, he went to the house of a proselyte, Justus, one who, doubtless, had received the apostle's message. Then it is noted that "Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house." God's way is ever the right way. It might have been thought by timid souls that the apostle's solemn and final abandonment of the Jews in Corinth was calculated to confirm them in their hatred of the gospel. It was not so, but it was rather the means of bringing Crispus and his household to decision. Crispus was one of the few whom Paul himself baptized. (1 Cor. 1.) We read, moreover, that "many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized." The remark cannot but be made, that communion with the mind of God as to those to whom the message is to be delivered is as necessary as communion with His mind as to the message itself. A striking illustration of this may also be seen in chapter 11. Some there preached "the word to none but unto the Jews only"; others, "when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them; and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord." So was it with Paul. While preaching to the Jews we do not read of conversions, but as soon as he turned to the Gentiles "many … believed" - how many the Spirit of God does not say.

Paul's labours at this time were of no ordinary kind. Writing to the saints later on he says, "I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling." (1 Cor. 2:3.) And He who saw from the mountain-top His disciples toiling in the rowing, beheld His servant's need of encouragement. He therefore spake to Paul in the night by a vision, "Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city." As Paul surveyed the rising opposition, he might well be daunted, if not driven from his post, if he only considered his own capability of meeting it. It was therefore revealed to him, in an especial manner, that it was not a question of himself, but of the Lord as against the enemy. The assured presence of the Lord, the knowledge that the servant has His mind and protection, always gives sustainment and courage. Two things were, moreover, made clear: first, that not a hair of the servant's head could fall to the ground without his Lord's permission; and, secondly, that his work could not be hindered until the Lord's purposes had been accomplished. The "much people" in the city must be gathered in, spite of Satan's efforts to hinder. Hence the Holy Spirit is careful to add that the apostle "continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them."

But while Paul had been cheered by the Lord's tender care and assurance of support and succour, he was not to escape persecution. With one accord the Jews "made insurrection" against him. The reader cannot fail to notice that it was not the heathen idolaters, but God's ancient people, who were the chief opponents of the gospel. These were the ever-ready tools of Satan's enmity. It has ever been that the chief obstacle to the spread of the truth has been found in "religion," and often under the mask of zeal for God. The charge brought on this occasion was, "This fellow persuadeth men to worship God contrary to the law." Gallio, the "deputy of Achaia" at this time - a man well known in history, and one who had obtained great esteem "by his amiable character and popular manners" - was God's instrument for defeating the machinations of the Jews. The "easy-going" and cultured Roman was too indifferent to all such questions, as those the Jews raised, to allow himself to be their accomplice in silencing Paul. He therefore "drave them from the judgment seat," and he thus fulfilled the Lord's words, that no man should set upon Paul to hurt him. His action pleased the enemies of the Jews, and they seized the opportunity of venting their animosity against them by beating Sosthenes* before the judgment seat. But "Gallio cared for none of those things"; and the effect of the Jews' action was to secure tranquility for the apostle's labours. (v. 18.)

*Whether this is the Sosthenes Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 1:1 cannot be positively known. If it be, he must have become a Christian after this circumstance.

In order to obtain an idea of the intensity of Paul's spiritual life, and of his incessant activity, it may be mentioned that his two epistles to the Thessalonians were written during his residence in Corinth. From these we may learn how continuous were his prayers for the saints in that city. "We give thanks to God," he says, "always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; remembering without ceasing your work of faith," etc. Examining his epistles indeed, it might be almost concluded that he did nothing but pray; reading his history, it almost would appear that he did nothing but work. In fact, there was found in him that blessed combination of prayer and labour which made him such a devoted servant - a servant of the kind that God can always use for His glory, both in the gospel and in the ministry of His word amongst His people. May he raise up many in our own day who shall, in this particular, follow in the footsteps of Paul.