TOTAL GENTILE INDEPENDENCE: VII
Corinth became the place where Christianity began to grow as two separate branches anchored to the same tree stump. They could coexist, but not as one. Paul, himself, had to bring about the painful split between his kinsmen and the adopted Gentile brethren. Paul had abandoned the attitude he displayed in Athens where he did proved himself a fool. In Corinth he began:
When I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words of wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling; and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (I Corinthians 2:1-5).
After Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, lately come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them; and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them, and they worked, for by trade they were tentmakers. And he argued in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded Jews and Greeks.
When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with preaching and testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them,” Your blood be upon your heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” 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. Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with all his household; and many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you and no man shall attack you to harm you; for I have many people in this city.” And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them (Acts 18:1-11).
When Paul, left the synagogue, he did not mean that he was giving up on his Jewish brethren; in fact, he became more potent, and many more Jews were turning to Christ. Paul became even more of a threat to Judaism outside the synagogues than when he was still inside. Now, Paul was their public enemy number one! Therefore, the Jewish leaders, in Corinth, began to incite the authorities and the public to evict and to punish Paul and his Christians. The violent behavior and mannerism against the peaceful and well behaved Christians and others that disagreed with Jewish practices were no longer a secret. The Jews were evicted from Rome, but the leaders in Corinth needed their business and therefore they refused to become tangled in Jewish beliefs and in their customs. Hence, the proconsul Gallio refused to condemn Paul.
But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack upon Paul and brought him before the tribunal, saying, “This man is persuading men to worship God contrary to the law.” But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, I should have reason to bear with you, O Jews; 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.” And he drove them from the tribunal. And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to this.
After this Paul stayed many days longer, and then took leave of the brethren and sailed from Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he cut his hair, for he had a vow. And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there; but he himself went into the synagogue and argued with the Jews. When they asked him to stay for a longer period, he declined; but on taking leave of them he said, “I will return to you if God wills,” and he set sail from Ephesus.
When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and then went down to Antioch. After spending some time there he departed and went from place to place through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples (Acts 18:12-23).
Luke did not explain how Paul traveled from Corinth to Ephesus. Luke was more interested in the reason why Paul had to be in Ephesus. The Christians in Ephesus had yet to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, Ephesus became a third Pentecost, and an important church in the region. Apollos, a Jew from Alexandria, who knew only of the baptism of John, started the church. Paul went to instruct the Christians in Ephesus and Apollos had gone to Corinth where Priscilla and Aquila took him under their wings.
Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, well versed in the scriptures. 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. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him they took him and expounded to him the way of God more accurately. And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brethren encouraged him, and wrote to the disciples to receive him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully confuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Christ was Jesus (Acts 18:24-28).
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve of them in all.
And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, arguing and pleading about the kingdom of God; but when some were stubborn and disbelieved, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.
And God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to pronounce the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.” Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, mastered all of them, and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. And this became known to all residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks, and fear fell upon them all; and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. Many also of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all; and they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord grew and prevailed mightily (Acts 19:1-20).
Ephesus was, and still is even today, important for this reason — when religion becomes too big and too expensive for poor people to join. Judaism had become a far cry from the “Ark of the Covenant” to a costly temple of Solomon, of Ezra-Nehemiah, and of Herod. The Gentile gods, idols, and their temples were even more expensive. Religion, and so has Christianity, become big business. We live in a country and at a time when one is almost ashamed to be a poor professing Christian. Ephesus provided an example when religion loses its purpose. The earliest Christianity was a religion for everyone. A widow with two copper coins had as much access as the rich John Mark:
About that time there arose no little stir concerning the Way. For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. These he gathered together, with the workmen of like occupation, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. And you see and hear that not only at Ephesus but almost throughout all Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable company of people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may count for nothing and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.”
When they heard this they were enraged, and cried out, “Great Artemis of the Ephesians!” So the city was filled with confusion; and they rushed together into the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s companions in travel. Paul wished to go in among the crowd, but the disciples would not let him; some of the Asiarchs also, who were friends of his, sent to him and begged him not to venture into the theater. Now some cried one thing, and some another; for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together.
Some of the crowd prompted Alexander, whom the Jews had put forward. And Alexander motioned with his hand, wishing to make a defense to the people. But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours they all with one voice cried out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” And when the town clerk had quieted the crowd, he said, “Men of Ephesus, what man is there who does not know that he city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from the sky? Seeing then that these things cannot be contradicted, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. For you have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess. If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen with him have a complaint against any one, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls; let them bring charges against one another. But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly. For we are in danger of being charged with rioting today, there being no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.” And when he had said this, he dismissed the assembly (Acts 19:23-41).
The town clerk silenced the mob and warned them that their disturbance could not be explained to Rome; especially when no one was harming the great goddess Artemis. Paul stayed away from the uproar. He said farewell to the Ephesians brethren and he revisited some of the places where he made new converts. He stopped in Troas for several days. During the last evening, they were in an upper room breaking bread, praying, and listening to Paul. A young man by the name of Eutychus fell out of a window and had to be resuscitated. Paul made several more stops, and near Ephesus he asked to meet with the leaders in secret. And that was where he gave his farewell speech. His ultimate goal was to reach Jerusalem before Pentecost.
And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you all the time from the day I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which befell me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance to God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, bound in the Spirit, not knowing what shall befall me there; except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may accomplish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that all you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will see my face no more. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Take heed to yourself and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you guardians, to feed the church of the Lord which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities, and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by so toiling one must help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
And when he had spoken thus, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And they all wept and embraced Paul and kissed him, sorrowing most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they should see his face no more. And they brought him to the ship (Acts 20:17-38).
Paul was overly anxious to be in Jerusalem on Pentecost. Why? In First Corinthians 16:8-9, Paul expected to be in Ephesus. Also, he left the synagogue in Corinth and returned to the synagogue in Ephesus. The silversmiths made it impossible for Paul to stay until Pentecost. Paul had a conflict within himself. Earlier he felt led to make a vow by cutting his hair (in Acts 18:18) that had something to do with his commitment to go to Jerusalem in Acts 20:16. Paul’s ministry in Corinth had not ended congenially. In his second visit, Paul failed to re-establish himself against the false apostles. As a result, he promised to visit them a third time, but that never happened (II Corinthians 12:14-18). Apparently, the events supported Paul’s belief that God had planned something great for his people on Pentecost. When he arrived in Caesarea, Agabus and the daughters of Philip, the evangelist, could not keep Paul from going to Jerusalem (Acts 21:7-14). Paul had written the reason in his Letter to the Roman Christians:
Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brethren; (Jewish brethren): a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in and so all Israel will be saved; as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” As regards the gospel they are enemies of God, for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may receive mercy (Romans 11:25-31).