APRIL 15th, 2018 PASTOR DON PIEPER
In Paul's Footprints 2 Cor 1:1-11/Acts 18:1-18a
“THE CORINTHIAN CONNECTION”
(“DON'T BE AFRAID – SPEAK OUT!”)
As we travel in Paul's footprints one can't help but notice that he often receives less than a warm welcome in the places that he visits. It's reminiscent of the cool reception Susie got once by Calvin...
Calvin: Your house is over there. Want me to draw you a map of how to get there?
Susie: Obviously I'm not going to my house.
Calvin: I'ts a lot more obvious that you're not coming to my house!
Susie: I have to stay here until my mom gets home. Here's your tiger. He was by the door.
Calvin: What's with the TIE?!
Hobbes: A spotted tie is just the thing when you're wearing stripes. Tigers have a natural flair
for casual chic!
Calvin: I can't believe this! Why didn't you kill her when she came in the door?!
Hobbes: By the way, if you had made proper introductions, we might have smooched her hand.
Calvin: Here, let me adjust the narrow end of your tie about eight inches.
Susie: What happened to you?
Calvin: Hobbes and I had a frank exchange of ideas.
(from It's A Magical World, p. 6-8)
Paul has also been enjoying a frank exchange of ideas, in his case, with the philosphers in Athens. Now he's made his way to Corinth. Perhaps someone drew him a map on how to get there.
Like Paul, Claudia and I also made our way from Athens to Corinth during our trip to Greece last year. Its a city with a fascinating history. Conquered and leveled by the Romans in 146 BC, it was rebuilt by Julius Caesar in 46 BC to become the political and commercial center of Greece. It's strategic location at the center of a north-south and an east-west axis of highways as well as being in the vicinty of four major seaports guaranteed its military and economic importance in the vast Roman empire.
Luke's account of Paul's initial trip is packed with information. We learn that Paul sets up shop as a tentmaker there alongside a Jewish-Christian couple who've also recently set up shop. We're told that they're there in Corinth because the Roman emperor, Claudius, booted them and the other Jews out of Rome, an event validated by historical Roman sources. When Paul tries to convince the local Jews that Jesus is the promised messiah, they haul Paul in on charges of breaking the law, but the Roman proconsul, Galileo, rules in Paul's favor. That's huge! It gives the Christians in Corinth legal grounds for living out their faith and sharing it with others, and enabling Paul his only extended stay in Greece!
Not only that, but the reference to Galileo is significant in another way as well. One of our stops during my sabbatical was in Delphi, an amazing ancient site located high on the bluff of a steep mount-ainside. It was there that Nine fragments of stone were discovered in which there's an inscription nam-ing Galileo as proconsul on the 26th acclamation of Emperor Claudius. From that inscription we learn that Galileo was only proconsul there in Corinth for one year, from July 1st, 51 AD until June, 52 AD.
By this we know that Paul arrived in Corinth in the Fall of 50 AD and left again in the spring of 52 AD. The naming of Galileo provides the most precise, non-biblical, historical source for dating the mission work of the apostle Paul. Galileo, by the way, was also the younger brother of Roman philoso-pher, Seneca, who wound up being chief advisor to Nero before and as Nero took the throne in 54 AD, and explains how Galileo, a Spaniard, wound up as Roman proconsul in Corinth, the jewel of Greece. Both brothers, incidentally, were forced to commit suicide in 65 AD...by you-know-who...
Our text also contains A bit of mystery: When Galileo released Paul, the crowd reacted by beating their new synagogue leader, Sosthenes. Why? For his inability or his unwillingness to secure Paul's demise? Scholars wonder if this might be the same Sosthenes who Paul identified as the co-author of his first letter to the Corinthian church: “This letter is from Paul..., and from our brother, Sosthenes.” If so, that means that Paul successfully converted both the synagogue leader and his successor...! (1 Corinthians 1:1)
A second mystery is why Paul suddenly shifted from selling tents with Aquilla and Priscilla to “spending all his time preaching the word after Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia.” (Acts 18:11)
Why so? Why then? Apparently, as we discover from the letters he wrote, Silas and Timothy, arrived with monetary support from the Macedonian churches he'd planted: “When I was with you, preaching God's Good News to you, and didn't have enough to live on, I did not become a financial burden to any of you. For the brothers who came from Macedonia brought me all that I needed...”
(2 Corinthians 11:8-9)
In his brevity, Luke omits much. He reduces eighteen months of trail-blazing, church-planting mission work to a mere eighteen verses. We're told little to nothing of the content of Paul's preaching save that he identified Jesus as the Messiah to the Jews. Of his message to the Greek pagans, we're told nothing, implying that his message was akin to what he articulated to the pagans in Athens...
Yet clearly there's a lot going on in Acts 18. For me, Two things stand out: above all the rest. The first is Paul's declaration; the second is his vision. When the Jews rejected him, He declared, “Your blood is upon your own heads – I am innocent. From now on I will go preach to the Gentiles.”
This was a public statement. He was saying to those who'd rejected him and his gospel message that their salvation was not his responsibility. As Jesus had taught, he shook the dust from his clothes to say that he was moving on. They were on their own. He was also declaring that from that moment on, his time in Corinth would be spent seeking to reach the Gentile pagans, the non-Jews.
Though, this was a public declaration, it has personal implications for me. As we stood in the ruins of ancient Corinth, we were allowed to stand upon the judgment seat, or The Bema, where Galileo presided over Paul's case. Nearby was a plaque quoting Paul's declaration. As I stood there I was filled with the Holy Spirit. It was so powerful I had to sit down. I sensed God saying to me, because of what happened here..., the gospel was handed down until it came to you. Thank God that Paul moved on...!
As I look back I sense God saying to me: Just because someone rejects your witness or your invitation, don't give up. Shake it off..., and move on. Don't be afraid...and don't be silent!
That brings us to Paul's vision: “One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision and told him, 'Don't be afraid! Speak out! Don't be silent! For I am with you, and no one will attack or harm you, for many people in this city belong to me.” (Acts 18:9-10)
This was a personal vision; but it has public ramifications. Within it we find the Command, the Confidence and the Connection to do likewise. The command is clear: Don't be afraid! Speak out!
It's understandable that Paul would be afraid. He's been threatened and attacked countless times before, yet Jesus commands him not to be afraid. He's not the first to be told so. It's the most common command in scripture, found some 366 times in the Bible – one for every day of the year plus leap year
Why is that so? It's because fear has a way of disrupting faith, looming large as an obstacle to trusting and obeying God. All of us are born with a set of instinctive fears. Ever since falling from a two-story slide on my head I've had a fear of falling. Since being bitten by dogs I have a fear of dogs. Growing up I was afraid of the dark. Now I'm afraid of falling, in the dark...on top of our dog. Then there's the fear of public speaking..., sharing my faith....and the words, 'some assembly required'!
Jesus reminds Paul why he is there – to speak out, to share the gospel wherever he goes, regard-less of the response. It comes just before Paul is hauled in before Galileo with trumped up charges. It comes with a promise: “No one will attack or harm you!” This promise is specifically for his time there in Corinth. Paul made reference later to this promise in his letters to them: 'We stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely on on God, who raises the dead. For He did rescue us from mortal danger, and He will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in Him.' (2 Corinthians 1:9-10)
So where does this confidence Paul speaks of come from? It comes from a promise Jesus made to all of us: “For I am with you!” (Acts 18:10) It's a promise repeated throughout scripture. Joseph had courage facing formidable odds and circumstances because, as the refrain goes, “The Lord was with Joseph!” (Genesis 39:2) Likewise, God tells Joshua as he takes over from Moses: “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go!” (Joshua 1:9)
And to his disciples, past and present, Jesus says: “Go, therefore and make disciples of all peoples..., for lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age!” (Matthew 28:19-20)
This is the source of our confidence. If we do what Jesus calls us to do, to love our neighbor as our self, which is the great command, and to share our faith, which is the great commission, Jesus promises he will always be with us. When I was in seminary I visited a friend of mine in the south side of Chicago. I was the only white boy but I wasn't afraid because Jim's nearly seven feet tall. I might've been in scarey surroundings but I had the big boy by my side; and so do you! That gives us confidence!
He also offers us connection. Not coincidentally when Jesus told Paul he would be with him
Paul's friends, Silas and Timothy had arrived. Before that he'd made new friends in Aquilla & Priscilla.
Other connections followed, with Titius Justus, a next door neighbor, with Crispus, the Jewish leader, along with his entire household, with Stephanus & family, Corinth's first converts, with Sosthenes, and Phoebe, Tertius, Erastus, Quartus, Chloe, Gaius, Fortunatus & Achaicus – all named in Paul's letters!
Paul was definitely NOT alone! Jesus was filling others with his Spirit and connecting them with Paul and with one another. That's why Christian community is so vital! This is the most profound and visible way Jesus assures us that he is with us. Paul was definitely NOT alone – and neither are you as you deepen your connections within the Body of Christ – the local family of believers.
What's more, Jesus promises: “I am with you..., for many people in this city belong to me.” (Acts 18:10) He's saying that when you go about sharing your faith, in word and deed, he has already gone ahead of you to claim the people around you for himself. He does this by creating circumstances and moving his Spirit in peoples hearts in order to prepare the soil for you to plant seeds of the gospel.
Frank Laubach wrote of a method he uses to do this, seeking God's presence in interactions with people he meets by saying to God and the person in question, “Can I help you connect?”
John, a peer of mine, applied this and found himself having a long conversation with Ted, his barber. Ted's wife, Joanne, cut John's mother's hair so John encouraged her to try it. Reluctantly she prayed while getting her hair cut, “Lord if you want me to talk to Joanne about you, you're going to have to give me some kind of sign, because I don't want to do it.”
Joanne's first words were. “Kathy, I understand you and your husband have some kind of small group Bible study at your house. Ted and I were wondering if we could come some time.”
Kathy took that as a sign. Joanne went on to tell her story. How her Dad would take her with him to a Jewish service on Saturdays and then her Catholic mom would send her upstairs with a rosary to ask God to forgive her for going. She left home as soon as she could and began drinking heavily.
She wound up in an AA meeting, referring to God as Ralph, out of defiance. She was probably the only Ralphist on the planet. Then one day, a man reeking of booze and vomit came in and the only words he was about to blurt out were, “Hi. I'm an alcholic. My name is Ralph”. Joanne started to cry, “That's not my God!” Later in Kathy's home she and Ted opened their hearts to the presence of God.
As it turned out a hair salon became Beth-el – the place where the presence of God became real. Jesus was present with John as he prayed there, and then with Ted, then Kathy and Joanne. Jesus is for real. He lives! He reminded Paul of this, as he does you and me, so that we won't hold back. So “Don't be afraid! Speak out...! For I am with you...,” Jesus says, “I am going out ahead of you!”