Sermon for Sunday Evening, June 18th, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Act 18:7-17 ESV] 7 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. 8 Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. 9 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. 12 But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, 13 saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” 14 But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “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.” 16 And he drove them from the tribunal. 17 And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this.
Paul now has a bit of a reprieve from all the fleeing of towns under duress from mob attack and imprisonments. He is given some peace and spends a year and a half in the city of Corinth.
What does he do in that year and half?
Well, a number of things:
1. Brings the word to Crispus who comes to belief along with his household.
2. Bring the word to many in Corinth who come to belief.
3. Has a vision from the Lord regarding his safety.
4. Teaches the word of God among the Corinthians.
5. Is protected by Gallio from Sosthenes, fulfilling the vision.
We could narrow this all down to two topics within this section.
2. Protected by God
And these relate to one another. God protects Paul so that Paul can teach and preach.
In the year and a half that he stays in Corinth he has time not only to proclaim the Gospel, as he did in other places, but to teach more deeply. And to make strong connections such that in later years he’ll write back to the church in Corinth in two letters.
We see that both preaching and teaching are important.
Preaching is that proclamation of the Gospel. Karusso (to proclaim) in Greek. But more often in Acts the word is euangelizo (to evangelize or to tell the good news). Only the most ardent (and errant) hyper-Calvinist would oppose the preaching of the Gospel. There have been a few through the ages who so over-emphasize the nature of God’s choosing man and predestination of man that they say “there is no need for preaching the Gospel.” They say “If man is to believe, then God can do it himself.” Well, while it is true that God can do what He wants, we are told in the Scriptures that he brings the word of God to people THROUGH the preaching. Through human preachers.
The classic passage is Romans 10:14-17 where Paul says:
[Rom 10:14-17 ESV] 14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
Preaching is necessary. And that is often the focus of Paul’s evangelistic labors, especially considering his short stays in many places.
But now, staying longer, he can also find time to teach.
He teaches the word of God among them. The Greek here is didasko like the English didactic. Or, in the early church, there was a catechism manual called the Didache. It is great that people hear the Gospel and believe, but then they are to taught, deeper and deeper in the word of God.
While some hyper-Calvinists oppose the preaching of the word, there are some … perhaps … Fundamentalists, and some persons disconnected from church and the Bible who implicitly oppose the teaching of the Word of God. These are persons who don’t like to go deeper than the bare bones of theology. Everything theological to them is “hair-splitting” and unnecessary. Well, Paul teaches for a year and half. He certainly must have taught SOMETHING. There is, I contend, much depth to theology, and even hundreds of years is insufficient to study it all. But it is a great blessing to study, and especially to have an apostle to study under for 18 months.
This, incidentally, reminds me of an old joke. A man, speaking to other alumni at a gathering back at his college, years after graduating said: “We are glad to be here today in these hallowed scenes and in these classic walls where our honored Professors sat on us — or we sat under them, if that sounds any better.”
Well, it is a great thing to have great teachers. We simply need teachers. While self-study is important, God has called some to be teachers and their wisdom and knowledge can give us much assistance and insight in our own intellectual pursuits. The man who shuns wisdom from preachers and theologians is a haughty man, thinking he knows it all himself. And while the Bible is perspicacious (that is, clear in its teaching) that clarity is better comprehended with guidance from many teachers.
Perhaps this is why the Lord gave us the witness of many in the New Testament. The Gospels are of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The epistles are of Paul, Peter, James, and John. We have many teachers. As as we read Christian authors we are to benefitted by reading many of them, always testing them against Scripture.
So it is that Paul both preaches and teaches in Corinth, and many come to belief. Crispus and his household along with many others.
God had said in a vision to Paul “I have many in this city who are my people.” And I think, this is not mainly speaking of those who already believe, but of those whom God knows WILL believe. So God protects Paul so that the preaching will go forth and the chosen people will believe.
In order to accomplish this task, God protects Paul. He says, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you,.”
In every other place, the Jews gather up forces to persuade the rulers to stop Paul’s preaching either with prison, stoning, or banishment from the city. And they try that again here, but God is not going to let it happen.
The Jews come to the tribunal of the city, of which Gallio was head, and say of Paul, “”This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” But Gallio’s response is somewhat similar to that original response of Pontius Pilate, these are matters of your Jewish law, not ours. And so he says “I refuse to be a judge of these things.”
Now, here I am somewhat confused. Crispus was the leader of the synagogue but for some reason is no longer so. Sosthenes is the ruler. And, most commentators say that Sosthenes is the Jew (not a Christian) that leads the Jewish mob against Paul but is driven from the tribunal and beaten by the Jews because he didn’t succeed at the task. But, it doesn’t make much sense to beat your own leader and the wording of “they beat him in front of the tribunal and Gallio paid no attention” looks more to me like Sosthenes was a Christian and the Jews beat him for that. And this matches the fact that Sosthenes is mentioned as a Christian in Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians.
Regardless of what happened and why, the central point is that Paul was protected so that he could preach and teach.
What are we to make of this in our day?
For one, we should be glad that we are able to preach and teach the word of God relatively un-molested by authorities. Yes, during Covid the government overreach was getting pretty bad. But, we are blessed to not be threatened by a mob and thrown out of town like Paul so frequently dealt with.
There is also perhaps the greater message here, that God’s will shall be done and we need not worry. We are to press forward under his protection. He is with us.
We are to serve God without fear.
For God is with us.
So how does Paul do this? Does he do good works hoping that others will by osmosis do the same? Does he show his faith through his actions? Perhaps. But above all, what does he do? He preaches the Gospel and teaches the Christians the truths of God. Preaching the word of God, using words, because words are necessary.
Paul had been run out of town after town, and maybe he was planning to leave shortly. We’re not told. But God made it clear to him that he is to stay there, and will be protected.
It is difficult for us to know when to stay and when to go. As the old song said “If I go there will be trouble, if I stay there will be double.”
But look, whether Paul stays or goes, he preaches the Gospel.
We should consider that in our lives as well. Wherever God calls us to (like Paul to Corinth) or calls us away from (like Paul away from Asia), we are not to change our ways. Wherever Paul goes, he lives the life of a Christian evangelist. And wherever we go, we are to lead Christian lives. Not all are called to full-time evangelism, but all must be prepared to give a defense for the reason for the hope that we have in Jesus Christ.
So then, know that God is with you. He protects you. And he calls you to life for him, wherever you go.
Wherever you go, be Christian. The world says wherever you go, follow your heart. But the Bible says the heart is desperately wicked. Don’t follow your heart, follow Christ. In all places.