The Search for God’s People—Part 5

Establishing the Brethren at Corinth

PAUL was forced through persecution to hurriedly leave Berea. His two traveling companions—Silas, whom he left behind in Berea, and Timothy, who had gone to Thessalonica—were left the message that they should join him in Athens, where they would resume their journey together. But as circumstances would have it, both brethren were considerably delayed, and when Paul could wait no longer he went on alone to Corinth. Soon after he reached that city he began working at his trade of tent-making in order to secure a living for awhile. This led him to become acquainted with fellow tent-makers, Aquila and Priscilla. This Jewish couple were new arrivals in Corinth, after the edict to expel all Jews from Rome had been enacted by Emperor Claudius.

No doubt circumstances were directed by God, who desired that these two devoted brethren should come to a better knowledge of his plan, gaining an understanding of his calling, through association with the apostle. Paul was invited to live in their home. He stayed with them for about two years, laboring together in their common trade and enjoying the wonderful fellowship of the Gospel. It is likely that Aquila and Priscilla were the first brethren in Corinth to learn of God’s plan, and to be immersed into the body of Christ.

They also were of great assistance to Paul in his ministry there. The Scriptures tell of their devotion and zeal for the truth. In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote, “Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my helpers in Christ Jesus: who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house.” (Rom. 16:3,4,5) This salutation is indeed fitting tribute to their characters, and evidences their readiness to lay down their lives for their brother. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Those early Christians were literally put to the test, and have left a legacy of martyrdom as proof of their brotherly love.

These faithful friends were addressed again by Paul in one of his letters: “Salute Prisca and Aquila.”—II Tim. 4:19

Later, when Paul went to Ephesus, he stayed with Aquila and Priscilla, who had since moved to that city. From their home he wrote to the brethren in Corinth saying, “The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.” (I Cor. 16:19) We note that in Ephesus, Aquila and Priscilla’s home was one of the places where the brethren held meetings. They served willingly in every way and indeed were true brethren in Christ.

The importance of such brethren cannot be overemphasized. The work being done by the Lord in this Gospel Age does not rest solely upon the shoulders of more prominent brethren. This lesson is emphasized in the Manna, March 8, which brings to our attention the text, “God hath set the members everyone of them in the body as it hath pleased him.” (I Cor. 12:18) The comments on this scripture read:

“No member of the body of Christ can say that he has no need for another member, and no member may say that there is nothing whatever that he can do in the service of the body. Under the guidance of our glorious Head each member who is filled with his Spirit, and desirous of serving him, may do so. When the time for rewards shall have come, who knows how much of the usefulness of Paul and Apollos may be accredited to some of the humble ones, such as Aquila and Priscilla, who in various ways ministered to and encouraged and supported their abler brethren in the Lord’s work.”

Going back to Paul’s arrival in Corinth, we read in Acts 18:4 of his initial ministry in the synagogue. His reasoning on the Scriptures apparently was forceful, but not controversial, and he was able to persuade both Jews and Gentiles who heard his message. However, from the record of subsequent scriptures, it appears that Paul was very careful in his presentation of the Gospel of Christ. The memory of experiences during his first journey when overzealous Jews incited riots against him, and stoned him nearly to the point of death, as well as his recent experiences in Thessalonica and Berea, caused him to be more subdued and cautious when preaching the truth.

Then Silas and Timothy finally arrived from Berea and Thessalonica with a good report. The brethren in these cities, particularly in Thessalonica, were suffering severe persecution at the hands of both Jews and Gentiles. But they were receiving these experiences well, and were growing in grace and knowledge. Paul later told of the comfort he received from Timothy’s words. “Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellow-laborer in the Gospel of Christ [was sent] to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith; that no man should be moved by these afflictions, for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto. For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know. For this cause, when I could no longer forbear, I sent to know your, faith, lest by some means the tempter have tempted you, and our labor be in vain. But now, when Timotheus came from you unto us, and brought us good tidings of your faith and charity, and that ye have good remembrance of us always, desiring greatly to see us, as we also to see you. Therefore brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith!”—I Thess. 3:2-7

This report made Paul so glad it inspired him to speak out more boldly to the Jews in the synagogue concerning Jesus. Luke states, “When Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ.” (Acts 18:5) This straightforward message had an immediate and expected effect. Many Jews began to ridicule and oppose Paul, blaspheming him violently. In exasperation he denounced them, telling them he was going to preach to them no more, but from that time on his message would go to the Gentiles. However, some had already accepted Paul’s Gospel message. Crispus, ruler of the synagogue, and his house, were among these. They believed ‘that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, and were immersed. Paul no longer used the synagogue, but instead accepted the offer of a home adjoining the synagogue for a meeting place. It was the home of a man named Justus. There Paul continued to preach to all who would listen, and a great many Gentiles heard the Gospel.

It is evident that the constant physical abuse and life-threatening experiences which accompanied Paul’s missionary work up to this time was taking its toll in the stamina and health of the apostle. Paul needed some rest from this kind of pressure, and so the Lord overruled circumstances for its accomplishment. The record states: “The Lord [spoke] 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.” (Acts 18:9,10) The Lord knew that Paul’s reticence in speaking out was because of the potentially hazardous situation it would undoubtedly cause. But in these words the Heavenly Father gave Paul the assurance that in Corinth he would overrule the opposition; enabling his preaching to have its greatest effect, because there were many people in that city God was seeking to call into the body of Christ.

And the Lord was true to his promise. No one hurt Paul during his stay in Corinth. Oh, he made many enemies! There were those’ who wanted to stop his preaching the message of Christ crucified and risen, but protection was given to him through the magistrates and civil rulers of Corinth. At one time there was a change of office in the province, when a new procounsel named Gallio took charge. The Jews, including Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, thinking it an appropriate time to take action against Paul, seized him and brought him before the new magistrate. They said, “This man persuaded men to worship God contrary to the Law.” (Acts 18:13, Diaglott) Paul was set to defend himself, but much to his surprise, there was no need for him to do so! Gallio spoke up and said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrong or wicked lewdness, O ye Jews, reason would that I should bear with you. But if it be a question of words and names, and of your Law, look ye to it; for I will be no judge of such matters.” (vss 14-16) Gallio must have had some previous acquaintance with the Jews and their Law; he would not be deceived into believing that Paul was violating civil law, and he sent them out of the tribunal.

Generally, when accusations of this sort were leveled against Paul, he would bear the brunt of a beating or imprisonment, being considered the cause of the turmoil or the riot. But on this occasion things were different. It was Sosthenes who was seized and summarily beaten, while Paul went unhurt. Yes, the Lord did indeed keep his promise, and in this instance caused the accusers and the attackers to suffer.

When some take courses contrary to the Lord’s will, corrective lessons may come to them as a result. These extreme measures are to help them realize the error of their ways. Sosthenes must have realized that the protection given to Paul by the magistrates was directed by God. It is very possible that he had talked with Crispus, the former ruler of the synagogue; who had been converted by Paul and who was aware that Paul had been assured God’s special protection. Sosthenes, pondering upon this experience, and no doubt receiving earnest sympathy from Paul for his injuries, began to attend the meetings, and soon was converted. Several years later, Paul, writing from Ephesus, included Sosthenes in sending greetings to the brethren at Corinth. His salutation reads: “Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother.” (I Cor. 1:1) This dear brother and beloved member of the class in Corinth had by that time come to Ephesus to assist Paul.

This obvious attempt by the Adversary to disrupt Paul’s work was unsuccessful. Paul continued his witnessing efforts in Corinth for another year and a half. During that time he also established a congregation in Cenchrea, a port city nearby. We do not know too much about the brethren from that city, except for a sister named Phoebe. We read about her in Romans 16:1,2: “Receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and … assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you; for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also.”

In that place Paul made a vow, apparently according to the law of the Nazarites, at the conclusion of which he shaved his head. (Acts 18:18) We do not know conclusively what the nature of the vow was, but might speculate that it involved making a difficult and hazardous trip to Jerusalem to visit the other apostles and brethren there.

Finally Paul bid farewell to the brethren of this new congregation, and set sail for Syria. Aquila and Priscilla sailed with Paul, their destination being Ephesus which was a port of call along the way. Paul took advantage of the ship’s layover in Ephesus to go to the synagogue and reason with the Jews. They wanted Paul to remain, but he could not—no doubt because of the vow he had taken. And so once again he resumed his voyage to his destination, Syria. However, since Aquila and Priscilla had taken up residence in Ephesus they were able to continue expounding the truth as opportunity afforded.—Acts 18:18-22

While Paul was completing this second journey and preparing for a third, another servant of the Lord, named Apollos, came through Ephesus. He was a Jew from Alexandria, well versed in the Scriptures and a gifted speaker—indeed he was an eloquent orator. He believed that Jesus was the Messiah, and preached this message with boldness in the synagogues of the Jews. He was fervent in spirit and understood many scriptures as having had their fulfillment in Jesus. However, his knowledge was incomplete as he only knew of the baptism of John. When he went to the synagogue in Ephesus and spoke about Jesus being the Messiah, he became acquainted with Aquila and Priscilla. They befriended him, taking him aside and explaining more accurately God’s plan, “the way of God.”—vss. 24-28

Apollos told Aquila and Priscilla of his plan to go to the province of Achaia. They wrote to the brethren at Corinth and exhorted them to receive him, which they did. Apollos was a welcome addition to their congregation. With his talent for speaking, and enthusiasm for the truth, he helped fill the void left by Paul’s departure.

Meanwhile, Paul arrived at Caesarea and from there he went to Jerusalem to see the apostles and the brethren, no doubt in keeping with his vow. In the Scriptural record of this visit so little is said that some have concluded that Paul’s welcome by the brethren there was not very warm. The account reads: “When he landed at Caesarea, and gone up, and saluted the church, he went down to Antioch.” (vs. 22) It is true that many brethren in Jerusalem were not enthused about the work being done among the Gentiles, and it is highly probable that his reception was disappointing. But, lacking specific information to this effect, it is also a possibility that Luke, the narrator, was merely being brief.

After leaving Jerusalem, Paul finally came to his journey’s end—his home class at Antioch, in Syria. We can be certain that they were happy to see him! It had been about three years since he had left Antioch with Silas as a fellow-traveler. Later, Timothy had joined them in Derbe, and Luke in Troas. Now Paul returned alone. Timothy and Silas had stayed in Corinth to help the brethren there. Luke was in Philippi. For what length of time Silas remained at Corinth, we do not know. He may have returned to Jerusalem after a short while, as he is no longer mentioned as Paul’s traveling companion or helper. Silas was mentioned by the Apostle Peter, and apparently became his assistant until Peter finished his course. (Silas is a contraction of Silvanus.)—I Pet. 5:12; I Thess. 1:1

During his third journey, Paul wrote to the brethren in Corinth on two occasions. In his second letter, written from Philippi, he reminded the brethren of the preaching done in their midst by himself, Timothy, and Silvanus. These three brethren had done a remarkable work in Corinth! God had used them to search out the people for his name whom he had known were in that city. A large congregation of brethren in Christ was firmly established there because of their faithful, courageous, and tireless efforts.

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