Tuesday, January 2, 2024

A Corinthian Vanity Fair (Acts 18:1-17)

"After these things Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth" (Acts 18:1).

Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians from Ephesus during his third missionary journey, A.D. 53–57 (16:8). Various indications found in Acts narrow the date of this letter to approximately A.D. 55 to 57, about five years after his first visit to Corinth.

The apostle founded the church of Corinth during his second missionary journey. He arrived at the bustling city alone, but with the help of a wealthy Jewish couple, Aquila and Priscilla, soon began a rapidly growing church. While in Corinth, Paul earned a living as a tent-maker, going to the synagogues every day to preach until the Jews refused to listen any longer, forcing him to turn from his own people and proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles, who responded with great fervor.

Corinth looked much like New York City or Bunyan’s Vanity Fair. It was one of the greatest of all Grecian cities, a melting pot of cultures, known for its wealth and depravity. “The supremacy enjoyed by the one Grecian State after another, had at last fallen to the lot of Corinth,” Hodge wrote. “It became the chief city of Greece, not only in authority, but in wealth, magnificence, literature, the arts, and in luxury.… Of all the cities of the ancient world it was most notorious for licentiousness.”

The church of Corinth had allowed the vices of the city to penetrate its sacred walls. Its growing worldliness—church politics, moral decadence, disorderly worship, and theological problems—created division and strife. If Paul’s letter seems to bounce from subject to subject, it is because he had so many problems to deal with. Distressed by the sins of the Corinthian church, the apostle wrote a letter in which he sounds more like a scolding father than a great evangelist. Urging them to put on the ways of Christ, he confronted every issue directly and compassionately.

It is not difficult to see why the Corinthian epistles are relevant today. The same sins of worldliness and corruption that threatened to rip apart the Corinthian church can be found festering in the church today. But just as God spoke to His people in Corinth, He speaks to us today through Paul’s letters, that we might put away all ungodliness and be conformed to Christ in holiness and purity.

Read Acts 18:1–17. Why would God need to tell Paul not to be afraid (v. 9–11)? How did God comfort him? Do you become easily discouraged that more people are not coming to Christ? Are you depressed by the depravity of the world? If so, meditate on what God told Paul. Find comfort in His sovereignty over the hearts of people.