Sketches From The Life of Paul
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 10: Paul at Corinth
Paul did not wait at Athens for his brethren, Silas and Timothy, but leaving word for them to follow him, went at once to Corinth. Here he entered upon a different field of labor from that which he had left. Instead of the curious and critical disciples of schools of philosophy, he came in contact with the busy, changing population of a great center of commerce. Greeks, Jews, and Romans, with travelers from every land, mingled in its crowded streets, eagerly intent on business and pleasure, and having little thought or care beyond the affairs of the present life.
Corinth was one of the leading cities, not only of Greece, but of the world. Situated upon a narrow neck of land between two seas, it commanded the trade of both the east and the west. Its position was almost impregnable. A vast citadel of rock, rising abruptly and perpendicularly from the plain to the height of two thousand feet above the level of the sea, was a strong natural defense to the city and its two sea-ports. Corinth was now more prosperous than Athens, which had once taken the lead. Both had experienced severe vicissitudes; but the former had risen from her ruins, and was far in advance of her former prosperity, while the latter had not reached to her past magnificence. Athens was the acknowledged center of art and learning; Corinth, the seat of government and trade.
This large mercantile city was in direct communication with Rome, while Thessalonica, Ephesus, [p. 99] Alexandria, and Antioch were all easy of access, either by land or water. An opportunity was thus presented for the spread of the gospel Once established at Corinth, it would be readily communicated to all parts of the world.
Yet the apostle saw on every hand serious obstacles to the progress of his work. The city was almost wholly given up to idolatry. Venus was the favorite goddess; and a great number of dissolute women were employed in connection with the worship of this reigning deity, for the purpose of attracting the devotees of popular vice. The Corinthians had become conspicuous, even among the heathen, for their gross immorality.
There was now a much larger number of Jews in Corinth than at any previous time. This people had been generally favored by the ruling powers. and treated with much consideration. But for some time they had been growing arrogant and insubordinate, and after they had rejected and crucified Christ, the light of the world, they followed their own darkened understanding, manifested more openly their envy and hatred of the powers that governed them, and proudly boasted of a king of the Jews who was to come with great power, overthrow their enemies, and establish a magnificent kingdom. It was in view of this vague belief that they had rejected the Saviour. The same malignant spirit that actuated them in their persecution of the Son of God led them to rebel against the Roman government. They were continually creating seditions and insurrections, until they were finally driven from Rome because of their turbulent spirit. Many of them found refuge in Corinth.
Among the Jews who took up their residence here were many who were innocent of the wrongs that [p. 100] prevailed among them as a people. Of this class were Aquila and Priscilla, who afterward became distinguished as believers in Christ. Paul, becoming acquainted with the character of these excellent persons, abode with them; and having in his youth learned their trade of making tents, which were much used in that warm climate, he worked at this business for his own support.
The Hebrews had been instructed of God, by his servant Moses, to train up their children to industrious habits. That people were thus led to look upon indolence as a great sin, and their children were all required to learn some trade by which, if necessary, they could gain a livelihood. Those who neglected to do this were regarded as departing from the instruction of the Lord. Labor was considered elevating in its nature, and the children were taught to combine religion and business. In the time of Christ, the Jews, though wealthy, still followed their ancient custom.
Paul was highly educated, and was admired for his genius and eloquence. He was chosen by his countrymen as a member of the Sanhedrim, and was a Rabbi of distinguished ability; yet his education had not been considered complete, until he had served an apprenticeship at some useful trade. He rejoiced that he was able to support himself by manual labor, and frequently declared that his own hands had ministered to his necessities. While in a city of strangers, he would not be chargeable to any one. When his means had been expended to advance the cause of Christ, he resorted to his trade in order to gain a livelihood.
No man ever lived who was a more earnest, energetic, and self-sacrificing disciple of Christ than was Paul. He was one of the world's greatest [p. 101] teachers. He crossed the seas, and traveled far and near, until a large portion of the world had learned from his lips the story of the cross of Christ. He possessed a burning desire to bring perishing men to a knowledge of the truth through a Saviour's love. His whole soul was engaged in the work of the ministry; but he seated himself to the labor of his humble trade that he might not be burdensome to the churches that were pressed with poverty. Although he had planted many churches, he refused to be supported by them, fearing that his usefulness and success as a minister of Christ might be injured by suspicions that he was preaching the gospel for gain. He would remove from his enemies all occasion to misrepresent him, and thus to detract from the force of his message.
As a laborer in the gospel, Paul might have claimed support, instead of sustaining himself; but this right he was willing to forego. Although feeble in health, he labored during the day in serving the cause of Christ, and then toiled a large share of the night, and frequently all night, that he might make provision for his own and others' necessities. The apostle would also give an example to the Christian ministry, dignifying and honoring industry. While thus preaching and working, he presented the highest type of Christianity. He combined teaching with his labor; and while toiling with those of his trade, he instructed them concerning the way of salvation. In pursuing this course, he had access to many whom he could not otherwise have reached.
When ministers feel that they are suffering great hardships and privations in the cause of Christ, let them in imagination visit the workshop [p. 102] of the apostle Paul, bearing in mind that while this chosen man of God is fashioning the canvas, he is working for bread which he has justly earned by his labors as an apostle of Christ. At the call of duty, he would meet the most violent opponents, and silence their proud boasting, and then he would resume his humble employment. His zeal and industry should be a rebuke to indolence or selfish ease in the minister of Christ. Any labor that will benefit humanity or advance the cause of God, should be regarded as honorable.
In preaching the gospel at Corinth, the apostle adopted a different course of action from that which had marked his labors at Athens. While in the latter place, he had adapted his style to the character of his audience; and much of his time had been devoted to the discussion of natural religion, matching logic with logic, and science with science. But when he reviewed the time and labor which he had there devoted to the exposition of Christianity, and realized that his style of teaching had not been productive of much fruit, he decided upon a different plan of labor in the future. He determined to avoid elaborate arguments and discussions of theories as much as possible, and to urge upon sinners the doctrine of salvation through Christ. In his epistle to his Corinthian brethren, he afterward described his manner of laboring among them:—
"And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and may preaching was not with [p. 103] enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power; that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God."
Here the apostle has given the most successful manner of converting souls from ignorance and the darkness of error, to the light of truth. If ministers would follow more closely the example of Paul in this particular, they would see greater success attending their efforts. If all who minister in word and doctrine would make it their first business to be pure in heart and life, and to connect themselves closely with Heaven, their teaching would have greater power to convict souls.
When Christ was upon earth, the Jews all over the land were notified to watch his movements, for their religion was not safe where his influence was felt. He was continually followed by spies, who caught up every word and act which they could use against him. Paul had to meet the same spirit of opposition and blind prejudice. He preached first in the synagogue, reasoning from Moses and the prophets, showing what sins the Lord had most severely punished in olden times, and that murmuring and rebellion was the grievous crime that had brought God's displeasure upon the people of his choice.
He brought his hearers down through the types and shadows of the ceremonial law to Christ,—to his crucifixion, his priesthood, and the sanctuary of his ministry,—the great object that had cast its shadow backward into the Jewish age. He, as the Messiah, was the Antitype of all the sacrificial offerings. The apostle showed that according to the prophecies and the universal expectation of the Jews, the Messiah would be of the [p. 104] lineage of Abraham and David. He then traced his descent from the great patriarch Abraham, through the royal psalmist. He proved from Scripture what were to have been the character and works of the promised Messiah, and also his reception and treatment on earth, as testified by the holy prophets. He then showed that these predictions also had been fulfilled in the life, ministry, and death of Jesus, and hence that he was indeed the world's Redeemer.
The most convincing proof was given that the gospel was but the development of the Hebrew faith. Christ was to come for the special benefit of the nation that was looking for his coming as the consummation and glory of the Jewish system. The apostle then endeavored to bring home to their consciences the fact that repentance for their rejection of Christ could alone save the nation from impending ruin. He rebuked their ignorance concerning the meaning of those Scriptures which it was their chief boast and glory that they fully understood. He exposed their worldliness, their love of station, titles, and display, and their inordinate selfishness.
But the Jews of Corinth closed their eyes to all the evidence so clearly presented by the apostle, and refused to listen to his appeals. The same spirit which had led them to reject Christ, filled them with wrath and fury against Paul. They would have put an end to his life, had not God guarded his servant, that he might do his work, and bear the gospel message to the Gentiles.
"And when they opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean; from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles. And [p. 105] he departed thence, and entered into a certain man's house, named Justus, one that worshiped God, whose house joined hard to the synagogue." Silas and Timothy had joined Paul, and together they now labored for the Gentiles.
Paul did not bind himself nor his converts to the ceremonies and customs of the Jews, with their varied forms, types, and sacrifices; for he recognized that the perfect and final offering had been made in the death of the Son of God. The age of clearer light and knowledge had now come. And although the early education of Paul had blinded his eyes to this light, and led him to bitterly oppose the work of God, yet the revelation of Christ to him while on his way to Damascus had changed the whole current of his life. His character and works had now become a remarkable illustration of those of his divine Lord. His teaching led the mind to a more active spiritual life, that carried the believer above mere ceremonies. "For thou desirest not sacrifice, else would I give it. Thou delightest not in burnt-offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise."
The apostle did not labor to charm the ear with oratory, nor to engage the mind with philosophic discussions, which would leave the heart untouched. He preached the cross of Christ, not with labored eloquence of speech, but with the grace and power of God; and his words moved the people. "And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord, with all his house; and many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized."
The feelings of hatred with which many of the Jews had regarded the apostle were now intensified. The conversion and baptism of Crispus had the effect [p. 106] to exasperate instead of to convince these stubborn opposers. They could not bring arguments to show that he was not preaching the truth, and for lack of such evidence, they resorted to deception and malignant attack.
They blasphemed the truth and the name of Jesus of Nazareth. No words were too bitter, no device too low, for them to use in their blind anger and opposition. They could not deny that Christ had worked miracles; but they declared that he had performed them through the power of Satan; and they now boldly affirmed that the wonderful works of Paul were accomplished through the same agency.
Those who preach unpopular truth in our day are often met by the professed Christian world with opposition similar to that which was brought against the apostle by the unbelieving Jews. Many who make the most exalted profession, and who should be light-bearers to the world, are the most bitter and unreasonable in opposing the work of the chosen servants of God. Not satisfied with choosing error and fables for themselves, they wrest the Scriptures from the true meaning in order to deceive others and hinder from accepting the truth.
Though Paul had a measure of success, yet he became very weary of the sight of his eyes and the hearing of his ears in the corrupt city of Corinth, He doubted the wisdom of building up a church from the material he found there. He considered Corinth a very questionable field of labor, and determined to leave it. The depravity which he witnessed among the Gentiles, and the contempt and insult which he received from the Jews, caused him great anguish of spirit. [p. 107]
As he was contemplating leaving the city for a more promising field, and feeling very anxious to understand his duty in the case, the Lord appeared to him in a vision of the night, and said, "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." Paul understood this to be a command to remain in Corinth, and a guarantee that the Lord would give increase to the seed sown. Strengthened and encouraged, he continued to labor there with great zeal and perseverance for one year and six months. A large church was enrolled under the banner of Jesus Christ. Some came from among the most dissipated of the Gentiles; and many of this class were true converts, and became monuments of God's mercy and the efficacy of the blood of Christ to cleanse from sin.
The increased success of Paul in presenting Christ to the people, roused the unbelieving Jews to more determined opposition. They arose in a body with great tumult, and brought him before the judgment-seat of Gallio, who was then deputy of Achaia. They expected, as on former occasions of a similar character, to have the authorities on their side; and with loud and angry voices they preferred their complaints against the apostle, saying, "This fellow persuadeth men to worship God contrary to the law."
The proconsul, disgusted with the bigotry and self-righteousness of the accusing Jews, refused to take notice of the charge. As Paul prepared to speak in self-defense, Gallio informed him that it was not necessary. Then, turning to the angry accusers, he said, "If it were a matter of wrong or wicked lewdness, O ye Jews, reason would that I [p. 108] 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. And he drove them from the judgment-seat."
The decided course of Gallio opened the eyes of the clamorous crowd who had been abetting the Jews. For the first time during Paul's labors in Europe, the mob turned on the side of the minister of truth; and, under the very eye of the proconsul, and without interference from him, the people violently beset the most prominent accusers of the apostle. "Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment-seat. And Gallio cared for none of those things."
Gallio was a man of integrity, and would not become the dupe of the jealous and intriguing Jews. Unlike Pilate, he refused to do injustice to one whom he knew to be an innocent man. The Jewish religion was under the protection of the Roman power; and the accusers of Paul thought that if they could fasten upon him the charge of violating the laws of their religion, he would probably be given into their hands for such punishment as they saw fit to inflict. They hoped thus to compass his death.
Both Greeks and Jews had waited eagerly for the decision of Gallio; and his immediate dismissal of the case, as one that had no bearing upon the public interest, was the signal for the Jews to retire, baffled and enraged, and for the mob to assail the ruler of the synagogue. Even the ignorant rabble could but perceive the unjust and vindictive spirit which the Jews displayed in their attack upon Paul. Thus Christianity obtained a signal victory. If the apostle had been driven from Corinth [p. 109] at this time because of the malice of the Jews, the whole community of converts to the faith of Christ would have been placed in great danger. The Jews would have endeavored to follow up the advantage gained, as was their custom, even to the extermination of Christianity in that region.
It is recorded that Paul labored a year and six months in Corinth. His efforts, however, were not exclusively confined to that city, but he availed himself of the easy communication by land and water with adjacent cities, and labored among them both by letter and personal effort. He made Corinth his headquarters, and his long tarry and successful ministry there gave him influence abroad as well as at home. Several churches were thus raised up under the efforts of the apostle and his co-laborers. The absence of Paul from the churches of his care was partially supplied by communications weighty and powerful, which were received generally as the word of God to them through his obedient servant. These epistles were read in the churches.Click here to read the next chapter: "Epistles to the Thessalonians"