Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
Finding Friends in Low Places
The recent plunges by the world stock markets, bank failures, fortunes lost, even suicides by financial planners?all bring back chilling reminders of the Great Depression. 25% of Americans were unemployed. People couldn?t find work that lasted and many people lost their homes. Discouragement was at an all time high and if Prozac had been available then, it would have poured out of pharmacies. No, I don?t believe we are in for GD 2.0 (that?s Great Depression 2.0), but it reminds me that hard times can fall generally on a nation or a world, and on the individually on our lives as well. It seems that sometimes everything we touch turns to dust, rather than gold. It?s at those times when you really feel like giving up. You have no money, jobs are scarce, people don?t like you and even ministry is dry. Who am I describing? The Apostle Paul.
Paul has had a real roller coaster experience since launching his second missionary journey. He thought he was going the right direction but twice the Holy Spirit told him ?no.? He would go to a city and though there was initial excitement about the gospel, sooner or later the jealous Jews would run him out of town. He ended up in Athens where most of the reigning philosophers dismissed him.
He finds himself in Corinth, without friends, a job, money, or a ministry. At nearly his lowest point, the Lord brings him support when he needs it, just as he does for us as well. Let?s see how it happens.
1 ? 4
Corinth is strategically located on isthmus connecting the Adriatic and Aegean Seas. In Paul?s time it was a city of 200,000 Greeks, freedmen from Italy, Roman army veterans, businessmen, government officials, and a large number of Jews.
It was a commercially prosperous city, as cargo could be transported just 3 ? miles overland to avoid the dangerous journey by sea. The prosperity also brought with it great idolatry and immorality. Beginning with the 5th century to ?corinthianize? meant to be sexually immoral. Corinth was also the center for worship of Aphrodite.
Paul comes here from Athens, discouraged and defeated. ?And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling? (1 Corinthians 2:3). He?d had a hard time there, having escaped persecution Thessalonica, Berea, and then rejection by the philosophers in Athens.
Paul was a tent maker by trade, so he would rub elbows with others in the same trade, and that?s how he met Aquila and Priscilla. These two had been forced out of Rome on January 25, A.D. 49 by Emperor Claudius. The problem occurred with riots ?at the instigation of Chrestus? according to Roman historian Suetonius. Many take this to mean ?Christ? which means the dispute in the Jewish community was over Jesus.
Paul supported himself in ministry. He needed a job and so worked with and probably for this couple who had a leather working and tent making firm with branches in Rome, Corinth, and Ephesus. Not only did they work together, but Paul lived with them.
Discouragement didn?t stop Paul, and it seems that the meeting with Priscilla and Aquila gave him the resources and support to go back to the synagogues and try again. First, isn?t it great to find those along the way that you can work with and still worship with? I still count it a real blessing that I had the opportunity to work with two Christian photographers during my time as a reporter in Portland. Second, have you ever been to someone who was discouraged a place of support? You may not think you have incredible spiritual gifts, but imagine if these two had spurned Paul, not wanting more trouble for themselves. You can have a key impact on someone else
5 ? 11
Remember how Paul had sent for these two to come to him when he was in Athens? They finally catch up with Paul in Corinth.
The pair brought good news from Thessalonica, a place where Paul thought he had limited success and much opposition. The good news helped Paul a lot!
1 Thessalonians 3:6-10 But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of? your faith and love and reported? that you always remember us kindly and? long to see us, as we long to see you? 7 for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction? we have been comforted about you through your faith. 8 For now we live, if you? are standing fast in the Lord. 9 For? what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, 10 as we pray most earnestly? night and day? that we may see you face to face and? supply what is lacking in your faith?
There was also some sort of slandering campaign about Paul?s motives (flattery and greed ? see 1 Thessalonians 2:5-8) and some questions about the second coming of Jesus (1 Thess 4:13-5:15). But also a gift of money came from Philippi (2 Cor 11:9, Philippians 4:14-15). This allowed Paul to be ?occupied? with teaching full time.
The incident in verse 6 marks a turning point in Paul?s ministry. In some ways it follows the pattern we?ve seen before ? Paul preaches to the Jews, they initially receive the good news, but then get jealous and cause problems, whereby Paul then goes to the Gentiles. Here he ?shook out his garments? like Nehemiah did in 5:13 when the returnees to Jerusalem were oppressing the poor. But now he basically goes next door, rents a hall, and starts a church! Now that?s chutzpah! ?
This same pattern had happened so often to Paul that he probably got to wondering if there was going to be a knock on the door and a riot of Jews forcing him to leave town once again. You?d get a complex too! So God gives Paul a vision one night and says some very encouraging words. It reminds me of what God told Elijah in 1 Kings 19. Elijah was dejected and alone and God told him that there were 7,000 who had not bowed the knee to Baal. God tells Paul that there are those right here who belong to me, and that he was to stay right there without fear of attack. The words came very true shortly thereafter.
12 ? 17
This little section may actually be Luke?s focus of this chapter. Gallio was a powerful individual. About eight or nine months after Paul set up shop in Corinth, Gallio came on the scene and the Jews tried him out to see if he would declare Paul?s preaching religio illicit ? an illicit or illegal religion against Roman law. He did no such thing but basically decided that Christianity was a variant of Judaism. The decision would hold merit in other jurisdictions as well and provided a good ten years before Rome?s official stance toward Christianity changed.
18 ? 23
In the spring of A.D.52, nine months after Gallio?s decision, Paul journeys back to Jerusalem to fulfill a vow. This was probably a Nazirite vow, which had to be completed in Jerusalem, with the presentation of the hair as a sacrifice.
Priscialla and Aquila go with Paul (we don?t know what happens to Silas and Timothy). The two tent makers set up a business branch in Ephesus and host a church in their home (1 Corinthians 16:19). After four or five years they returned to Rome.
Ephesus was where Paul had wanted to go earlier, but now that he?s there, he won?t stay, perhaps because of the vow. But he?ll be back. He goes to Jerusalem (though the city name is not mentioned) and after a 30 day purification, presents his sacrifice, then goes back to Antioch and on a third missionary journey back through the cities he visited in the first two.
24 ? 28
The focus now goes back to Ephesus where Apollos shows up. From Alexandria, North Africa, Apollos knew the Hebrew scriptures well, and also knew that Jesus was the Messiah, but his knowledge was incomplete about the totality of what Jesus had done, having heard it from disciples of John the Baptist.
Priscilla and Aquila did not berate him or embarrass him, but took him aside and ?explained to him the way of God more accurately.? Apollos goes back to where Paul had come from and takes up the standard.
Look at the way God worked on behalf of Paul. We might conclude that all his misdirections were mistakes and that his current state of affairs in Corinth were a direct result of him not hearing the ?perfect will of God.? But I think Paul walked exactly the hard road God wanted for him, and He worked it out perfectly for the ministry, the gospel, and even for Paul himself.
If he had not gone to Thessalonica, Berea, and then Athens, he might not have been in Corinth at the same time as Priscilla and Aquila. They provided him friendship, shelter, and a job. They might not then have gone to Ephesus with Paul and set up a church there?and not met Apollos, who got a Pauline accurate view of Jesus and went right back to the places Paul had been kicked out of to continue Paul?s ministry under the protection of a Roman edict. How cool is that?
So where are you? Do you feel low today? God put some very key people on Paul?s side just when he needed it, and he will do the same for you. Perhaps it will by an unexpected new friendship in the Lord, or perhaps by something external to you that provides a respite (like Gallio did for Paul). Know that the path you are on, if you just stick to the Lord, will end up for good, not bad (even if bad things happen along the way).
And now best of all that the friend you really need is there, right by your side, as close as your next breath?the Lord himself. ?For I am with you? God told Paul. He tells us the same thing. The Lord said ?I will never leave you nor forsake you.?? (Heb 13:5), and Paul himself later wrote:
Romans 8:31-39 What then shall we say to these things?? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32? He who did not spare his own Son but? gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God\'s elect?? It is God who justifies. 34? Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died?more than that, who was raised? who is at the right hand of God,? who indeed is interceding for us.? 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
?\"For your sake? we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.\"
37 No, in all these things we are more than? conquerors through? him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.