|Lesson 1||Dec 28 - Jan 3|
|The Gospel Invades Corinth|
Read For This Week's Study: Acts 18:1-18; 1 Cor. 1:1-9; 16:1-24.
Memory Text: "Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Corinthians 1:8, 9).
Key Thought: The success of Paul's mission to Corinth convincingly demonstrates the power of God's grace. To the citizens of this important city, the good news about Jesus Christ came with the same transforming power that is available to us today.
|Sabbath Afternoon||December 27|
CORINTH: HUB OF IMMORALITY OR CENTER FOR CHRISTIAN MISSION? We are often tempted to limit the bounds of God's power to transform lives. The word can't springs all too readily to our lips. Corinth was a large, wealthy, and geographically important city that offered its citizens all the pressures and temptations of a bustling urban environment. To establish thriving Christian congregations in such a place was a challenging assignment. Many converts would come directly from paganism. And their lives, once molded by immorality, had to be shaped by the values of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul, who knew well the transforming power of God's grace, was able to look beyond the seemingly unbeatable challenges to see in Corinth a strategic center for Christian mission.
Do we see limitless opportunities for mission in spite of formidable obstacles?
PAUL--TENTMAKER AND PROCLAIMER (Acts 18:1-8).
With whom did Paul form a partnership in Corinth? Acts 18:1-3.
Because of an edict of Roman Emperor Claudius expelling Jews from Rome, Aquila and Priscilla ("Prisca" in Paul's letters) came to Corinth. The pair were highly mobile (Acts 18:18; 1 Cor. 16:19; Rom. 16:3; 2 Tim. 4:19) and were, apparently, entrepreneurs who conducted a wide-ranging trade in tents and leather goods. They apparently already were Christians when they arrived.
To what missionary purpose did Paul commit his Sabbaths? Acts 18:4.
Paul's work as "tentmaker" also played an important role in his outreach methods. "We worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God" (1 Thess. 2:9, NRSV). This verse suggests that Paul most likely shared the gospel in the workplace. Rising early and working late, bent over the workbench, we can imagine him proclaiming a risen Lord to his customers.
What succeeding events occurred in Paul's ministry in Corinth? How would you rate his success? Acts 18:5-8.
Titius Justus is described as "a worshiper of God" (verse 7, NRSV). This phrase, like "[one] who feared God" (Acts 10:2; 13:16, 26; 17:4, 17), indicates a non-Jew who had been drawn to worship of the one true God without becoming a full Jewish convert.
Acts 18:1-8, with its portrait of workplace and synagogue, opens a window onto the large and cosmopolitan colony of Corinth, where Greeks, Romans, and Jews mingle in commerce and worship with people of all nations and creeds. When Paul wrote that there are "many gods" (1 Cor. 8:5, NIV), he spoke appropriately of Corinth. Statuary, coins, and temples reflected the worship of these gods, including Apollo, Athena, Tyche, Aphrodite, Asclepius, Demeter and Kore, Palaimon and Sisypus.
How successfully are you using your workplace to share your love for Christ? What fresh strategies could you employ? Share with your class a fresh and effective approach you may have used in reaching out to someone.
DISCOURAGEMENT FROM BELOW, ENCOURAGEMENT FROM ON HIGH (Acts 18:9-17).
Have there been times when your witness to friends and neighbors seemed in vain? Compare your experience to Paul's in Acts 18:9-11.
"Though Paul had a measure of success in Corinth, yet the wickedness that he saw and heard in that corrupt city almost disheartened him. The depravity that he witnessed among the Gentiles, and the contempt and insult that he received from the Jews, caused him great anguish of spirit. He doubted the wisdom of trying to build up a church from the material that he found there." --The Acts of the Apostles, p. 250.
At this moment, Paul's dedication to mission in Corinth was buoyed by a direct message from the risen Christ. The message ended with these words, "There are many in this city who are my people" (Acts 18:10, NRSV). This message bears repeating. In your city and in mine there are people who already belong to God. Ours is the joyous task of discovering them!
After 18 months in Corinth, what events occurred to disrupt Paul's ministry? How is God's promise of personal safety to Paul fulfilled? Acts 18:12-17.
An inscription by Emperor Claudius, found at Delphi in Greece, confirms the historical background reflected in Acts 18. It refers to "Junius Gallio my friend, and proconsul of Achaia" and seems to date Gallio's rule to AD 51/52.
Paul's dedication to his converts was not temporary. He remained after the disturbance, completing some 18 months of ministry during his second missionary journey (A.D. 51-52). Sometime after his departure and before writing 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote them a letter, now lost (1 Cor. 5:9), word having come from Chloe's people and others with regard to the church (1:11; 16:17). And having received a letter from the Corinthians themselves (1 Cor. 7:1), Paul authored 1 Corinthians around A.D. 57, before his departure from Ephesus on his third journey (1 Cor. 16:8).
In what practical ways do you attempt to confirm the faith of fellow believers, including those you have helped win to Christ? Are you sometimes less attentive to people's spiritual needs after they join the church? Why?
SAINTS . . . IN CORINTH? (1 Cor. 1:1-9).
As is the case with most of Paul's letters and with ancient letters in general, 1 Corinthians begins with an introduction (prescript) and a thanksgiving (verses 4-9).
How did Paul address the Christians in Corinth? 1 Cor. 1:2, 3.
Paul used the phrases sanctified and called to be saints to describe his readers. The terms sanctified and saints are both based on the Greek word hagios, "holy."
What attitudes does the society in which you live have about holiness or being holy?
Corinth had a proud history and was strategically important, located as it was on the isthmus of Greece and serviced by two seaports (Lechaeum and Cenchreae). It was a wealthy city, especially noted for the advanced crafts of shipbuilding and architecture, as well as the manufacture of textiles and ceramics. However, for all its advantages, Corinth was not holy.
In an earlier era, authors from the competing city of Athens slandered Corinth by coining the terms to Corinthianize meaning "to fornicate," and a Corinthian girl, meaning "a prostitute." One author portrayed Corinth as having 1,000 prostitutes in the service of the goddess Aphrodite.
Corinth may have been no more nor less immoral than other similar cities. However, as Paul's letter indicates, the temptations of sexual immorality, idolatry, and gluttony (1 Cor. 5; 6:12-20; 8; 11:17-22) pressed upon the believers. And they were all too ready to yield. From the beginning, Paul focused on the sanctifying work of Christ on their behalf and called them to spiritual excellence. He reminded them that they are (not will be) sanctified and called to be saints.
Our submission to Christ and to His sanctifying work is what it takes to experience spiritual growth and maturity in Him. "Every weak, doubting, struggling soul who yields fully to the Lord is placed in direct touch with agencies that enable him to overcome. Heaven is near him, and he has the support and help of angels of mercy in every time of trial and need."--The Acts of the Apostles, p. 299.
Do you need to hear afresh the assurance of Christ's sanctifying work for you and His call to spiritual excellence?
"OUR LORD, COME!" (1 Cor. 1:1-9; 16:21-24).
One means that helps us understand an essay or a book is to read its introduction and conclusion before reading the rest of the document. Such an approach often helps to highlight concerns that are important to the author.
What concerns mark the introductory and concluding verses of 1 Corinthians? 1 Cor. 1:1-9; 16:21-24.
Paul's love for his converts shines through the introduction and conclusion of 1 Corinthians. His passionate concern and his desire that grace be evident in their lives is clear. And Paul's belief in the Second Coming is equally vivid. Christians await "the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 1:7, NRSV). And Paul's joyful confidence in God's faithfulness is an inspiration to those of us who await Christ's soon return.
Compare how Revelation also reflects a belief in the Second Coming in both its introduction and conclusion. Rev. 1:1-8; 22:20-21.
The conclusions of both Revelation and 1 Corinthians contain the heartfelt call, "Come, Lord Jesus" (Rev. 22:20, NRSV); "Our Lord, come!" (1 Cor. 16:22). The call in 1 Corinthians is couched in the Aramaic phrase marana tha, the only use of the words in the New Testament and is especially powerful because Paul has just pronounced a curse, anathema, against anyone who rejects Christ (compare Gal. 1:8, 9). Anathema. Marana tha. The words occur together in the Greek text. For Paul, anathema is appropriate to the one who refuses to love Christ. But the cry of those moved by love for their Saviour is Marana tha, "Our Lord, come!"
Notice, again, the three elements present in Paul's introduction and conclusion:
Which of these three elements do you think is most essential to Seventh-day Adventists at this time in earth's history? Explain. Which do you need to emphasize most in your Christian experience just now and why?
THE COLLECTION FOR THE SAINTS (1 Cor. 16:1-20).
What is "the collection for the saints"? (16:1). Explain why it was so important for Paul's ministry. 1 Cor. 16:1-4 (2 Cor. 8, 9).
"The collection for the saints" features prominently in Paul's letters and seems to have been his project for nearly twenty years. One central concern of his was the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles within the church (see especially Eph. 2:11-22). The collection of funds from his largely Gentile churches to aid impoverished Jewish believers in Jerusalem gave Paul a practical way in which to manifest his desire for reconciliation between these groups.
Such a project also reflects Paul's belief in the words of Isaiah 58:6-8 and Matthew 25:34-46. How we treat those less fortunate than ourselves reflects in a major way our love for the Lord.
How would you respond to a friend who quotes 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 in favor of Sunday's being the day on which the earliest Christians worshiped? On the other hand, how would you emphasize the larger picture of our concern for others' needs?
Paul encourages the Corinthians to make advance preparation for "the collection for the saints," which is to be gathered when he next arrives. "The context has little to do with church assemblies. What is called for is the private budgeting of an individual."--D. R. de Lacy, "Holy Days," Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, ed. Gerald F. Hawthorne and others (Downers Grove, III.: InterVarsity Press, 1993), p.404. The passage may actually be taken as evidence for the continuing significance of Sabbath among Paul's churches. The "putting aside" is an individual act done at home and likely represents the use of the first day for financial activity that would have been judged inappropriate on the Christian Sabbath.
What concerns did Paul express about the treatment of such faithful Christian leaders as Timothy, Apollos, and members of "the household of Stephanas"? 1 Cor. 16:5-20.
Outline practical steps you can take to encourage reconciliation in your church and respect for its leaders. Share such steps in the class and suggest ways for implementation.
Further Study: At what other points in Paul's ministry does he receive a vision or dream? See Acts 9:1-19 (compare 22:6-16; 26:l2-20); 16:6-10; 22:17-21; 23:11; 27:21-26; l Cor. 15:3-8; 2 Cor. 12:1-10.
Chapter 24 in The Acts of the Apostles, "Corinth," pp. 243-254, traces Paul's early ministry in the city.
To supplement this week's lesson, consult a good Bible dictionary, such as The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, for information on the city of Corinth and an introduction to 1 Corinthians as a whole.
|1. On the idea of honoring Christian leaders,
Thessalonians 5:12, 13 and
2:25-30. How can we provide both constructive criticism and respect
to those who serve us as leaders?
2. List the top five factors that make spreading the gospel difficult in your area. How can such factors be turned into occasions for God's intervention in the hearts and lives of your neighbors? Pray for them and for opportunities to reach them.
3. You have just listened to a lengthy lamentation about the challenges facing "our youth" and how often they "fall away." Much of the speech rings true. Based on this week's lesson, how would you respond in a way that reflects the living hope and faith of Paul?
Summary: Paul's courageous example in pressing the Christian mission in Corinth calls us to reexamine our sometimes unsuccessful efforts to proclaim the gospel. His call to spiritual excellence, vibrant belief in Christ's return, and dedication to reconciliation likewise invite our self-examination. Can we, with full voice, cry, "Our Lord, come!"
J. H. Zachary
The people arrived at the beach in trucks, buses, jeeps, and motorcycles for the mass baptism following evangelistic crusades in the Philippines. After a worship service on the beach, 30 pastors stood in the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean and baptized nearly 1,000 people. After the service a man gave his testimony.
His name is Baget. He is a member of the B'Laan tribe, an animist people living on the island of Mindanao. For years, he had robbed-- and sometimes killed--his victims. He had earned a well-deserved reputation as a ruthless murderer, and was feared by the community.
But one day a glorious being appeared to Baget. His face was kind, and shone like the sun. He told Baget, "You must worship the God of heaven on Sabado [Saturday], God's holy day." Then the being was gone. Baget was stunned. He tried to recall the being's words. Worship the God of heaven? On Sabado? This was something new to Baget. The Christians he had encountered all worshiped on Sunday. Why would this glorious being tell him to worship on another day?
The shining being returned to Baget several times. Each time he revealed more of what Bagel must do to worship the true God. Baget told his village elders of the being's visits and messages. The villagers, impressed by the visions, decided to obey.
When Sunday-keeping missionaries entered the village, the villagers rejected their messages, for they did not teach the same truths as the glorious being. Then the local Adventist mission heard about the angel visits and sent a lay preacher to study with the people. As Baget and the villagers listened, they recognized that the lay preacher's teachings were the same as the glorious visitor's. They welcomed the lay preacher and joined his Bible studies.
Following recent evangelistic meetings, Baget brought 25 of his fellow B'Laan people to the mass baptism in the ocean to be baptized. Baget's life is a testimony to God's power to transform. Today Baget teaches others about Christ. Nearly 200 new believers worship in the two churches Baget has helped raise up.
J. H. Zachary is director of Evangelism for The Quiet Hour.
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