Pastor David B. Curtis


God Of All Comfort

Acts 18:1-17

Delivered 12/06/2009

We have been following Paul through his first and second missionary journeys, and what we have seen so far of Paul's missionary endeavors could give us the impression that Paul was superhuman. He had incredible courage, he appears to be fearless. For example, look at what happened on the first missionary journey:

But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. 20 But while the disciples stood around him, he arose and entered the city. And the next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe. (Acts 14:19-20 NASB)

Can you even imagine what it would be like to have a group of people pick up rocks and throw them at you until they thought you were dead? This would have to be a very painful experience!

Paul gets up and goes right on preaching! He even goes back to Lystra and encourages the believers to continue in the faith. That is boldness!

Then at Phillipi he is beaten and thrown in the inner prison where we find him singing praise to God. Paul seems like a super Christian, it's like nothing phases him.

If I had to pick words to describe the Apostle Paul, I would say, "bold," "fearless," "courageous," and "determined." I would not think of words like "fearful," "discouraged," "distressed," or "weak." And yet when Paul describes how he felt during his early days in Corinth, he uses "distress" (1 Thess. 3:7), "weakness," "fear," and "much trembling" (1 Cor. 2:3). Even though he was a giant in the faith, Paul struggled with the same emotions that we all struggle with, he was human.

Why was Paul feeling weak and fearful when he was in Corinth? We know that he had left four successive cities under duress--beaten, dismissed, harassed, and ridiculed. He was almost certainly alone. You may remember that when he was forced to leave Berea and went on to Athens, he left Timothy and Silas behind. So the spiritual concerns and discouragement about his ministry, the constant opposition, loneliness, physical pain, and weariness were weighing on Paul.

In our text for this morning Paul has left Athens and arrives in Corinth:

After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth. (Acts 18:1 NASB)

A Little About Corinth: Corinth was about 20 times as large as Athens at this time with a population of over 200,000 inhabitants. Corinth was the capital of the Roman province of Achaea, which included practically all of Greece. Corinth was located on the southwest end of the isthmus that joined the southern part of the Greek peninsula with the mainland to the north. Greece is divided geographically into two parts; the southern part, the Peloponnesus, is attached to the northern part by a very narrow, four-mile-wide isthmus. All north and south overland traffic, including the traffic to and from Athens, had to pass through Corinth.

The north and south traffic of Greece passed through Corinth of necessity, and the greater part of the east and west traffic of the Mediterranean passed through her by choice. The extreme southern tip of Greece was known as Cape Malea. To round this dangerous cape was to risk your life. The Greeks had two sayings which showed what they thought of it: "Let him who sails round Melea forget his home," and, "Let him who sails round Malea first make his will."

In consequence, mariners followed one of two courses: small ships were sailed up the Saronic Gulf, hauled across the isthmus on rollers, and then relaunched. Larger ships were unloaded at the isthmus and the cargo was carried across the isthmus and reloaded on another ship at the other side. This four mile journey across the isthmus saved a journey of two hundred miles around Cape Melea, the most dangerous cape in the Mediterranean.

The Corinthians controlled the east-west trade across the isthmus as well as trade between Peloponnesus and the area of Greece to the north. Corinth was a great center of commerce, a very wealthy city.

Although the city of Paul's day was a Roman city, the inhabitants continued to worship Greek gods. The city had a temple of Apollo, and a shrine to Apollo. In the city were shrines also to Hermes, Heracles, Athena, and Poseidon. Corinth had a famous temple dedicated to Asclepius, the god of healing, and his daughter Hygieia. Several buildings were constructed around the temple to house the sick who came for healing. The patients left replicas of body parts that had been healed at the temple. Some of these replicas have been found in the ruins.

The most significant pagan cult in Corinth was the cult of Aphrodite. The worship of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, flourished in Corinth. A temple for Aphrodite, which had one thousand sacred prostitutes/priestesses, was located on the top of the Acropolis. In the evenings, the prostitutes descended from the Acropolis and plied their trade upon the streets of Corinth.

The religious life of the city also included Jewish worship. Paul began his Corinthian ministry in the synagogue in Corinth, as we shall see.

The city of Corinth as Paul found it was probably the wealthiest city in Greece. It was a cosmopolitan city composed of people from varying cultural backgrounds: Corinth was the home of Italians, Egyptians, Syrians, Jews and Orientals. One of the highlights in Corinth was the Isthmian Games. The Isthmus Games were the most famous throughout the ancient world, even overshadowing the Olympics. These were held every second year and included chariot races and boxing as well as the more conventional track games. The Corinthians enjoyed both the pleasures of these games and the wealth that the visitors brought to the city. While their ships were being carried across the isthmus, sailors came to the city to spend their money on the pleasures of Corinth. Even in an age of sexual immorality, Corinth was known for its licentious life-style. The very word korinthiazesthai, to live like a Corinthian, had become a part of the Greek language, and meant to live with drunken and immoral debauchery. Aelian, the late Greek writer, tells us that whenever a Corinthian was portrayed upon the stage, he was drunk.

Paul defines something of what Corinth was like when he wrote:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 NASB)

And then, there comes the triumphant phrase:

And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:11 NASB)

Corinth was a cosmopolitan city full of every vice and sin known to man. It was to this hotbed of vice that the Apostle Paul brought the Gospel of Jesus Christ. From such a cultural hub, the Gospel witness might well be heard all over the world. The city was a strategic target for the Gospel. Paul stayed longer in Corinth than in any other city, with the exception of Ephesus.

Corinth had gained a reputation throughout the whole Roman world as the center of sensuality. It is to this city that the apostle came, walking all alone. Paul is alone when he arrives in the City of Corinth. And he's discouraged, he's despondent, and he's weak, and he may have even been physically ill.

As we have seen, it was never Paul's pattern to "go-it-alone" in his ministry. On his first missionary journey we see that he went with Barnabas and John Mark. On this second journey, he brought Silas, Timothy, and Luke. When Jesus sent out his disciples He did so in pairs. We are much more effective when we have someone to support and encourage us. None of us has the wherewithal to go it alone.

Well, God knew exactly what His servant Paul needed, and in this text we see God ministering to Paul in many ways. And when Paul writes back to the Corinthians from Rome, he calls God the "God of all comfort":

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; 4 who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NASB)

How did God comfort and encourage Paul? The first thing we see is that He brought him some companionship. God brought two people into his life that became so beloved that he mentions them again and again throughout his ministry:

And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them, 3 and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working; for by trade they were tent-makers. (Acts 18:2-3 NASB)

I believe that Aquila and Priscilla were believers when Paul met them. There is no record of them being saved through Paul's ministry. And according to Acts 2:9, travelers from Pontus had been in Jerusalem when Pentecost took place.

In a city of 200,000 how did Paul find these two believers? We are told that seating in the synagogues was possibly arranged so that people of like profession sat together. If so, this made it easier for Paul to find this man and his wife. The providential meeting of Paul and this couple was clearly a "divine appointment," shaping the course of the lives of all three, and many others.

Aquila and his wife had recently arrived from Rome, not voluntarily, they had been expelled with all the Jews by Claudius (A.D. 49). The historian, Suetonius, tells why: "Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus" (Claudius 25.4). Writing seventy years after the event, Suetonius may have assumed "Chrestus" was simply a local troublemaker; however, the dispute in the Jewish community over Jesus Christus (the names would have been pronounced similarly) was the real issue. Through the Roman Jews' resistance to the Gospel and an emperor's edict, God's sovereign care worked to bring Paul and this couple together.

We could say that Aquila and Priscilla were "guided" to Corinth, where they would meet Paul and begin a long-term relationship in ministry, not by the words of a prophet, but by the decree of a heathen ruler, Claudius.

Oil and perfume make the heart glad, So a man's counsel is sweet to his friend. (Proverbs 27:9 NASB)

It must have been a great blessing to Paul to be taken into the home of Aquila and Priscilla. They were a wonderful couple who loved each other and loved him. In one of the last verses that Paul wrote before he was executed, he sent greetings to this couple who had become his lifelong friends:

Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. (2 Timothy 4:19 NASB)

Luke tells us that "they were tent-makers"--the Greek word used here for "tent-makers" is the word skenopoioi. Literally, it means leather workers. Tent-makers made and repaired all kinds of leather goods, not just tents. It would be more accurate to describe Paul as a leather-worker rather than as a tent-maker.

So Paul comes into town, and the first thing he does is find a job. He doesn't sit down and write prayer letters asking for finances, he gets a job.

In Paul's day a young Jewish boy began the educational process at age 4-5 attending class in the synagogue taught by the Rabbi. The teaching focused primarily on the Torah, emphasizing both reading and writing Scripture. Large portions were memorized, and it is likely that many students knew the entire Torah by memory by the time this level of education was finished, about age 12. At this point, most Torah students stayed at home to learn the family trade. The best students continued their study (while learning a trade) in Beth Midrash. Every Jewish youth was required to learn a trade, even if he did not use it later in life. The Jew glorified work. "Love work," they said. Rabbi Judah once wrote, "He that teacheth not his son a trade doth the same as if he had taught him to be a thief."

Paul's being self-supporting at Corinth is consistent with his lifestyle in many other places:

"I have coveted no one's silver or gold or clothes. 34 "You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. 35 "In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" (Acts 20:33-35 NASB)
For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. (1 Thessalonians 2:9 NASB)

As a preacher of the Gospel, Paul had a right to be paid for his teaching:

Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard, and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock? (1 Corinthians 9:7 NASB)
If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we should reap material things from you? (1 Corinthians 9:11 NASB)

But Paul refused to exercise his "right" as a minister of the Gospel to be supported by those to whom he ministered, not because it was wrong, but because of its associations, which would hinder his ministry. So, no one could say, "That man is in the ministry for money." He worked with his hands and taught the Word when he could.

And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. (Acts 18:4 NASB)

The verb "reasoning" is the same verb we've seen many times in Acts; it means: "to discuss by question and answer." It means: "to convince, to dialogue," dialectic comes from it. It's an imperfect tense, which means you continually get it over and over again, over and over again.

There is an interesting little phrase in Greek that is in some of the ancient manuscripts, which reads, "inserting the name of the Lord Jesus." With that phrase the verse would literally read, "And he reasoned in the synagogue, Sabbath by Sabbath, and inserting the name of the Lord Jesus, he sought to persuade also both Jews and Greeks." What is evidently meant by it is that as the apostle preached the Hebrew Scriptures, as he spoke about the Messianic prophecies, at the particular places at which he referred to in the texts, he would say, this passage has to do with the Lord Jesus Christ.

So, speaking about offering up Isaac, he would say, "This illustrates the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Father's gift of the Son." When he came to the Levitical prophecies of the Levitical cultus, he would say, "These are illustrative offerings of what the Lord Jesus would do, when He came." And, when he went on to the messianic prophecies concerning the prophet, he would say, "The Lord Jesus is this great prophet." So, he would insert the Lord Jesus in these Hebrew prophecies and accounts, showing that Christ had fulfilled them.

But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. (Acts 18:5 NASB)

Paul's traveling companions finally show up in Corinth. Boy, that must have been a huge comfort to Paul. As a side note, say goodby to Silas, this is the last we hear of him. Luke does not refer to him again.

We see here the role of the body of Christ. The Lord uses other believers to care for those who are discouraged. There are two pairs of folks who came to Paul's aid in this story. The first pair, Aquila and Priscilla, were new friends to him. The second pair were his old friends Silas and Timothy. They brought good news about the strength of the churches in Macedonia:

But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you, 7 for this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith; (1 Thessalonians 3:6-7 NASB)

Remember, Paul wrote Thessalonians from Corinth. This good news was a big encouragement to Paul. The Lord showed up in the living presence of these people and extended care to Paul when he was discouraged.

"Paul began devoting himself completely to the Word"--When Silas and Timothy showed up, Paul was working as a leather worker, but now he "began devoting himself completely to the Word." Why this change when Silas and Timothy showed up?

Silas and Timothy not only brought good news about the health of the churches in Macedonia, they also brought a generous financial gift from the church in Philippi:

and when I was present with you and was in need, I was not a burden to anyone; for when the brethren came from Macedonia, they fully supplied my need, and in everything I kept myself from being a burden to you, and will continue to do so. (2 Corinthians 11:9 NASB)

So Paul was not only encouraged by the arrival of his companions, but also by the gift of the saints. Their gift enabled Paul once again to devote himself completely to the ministry of the Word.

"Solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ"--Paul preached the great promises of the coming Redeemer, first given in fullness to Abraham, confirmed to Isaac and Jacob, expanded in the promises made to David, and then in the promises through Jeremiah. He was putting his finger on various texts and pointing out how those prophesies were fulfilled in the ministry of the Lord Jesus who is the Christ:

And when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said to them, "Your blood be upon your own heads! I am clean. From now on I shall go to the Gentiles." (Acts 18:6 NASB)

No doubt Paul's added intensity and concentration on preaching intensified the reaction to his ministry. It was one thing for him to say a few words in the synagogue each Sabbath; now, however, he was preaching every day. This was too much, at least for many of the Jews.

Paul was speaking of a turning to the Gentiles in this city. He was not announcing that he would no longer preach to the Jews, for in every city he went first to the synagogue, if there was one.

In an acted parable, he "shook out his garments," Paul here disassociates himself from the Jews. He wants to be clear of the judgment that their blasphemy will incur. Then he says, "Your blood be upon your own heads! I am clean." These words are intended to remind these Jews of the words of the Hebrew prophets, particularly the prophet Ezekiel.

Do you remember in Matthew 27:25, when Jesus was being crucified, the Jews cried out "His blood be upon us and our children"? They wanted to accept the responsibility for Christ's death. The phrase means we accept the responsibility for His death. And Paul is saying here, "Your blood is on your own heads. I'm clean. Why? I fulfilled my responsibility. I delivered the Gospel. I presented it clearly. You are responsible for what you do."

And he departed from there and went to the house of a certain man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God, whose house was next to the synagogue. (Acts 18:7 NASB)

Paul's turning from the Jews was symbolized by his moving his headquarters, his place of ministry, from the synagogue to the house of Titius Justus, right next door. In fact, from the Greek text it is clear that the house of Titius Justus and the synagogue actually shared a common wall.

"A worshiper of God"--is a technical phrase for a Gentile who had become a proselyte of the gate. Justus was a Roman who had converted to Judaism, and his house was right next to the synagogue.

And Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized. (Acts 18:8 NASB)

But in spite of the attitude of the Jews, generally, Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, became a believer and so did all his house (compare 1 Corinthians 1.14). Many of the Corinthians came to hear Paul, believed, and were baptized. We are justified in seeing in this that a good number of Jews as well as God-fearers did become Christians. The tenses of the verbs stress that this was on ongoing process.

Again, when Crispus and Titius Justus both came to Christ, we see that the Lord was encouraging Paul with converts who were capable and gifted: a leader of the synagogue, and a man of means who had a house next door that could be used for ministry.

And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, "Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; 10 for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city." (Acts 18:9-10 NASB)

This is Paul's third vision. His conversion on the road to Damascus was a vision (see Acts 26:19), one which occurred in broad daylight. His second vision (as Luke reports them) was the "Macedonian vision" that Paul received, guiding them to Macedonia. So this is the third vision of Paul's.

Apart from Luke's account of this vision, and especially of our Lord's words, we would never have dreamed that Paul would have been afraid at this point. Paul's fear for his life and safety was no phobia, it was a fear based upon hard facts and upon much previous danger, including numerous beatings and attempts on his life.

All too often we look at Paul as though he were not really human, not like us. We therefore find it difficult to believe that this hero of the faith could ever suffer from the same kinds of fear which hinders us. We think of Paul as a kind of super apostle, one who is never taken back by ridicule, opposition, or persecution. But frankly, we are wrong. Our Lord told Paul, translated literally, "stop being afraid." If Jesus said he was afraid, he was afraid. If the bold apostle, who could preach to hostile audiences and rebuke even Peter for his hypocrisy, could be afraid, then any of us can be afraid.

I believe that we can confidently conclude that Paul was afraid of at least two things: rejection of his message and bodily harm done to himself. Paul was afraid, because of the past and an awareness that the Jews who rejected the Gospel all wanted to see him dead, at best, and hurt badly, at least. Jesus promised that this would not happen. It did not happen in Corinth, and, by and large, it did not happen anywhere else, from this point in time onward. The Lord was indicating to Paul that there was a very definite and decisive change about to occur. The kind of bodily injury and pain which Paul had often experienced before was to be a matter of history. Oh, there would still be rejection, opposition, and persecution; and the Jews and others would still want to see Paul dead, or badly hurt, but it would not happen, not until God's time.

Notice what else God says to Paul, "for I am with you"--in the Greek it's emphatic, "For I myself am with you." Do you think that knowing that the Lord God is with you in whatever you are going through would be an unspeakable comfort?

Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, "I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU," 6 so that we confidently say, "THE LORD IS MY HELPER, I WILL NOT BE AFRAID. WHAT SHALL MAN DO TO ME?" (Hebrews 13:5-6 NASB)

All believers should be comforted by the presence of God.

You know it's not an unexpected thing for a saint to be downcast and despairing, we see it continually in the life of the prophets. Paul knew his ups and downs, just as you and I know our ups and downs. Only God is immutable. We are changeable. We have our ups and downs; Paul had his ups and downs, but we know that God is the one who really will ultimately care for us in our trials.

The phrase "I have many people in this city" reassured Paul that God had many of His elect in Corinth who needed to hear the Word of Truth so that they could be saved. Salvation is of the Lord, but in His sovereign plan He uses men to proclaim the Gospel. He is telling Paul to persevere because there are many elect in the city who will believe on Christ.

And he settled there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. (Acts 18:11 NASB)

This "teaching" was not only a proclamation, but a steady build up in the Word. Note the constant references to "the Word" throughout Acts. Underlying all that we find in Acts is the progress of the Word as it advances. As a result of Paul's stay, Corinth became one of the greatest centers of Christianity in the ancient world.

The Lord had promised Paul that He would be with Paul and that no one would harm him. The instrument through which the promise of the Lord would be fulfilled was none other than a pagan Roman ruler, Gallio:

But while Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him before the judgment seat, 13 saying, "This man persuades men to worship God contrary to the law." (Acts 18:12-13 NASB)

Up till this point in time, this ploy by the Jews had always worked, but it would not work on Gallio. Gallio is mentioned in secular history. He is the older brother of the philosopher, Seneca, who at this very time was busy tutoring the young Nero, who would become the next emperor after Claudius. Seneca and Gallio both spoke out against the abuses of Nero. And Nero had them both, as well as Paul, put to death. An inscription found at Delphi in Central Greece has enabled us to date the beginning of Gallio's term as proconsul to July 1, A.D.51..

But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, "If it were a matter of wrong or of vicious crime, O Jews, it would be reasonable for me to put up with you; 15 but if there are questions about words and names and your own law, look after it yourselves; I am unwilling to be a judge of these matters." 16 And he drove them away from the judgment seat. (Acts 18:14-16 NASB)

That was a very important decision! It meant that Paul was now free to preach the Gospel everywhere throughout the Roman empire without being charged with breaking the Roman law. Up to this point in time, Rome had been no friend to Christianity. Rome had succumbed to Jewish pressure, putting Jesus to death for crimes which Pilate and Herod knew Jesus had not committed. Roman officials had willingly, perhaps even gladly, punished Paul, as was the case at Philippi. But now a great change was about to occur, thanks to the decision rendered by Gallio. Rome was to cease giving in to Jewish pressure, and was to refuse any longer to be used by the Jews to hinder the proclamation of the Gospel. The very power that had once persecuted Christianity would now become a means of protecting it.

Gallio had ruled that Christianity was a sect of Judaism, which was protected by the state. The Lord fulfilled His promise to Paul by means of a pagan Roman ruler from A.D.51 until the great fire of Rome in A.D. 64 (for which Nero blamed the Christians) by protecting followers of Christ from undergoing political persecution.

Paul's view, presented later in Acts, is that Christianity is the fulfillment of the Law of Moses and not something new and different.

And they all took hold of Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and began beating him in front of the judgment seat. And Gallio was not concerned about any of these things. (Acts 18:17 NASB)

"They all" here probably refers to the officials responsible for overseeing the bringing of the case to court and the subsequent proceedings. They would mainly be Gentiles among whom there was quite probably some anti-Semitism. Observing Gallio's attitude and contempt for the bringing of the case, they proceeded to beat Sosthenes, the current ruler of the synagogue. This would probably be on the basis that he had brought a false charge.

Paul, writing to the Corinthians from Rome says:

Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, (1 Corinthians 1:1 NASB)

It certainly seems likely that the Sosthenes to whom Paul refers in 1 Corinthians is this Sostehenes here.

"Gallio was not concerned about any of these things"--means he was absolutely impartial and refused to involve himself in a dispute over which he had no jurisdiction.

The time when the Jews could intimidate the Roman rulers into tolerating or promoting their rejection of the Gospel and persecuting those who proclaimed it has come to an end in our chapter. Claudius was fed up with the trouble-making of the Jews in Rome and ordered them out. Gallio was fed up with the efforts of the Jews in Corinth to use Rome to silence the Gospel as un-Jewish and anti-Roman. The Jews are losing their "clout." Rome will now restrain the Jews and protect Paul. It will not be that long ( A.D.70) before Rome is so fed up with the revolutionary Jews in Jerusalem that Titus will be sent to deal with them once and for all by the sacking of that city and the execution of hundreds of thousands of Jews.

The "God of all Comfort" comforts Paul through fellowship of the saints, through financial support which freed him to minister, through many coming to faith in Christ, and through His promised protection of Paul, which was fulfilled through the Roman Gallio. So once again we see that God is not only sovereign, in complete control of this universe so that His will is always accomplished, but we see as well that the ways in which He accomplishes His will and fulfills His promises are beyond our imagination.

It was from the City of Corinth that Paul wrote 1 & 2 Thessalonians and Romans.

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