Meeting the Challenge – September 30, 2007
Exodus, Acts 18:1-11
September 30, 2007
We’ve been on the road with Paul for some time now. We started looking at the book of Acts in the beginning of the Summer. I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey. But, as of 5:21AM, last Sunday morning, we moved into the Fall season. So, we’re going to follow Paul for just a while longer, and then we’ll move on to some other things.
In our reading for today, Paul had just come from Athens. We were there with him just a couple of weeks ago. Now he’s made his way south to the city of Corinth. You may recall what I said last time about the Greek society that the Romans had created in their empire. They patterned their whole culture on the Greek empire of Alexander the Great. I said then that Rome was the capital city of the Roman Empire, but it was Athens that was the center of the Greek world. Well, now Paul is in Corinth. And where Athens was the center of Greek culture, Corinth was the center – or one of the centers – of Greek commerce.
Corinth was located right on the little isthmus of land that joined northern and southern Greece. So it was then a crossroads of both land and sea trade routes. There was a place near the city where boats were dragged across the isthmus to the bay on the other side. It was called “the place of dragging.” Taking a boat “overland” was a good way to avoid going all the way around the bottom of Southern Greece. That was the longer route, and also the more dangerous route, since ships going that route might encounter with pirates! (By the way, did you know that last Wednesday, September 19th was “National Talk like a Pirate Day”? Argh, matey! I hope ye didn’t miss it!)
Because of it’s location, Corinth was a wealthy city. It was also located right between Athens in northern Greece, and Sparta in the South. If you remember your history class, those were the two main cities of Greece. And they represented the two different parts of Greek culture. Athens in the north was the center of learning and philosophy, while Sparta was the center of the military and of sports.
Well, so much for the history lesson. But I wanted you to get an idea of what this place was like. I wanted you to understand that Corinth was in an ideal location, and that it had become a wealthy city. And it was one that encompassed all of Greek culture in a way no other city did. That was the city Paul was now visiting. And it was also the city where Paul would start on of his most beloved Churches. Later he would write to that Church two of his most famous letters. Paul had a great love for the Corinthian Church. But at the same time, it presented him with great challenges and frustrations.
Well, when he first got to Corinth, he met Aquila and Priscilla, a husband and wife who would become great friends, and great co-workers in the faith. And here we find that they were also fellow tradesmen with Paul. For like him, they were tentmakers.
Paul would meet with some success in Corinth, as it says here, “Arguing in the synagogue every Sabbath, persuading both Jews and Greeks.” But of course, there were also those who opposed his message. And even though that has now become a regular occurrence for Paul, we see here a little more of the Apostle’s human-ness. Because these people got him frustrated. And at one point he yelled, “Your blood be upon your heads! From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”
Now, we need to ask ourselves, “Do we ever let our frustrations get the best of us?” I think we all do from time to time. I think we all have moments like Paul in this chapter. But more importantly, we need to ask ourselves this question. “Do we let those frustrations keep us from meeting the challenges we encounter in our faith?” That’s what makes the big difference, isn’t it? It’s easy to get frustrated when things don’t go the way we would like. It’s easy to get frustrated when we come up against difficulties, or hard times, or persecution – whatever form that may take in our world. It’s whether or not we give in, it’s whether or not we allow those frustrations to rule the day for us that makes the difference. And it is a choice. And if we do not choose to win out, then the frustrations will have already won, will they not?
Some of Paul’s frustrations with the Corinthians would be ongoing. We would see some of that in the two letters he wrote to the Church. In those letters, he worked hard trying to answer their questions and concerns, and to solve their problems. At yet, at one point he would pause and write some of his greatest words ever in the 13th chapter of this book – the Chapter about love. But remember that was a chapter written in the midst of trying to solve their doctrinal and ethical problems! (We sometimes forget that!) There he would tell them that “Love is patient and kind, it is not jealous or boastful. It is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on it’s own way. It is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
Paul deeply loved the Church in Corinth. Despite the frustrations, he stayed in that city for a year and a half! This was no brief stop on a “preaching circuit.” But we also know that there were difficulties in his relationship with them. He would later make a visit to them that he would call a “painful visit.” And in his second letter he would refer to a “severe letter” that he had written to them as well. We don’t have the actual text of that “severe” letter, but some scholars believe it is contained at least in part in II Corinthians. It is clear, though, that Paul loved this church deeply, but also that there were times that he had to “get serious with them.”
I love that refreshing glimpse into Paul’s personality. Like us he would deal with frustrations. But again we need to ask, did Paul allow those frustrations to get in the way of meeting the challenges of the faith? The answer to that is before us in the very scriptures from which we read! Despite his “human frailties” which are so wonderfully portrayed in the Biblical account, in the big picture, Paul continues to be the greatest advocate of the faith in the difficult times of the early Church, and he became the writer of the of most of this collection of documents that we have come to know as the New Testament!
As we take these journeys with him, we know that his life was not always easy. He had to overcome much in “meeting the challenge” of spreading the Gospel. But in all that, it was in listening to the voice of God speaking to him in his heart that gave him the courage and strength he needed, and about which he would write again and again. We read about that voice of God in verses 9 and 10, where God said, “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent. For I am with you…”
That is the challenge before us, as well – to be not afraid, but to speak and not be silent, for God is with us. And that doesn’t mean it will be easy for us any more than it was easy for Paul! We’ll have frustrations just like he did! Later on in this chapter his difficulties would continue. They would drag him (again!) before the civil authorities. Again they would try to get those civil authorities to prosecute him in a “secular” way for their “religious accusations” – just like they did with Jesus. Only this time the authorities were not buying it.
Like Paul, we have our own frustrations. And we need to be diligent with ourselves(!) in not letting those frustrations get the best of us. We need to continue to grow in our ability to deal fairly with each other, to speak kindly, to encourage one another – even where we do not agree! We need to resist the temptation to argue, to blast, or even to speak ill of someone who’s not present. Those things are easy to fall into. But as one wise man once said, “You should never criticize a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes. Because then, you’re a mile away, and you’ve got his shoes!!” (Yeah, I know that’s silly. But it’s true!)
We need to continue to choose what is upbuilding, edifying, and positive, always working for the unity of the Church. Remember these words Paul would write to the Church in Philippi, “Finally my brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
So my friends, let us strive to meet the challenges ahead, as one body, united in Christ Jesus our Lord. Like Paul, may we seek the voice of God leading us, challenging us to be not afraid, but to speak and not be silent. For God is with us!
Eternal God, we know that there must be times when you are frustrated with us. For we often miss the mark set for us by Christ Jesus, our Lord. Yet, we love you, Lord. And we want to follow you as one body, united in Christ, joyous in his kingdom, following his example. Please give us the vision and the strength we need to do so. For we pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.