Acts 18 – Success Breeds Jealousy

After several very difficult experiences in Philippi and Thessalonica and an unfruitful visit to Athens, Paul finally experiences some good success in Corinth. After preaching in the synagogue he establishes a church that includes several key converts. Luke lists Titius Justus, a god-fearing Gentile and Crispus, the leader of the synagogue.  Both of these were leaders in the synagogue and would have been valuable to Paul as leaders in a new church. A third convert is implied in Romans 16:23 – Erastus, the “director of public works” (NIV) or city treasurer. If Erastus was a convert at this time he would have brought some wealth and prestige to the church. In addition to these converts, Aquilla and Priscilla were in Corinth and eventually the teacher Apollos

art-thou-jealous-muchPaul may have been concerned his success would breed a violent back-lash from the synagogue, as it had in Thessalonica. In fact, Paul has seen this happen before.  The normal pattern is for him to enter the synagogue and face serious persecution.  He is not afraid for his own life, in fact, he seems more than willing to suffer physically for the Gospel.

1 Cor 2:3-4 indicates that Paul was afraid his ministry was destined for failure.  He does not yet know of the fate of the Thessalonican believers, perhaps even Berea is unknown to him.  Athens likely did not result in a church.  Will Corinth go just as badly?  Yet in 1 Cor 2, Paul claims that any success in Corinth was based solely on the power of the Holy Spirit, not his own rhetorical ability.

In Acts 18:9-10 Luke tells us that Paul has a vision in which the Lord tells Paul that he will not be harmed in the city of Corinth and that there are many people in the city that are “the Lord’s.”  There are three short, related commands: Do not fear, continue to speak, and do not be silent.

If these commands reflect Paul’s mood prior to Silas and Timothy’s return, then it is possible that Paul considered, like Jeremiah before him, to remain silent and not open himself up to further persecution (Jer 20:7-12).  But like Jeremiah, Paul cannot keep the Gospel to himself, he must be what he is, the light to the Gentiles.  Even if this means he will be persecuted.  This vision encourages him to continue, since his Gospel message will be received in Corinth. He will remain in the city 18 months, Paul’s longest place of ministry since his commission from Antioch in Acts 13.

An important observation here is Paul’s success was met with increased jealousy and persecution. Paul was obedient to his calling yet he was still suffering. Why is this? To what extent is Luke describing a successful ministry as a persecuted ministry? Compared to what some modern Christians seem to think, this is the opposite of what to expect. Yet for Paul, suffering confirmed he was doing exactly what God called him to do.

17 thoughts on “Acts 18 – Success Breeds Jealousy

  1. I would agree that Paul’s ministry in Corinth started out as a success, for the first 18 months. I believe he was doing good work, and in the will of God at that time, and there was obvious good fruit produced during that beginning period.

    Unfortunately, it appears that Paul refused to stay in Corinth where God wanted him. Instead, he abandoned the church, and went to Jerusalem where God specifically did NOT want him. Paul lapsed into his old pattern, traveling around, mostly on his own, doing his own thing, accountable to no one.

    Yet, Paul never delegated any real authority to anyone else in the Church in Corinth. He never appointed or recognized another leader / pastor / or elders. (Paul didn’t practice what he preached to his evangelist helpers Timothy and Titus.) Not when Paul left the church, taking the core family with him. And not years later, when Paul had settled in Ephesus and spent 2 years teaching in his own school there (where he was “Boss” and accountable to no one.)

    When Paul wrote his two letters to the church in Corinth, Paul himself was completely in charge of all aspects of the church, as an abusive absentee leader. The church is infamous for being unhealthy – and it was – because of PAUL it’s leader, bullying and threatening them from hundreds of miles away, and never delegating authority to anyone locally in Corinth.

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  2. Related to Paul writing to the church in Corinth,
    David Brainerd wrote (On April 10, 2014)
    QUOTE:

    “I do think it is largely true that the abusiveness and vitriol in Christianity from one group against another is the result of people wanting to beat each other over the head the way Paul beats his readers in the epistles, wishing those who disagree with him would castrate themselves, calling them dogs and so on. Paul knows it all, and if anyone disagrees with him, he says “Let them be accursed.” …….
    https://davidbrainerd2.wordpress.com/2014/04/10/boss-paul-the-pharisee/

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  3. The Lord specifically says in the book of Acts that Paul will suffer for His name. The Lord never said doing His work was going to be easy, but it is our job to do so no matter what comes our way. We are not to be of the world, and when we are persecuted for the name of Jesus we should be happy. We are an “odd” people believing in the something that we cannot see, but it is by faith that we can conquer all of the trials that we are faced with.

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  4. In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul talks about suffering for the sake of Christ. The message that he and believers proclaim is from Christ, not from themselves. Some people’s hearts are veiled to the message of the gospel and therefore oppose its truth. They are blinded by darkness, which contrasts the light that Christ brings to the Lord. Therefore, if you face persecution, you can be confident that there is a reason for it – Christ. Paul knew that persecution was against Christ. If he was proclaiming the gospel correctly then he would certainly be facing opposition, for not everyone accepts it. In verse six, Paul pronounces judgement on the Jews by using a phrase that meant the responsibility of their disbelief was not him, but on their own heads. Paul had proclaimed Christ and it was their own rejection of him that festered Paul’s renouncement, not some kind of lack on his part to clearly communicate the truth of Jesus (Polhill, 2123).

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  5. It is interesting the pull humanity has for comfort. We constantly try to escape situations that are uncomfortable. Because of this many American Christians equate God’s will with where they are most comfortable. They think the best people to have in a small group are those most like them. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes about this and challenges us that perhaps those we could learn from best are those who aren’t just like us. Paul would have had a difficult ministry to be sure. Several times he talks about his struggle to find companions that will fervently continue in the ministry with him. Like the prophets of the Old Testament, he bore the load of speaking out hard things against the masses, and did it with little to no human support. Not many would acknowledge such a call today. Discomfort seems not to be an option for the majority.

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    • I like how you related it to today on comfort levels. I know that evangelism is difficult for me because of how uncomfortable I feel talking to a random stranger about it and how I feel my success is dependent on if they accept what I said or not. However, we know that is not the case. Our success, just like Paul’s, is not dependent on how we perform but on how the Holy Spirit uses what we say to “plant the seed” for God. Using that metaphor, we only have to plant it and God will make it grow–not us. So it doesn’t really matter how they react to us because they heard us. I think that Paul felt that he was successful in his ministry when he was being persecuted because the people were listening and reacting–they heard what he said and they were reacting to it. To Paul, his suffering meant that he was successful.

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  6. Paul shares about the true meaning of suffering. He tells us that his suffering has lead him to be closer to Christ and be Christ like. In Philippians Paul says “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith (Philippians 3:8-9). Paul suffered because he was doing the work of God. Throughout his work he shared his faith and becomes an example to other Christians. Another thought to consider is how Paul completely puts his trust in God instead of having pride and trust in himself. I think when we are suffering in our lives we are likely to question God and ask why this is happening to us. Also we are tend to put our faith elsewhere and trust in our selves. Paul is an example of a Christian who suffered but throughout his suffering Paul fully trusted God and wanted to grow closer to him.

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  7. Sometimes in the church today we have this mentality that if God wants something to happen it will happen. He will smooth out all of the rough edges and potential problems and we can just walk in and everything will work out. This is clearly not the case. Everywhere Paul goes he experiences this persecution. Will the work be successful? I think so. Will it be without trouble or persecution? No, we cannot expect this. Paul explains to timothy that if you are a Christian you can expect persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). As long as there are those who are not saved we can expect that people will oppose the gospel. This persecution is going to happen. Persecution is not a sign that your ministry is unsuccessful but rather that the ministry needs to be done since there are unsaved people in that place.

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  8. Struggling and suffering for the God is something that should and will happen. Paul’s ministry is a great example of doing the Lord’s will and not just doing it for himself. It is very tempting to give credit to ourselves when someone is converted, but it is only through the holy spirit. Even though Paul knows that he will suffer for the Lord, he still wants to proclaim the gospel. This is a great example of being motivated by God’s love and for the love of people who would be condemned without having a chance to hear the good news. It is a lesson for our culture that even though evangelizing can be uncomfortable sometimes it is still worth someone’s spiritual life to be uncomfortable. Even though God is the one who ultimately saves, it is still our responsibility to share God’s love with those who are not familiar with it and being an instrument of God. My pastor preached a sermon on 1 Peter 4: 7-11. The passage talks about loving our neighbor and serving them. Even though it is hard to love those that we do not get along with, it is important to still use our words for good and not for evil because it shows the love of God. This passage is a good example of what it means to act as someone who believes in God and not just going through the motions.

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  9. I actually find this to be a very interesting topic. A lot of times, you would think that when you are doing the work of the Lord, that everything would go your way. This story is a prime example of that. I feel that any type of job or responsibility is hard. When you were a child, your parents could tell you to do something and it could still be hard to do it. I say that because in being obedient to your parents, you could still suffer with what your parent tell you to do. I use that analogy because it is similar to the situation here. Just because you listen to the ones that rule over you or the authority does not mean you will not suffer. When you look through the entire Bible, almost every character had to suffer in some type of way. When we suffer, we should always remember that God is there and he will protect us, just like he did Paul in this case. In Jessica post, she stated, “We constantly try to escape situations that are uncomfortable” (Turnbough 2015). I think that is true; however, it should not be like that when you are doing the works of the Lord. A scripture that comes to mind when thinking about this story is Deuteronomy 31:6, it says “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” This just shows that no matter how hard something may be that God will never leave us; he will always be there for us.

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  10. I agree with Mary in that within the church today, the common mindset that people have is that if God wants something to happen it will happen. Everything will go smoothly and work out great. In reality, this is not always the case. As Christians, we are aware that we may have to suffer for the sake of sharing the gospel but are we really ready for that? Paul was obedient to the Lord and had courage and bravery when doing what the Lord told him to do. I think that Christians want an “easy” way of living instead of actually suffering for the sake of Christ. Paul talks about suffering for the sake of Christ in 2 Corinthians 4. There will be people who may not take the gospel very well because their hearts may not be open to receiving it. This may cause people to oppose the gospel and persecute all who try to share it. We must be like Paul and have courage and trust in God when things get hard.

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  11. Persecution and suffering is something to expect as believers and followers of God. “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” John 15:18-20. We are warned through out the scriptures of this. Even though we obey God’s calling and suffer it does not mean we like it, but because of our love for Christ and our want to serve him, as well as knowing what is to come, we serve him and suffer because he suffered for us.

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  12. I think the idea of increased persecution for the good work of the Lord is something that keeps us from doing the work that needs to be done. The church needs to step up to the plate and realize that we should have joy in the persecution that we will bear while sharing the gospel. Persecution allows for a greater building up of the Body of Christ and that is something that we can see happening with ISIS but we are still scared of persecution even though we are not faced with the idea of being kidnapped and brutally killed for our faith. We are simply afraid of looking stupid or being rejected. We do not want these persecutors to kidnap our pride and cut off our egos for the furthering of the work of Christ.

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  13. Sharing the gospel has always been, and will always be met with persecution. It is a fact of life that some people will reject the gospel, but just because you are persecuted doesn’t mean your ministry is unsuccessful. It simply means that there are still unsaved people out in the world, and that you need to continue your ministry as long as that fact is true. Paul was met with persecution for this very reason, there were unsaved people in the world who were rejecting the gospel. Paul knew God wanted him there, so he preached, obedient to his Lord, no matter what the consequences were. Like you said, modern Christians tend to believe that the opposite of this should happen. They read verses like Jeremiah 29:11 which say things like “My plans are to prosper you and not harm you”, and think that means that things should go off without a hitch, but why should they? Jesus suffered for his cause, so what makes us better than him that we shouldn’t have to? If you are being persecuted, it means you are making waves, and people are hearing you, even if they aren’t accepting it, and that should be taken as a success.

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    • cailinjones
      You said, QUOTE:
      “Paul knew God wanted him there, so he preached, obedient to his Lord, no matter what the consequences were.”

      For the first 18 months, I agree with you.

      Do you have any biblical basis for believing that it was God’s will for Paul to leave the church in Corinth after 18 months, travel to Jerusalem, then move to Ephesus and start his own school there and teach there for 2 years, while still clinging to all the power, rights, and benefits of being the One pastoral leader of the Church in Corinth?

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