There is something in human DNA that wants an answer to the ultimate question of life: “Why?” We are industrious about coming up with answers, as is evidenced by the existence of so many religions in our world, countless lectures on university campuses, never-silent talking heads on television, debates by political leaders and insistent philosophers and preachers. We want something solid, a clear pathway to the desired end, a deity that provides THE ANSWER when we connect the dots.
Paul was certainly an educated scholar and a strong personality, but he also knew about disappointment and danger. Paul knew what it meant to be thrown into jail, threatened by religious and government authorities, run out of town, shipwrecked and on trial for his life.
Corinth was a city of diversity and abundance, shaped by international trade, impressive temples, flourishing businesses and even a strong Jewish community. It also had a reputation of immorality, where anything could be bought and the Temple of Aphrodite employed a thousand priestesses who were nothing more than prostitutes! In popular slang of the day, “Corinthian” was interchangeable with slandering a person as immoral.
Paul, formerly Saul the Pharisee, had it all. He was a respected member of the inner circle of Jewish scholars and a citizen of Rome. But Saul, the theological enforcer for the Jewish power block, became Paul, the leading voice of the gospel across the Roman Empire in the first century A.D.
Whether the circumstance is a family custom, a club organization or programming, a civic tradition, or a church, any change faces the considerable barriers of tradition, interpretation and pride. Jesus' teachings and actions generated controversy among the Jews, so we should not be surprised that the early church struggled with change, particularly when there was longstanding division between Jews and Gentiles. We can learn from this crisis that became a key turning point for God's people.
The epic story of the gospel spreading across the Roman Empire can be described as powerful, against all odds, romantic, spell-binding ... but more accurately as the working of God's Spirit in the lives of his people. In spite of societal, government, religious and natural obstacles, the hope of Christ spreads, captivating human hearts.
Persecution of the believers accelerated in Jerusalem as the church grew. Luke tells us that the larger number of Christians, not the original apostles, fled to places like Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch of Pisidia in the north (Acts 11:19). These Gentile cities had a larger population of Jews who were established in the business community and even respected by the local government. Antioch would offer greater opportunities to share Christ in an open society where Jews were already accepted.
Today we focus on the formative days of the early church as it is growing and learning how to live the way of Jesus against considerable odds. What does the resurrection mean in the context of society? Where does the church fit in a world of pagan ideas and Jewish legalism?
The New Testament contains four gospels, all telling the story of Jesus with a different perspective but the same purpose. It is in the differences that we gain a fuller picture of Jesus and his remarkable teachings.