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Recap of Chapter 29

Saul began his career as a radical Jewish scholar who was so convinced the Christians were wrong that he had them imprisoned and stoned.  After an encounter with the resurrected Jesus he became a Christ-follower.  Saul became Paul (his Greek name) who proclaimed Christ to the Jews first and also to the Gentiles.  Led by the Holy Spirit, the believers in their home base of Antioch in Syria commissioned Paul and Barnabas and sent them out as missionaries to spread the news that Jesus the Messiah is raised from the dead.  Their first missionary journey took them to the island of Cyprus where they encountered a Jewish sorcerer who opposed them, and a Roman proconsul who embraced the gospel.  They set sail for the region of Galatia (present south-central Turkey).  They were invited to preach in the synagogue in Antioch, and after an initial favorable reception, they faced persecution so they turned their sights toward the Gentiles.

Paul was joined by Timothy, Silas, and eventually Luke for his second missionary journey.  They visited many cities in Macedonia, including Philippi where a church was begun in Lydia’s home.  The evangelists were beaten and thrown in jail where their faith convicted not only their jailer, but apparently the other prisoners as well.  Many Jews and Greeks from Thessalonica believed before Paul and Silas were sent away for their own protection.  Paul then met Priscilla and Aquila in Corinth where he was again opposed by the Jews.  But Gentiles believed, so Paul stayed and ministered there for about a year and a half.  He also wrote letters to these churches to teach and encourage them.  He wrote the Thessalonians to encourage them to continue to be the model of Christianity that they had become in expectation of the Lord’s return.

After returning to his base of operations in Antioch, Paul set out on his third journey.  As he strengthened the churches in the Galatian region, Apollos showed up in Ephesus where he met Priscilla and Aquila. He was a powerful speaker and strong disciple, but needed further teaching.  Paul arrived in Ephesus, a hotbed of pagan idolatry, and as he began teaching in the synagogue, most Jews rejected his message.  He stayed more than two years teaching both Jews and Greeks.  Many people from the region came to hear him as the word spread.  Some of the Ephesians believed and left their idols and witchcraft in exchange for a new life in Christ.  This did not set well with the idol artisans who staged a riot to drive Paul out-of-town.  While in Ephesus, he penned letters to churches in Corinth, Galatia and Rome, though he had not yet visited there.

The Corinthian church had enjoyed a who’s who of early church leaders.  This privilege should have prodded them onto Christian maturity but instead they chose sides like children on a playground.  Paul chastised them for their divisiveness, corrected their immorality and answered questions that they had about spiritual gifts.  They needed to practice sacrificial love for one another.  Some were even denying the resurrection so Paul gave them a remedial lesson on the essentials of the gospel and the hope of a future resurrection.  The Galatian churches were confused by Jewish Christians who insisted they practice the Jewish ceremonial rites.  Paul’s letter is a masterpiece on Christian liberty as he defended justification by faith alone.  Paul’s pastoral desire to minister to the believers in Rome prompted him to write a letter to convey the foundations of the Christian faith.   In spite of every form of opposition, the word of God could not be contained.  God sovereignly saw to it that obstacles became opportunities for Paul and others to take the gospel “even to the ends of the earth.”

The Christian Life in a Corinthian World

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!  Just do it!  You only live once!  Our culture is marked by indulgence, immorality and self-gratification.  But as the wise Solomon once wrote, “There is nothing new under the sun,” (Eccl. 1:9c).  The parallels between ancient Corinth and contemporary America are uncanny, which makes the lessons from this letter particularly applicable to us today.  While all of the books of the Bible are best understood within their historical context, the issues addressed in this particular epistle can only really be appreciated within the broader context of the cultural influences of the time.  As we explore the challenges that Paul faced in Corinth, we will begin to see that his challenges were not so different from our own.  Therefore, we will find a wealth of practical application from this portion of Scripture.

I.       The Corinthian World

A. The Corinthian world was fraught with vice and sin, wealth and decadence.  When Paul was rejected by the Jews there, he must have thought that there was no one else who would hear the gospel, let alone believe it!  This helps explain the vision that Paul had in Corinth that Luke recorded for us.  The Lord spoke to Paul and encouraged him to be unafraid.  He said, “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.  For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city,” (p. 344, Acts 18:9-10).

B. The Corinthian world was a stronghold of worldly philosophy, cultural immorality and pagan idolatry.  With Athens only 45 miles away, the Greeks prided themselves on their philosophical debates and their refined knowledge.  The Corinthians’ purposed to embrace the philosophical wisdom of her Athenian neighbors.  Because of her strategic port location, the immorality of Corinth was legendary.  The economy was kept afloat with trade, sailors and prostitution, gambling and other vices that accompanied the unsavory crowds that frequented this major metropolis.  The temple of Aphrodite was known for its temple prostitutes and the term corinthianize was coined to describe sexual immorality.  Along with Aphrodite, Apollo was also worshiped there in a huge temple.  The city was made up of both have’s and have not’s.  It had a wealthy class and it also had freed slaves who were poor which created some socioeconomic friction.

C. The ancient Corinthian world had much in common with our contemporary culture.  Many people lament that America was once a Christian nation, a beacon of freedom to worship, a society of law abiding citizens.  Now, however, like Corinth, our culture has become corrupted (if indeed it was ever a Christian nation which remains a topic of debate beyond the scope of this lesson).  A worldly philosophy permeates our educational system.  Sexual immorality has become so mainstreamed that we are desensitized to its far-reaching tentacles, and the chaste are viewed with a wary eye.  Pockets of vice provide a playground for otherwise sensible people.  We are a culture of “anything goes,” even using our own lusts a marketing tool to draw people toward decadence and self-gratification regardless of the high cost financially, morally or personally.

II.       The Corinthian Church Correction

A. It was Paul’s habit to go to the synagogue first.  Those in the synagogue would be prepared to receive the gospel of Jesus as their Messiah made ready by their knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures that anticipated the coming One.  The Jews were steeped in the Law, so they understood sin and its implications for judgment, as well as the hope that comes from the One True God.

B. While some Jews gladly embraced Jesus as Messiah, most did not.  Paul was thrown out of the synagogue so he brushed himself off and took the Good News to the Gentile population.  As already noted, the Gentile populations’ only knowledge of gods came from their pagan surroundings.  Sin was not shameful, for it was not even known to be sin!  It is from these roots that the baby church in Corinth sprung forth.  Paul had his work cut out for him.  He, along with Timothy, Silas, Priscilla, Aquila and eventually Apollos and Peter all schooled these Gentiles in the knowledge and grace of Jesus Christ.

C. Paul eventually moved on.  While residing in Ephesus on his third missionary journey, word came to him that there were big problems in the CorinthianChurch.  He had poured a year and a half of his life into them, so he had earned the right and had the responsibility to correct these carnal Christians.

D.    The Corinthian Church was marked by immaturity.

Paul said, “I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ….You are still not ready.  You are still worldly,” (1 Cor. 3:1-3).  Grow up!  They were not acting with Christian maturity but with immaturity.  Their immaturity was manifesting itself in diverse ways.

  1. Divisions in the church:  Instead of maturing in the faith under the discipleship of the great church leaders that came to Corinth, they splintered into groups around the different leaders.  Paul said, “I appeal to you…that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be united in mind and thought… One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’ another says ‘I follow Apollos’ another ‘I follow Cephas’ still another, ‘I follow Christ,’” (1 Cor. 1:10-12).
  2. Divisions in worldview:  While Paul spoke the wisdom that comes from the Holy Spirit, many Corinthians were shaped by the worldly philosophical “wisdom” of the Greek culture.  (1 Cor. 2)  This caused further divisions between groups there.  Paul encouraged the Christians by showing that the Spirit provides true wisdom.
  3. Divisions in daily living:   The believers had many questions about living out their faith in the real world.  They still had to learn to navigate through decisions in daily life in a culture hostile to holy living.  So they wrote to Paul for guidance in specific areas that caused them problems.  First Corinthians 7-16 is the part of Paul’s letter that speaks to these problems.  Believers were filing law suits against one another instead of settling matters privately and justly among themselves.  They needed guidance in marriage, divorce and living singly.  They did not know how to handle dietary problems that were associated with the idolatry around them.  Christians were disruptive during worship and were failing to honor the Lord’s Supper as holy.  A mature person would have understood that God’s purpose for spiritual gifts is for serving the Body in love.  However, these immature Corinthians were arguing over whose gift was more important, more glamorous even. Paul corrected their misguided notions and admonished them to love one another sacrificially instead of elevating one person’s gifting over another.
  4. Divisions in doctrine:  Paul was aghast that some among them had apparently dismissed a crucial aspect of the gospel and its implications on the Christian life.  They were denying the resurrection!  Paul gave them a written remedial lesson in the essentials of the gospel, including the non-negotiable point that Jesus was raised from the dead (1 Cor. 15:3-8).  Based on Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, Paul argued that all believers should look forward in hopeful expectation of our own future redemption of our bodies.  Just as Christ was resurrected to live forever, so too can all Christians look forward to eternal life in a resurrected body.  Paul reminded them that this teaching was THE basis of the Christian faith.  If we all will not be resurrected, then Jesus Himself must not have been resurrected because He too is fully man.  If Jesus was not resurrected then we are all still dead in our sins and our faith is worthless (1 Cor. 15:13-17).

Paul corrected these misguided believers and urged them to grow up in Christian maturity.

E.    The Corinthian Church was marked by immorality.

Immaturity necessarily leads to all kinds of problems including sexual immorality.  These believers were coming from a culture that accepted immorality as the norm.  In fact, temple prostitution was itself a form of pagan worship.  Not only was it accepted and normal, it was spiritual too.

  1. Paul was stunned to hear of the immorality within the Church.  In one case, a man was sleeping with his father’s wife—a sin that even the Gentiles in the community repudiated (1 Cor. 5:1).  While the questions surrounding this particular sin are beyond the scope of this lesson, the point remains that believers in the Church were participating in sexually immoral behavior. (1 Cor. 5-6)

  2. Paul was even more astonished with the Church’s failure to address the sexual immorality among its members (1 Cor. 5).  Paul knew full well that to live in the world means to live among sinners.  But sin in the Church that goes unchecked will eventually pollute the whole body.  “Your boasting is not good.  Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?” (1 Cor. 5:6)

  3. Many of the believers in this Church were coming out of sexual sin and into a relationship with Christ.  They came from all forms of immorality including fornication (sexual relations outside of marriage), adultery, and various forms of homosexuality.  But, like all sinners, they had been washed and sanctified by faith in Christ Jesus and were now in the Spirit (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

  4. Sexual immorality is a unique kind of sin because it is in one’s own body.  The body is now the temple residence of the Spirit which was purchased at a very high price.  Therefore, every believer must flee from sexual immorality (1 Cor. 6:15-20)

III.       Christian Living in a Corinthian World—Application for Today

A. What then should we learn from this brief overview of the Corinthians’ problems and Paul’s mid-course correction of them?  Given the uncanny parallels between our own culture and the ancient but decadent Corinthian culture, Paul’s letter gives us insight into our own church today, warns us of pitfalls and directs us for discipling.

B. The Christian life is marked by maturity.  Grow up!  It still applies to our church today.  Christian maturity would solve many of our problems.  A healthy church will always have believers at every level of maturity on the spectrum.  A healthy church should have new converts who are rightly babes in Christ.  It should have believers who are always growing, learning to navigate their faith in a Corinthian world.  A healthy church also has mature believers who serve as the church’s rudder, guiding and nurturing the younger believers in the faith.  New converts who are rightly babes in Christ are not the problem.  The problem erupts when those who have been believers for awhile continue to subsist on “milk” instead of “meat.”  Their failure to mature as believers will breed divisions within the Body, divisions in worldview, divisions in negotiating daily living and divisions in the doctrines of the faith.  Without mature believers to nurture others, a church is doomed to disunity.

  1. Christian maturity produces unity in the Church.   Some of us have experienced the painful occurrence of a splintered Body or worse—a church split.  Splintering is often a result of a small thing that could have been resolved maturely, but instead snowballed into a full split.  Maturity does not necessarily result in uniformity, but mature believers will choose unity over winning.  The mature give up their rights!
  2. Christian maturity produces a biblical worldview.   Most new converts to the faith today bring with them a secular worldview.  Many Christian homes cannot be distinguished from the non-Christian home in their approach to thinking about the world.  Paul wrote to the Romans, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect,” (Rom 12:2).  We begin to view the world through God-tinted glasses, looking for His Upper Story work in Lower Story events.  We consider carefully and thoughtfully what are God’s priorities and how might we shape the world with them instead of allowing the world to shape us.  We begin to treat people with Christ-like compassion, respect and dignity instead of treating people as does the world.
  3. Christian maturity produces holy living.  In our ever-changing world we encounter new obstacles that are not necessarily addressed in the Bible.  A mature Christian learns to apply biblical principles to new situations as he or she navigates through the choppy waters of daily living.  Mature Christians respect one another’s freedom in Christ to make different decisions within the context of a biblical worldview.
  4. Christian maturity produces unity in essential doctrines and charity in the non-essentials.  The mature Christian also knows the difference.  There are some teachings that must be adhered to or else fellowship should be broken.  Here is a good place to draw out thoughts from your students.  What are the essentials?  Paul was a staunch advocate for maintaining the purity of the gospel, for salvation by grace through faith and nothing more, and sanctification by faith.  We should defend the Triune God at all costs.  We should hold to the truth of who is Jesus—fully God, fully man, fully paid the price of sin through His death and resurrection.  We stand firm on the truth and reliability of the Scriptures as the revelation of God to us.  But there are also many non-essentials that we can allow for in Christian love and freedom.  What are some non-essentials?  Instrumental music is one issue our church has dealt with.  There is considerable debate about the order of events and the timing of the Lord’s return among Christians.  This is a non-essential doctrine which warrants our gracious charity toward our brothers and sisters who might interpret it differently.

C. The Christian life is marked by morality.  Like the Corinthian Church, our converts into our church are coming out of a culture saturated in immorality, especially sexual immorality.  In years past, even non-Christians in our own culture adhered to moral standards that mirrored our own.  It was difficult to know who was a Christian and who was not from a cursory observation.  It is now sadly true that it is still difficult to know who is a Christian and who is not because our morals have been more shaped by our culture than by our relationship with Christ.  Statistically, Christians’ morality is just like our non-Christian neighbors’ in fornication (pre-marital sex), adultery, pornography use, and divorce.  It should not surprise us because our Christian converts are coming from a culture steeped in immorality.  In other words, the starting point of most new Christians begins with a moral deficit.

What are the implications?

  1. More intentional discipleship will be required than in the past.  Just like Paul’s time (and Timothy, Silas, etc.) with the Corinthian Church was more pastorally intensive, so must be our discipleship of new converts today.

  2. Jewish converts already understood sin, God, and their long history of His work in their lives.  Gentile converts began at square one.  Today most converts to the faith are also at square one and we need to take care to nurture them as babes beginning with the most basic lessons.

  3. While salvation and sanctification is by faith and the work of the Spirit in us, we must learn to walk by the Spirit through practice.  The writer of Hebrews said, “By this time some of you ought to be teachers, but you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food…But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil,” (Heb. 5:12, 14).

  4. Many Christian converts have dabbled in other “spiritual things” that amount to idolatry just like the Corinthian Church.  We must be intentional about helping these converts unlearn their former experiences and learn afresh the freedom and joy of a relationship with Christ.

Discussion questions/Issues to think about 

  1. Some of us come from a rich heritage of faith.  Others of us came to faith out of very worldly circumstances like Corinth.  In general, what are some advantages and disadvantages of both sides?
  2. Choose no more than five traits that define what it means to be a “mature Christian”. Why is maturity important in the church?  Be prepared to share your table’s five traits with the class.
  3. How does the morality of our culture shape our Church and what are the implications for evangelism and discipleship?
  4. Have you ever personally experienced or observed church infighting?  What were the consequences?

Chapter 29: Lydia

Open Door: Acts 15:36—16:40

Let’s now turn to the pages of God’s Word to see what he is planning to teach us today.

With little fanfare Luke describes how Paul arrived at Philippi, where he met a woman who opened her door for the first church in Europe!  The Story, chapter 29, summarizes the missionary work that Paul and his teams accomplished.  Upon arriving in a new area, Paul’s strategy was to connect with the local synagogue where he knew he would find followers of God.  He would introduce Jesus to them as the promised Messiah, through whom they would find salvation.  Often the doors to the synagogue soon closed to him, as well as the minds of the synagogue leaders. However Philippi was not a Jewish region, and there was no synagogue.  God led Paul straight to Lydia.

I.  Led by the Spirit.  Acts 15:36—16:10

The second missionary journey began with what might have seemed like a step backwards– a disagreement between Paul and Barnabas.  Actually, hindsight gives us the advantage of seeing that the ministry was doubled as two teams were now evangelizing.  Discover how God led Paul and Silas to Philippi.

1.  What was Paul’s desire? (15:36)

2.   Who joined them in Lystra? (16:1)                     Who joined them in Macedonia (16:10)

3.  Why didn’t Paul travel into northern Asia (Bithynia) like he desired? (16:6-10)

4.  Note that Paul’s team was redirected two times. What door was open to them? (16:12)

Christians had been scattered all over the known world during the years of persecution in Jerusalem, yet there is no record of any churches that had been established in Macedonia before Paul arrived. Now the Lord had prepared the way, and He had opened the hearts of some who would carry on the responsibility even after Paul’s team had to leave.

II. “Meet Me By the River”. Acts 16:11-15, 40

“Meet Me by the River” is a praise song that reminds us of the hope of that river of everlasting life that flows from God’s throne (cf. Revelation 22:1).  One day I’d love to sit by the ‘Eternal River’ and talk to Lydia about her life and to learn about those god-fearing people whom Paul found by the river near Philippi.

1. On the Sabbath, what were Paul and his team looking for when they headed to the river? (16:13)

2.  Describe who they found there.  (16:13-14)

3.  How did the evangelists take advantage of this open door? (16:13)

4.  What are the two distinct terms that Luke uses to explain how Lydia received the teaching? (16:14)

5.  Besides the words of the evangelist, what influenced her heart? (16:14)

6.  What was her response? (16:15)

7.  What did she persuade Paul and his team to do? (16:15)

8.  How many people do we know were travelling with Paul? (15:40, 16:10-note the pronoun “we”)

9.  Where did the church of Philippi meet? (16:40)

III. The Philippian Church.  Acts 16:14-40.

Lydia is the second woman mentioned in Acts who made an important contribution to the body of believers in her area.  Her story is similar to the story of Mary, the mother of John, about whom we studied last week.  She was a Jewess in Jerusalem who offered her home as a meeting place for believers, even during a time of persecution. Lydia was a Gentile who opened her doors to the largely Gentile Philippian believers. The first converts to the Philippian church make up a cross-section of the culture of the day.  The interesting thing is they could have come from any city in the world today!

1.  The next time Paul and his team went to a place of prayer whom did they rescue? (16:16-18)

2.  How did that good deed affect Paul and Silas? (16:19-24)

3.  As you read the story of what happened next, note the things that only God could have done. (16:25-29)

4.  How did the jailer respond when Paul taught him the Word of God? (16:30-34)

5.  After the magistrates had to apologize to Paul and Silas, what did they do? (16:39b)

6.  Where did they go before they left town? (16:40)

7.  What did they do there? (16:40b)

There is no doubt that God orchestrated the establishment of the church in Philippi.  He worked miraculously in the lives of the first three converts in Philippi.

8.  Note briefly how God opened the doors to their hearts.

Lydia___________________________________________________________________

The slave girl_____________________________________________________________

The jailer________________________________________________________________

9.  God also provided a benefactor for this new church plant.  Note some things that we know and that we can assume about Lydia:

Her profession and resources. (16:14a)

Her character.  (16:14b)

Her dedication. (16:15)

Her sacrifice. (16:40)

Her home. (16:15, 40)

10.  Considering the treatment Paul and Silas received, what kind of risk would Lydia and the other believers have been exposed to?

IV. Our Open Doors. 

The birth of the church in Philippi was lovingly and carefully brought into being by none other than Jesus Himself, through His Spirit.  He held their hearts and, we can almost imagine, the hands of the evangelists and their first converts.  But is the story any different today?  Is our Lord still so vitally interested in the birth of new churches around the world?  Let’s analyze.  Answer the following questions about churches you know:

1.  Prayer was a key characteristic of both New Testament churches that we know met in the homes of godly women (Acts 12:12; 16:13).  How has prayer been a key characteristic of the churches you know?

2.  Describe the details and situations that you know only God could have brought about.

3.  Tell how God has moved someone’s heart to pay attention to the teaching of the Word and to act upon it.

4.  Now that you know the story of the Philippian church, read Philippians 1:3-6.  In your own words, explain why Paul wrote that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”.

Key Question:  How is God opening the door in your heart to help you to pay attention and respond to Him in some area of your life?

 

For additional reflection:  List the assurances that Paul shares with the Philippian believers in his letter to them:

1:7

1:12-14

1:29

3:20

4:8-9

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