Christ into the City: Corinth (Series summary)

With this final sermon of our series, Christ into the City, we can make some broad, general observations about the expected effects of believers in Jesus entering into their surrounding culture (the city of Portland, in our case!), and simply talking about Jesus in a way that invites our family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc., to enter into a relationship with Him.

But, as we’ve seen over these past weeks in our sermons on Acts 16-18, when the good news of hope and forgiveness found in Jesus Christ bump up against the values of our culture, of any culture, that culture will inevitably bump back!  But, along with opposition and indifference, we can also count on the Lord Himself reaching into the hearts of those who hear our message, and calling people to relationship with Him.

In Philippi, we saw that the values of the culture bumped up against the materialism and profiteering nature of that culture, when slave-owners brought Paul before the town judgment seat because in driving a demonic spirit from their slave-girl, he’d destroyed their hope of continued profit off of her fortune telling.

In Thessalonica, we found that the good news of Jesus was offensive and threatening to the leaders of the synagogue there, as they saw Paul’s message taking hold of many of the members of their synagogue, particularly members who were very influential and prominent in their city.

In Athens, we found the simple, but astounding, claims of the gospel both offending and intriguing the intellectual gate-keepers and philosophy teachers of that city.

In Corinth, we find that the claims of the gospel can enter into the grittiest, most worldly culture imaginable, and powerfully convince people that there is hope beyond the simple satisfaction of their sensual desires.

In each city Paul, preached in (save Athens) the gospel was met with suspicion, opposition that led to persecution, and eventually, an appeal to the Roman government to intervene against this new religion brought to their city by this Jew from Tarsus.  But…in each city people believed in Jesus, and found deliverance from sin, hope for the future, and a genuine, spiritual community in which to belong, grow, and thrive!

In this sermon, we discuss both the need for courage in our speaking of Jesus to the surrounding culture and of the dynamic of opposition that we may well find as we seek to speak out of Him.  That’s the bulk of this sermon.  But the primary idea that I wanted to express is that for Christ to be truly brought to the city, to our city, we must open our mouths and speak of Him—clearly, courageously, often, and with great sensitivity and humility.  Many in in the United States and Europe today speak ruefully of the concept that we are now a Post-Christian socity:  our cultures values, laws, customs, lifestyles, etc., no long reflect a respect for the teachings, beliefs and practices of Christianity. This is demonstrated in many ways, from our entertainment industry to our financial crises, to our soaring rates of divorce, to our confusion regarding sexual ethics and the definition of marriage, to our educational system.  Well-meaning Christians sometimes seem to mourn the loss of a supposed Christian culture in the West.

However, I believe that our responsibility and tremendous opportunity as Christians in this time, wherever we are, is to view our culture as being decidedly Pre-Christian and waiting for someone to share with it an answer that truly works—the answer of the gospel of Jesus!  Let’s stop grieving over a past temple of our old practices and habits, and start reveling in the amazing opportunities and fascinating, precious people that the Lord has put before us!

We were hard-wired by God Himself to be obedient, effective followers of Jesus Christ, including witnesses to the gospel of Jesus–right where we’re at; here, today, at this specific time in history.  Let’s embrace that idea, and stop the hand-wringing over what our world has come to, and how tough it is to be a Christian, and how no one’s interested in Jesus anymore, etc!  Let’s stop the whining and complaining!  Instead, start planning to witness the amazing, earth-shaking power of the love of God, when it is turned loose in a culture–a culture like ours, when we simply open our mouths and tell people about Jesus.  We were made for this moment!  That’s how Paul seemed to have viewed his culture, and his place in it, and I believe our efforts and hopes should be set along the same lines as those of the great Apostle!

Blessings, Pastor Ken

Psalm 139:13-16 God knew you before we knew you…

This portion of Psalm 139 speaks of God’s relationship to human life in the womb, before birth occurs.  In fact, the Psalm even argues that God’s Personal relationship to every human life exists before a person even possesses a physical body!  

I.  God decided to create you before you were conceived. 13-14

13 For Thou didst form my inward parts; Thou didst weave me in my mother’s womb.  14 I will give thanks to Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Thy works, And my soul knows it very well.

A.  It is GOD, and not us, who creates. 13

13 For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb.

This verse takes away the argument that it is solely an issue between a father and mother whether or not they will conceive a child—God claims a proprietary (ownership) right in the matter.

1.  He formed our inward parts = our deepest, core identity. 13a

13 For You formed my inward parts; = kidneys = the deepest organs, most inaccessible. Ancient cultures/languages referred figuratively to the kidneys as the seat of the innermost core of one’s personality.

2.  He wove us in the womb. 13b

You wove me in my mother’s womb. = covered, protection and concealment.  = like the veils of the Temple and Tabernacle, intricately woven fabrics designed as the boundaries and borders of places where the Almighty God chose to dwell with His people.

B.  God’s creation of life—all life—is a cause for grateful praise. 14

14 I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well.

Application: There are no “unwanted” or “excess” people with God, so all can thank/praise God for life itself.

II.  Before you existed God knew you. 15-16a  

15 My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; 16 Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;

A.  God knew you before you were “know-able” 15a

15 My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, = Our physical structure, our bones, were always present and observed by God.

Illustration: Part of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe v. Wade was based in the court’s admission that the greatest minds of science, medicine, and theology had been unable to reach a consensus on when human life began, and so the Court would not bother itself with that issue.  But the Bible does tell us when life begins—it begins when God identifies it, names it, knows it—long before we can “see” it with our technology and scientific application.

B.  God made your body as a dwelling place for Himself 15b

And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; = woven (roqem) together in a skillful fashion, in the womb= Allusion to the roqem work of the tabernacle, the Psalm goes further, implying not only that God has made the infant in the womb, but also that the infant is being woven into a dwelling for God.  What tragedy it is that some would claim the right to violate and destroy this marvelous place of divine dwelling!

C.  God saw you before you were “see-able” 16a

16 Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; = (go’lem = embryo, fetus) = unformed substance = David’s substance (material aspect) BEFORE it was formed, as in conception.  This is how the verse has often been understood.  But an embryo or a fetus (medical names given to the unborn person) does have a form, a recognizable structure!  However, David states that God recognized us when we could not be seen, by the human eye, microscope, or any other instrument of measurement.   This means nothing less than the astounding assertion, by David, that God recognizes, plans, and sees human life before the life exists in a physically recognizable form!  As Pastor Ray Stedman said, “There is not a subatomic particle anywhere in the universe over which God is not absolutely sovereign.”  Apparently, to God, human life begins BEFORE conception—although it is at that time that human life becomes merely recognizable to other humans. According to this text, life begins when God began life—when God said, “Let there be…”, “and there was…”!

Application:  A God who took such care in creating you, from the yesterdays of eternity past, can be trusted to care for your life today.

III.  Before you were conceived God determined each day of your life. 16b

And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them.

God has a plan and purpose for us, before we’re even born!  Cf. the acknowledgement of purpose and identity of unborn children in the Bible:  God knows and orders the events and course of human life before that life sees the light of day: There are a few places in the Bible where the lives of the unborn are mentioned.

Ishmael = Destiny foretold: Hagar conceived with Abraham, prophecy about the child in her womb  (Gen. 16)

Jacob and Esau = Destiny foretold (Gen 25)

Samson = Destiny, Consecration to ministry “set apart to the Lord” from the womb, “will begin to deliver his people from the Philistines” (Judges 13:5-7,16:7)

Jeremiah = Consecration, “from the womb”: Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

John the Baptist = Consecration, response to Messiah.  Leaping in the womb at the presence of the Lord Jesus (who was in Mary’s womb!) (Luke 1:39-44)

Paul = consecration: set apart “from the womb”: Galatians 1:15 But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased

Jesus = Consecration, from the womb (Isaiah 49:1 Listen to Me, O islands, And pay attention, you peoples from afar. The LORD called Me from the womb; From the body of My mother He named Me.),  49:5 And now says the LORD, who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, To bring Jacob back to Him, so that Israel might be gathered to Him (For I am honored in the sight of the LORD, And My God is My strength), = “from the womb” = before birth God has a relationship with people.  Purpose and role in life, from the womb: Isa 9   6 For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. 7 There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this. = The gender, political role, reputation, accomplishments, extent of power, source of power, etc., are all known and told regarding this Child, Jesus Christ.

What about us today, here at Grace Church?  The God who knew you, loved you, and then created you—can be trusted with your life today.

Acts 18:1-8 Christ into the City: Part 9: Κόρινθον

Introduction: Leaving Athens, Paul arrived in Corinth 1

1 After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth.

Athens = intellectual capital of the region/ancient Mediterranean world

Corinth = political capital, cultural capital, financial capital.  Geography: located in the narrowest part of Greece, between the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas. Culture: Much wealth, much opportunity, much immorality, host of the Isthmian Games every two years.

Big Question: What can we expect if we seek to bring Christ into our city?  Answer:  If we intend to bring Christ to our city, we will need to find true companions to share life with, we’ll need to stick to a Christcentered message despite rejection, and we can expect to see a vibrant, growing, diverse, multi-cultural community of God’s people. 

I.  We need to have COMPANIONS if we are to bring Christ to our city. 2-3  

2 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.

A.  We are not meant to live our faith in isolation.

B.  Paul found people with whom he shared things in common, like Aquila and Priscilla…

1.  They shared a common homeland.  (Pontus, Asia Minor)

2.  They shared a common religious background—Judaism.

3.  They shared a common trade—tent makers.  Probably in Corinth for the same reasons, to make money sewing and repairs tents for tourists at the Isthmian Games.

4.  They shared a common experience of being evicted from a city because of their religion.

C.  The growth of their relationship:  Life-long friendship in ministry with Aquila and Priscilla.  (Ephesus, Rome, etc.)

Application: We must have quality, long-standing relationships with Christian companions if we are to sustain a life-long goal of reaching people for Jesus in our city. We will most likely enter into these relationships through the routine, normal events and circumstances of life—so we should always be alert!

II. We’ll need to stick to an exclusively CHRIST-CENTERED message if we are to bring Christ to our city. 4-6

 4 And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. 5 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. 6 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.”

A.  The Christ-centered message: Jesus is the only hope of every human being in the world!  Believe on Him and finds forgiveness, life, and hope!

Cf. 1 Cor 1  21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. = Paul didn’t cater his message to make it more pleasing and reasonable to the city.

Cf. 1 Cor 2:1 And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God.  2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. = Paul purposefully limited all of his teaching and preaching to the facts of the death (and resurrection) of Jesus Christ.

B.  The resulting conflict: hostility and blasphemy/insult.  As we’ve learned in the other cities of Paul’s journeys, when the gospel pushes against the privileges and interests of a group, that group will push back against the gospel!

C.  The decision of Paul: Withdrawal from the synagogue, immersion into the culture of Corinth—the Gentiles.

Application: The message that we’ll share with our city will only be the gospel of Jesus Christ—and we will not share any other message as if it were the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is very tempting to design a type of “gospel” that will not alienate us from others, and that others will not criticize or scorn.  But to present anything other idea or action as a means of salvation is a terrible thing to do–only faith in Jesus alone can save!

III.  We should expect a distinct COMMUNITY to form—the church!  7-8

7 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. 8 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.

A.  The process:  Hearing, believing, being baptized = all active verbs.  Literally. “As they continued to hear the message of Jesus there was a continuous stream of Corinthians believing in Jesus and identifying with Him and his church by being baptized.”

B.  Who made up this new community of God’s people, the church of Corinth?

…God-fearing Greeks, like Titius Justus

…Jews, like Crispus (former leader of the synagogue!)

…Paul, Silas and Timothy

…Aquila and Priscilla

…many Corinthians =

…Erastus, the Treasurer of the town (2 Tim 4:20)

…Phoebe, who lived in nearby Cenchrea (Rom 16:1-2)

…Stephanas (1 Cor 1:16),

…Fortunatus and Achaicus (1 Cor 16:17)

…Sosthenes (1 Cor 1:1)

…and a great number of people whose lives were changed, and changing–as they joined this new, grace-filled community of God in the city of Corinth = 1Co 6: 9 …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. 11 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. = People with all sorts of hang-ups and sins and problems started showing up at this church in Corinth!  They did not show up to church perfectly resolved, completely improved, never-again-to-relapse, etc., but they came as they were–needy, eager, and hopeful.  

Do we every find ourselves grateful that these types of folks are NOT in our churches, when we should be frustrated and deeply concerned that very few of them ARE with us?!?!  Why aren’t more drunkards, thieves, homosexuals, etc., flocking to our churches to find hope and healing, and why doesn’t it bother us that they aren’t here?!

Application: When a Christian keeps sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, we can expect that people will hear, believe, and be baptized into the faith.  As this happens, we should fully expect that our community—this church—will continue to attract a widening array of different kinds of people from different kinds of backgrounds—all seeking to learn more, go deeper, and live out a life in Jesus Christ.

A bit of background on Corinth

Ancient and modern Corinth, Greece
Although modern Corinth is much smaller than ancient Corinth, both in size and population, the presence of modern homes, farms, and other structures has limited excavation of the ancient city to a mere fraction of its total area. The above picture contains both ancient and modern Corinth, and the area is believed to be where the synagogue of Paul’s day was located.

In case you would like to familiarize yourself with the background of this coming Sunday’s sermon (Christ into the City: Corinth), here is a brief survey of ancient city.  While two thousand years have passed, and it seems our North American culture is vastly different from that of an ancient Roman city—historians and archaeologists have provided ample evidence that we today in North American, perhaps more intently in our larger cities, could in many ways be considered cultural twins of Corinth.  Many of us might feel right at home living on the eastern slopes facing the Aegean Sea in that giant metropolis.  In fact, we might even be eager to live in Corinth, given the wonderful climate, cutting-edge culture, great wealth to be gained there, and the endless opportunities of pleasure and recreation found there…

Geographically, Corinth had a more-than-adequate water supply for its 700,000 residents, plentiful food sources, and a pleasant climate.  It couldn’t have been better situated for success and wealth, being positioned at the cross-roads of the ancient Roman world between North, South, East, and West.  Its location brought endless opportunities for trade and enrichment to the Corinthians through the variety of goods available in the city and the taxation of merchandise being transported through the city.  Corinth stood on a five-mile-wide isthmus (a narrow neck of land between two large bodies of water), separating the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas.  Rather than sail along the treacherous, rocky shores of Greece (over 200 very dangerous miles) merchant boats would sail to one of Corinth’s two harbors (one on its western side, one on its east), haul their boats out of the sea, and drag them along a marble-paved, well-greased road called the diokos.  The vessels were then put back into the water on the other side of the isthmus, and they continued on either to Asia (if they were going east) or to Italy (if they were going west).  Offering all that a merchant or sailor might look for in a port, Corinth became the favorite port-of-call for those who made their living on the seas.  Click here for a great map of Paul’s Second Missionary Journey.

Economically, being a major cross-roads town made Corinth one of the richest cities in the world.  Though the ancient city of Corinth had been destroyed centuries earlier by the Romans, Julius Caesar had rebuilt the city just 150 years before.  The city had the odor of new money wafting through its narrow, ancient Mediterranean alleys and streets, much like Gold Rush San Francisco or 1980’s Silicon Valley.  It was full of ex-slaves who had gone into business, worked like slaves to make a profit, and then became enslaved to their money and possessions!  If a person was quick on his feet, could smell a good deal and strike quickly to take advantage—he just might become wildly rich.

Culturally, Corinth was one of the most cosmopolitan cities of the ancient world, with Romans, Greeks, Europeans, Asians, and Africans making up its population.  Restaurants, trade-guilds, temples, businesses and shops abounded—along with a thriving adult-entertainment industry providing sexual services of all imaginable varieties, and some that we might have trouble imagining!  The multi-cultural nature of Corinth resulted in many varieties of beliefs and customs found in the city.  The Isthmian Games were held every two years, bringing much wealth and tourism into the city.  At the games, athletes from the ancient Mediterranean world would compete in events such as javelin throwing, foot races, wrestling, long jump, etc., drawing huge crowds to the festival associated with the competition.  Many tourists purchased tents to stay in during their stay for the Isthmian Games.  It is probable that it was to make some money from his trade as a tent-maker that Paul chose to travel to Corinth, of all places.  Another tent-maker couple, Aquila and Priscilla, had recently left Rome, and likely had chosen to go to Corinth for the same, economically-driven reason as Paul.  But aside from the usual practice of supporting himself through tent-making, Paul had another, deeper agenda in his heart as he made the trek from Athens to Corinth: He sought to extend the gospel of his Lord Jesus Christ into the city of Corinth through the preaching of that gospel of Jesus Christ.  But how to accomplish such a task in such a place?  Corinth as decidedly the most un-Christian city in the ancient world before it had even heard about Christ!  Its temple of Aphrodite, which daily sent scores, if not hundreds, of both male and female prostitutes into the streets and squares of Corinth below to perform sexual acts with tourists, visitors, and residents was already legendary in the culture of ancient Rome.  The general party-spirit of the city gave rise to the term Corinthize, which described the most morally base behavior imaginable:  On the stages of theaters across the empire, the classic character of The Corinthian appeared—always drunk, staggering across the stage, and acting the part of the fool.  As it is informally said of Las Vegas today, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” the same could truly be said, “What happens in Corinth stays in Corinth!”

This Sunday, we’ll hear what does happen in such a city when a determined, unknown travelling preacher named Paul arrives with a message of hope and forgiveness to a truly burned out culture, exhausted by its own relentless pursuit of pleasure and meaning…