PAUL’S FIRST PASTORATE
1 After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, 3 and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. 4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.
5 When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. 6 And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” 7 And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue. 8 Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. 9 And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” 11 And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
12 But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, 13 saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” 14 But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. 15 But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.” 16 And he drove them from the tribunal. 17 And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this.
18 After this, Paul stayed many days longer and then took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had cut his hair, for he was under a vow. 19 And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to stay for a longer period, he declined. 21 But on taking leave of them he said, “I will return to you if God wills,” and he set sail from Ephesus. 22 When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and then went down to Antioch. 23 After spending some time there, he departed and went from one place to the next through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples. 24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.
— Acts 18:1-28, ESV
For the first time, Paul stays in one place for a long time. As an Apostle, missionary, and church planter, his calling was usually to cut and run. But there was something about Corinth that captured his attention and kept him there for a year and a half. I guess you could say this was Paul’s first pastorate.
By now the church, and her many churches, had been in formation for twenty years. Firm patterns had formed based upon the model of the Jewish synagogue. The ruling elder became the senior pastor, a role filled by Paul in this chapter. A plurality of other elders mixed the clergy, like Silas and Timothy, and the laity, like Aquila. Priscilla, clearly a woman, was clearly a leader, too, in some capacity. Deacons would rise with needs. Membership required a valid profession of faith, baptism, and maintenance of a godly life qualifying them to observe the Lord’s Supper each Lord’s Day, when all believers were expected to attend regular and regulative worship.
While most of what happens in church is not reflected in this chapter, the role of the pastor is put on display. And in a clear case of what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, what is required and expected of the pastor is largely the same for every member. So what does God expect of your pastor, and you?
Pastors must be called and equipped, and so must members.
Paul’s conversion and commission are as plain as the pages of Acts 9 in your Bible. He wasn’t looking for God, but God made him an apple of His eye. He wasn’t saved, but God’s grace furnished him with repentance and faith. He wasn’t fit to speak for God and shepherd God’s people, but the God’s Spirit equipped him for every assignment, including this second missionary journey. God called Paul to Corinth, and affirmed he was in the right person in the right place at the right time.
My Damascus Road led to my college apartment, where I felt radically seized by the Lord after hearing and meditating upon the gospel. I hated public speaking, so in quick successions God got me jobs as a public address announcer at basketball games, radio announcer for football games, and multiple invitations to share my testimony at churches. When I had to make a presentation at my first job, and someone called me “the preacher,” I knew my goose was crooked. Two seminaries and four churches later, here I am, and I’ve stayed a long time now, even longer than the Apostle Paul at Corinth.
You would not respect Paul if the Scriptures did not affirm his conversion, apostolic gifts, and proven faith. You would not have called me to be your pastor if I did not have proper credentials and proven character (You would not get surgery from a doctor with no medical degree, would you? Yet churches call pastors all the time who have absolutely no theological training, like Joel O’Steen.). You do not need graduate school to be a genuine Christian and faithful church member. But, like any good pastor, every good member needs to have a clear testimony of conversion to Christ, followed by baptism and responsible membership in a church to which they feel called. Every member needs some kind of (Sunday) schooling or other form of discipleship, and every member should exercise their spiritual gifts to edify and multiply the church.
Pastors must be evangelistic, and so must members.
In Corinth, as in every other place, Paul hit the ground running. He formed a tentmaking (now synonymous with bi-vocational ministry) team with Pricilla and Aquila, who had been expelled from Rome by Emperor Claudius over the “Chrestus” (Christ!) controversy among the Jews. He followed his normal pattern of witnessing to Jews first, then Gentiles, until enough were persuaded by the gospel to form a church (ten male heads of households were required to form a synagogue, so I would not be surprised if this was Paul’s benchmark for a church). Pastoral duties are multiple, but Paul never forsook his responsibility to share the gospel, as he reminded his young protege Timothy (ref. 2 Timothy 4:5).
I cannot say I share the gospel with everyone I meet, but I promise I share the gospel with everyone I know. I feel this is my responsibility as a pastor, but so did I as a college student, trucking supervisor, father, friend, and neighbor. The word translated “gospel” in the New Testament actually became our English word “evangel," or “evangelism,” and your really can’t have one without doing the other. Everyone who believes the gospel has a responsibility to share the gospel.
Pastors spend an inordinate amount of their time shepherding the saints. It is the saints who still have the most contact with the sinners. So make a list, check it twice, spend time with the naughty and not just the nice. They’re the ones who need the gospel most and give you the best opportunity to be evangelistic.
Pastors must be devoted to the word of God, and so must members.
When financial support arrived with Silas and Timothy, Paul left tentmaking and returned to full-time ministry. He became “occupied with the word,” meaning his occupation became solely the preaching and teaching of the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no debating Paul’s high view of Holy Scripture, nor of his commission and performance in writing the same. A high bar is set by him for all future pastors, as well.
Every church I have served has grown, not necessarily by leaps and bounds, and sometimes the growth was stunted or halted by conflict. But, every one made progress and added significant souls to the membership. I contribute it to the sovereignty of God, as displayed in God’s word to Paul in verse 10, and a simple commitment on my part. Like Luther, “My conscience is held captive by the word of God.” Without this pastoral foundation, the building will fall, as it has in almost all of the mainline churches in America today.
But what good does it do for the pastor to preach his heart out, if the people do not come and listen? And, what good is it to listen, if one does not weigh and obey? I say weigh, first to make sure what any preacher says is consistent with a sound and reasonable interpretation of the Bible. Then obey, or sin. Sin sinks the ship. But a pastor and people who share a high view of Scripture can, in the words of William Carey, “Attempt great things for God and expect great things from God.”
Pastors need help, and so do members.
Paul saw great things happen in all of his stops, including his eighteen months in Corinth. But he did not do it alone. His greatest help came from the God who bought him and brought him, comforted and sustained him. Help came from Priscilla and Aquila, Silas and Timothy (and Luke). Help came from Titius and Crispus and others Paul mentions later in his two biblical epistles to the Corinthians. Help came through prayer, offerings, and many other ways, for Paul knew what John Donne famously penned, “No man is an island.”
I’ve been autobiographical quite a bit in this sermon, but I must be careful here. If I mentioned all the people who have helped me in my life and ministry, this sermon would go on for hour upon hour. You know who you are, here and elsewhere, and I desperately needed you, every one.
Let me promise you I am here to help you, too. You need it, some more than others! Good pastors work long hours, and in previous places I restricted some of those hours without calls or appointments. I think I gained ground with my studies but lost a lot with people, and if I had a do-over I’d keep the door open all the time. So like James Taylor said, you just call, winter, spring, summer, or fall, and I’ll be there, or let you in, because you’ve got a friend, and a pastor, who is here to help.
Pastors will come and go, and so will members.
Corinth was Paul’s longest stop, at the time, but it was not his last. Controversy eventually came for Paul, like it always did, though not as severe as before. He left Corinth and wrapped up this second missionary journey with a return home to Antioch, then quickly embarked on his third missionary journey. The great preacher Apollos, discipled by Priscilla and Aquila, eventually became pastor in Corinth, and did good work. Then he left, then other pastors came, and went.
I am the twenty-third pastor in the history of this church. I’m not here to announce my resignation today, but one day I will, or the Lord could call me home, or I might run off in the tour bus with Emmylou Harris and just scandalize everyone. The fact is pastors come and pastors go, as do the members.
You are members of this church by the sovereign will of God and your own free will, which happened to be compatible in this case. I hope you will never leave unless those two are congruent again. Some of us will leave in a box, and I’m finally getting to the age when one of those could be me. Pastors and members will come and go.
Right now, however, we have a moment. How long it lasts is known only to God. I hope you keep the same pastor for a good while longer, and I hope many new members join us. As long as we are together, let us learn and practice these lessons from Paul’s first pastorate. Make sure of your salvation, share it with others, live the Bible, and love one another. And let’s do it until God call us to the next mission, or home to be with Him.