What we have in this text is a tremendous testimony to the reason the gospel made it to Rome through the fortitude of the apostle Paul, as promised by Jesus. Like many things we may deduce various reasons why the apostle was able to carry on, persevere, and have the courage to stay in Corinth in particular. The first reason to eliminate is the matter of any gain by the Corinthians.
The apostle did not stay in Corinth because he gained a living from them. He had been in Athens a short time, the world did not come to know God by wisdom! Now he went to Corinth (v.1). A certain event took place leading the apostle to reunite with some old co-workers named Aquila and Priscilla his wife. The event was a decree by Claudius Caesar which we have verified further in two sources, the first Suetonius, a historian whose writing dates this event as well as including a rare referenced to Christ, stating the reason that the expelling of the Jews was because they were causing tumult due to their leader Christus, which was a clear reference to Jesus. Tacitus, another historian also verifies this decree in A.D. 52. This brought the workers together. But the question was: Why was Paul working a trade when it was his work to be a Rabbi to begin with and here a teacher? Well, it is obvious from looking at the Corinthian letter that they did not supply his need, but he worked with his hands while there as his boast. It could not be said that Paul stayed there because the Corinthians provided for Paul, because they didn’t; though they were much more able to do so than the Philippians who did provide for Paul (Philippians 4:14–15; 2 Cor 11:8–9). Paul was a tentmaker by trade not because he learned this as an adult, but as a child from his father. A Jewish man was required to teach his son a trade; to not do so was frowned upon producing an adage that to not train your son in a trade was to train him to be a thief! Nevertheless, the gifts brought to him by the Macedonians referenced above indicate that the apostle did not go on working with tents but was able to give himself to full-time ministry to the Corinthians for a year and a half (again see 2 Cor 11:8–9). But at this beginning he worked in the week and he reasoned every Sabbath with the Jews trying to persuade them, little by little if you will, to believe in Jesus. But they did not believe, and this brings us to a second non-reason for his courageous staying.
Paul did not stay in Corinth because he was gladly received by his own people, because he wasn’t. We read that when Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. 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.” And he left there an went to the house of a man Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue (vv.6–8). Similar to what a prophet would do, Paul pronounces judgment on the synagogue there basically saying there is no hope for them when they reject the only source of hope. The house of Justus is there to this day. The synagogue is there to this day. And even the place that Paul stood before Gallio the Roman ruler is there to this day. The archeological structures of Corinth stood strong and long. We even know the columns of Corinthians architecture differentiated by name from the ionic and doric styles. I mention this because this passage is some of the most well attested historically and archeologically in the Bible the very date of these events. But Paul’s own kindred did not give him a reason to stay. It could not be said because his own received him, he stayed! The same is said of Christ who came to his own, but his own did not receive him (John 1:11). But there were those who did, and that presents actually another reason that did not make the difference for Paul to stay definitively.
Paul did not stay because he had some popularity there from others. Evidently the ruler of the synagogue refused to join their disbelief and condemnation and left with Paul believing in Jesus. Good for him! (v.8) He brought his family with him. You can read of Crispus the ruler of the synagogue in 1 Corinthians 1, as well as Sosthenes mentioned in v.17. But a clue as to such popularity not keeping him there is found in his weakness identified here in v.18 and admitted in 1 Corinthians 2 where Paul says, “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling” etc. Negatively then we see Paul was losing his nerve, as one commentator mentions of this incident. This is amazing because we are talking about Paul who has been valiant to this point. But just like any man he gets fearful at times. And such was the case here; and if left to himself he would not have stayed any longer in Corinth. And we know this because the ascended Lord ruling at the Father’s right hand had to appear to him to ensure it, and that is what is the real reason for why Paul stayed in Corinth.
Paul stayed in Corinth because the Lord Jesus Christ is alive and reigning and supernaturally spoke to the apostle in a vision saying, “do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 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. And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (vv.9–11). There are the various reasons with specificity. There are five of them here. First, Jesus encouraged Paul telling him not to be afraid. Second, Jesus commanded Paul what to do positively, go on speaking and not be silent! When Paul later tells Timothy that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and self-control, he says those things out of experience and as a result of this revelation. Third, Jesus promised his presence “I am with you!” Fourth Jesus promised his protection, “and no will attack you to harm you” and it may be said fifthly that this last thing was on the basis of the doctrine of election and a postmillennial worldview of an increasing growth of the church in the world, “for I have many in this city who are my people” (v.10). This is what Jesus did that made Paul stay! And these are the kind of things that Jesus does to still to help his people stay to do his work on earth under his rule. He encourages, commands, promises his presence, promises protection in so far as the people whom he died for will be reached, and until they are, nothing can hurt those commissioned to reach them. But to verify this truth even more, a crisis is presented by Luke that temporarily challenges these things; and this so we don’t give up when circumstances seem to be going otherwise.
In v.12 Gallio procounsul of Achaia, that is a Roman ruler then, is sought by the Jews to deal with Paul. Unlike Pilate, Gallio will not carry out their wishes. But it is not because he cares, but the opposite is true (Cf. v.17). Gallio is a tool in God’s providence that gives Paul another ten years of ministry under the protection of the beast of Rome! The Jews wished to ride this beast as quickly as possible, but not even Rome would be that prostitute’s beast at this time. Rome acted as a protector of Christianity against the Jews. Keep this in mind when it comes to Romans 13, which was written by Paul at a time when the government was rewarding good and punishing evil still. Now, Gallio was the brother of a man named Seneca who was a famous stoic writer and philosopher dedicating at least two books to Gallio. Both of these men are said to have conspired against Nero and Nero put them to death. Paul is later put to death by Nero also, but much later and not violating this promise given at this time in Corinth. So, Paul stayed in Corinth by virtue of Christ’s providence of using this ruler in his uncaring personality concerning the worship of God in the land to protect Paul, but not acting on behalf of the Jews. Calvin says the most absurd thing to leave the worship of God to the will of man. And so it is absurd for government to not care about the one true God being worshiped. Nevertheless, God even uses uncaring beasts to not attack Christ’s servants and his children because he is the one who rules over both church and state to accomplish his purposes in all the earth. Christ’s promise to Paul did not fail. He did exactly what he said he would do there, and Paul went on ministering there for a year and a half gathering the sheep whom Christ died for. And we read of the man the Jews beat and for whom the Roman governor also carelessly stood by and watched, Sosthenes that he became a brother in the Lord (1 Cor 1:1). O, the triumph over such abuses of religion and civil authority both! And what triumph of remaining in a place trusting God to care for him had Paul been given by Christ himself!
Therefore, we know very clearly why the apostle was able to stay in Corinth, and may thus draw why we may be able to stay an build Christian fortitude—It is by looking to the risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ that we may gather courage to stay and carry on a work for God against all obstacles of lack of funds, lack of reception by our own family and friends, popularity, fear, and careless rulers. Because Christ acts, his people endure in the places they are sent for his glory and their joy. Amen.