CHURCH PLANTING IN CORINTH

  • Pastor Mark Driscoll
  • Acts 18:1-18
  • January 08, 2006

Father God, thank you so much that you have sent Jesus into human history to live without sin, to die, to rise, to forgive people, and to bring them together as the church. And Jesus, as we study today about the planting of the church in Corinth, as we look at the church of Corinth in the coming months, it is my prayer that we would fall in love with the church as you love the church. That we would give ourselves for the church as you have given yourself for the church, and that we would seek to be a blessing to the city as you have called churches to be blessings to the times and places in which you have called them. To accomplish this, we ask the Holy Spirit to come and lead and guide and convict and empower and enable us to be faithful to Scripture, so that we might most effectively serve Jesus for the wellbeing of our whole city. We ask that in Jesus’ good name. Amen.

Well, as we get into it today we’re gonna start off talking a little bit about church-planting. Church-planting is where someone walks into a town; there isn’t a church and they start a church from nothing. There are about 425,000 Protestant non-Catholic churches in America. Every one of them at some point was a church plant. Somebody got the idea that there needed to be a church in that time and place for certain people, so somebody started. So the first thing I’ll tell you is before we get into Acts 18, to plant a church you need a dude, okay?  

Paul’s the kind of guy who actually could take a beating. He took quite a few; he’s pretty tough. And because of that, he becomes a good church planter, and you have to be that way. When we started this church, man, it was hard; a lot of hard times. Every time a guy goes to plant a church, a lot of hard times. And the bottom line is to be the dude who plants a church – and I know some of you guys wanna be church planters – that’s why I’m saying this. But a lot of you wanna be church planters because it’s a job indoors, doesn’t require any heavy lifting, right? You’re not gonna make it, right – you gotta be a dude.  

If you’re gonna plant a church, Satan, demons, weirdoes, freaks, nut jobs, heretics, the guys who read the whole Left Behind series – they’re all gonna show up. You gotta put your hands up, and you gotta do your job. That’s Paul – Paul’s that kinda guy. Now so he’s the dude. Now, to plant his church he’s gonna go to a city. A dude’s gotta go to a city. After this, Paul left; went to Athens – great city. Acts 17, Acts 18. He went on to Corinth – dude goes to a city. City is important; we’re gonna talk a lot about the city. Many of you, when you think of Christianity you think of, you know, Norman Rockwell paintings, somebody out in the woods, 50 acres, 27 kids. You know, milking goats and getting your own eggs from the chicken, making your own clothes, singing the songs from The Sound of Music, waiting for the Rapture.

That’s not how it’s supposed to be, right? Christianity is supposed to be an urban religion. Doesn’t mean we hate people in the suburbs or the rural areas, but it does mean that Christianity is supposed to be an urban religion. I’ll prove it to you. In Genesis 1 and 2, God makes our first parents, Adam and Eve. Says, “Be fruitful, multiply and increase in number, fill the earth, subdue it.” Have a lot of kids, fill up the world – that’ll lead to cities, great density, lots of people. Then he says, “Have dominion” – make culture. Okay, this is all leading to a city and we know that because people start building cities and ultimately if you go to the last chapters of the Bible, Revelation 21 and 22, Heaven comes down and what is it? It’s a fat city. Somebody’s gonna say, “I hate the city!” Go to hell – you know – because Heaven’s a city. If you love the city, you’re gonna love Heaven. If you don’t like the city, oh boy, you’re really gonna have a hard – you’re gonna be complaining in Heaven! Because Heaven is a big city – that’s what it is. It’s a great city!

That’s why in the Old Testament Jerusalem is called the city – it’s a great city. And on the Mount was the Temple, so it was like a skyscraper with God’s house towering over the great city. And God called his people in the Old Testament to great cities like Babylon and Nineveh. Jesus comes along in Matthew 5:14, says that Christians are a city on a hill; that we’re a city within the city; what Augustine called The City of God. And we are a city that uses money and sex and power and relationships and work and friendships differently than the city. Not because we hate the city, but because we love the city, and we invite the city to come in and to participate in the life of Jesus, in the life of Jesus’ church, and to experience the joy that it is to be the city within the city for the wellbeing of the whole city. Christianity is supposed to be an urban religion.

That’s why early on with Paul he went from city to city to city. If you trace his missionary journeys throughout the book of Acts, he goes from one urban center to another urban center. He doesn’t go out to the rural areas; he doesn’t go out to the suburbs. And he says things like, “Now I’ve reached the whole region and I’m moving on.” Well, he hadn’t hit the whole region, but he hit the major metropolitan area, and Christianity spread initially from city to city to city. By 300 A.D., half of all citizens in Roman cities were Christian. 90 percent of people who lived on farms and rural areas were pagans. To be a pagan literally meant you lived on a farm; that’s what a pagan was, because all the Christians were in the city, making, transforming culture. All the pagans were out on the farm making clothes and milking goats – that’s what they were doing. That’s the truth. The result is that God’s heart has always been for the city.

In 1850 there were only four cities in the world that had 1 million or more people. Cities are now a massive, exploding phenomenon. God loves the city. God is the God of the city. God cares for the city. I’ll tell you why: life begins and emanates from the city. There was thinking many years ago that culture came from New York on the East Coast and L.A. on the West Coast and went toward the middle of the country. That’s no longer the case. In every region of the country there are now strategic urban centers marked by universities, media outlets, sports teams, transportation hubs, international airports, and those are the culture-making centers. Which means if you wanna change your region, just hit the right city. Hit Denver, hit Atlanta, hit Houston, hit Seattle, and you’ll – hit Minneapolis and you’ll change a region.

The problem has been that Christians have left the city, stand apart from the city and the culture-making center of influence, and then complain because they don’t like what is happening. But God wants us to be in the city, because God loves the city. And God wants to work through the opportunities that the city provides to bring transformation to the region and to the nation. I’ll give you some of the hallmarks of the city, sociologically.

First is density – there’s just more people per square mile.  Also diversity – in the city you get the rich and the poor; you get the old and the young. You get the educated, the uneducated. You get the people that are sixth-generation culture builders; you get people that are first-generation immigrants that have been here for six days. All the races, colors, creeds, religions, backgrounds – great diversity in the city makes for a much more enjoyable and diverse experience of life and friendship. The result then too is the city is marked by excellence. If you wanna run a company in the city you have to be the best. You wanna have a band that gets signed and plays the club scene it has to be the best. If you’re a designer, you have to be the best. Why?

Because there is massive competition, and the density and the diversity in the city forces everyone to up their game and be better at their craft. Friends, that includes the church. But the city won’t accept a church that has not succeeded well at its technology or at its music or at its architecture. The city demands the best, and if you’re not the best the city will reject you. And Christians have complained about that for years. “Oh, it’s bias” – no, it’s competition, and that’s why I love being in the city. It forces us all to be better. It forces me to be better. It forces you at your jobs and your marriages, raising your children, whatever your vocation is, to be better. It raises the standard of quality for us all because of the competition in the city, and this is so important. And it’s amazing to me that people in the city who aren’t even Christians are seeing this.  

Another hallmark of the city is technology. Technology and technological change emanates from urban areas. I mean it was weird this last week. I wanted to listen to a sermon from a buddy of mine who’s a good pastor, and I wanted to learn from him. So I call his church, I said, “I was looking through your website and I couldn’t find the MP3. Is it harvested on another site? Is there something else?” They said, “No, but we’ll send you a tape.” “A tape? Sure, put it in the mouth of a pigeon and send him right over,” you know?

A tape? A tape? I don’t even have anything to play the tape on. Get a record and throw it at me, and we’ll use it like a Frisbee. What – a tape? You know, it’s amazing to me that sometimes churches don’t even speak the same language of the people. Everybody here works in the tech industry. Nobody – a tape player! You don’t have a hitching post for horses out front either,” you know? I love the fact though that technology enables us to expand our influence. It allows us to kick our front door out digitally far beyond our location. Also, too, the city is the center of media – newspapers, radio stations, television stations. They are centered in the city, and they broadcast out to the region and the world, which I love.  

It’s also a great place for the arts. The patrons of the arts, the artistic houses, the record labels, the club scene, the galleries where they’re into high art, pop art, folk art, whatever your thing is, all emanates from the city because there is enough density and diversity for there to have significant patronage of various artists and art forms. So it increases our creativity, which is something that God absolutely encourages us to do. It’s also the center of sports. You’ve got all your sports teams and your stadiums. It was the exact same way in Corinth.

Also education – the colleges and the major educational centers are in the cities. You wanna get a good education, you’re probably gonna need to go to a major urban center to find a specialized decent degree. That’s the way that it works. Law also emanates from the city. The lawyers are trained in the city. The judges sit in the city. The courthouses are in the city. And I get frustrated with Christians who don’t have anything to do with the city and say, “We don’t like the laws. We don’t like the way things are going.” Well then, move to the city. Raise your kids, send them to law school, let them open a practice, let them get elected to a superior court bench, and let them work upstream.  

And that’s the way it works. If you want to change the culture, you’ve gotta get into the culture. You’ve gotta get upstream in the culture. Most Christians are downstream trying to fish jump out of the river. It’s best for us to move in the city and get upstream. Be politicians, lawyers. Be people that are in the media. Be people that are teaching in the universities. Raise our children to do the same to effect cultural change downstream. It takes a while, but it’s the only way to make a lasting change. A couple other things that mark the density of a city – one is political. If you’re in a small town you don’t have enough people to vote for something that affects the state; the city dominates.

Also the city is marked by mobility – people come and go. International airport, new people, new ideas. Only half of you are homeowners – coming and going, massive mobility, transference of people – how many of you have moved here in the last five years from outside the city? About half – welcome. And it provides this wonderful opportunity because the city is also marked by anonymity. Small town – “Oh, that’s Joe. I know his dad and I know his mom, his brother, his sister, his grandpa.” Here – nobody knows you. You are anonymous. You get to start your identity over from scratch; be whoever you wanna be. The problem with that is you move into the city, you say, “Where do I live? Where do I work? Who do I trust? Who are my friends? I’d like to fall in love – who do I meet? I don’t wanna end up with some stalker who had baggage and carry-ons.” You know. “I want to fall in love, maybe, and have kids, but I don’t wanna make, you know, the police blotter. Who do I – where do I go?”

And this is the wonderful opportunity for the church to be the city within the city that welcomes new people, practices hospitality, opens our homes literally for community groups to welcome friends, family, neighbors, connect people. We’ll help you find a job, friends will help you fall in love, people will help you to get your feet under you, because otherwise the city can be a really dark and cold and hard place. And all of this is important, and Paul strategically knew this, this series of facts about the city. And that’s why he went from city to city to city, and he went to the great city of Corinth.

Here’s some of the commonalities. One, they were a port city with lots of trade and tourism; a lot of boats coming in and out with a lot of people, a lot of products, and a lot of crazy ideas. Also, a lot of educated young people; lots of educated young people in Corinth, and they were new money. This was a city on the rise, just like many of you make your money in the tech industry. It’s new money, new city on the rise. They also had the media outlets. They had farms nearby for food. Holistic medicine. They had massive numbers of singles, crazy feminism – we’re gonna get into that.  

Also they had massive issues of substance abuse and drunkenness. Guys were getting drunk at communion. Might I suggest that that is an indication of a severe alcohol problem? If you come up for communion, “Thank you, Jesus – I’ll take another round,” you have a problem. You have a problem, right? “Where’s the peanuts?” Like this is church – this is not happy hour, you know, and it’s 9:00 a.m., you’re at the morning service, you know. They also had massive sporting events and everybody was into their extreme sports and their bodies and going to the health club and working their upper body.

Massive arts scene, and also massive sexual perversion. They had transvestites, homosexuality, friends with benefits, strip clubs, cohabitating, the whole thing. The whole thing – just crazy naked people everywhere, that’s what it was, right? It’s nuts. I mean it’s just out of control, and the problem is there’s only a few singles – excuse me, only a few Christians. They’re very proud, very arrogant, very cheap; they don’t tithe, but they think they’re holy. This is gonna be a great book, it’s just – I’m gonna feel so much better, and for the three of you that are still here, life transformation – I promise!

So to get his church started, he has to get a core group. You gotta start with some Christians to get your church going. You gotta start somewhere. There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife, Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. It was a racist issue; he kicked a certain race out of town, but God even works through racism and sin to get his people to the right place for the work of the Gospel. That’s why some of you are here. You’re saying, “My company got downsized,” or, “I got relocated.” No, the sovereignty of God – you’re a missionary. God has work for you to do. Definitely, that’s why you’re here.

And what happens here is he gets his core group. Priscilla and Aquila – good Godly couple, love the Lord, good Bible teachers, male and female – both of them are good. They train Apollos, they risk their lives for Paul on multiple occasions, he declares. These are some really wonderful people. They’re not ordained, they didn’t go to seminary, they’re not licensed pastors – they’re great Christians. Some of you here today are saying, “Does my service count? Does it matter? Is it a big deal?” Yeah. You just made the Bible. Those are just faithful Christians; that’s what they are.  

Well, the next thing Paul needs is the same thing that every church planter needs: time, which requires money to free up his time. Paul went to see them and because he was a tentmaker, worked with leather making tents out of leather. Like Jesus, he had a trade. He had calluses on his hands. He could work a job to make money as needed. He stayed and worked with them, Priscilla and Aquila. Every Sabbath – that would be Saturday – he reasoned in the synagogue where all the Jews met, trying to persuade the Jews and Greeks. When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. Here’s what he’s saying: Paul was working a full-time job during the day to pay for his bills, and then he would do ministry at night and on weekends. But it got very hard, because to start a church from nothing requires a lot of time and energy, and he needed to devote himself full time.

So he worked a job until these two men showed up with money from another church in Macedonia. Philippians 4, 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 talks a little bit about this. He brings in money from another church. That church pays his salary so he can quit his day job and work full time on the planting of the church. Every church starts off in a financially difficult position.  

It’s a major strain on a family. When we started my wife Grace worked full time at a media company . Between the strain of her job and the church, and wanting to get pregnant and start our family, and the fact we’re racking up credit card debt trying to pay off college debt – all of this led to massive health problems with my wife. I repeatedly took her in and out of the hospital, the doctor’s office, because she had massive stress-related health issues. I was working full-time at a Christian book store trying to get to know the Christians. Trying to gather people, trying to figure out the pastors, the facilities; trying to figure out how in the world to get this thing started. And I remember looking at her saying, “Honey, I’m sorry, because you shouldn’t be carrying the financial load.” Paul says, “If a man does not provide for the needs of his family he’s denies the faith, he’s worse than an unbeliever.”  

Well, what happens then, as soon as Paul gets to go full time, gets a little money, gets a little encouragement, immediately it gets hard because of the religious people. Man, here they go: “But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive” – we don’t know what they did, you know? Yelled at him, screamed at him, beat him up. The guy got beat up a lot. “He shook out his clothes in protest, said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads. I’m clear of my responsibility. From now on I’m gonna go to the Gentiles.’” It was all the religious folks that drove him crazy.

Religious people drive you nuts, you know? But I love what Paul tells the religious people. “You don’t wanna talk about Jesus. You don’t wanna learn about Jesus. You don’t wanna roll with Jesus. Fine, I’m done with you. Your blood’s on your own head. It’s between you and Jesus. I’m gonna move on, find something else to do.” Well, the result is now he needs a place to meet; he needs a facility. Facilities for an urban church are always a problem. Here’s how he deals with it. “Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door.” He’s like, “There’s a house – that’ll do.” I love Paul, you know? He gets out of the synagogue. “Well, where am I gonna meet? There’s a good house right there; I’ll take that one.” Goes and knocks on the door (knocking) “Jesus loves you. That’s a big house. I’m looking for a place.” And most churches start in a house.  

You start with what you got. Usually you start in a house because it’s free. So he went next door to the house of Titius Justus.  Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord. The Jewish leader and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.” So he says, “You know what, you religious people, I’m done with you. I’m gonna go to all the freaks, nut jobs, weirdoes, the homeless kids, the indie rockers, everybody who’s got a moped. You know, forget about it. I’m gonna go get all the people whose marriages are falling apart and they’re all jacked up, and I’m gonna go to them.”

What does he find? Some of them love Jesus. “Say, that sounds good. I need salvation. I need a relationship with God. I need my sins forgiven.” And so they start meeting in this house, which is amazing.  

So at this point, Paul, he’s got people getting saved and the church is starting to get traction. They’re meeting in a house. They’re outgrowing a house. It’s starting to go pretty well, but he’s got some fears. And so who shows up but Jesus to talk to him. “One night the Lord” – that’s Jesus – “spoke to Paul in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid. Keep on speaking. Do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one is going to attack or harm you because I have many people in this city.’” I love that line. “So Paul stayed for a year and a half” – which is a long time for him – “teaching them the Word of God.”  God says to Paul this: first, have courage. “Do not be afraid.” You know, what you do a church in the city there’s a lot to be afraid of, isn’t there? There’s homeless guys all around here, guys living in their cars, panhandling. You’re in the city. There’s fear. There’s fear the city will reject you. There’s fear that your people you work with or friends or family would reject you, that you’re the Jesus freak. There’s a lot of fears that paralyze people.

But he says, “Don’t be afraid; have courage.” The second thing he says is, “Tell people about me. Don’t be silent. Don’t be silent.” Because he says, Jesus says, “There’s a lot of people in that city that belong to me.” I want you to hear that, that God has predestined, God has foreordained, God has chosen people in that city. And what he’s saying is, “My ends are to save them; my means are you not being afraid and having the courage to tell people that I love them and that I’ll take away their sin through my death, my burial and my resurrection.” That’s exactly what Jesus wants us to know. It’s courage – “don’t be afraid of the city.” It’s love – “the city needs you.”

Some of you say, “I don’t like the city.” Well, the city will be a better city if more people love Jesus and live like him. You won’t need as many jails. You won’t need as many divorce courts. You won’t need as many CPS workers for the beaten children. You won’t need all of the sexual abuse and rape victim counseling. If more people meet Jesus and more people live a life of love like Jesus, you will be contributing to the betterment of a great city. See, we’re not a church that hates the city. We love the city. We’re not here to fight the city. We’re here to serve the city. We’re not here to impose anything on the city. We’re here to propose a new way of life with Jesus to the city. We’re not a church that is a refuge for people who want to hide from the city. We are a church of hospitality wanting to welcome everyone from the city. We’re not here to declare war on the city. We’re here to embrace the city with the love and the transforming power of Jesus.

See, that’s perfect. That’s exactly what we want. It should always be on our mind.

I love my city. The best thing for my city is that people would know the love of Jesus. That’s the best thing I can do for my city. The city has a lot of needs, but that’s the biggest need, because that’s the need that begins the life transformation that takes care of all the other problems. Paul says, “Don’t be afraid. Be courageous. Love your city. Serve your city. I promise you there’s a lot of people there that are gonna love Jesus, and they’re gonna respond to the message.” Well, next thing you know, of course he gets a little encouragement from Jesus, you gotta get a little criticism from your critics. Somebody’s gotta complain. May as well be the religious folks. “While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul, brought him into court. ‘This man,’ they charged, ‘is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.’ Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews” – here’s what they’re saying.

Under Roman law, the Jewish religion was an acceptable religion. They’re saying now that they’re worshiping Jesus, they’ve broken from Judaism, they have a new religion. It’s an illegal religion; it’s not operating under the auspices of the Roman government. The truth is that Christianity is true Judaism. We love the Old Testament; they’re waiting for Jesus. He came. Jesus was a Jew, the early Christians were Jews. Judaism is not faithful unless it loves Jesus. So this is the theological debate. “If you Jews were making complaint” – the judge says – “about some misdemeanor or serious crime” – if Paul ate somebody, you know. Or if he whacked somebody, or you know,  whatever – he was a terrorist – “it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law” – theological stuff, right? It’s like Christians coming and saying to the King County Superior Court, “Well, they don’t have an orthodox position on the Trinity.”

They’d be like, “Did they eat anybody, because you know, we don’t really care. We’re backed up, you know? We got other stuff. We got terrorists. You gotta work out the Trinity on your own. We’re sort of backlogged.” “‘Settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.’ So he had them ejected from the court. They all turned on Sosthenes the synagogue ruler” – the one guy who converted to Jesus – “beat him in front of the court. But Gallio showed no concern whatsoever.” The point is this: once things start to go well people are gonna criticize. When a church starts, they ignore it. When it starts going well, they take credit for it. If it gets a little momentum, they criticize it. How many of you have heard crazy things said about me? I entertain myself with my inbox, ‘cause they’re saying crazy stuff about Paul and his critics are undermining him and trying to ruin his reputation.

I tell you what – crazy things are gonna get said about me. Crazy things have been said about me, and I’d be lying if I said part of it wasn’t deserved because sometimes I go off and say stuff that I shouldn’t. Amen? You know, I’m gonna own that. That’s what happens when you don’t use notes and you’re hopped up on Red Bull. That’s what happens. But some of the stuff too is totally undeserved.  

That’s okay if they don’t like me. Our whole goal is we just want people to fall in love with Jesus. That’s all that matters. But at the end of the day, don’t worry about the critics.

Because what he does, he ignores the critics. Paul moves on, and you’ll see it. He could’ve argued forever. Christians can argue forever. I mean, it’s unbelievable. People can argue about nothing forever, and what you do is just, “Look, we love Jesus. We’re gonna roll. We’re here to serve the city. You wanna roll with us, that’s cool. If not, that’s cool. We’re just trying to get something done.” So Paul packs up, rolls on. He “stayed in Corinth for some time, left the brothers, sailed for Syria accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila.” Simply this: after he’d been there a year and a half, he went on to plant another church.  

If you’re a Christian that’s been living selfishly, you’re not reading your Bible, you’re not praying, you’re not in a community group, you’re not connected, you’re not giving, you’re not serving. You’re not doing jack, because you feel like the church is here for you, you’re not here for the city, repent of that attitude, please. Partake of communion, remembering Jesus’ body and blood, shed for our sin. That it’s all about Jesus; and what the city needs most and what we need most is Jesus to change our hearts and minds so we would be more like him. And then we’ll sing and we’ll celebrate and we’ll leave here as missionaries to go do our job. Father God, thanks for a opportunity to spend a lot of time studying a great section of Scripture. Please forgive us of our sins. Please cleanse us of our unrighteousness. Please make us into a holy church, a united church, a gifted church, a devoted church, a fruitful church. Please allow us to serve our city with maximum effectiveness and efficiency. And Jesus, we take you at your work that we have nothing to fear. That if we talk about you, we will see that there are a large number of people who belong to you in the city and just have not heard about you quite yet. And so we trust that, and we walk forward with love and with confidence and with gladness, in your good name. Amen.

 

As a strategic church planter, Paul focused his efforts on cities like Athens and Corinth because culture emanates from urban centers. Paul’s example is important, as Seattle is also a strategic city that desperately needs more churches who love both Jesus and the city.

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