You win some, you lose some

Salespersons and politicians. Attorneys and pundits. Teachers and preachers. All use the art of persuasion. Some, of course, are more skilled or gifted than others. But even the best of the best know you can’t make every sale, win every vote, or convince every jury. That’s reality: you win some, you lose some.

Even if you’re the apostle Paul.

In Corinth, Paul followed his usual habit of taking the gospel first to the local synagogue. He used rational argument to try to persuade both his fellow Jews and any Gentiles in attendance to believe in Jesus as the Messiah (Acts 18:4-5).

Silas and Timothy had finally rejoined him from Macedonia. It’s possible that they brought with them a gift of financial support from the believers there (cf. 2 Cor 11:9), which freed him from some of the work of tentmaking to focus on proclaiming the gospel.

But the good news got a mixed reaction. Luke says that some of the Jews “opposed Paul and reviled him” (Acts 18:6, NRSV). Paul’s response may seem unusual and extreme: “in protest he shook the dust from his clothes and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles” (vs. 6).

Was Paul having a fit of pique? Possibly. But that’s not the whole explanation. Luke’s wording, literally, is that the Jews “blasphemed”: in other words, they may have gone beyond a personal attack on Paul to slandering the name of Jesus. Paul knew, as they did not, the eternal consequences of that rejection.

He had not stopped loving his compatriots, nor did he stop preaching in the synagogue (e.g., Acts 19:8). He had tried to connect them to their Messiah, and they had refused. You lose some; it was time to move on.

But you also win some. Paul left the synagogue but turned in at the house next door, belonging to a Gentile God-worshiper named Titius Justus. One biblical scholar has suggested that his personal name (praenomen) may have been “Gaius” (cf. 1 Cor 1:14); if this is so, then the man became a believer, was baptized, and hosted a house church.

A Christian house church next door to the synagogue?

I told you Corinth was a wild city.

Moreover, Crispus, the synagogue leader, also believed — I like to imagine him following Paul out the door. And not only Crispus and his household, but “many of the Corinthians who heard Paul became believers and were baptized” (Acts 18:8). Not bad for a day’s work.

These additions to God’s family must have encouraged Paul. Still, Paul seems to have been fearful. The rejection he experienced in the synagogue must have been extreme. He sensed that trouble was coming.

Knowing this, God (or quite possibly Jesus himself) came to Paul at night in a vision, saying: “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people” (Acts 18:9-10).

The message was: You’re not alone Paul. Yes, you have enemies. But you also have brothers and sisters in this city. They’re people you haven’t met yet, but I know them by name. They still need to hear the gospel. So stay the course. Don’t quit. I am with you, and will protect you from harm.

With that kind of tangible, divine encouragement, Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, proclaiming the gospel (Acts 18:11).

And as we’ll see, God made good on his promise to keep him out of harm’s way.