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Founding Missions (3)

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The Founding Mission in Achaia

Leaving Thessalonica, and perhaps completing a mission in Illyricum, Paul traveled to Achaia, or Greece; and what destination was more likely than Athens! But he does not tell us how things went in Athens, or whether a church was founded at this time. We do learn something of his mental state: he was anxious about the Thessalonian congregation, apprehensive lest he had left them before they were able to stand on their own feet. Frustrated in his own attempts to return to Thessalonica, he sent Timothy back there to see how things were going.

1 Thessalonians 3:1-3   1Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we decided to be left alone in Athens; 2and we sent Timothy, our brother and co-worker for God in proclaiming the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you for the sake of your faith, 3so that no one would be shaken by these persecutions . . . . 

Paul now moved on to Corinth, where he was “the first to come all the way . . . with the gospel of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:14). His preaching of the gospel led to the founding of a congregation which seems to have been more gifted and more challenging than any of his others. Echoes of the founding mission are to be found not only in a reminder of what he had preached but also in the recollection of his fear and trembling as he preached.

1 Corinthians 1:17   For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. 
1 Corinthians 2:1-3  
1When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 2For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 
1 Corinthians 15:3-8   3For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 

Paul was assisted in those early days of church founding by Silvanus, and by Timothy, when he returned from Thessalonica.

2 Corinthians 1:19   For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not “Yes and No”; but in him it is always “Yes.” 

Paul’s practice of supporting himself by a trade gave him a certain independence, but in Corinth, strangely enough, this policy was controversial, particularly when he accepted aid from Macedonia but would not receive help from the Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 9:4-6   4Do we not have the right to our food and drink? 5Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? 6Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? 
2 Corinthians 11:9  
And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for my needs were supplied by the friends who came from Macedonia. So I refrained and will continue to refrain from burdening you in any way. 

The Corinthian congregation was probably gentile, like his other foundations, though we do have to take into account the reference to circumcision (1 Corinthians 7:18-20), which suggests the possibility of some Jews in the church. The Corinthians were a kind of cross section of Greek society: some slave, some free (7:21); some richer, some poorer (11:21-22). Most were ordinary.

1 Corinthians 12:2   You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak.
1 Corinthians 1:26  
Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 

But if the greatest number were ordinary, some were of considerable intellectual and rhetorical ability, or at least were impressed by leaders with these qualities. Nowhere but in 1 and 2 Corinthians is the apostle so defensive about his skills in speaking and about his intellectual force, and nowhere else does he take such pains to relativize wisdom and eloquence.

Paul’s first converts in Corinth were Stephanas and his family. They also seem to have been his first converts in all of Greece (or Achaia), so that we might conclude that his previous stay in Athens had not been productive.

1 Corinthians 1:14,16   14. . . I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius . . . . 16(I did baptize also the household of Stephanas) . . . .  
1 Corinthians 16:15  
Now, brothers and sisters, you know that members of the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia . . . . 

As with Galatia, Philippi, and Thessalonica, Paul had given the Corinthians explicit instruction in the Christian life, and had passed on those traditions that were central to the church’s existence. These traditions include the gospel preaching (1 Corinthians 15:3-8; see above) and the account of the institution of the Last Supper.

1 Corinthians 11:23-25   23For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 

In passing, we note that the progress of Paul from Philippi to Thessalonica is well documented in the letters (1 Thessalonians 2:2), as is his movement from Macedonia to Corinth (2 Corinthians 11:9); his progress earlier from Galatia to Macedonia is less certain, but may be inferred from geography (e.g., why would he bypass Galatia on his way to Macedonia?) and from the fact that by the time he writes 1 Corinthians, Paul not only has founded the Galatian churches but has already solicited from them a contribution to the collection for Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:1).
The subsequent interplay between Paul and the Corinthian congregation is discussed in the following pages: Ephesian Headquarters (2), (3), (6), and Closing Months (1), (2), (3).

In the meantime, Timothy returned from Thessalonica and rejoined Paul and Silvanus in Corinth. He brought great and welcome news to Paul: the Thessalonians had remained firm in their faith, and loyal to Paul in his absence. So with great rejoicing Paul composed the earliest of his letters which have come down to us, 1 Thessalonians.

1 Thessalonians 3:5-6, 9   5. . . When I could bear it no longer, I sent [Timothy] to find out about your faith; I was afraid that somehow the tempter had tempted you and that our labor had been in vain. 6But Timothy has just now come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love. He has told us also that you always remember us kindly and long to see us—just as we long to see you. . . .  9How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?    




Timothy also brought word that the Thessalonians were worried about the end-of-time prospects of those members who had died before the Lord’s return. This concern prompts Paul to write, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died . . . ” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). The full end-of-time scenario is given in 4:14-18. Click on Expectation.

We may now summarize the progress of Paul’s work thus far, in the accompanying Sequence Chart 2.

Sequence Chart 2  

• Resurrection appearance
• Arabia
• Damascus
Jerusalem Visit (1)
      =(for acquaintance w/Peter)
• Syria and Cilicia
• Illness   
• Founding of congregations in Galatia. 
• Founding of church at Philippi
• Founding of church at Thessalonica
   » Aid from Philippi
• Visits Athens
   » Timothy sent to Thessalonica
• Founding of church at Corinth
   » Aid from Macedonia
   » Return of Timothy from Thessalonica
   » 1 Thessalonians written
Jerusalem Visit (2)
       =(for the Conference)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . 
Jerusalem Visit (3)
      =(to deliver collection)

Now, to the letter (1 Thessalonians)!

Click Next button below to continue, Founding Missions (4).


Revised December 16, 2004

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