Christianity keeps spreading throughout the Roman Empire. In the process, it begins to separate from the Judaism that it originated from. This leads to a great deal of tension between the two groups of people, especially as people leave one for the other.
Meanwhile, life in Rome goes on. The Empire goes about its business, the usual business of Empires: conquest, trade, taxation, commerce, and circuses. Empires are about those items and seldom are truly concerned with religious matters. Historically speaking, religion has been co-opted by governments for their own ends, but rarely has that been good for any religious group.
Paul, meanwhile, is not focused on imperial matters. He is focused, instead, on the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the pursuit of the passion, he’s gone from place to place, and now he finds himself in Corinth. Starting off, he splits time between making tents and preaching, but once his team of Silas and Timothy arrive, he focuses his whole effort on the preaching work.
Interstitial nerd note: there is something here to be gathered regarding vocational ministry. Paul sets two examples here: 1 is that when necessary and helpful, he worked with his hands to provide; 2 is that when necessary and helpful, he worked solely at the spread and teaching of the Gospel and others handled the provision. Both the “never pay a preacher” and the “pay a full-time preacher” arguments can be found in Paul’s behavior in Corinth. Meaning? That one must do what is necessary based on the situation.
Eventually, the spread of the Gospel throughout both the Jewish and Gentile communities of Corinth leads to rioting. Alongside the riot, the Roman Proconsul is asked to mediate the religious dispute. He, showing some political acumen, backs out of the argument. His statement: this nonsense has nothing to do with me, my laws, and my responsibilities. Solve it yourselves.
Well, the rioting occurs, the synagogue leader gets beat up by his own people, and Paul goes on with this business. The verse in Acts 18 (link) that I would key on for this? Acts 18:17, where the text records that Gallio, the proconsul, was “not concerned about any of these things.”
We need to keep this in mind: the world does not care one bit about the internal religious arguments of the church. End of story.
There may be feigned interest, but really what the world sees in a religious squabble is a reason to avoid religious people altogether. Certainly we do not need to expect the outside world to fix our problems—we should fix those ourselves. No one else will actually care, much as Gallio does not.
Now, what do we do with this?
1. Of all the lessons in Acts about the church, one keeps repeating. It’s here as well: the business of the church is its own, and the world will at best be indifferent. Normally, it’s hostile.
2. Be certain we grab hold of help from the right angles. Every where you look, it appears that someone wants to tell the church what to do: the media. Celebrities. Wannabe no-good bloggers that spend all day trying to write a blog post. Methodists want to fix Baptists and Baptists, Presbyterians. The world wants to fix the Anglican Communion by pulling it left and others want to pull it right.
We want to be certain our help comes from the right place: the Word of God and those committed to that Word.
3. Avoid dragging our petty fights into public. Now, to be clear, if criminal activity is found, then take it to the legal authorities. (In a situation were the laws are clearly ungodly, that’s a different story—if the situation is clear.) However, if you are upset about which hymn you sang last week, do you really need to bicker that out over dinner in public? Not bloomin’ likely, mate.
Of course, the blog world becomes a gray zone on this one. Blogs and discussion groups allow people to connect that never encounter each other in public. That connection then leads to discovering petty issues that aren’t petty when they are a pattern of behavior—but neither are they private. Taking a personal beef to a blog is not always the best route, but it is sometimes the only one.
4. Finally, do not count on the world’s help when you are right. Stay focused on doing what is right, and let the rest come as it may.
Today’s Nerd Note: We meet Apollos here. Good chap, Apollos, in Acts 18:24-28. Evidence that learning and passion are good starting points, and that clarity of instruction is the crucial ending point.