Who is Sosthenes from 1 Corinthians 1?

Paul writes his letter and begins it by noting that it is sent from he and his brother Sosthenes. But who is this Sosthenes?

While we cannot be sure who this refers to, there is a Sosthenes mentioned in chapter 18 of the book of Acts.

12 But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, 13 saying, "This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law." 14 But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, "If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. 15 But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things." 16 And he drove them from the tribunal. 17 And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this.

This Sosthenes was a Jewish leader who, when his plans to attack Paul ended in an embarrassing rejection by the Roman ruler Gallio, was beaten and rejected by his own people. It is not far fetched to think that this man that was beaten and isolated may have been one that Paul himself would have approached, showing compassion. In so doing maybe this onetime enemy of Paul became a friend of the church and a brother. Paul probably would have had a special sympathy for Jewish leaders persecuting the church, for that was Paul’s own history back when he was Saul.

A Great Mystery of the Faith

Acts 22 recounts a message delivered by Paul. He had been before the tribune asking for permission, and receiving it proceeds to speak to fellow Jews.

The crowd appears to listen intently, all the more because Paul speaks in Hebrew. He tells of his stirring conversion, meeting with Christ on the road to Damascus. He then was taken in by Ananias, received back his sight, and was given the call to be a witness. Paul repented and was baptized.

Paul is commanded in a vision to flee from Jerusalem, because the people there will not accept his testimony. Paul knows that people remember the role he took in persecuting the church, even standing by approvingly as Stephen was marytred.

St Paul Preaching in Athens, Raphael – Preaching to the Gentiles.

The crowd was listening throughout all of Paul’s message, but in verse 22 it says that at his last line they raised their voice and called for him to be cast out. What could he have said that would cause them, after listening throughout his message so intently, to turn so quickly?

In verse 21 Paul says that God commanded him to, “Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”

Paul’s opponents will tolerate his words up to the point that he claims God calls him to go to people unlike themselves. They appreciate that he is like them, that he is from a place like them, and that he speaks a language like them. They do not appreciate that he is ministering to “the other.” Their vision is so clouded and their understanding of God’s intent so narrow that they cannot hear the good news of Paul’s message.

God’s love for the gentiles is described as the core of a great mystery of our faith, revealed to us now. We now know how great is this new word that Paul speaks of in his letter to the church in Ephesus. I, a Gentile, for one am thankful for the ministry of Paul, as called by God, and need to follow suit to seek out not only others who are like me, but to bring the gospel to others.

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Ephesians 3:1-6

The Story So Far, Week 12

I hope you’ve been enjoying the readings this week as we have read the words Moses has chosen to leave Israel with as they prepare themselves to enter the promised land. I imagine it must have been a trying experience for Moses and his role as a leader of the people. He has to deliver words to people who will be entering a land that he will not be able to see. Moses also must pass on warnings and remind them of the promises of God, knowing that the people will never cease to turn toward false gods and false worship (as we still do today). He urges them to faithful to a God who has always been faithful to us, even though we do not deserve it, nor do the people deserve the land they are about to inhabit.

Next week we’ll finally transfer our attention from Moses, whom we met back in Exodus, as Joshua will take over.

In Acts we continue to see just how the Spirit is building up this church and doing so by spreading the boundaries out far and wide. Disciples are voyaging around the Mediterranean, going to both Jews and Gentiles. We read about the council where it was decided more clearly how to bring the Gentiles into the fold and what was (and really what wasn’t) required of them. This good news is brought to the churches and Paul puts himself in harms way to do such work, getting himself arrested.

Tune in next week to find out the fate of Paul!

Giving Others Room to Serve

Acts 18 was the topic of this week’s focus passage, which I usually don’t then mention again in a post, but I think it bears repeating. Or maybe you’ll hear this for the first time if you don’t use those Bible study guides. If you don’t, feel free to look into them now. You’ll find them under “This Week”, as they are to be a weekly study for one passage to focus in on from the many chapters we read. There you can find any past weeks, as well. They are one of the things we use during our Reading Groups, but they can work for small groups or individual study.

Getting back to Acts 18, it is similar many stories of Paul as he goes around, preaches the gospel, and people believe. But what I found of great interest here was what happens once Paul leaves. He spent a year with Priscilla and Aquila, who were tentmakers like Paul. They urge him to stay, but he does not, and in doing so he leaves them in a position to fill the void. Onto the scene comes Apollos, a man “fervent in Spirit” and who is teaching about Jesus. But as accurate as he is, he doesn’t have the full story.

If someone with great charisma and skill in speaking were to come into your town, but whose teachings were not quite right, would you be quick to insert yourself into the situation and correct the errors? It can be intimidating to challenge anyone else, especially if that person is persuasive and if you do not have any sort of specific qualifications or expertise.

But Priscila and Aquila do just this. They go to Apollos to more accurately instruct him about Jesus Christ. (Kudos to Apollos for humbly listening to such correction, too). It is a great testimony to their conviction and boldness in Christ.

It makes me wonder, though, if Paul had stayed, would they have done this same work? Would they have instead called Paul for help, or referred Apollos back to Paul? Maybe Paul would have beat them to the punch? We don’t know and can only speculate. But what we do know is that after Paul had spent his time equipping the saints and teaching the gospel, he left creating a void. Into that space these disciples of Christ step in to continue the work. His leaving created an opportunity for more believers to join in the ministry.

If we never leave room for others to work, when will they feel that call to join in the ministry? If we can’t let go, if we can’t trust others to be used by God, what does that say about our own reliance on God and belief that truly he is the one at work?

Paul knew his ministry wasn’t only to proclaim the gospel, but to pass it on, teaching it to others who would in turn pass it on again (2 Tim 2). His was a ministry of equipping others and of sharing the work of the gospel. We can learn this from Paul, and also learn boldness from Priscila and Aquila, and even learn humility from Apollos, as they create a great scene of laboring together for the glory of God.

Paul and Barnabas Split Up

Barnabas Curing the Poor, Paolo Veronese, 1566

As I mentioned yesterday, the early church struggled over what laws still apply to converts to Christianity, and we see that in the first chapter from this week’s readings from the book of Acts, chapter 15. Some among the Pharisees thought the Gentiles needed to first be circumcised, or in other words, the Gentiles had to become Jews first, to be followers of Jesus. The council in Jerusalem took time to decide matters and believed God was taking away any distinction between Jews and Gentiles and that all are saved by God’s grace, not the law.

The believers sent out delegates to bring this news to the early church, and this group included Paul and Barnabas (v.25). The news was met with rejoicing in the churches and Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch to continue teaching and preaching the word of the Lord.

Having just made a proclamation of unity to the churches that signified that the council was of one accord and that two groups who had been at odds were now being brought together, a sharp division arises. Paul and Barnabas intend to return to the churches they have ministered to, but Barnabas wanted to bring along John (called Mark), and Paul is not pleased by such a choice. Paul’s objection is that John has left them previously (Acts 13:13), so it would be better to choose another. We are not told explicitly why John left, but perhaps he returned to Jerusalem because he was uncomfortable with the mission Paul had to the Gentiles. This causes “sharp disagreement” between Paul and Barnabas, causing them to separate–Paul goes with Silas, and Barnabas with John.

Do we lament that division followed such unity? I don’t think that needs to be the response.

This was not a break over what the council had just decided. They do not disagree on their mission, just on the manner in which they will carry it out. Certainly it would have troubled these men to part over such circumstances, but even though they were divided, they still shared unity in their purpose. They both were committed to bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ wherever they went and continuing to care for his church. God may have even been able to use them for a greater good given that these two esteemed disciples divided their time and energies to reach different geographic areas. It also gave opportunity for Paul and Barnabas to take on new partners with whom to serve.

God is given glory in the unity brought about in the work of Jesus Christ to break down barriers that had once separated peoples. That good news is heard by the churches as the Jerusalem council sends word and the people rejoiced. But I do not think God’s glory is diminished when two faithful servants of the gospel part ways and divide to spread their ministries in new directions. God still worked great deeds in and through these early missionaries, and the story even has a happy ending. Paul’s letters reveal reconciliation with John (Mark), and he has changed his view of his role in the ministry. In 2 Timothy 4 Paul calls for him to be brought back because he believes that John is of great use to the work of God.

Week 12

We’re now beginning one dozen weeks of spending time focusing on reading God’s Word. I’m sure you’ve had up weeks and down weeks, when it has been easy or hard. Maybe this is a week that you want to catch up a bit. Each of your experiences are probably very different, but what is the same is the same commitment to set aside a part of our busy lives to be devoted to God.

I’m sure God has blessed such devotion and I’d love to hear if you have stories to share.

This week we have some more of the same as we continue Deuteronomy and Acts. If you’re new, I’ll pass along the advice I heard this morning. Read Acts 7.

It is not in this week’s assignment, but go back and at least read that. It’ll do a great job of catching you up on so much of what we’ve read in the Old Testament. If you feel like you still have gaps or questions, send them my way. I’ll work hard to get to an answer this week and post about it. This site is to be as great a help as possible–and that can only happen if you let me know what you need.

Hope you enjoy.

The Story So Far, Week 11

We’ve now gone through almost half of Deuteronomy and half of Acts, and we’re getting ever closer to the end of our first quarter. We’ve read in Deuteronomy how Moses is making final preparations for the people before they (and not he) enter into the promised land. He is restating the law making bold reminders that they are not entering into the land as people deserving, nor as a righteous people. God has done the work and it is by his grace that they will receive what is coming their way.

God, too, is doing the work through Acts by the Holy Spirit. Men and women are being taken up in service to the church of Jesus Christ, and by his name are doing great works and preaching the good news to both Jews and Gentiles.

Deuteronomy 8 also is the original location of the words that Jesus quotes when he is in the desert, tempted by Satan, “Man does not live by bread alone.” The Israelites are reminded by this that their needs are greater than food, more than the food they had in Egypt. They have a great need and reliance upon the Lord our God.We learn this lesson as well in Acts as all that is done is done by the power God gives and it is for God’s glory. The Spirit comes and gives the disciples the ability to work miracles, these signs are done in Jesus name, and it is all in God’s plan. The needs of the disciples move beyond bread alone, as they give up their material goods to serve others and support the new found community. If it were all about bread, or stuff, they would horde and keep to themselves, instead they sell their possessions and give to those who have need.

They do, as we read earlier in Acts, spend time breaking bread, but the church is more than that and they are devoted as well to the teachings of God. The church of Acts demonstrates well the second half of that line from Deuteronomy 8, “but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”