There’s a saying that says “The way you START isn’t NEARLY as important as the way you FINISH”.
It’s true in LOTS of things. Like Greg Norman who would always START well in the big golf tournaments, but then the pressure would get to him, and he’d finish BADLY. They said he could DEFEAT from the jaws of VICTORY.
And it’s like half-finished renovations. The house that’s HALF-painted. The gutters and walls got painted. But you never quite got to the walls. Or the plastering’s all done. But you never got to putting the architraves on. Or painting the doors. Or replacing the sheets on the windows with curtains.
“The way you START isn’t NEARLY as important as the way you FINISH”.
And what’s true in LIFE is true IN A CHURCH as well. It’s no good starting with a burst of enthusiasm and energy and growth. But then for things to finish in FIGHTS AND DISHARMONY. To shut the doors, turn off the lights, and for everyone to disband and find new churches.
Plumpton and Rooty Hill were two Presbyterian churches that began around about the same time as Western Blacktown. A little earlier in the case of Plumpton. And they BEGAN WELL. But for a variety of reasons they didn’t FINISH WELL. They both closed. Rooty Hill just ran out of people from what I understand.
Now, my point is NOT to focus on those churches. Because one of the UPSIDES has been that we’ve gained people from both churches. But just to say/ that we need to guard against finishing BADLY.
We’re about 15 years old. And we’ve STARTED WELL. Craig and Cathy Tucker and the rest of the core group did a GREAT JOB. And it’s been an up and down sort of growth since then. Some years we’ve got bigger, then lost people. Then more people have come. But I think we’re a church plant that’s growing in lots of areas. But how can we make sure we KEEP FINISHING WELL?
That’s the question. Because it’s not how you START that’s as important as how you FINISH.
Which is a lesson we can learn from the Corinthian church. Because as we look at Acts 18, and see the first days of this church Paul plants. In lots of ways, it’s got EVERYTHING going for it.
But then, we’re going to fast forward a few years to when Paul writes a letter to them. Warning them that they’re in danger of finishing badly. Things have gone downhill. And now the danger is it’s all going to collapse into a heap.
(slide 1) For the last few weeks we’ve followed Paul on his tour through Europe. It’s not quite your first-class, all-expenses paid, luxury coach tour either. He’s crossed the sea from Asia by boat. But from there on, it’s all by FOOT.
He’s landed in Neapolis, and then traveled through Philippi. Where he’s had some adventures worth telling. From there he’s made it to Thessalonica, then Berea, and then to Athens. That’s where we finished last week.
(slide 2)This week we see that Paul’s made it as far as Corinth. About 100 km further west.
Last week it was Athens. Which was famous as a center of academic excellence – a University town. Probably home to about 10,000 people.
(slide 3) Corinth, on the other hand, was a great COMMERCIAL centre. A hive of BUSINESS and trading. At its peak, it had a population of nearly three quarters of a million!
(slide 4) It’s location was strategic. It was one of the great crossroads of the ancient world. It sat right on top of a narrow belt of land called an isthmus, linking the Peloponnesian peninsula in the south to mainland Greece in the north. 5 km wide.
(slide 5) Separating the Gulf of Corinth to the west from the Aegean Sea to the east. Literally at the centre of the four points of the compass.
So all the LAND-Based trading routes passed through it.
(slide 6) But it also had safe harbours on both sides. Lechaeum on the west. And Cenchreae on the east. (slide 7) Merchants and suppliers from all over the known world came to Corinth. By road or by boat.
(slide 8) These days there’s a canal across the isthmus that joins both seas. It was finished in 1893. It’s 6.2 km long, and 25 m wide. And ships can travel from one side to the other.
(slide 9) But in THOSE days, the best they could do was haul smaller boats across a purpose-built road, called a diolkos, from one side to the other on rollers. Still quicker and easier than sailing around.
(slide 10) And because of its position, as well as being HUGE, it was also incredibly wealthy. (slide 11) Large markets selling goods from all over Asia, Europe, and Africa. (slide 12) There were statues, and fountains and baths everywhere. (slide 13) Large theatres were built in Corinth to entertain its prosperous citizens. The world-famous Isthmian games were held there every two years.
But hand in hand with their wealth and prosperity and culture/ went wickedness, immorality and idol-worship. (slide 14) A large temple to Apollo occupied a central place in Corinth.
(slide 15) And on the rocky outcrop behind town, the acrocorinth, was a shrine to Aphrodite, or Venus, the goddess of love. It’s said a thousand female slaves served her. And they roamed the city streets as s at night. (slide 16) They’d even had a VERB named after them. To korinthiazomai meant to practise ual immorality.
That’s Corinth. A huge population, proud, cultured, and wealthy. But wicked and pagan, and immoral. No wonder Paul writes later that he came to Corinth IN WEAKNESS AND FEAR AND WITH MUCH TREMBLING!
Perhaps WE’D have chosen a DIFFERENT city to plant a church in. Too tough. Wasting our time.
But what we’ll see is that God had a very special plan for Corinth. And probably for lots of the reasons we think it WOULDN’T work, God thinks it’s JUST THE PLACE to build a church. And so, just like a master gardener, God gives it every advantage to grow well. It has things going for it that NO OTHER CITY YET has had. He tills the soil, fertilizes it. Plants lots of seed, then weeds it, nurtures the crop, and looks after it.
This is a church that STARTS WELL. Let me show you what I mean.
a. A core-group
First up, Corinth has something no other new church has had. A CORE GROUP. Look at v2.
2 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. Paul went to see them, 3 and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. 4 Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.
It’s likely Aquila and Priscilla were already Christians. Originally from Pontus (slide 17). Then they’d moved to Rome. And quite probably been part of the church there. Maybe even HELPED TO PLANT it. And now they’ve ended up in Corinth. Because the Jews have been kicked out of Rome.
Which might have seemed like bad news at the time. But it turns out to be GREAT news for Paul. Because they meet up in Corinth. And he ends up staying with them. And they all work together making tents.
Which takes up Monday to Friday. But it’s only to put food on the table. So he can be doing what’s MOST important. Because Paul’s REAL work is on SATURDAYS. Going down to the synagogue. Just like every other town. And reasoning with them. Trying to persuade them to accept Jesus as the Messiah.
That’s the first advantage. The emotional and practical and physical and spiritual support of a core group for Paul.
2. Backup from Silas and Timothy
The second advantage is there in v5. Silas and Timothy catch up. And 2 Cor (11:8-9) tells us they brought financial support from the other churches. Living expenses, so Paul could spend his WHOLE week to preaching about Jesus. See it there in v5?
“Paul devoted himself EXCLUSIVELY to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ”.
It’s the same way it works here. I get supported by you folk, so that I can devote myself exclusively to the work. Technically, I don’t get PAID. I get supported financially, so I don’t HAVE to work for a living.
It’s a privilege to be able to tell people about Jesus. But it’s even a GREATER privilege to be SUPPORTED by other people like this.
Can I thank you for that? On behalf of my family, we appreciate it. I certainly don’t take that lightly. I realize what it means to be giving sacrificially and generously for God’s work. It’s a humbling thing.
Above anything, it’s a sign of your obedience and love for GOD. But it’s also a sign of your PARTNERSHIP with me, your confidence in me, and your support OF me. So thank you. I’m very grateful to God to be part of great church like this.
But back to Paul. Even though he’s at it full-time here in Corinth, the reception doesn’t seem much better than any other towns. The Jews still become abusive. So, v6, Paul shakes their dust out of his clothes. And leaves them to their blindness.
“Your be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”
Which he DOES. Sets up shop right next door. In the house of Titius Justus – a Gentile Christian. But look who ELSE joined them. V8.
8 Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.
His message gets through to some significant people. Crispus, the boss of the synagogue. As well as all his family became Christians. I bet THAT announcement didn’t go down too well in synagogue!
c. God’s promise of protection and success
So, things have started well. But there’s more to come. Advantage number 3 for our new church. GOD’S PROMISED IT SUCCESS AND PROTECTION. Look from v9
9 One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.”
What a great encouragement that must have been! Especially after the beatings Paul’s suffered. No one’s going to attack or harm you. That’s something about HIS ENEMIES. But there’s also three more encouragements. And they’re even better.
First. Something for PAUL. “Don’t be afraid. Keep speaking. Don’t be silent.”
And then the reason. Something about GOD. “Because I’m WITH you”. Paul’s not doing it on his own. God’s Holy Spirit is WITH Paul, and IN him. Guiding and strengthening and teaching and training.
And then something about HIS TARGET AUDIENCE. “I have MANY people in this city”. God’s plans are for this church to be a success. He’s chosen lots of people to be his children. And all it’s going to take is for Paul to keep speaking.
It may not seem like the most efficient or effective way of bringing people to him. But that’s the way God does it. By his people TELLING people. That’s his PLAN. A plan for Corinth. AND his plan for Western Blacktown.
d. Paul’s undivided attention
And so, with that encouragement, Paul sticks at it. For another 18 months v11 tells us. Which is the FOURTH advantage this church has. 18 months is the longest Paul’s stayed ANYWHERE in the last few years. Normally it’s a few days, or weeks at the most. And then he leaves the work in the hands of locals, or other co-workers.
But here, he keeps at it for 18 months. Because God’s got MANY people for him to reach. And that’s probably got to do with the LOCATION of the city, as well as just its sheer size.
Because it’s at the crossroads of so much trade. There’d always be people passing through. People who could take the message with them as they traveled around. Or made it home. And started their own churches.
We don’t know HOW far things from Corinth. But it was such a strategic location that it’s likely that the gospel far and wide.
It’s the same sort of thinking that made us look towards Glenwood as a good place to plant a church.
Rouse Hill is really where the people are. Tens of thousands of people within ten minutes drive. And I reckon that still needs a Presbyterian church. But Glenwood was a good spot we could provide with a core group, and where there were plenty of people who were close. And we could actually get to.
Maybe it’s time to start thinking about Rouse Hill! I’ve got no idea HOW. But I know it’s a strategic spot.
e. Roman support
Which is what Corinth was. Back to Paul. The fifth advantage God gave the church was Roman support. From v12, the Jews bring Paul before the Roman proconsul Gallio trying to get him punished.
How will it turn out? After all, God’s promised that no one will harm or attack him.
Seems like the new synagogue ruler Sosthenes brings the charges. And it was an open air court. Where everyone could hang around and listen. The remains are still there today. (slide 18).
But even before all the evidence can be presented Gallio throws it out of court. V14. It’s got nothing to do with ME.
Because GOD’s behind it, and he’s protecting Paul. And just for a bit of poetic justice. Instead of Paul getting beaten up, for a chance, the crowd turns on Sosthenes. And HE cops it. At which Gallio turns a blind eye. Not interested.
These are all the signs of a church that God is planting WELL. That’s STARTING WELL.
f. Apollos as follow-up
And the sixth advantage the Corinthians have/ comes a bit later on. After Paul moves on. Apollos comes as their follow-up pastor.
Follow along with me from v18 (slide 19). Paul heads to down to the coast at Cenchrae, then across the Mediterranean to Ephesus. He leaves Aquila and Priscilla there. Stays a few days, then heads to Caesarea. And finally makes it back to home base at Antioch.
But from v24 is where Apollos comes in. He’s originally from Alexandria – in Northern Africa. He lands in Ephesus, where Priscilla and Aquila meet up with him. Look at v24
He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
(turn off projector) Intelligent, well-educated. Full of enthusiasm. A great public speaker. A real asset. But he’s got a few things wrong about Jesus. And, to his credit, when Priscilla and Aquila offer to point them out, he’s got the humility to accept the help. Not something people like him are often good at doing.
But have a look at v27. Here’s where Corinth comes in.
27 When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia (that’s the province where Corinth is), the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. 28 For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.
What a great follow-up to Paul. Filling-in and reinforcing Paul’s ministry. Moving the Christians along in maturity. Not the same as church-planting. But very important, none-the-less. In his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul puts it like this (1 Cor 3:5)
5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe-as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.
Six benefits God provided for the church to start well. At every point, God using a whole range of means to grow a church.
But it’s how you finish that counts
But it’s not how you START that counts, it’s how you FINISH. Because, despite all those advantages, things at Corinth started to turn SEPTIC. They’ve turned on each other. And the whole church is at risk.
And when Paul hears about it, he writes them a letter. Turn over to 1 Corinthians and see what I mean. After a short introduction, he launches straight into them. I’m reading from ch 1 v 10
10 I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ALL OF YOU AGREE WITH ONE ANOTHER so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be PERFECTLY UNITED IN MIND AND THOUGHT. 11 My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are QUARRELS among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow PAUL”; another, “I follow APOLLOS”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?
See what they’re doing? Petty factions. Playing off one leader against another. “He’s better than him”. And can I tell you, THEY’VE ALL GOT IT WRONG. Because the reality is, Paul, and Apollos, and Peter, they’re all playing for exactly the same team. Following Jesus. United.
You know, when there are those sort of factions in a church, when there are people who are trying to stir up splits and divisions, it only means one thing. And Paul spells it out in chapter 3. He says, what it means is, you’re not the Christians you think you are at all. You’re spiritual BABIES.
Turn over a page or so and pick it up in chapter 3 verse 1. See what he says. “Brothers,” says Paul, “I couldn’t address you as SPIRITUAL… but as worldly. MERE INFANTS, BABIES IN CHRIST.
And the proof of that comes in verse 3. “You are still WORLDLY. For since there’s jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like MERE MEN? For when one says “I follow Paul,” and another “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men?
That’s not what CHRISTIANS DO. That’s what the WORLD DOES. It’s one thing to have factions in the Liberal Party or the Labor Party or the office or the tennis club. But NOT IN THE CHURCH.
And Paul goes on to say, Apollos and I, we’re just SERVANTS. We’re just God’s fellow workers. He says, I planted the seeds there in Corinth, Apollos came and watered them, and GOD gives the growth. Exactly like we saw back in Acts 18; Paul and Apollos are on the SAME TEAM. There’s no competition AT ALL.
And the result was/ THE WHOLE BODY was suffering. Because rather than church being a place where you’re encouraged and supported and built up. You’re entering A WAR ZONE when you walk in the front doors. Which is helping NO ONE.
Let’s make sure WE’RE not doing that. We’ve got all sorts of leaders here. Home groups, elders, Kids church, Youth Group. We have different people leading church. And occasionally different people preaching. But we’re all working on the same side.
Don’t form groups based around who you get on with, and who you DON’T.
If you don’t AGREE with what someone’s doing. TALK TO THEM. Don’t talk ABOUT them/ behind their back. Let’s be speaking the truth in love.
If a leader’s made a mistake, get them on their own. And TELL them. Do what Aquila and Priscilla did for Apollos. Give them the chance to change, and improve. So they can serve God’s people better.
Let me just say that/ on the whole/ we do a pretty good job at this. At least as far as I’M aware. But let’s make sure we KEEP doing it. Keep united. So that we might all finish well.
Because that’s when church can do for us/ what God designed it to do. Paul put it like this in Eph 4:11-13.
11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be BUILT UP 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become , attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
That’s what it means to FINISH WELL. Let’s make sure church can be a place where that HAPPENS.