Today is about discipleship and its importance. Corinth was a Greek city of two seas and two major ports, with an innovative way of getting ships from one side to the other across dry land. As such it was a huge mixture of cultures and faiths, and with a well-deserved reputation for sexual licence and hedonistic lifestyles. Paul moved there from Athens and, to support himself financially, went back to his trade of making tents. Every Jew was trained in some manual labour, however well-to-do his family background was. Later on, Paul was to write to the Thessalonians to “work with your hands”, rather than relying on “handouts” (1 Thessalonians 4:11), so he was setting an example here too.
He met a Jewish couple, Aquila and Priscilla who were also tentmakers. Acts 18 does not make it clear whether they were Christians already, but having spent some time in Paul’s company, they certainly became that way very soon! Silas and Timothy then arrived from Philippi and Thessalonica to assist Paul, and it is clear that they took on the burden of earning the money, releasing Paul to preach the gospel full-time, which is what he did best. He did this for at least a year and a half. The principle of full-time workers being supported is well-established and biblical – whenever there is a need and justification for this to happen. But is should not undermine the role of every normally-employed believer engaging in mission at their workplace and in their community.
Next, Paul entrusted the work at Corinth to Silas and Timothy and left, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila, to arrive at Ephesus, the main commercial city of Asia Minor; it was also the world centre of worship for the goddess Diana (Roman) or Artemis (Greek). Clearly Paul trusted Priscilla and Aquila absolutely, since he left to return to Jerusalem and Antioch shortly afterwards; he knew that he had done a great job of discipling these two and that they were now fully equipped for everything that they needed to do.
Whilst in Ephesus, Priscilla and Aquila met up with a very charismatic guy called Apollos, who was a great orator, had an amazing knowledge of the Old Testament and knew about the teachings and life of Jesus. His own experience, however, ran only as far as having been baptised by John the Baptist. This lack of experience unfortunately ‘coloured’ his teaching and he needed Aquila and Priscilla to straighten him out on a few key doctrines and practices. Once they had given to him the same quality of discipleship that they themselves had received from Paul, they were happy to send Apollos on to Corinth to assist the church there. He was to prove a great debater – which is what the Jews loved – and proved from the Old Testament scriptures that Jesus was indeed their Messiah.
Good discipleship is priceless; it multiplies ministries and ensures that the gospel message is propagated in an effective and pure way, producing yet more hard-working disciples. Paul wrote to Timothy much later on: “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers”. (1 Timothy 4:16). We will soon see in Acts 19 what happens when a group of people is incorrectly discipled, due to doctrinal misunderstandings.
1 KINGS 20 and 21
Meanwhile, what was going on with Ahab? The bible is not only a book about God, but also a portrait of human nature. It is evident that Ahab was a weak-willed man who was not particularly brave and who was easily led. When a bully – in the form of Ben-Hadad, king of Aram – attacks him, Ahab compliantly agrees to almost all the attacker’s demands, despite them including all Ahab’s wives and children. Ben-Hadad was almost disappointed that Ahab had given in so easily, so he increased his demands to the level of downright humiliation, hoping that this was an ‘offer’ that Ahab would refuse, since Ben-Hadad was ‘spoiling’ for a fight! This time, he achieved the conflict that he was looking for.
Since Israel had (somewhat) just repented, the covenant protection of the Lord was again with the nation, so a prophet was sent to promise that God would rescue Israel this time. As further evidence that it would be from the Lord, the 232 most junior and inexperienced officers were to lead the 7,000 Israelite soldiers into attack, rather in the same way that Gideon had reduced his army before attacking the Midianites. Israel triumphed – evidently though God’s power!
The vanquished ‘bully’ regrouped and planned next season’s attack: rationalising that the Lord was a God of mountains and not valleys and plains. Ancient religions were very ‘local’ and had little concept of a universal, all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful God. Ben-Hadad’s proposal for success this time around was to change the venue and adjust the personnel. Same result!
The defeated king of Aram was taken to Ahab’s camp and begged for mercy, offering some trading concessions in return. Ahab greedily agreed – much to God’s disgust! Later, prophetically, God spoke his word of judgment over Ahab: “You have set free a man I had determined should die. Therefore it is your life for his life, your people for his people”. (1 Kings 20:42.) Perhaps as disciples of Jesus, we are too ‘compliant’ and ready to make treaties with the godless world; perhaps there are more occasions where we should ‘take no prisoners’ and be prepared to make ourselves unpopular with the world around us?
Another aspect of Ahab’s character that is revealed (chapter 21) is his weakness in moral judgments. He saw a great vineyard in a great location – next to the palace – and made a very reasonable offer of purchase to the owner, which was rejected. Ahab was unhappy but accepted the normal workings of the law. So far, so good!
Then his wife found out and was astounded that the king should be in submission to the law; “Let me fix this” she said to her husband. Jezebel’s vision of society was that of a police state where the rich and powerful always got their way, regardless of justice. She soon eliminated the vineyard owner – ironically on the grounds that he cursed the God that she didn’t believe in! The way now free for Ahab to claim the much-desired property.
Elijah received the word from God to confront Ahab, holding him responsible for murder and theft. He was the king, and he was the husband who should have been the one taking authority in the matter; whether he knew what Jezebel was up to or not was irrelevant. The prophecy did have a special judgment clause for Jezebel herself, however.
Just as we think that everything has been sorted out and that justice is done, we read that Ahab repented, fasted, and humbled himself. God himself noticed that and decreed that Ahab would now not suffer the prophesied disaster, but that it would be visited upon the next generation. This is very important in our understanding of prophecy: some prophecy is implicitly conditional and may not be fulfilled if the conditions change.