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First Fruits: Paul’s First Disciples in Corinth…

PAUL’S FIRST DISCIPLES IN CORINTH…

In 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul starts his letter addressing the church in Corinth by saying;

‘I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius…[oh yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas, but I don’t remember baptizing anyone else]’ – 1 Corinthians 1:14-16

This gives us insight into how Paul began his work in a place resulting in many disciples being made and a church forming in that location.

If Paul didn’t baptize anyone, other than the above disciples…who then baptized all the others? As Acts 18:10 points out, God said that ‘many people in this city [Corinth] belong to me’ Many came to faith through Paul’s ministry but he only baptized Crispus, Gaius and the household of Stephanas… who baptized the rest?

And who were these people? There are in fact 5 people, other than Paul, mentioned by name in relation to the church in Corinth in the first chapter of Corinthians. These 5 people are the first fruits of Paul’s work in Corinth/Greece and give us a glimpse into how Paul made disciples…

I’m writing this in the hopes that this will raise our expectation and faith level in relation to our first disciples in an area, people group or place

THE FIRST FIVE DISCIPLES

The five disciples from Greece mentioned in chapter 1 of Corinthians are: Sosthenes, Chloe, Crispus, Gaius and Stephanas

Who were these people, and how did they grow as disciples in the Kingdom as a result of the apostle Pauls work in Corinth that lasted only 1.5 years?

CRISPUS

Crispus was the leader of the synagogue in Corinth, Greece. He was a Jewish religious leader who became a disciple of Jesus after the apostle Paul shared the gospel to the Corinthians.

Crispus welcomed Paul into the synagogue and Paul took the opportunity to preach about Jesus the Messiah every sabbath (Acts 18:5)

However, after a few weeks, the unbelieving Jews in the synagogue “opposed Paul and became abusive” (Acts 18:6)

As a result, Paul left the synagogue and began meeting in the home of Titus Justus.

‘Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, and everyone in his household believed in the Lord. Many others in Corinth also heard Paul, became believers, and were baptized’ (Acts 18:8)

In our culture, Crispus the leader of the synagogue becoming a disciple would be like the leader of the local mosque, religious centre, community or cultural centre or public house coming to faith in Christ. If their whole household came into the Kingdom, imagine what impact that would have on the surrounding area! As we see above, many others in Corinth became believers and were baptized as a result of this and Paul’s preaching!

SOSTHENES

Later, Sosthenes [meaning ‘saving strength’], the man who replaced Crispus as the leader of the synagogue, seems to have tried to stir up trouble for Paul as he was present at the court when some ‘Jews rose up together against Paul and brought him before Gallio, the Roman governor for judgment.’ They accused Paul of “persuading people to worship God in ways that are contrary to our law”

However, Gallio threw Paul’s accusers out of the courtroom and all ‘the Greeks then grabbed Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue and beat him right there in the courtroom’ (See Acts 17:1)

It’s intriguing that the next time we hear about Sosthenes is in 1 Corinthians 1:1, ‘This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and from our brother Sosthenes

Consider that this was the guy chosen to replace Crispus for believing in Jesus, was beat up in court and yet becomes a brother in Christ, co-worker with Paul and even co-writes the letter to the new church plant in his home town of Corinth!

CHLOE

‘My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me there are quarrels among you.’ -1 Corinthians 1:11

It seems that Chloe is the head of a household who have come to faith in Corinth and very much involved in the fledgling church plant…

(Chloe means “The first green shoots of plants”)

In the following verses of Corinthians, the source of the quarrel is revealed: the people were divided over whom they should follow for spiritual leadership. Some were saying, “I follow Paul”, others were saying, “I follow Peter” and yet others were saying, “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Christ.”

In response to the concerns of Chloe’s household, Paul points out that it is Christ who saves!

Chloe and those in her household were committed enough to perceive that divisions were occurring within the new church plant and sought assistance from Paul to rectify this

GAIUS

Gaius means “to rejoice”.

He is mentioned as having a residence in Corinth and one of only a few people there [the others being Crispus and the household of Stephanas] who were baptised by Paul as he founded the church in that city (1 Corinthians 1:14)

Gaius is referred to at the end of Paul’s letter to the Romans (Romans 16:23) as Paul’s “host” and also host of the whole church

Some scholars think Gaius is the same person as Titus Justus whose house adjoined the synagogue in Corinth (Acts 18:7). He opened his home for Paul and the new fledgling Church to gather after the new disciples had been kicked out of the synagogue for preaching Jesus. Thus his full name would have been Gaius Titus Justus…

STEPHANAS

Stephanas means “to crown” or “crowned'”

Paul refers to Stephanas and his household as the “first fruits of Achaia [Greece]” – 1 Corinthians 16:15-17

He is mentioned at the beginning of Corinthians of one of the first and only households baptized by Paul in Greece and also at the end of the letter in 1 Corinthians 16:15-17

As Paul refers to Stephanas’ household as the first fruits of Greece, some have supposed that he is actual fact the “Jailor of Philippi” whose whole household were baptised by Paul (see Acts 16:33) as the jailor was the ‘first man’ mentioned to have come to faith in the region. He may also be the ‘Macedonian man’ in the vision that Paul had, telling him to go over to Greece in the first place…

‘You know that Stephanas and his household were the first of the harvest of believers in Greece, and they are spending their lives in service to God’s people. I urge you brothers and sisters, to submit to them and others like them who serve with such devotion’ -1 Corinthians 16:15-16

It could be that ‘spending their lives in service to God’s people’ involved opening their homes for the church in Corinth to meet

Stephanas is also mentioned, alongside Fortunatus and Achaicus as ones who carried a letter from the Corinthians to Paul and from Paul back to the Corinthians

‘I am very glad that Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus have come here. They have been providing the help you weren’t here to give me. They have been a wonderful encouragement to me, as they have been to you. You must show your appreciation to all who serve so well’ (1 Corinthians 16:18)

OUR FIRST FIVE DISCIPLES

What are our expectations in terms of our first five disciples?

When Paul entered Corinth he was looking to make disciples and form a community of disciples (church) in that city.

Crispus, Sosthenes, Chloe, Gaius and Stephanas seemed to be amongst Paul’s first disciples in that region. They were the first fruits amongst the greater harvest in that city. Paul only baptised the first few, it was down to them and others to continue the work in that city as Paul only stayed initially for 1.5 years.

Crispus influenced Jews in his city to accept Jesus as Messiah

Sosthenes co-wrote 1 Corinthians

Chloe’s household had a big influence on the shaping of the Church in Corinth and questions they raised concerning the church provided content for a Book of the Bible

Gaius opened his home for the Church in Corinth to gather

Stephanas as the first disciple in the region, became leader of the Church in Corinth and also a travelling worker alongside Paul

In terms of investment in first disciples, Paul was following the model set by Jesus himself. We know what became of His first disciples; Peter, Andrew, James, John and Nathaniel…

And what of your first five disciples? Are you actively searching for people whom you can make disciples for Jesus? (Jesus said to his first disciples, ‘follow me and I will show you how to fish for people’)

What are you training your disciples to do? Do you have high faith expectations of who your disciples can become in the Lord?

For example, as Jesus discipled Simon, for approx 3 years he renamed him ‘Peter’ meaning ‘Rock’ and said, ‘On this Rock, I will build my Church’

Can new churches be built on the new disciples you are making?

If you liked this article you may also enjoy: How did the apostle Paul make disciples…

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Peter J. Farmer

Peter J. Farmer is a church planter working with teams and networks to catalyze new forms of church that murmurate into movements...

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Lee

    Some great questions raised here, and it’s interesting that in my years of following Christ I’m not sure that I’ve ever been asked this even though in terms of kingdom growth this is of huge importance.

    It seems evident that one or two things differ in how the apostles went about making new disciples and the mainstream churches today.

    In the New Testament we see the followers of Jesus fishing in towns and cities and synagogues. People would hear the gospel and accept Christ at which point they would become disciples and part of the church. In today’s church many do their evangelism by inviting people along to church to see if they like it or not.

    One major problem with this can be that people fail to hear the gospel and can respond to things other than the Lord Jesus.

    Paul sometimes invested years having planted a new church. This ensures that the people he was leaving behind were ready to lead. The mode of people accepting Christ and then entering immediately into training and equipping seems to have been lost with the introduction in some areas of paid clergy.

    So…the questions posed by the article are as much, for me, about how we get the church discipling along scriptural lines once more and then being built along scriptural lines.

    Where did Paul go to fish?
    How did he do church?

    Great and thought provoking article

  2. Peter J. Farmer

    Equally good questions here Lee!

    Q: Where did Paul go to fish?
    –yes his pattern was to go to the Jews in the synagogue first to preach whenever he entered a new place to establish a new community of disciples (church)

    What would be the equivalent today?

    Q: How do we make disciples along scriptural lines?

    It seems that Jesus’ made disciples by modelling and teaching them to obey his commands

    I like the Discovery Bible Study (DBS) approach because it is obedience-based discipleship

    We simply read a portion of scripture and then ask 4 questions:.

    What does it say (in own words)
    What does it mean?
    What are we going to do about it?
    Who can we share this with?

    That way we let the scripture speak to us and then find ways to put into practice what we’ve learned

    (rather than just hearing or studying or listening to more sermons or having discussions without obedience)

  3. Peter J. Farmer

    Q. How did Paul do church?

    Perhaps quite different in each region. Church in Antioch different to Church in Rome, Church in Corinth different to Church in Ephesus

    However we get insight on how Paul did Church in 1 Corinthians 11-14

    It was INTERACTIVE
    They ate the Lords Supper together as a Bring&Share meal

    Each person brought something – a word, revelation, spiritual gift

    They actively listened to the voice of Jesus and did what he said (2 or 3 prophets would speak and the rest would weigh what had been said)

  4. Paul

    Thanks for the insight & the challenging questions. I think that that whole area of actively searching for people who can become disciples for Jesus, is a daunting prospect that I need to pray into & find others who will walk that journey with me. As with answering many questions posed by honestly reading scripture, I have to ask myself if I am ready & willing to pay the cost of walking in obedience.

    Keep preaching Peter.

    1. Peter J. Farmer

      Hi Paul,
      Thanks for your honest reflection!
      It’s good to pray for a partner in this work…

      If we ask we will receive, so be prepared

      Jesus sent them out in 2’s to find the house of peace (make disciples and gather together as Church) in an area!

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