As Paul traipsed through the port city of Corinth, his nostrils full of the aromas from exotic spices and his ears catching snippets of conversations in foreign tongues, he likely encountered a diverse array of the people and practices—from gruff sailors and meticulous tradesmen to wealthy idolaters and enslaved Christians. The prominent Roman city provided the apostle ample opportunity for offering condemnation to its citizens—sexual immorality and idol worship being the chief indulgences. However, Paul focused his work on encouraging believers to remain faithful and on preaching about Christ to the unconverted (Acts 18:1–11). Writing about a different, similarly corrupt port city some 1,900 years later, novelist Graham Greene captured a reality Paul likely encountered in Corinth: "Here you could love human beings nearly as God loved them, knowing the worst."¹
During a later visit to Corinth (Acts 20:3), Paul penned his letter to the Romans, in which he spoke not only of the sinfulness of all humanity—of Jews and Gentiles alike—but also of God's grace in redeeming human beings through the saving work of His Son, Jesus Christ. Seen in light of the corrupt Corinthian backdrop, Paul's comments, not only on sin but especially on the salvation that seals believers in Christ, take on a profound significance.
Paul knew that of which he wrote; he understood sin because it was played out before his eyes every day. Likewise, he understood redemption because he saw the dramatic power of God working in Corinthian believers, saved from the power of sin and delivered from a lifestyle of shame. Paul was able to communicate God's truth in such a rich, deeply theological way in part because he was intimately connected to the world in which he wrote. Paul hadn't just heard of the gospel drama playing out in the lives of people—he had witnessed it with his own eyes and heard the testimonies with his own ears.
And today, as we read this still-resonant letter to the Romans, written from such a place as Corinth, we continue to reap the benefits of Paul's faithfulness in a culture not far removed from our own.
John Adair received his master of theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, where he also completed his Ph.D. in Historical Theology. He served for seven years as a writer in the Creative Ministries Department of Insight for Living Ministries. John and his wife, Laura, have three children.
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