As a result of the vision that God gave Paul, calling him to stay in Corinth as God gathered His people, Paul “stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (v11). As we know, this is longer than usual for Paul, but the harvest was plenty at Corinth.
Verses 12-13: “But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, saying, ‘This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” Again, Luke’s historical precision is notable. Unlike false religions, Christianity is continually supported by historical evidence. At one time the Bible was denounced as myth because there was no evidence of the Hittites. And then they found it. A lot of it.
Verses 14-15: “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. 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.’” In other words, “That is not my job.” There’s no reason to believe that he was sympathetic to the gospel. He was just aware that theological matters were not in his purview as proconsul.
Verse 16-17: “And he drove them from the tribunal. 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.” Who beat him up and why? I have no idea. Some say it was the Roman officials, punishing Sosthenes for bringing a stupid case before the proconsul, others say it was the other Jews for failing to get Paul in trouble.
Verse 18: “After this, Paul stayed many days longer and then took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had cut his hair, for he was under a vow.” We don’t know whether this was Paul or Aquila, and we don’t know why one of them cut his hair, or what the vow was about.
Verse 19-20: “And they came to Ephesus and left them there, but he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. When they asked him to stay for a longer period, he declined.” Why? We also don’t know. Luke is not always in the business of explaining motives, just the events. We can ask Paul these things when we get home.
Verse 21: “But on taking leave of them he said, ‘I will return to you if God wills,’ and he set sail from Ephesus.” Here is an exemplary way for Christians to make plans.
How can we learn from Paul’s example? It is okay to make plans in line with God’s moral will, but we should always acknowledge that our plans will only pan out if the Lord wills. James tells us, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:13-15).
We should avoid the two extremes of being frozen in our place and arrogant in our steps.