1 Corinthians 1:1 “Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sos'thenes”
Who is Sos’thenes? The short answer is we don’t know. However, it’s possible to make some informed guesses about this mystery man. The first thing we can say is that Sos’thenes is part of a very select company. There are only three people whose names are mentioned by Paul in the greetings of his letters: Timothy is mentioned six times, Silva’nus is mentioned twice, and our man Sos’thenes is mentioned once. We know quite a bit about Timothy. We know that Timothy was one of Paul’s closest associates in the work of spreading the gospel and a prominent leader in the early church. Paul mentions Silva’nus several times in his letters allowing us to discover that he also was one of Paul’s close coworkers and a preacher of the gospel. Since Sos’thenes is mentioned in the same context as these others, it’s reasonable to assume that he also was a partner with Paul in the spreading of the gospel.
The name Sos’thenes is also found in the book of Acts. We can’t prove beyond all doubt that the Sos’thenes mentioned in Acts is the same man mentioned in 1 Corinthians but there are some good reasons to think he might be. The first reason is that Sos’thenes lived in Corinth and so it makes sense that Paul would mention his name when he writes a letter to the Corinthian church.
Luke records the story of Paul’s first visit to Corinth in Acts 18. Following his usual custom, Paul began his work in the city by arguing in the synagogue every sabbath. He had some success and persuaded both Jews and Greeks. Even “Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with all his household; and many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized”. Eventually though a majority of the Corinthian Jews rejected Paul’s message and “opposed and reviled him”. So Paul stopped going to the Synagogue but continued preaching in the house of a man named Titius Justus who lived next door to the synagogue. Since Crispus, the ruler of the Synagogue, had gone with Paul, the members of the Synagogue elected a new leader - Sos'thenes. Eventually the Jews, lead by Sos’thenes, made a united attack upon Paul and brought him before Gallio, the Roman governor of that area. The governor however refused to even hear the case and threw them out of the courtroom. The Jews were outraged at their treatment by the governor and by the failure of their plan. Wanting a scapegoat on which to focus their anger, they started blaming their leader for this disaster. Right there on the street, in front of the governor’s court they seized Sos'thenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and began beating him. Poor Sos’thenes was helpless against the angry mob. Even the governor ignored the situation and refused to break up the riot.
Since Sos’thenes was elected leader of the synagogue after opposition to Paul and the gospel coalesced among the Jews, he obviously was prominent among those who rejected the gospel. He was no doubt an outspoken critic of Paul and determined to keep people from listening to this man whom he considered to be a heretic and liar. He certainly was also a capable man who attracted the respect of others since he was made the leader.
It’s interested to note that Sos’thenes was a lot like Paul. Paul also had been a bitter opponent of the gospel and a leader in the effort to stamp out the Christian message. Paul’s life was transformed when Jesus appeared to him, knocked him on the ground and blinded him with the dazzling light of his glorious presence. Sos’thenes followed a similar pattern. He was the leader of the opposition to the gospel in Corinth, and he suffered a crisis when he was rejected and beaten by his own people. If my guess is correct, he is the one Paul refers to in his letter who was a coworker with Paul in spreading the gospel and establishing the church.
Both Paul and Sos’thenes are case studies in the power of a crisis to transform our lives in a good way. We often know what we ought to do but we can’t bring ourselves to do it until some crisis provides the motivation necessary to take action. This is what the writer to the Hebrews meant when he wrote about discipline:
Hebrews 12:6 “For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives." … 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it”.
The discipline these people were enduring was suffering at the hands of evil people. They were in the midst of a crisis, but it was all part of God’s plan for their good. A crisis does not automatically produce good in us. That’s why the writer exhorts them not to get discouraged and give up. Suffering has the power to make us either bitter or better. It all depends on how we respond. A certain politician recently quipped that it’s a shame to let a good crisis go to waste. That’s good advice for us. When hard times come our way we should always see it as an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Sos’thenes. I’m sure he didn’t feel very good after the mob finished kicking him around on the street in Corinth, but years later he was probably able to thank God for that day. In the end the pain he endured was nothing compared to the eternal weight of glory he is now enjoying forever.