1 Corinthians 16
May 3 1st Corinthians 16
Today we come to the end of 1st Corinthians, a long a difficult letter. Yay! As with the Old Testament prophets, some passages just don’t make sense, their meaning lost to time and changes in the way we have experienced and interpreted God’s revelation of Himself to us. This of course does not mean His truth is no longer present in such texts, we just have to wait for the day when the Spirit again reveals that truth to us, even if it means once we leave our current physical reality and enter into Heaven, where we will see things more clearly. Even when we don’t understand or even disagree with it, we still must hold all Scripture to be God’s Word, the revelation of Himself to us, our guide to a better life now and the gate to eternity. We adapt to it, not it to us.
The final chapters of many Biblical letters are easy to skip over, as they often deal with greetings to persons unknown to us and one-verse encouragements that may not need further elaboration. There generally is little theological content, and not enough depth to really preach on. So as we look at this passage, perhaps we should focus a little more on application, if possible, than on interpretation, as we seek to understand our own relationships with our fellow-believers as we get a peek into Paul’s relationships with his co-workers in Christ. Paul writes:
Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. On the first day of every week let each one of you put aside and save, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come. And when I arrive, whomever you may approve, I shall send them with letters to carry your gift to Jerusalem; and if it is fitting for me to go also, they will go with me. (vv. 1-4)
By writing “now concerning…” it is generally assumed that Paul is responding to a question from the Corinthians in their correspondence to him. But we also remember that Paul ended Chapter 15 with: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” (1Co 15:58 NAS) So, perhaps this is a logical place to give an example of a “work of the Lord” that they can be involved with. One overall theme of the letter is unity, and Paul encourages them to show that unity within their church and with the church in Jerusalem. The church in Jerusalem was known for its care of the poor in general, but also probably had poor churchgoers who could benefit from some help. More importantly, as far as we might be concerned, are the bonds between different church families, especially ones quite different from our own. The Corinthian Church was made up mostly of Greek Gentiles, the Jerusalem Church of Palestinian Jews. There probably were ample sources of conflict from many different directions, but unity is found in combined ministry. We too must ask how we can partner with other churches, especially those that minister to the same community as we do. We go beyond the “who is my neighbor?” question to ask: “who can we join in serving our neighbors in need and in proclaiming the Gospel, perhaps with folks who may have different beliefs and methods?” To some extent we help others through our apportionments, but not in a particularly mindful way. Paul encourages this offering to be taken weekly, so we want to be aware of where our gifts are going and seek ways to serve in ways that are more hands-on. We also should pray for our sister churches.
In Paul’s day, all Jews were expected to make an annual tithe to the Temple. Perhaps this is evidence that the early Christian church did also, sending funds to the Christian Church in Jerusalem instead of the Temple. The big question involving this collection is what happened to it. We are not told if it was delivered or if it was accepted. The collection is mentioned in Galatians, but not in Paul’s later letters written after his arrest, when we would have assumed that the offering had been delivered. This silence has led some to conclude that the offering was not accepted by the Jerusalem Church, but we just don’t know. What do you think happened? How can we better support the churches in our community? Paul continues:
But I shall come to you after I go through Macedonia, for I am going through Macedonia; and perhaps I shall stay with you, or even spend the winter, that you may send me on my way wherever I may go. For I do not wish to see you now just in passing; for I hope to remain with you for some time, if the Lord permits. But I shall remain in Ephesus until Pentecost; for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries. (vv. 5-9)
As he often does, Paul provides some comments on his travel plans. It sounds like he would be travelling south over land if things go as planned, going first through Macedonia. Sea travel was particularly hazardous during the storms of winter, so it was common to hunker down somewhere until spring. If winter is approaching and he wants to be somewhere else, he wouldn’t be able to stay long in one place or risk getting stranded for the winter. Concerning how many problems there are in the Corinthian Church, he probably would want time to address those problems as well as working to improve what is most likely a very strained relationship with them. Trying to trace Paul’s travel routes can be interesting, but not something I want to take on here. Paul continues, as usual, with comments about his coworkers:
Now if Timothy comes, see that he is with you without cause to be afraid; for he is doing the Lord’s work, as I also am. Let no one therefore despise him. But send him on his way in peace, so that he may come to me; for I expect him with the brethren. But concerning Apollos our brother, I encouraged him greatly to come to you with the brethren; and it was not at all his desire to come now, but he will come when he has opportunity. (vv. 10-12)
Another passage we may be tempted to skip over, but interesting for its insight into Paul’s coworkers. It sounds like Timothy is travelling alone, but probably isn’t, but still a junior evangelist, and maybe not held in as high esteem as others. He would require a letter of recommendation from his superior, Paul. Although we know less about Apollos than Timothy, he was a senior member who will bring others with him. Note that Paul “encourages” Apollos to visit, while others are “sent” by Paul, perhaps regardless of whether or not they want to go, but then Apollos might just have more responsibilities and is following his own path in service to our Lord. Paul Continues:
Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men (i.e. be courageous), be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. Now I urge you, brethren (you know the household of Stephanas, that they were the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves for ministry to the saints), that you also be in subjection to such men and to everyone who helps in the work and labors. And I rejoice over the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus; because they have supplied what was lacking on your part. For they have refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore, acknowledge such men. (vv. 13-18)
The usual closing words of encouragement, with the usual cryptic comments. “Let all be done in love”: not a common saying of the time. Christians then set themselves apart from the world by acting in love, as we should strive to do today. These folks (Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus) are only mentioned here; perhaps they were messengers from Corinth who brought news to Paul. What they had provided is uncertain, maybe more information than was in a letter, maybe emotional or financial support to Paul. Paul praises their spiritual ministrations, as we too should be mindful and thankful for those who refresh us, as we seek to provide refreshment to others. You don’t have to have a fancy title or position to share the grace of God, all who are joined together in the bonds of faith in Christ are used by the Spirit to bless one another. Paul continues:
The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Prisca greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house. All the brethren greet you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. The greeting is in my own hand– Paul. (vv. 19-21)
Most churches (and synagogues) at this time met in homes rather than buildings. Often, Christian churches were physically attached to synagogues if they did have a room to meet in. One of my professors in seminary would cite this passage anytime someone made a comment about what Scripture commands us to do. His point was that Paul commands us to meet each other with a holy kiss, which none of us do. Why do we follow some commands, but not others? This professor is a big man, with health issues that have caused serious weight gain. After hearing him quote this passage several times, one of our fellow students, in a PhD program, also a large man, walked into class a little late one day, grabbed our professor’s head with both hands, and gave him a big smooch on the cheek then sat down, without a word spoken. It is one of my fondest memories from my seminary years.
“The greeting is in my own hand– Paul.” As you have probably been told before, Paul like many others from his time used a secretary, perhaps several, even though he was an educated man. There are those who claim that some of Paul’s letters were not actually written by him, but it may just mean that he used different secretaries, some who may have taken more liberty with what he told them to write. The differences in writing styles between some of Paul’s letters is more obvious in the original Greek than in English. Paul continues:
If anyone does not love the Lord, let him be accursed. Maranatha. (v. 22)
Fortunately for us, this is the only hard saying in this chapter, both regarding whomever it is directed, and in the harshness of the words. Why he says it hear is a little mystifying, perhaps, but not unusual at this point in a letter, as a closing exhortation. Maranatha means “come, Lord” or “the Lord comes.” Perhaps he adds this as an expectation of the coming Day of Judgement. I would like to believe this refers to those who have consciously rejected the Lord. Considering Paul’s words against his various opponents, though, you have to wonder just who he is referring to. Are you willing to say such a thing, or does it seem too judgmental? Perhaps it is best to consider this cursing to be the result of rejecting Christ, but not as a call to point fingers. Judgement belongs to God alone; it is our task to reach out to the lost and seek to be reconciled with our opponents. If that cannot happen, we move on and pray that someday we can be unified, and that all will come to Jesus. Paul concludes:
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen. (vv. 23-24)
That’s more like it! Words we all need right now. Our time may be very different than Paul’s, with our own trials and suffering, but we are joined together with each other even when we can’t be together physically, and are connected to all believers here, around the world, and those who have passed into blessed memory in the grace of the Lord Jesus. At least we have phones, we don’t have to rely on hand-delivered letters! Someday soon we will be able to come together in joy for worship and fellowship, and it won’t be long until we enter into the Lord’s rest, where will be joined together with those who went before us. Until then, may the love of Jesus bind us together until we meet again. Amen!
Next Sunday is Mother’s Day, and how strange that will be, not to be able to celebrate moms in person, especially those in care facilities who cannot be accessed right now. May we pray in thankfulness for our mothers this week, but also remember those suffering right now, either sick, in isolation, or a long way from home. We also should pray for our local businesses that rely on holiday income. For many restaurants, Mother’s Day is usually the biggest day of the year.
As we look forward to the day we can meet again, it is a good time to consider what we would like to do once that is possible. InterVarsity Press and Outreach.com have just released a program called GO2020, which advocates a strategy of praying, caring, and sharing, as we seek to share the grace and love of Christ with our neighbors. I will be sharing some of their materials, but not in a particularly organized manner or with a plan for action, just as food for thought leading hopefully into practice.
May God bless you all this week and hold you in His loving embrace!