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Collections, Travel Plans, Greetings and Goodbyes - 1 Corinthians 16

The Weekend, July 25 –

Whenever you read this, we will have one reading for the Weekend.  We also will be finishing 1 Corinthians by reading 16:1 – 24.  After you finish reading the Scriptures, please come back as we take another look at this last chapter in 1 Corinthians.

 

At the end of chapter 15, Paul appealed to the Corinthians – “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (15:58).  As we have learned previously, chapter divisions were later developments and so Paul moved from that final appeal of chapter 15 to the continuing sentence of chapter 16 – “Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do” (16:1).  As we had seen before, Paul used the words “Now concerning” to address issues the church had previously asked him to clarify.  His appeal for them as “dear brothers...abound in the work of the Lord” has everything to do with this final appeal concerning the collections, or gifts from the various churches, Paul was collecting for the church in Jerusalem (16:3).  Corinth was a church full of its own selfish interests, but Paul reminds them that the church is not just a local church, it is the church spread across the world. 

If there is any subject that will raise the eyebrows of the average church member, it’s any talk that has to do with giving money.  A “Tithe” is an Old Testament system for giving based on the value of 10%.  A person gave 10% of whatever they received as an offering to God.  The New Testament does not mention tithing as a command – but it is also not forbidden.  Paul writes about money as a part of giving several times in his letters.  In 1 Corinthians 16, he refers to it as “the collection for the saints” (16:1).  Paul’s instructions are clear and pointed – “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come” (16:2).  The collection was to be systematic, taking place “on the first day of the week.”  Each individual was to determine a specific amount to set aside according to their own ability.  Giving, collections, offerings, gifts, tithes, etc...was something everyone in the church was to participate in, no matter what the level of wealth.  At the same time, how much a person gave was a private matter.  Finally, Paul wanted nothing to do with handling or receiving the funds.  While he would carry the gifts to Jerusalem, he asks that the Corinthians send along someone(s) who will carry the gift – a prudent and wise way to avoid the possibilities of scandal.  Paul would expand upon all of this in his next letter we will begin to look at next week, but briefly, this seems to finalize – in a rather short form – the last of the questions the Corinthians had asked him.

The last part of the letter to the Corinthians has to do with personal notes that reflect Paul’s purposes and plans.  Paul wanted to come to visit them, but he was not going to do it immediately.  First, he wanted to go through Macedonia to visit the churches there (16:5).  While he may spend the winter with them, he also wanted to stay for a while longer where he was – in Ephesus. He notes this will keep him delayed at least through the Spring of the next year (Pentecost, 16:8).  Then he wanted travel to and through Macedonia to visit the churches in northern Greece (Asia).  After this, he planned to come to stay in Corinth for the Winter season (16:6).  All of these plans were conditioned by the words – “...I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits” (16:7b).  When Paul says in the beginning of verse 7, “I do not want to see you now just in passing,” he reminds us that his care for the church was not based on what he got from them, but the relationship he had developed with them.  Corinth and Ephesus were to Paul “wide doors for effective work...with many adversaries” (16:9).  In the meantime, Paul was sending Timothy to them (16:10).  Timothy was not Paul’s replacement, but given the way some in the church in Corinth challenged Paul’s apostolic authority, Paul adds “let no one despise him” (16:11).  Paul had urged Apollos to return, but he had chosen to delay it for another time (16:12).  The names Paul uses are purposeful.   Paul, Timothy, Apollos, and later, Aquila and Priscilla (16:19) are a reminder that the only divisions between them were in the Corinthian cliques, not among the Apostles.  It seems that between the collection for Jerusalem, and the directions concerning his travel plans and the other Apostles that Paul wants them to see that their focus is much too narrow.  It’s as if he hopes that they will open their eyes to the Kingdom and the world that He and his friends were all committed to reaching for the sake of the Gospel.

The final part of this letter to the Corinthians can be understood as pastoral advice and last words of both greeting, warning, and blessing before leaving.  The final words of pastoral advice are short and concise – “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.  Let all that you do be done in love” (16:13-14).  Among those charges is the watchfulness that has to do with doctrine – to stand firm in the faith they had been instructed in.  Paul knew that the enemy sought to sow divisions within the church and to insert false doctrine into what they believed.  To “act like men” and “be strong” combined with “be watchful” is to be diligent in the church to both believe the truth of the Gospel (15:1-4), as well as live it out in love (13:1-13).  Truth in love are twin ingredients to a healthy church.  Truth without Love is burdensome, duty-bound, joyless.  Love without Truth is sentimental and reckless. It does not lead to maturity and growth.

He is not finished.  Paul reminds them to recognize and honor those who are leaders.  He appeals to them to see that real leaders are people committed “to the service of the saints” and therefore, “be subject” to them (16:15 – 18).  Stephanas had been an early convert, and he had visited Paul in Ephesus, along with Fortunatus and Achaicus (16:17), who had come to Paul from the Corinthian church and “... refreshed my spirit as well as yours.”  Therefore, Paul reminds the church to honor (“give recognition” 16:18) and submit to them (16:16).  In a world that pays little attention to words like submit, submission, this can fall on deaf ears.
David Prior spoke of this need to recognize the kind of leaders we should select and then submit to:  “This insight challenges our notions, but particularly our practice, of leadership. We tend to give leadership to those who have received one particular kind of education, who have a measure of articulacy and general ability to think and speak on their feet, who measure up to worldly criteria of leadership. Do we ever take with proper seriousness the perspective Paul provides on leadership as service? Jesus taught the same truth: ‘Whoever would be great among you must be your servant.’ This indicates that the authentic, solid leadership of a local church will come from people who give themselves to serving the saints. Such leadership does not depend on education, qualifications, degrees, or natural charisma. It comes from the grace of God equipping his people with gifts which enable them to be servants of others in the fellowship of believers.” [1]  Good leadership is an absolute essential to the overall health of the church.  Submission to leadership is a necessary ingredient for the development of maturity (see Hebrews 13:17).  If you cannot think of who you are submitted to, you are missing a gift God has to help you grow. 

Lastly, Paul sends along greetings from Aquila and Priscilla.  All of this is to remind them that they are loved and thought about – prayed for – by many others (16:19-20).  The phrase “greet one another with a holy kiss” (16:20) is much more than “make sure you shake hands and say hello.”  He wrote these same words at the end of his letter to the Romans.  If we think about all that has happened in this letter to the Corinthians, we begin to see that Paul’s faith in the Church was based on what he believed God was capable of doing among them through the Spirit of God.  This church, so intelligent, so worldly, so gifted, so needy, was capable of loving one another well if they would do things in obedience to Christ’s ways. 

Paul’s “I write this greeting with my own hand” (16:21), reminds us that Paul dictated his letter to his “amanuensis” – the Greek word for a personal secretary.  Sometimes these writers are identified in his closing thoughts, but in this case, whoever wrote it down was not named.  Paul’s signature was large because his eyesight was not good, but it serves to identify him as the real author of the epistle.  The final two sentences stand in contrast – a curse and a blessing.  The curse is spoken to – “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! (16:22). The word for accursed is the Greek word “anathema” – means , at best, “exclude”, at worst,  “be damned”.  Paul took seriously the word of God and the work of the Church.  It stands in contrast to the final words, “our Lord, Come” – “Maranatha” – an Aramaic phrase meaning “Our Lord has come and will come again.”  

The Benediction follows and ends the letter – “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.  My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen” (16:23-24).  One could only hope that our lives would be marked by grace and love more than anything else.  I recently read of a man who shared an interesting observation.  He said, “I hope that at my funeral, there will be five people who will sit through the funeral service without looking at their text messages or their watches.”  Paul ends this long letter with the basics - Grace and love – it’s all that matters.  Love God, Love His people, receive His Grace, and give grace to others.  Our lives, like this letter, eventually will end. What do we want to leave behind? The benediction blessing speaks of love and by grace, be “in Christ Jesus.” If those two things are all that I am known for, I think that would be pretty good. Amen?

Peace



[1] David Prior, The Message of 1 Corinthians, The Bible Speaks Today, page 284


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