1 CORINTHIANS 16:1-24
In the last chapter, Paul dealt with the most glorious subject imaginable -- the teaching of the resurrection. The most glowing and fantastic promises were given as we saw a vision of our future destiny. Then, as we turn the page, we read: Now concerning the collection for the saints. What a contrast!
Yet this is the very character of Christianity. It contains both the glorious and the mundane. It deals with the dynamic and the everyday.
There is a reason for this contrast. It is because the glorious vision of the future riches of the heavenly kingdom ought to serve as an impetus to our present service. Because we shall be so richly blessed in the future, we should be all the more ready to share in todayís earthly riches.
In this chapter we see Christianity in action. This call to action is seen in several different venues:
This is shirtsleeve Christianity. It is as though Paul has taken off his coat and tie and kicked off his shoes to close this letter with some informal greetings and goodbyes.
There is a principle here that we have already mentioned but which will bear repeating. It is that the prophecies of the Bible are not given merely to satisfy our curiosity or to allow us to draw up a prophetic timetable. They are given to encourage us to live differently.
THE COLLECTION FOR THE SAINTS
Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also.2 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. 3 And when I arrive, whomever you may approve, I shall send them with letters to carry your gift to Jerusalem; 4 and if it is fitting for me to go also, they will go with me. (1 Corinthians 16:1-4).
The believers in Jerusalem had come into hard times. A famine had come over the land. This is the same famine that had been prophesied by Agabus in Acts 11:28. The prophecy had come true and this had brought economic depression to Palestine. Jerusalem, as the capital city, was especially hard hit due to the over-population in the city.
The suffering of the Christians in Jerusalem was exceptionally heavy since, in addition to the normal economic woes, there was added to their lot a persecution for their faith. As a result, the other churches throughout the ancient world began a program of supporting the needy Christians in Jerusalem with gifts of money.
The way in which Paul speaks of "the collection" indicates that it was not a new subject to the believers at Corinth. They had apparently already been informed of the needs at Jerusalem and had decided to partake in the ministry of meeting those needs.
The principles that Paul lays down for the church at Corinth were not confined to that particular church. They were universal principles. They were also meant to be applied to the church at Galatia and they can also be applied today.
On the first day of every week
Each one of you (believers)
Put aside and save
As he may prosper
- The time: On the first day of every week (16:2).
Paul directs that the gathering of these funds be accomplished upon a regular basis. More specifically, they were to be gathered on the first day of every week. It is evident both from this passage and from the descriptions of the early church fathers that this had become the meeting day of the church. Why was this day chosen? It was the day on which the resurrection had taken place. It was also the day on which Pentecost had taken place.
- The participants: Each one of you (16:2).
It is rather obvious that this collection was to involve believers. Paul does not seek these collections from those who were outside the church. There were other social and civic groups in Corinth, but Paul does not solicit money from any of them. This is the duty of Christians. Because God has freely given them all things, they are to freely give of the material blessings they enjoy.
- The funds: Put aside and save (16:2).
The Corinthians were to put aside and save the money that was collected for the Corinthian saints. There are two primary reasons that the New Testament mentions for giving:
The first object of our giving is to be the compensation for those who labor in the church in teaching and preaching (1 Timothy 5:17).
The second object of our giving is to meet specific financial needs of the poor. This was the purpose of this collection in Corinth. It was a collection for charity.
- The amount: As he may prosper (16:2).
No specific amount of percentage is demanded in this offering. Instead, each man is to give as he may prosper. This kind of voluntary giving is not confined to the New Testament. The Old Testament Scriptures lay the foundational principles for giving.
9Honor the LORD from your wealth,
And from the first of all your produce;
10So your barns will be filled with plenty,
And your vats will overflow with new wine. (Proverbs 3:9-10).
The generous man will be prosperous,
And he who waters will himself be watered. (Proverbs 11:25).
The principle of giving recognizes that all blessings come from the Lord. He has ordained that some money will have an abundance of money while others have a deficit. There is a Jewish proverb that says, "God must love the poor because He made so many of them." The truth is that He gives riches to certain believers so that they can use their wealth to help those in need.
At this point, you might be thinking to yourself, "That lets me off the hook because I am certainly not rich." However, if you have more than another Christian brother who is in need, then you are instructed to share your prosperity with him according to the amount the Lord has prospered you.
Paul had a plan and there was a reason for the plan. The plan was that money be laid aside each week. The reason for the plan was so that a special collection would not need to be taken when Paul arrived. By planning ahead and setting aside a portion each week, the church would not be excessively burdened when Paul arrived as it tried to raise the funds all at once.
This teaches us something about the Christian life. It is that there is nothing inconsistent with a Christian who plans ahead. I have seen some Christians who never seem to bother to balance their checkbook, cheerfully announcing, "The Lord will provide." What they fail to realize is that the Lord provided them with an education in mathematics so that they could balance their checkbook and intelligently plan their finances.
I want you to notice that there is a system of accountability in the handling of these funds. Paul is not going to take the money and pocket it. He isnít going to touch the money at all. Instead, the church of Corinth will choose responsible and trustworthy men of their own number who will take the gift of Jerusalem. There will also be signed letters that shall accompany the gift. Although Paul does not specifically say it, the implication is that the letters will state the amount of the money in the gift. There will be no question in anyoneís mind that everything was done decently and properly.
A PLANNED VISIT
5 But I shall come to you after I go through Macedonia, for I am going through Macedonia; 6 and perhaps I shall stay with you, or even spend the winter, that you may send me on my way wherever I may go. 7 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.
8 But I shall remain in Ephesus until Pentecost; 9 for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries. (1 Corinthians 16:5-9).
This section seems to be given in the form of a postscript -- a "P.S." Youíve done that in a letter before. You have said everything you planned to say and you have practically finished the letter and then you remember something else. You jot down the letters, "P.S." and you give this last, short, final message.
If this is indeed what Paul is doing, then you might be asking yourself what relevance it can have for believers today. Outside of a bit of early church trivia, of what importance is this section? I believe there are some worthwhile lessons that we can learn.
It is evident as we read this passage that Paul had some very definite goals. He is presently in Ephesus. That is Anatolia in modern-day Turkey. He plans to come to the Corinthians and he plans to go by a specific route that shall first take him through Macedonia. That is not a direct line. It is a carefully thought route that will take him through each of the churches he has planted during his second missionary journey.
There are some Christians who seem to think that it is wrong to set goals -- that you are not really trusting in the leading of the Lord if you make definite plans. You can usually recognize these people by the fact that they are the ones sitting in the same spot and doing nothing.
The Bible is full of examples of godly men who set goals for themselves and who then worked to see those goals accomplished. At the same time, you must be balanced when you are setting your goals. The necessary ingredient that needs to accompany your goal-setting is flexibility.
Although Paul had some very definite goals, he was flexible enough to realize that they might be overruled. He sees several different possible outcomes of his planning and he will be ready to change his plans as needed. He is flexible enough to cover the various contingencies.
What is your attitude when you come to a life detour? Do you become frustrated and angry when your well-laid plans are pushed aside? You need to realize that plans are your timetable while detours are Godís timetable. You will only be able to believe this as you believe in the sovereignty of God.
In forming his plans, Paul recognizes the sovereignty of God. Although he has some special plans to spend some quality time with the Corinthians, he is quick to add, "if the Lord permits" (16:7).
Paul recognizes that the Lord has His own timetable and it is the one that counts. He is willing to view the unexpected as a part of Godís sovereign agenda.
Paul isnít satisfied with merely touching base with the Corinthians in a short visit. He does not want to see them only "in passing." He wants to spend some time with them. He realizes that the process of discipleship takes time.
We tend to speak of spending "quality time" with people and that is a good thing. It is possible to be with someone physically yet to have the time poorly spend. But while quality time is important, it cannot be at the expense of quantity time. You donít develop disciples in occasional meetings. You develop disciples by being with people and by letting them watch how you live.
Parents, you need to spend real time with your children. It needs to be both time of quality and it also needs to be time of quantity.
Paul had learned to take hold of opportunities that manifested themselves. Even though he desired to visit his friends in Corinth, he found himself in a situation in which the possibilities for ministry in other places were wide open.
What possibilities were these? They were the possibilities of sharing the gospel to a world in darkness. That world has its share of adversaries. Paul had faced some serious opposition in Ephesus. In the previous chapter, he related how his life was in danger due to his ministry in the gospel. Yet although there are "many adversaries," Paul is not discouraged. He realized that God is in control and that the outcome of the battle is certain.
This realization is a motivation to service. It is always easier to join the battle when you know that you are on the winning side.
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.11 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. (1 Corinthians 16:10-11).
Timothy had accompanied Paul for several years. He had been in Corinth during the two years of ministry as the church was first planted. When Paul departed from Corinth ad the end of that time, Timothy had accompanied him on his way.
Paul is now in Ephesus. From this base of operations, he has sent Timothy and Erastus back to Greece to check up on the church and to see how they are doing. We have a reference to this return mission in the book of Acts.
Now after these things were finished, Paul purposed in the spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, saying, "After I have been there, I must also see Rome."
Timothy and Erastus evidently took the land voyage across the Hellespont into Macedonia. From there, they turned southward, coming down the Greek peninsula. If all goes well, they will soon arrive at Corinth. It is in this context that Paul delivers his instructions to the Corinthians.
The Corinthians had a tendency to be arrogant and intimidating toward anyone whom they did not consider to be their intellectual equal. In their pride, they have even begun to look down on Paul. If they had treated the master harshly, what would they do to the student?
Yet it is not for Timothyís benefit that Paul speaks, but for their own. Paul had not sent Timothy to Corinth for his own benefit, but to benefit the Corinthians.
Paul sent Timothy to Corinth to reinforce his teachings to them. His job will be that of a reminder. He will be an example of how the Corinthians ought to live. When they look at Timothy and see the way he lives, they will be reminded of Paul and the way he lived. Neither are Paulís ways an end to themselves; they are an example of what it means to be "in Christ."
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. (1 Corinthians 16:12).
Apollos was the young preacher from Alexandria, Egypt. He reminds me of one of my heros in the faith, Steve Brown. Steve told me not to call him that, but Iím going to, anyway. Apollos reminds me of Steve because they are both exceptional preachers, especially when it comes to their delivery. Apollos also reminds me of Steve because they were both preachers before they heard the gospel and were saved.
It was while Apollos was preaching at Ephesus that he met Aquila and Priscilla and they discipled him in the Word (Acts 18:24-26). He had subsequently gone on a preaching tour through Greece that took him through Corinth. During this time at Corinth, he had become known to the church and had ministered there.
Apollos had eventually returned to Ephesus. There he met the Apostle Paul. Upon their meeting, Paul encouraged the young Apollos and, more specifically, encouraged him to make a return trip to the church at Corinth. But Apollos did not want to go at the moment. It was not an opportune time for Apollos to come now. We donít know why. Perhaps he didnít want to be involved right now in a problem church. Or perhaps his ministry in preaching at Ephesus was more pressing. His reason doesnít really matter. He just did not want to go at the moment.
What is interesting is Paulís attitude toward the matter. Although he had him greatly to go to Corinth, he was willing to relent when Apollos was dead set against going at the moment.
There will be times when you think the Lord is leading in a specific direction. At the same time, there might be another Christian brother who is just as convinced that the Lord is leading in the opposite direction. What is the answer? How can you tell? Sometimes you canít. Sometimes it is better to take a wait-and-see attitude.
This is what Paul did. He had encouraged Apollos to make the return trip to Corinth. Perhaps he even felt the Lord to be leading Apollos to Corinth. There was only one problem. Apollos did not feel the same leading.
We can learn a lot from Paulís reaction. He does not panic. He does not berate Apollos for defying the will of God. He does not issue an ultimatum to Apollos. He is instead content to let Apollos wait for that leading form the Lord. He recognizes that it will come in the Lordís good time.
A CALL TO ACTION
Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.14 Let all that you do be done in love. (1 Corinthians 16:13-14).
In these two very short verses, Paul gives five commands. They are all positive in nature. As I read them, I am impressed that these positive commands correspond to the negative situations with which Paul dealt throughout this epistle.
1. Be on the alert (16:13).
The Corinthians had not turned from the truth to follow false doctrine. Instead, they had become lax in their practice of the faith. They needed a wake up call. They needed to keep a careful watch on their spiritual lives.
It is easy to hold fast to all of the correct doctrines of the faith while beginning to slip in your actual living of the Christian life. All you have to do is to lower your guard. Forget to make it personal. Hear a truth of the Word and fail to apply it personally in your life.
Youíve heard the illustration of the frog in the frying pan. Iíve never tried it and Iím not saying you ought to, either, but Iím told you can sit a frog in a pan of water and slowly turn up the heat until be boils alive. He will not jump out of the pan because he sees no immediate danger.
The same message is here for you. In a society that is so alluring, it is easy to become sidetracked -- to gradually become deadened to the presence of sin in your life. This is the reason for Paulís message to you. Be on the alert! Wake up!
2. Stand firm in the faith (16:13)
There is a lie going around today and it is not a new lie. It was making the rounds in Corinth in Paulís day. It is the lie that says the wisdom of the world has a more solid foundation than the truths of Christianity.
I have news for you. The truths of the Bible are rock-solid. They are a firm foundation. You can stand firm on them and they will not slip.
3. Act like men (16:13)
Paul has already told the Corinthian believers to grow up. He repeated this injunction several times throughout the book.
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:1).
Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be babes, but in your thinking be mature. (1 Corinthians 14:20).
Have you ever seen a big baby? He may be six feet tall and drive a fancy car and live in a nice house, but he has never grown up. He is easy to recognize. He is the one who has never learned to take on responsibility. He only thinks of himself. Everyone else in his world exits only to serve his needs and his desires. He is described by a funny old song that Amy Grant used to sing:
I know a man, maybe you know him, too
You never can tell, he might even be you.
He knelt at the altar and that was the end,
Heís saved and thatís all that matters to him.
His spiritual tummy, it canít take too much,
One day a week he gets a spiritual lunch.
On Sunday he puts on his spiritual best,
And gives his language a spiritual rest.
What kind of Christian are you? Have you begun to grow and to mature in your relationship with the Lord? Or do you still resemble the immature, the unbeliever?
4. Be strong (16:13)
Strength is something that everyone admires. We have contests to see who is the strongest and then we give awards to them. This is NOT what Paul is describing. The verb used here in the Greek text is in the passive voice. Paul is not saying to become strong. He is saying to RECEIVE strengthening.
There is an ever-present danger in Christians that they might think of themselves as being strong in themselves. The truth is that, in yourself, you are not strong at all. Your strength lies in the hands of the Lord. He is strong. And you are strong only when you rely on His strength.
5. Let all that you do be done in love (16:14)
This is the central message of the epistle to the Corinthians. This is an epistle about unity. The Corinthians had a problem with unity. At the root of that problem was their lack of love.
Paul has already spent an entire chapter on the importance of love. Indeed, every practical command and exhortation that Paul has given can be summed up in this single imperative. Do everything in love.
FOLLOW THE LEADER
15 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), 16 that you also be in subjection to such men and to everyone who helps in the work and labors.
17 And I rejoice over the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus; because they have supplied what was lacking on your part. 18 For they have refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men. (1 Corinthians 16:15-18).
One of the lessons we see illustrated time and time again through the Bible is that God works through individuals. He doesnít call a crowd. He usually chooses an individual and gets him to move in the right direction and pretty soon the crowd starts to follow.
That is what a leader is. He is someone who influences people. He is someone whom people follow.
There was such a man in Corinth. His name was Stephanas. We donít know a lot about him. We know that he and his family were among the first converts in all of Greece. We know Paul had led them to Christ and then had personally baptized them (1 Corinthians 1:16). From that time on, the household of Stephanas became known as a family that was devoted to the ministry to the saints.
Paul urges the Corinthians to be in subjection to such men and to everyone who helps in the work and labors (16:16). Do you see the exhortation? You might have missed it the first time you read the verse because of the parenthetical section that described Stephanas and his family and their conversion experience.
Now I urge you, brethren...16 that you also be in subjection to such men and to everyone who helps in the work and labors. (1 Corinthians 16:15-16).
This is a call to subjection. Paul uses Stephanas and his family of examples of what godly leadership is and what our attitude ought to be toward those who manifest that kind of leadership. That attitude is summed up in one word -- SUBJECTION. That is a word that isnít very popular these days. Todayís heros are those who buck the system. They are rebels. The refuse to subject themselves to anyone.
Christianity is a religion of subjection. It teaches subjection to government, to authorities, and to the church. It tells wives to be subject to their husbands, children to be subject to their parents and slaves to be subject to their masters. Nor does it stop there.
...and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. (Ephesians 5:21).
We recognize every believer as a priest of the living God. In the Old Testament, God communicated through certain men, but today we all have a royal priesthood. Because of this, God can use all of us in revealing His will to others. You can exhort me to godly living and I can exhort you to godly living and we are called to be subject to one another in the face of such exhortations.
19 The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Prisca greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house. 20 All the brethren greet you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. 21 The greeting is in my own hand-- Paul. (1 Corinthians 16:19-21).
Paul is saying his final goodbyes. There is a genuine bond of fellowship pictured in these verses. It is a fellowship that flows from the love within the body. This bond transcends cultural and geographical boundaries. It breaks the barriers of race and age and gender. It passes through all social and economic strata.
In the ancient world, the kiss was a common sign of affection, not only between men and women, but also for people of the same gender. Such a kiss was given on the cheek or on the forehead and signified what a warm embrace signifies in todayís culture.
Notice it is called a "holy kiss." The outward manifestation of the bond that exists between Christians is to be special and holy. The holy kiss is to be something special. It is something that has been set apart by God for His own people to show their love for one another.
Paul gives this injunction concerning the holy kiss on four different occasions (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26). It would seem that he thought it important.
The holy kiss has fallen out of use among most Christians in the west. That is probably unfortunate. But at the very least, we ought to be regular in our use of a "holy hug."
It was Paulís custom to dictate his epistles while someone else penned them. This was very common throughout the ancient world. People wanted to write a letter used a scribe in the same way that we use a keyboard. The mark of authenticity of such a letter would be in the signature.
If I may be permitted to point out an analogy, Christians are the letter that God has written to the people of this world. There is also a signature. It is the mark of authenticity. The signature of God is His Spirit in your life. People will only believe your message as they see the signature; as they see the effects of the Holy Spirit in your life. In the words of Francis of Assisi, "Preach the gospel always; and when necessary, use words."
22If anyone does not love the Lord, let him be accursed. Maranatha.
23The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.
24My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen. (1 Corinthians 16:22-24).
With these last few words, Paul comes to the close of his epistle. He has given his warnings. He has called for love. He has demonstrated the grace of God. Now he gives a final reminder.
There are only two kinds of people in the world. There are those who love the Lord and there are those who do not.
Those who love the Lord
Those who do not love the Lord
They have been blessed by God
They will be eternally cursed by God
They are in Christ and have been identified with Him through faith
They are still in their sins and will bear the consequences of those sins
They have entered into eternal life
They will know only death
The question that arises is an obvious one. If there are only two kinds of people in the world, which kind are you?
Our English translation does not actually translate this phrase. It only transliterates it. It merely gives the same word in English letters without translating it.
The translators did this for a reason. They did this because Paul himself did this. Paulís epistle was written in Greek, but here there is a change. This is not Greek. It is Aramaic. And it is not a single word, but two.
Mara is the Aramaic word for "Lord."
Atha is Aramaic for "come."
When we consider the context in which this is used, we can see that it is both a prayer of blessing as well as a warning. Those who do not love the Lord are one day going to be faced with the coming of the Lord and then they will experience His curse.
And yet, for those who love the Lord and who trust themselves into His hand, the coming of the Lord is not a curse, but a wonderful blessing. It is the time when we shall finally see the fullness of His grace and His love. Even so, MARANATHA!