Plans, People, and Personal Matters
Topic: Pauline Epistles Passage: 1 Corinthians 16:5–16:24
“PLANS, PEOPLE, AND PERSONAL MATTERS”
1 Corinthians 16:5-24
5 I will visit you after passing through Macedonia, for I intend to pass through Macedonia, 6 and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may help me on my journey, wherever I go. 7 For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. 8 But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, 9 for a wide door for effective work has opened for me, and there are many adversaries.
10 When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am. 11 So let no one despise him. Help him on his way in peace, that he may return to me, for I am expecting him with the brothers.
12 Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but it was not at all his will to come now. He will come when he has opportunity.
13 Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love.
15 Now I urge you brothers—you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints—16 be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer. 17 I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, 18 for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such people.
19 The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord. 20 All the brothers send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
21 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. 22 If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! 23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. 24 My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.
As we arrive at the conclusion of our seven month study of the epistle known as 1 Corinthians, we are mindful that the Apostle Paul wrote this letter to a young church whose members continued to struggle with the world-system from which they had been delivered. The believers there had heard and embraced the Gospel, but their transition into the Christian life was not going smoothly. The truth was, in many ways, they looked more like the world than like the church for which Jesus Christ died. They were tolerant of sin in their midst, and seemed at times to be entertaining an eclectic view of Christianity.
In reading through this letter, we recognize that times haven’t changed all that much. Many churches today are contemporary versions of the 1st-century church in Corinth. We are confronted with many of the same problems and temptations that were true way back when...and our generation has significantly added to that number. The difference seems to be that there are proportionately fewer “Pauls” in our day doing battle with the vices that persistently seek to rob the church of its power. If I may jump into the middle of this passage for just a moment before we get started, what is required in every era of church history is what the apostle calls for in verses 13 and 14. God’s people are to “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. (And) Let all...be done in love.”
With firm parental instruction blended with obvious love and concern for them, Paul frequently had to rebuke and correct the Corinthians’ misconceptions. Despite being the one who had introduced them to the Gospel in the first place, his reprimands and admonishments often made him unpopular and brought responses of harsh criticism. There were times when he had to defend his apostolic authority. Nevertheless, he had a divinely-appointed mission to fulfill. His task was no more enviable than that of modern-day pastors and teachers who seek to maintain the purity of God’s Word in the midst of a hostile culture.
We are reminded in this letter that ministry is never easy, and Paul was as human as we are. It might have been completely understandable for him to have “blasted both barrels” at the Corinthians and then departed, turning the responsibility of the ministry there over to others. But that is precisely what he did not do. Paul refused to give up on these people, because he knew that matters of faith needed to be “caught” as well as “taught.” In other words, the believers to whom he ministered needed both exhortation and example.
Therefore, as he brings this letter to a conclusion, he sees fit to inform them of his future plans, to mention the names of people mutually known, and address several important personal matters of which they needed to be aware.
I believe those are the same things that we must consider as we look at his closing words this morning. For example, in verses 5 through 9 we are reminded that...
Plans are subject to the Lord’s will (verses 5-9).
Paul has invested a great deal of time and energy—not to mention prayer and instruction—with these Corinthians (cf. Acts 18:1-17). Despite the problems inherent with this church plant in the midst of an openly pagan setting, he loved the believers there dearly. Sad to say, his love and regard for them was often not requited. Pastors leave churches and Christian workers abandon their posts for far less reason, but Paul’s commitment to them was unshakable. He wanted them to know that he would be returning their way.
While it is true that his visit would be prompted by overseeing the offering they would be collecting for the needy saints in Jerusalem (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:1-4), his motivation exceeded that single act. Let’s read again his words in verses 5 through 7: “I will visit you after passing through Macedonia, for I intend to pass through Macedonia, and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may help me on my journey, wherever I go. For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you.”
Paul was writing this letter from Ephesus. Although the most direct route to Corinth would have been to sail westward across the Aegean Sea, Paul was compelled to take the lengthier northern route so that might also pay a visit to other churches in the Macedonian region, in cities like Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. That would take considerable time, and he suspected that it would be nearing winter before he at last would arrive in Corinth. If that were the case, then he would winter there and leave for Jerusalem in the spring, taking with him the gift they would be sending to the needy saints. It is clear from the way these plans are stated that Paul didn’t just want their money, he wanted them.
When he mentions that they “may help (him) on (his) journey,” we should be reminded that “resources don’t flow in one-directional relationships.” Paul had given much of himself to these Corinthian believers, and it was right for him to expect their support in return. Scripture encourages the support of faithful Christian workers (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:12, 1 Timothy 5:18, et al).
In reading these verses, did you notice the tentative nature with which Paul states his plans? In verse 6 he writes, “Perhaps I will stay with you.” In verse 7, he says, “I hope to spend some time with you.” And then he adds, “if the Lord permits.” The Greek construction in that phrase (“εαν”) suggests a high level of uncertainty. Paul might have said, “I’m not really sure what God’s plans are for me with regard to my visit, but I will make plans to come to you until the Lord shows me otherwise.” On thing that the apostle did understand with certainty was that everything we do is subject to the Lord’s will.
We ought to plan. It has, in fact, been said that “He who fails to plan may as well plan to fail.” That’s pretty good “home-spun” wisdom, but it pales in quality to greater wisdom of which James writes in his epistle. There, in chapter 4, verses 13 and 14, we find these words of caution: “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.’”
Paul was aware that his plans to visit Corinth were subject to the Lord’s will. In fact, he was already deeply involved in ministry in Ephesus, and in verses 8 and 9 seems to be unclear how long he may yet remain there. His plan was to stay there at least “until Pentecost” (one of the three major feast days of the Jews, occurring fifty days after Passover, cf. Leviticus 15-22) because, as he put it, “a wide door for effective work has opened for me, and there are many adversaries.” The metaphor of the “open door” is one that both Paul (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:12, Colossians 4:3) and his fellow apostle John (cf. Revelation 3:8) used on occasion in reference to extraordinary opportunities for Gospel ministry.
Standing opposite the picture of the “open door” are “many” whom Paul labels “adversaries.” The word is actually in a verbal form here, and literally reads, “there are many opposing me.” Probably hearkening back to those whom he had described in chapter 15(:32) as “beasts at Ephesus” (cf. Acts 19:23-41), there were those who sought to “prevent his entrance” into the “door” that the Lord had opened. They were “adversaries” to the Gospel because they “worked against” the spread of the Gospel.
Paul was aware that the ministry is not dependent upon any one single man. Therefore, he transitions into the verses that follow and mentions others who were his partners and co-laborers in the Gospel. Here we are reminded that...
People are essential to the Lord’s work (verses 10-18).
Paul was not a “lone ranger” in “doing the work of the Lord.” Perhaps his most trusted associate was the young man he frequently referred to as his “son” in the faith, Timothy (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:17, 1 Timothy 1:18, 2 Timothy 2:1). It would appear that in light of his delay in coming to Corinth, Paul would send Timothy in his place. Timothy would still have been quite young at this time—perhaps in his early-twenties—and we surmise from a later epistle that he was given at times to timidity (cf. 2 Timothy 1:7). Ministry in Corinth was no “walk in the park,” and the fact that the apostle would handpick him for this task is a testimony to the younger man’s willingness to “count the cost” by overcoming his fears and anxieties for the sake of Christ.
Nevertheless, Paul saw fit to pass along a word of instruction to the Corinthians in anticipation of Timothy’s arrival in their city. In verse 11 he writes, “So let no one despise him.” It may be quite revealing that he felt the need to employ a very strong word (“εξουθενεω”) that means “to treat with contempt” or “to reject.” Why they had to be instructed in such a manner, we can only guess. Perhaps it had something to do with Timothy’s youthfulness (cf. 2 Timothy 4:12), or maybe Paul thought, “Since they have disregarded me, how might they respond to you?”
Instead, the Corinthian believers were instructed to “Help him on his way in peace.” Apparently, Timothy’s mission in Corinth would be relatively short, because Paul had arranged a rendezvous with those he calls “the brothers.” If this reference corresponds to Acts 19(:22), as many believe it does, then the only other “brother” we know by name was Erastus, one of Paul’s lesser known helpers in the work of the ministry. The word “brother” appears five times in the passage before us, and serves to remind us that we are related to one another in the fellowship of believers and in our service to the Lord. The “community of the saints” must be one of the core values in local church ministry. Everyone needs to be involved and participate, because everyone—even you!—have been called to play a role.
Every time I read of these “unsung saints” at the close of Paul’s letters, I am mindful of those who have served through the years in this local assembly. One of my “back burner” projects is to one day compile a history of Temple Hills Baptist Church. Recently I have been sorting through hundreds of unmarked and undated pictures of people who have been a part of this church over the past 64 years. Many of their names have been forgotten, but the Lord knows who they were...each and every one of them. We know only the barest details of most of Paul’s fellow-laborers, but their contributions to the ministry have never gone unnoticed by the One to whom it matters most.
One who was better known by the Corinthians was Apollos. Verse 12 appears to be Paul’s brief response to their inquiry (“περι δε”) regarding this man. You may recall that his name had surfaced earlier in this epistle. In fact, it seems—based upon Paul’s discussion in chapter 3—that he may have attracted a “cult-like” following not of his own making. The immature believers were clearly drawn to “favorites,” and were pitting the Lord’s servants against one another. Paul would have none of that...and, apparently, neither would Apollos.
In verse 12, Paul says that he “strongly urged” Apollos to return to Corinth, “but it was not at all his will to come now.” Maybe later...but not now. While it may be an argument from silence, it may also say something about the humility of Apollos and his unwillingness further dividing the church there. While they may have been eager to see him again, Apollos does not appear to have been enthusiastic at that prospect.
We early alluded to verses 13 and 14, which appear to be a parenthetical insertion before Paul resumes referencing a few more of his fellow laborers. There are five brief, yet significant commands found in these two verses:
- “Be watchful.” In other words, “be alert,” “stand your guard,” “stay awake.” What did the Corinthian believers need to be “on guard” about? The content of this letter suggests that they needed to be more vigilant about the pervading morals and values of the society in which they were a part. We could go down the list of their vices, but we would only be repeating what we covered thoroughly over the past many weeks.
- “Stand firm in the faith.” The idea is to “hold one’s ground in battle,” rather than “surrender” or “run away” in the face of fearful opposition. It means to tenaciously hold to the courage of sound biblical convictions.
- “Act like men.” I am reminded of the story of Hugh Latimer, one of England’s early 16th-century Reformers. At age 67, he was tried, condemned, and burned at the stake for his refusal to recant his Protestant views. At the post beside him stood Nicholas Ridley, a fellow Reformer and the Bishop of London at the time...he too condemned to be burned. Just before the fire at their feet was lit, Latimer called out, “Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.” Courage...that is what the apostle calls for when he says, “Act like men.”
- “Be strong.” Under the most extremely challenging circumstances. To “be strong” means to faithfully carry out one’s responsibilities even in the midst of the most dangerous and frightening of times. It is to not give in to anxiety, fear, and hopelessness, or to let them interfere with one’s duty to the Lord.
- And then Paul adds in verse 14, “Let all that you done be done in love.” Perhaps this is a reminder of what he had written in chapter 13(:1-3). Listen again to what he said there: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging symbol. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” Love for others is a prime motivator in ministry...especially when things aren’t going all that well.
The Gospel is demanding. In fact it demands total commitment...and I am not speaking of just pastors, missionaries, and other full-time Christian workers. People—ready people, people who are sold out to Jesus with no conditions or stipulations—are essential to the Lord’s work. The Corinthians needed that parenthetical reminder, and –dare I say it—so do we. The same question that Mordecai asked Esther in our of the darkest hours of Jewish history could be asked of us, “Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).
In verses 15 through 18, Paul makes mention of both his past and present relationship with the Corinthian church. When he speaks of “the household of Stephanas,” we remember from chapter 1, verse 16, that man was one of the few people in Corinth that he had personally baptized. Here we are told that his and his family had been “the first converts in Achaia.” What a joy it must have been for the apostle that this family had kept the faith and were “devot(ing) themselves to the service of the saints.” The other believers in Corinth were encouraged to “be subject” to them, as well as to others of their ilk. Paul refers to such people as “fellow worker(s) and laborer(s).”
While those two terms appear synonymous, there is a distinction. A “fellow worker” (“συνεργοs”) is “one who works alongside or in cooperation with another,” whereas a “laborer” (“κοπιαω”) is “one who toils diligently to the point of becoming weary.” We could say that the first term refers to “work” in a general sense, while the second term is more specific. Or as one pastor put it, “in the church, many work, but few toil.”
Here it is hinted that Stephanas, along with a pair of his follow believers—Fortunatus and Achaicus, had been the bearers of the letter that the Corinthians had sent to Paul. They had been dispatched as “messengers” from the church in Corinth, perhaps not unlike the manner in which our church sends “messengers” to the Southern Baptist Convention on both the national and state levels.
Apparently they had been able to stay with Paul for a period of time and provide the apostle with first-hand information as to the status of the church in Corinth. It seems quite likely, that much of the content of this epistle came about as a result of the information they had shared with him. And while Paul may not have been encouraged by some of the things he learned about the believers there, these three men are said to have personally “refreshed (his) spirit” and encouraged him...something every Christian laborer needs from time to time. Though not among the more familiar names in New Testament history, they were valuable to the apostle and needed to be “recognized” as such. Soon they would be returning home, and it appears altogether likely that they were the ones who took this letter—1 Corinthians—back to Corinth with them.
People are essential to God’s work and, while we should not serve in order to be “recognized” or “praised” by others, we should be consistently expressing our gratitude and appreciation for those who “work” and “labor” in ministry. It is biblical and is, therefore, the right thing to do.
As he prepares to sign off on this epistle, Paul has a host of brief yet significant things left to say. He presents them almost as bullet points and most are quite personal in nature. That is because...
Purpose is vital to the Lord’s Word (verse 19-24).
What I mean to say is that God never gives us His Word to fill us with information or to satisfy our curiosity. He gives it so that we will know Him and to respond to what He requires. That is the unifying theme that holds these last six verses together.
It is not uncommon for Paul to pass along “greetings” at the end of his letters, and that is exactly what we find him doing here. In fact, there are five separate greetings exchanged in verses 19 through 21:
- “The churches of Asia,” of course, are those located in the province of Asia Minor and would include the one in Ephesus, from where Paul was writing this letter. On most Sundays in our pastoral prayer, we often pray for our sister churches. That is because we need to be reminded that we are not alone in preaching the Gospel and making disciples. Passages like this prompt us to recognize that.
- Paul’s good friends and co-laborers, Aquila and Priscilla, are mentioned next. “Prisca” seems to be a shortened form of “Priscilla,” and may have even been a “nickname.” Here we are told that one of those sister churches which sent “greetings” actually met “in their house.” To this very day, fellow believers meet in homes and worship the same Lord whom we worship. Especially is that true in places where governing authorities view the Gospel as a “threat” and where Christians are frequently persecuted. In many—if not most—of those situations gatherings are better able to relate to Paul’s circumstances than with ours.
- So as not to forget anyone, Paul adds that “All the brothers send you greetings” in verse 20. No doubt, these were the believers who were with the apostle at the time this letter was being written.
- He further encourages believers to “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” This phrase always evokes a smile or raises an eyebrow when we read it in our culture. Actually, a kiss on the cheek remains a common greeting in some cultures today. By calling it “a holy kiss,” Paul is clearly making reference to an expression of affection among believers, perhaps whenever they gathered to observe the Lord’s Supper. He mentions it elsewhere (cf. Romans 16:16, 2 Corinthians 13:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:26), as does Peter (cf. 1 Peter 5:14). The emphasis is not on the “kiss” (“φιλημα”) per se, as much as it is on the “holy” nature of it. Its meaning and application is probably that we are to show genuine and sincere “family love” to one another.
- As Paul “signs off” in verse 21, we see—as we do in a number of his letters (cf. Galatians 6:11, Colossians 4:18, Philemon 19)—that although the words are Paul’s, he dictated them to another, probably Sosthenes, who is mentioned by name in the very first verse of this letter (cf. also Acts 18:17). To authenticate the writing, Paul would pick up the pen and affix his signature. This was not an uncommon practice in the 1st-century documents, as archaeological finds have confirmed.
Three terms from the original text summarize the ending to this letter, and provide for us the applications that we must take from this letter. The three terms are “αναθεμα,” “μαρανα θα,” and “αμην.” As we conclude let’s consider them one at a time.
- Paul writes in verse 22, “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed.” The word is “αναθεμα,” and refers to “something devoted to destruction. It is the same term that Paul employs in Galatians 1(:8-9) when, in jealously guarding the purity of the Gospel, he writes these words of warning: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”
Paul had made the message of the Gospel clear to these Corinthians back in chapter 15(:1-6): “Christ died for our sins...he was buried...he was raised on the third day” and he was seen alive—alive from the dead—by others. If you do not believe that message and have not cast yourself before God for mercy and forgiveness, then you are living under an “αναθεμα,” God’s sentence of eternal condemnation. It is the fate under which the entire human race exists. There is no other hope. God is the great Sovereign who accepts only submission. Anything else stands in opposition to Him.
- But fortunately there is a remedy. Because Jesus has died as an atoning sacrifice for sin and been raised from the dead, He alone stands as the One who is able to alleviate our horrible plight. And for those who repent of their sin and turn to Him in faith, He not only guarantees us forgiveness and right standing with God, but promises to return for us so that we may live with Him forever (cf. John 14:1-3). Therefore, every believer can say with confidence and assurance, “Our Lord, come.” Leon Morris has concluded that this is actually a phrase (“μαρανα θα”) made up of three Aramaic words—“mar” (meaning “Lord”), “ana” (meaning “our”), and “atha” (meaning “come”). This is the only place it is found in Scripture, and yet The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament devotes six pages in attempting to define its meaning.
Perhaps that testifies to the significant aspect of Christ’s return for every watching and waiting believer. Similar longings for the Jesus’ soon appearing are found throughout the New Testament (cf. Revelation 22:20). This is believer’s great hope...“our blessed hope,” as Paul calls it elsewhere (cf. Titus 2:13).
- When we compare those two terms, “αναθεμα” and “μαρανα θα,” we note the stark contrast of fates that await those who belong to Christ by faith and those who do not. And that takes us to the third term in the trilogy that is found in these closing verses. It is the word, “amen” or “αμην.” It is unclear whether it was a part of Paul’s benediction or added some time later by a scribe. Either way, it is a fitting word with which to close this practical letter. “Αμην” means “truly” or “of a truth.” It is an expression of both confidence and trust that what God has said, He will most certainly do. It refers to God’s “faithfulness” and the “firmness” of faith” that we are to maintain as we await the full and final consummation of God’s plan.
Taken together these three terms provide a warning to those who are still without Christ to turn from sin and embrace the Savior while there is still time to do so. Even though this world and its people reside under the condemnation of God, there is a day when the wrath of God will be poured out...and, except for those who have fled to Christ for forgiveness and salvation, there will be no escape.
At the same time, these words provide great comfort to those who have embraced the cross of Christ as their deliverance from sin and its inevitable consequences. We can say “amen” to every blood-bought promise of God because with certainty that God will bring to pass our eternal redemption.
Paul, the great apostle has issued stinging rebuke and solemn warnings to the church at Corinth. But as he ends this letter, he wants them to know that he loves them. What he has said, he has had to say because his cares deeply for them and their eternal fate.