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1 Corinthians 16: Loving and Serving Practically Print E-mail
1 Corinthians
Sunday, 07 February 2016

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The Christian faith can seem impractical at times. We talk about beliefs and ideas. We teach and preach about truth and warn against error. Perhaps some view us as so impractical as not even worthy of their investment. But the life of a local church has many practical concerns. For example, in order for us to have our services this morning, someone had to clean the church this week. In order for us to provide a nursery, someone had to be willing to keep the kids. In order for us to celebrate communion, someone had to prepare the elements. All of this and more had to be done in order for us to worship together this morning. Not only that, but just last week we looked at our budget for 2016 and made practical decisions about how our money will be spent. A totally impractical church could never function or survive.

Such practical issues are often addressed in the New Testament letters. Paul regularly talks about provisions he has received or travel plans that he has made. He often names his fellow-workers in the ministry who travel with him and serve with him. And he often ends his letters with practical instructions for those to whom he is writing (see Romans 15-16, Philippians 4, Colossians 4, and 2 Timothy 4). We might be tempted to just skip over this material, but that would be a mistake. We can see in these passages how the gospel of Christ is lived out in the practical dealings of the Church. We see this in 1 Corinthians 16. Paul has repeatedly called their attention back to the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection for sinners. It is the gospel that will unify them, lead them to true wisdom, and give them victory over sin. It is the gospel that will fuel their love for one another and guide them in worship. And it is the gospel that promises them bodily resurrection when the Lord returns. The gospel applies in all of these areas. And it also applies to the practical instructions that Paul gives them in these closing verses. What does he say?

Use your resources to help others

The chapter begins with instructions about the collection of money that was being taken up for the believers in Jerusalem. Look at verses 1-4. We are not sure why the saints in Jerusalem were so poor, but this is not the only place where Paul appeals to the churches that he has planted to send aid. Even here he mentions his appeal to the churches in Galatia. Notice some of the details of Paul’s instructions here. They are to collect it on the first day of the week. This statement seems to indicate that the believers worshipped on Sunday and part of that worship involved taking up an offering. Paul calls for each of them to participate but he does not give specifics as to how much that should be. Rather, he tells them to give as he may prosper. The issue is not a numerical value but a matter of the heart. ‘Give what you can give out of the blessings that you have received,’ Paul says. Finally, notice Paul’s reluctance to be overly involved in the process. He does not want to do any collecting when he gets there. He wants them to choose some men to take the offering to Jerusalem. He will only go with them if it seems advisable. He wants to be above reproach in regards to money, a good lesson for leaders today.

All of this is to be done to serve the saints in Jerusalem. The Corinthians are to use their resources to practically provide for the needy in another city. They are to give sacrificially for the benefit for others. This is what Christ did for us. He gave of Himself so that others could be blessed. As Paul will say in another letter to the Corinthians: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).

Paul also encourages them to help the fellow-workers of the Lord. He begins by asking this for himself. Look at verses 5-6. What he is asking for here gets a little lost in translation. One of my commentators writes: “The verb ‘help me on my journey’ is a technical one for providing a person with food, money, and traveling companions so as to ensure a safe and successful arrival at his or her destination.”1 He uses the same term in his instructions regarding Timothy. Look at verses 10-11. Paul encourages the Corinthians to use their resources to help others, whether that be the poor in Jerusalem or fellow ministers of the gospel. We should do the same.

Look for opportunities to work for the Lord

Paul has asked that they help him on his way when he visits them soon. He talks some more about that visit in verses 7-9. Look at those with me. Paul’s plan is to have a good long visit with them so that he can continue to instruct them in the faith. From what we know of Paul’s travels from Acts and his other letters, this plan was not realized as he states it here, which is why he qualifies it with if the Lord permits. Yet, it was his goal to get back and spend time with them in Corinth to continue the work of the Lord there. The reason why he cannot go immediately is because a wide door for effective work has opened to me in Ephesus. Paul wants to remain in Ephesus because he has a good opportunity to serve in that city. He is looking for ways that he can serve the Lord effectively, and when he finds one, he seeks to serve the Lord faithfully. But he goes on to add about the work in Ephesus: and there are many adversaries.

What does this mean? We would normally conclude that many adversaries means a closed door for ministry. But that is not how Paul sees it. In fact, he knows that the work of the Lord will always be surrounded by many adversaries. One of my commentators writes: “It is part of the conditions under which we serve God that when we have great opportunities of service we also have serious difficulties. Overcoming opposition is part of the opportunity.”2 Did you catch that? ‘Overcoming opposition is part of the opportunity.’ We should be on the look-out for opportunities to work for the Lord. And when they come, we should not be surprised by adversaries. Rather, we should remain faithful until the work is done.

Paul also gives them instructions for supporting others in their work. We have already mentioned his charge for them to help Timothy when he comes. Timothy had a reputation of being timid and Paul knew that he had some opposition in Corinth. So he tells them to take care of Timothy when he comes. Look again at verses 10-11. Timothy is doing the work of the Lord and they can join in that work by supporting him and putting him at ease among them. Paul also gives them some instructions concerning Apollos. Look at verse 12. It seems that some in Corinth were wanting Apollos to visit them again, perhaps those of the Apollos party (see 1:12 and 3:4).

Paul had not forbidden Apollos from visiting them, as some may have been claiming. Rather, he had encouraged him to visit. But Apollos did not feel like it was the right time for him to return. This shows that even though the Corinthians were divided over Paul and Apollos, they were not divided against each other. Apollos would return when the opportunity was right. In our work for the Lord, we should be mindful of others and their work as well. We need to look for every opportunity for faithful service and do all that we can to encourage others in their work as well.

Paul adds some important commands in verses 13-14. Look at those with me. These are good instructions for us to follow in our labor to work for the Lord. We need to be watchful and stand firm in the faith. These are similar to the commands that Paul gave at the end of the chapter 15: be steadfast, immovable (15:58). The work of the Lord is not so much about finding new and innovative ways to serve as much as it is about just staying faithful. We keep believing that Jesus died for our sins and rose again. We keep praying for each other and serving each other. We keep telling others about Jesus and encouraging them to follow Him. We simply stand firm in the faith!

Paul also tells them to act like men, be strong. He has criticised them for their immaturity and again he is telling them to grow up and be mature (see 3:1 and 14:20). They cannot keep being divisive like children, they need to be men and be strong. Finally, he tells them to do all things in love. As with the section on spiritual gifts (ch. 12-14), Paul reminds them that everything must be done in love, even their acting like men and being strong! Loving each other in the truth is not a weakness. It is easy to speak the truth with hate in our hearts. It is easy to ‘love everybody’ and ignore the truth. But it takes strength to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15ff). May we look for every opportunity to work hard in love for the Lord.

Listen to leaders and fellow workers

As we saw at the end of 1 Thessalonians, Paul encourages the Corinthians to submit to and respect their leaders. Look at verses 15-18. It is probably the case that these men were the ones who delivered the letter from the Corinthians to Paul and the ones who will be delivering this letter from Paul back to them. So Paul commends them and instructs the church to submit to them. He Although we do not know if these men were elders in Corinth or what specific role they played, we can see from these specific instructions the general application that we should submit to and recognize those who are leaders among us. Instead of viewing authority and leadership as unhealthy or evil, we should be thankful to God for such men and gladly submit to their biblical leadership.

Paul ends the letter with a final greeting. Look at verses 19-24. The brothers and sisters that Paul is serving with send greetings to the Corinthians and Paul sends his own greeting. Did you notices his final focus on Jesus? Paul has written to encourage the Corinthians to get back to the gospel, get back to Christ. He is the answer to their divisions and corruption and worship wars. They need to regain their focus on Him. In these verses, Paul says three things about Christ to close. First, either you love Him or you are cursed. Paul knows that any who do not love and obey Christ will be judged on the final Day. Second, Paul longs for the return of Christ. ‘Maranatha,’ Paul prays, ‘Come, Lord Jesus!’ And finally, the only hope for us all is the grace and the love we have in Christ. He has paid for our sins. He has given us victory over the grave. He is our Savior and Lord. Paul writes that the Church in Corinth would stand firm in their love of Christ. May we do the same as followers of Jesus today! Amen.

1 Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians TNICNT (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing, 1987), p. 819.

2 Leon Morris, 1 Corinthians TNTC (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing, 1985), p. 235-36).

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Thursday, 17 March 2016 )

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