Working with workers
What does it look like to be a member of a church?
We’ve arrived at the final Chapter of this letter to the Church of God in Corinth. Paul has written passionately with instruction, rebuke and grand theology that points all to Christ crucified and raised from the dead. Our faith is in Him and Him alone. Our hope is in an imperishable spiritual body like nothing we have known in this age. Our method in everything is love which flows from the love of God.
With a full letter written and delivered to the saints in Corinth, how shall he sign off? We shall see some things to be expected (Verse 13) and yet we discover that after a letter of rebuke, Paul anticipates a positive response from them.
Read 1 Corinthians 16
What did you see? (Observation)
- Partnership with Jerusalem (1-4)
- Paul’s travel plans (5-9)
- How to treat fellow workers (10-18)
- About Timothy (10-11)
- About Apollos (12)
- Faith, (hope) and love (13)
- About Stephanas (14-18)
- Final greetings (19-24)
Partnership with Jerusalem (1-4)
“Now about the collection for the Lord’s people…” What is this collection? We see in Verse 2 that it is money and in Verse 3 that it is a gift to Jerusalem. Acts 24:17 describes Paul’s habit of bringing gifts to his people for the poor and to present offerings. In our present Verse, Paul describes the collection as to the Lord’s people – meaning the holy ones in Jerusalem. Just as Paul is writing to the Lord’s people in Corinth, he expects this church to be connected in support to the Lord’s people in Jerusalem. Paul’s theme in Chapter 16 is to elevate the fellowship of the churches throughout the world since they are all of the same faith. It ought to follow that when you are on board for Jesus then you are on board to support one another who are also on board for Jesus. Christianity has never been a solo act or a Lone Ranger faith. We are in it together. His advice on raising the collection in the following verses, despite the exact usage for the money, is a helpful one for us all today. See also 2 Corinthians 8-9 on this topic of financial support.
“…do what I told the Galatian churches to do.” The Corinthians would not know what Paul has told the Galatian churches. He is introducing his instructions as something that is not unique to this letter to Corinth but the same advice he has given elsewhere.
“…set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income…” What Paul says in Verse 2 is great financial advice for anybody trying to use money for something beyond impulse buying and he is applying it specifically to the giving portion of a salary. He is not specifying an exact amount. He is recommending that each person set aside a proportion of their salary – thoughtfully, carefully and intentionally. When Paul arrives, he does not want to see everyone reaching into their wallets to see what spare change they have! At the beginning of your pay cycle, set aside the money that you have decided to give to the work of the gospel. As intentional as we ought to be about our faith and works (and Paul will remind us later in this Chapter) we need to be intentional about our faith and money. As we listen in to Paul’s advice to this church, it would be grand for our groups to stop and consider how we are going in this area. Do we put our money where our faith is?
“…letters of introduction to the men you approve…” Paul does not intend to take the money and run away with it. He plans to write a note of introduction for some men chosen by the Corinthian church and they will send the money with them to Jerusalem. In this way, the fellowship with the churches is strengthened – they will gain mutual encouragement – and the collection and distribution of the money is above board and transparent.
Paul’s travel plans (5-9)
“After I go through Macedonia, I will come to you – for I will be going through Macedonia.” Paul will be going through Macedonia 😉
“…I hope to spend some time with you…” Paul appears unclear of what he will do after reaching Corinth but assures them that he does not wish to simply pass through as he plans to pass through Macedonia. His plans are for mission in Macedonia (including Ephesus) but to stay and be a pastor to the church in Corinth. His rebuking letter ought not to be thought of as coming from an outsider who doesn’t know them or care.
“…if the Lord permits.” A reminder to us always to consider God’s will above our own. See James 4:15; Luke 22:42; Matthew 6:10.
“…I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost…” Pentecost is the Greek name for the Jewish Feast of Weeks which took place fifty days after Passover (Deut 16:9-12). It is associated with the promise of divine blessing and Christians came to associate it with the day God poured out His Spirit on the church. Ephesus is in modern day Turkey, north of the Mediterranean Sea. On Paul’s 3rd missionary journey (3 journeys described in the book of Acts) he travelled up the coast from Ephesus, around the Aegean Sea before passing through the region of Macedonia (consisting of towns like Philippi and Thessalonica), this takes him to Athens and then a quick hop down to Corinth. Although he spoke in this letter of staying for quite a while, Acts 20:2-3 tells us that he was forced to keep travelling because of persecution from others (not Corinth). Paul had first visited Corinth on his 2nd missionary journey (Acts 18:1-11) where he stayed with them for 18 months.
“…door…opened to me…many who oppose me.” So, this is Paul’s third journey that he is on and Acts 19 provides reading material for this. Acts 19:8-10 describes a period of 2 years where Paul preached the gospel and the opposition actually created more interest in it!
How to treat fellow workers (10-18)
About Timothy (10-11)
“…see to it that he has nothing to fear while he is with you…” The church is a refuge for believers. While the world may be hostile, indifferent, uncaring or other toward the gospel, our churches become a network of safe havens for believers alike. Paul aligns Timothy’s work with his. If you treat Timothy badly, you are doing harm to Paul. A cute parallel to the way that Jesus spoke to Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:5). Timothy was younger than Paul, called a son in the faith (1 Tim 1:2) and Paul advised Timothy not to let others look down on him because of his age (1 Tim 4:12).
About Apollos (12)
“Now about Apollos…” Acts 18:24 introduces us to Apollos. It was friends of Paul who found Apollos teaching from the Scriptures and educated him in the true gospel. Apollos spent time in Corinth while Paul was elsewhere. He was a capable man of God. Paul rebuked the Corinthians for dividing over who was the best leader – Paul was not feeling insecure but wanted the church to be united over the gospel. Each leader does this or that but it is the gospel of Christ that gives life and eternal hope.
“…I strongly urged him…he was quite unwilling…but he will go when he has the opportunity.” Paul has had disputes and disagreements with people with regard to mission (Acts 15:37-40). Here, Paul shares a disagreement between himself and Apollos about when Apollos should go to Corinth. We mustn’t conclude, however, that this was a sharp dispute. It is an example of two people looking to please the Lord. Apollos’ missionary work was not Paul’s mission but the Lord’s. Our work with one another for the gospel does not boil down to setting up a leader and doing whatever they tell us to. It is about unity, peace, discussion and prayerfully moving forward. Paul’s next words may seem out of context but it could very well be an insight into how Paul has responded himself to this disagreement with Apollos…
Faith, (hope) and love (13)
“…Do everything in love.” Verse 13 helps us frame all of our relationships in the church and with regard to fulfilling the commission of the Lord:
- Be on your guard. Other texts remind us to be watchful. We are not to be found snoozing, idle, or misdirected in this life. 1 Peter 5:8 tells us to be alert and sober minded because our enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. When Paul and Apollos spoke about their differences, this would have been a great moment for the devil to take a bite! Be careful with every conversation – you never know which will lead to a moment of destruction rather than encouragement.
- Stand firm in the faith. The gospel is our firm foundation to stand on. Everything we do must be built up on top of that sturdy ground (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). See also 1 Cor 10:11-13; 15:1; 15:58. The warning to stand firm is given so that those who love the Lord will listen and take heed. Those who do not love the Lord will not take heed of such warnings. Paul is wise to consider what rock he stands on. If this gospel is built upon his logic or strategy, then it is not the gospel. He is wise to seek God’s kingdom and not his own. If Apollos is being pulled in a different direction, then trust God with that decision. Time will reveal if it was the will of God or not.
- Be courageous; be strong. Not just a good Colin Buchannan song, this is a charge given to the Lord’s people across the ages (Joshua 1:9). The reason we can be strong is because the Lord is with us. Paul has not been writing to a water-polo club – but to the church of God in Corinth. As God’s people, do not let any forces of nature or man overwhelm you. With Apollos delaying his travel to Corinth and Paul also remaining away for a while longer, the church in Corinth are called to be strong and courageous because God is with them. The absence of a leader does not mean the absence of the Lord.
- Do everything in love. He has spoken of this in Chapter 13. Without love, Paul may have shown impatience and no kindness toward Apollos. He desires the church in Corinth to respond in love also.
About Stephanas (14-18)
“…the house of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia…” Paul remembers Stephanas in passing back in 1Corinthians 1:16 when he was recalling the few people that he had actually baptised. Achaia was the province or region where Corinth and Athens were/are located. See Acts 18:2. Stephanas was part of Paul’s first visit to Corinth.
“…I urge you…to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labours at it.” We are getting the theme of this Chapter emerge by bits as we join up the little elements together. Churches everywhere who call on the name of Christ, such as the church in Jerusalem, are all part of the same mission. Giving financially, helping workers feel safe, allowing differences to exist without being divided, and getting behind those who are working hard for the Lord. This is not secret men’s business. It is open and transparent communication of the Lord’s business. It is not a closed ‘inner circle’ faith. All are welcome to hear the gospel, respond and then get on board the mission. With Paul’s direction in Verse 13 we shall be robust to work together and get behind one another.
“…they have supplied what was lacking from you.” The context implies that what was lacking was any refreshment for the spirit. Paul’s letter to Corinth is shaped by Paul’s disappointment with how they are living out their faith. If all he had to work with were the bad reports, perhaps he could dismiss that church as having abandoned the faith. But he has the refreshing visit from Stephanas and co. These men are worth getting behind! They deserve recognition. Not just from Paul but from the church that they have come from. There is a distinction between praising and fan-club-following like Paul was rebuking in Chapter 1 and when someone deserves to be recognised for their work in the faith.
Final greetings (19-24)
“…the province of Asia…” Not to be confused with what we call Asia, this is marked on historic maps as the western side of modern Turkey. Ephesus was the capital.
“Aquila and Priscilla…” They took Paul in as he worked with them as a tent-maker when he had first visited Corinth (Acts 18:1-3). This is a husband and wife team who worked for the Lord (Romans 16:3).
“…in my own hand…” The content may have been dictated but Paul always signed his letters with his own hand (2 Thes 3:17).
“If anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be cursed! Come, Lord!” Paul is not expressing anger toward anybody. Rather, stating the point that anyone found on judgement day without love for the Lord will be cursed. This is the harsh side of the gospel. It’s how salvation works and it’s how church fellowship works. There are those like Stephanas who ought to be recognised because they love the Lord, and then anyone who wants to take the words of this letter with hate can reconsider where they stand with the Lord.
“My love to all of you in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s letter of rebuke ends with a message of love. How people respond to this letter will depend on their love of the Lord! Paul hopes that they will respond with the advice of Verse 13 just as the relationship between Apollos and Paul is preserved on the basis of watchfulness, faith, hope and love. (I have aligned hope with courage and strength because it is based on how hope in the Lord for deliverance).
What did we learn? (Meaning)
Fellowship in the Lord’s work is made possible when the church loves the Lord. Giving financially, being flexible with plans, caring for the weak and respecting the strong and working through different perspectives can all be made possible when we love the Lord. Our faith is not dependant on the church but the church exists and thrives on the energy of faith. We are not alone. We are the church of God. Anybody who does not pursue love for the Lord can consider themselves not part of the church.
Now what? (Application)
Topic A: Planning to invest in the work of the Lord. When you are part of the church of God, our whole lives are given to the work of the Lord. Romans 6 says that we have died and now live for Christ. Jesus said that we cannot serve both God and money. So, what shall we do? Consider everything as though it belongs to God and make life decisions about how you use your money! With your salary, some of it shall be used for daily living, some of it to save for something, and some of it for giving! The rule is to be generous in all things (1 Tim 6:18; 2 Corinthians 9:10-15). Paul equates the gift of the gospel with riches given to us by God – not a prosperity gospel but that we now have everything we need in Christ (2 Corinthians 8:9). Paul had to write the Corinthians so that they would begin to save for the time that Paul came to collect their gift. Saving and giving are both conscious decisions. Spending is a piece of cake! But giving is a spiritual discipline which flows from our response to God’s great gift to us! Without sharing details of income and giving, take time to reflect on what approach people have to getting behind the work of God financially. Note that the church you are a part of is not the only place that you can give money too but it is an important place to give – because we are working on mission together.
Topic B: Dealing with differences without division. The church is filled with people who think differently, have different perspectives and different aims and goals. But when each member shares the same core truth of serving the Lord in all that we do, then these differences will not be about gospel issues but about which is best next. When people have a different view on something (as Apollos and Paul did) it is important to discuss it – otherwise we break fellowship and perhaps assume why the other person is acting in a different way. We need to share points of view, to listen and understand before differences flame into feuds. Then, we ought to go back to the basics of Who is LORD, Who’s kingdom are we serving, be on our guard against the devil taking advantage of us, stand for the faith, trust in God who delivers and then proceed with love.
Topic C: Inside the church or outside the faith. People say that you don’t need to go to church to be a Christian. Of course there is a slither of truth to this since going to church does not make everybody Christian. But when we individually turn to Christ then Christ directs us to community. Paul expects that those who love the Lord will even take a stern rebuke and still remain friends. He expects that the church be filled with Christ-centred souls who love one another on the basis that Christ has loved them. Paul send his love to all of you in Christ Jesus. It wasn’t just to those people he liked but his fellowship is immediately handed out to those who call on the name of the LORD to be saved. Being part of our church is more than just being present when you can. We encourage all to
- know God through Jesus Christ,
- to be a regular member of a church service to encourage the people of God,
- Be connected to a Growth Group. This is not always easy. But these are designed to help the people of God to grow in their faith together and to nurture one another in faith and life.
- Be serving at church in a ministry. This may be operating the screens in church, serving in a kid’s program, visiting members at home, praying and many other ministry.
- Be active in mission. Praying for at least one other person is where we begin. As a church, we also support local, national and overseas missionaries. But we also encourage one another to be missionaries where we are at.
Being on board at church looks like this. What do you think?