Category Archives: Judgment

Revelation 2

Letters to the 7 churches- part 1 of 2

Discussion Question

What do you hope God will say to you when you see Him?

Background (Context)

Revelation began with a vision of the powerful Jesus and a messenger telling John to write down what he sees and to send it to the seven churches listed. They will be blessed if they read the words of this book and take it to heart.

Read Revelation 2

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

The structure is of one section for each of the 4 churches in this chapter. The letters have a similar structure of: Announcing the authority of the letter, I know this about you, and yet I have this against you, blessed is the one who…and a reward that follows. A group might draw a table of each letter with the above flow and fill in the squares for a good overview.

  • To Ephesus (1-7)
  • To Smyrna (8-11)
  • To Pergamum (12-17)
  • To Thyatira (18-29)

To Ephesus (1-7)

“To the angel of the church…” Remember that an angel is a messenger. This may be saying that the letter will get to the church via the messenger. The angel/messenger for each church image began in Chapter 1 and it was noted that the churches are not disconnected from the King but his messengers are present. A messenger is someone who brings a message. The churches are receiving this message as they received all revelation from God as they received the gospel.

“…the words of him who holds the seven stars…” The letter begins with the authority of the one speaking. Jesus is giving this message via the messenger. He holds the seven messengers of the seven churches (see 1:20)

“I know…” The second part of the letter is the good news about what Jesus can commend of the church.

“…you cannot tolerate wicked people…[rejected false prophets]…endured hardships…” The image of this church is of a strict “authentic bible only” mentality which is to be praised. The do not allow soft teaching from fools who claim to be of God. They are mighty bounces for the church of Christ. And they are tough enough to persevere because following Jesus and the bible is hard work. They should keep this level of determination going.

“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.” It seems that this church once loved the grace of God but time and effort have steered them away from this love. They still stand for truth and true religion but even their charity work smells like discipline and duty.

“If you do not repent…” A strict church like this has lost the gospel. Their warning is that they will be removed. They are the lampstand (see 1:20).

“…you have this in your favour…” They hate the Nicolaitans which God also hates. This is a good thing which seems to parallel what they were praised for in Verses 2 to 4. God is fine with the side that they are fighting on but they have forgotten what the fight is about. The Nicolaitans were a sect of the first century. They are mentioned again in Verse 15. Their flaw was trying to work out a “compromise with paganism, to enable Christians to take part without embarrassment in some of the social and religious activities of the close-knit society” (The IVP Bible Dictionary). It is possible that ‘Nicolatan’ is a Greek variation of the Hebrew, ‘Balaam’ who is brought out in later letters. Look at 2 Peter 2:15, Jude 1, Rev 2:15 in their context.

“Whoever has ears to hear…I will give…” As was promised in 1:3, those who listen to these words and take them to heart will be blessed. The blessings are for access to the tree of life which was forbidden after The Fall.

To Smyrna (8-11)

“…the words of Him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.” The authority of the letter is of the risen Lord Jesus. His resurrection is no small thing but defines his power in the context of human salvation.

“I know your afflictions and your poverty…I know about the slander…” Isn’t it beautiful to hear the words: I know : when they mean – I see you. And Jesus’ response to this is not to help them out of their affliction and poverty but to remind them that they are actually rich!

“Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer…” The letter to the Smyrnetians (?) contains an exact prophecy that some will be in prison for ten days. God sees the suffering and the affliction even before it happens and he tells them not to be afraid. He also sees those who claim to be one thing but are actually a house of the devil. Appearances are only real when they are from God’s perspective. Everything else is false or temporary.

“The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.” The remedy for suffering is hope. Hope makes us persevere. Those who persevere and are victorious, not giving way to fear, are saved from a worse suffering to come. The first death is our mortal death and the second death is the one after judgment. See 21:8.

To Pergamum (12-17)

“…the sharp double-edged sword.” Easily the word of God.

“… not even in the days of Antipas…” Trickles of real history are in this book of Revelation. God really sees a church suffering.

“…where Satan lives…” Such evil was amidst the location of this church that it is aligned with the house of Satan.

“…yet…some among you hold to the teaching of Balaam…” This is referencing Numbers. Surely a teaching as old as that is not still current at the time of Revelation in its immediate sense. But there is a parallel to what they have fallen pray to with the story of Balaam and Barak. What we need to know is here in the paragraph before us. People of the church are enticed to do something that is ungodly. 1 Corinthians and Romans talk about food offered to idols in ways that do not outright condemn it. But when someone eats against their conscience, this is a big problem. They also have those who have succomned to the false teaching of the Nicolaitans. Again, the specifics of this are unclear but their teaching is false and people in the church have befallen pray. See earlier notes regarding Ephesus linking the Nicolaitans and the teaching of Balaam.

“Repent…or I will come with the sword of my mouth.” The word of God is powerful and right to judge and to condemn.

“…I will give some of the hidden manna.” Old Testament allusion to relief and mercy from God.

“…I will also give…a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” Getting a new name means a new start. Simon is called Peter. Levi is Matthew. The idea of a secret name only known to the receiver is an intimate gift from the One who knows us. It is a personal gift. We don’t conclude that we all get knew names but so what if this ends up being factual – I won’t tell you what name I get.

To Thyatira (18-29)

“…the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.” See 1:14-15. Jesus is named here as the Son of God. The description of Jesus is full in Revelation but must be pieced together. The letters have increased our knowledge of him and now we see one of his titles.

“I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.” What a great start! Praise God for their progress and sanctification. Notice the dance between deeds, love and faith. These things are not just ideas but action.

“You tolerate that woman Jezebel…” This is another Old Testament reference in 1 and 2 Kings. She led Israel astray to worship idols and killed off the prophets. To the Thyatirians she was killing them with her sexual immorality and enticing them away. Who are what is referred to exactly may remain unknown but the reference to Jezebel is that her schemes are directly against the people of God.

“…then all the churches will know…” The action of God against Jezebel will be a witness to more churches than just this one. In the end, wicked will be destroyed and all will know that God searches the hearts and minds and repays each according to their deeds.

“… I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come.” Is it that God demands more of some than of others according to their opportunity and gifts? If one church is worthy enough to hold onto grace until Christ returns and yet another will be held accountable because they did not use the gifts given to expand the kingdom…? This seems parallel to the parable of the talents.

“… I will give authority over the nations.” Paul spoke to the Corinthians about being judges in heaven. The nations here are not nations as we know them but stands for those outside the kingdom of God. The morning star is very likely a reference to Isaiah 14:12ff where Babylon, who was high like a mountain smashing all the kingdoms has now been laid low. It is called the morning star that has come down to earth below. Babylon is used in Revelation as a metaphore for all the nations who rise up against God.

What did we learn? (Meaning)

The Church of God is born from the grace of God and the word of God for love and good deeds, for faith and for persevering through suffering, persecution and maintaining truth while keeping love. We live in a battle field wanting to break us and entice us away. Jesus says, if you stand firm and hold fast, then the suffering and the abstaining will be replaced with victory, reigning, riches and a new name. It is not enough to love the bible, we must love God and one another. God sees us and what we go through. He also knows that we are way richer than we think we are.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: Love being right or love God. The Pharisees fell trap of turning love into a duty and it seems the church in Ephesus had done the same. Churches who are very, very vigilant against false teaching can lose sight of the beauty of scripture and the joy of knowing the community of believers. It is a wonderful thing to know that you are forgiven and saved and set free. We can learn to genuinely love and to take the words of the scriptures to heart as we read them carefully.

Topic B: Do not fear suffering. This is so easy to write and hard to live out. Hope is the antidote to suffering. As soon as we believe that the removal of suffering is the answer, then we have lost sight of eternity. God will remove the suffering but not until He returns. Let’s remember to be people of eternity. Living for this world will disappoint us or kill us.

Topic C: Avoiding Balaam and watching Jezebel. The Balaam’s and Jezebels of this world will trick us into denying Christ and giving way to quick pleasures. But they will be destroyed and their destruction will testify to the justice of God. Our goal is to stand on the right side of justice at the end. Only the One who can give us a new name, clothe us in white and lift us up to rule the nations is worth giving our lives to. What false teachings and enticing ways do you see amongst us?

Revelation 1

A vision from God to the churches

Discussion Question

What would you rather: to know all the details of a holiday before you go on it (the events of every day right down to all the problems that will occur) or to have a guide that promises you will be fine and to just go on the journey?

Background (Context)

We are at the very end of the bible and in a book that gets way too much attention for the wrong reasons. Being the last book of the bible, we must consider all that has gone before it! Creation, the Fall, the promise of salvation, the suffering servant-king, the gospels, the spread of the church with the message of resurrection, forgiveness of sins and persecution. The Bible, as a singular book, ends with a vision of all that is and will be. Whenever it is treated as an isolated book it is mistreated by the reader.

The scope of these notes will not be exhaustive on the book of Revelation. As we have always done, we will take each chapter at a time, each section at a time and uncover what the author wants us to see and hear and how to respond. There is no end to the amount of commentaries written on parts of the bible but there is no substitute to the bible itself for gaining understanding and good context.

A note on apocalyptic writing. Readers can get stuck in this book whenever symbols and ideas emerge that spark our imagination. While the genre of Revelation is different, it still uses the same constructs of language. Words build up sentences which build up a message which, in context, can be understood when we look for the clues. We will see in chapter one that questions are raised in the text and then resolved – in the text! We may not always know what exactly is meant but we will avoid jumping to whimsical conclusions.

So, Jesus has come to this earth and laid down his life. John 3:16 is not a prophecy but history. In this book we will remember that there is no greater truth than that Jesus is King and He’s going to take care of everything.

Read Revelation 1

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • The revelation (1-3)
  • Grace and peace from the Triune God (4-8)
  • Write what you have seen (9-19)
    • The writer to the churches (9-11)
    • What he saw (12-16)
    • How to respond to Revelation (17-20)

Part a (1-3)

The revelation (1-3)

“The revelation from Jesus Christ…” The bible does not waste words. These three verses and the rest of this chapter give us great insights to uncover the whole of this book. We start by reading that this book is about a revelation from Jesus Christ. A revelation is simply the uncovering of something previously unknown. Jesus is revealing something to John, the writer, and to us. The whole bible is a revelation – knowledge of God that would otherwise be unknown to us.

“…which God gave him…” So the revelation is from Jesus but it was given to Jesus from God. The doctrine of the Trinity does not simply state God is One but that God is One and Three. Throughout the book of Revelation we will be amazed at the revelation of the Trinity in action! Jesus is a servant of the Father.

“…to show his servants what must soon take place.” It is a little bit exciting to know that we read this book knowing that certain elements of it are still yet to be fulfilled. We are reading the finished bible with still hope for what God has promised. We will see, I hope, that the book is not forecast for a sequence of events that will devastate us all but that the events to take place all involve the consummation of the work on the cross. This is a book filled with hope for those who love Jesus and fair warning for those who do not. 

“He made it known…” John, an angel, Jesus Christ and God are all involved in the writing of this book. John’s hand is used to give exactly what he heard from the angel/messenger sent by Christ to convey the word of God. Although there are many hands in this kitchen, the authority of God is not bent. Again, the whole bible follows this kind of pattern.

“Blessed is the one who reads aloud…and who hear it and take to heart what is written in it…” We hold in our hands a message from God that is promised to be a blessing to those who take it to heart. We may very well pray for our church right now that we will take these words to heart and do more than treat it like a toy or puzzle to solve but to love God more dearly as we hear him speak to us.

“…because the time is near.” Jesus claimed not to know the hour when he would return but told his disciples to be ready. They died before his return. Many have died before Jesus’ return. The time is still near. We must not get trapped in the popular thought that the days are getting closer now. Everyday is one day closer of course. But the day has been near even in 90AD.

So, The Revelation is new and it is more of the bible. God has spoken, Jesus has served as the Word of God and with the help of messengers and writers, the things that God wishes to reveal to us have been made known.

Grace and Peace from the Triune God (4-8)

“John…” This is John the disciple whom Jesus loved. Perhaps not that Jesus had a special relationship with John but that John, the author of the 4th gospel, loved that Jesus loves him, and chose to refer to himself by that identity rather than just his name. Tradition tells us that John was the last disciple to die and died of old age, although suffered as much as the other apostles. He wrote three epistles and is known to have been ‘imprisoned’ on Patmos for his faith.

“To the seven churches…” The churches are listed in Verse 11 and are the focus of Chapters 2 and 3. The whole letter of Revelation is addressed to these churches. 

“Grace and peace to you from…and from…and from…” Like many of the letters in the New Testament, grace and peace set the tone of the greeting. This means that there is no war between the writer and the recipient. Even when Paul writes stern words to a church and when John here writes rebuking words to the seven churches, it is in the context of grace and peace. You see, we are not at war with one another. The gospel sets us free from that. There are no higher and lower orders of people but we are all servants of Christ and indebted to him for the grace received. We are at peace now with God and must be at peace with one another. The status we share is grace and peace – the reality must be matched as far as we are able.

“…from him who is, and who was, and who is to come…” This can be applied to Jesus specifically and will be done later on, but because Jesus is mentioned a few clauses later, this must refer to God – Father and Trinity. The eternal one. Probably no simpler identifier of God is that he just is. He is independent in every sense of the word. See Exodus 3:14-15.

“…from the seven spirits before his throne…” What is this? With the mention of the eternal One before and the Christ after, it is tempting to see this as somehow the Holy Spirit. And  perhaps it is. The term, “seven spirits” appears in 3:1 held along with the seven stars (which are the angels of the seven churches according to 1:20); in 4:5 described as seven lamps; and in 5:6 described as seven horns and seven eyes which are sent out into all the earth. You would know that seven is a perfect number in Revelation but what do we make of all this information? We may not be able to conclude that this refers somehow to the Holy Spirit but there is a will of God behind every metaphore provided in this list. Grace and peace are sent from the seven spirits and they seem tightly bound to both God and to the church. I won’t speculate any further.

“…from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” Jesus is the promised Messiah, the one who does everything that the Father desires, the resurrection and the Lord of Lords. This is Jesus. Let’s not overlook this person. He is God’s promise. He is God’s faithful one able to represent God and man. He conquered death in a way that promises the same resurrection to us and he is the boss. Jesus is number one. In Bible study, this is not something to treat as theory but we follow Him, we praise Him and we thank Him. While He is the messenger and faithful witness here in Chapter one, He will continue to take centre stage in the story of salvation and the end of all things as we know it.

Write what you have seen (9-19)

The writer to the churches (9-11)

“… on the Lord’s day, I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet.” There is not much normal about this although it sounds normal coming from John’s mouth! The Lord’s day? Is this Sunday? Is it, like many will content, the Sabbath? In the Spirit? Was he in prayer? He pre-empty the rest of the story with the classification that he was not just sitting in a cave but he was engaged with God somehow – not with reality but with God.

“…write what you see and send it…” The vision is not intended for John to keep to himself. This vision and Revelation is not for John’s personal spiritual benefit alone. John is a messenger and scribe for the benefit of the church who are firstly the seven churches (that number seven again – why these seven and why only seven except that it represents the whole of the worldwide church) and then us.

What he saw (12-16)

“…I saw seven golden lamp stands…His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.” There are two many elements to list and go through. We will hear these elements reappear. It is easy to see, however, the imagery of purity and power at the same time. There is strength but life giving – not entirely terrible. Jesus is of course standing in the middle of the churches. What John saw was a kaleidoscope of imagery mashed together to tell a story of one who upholds and speaks, he is nothing like a human and yet is one like a son of man. This is Jesus.

How to respond to Revelation (17-20)

“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.” One might expect John to respond in reverence and awe but he is stunned into submission – like one who is dead!

“Do not be afraid.” This is the juxtaposition of Revelation: at the same time terrifying and peaceful. When you are on the side of Jesus, you are on the side of the one who stands with his face as brilliant as the sun!

“I was dead…I am alive for ever and ever.. I hold the keys of death and Hades.” The whole New Testament teaches this. Jesus is the centre of our faith because he died and is NOW alive and wil never die BUT he holds the key to the eternal death of others. There is not rival to Jesus’ power and authority. Our God does not fight with other gods for who owns hell etc. Jesus is the king of everything. The book will talk more of death and Hades later. Who wouldn’t want to know the One who has the key to death in their hands?

“Write, therefore…” Again, this vision is not for John’s binge watching alone but news to be written down. What we find in this book, however, is not a brand new ending but the ending that the gospels and Epistles point to also.

“The mystery of the seven starts that you saw…” Here we have some clues provided. Not everything in Revelation is like this. We need to listen to the imagery, sometimes referenced elsewhere in the book, sometimes it is an Old Testament reference we need to relearn. It is helpful to know the overall story of the bible when reading this book and it is helpful to have a bible word-search tool.

“…angels of the seven churches…” It is not for us to conclude that every church gets its angel. An angel is a messenger and the whole book is metaphor, simile and apocryphal/pictorial language. The churches do not stand in isolation but are provided for by God by messengers. Jesus is at the center and He holds all the ingredients in his hands: the church which is purchased by his blood (to come later in the book), the messengers of the church who presumably bring the gospel, and the keys to death and hades. Jesus is not a spectator but the power behind what is, what was and what will be.

We respond to Revelation by avoiding mystery and fear and running to Jesus in awe and wonder. The imagery is out of this world but that is also the future that we are called to. Keep in mind that everything is picture language that point to real truths. 

What did we learn? (Meaning)

Christianity will not die out with the last remaining Apostle. God has got more to say to the church of Christ to confirm that Jesus is still alive, he is the king and he holds everything in his hands. We are not to be afraid when there is someone eternal and all powerful who has already provided victory over death and Hades. We must be ready to listen properly to this book so that we can be blessed by it.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: Reflect on the person of Jesus. Take a breath and reflect on how central Jesus Christ is to all eternity. Take your eyes off your worries about tomorrow and consider that Jesus holds tomorrow in his hands. Ask yourself, is there anybody else in all the world and time and space worth knowing more than Jesus Christ? Respond to these reflections with praise and prayer.

Topic B: What questions do you have of God? As we get ready to read the rest of the book, what do you want to know from God about the future? If he were to list you a chain of events to be prepared for or give you confidence in a Person who has already defeated eternity, which would be better information to hold? Will it disappoint you to not have every question you have answered but be assured that God has already won? The image of Jesus in Verses 12-18 is of a divine man who has already won. He is to be feared but touches us gently and says, do not be afraid.

Topic C: Because the time is near. This is scary and comforting. Jesus warned his disciples while in Judea that they need to be ready. He told parables about bridesmaids and invitations to feats. He warned us that if we get distracted by this world and forget the kingdom of God then the kingdom of God may forget us. And so, Revelation instructs us to hear this word and to take it to heart. Pray that we will do just that.

1 Corinthians 16

Working with workers

Discussion Question

What does it look like to be a member of a church?

Background (Context)

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

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 

  1. know God through Jesus Christ, 
  2. to be a regular member of a church service to encourage the people of God, 
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?