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Lowell Brueckner

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1 Corinthians 16


A fragment of papyrus of 1 Corinthians, dating from about 200 AD

Chapter 16

Collection for the saints in Jerusalem

1.      Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also:
2.      On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.
3.      And when I come, whomever you approve by your letters I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem.
4.      But if it is fitting that I go also, they will go with me.

Paul has given the doctrinal part of this letter and his instructions to the Corinthian church, answering the questions that they had previously asked, and now he draws the letter to a close. He mentions a collection for the saints in Jerusalem and it might be good for us to look at the situation there. The epistle was written in 59 A.D. and there had been a famine in Jerusalem in 41 A.D., and in 44 A.D., Herod Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great, killed James the brother of John. This Herod was the nephew of Herod Antipas, who had John the Baptist beheaded. James was a leading apostle in Jerusalem.

The disciples of Christ remained in Jerusalem after Jesus ascended into heaven and the Holy Spirit fell upon them on the Day of Pentecost. The first eight chapters of the book of Acts tell about the powerful formation of the church there. It was a totally Jewish church and the last part of Acts 2 gives us an idea of the lifestyle of the apostles and believers. The disciples were largely Galileans and so, they would not have had much personal property in Jerusalem. Acts 2:46 tells us that they broke bread from house to house, so the living was not purely communal, as some had homes in Jerusalem, although verse 44 tells us they had all things common.

This communal lifestyle was not continued after the gospel was preached to the Gentiles and the Gentile churches were formed throughout the Middle East and on into Europe; this we learn from the account throughout Acts. Although in the beginning, the believers in Jerusalem shared their possessions and goods with one another, before many years went by, there were many poverty-stricken believers and the church no longer had the means to support them. The center of Christianity, little by little, moved out of Jerusalem and by Acts 13, Antioch was the center of Christian activity,  as the gospel spread to the north and then west. In fact, the believers were first called Christians in Antioch (Ac.11:26).

Jerusalem suffered under Roman domination and the Gentile churches were moved to help the poor believers, whom Paul calls “saints”, not only in the city, but throughout Judea. He said that the Gentiles were debtors, because through the Jews, they received the gospel (Ro.15:27). So Paul is dealing with that matter in verses 1-4, as well as in Acts 11:28-30, Acts 24:17, Romans 15:25-26, and in 2 Corinthians, chapters 8 and 9.

At the Roman invasion in 70 A.D., the destruction of Jerusalem, and the persecution of the Jews throughout Israel, the Jews fled and scattered around the world. Many were crucified and enslaved by the Romans. The church in Jerusalem existed no more and the Jews lost their homeland until the 20th Century.

The Corinthians were to bring their donations for the saints in Jerusalem on the first day of the week (2). The First Century Christians called the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day, because He rose from the dead on that day and appeared on the same day to His disciples. Then, a week later, He reappeared, so in honor of His resurrection, wherever the church formed, it met on that day. The Day of Pentecost also occurred on the first day. That practice demonstrated Christian mentality. Instead of the old Sabbath on the last day of the week, the Christians met together on the first day. The Old Testament Jew labored towards a goal, ending the week by ministering to the Lord on the seventh day. However, to the Christian, honoring the Lord was a priority, so it was done on the first day of the week. Not only was it a matter of priority, but  the Christian also lived through the week on the strength received through the edification received on the first day. (The reader may want to study this issue: Mk. 16:9; Jn.20:1, 19, 26; Lv.23:10, 16; Ac.2:1; 20:7, and Rv.1:10)

In verse 3, Paul gave a lesson in Christian integrity and care, regarding financial matters. He knew the power of money and the scandals that it can cause. He also showed meekness in accepting whomever the church might appoint. Paul is willing to make the long journey, if his presence would be advantageous, giving a wonderful example of his spirit of submission (4).

Paul’s travel plans

5.      Now I will come to you when I pass through Macedonia (for I am passing through Macedonia).
6.      And it may be that I will remain, or even spend the winter with you, that you may send me on my journey, wherever I go.
7.      For I do not wish to see you now on the way; but I hope to stay a while with you, if the Lord permits.
8.      But I will tarry in Ephesus until Pentecost.
9.      For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.
10.  And if Timothy comes, see that he may be with you without fear; for he does the work of the Lord, as I also do.
11.  Therefore let no one despise him. But send him on his journey in peace, that he may come to me; for I am waiting for him with the brethren.

Paul is writing from Ephesus, the church which became so important in the second half of the First Century and on into the Second. There are good reasons to believe that the apostle John lived and probably died there. Since Jesus, from the cross, gave His earthly mother into the care of John, we could assume that he cared for her until her death. It is possible, but not probable, that John took Mary with him to Ephesus, if she was still alive and well, when he traveled to Asia Minor.

Paul would travel north from Ephesus and had intentions of passing through Macedonia, in which were the churches of the Philippians and the Thessalonians. He would probably pay a passing visit to the Macedonian churches, before going down to Achaia, of which Corinth was the capital (5). He hoped to spend an entire winter in Corinth. We have the tremendous advantage of hindsight, so we can see what an immense privilege it would be to observe the ministry of the great apostle among us for a period of time. However, as is the case with every man of God, including the God-Man, he was not so popular in his day and, even among the brethren, there were those, who were not anxious to have a prolonged visit from Paul. On the other hand, this news would bring comfort and joy to the godly saints, led and motivated by the Holy Spirit,

I have heard from those, who think that Paul expected financial help from the Corinthians to “send me on my journey”, but he certainly did not indicate that plainly, as he did earlier concerning the collection for the poor. Some would not hesitate to put a dollar sign, at every possible opportunity, even in Bible study. As time passes, I see the people of God veering ever farther away from a walk of faith and dependence solely upon God. I prefer to think that Paul was looking for spiritual support and prayer from the heart of the believers, as he would go from them on his missionary endeavors.

In any case, Paul was hoping that the Lord would grant him a complete winter to be in Corinth for mutual fellowship and an opportunity to lead the church on to a deeper and purer walk in Christ. That is the prayer that the apostle continually carried in his heart for the churches (6). He expressed it to the Romans in this way: “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established – that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me” (Ro.1:11-12).

However, Paul is very careful, tentative even, in stating his wishes, in accordance with James 4:13-17, which I will quote in part: “You do not know what will happen tomorrow… you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” James thought it was arrogance for any human being to be sure of his plans: “But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” Paul hopes not to make a passing visit but, as he has already stated, to spend time with them (7). As it turned out, his plan did not materialize. We must always leave time and place in God’s hands; He must order every step, because human plans cannot accomplish the will of God. The itinerary of an apostle teaches us the lesson.

It is clear that he must continue in Ephesus at the time that this letter was written (8), because God gave him an open door. He had to take advantage of it, as we all must, when the providence of God gives an opportunity. The Lord must open all doors that pertain to evangelization and the building of the church: “When I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened to me by the Lord…” (2 Co.2:12). “Praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word” (Col.4:3). “See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it” (Rv.3:8). The New Testament teaches clearly that we should not attempt to work, where God has not arrived before us. Having stated that, I cannot resist bringing up an Old Testament example from the life and conquests of David: “When you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the mulberry trees, then you shall advance quickly. For then the Lord will go out before you to strike the camp of the Philistines” (2 S.5:24).

It was evident that heaven was accomplishing its purpose on the earth and the Holy Spirit was moving in Ephesus – it was great and it was effective. A sure confirmation is the presence of adversity. The ship bearing God’s purposes never sails on calm seas. It needs wind in its sails in order to go forward, or to put it another way, progress always requires friction. The enemy senses God’s intention and does his worst to deter it (9), but to Paul it was just an added encouragement and he knows that the Lord’s purposes will sovereignly prevail.

Paul, in his writings, makes a point of admitting that his strength lay in his weakness and every servant, who does the work of the Lord, displays some area, in which he is weak. Because of it, the glory for what is accomplished through him, goes to God, who enabled him. I think that Timothy tended to be fearful: See that he may be with you without fear (10). Paul did not despise Timothy for this, but encouraged him: “I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you… For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 T.1:6,7). He is looking out for him when he travels to Corinth, as a father towards a son,  Timothy dare not look in himself, because he would only find weakness, but to the gift of God that enabled him to minister in His power, love and wisdom.  Remember always, the secret to success in God’s ministry, is not strength, humanly speaking, but weakness.

The fact that Timothy was young and alone, was not at all a sign of incompetence or any reason to disregard the calling and anointing upon his life. God’s people must learn to appreciate the person, on whom He has put His powerful hand. They must be familiar with His ways, so different from human ways. His ways require humility, trust and dependence upon His sovereignty (11).

Last remarks and instructions

12.  Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to come to you with the brethren, but he was quite unwilling to come at this time; however, he will come when he has a convenient time.
13.  Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong.
14.  Let all that you do be done with love.
15.  I urge you, brethren – you know the household of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints –
16.  that you also submit to such, and to everyone who works and labors with us.
17.  I am glad about the coming of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, for what was lacking on your part they supplied.
18.  For they refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men.
19.  The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.
20.  All the brethren greet you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
21.  The salutation with my own hand – Paul’s.
22.  If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed. O Lord, come!
23.  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
24.  My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Paul mentions Apollos, another man, whom he greatly appreciates, because of God’s obvious calling upon him. He is very familiar with his history, told to him by his two friends, Aquila and Priscilla. Apollos is a beloved brother and a man of God, and we want to learn a spiritual principle concerning him in this verse. Paul is his elder and he urged Apollos strongly that he should go to Corinth, but that is not at all an indication that it is God’s will in the matter. In the New Testament, the man of God must determine for himself, what is His will for his life on every occasion: “Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand” (Ro.14:4). Beware of standing between the Master and His slave! Apollos is not bound to the will or the desire of the older apostle, and Paul fully accepts Apollos’ decision (12).

Be vigilant; be on your guard. Know the days in which you live. See what God is doing and be fully aware of the attacks and the deception of the devil. Faith is God’s enabling for the weak and He gives it to carry out His work in His strength. Be sure that you are standing upon its foundation. Bravery is essential in the Christian walk. For lack of bravery, too many fail to carry out God’s calling and commission. However, a Christian can tremble and be brave at the same time. His attitude should be, “I must and will go, in spite of my fear, because the Lord’s business must be conducted and I will trust His care upon my life.” See what Paul counsels Timothy: “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 T.2:1). Be strong in the grace that gives the needed strength (13).

Once again, the unfailing motivation for Christian living and service is God’s love. Paul has already put it before us in chapter 13 and no other way is acceptable (14). It was the motivation for the household of Stephanus, indicating his family and perhaps other relatives, servants or employees. (Here is a small example that shows that the Gentile church was made up of households, rather than being a community.) Paul sees this household as firstfruits, using the same term as he used to describe the resurrected Christ. We will remember the definition: Fristfruits are the first grains to ripen and are dedicated to the Lord, having in mind the full harvest to come. They were among the few that Paul baptized in Corinth (1 Co.1:16), because they were among the first to believe and there was no one else present to baptize them.

Stephanas was therefore an elder in the church, a pastor devoted to the ministry of the saints. He was a shining example of true Christianity in Corinth and the church would be wise to follow it. His ministry extended beyond the local church, for he came with fellow Corinthians, Fortunatus and Achaicus, to Paul in Ephesus, refreshing his spirit, just like he did, when he was at home in Corinth. Stephanus showed the fruits of the new birth, as did his entire family, “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph.2:10). What God prepared for Stephanas, that’s what he did (15-18). In other words, he learned to take advantage of the opportunities that the Lord put in his way. Here are some outstanding members of Christ’s church and the 21st Century believer should be familiar with these names… certainly more familiar with them, than with the sports personalities of our day.

Paul sends greetings, not only from the Ephesians, but from all the churches in Asia Minor. That would be the seven churches in Revelation, but also Colossae and Hierapolis. Aquila and Priscilla send their greetings. They lived in Corinth in the past, and were a couple, who were great friends and companions of Paul. Certainly these should be household names among Christians and we ought to converse about what their ministry, as ‘lay people’, meant to the early church. They remain examples for the lay-Christians today, outstanding in their example and also in their doctrinal knowledge of the gospel. Remember, they instructed Apollos in his early ministry (Ac.18:26). Notice, as well, that churches in the early church met in homes. They may have rented buildings for larger gatherings, but you will not find any reference to special church buildings constructed until centuries later (19).

Paul personalizes his greetings more, saying, not only all the churches, but all the brethren greet you. The custom in that time and place was to greet with a kiss, the apostle assuring that it should be holy (20). Paul signs his name to the letter, which was probably dictated to someone else (21). The apostle pronounces his condemnation, Anathema, against any soul, who is not in love with the Lord Jesus Christ. The gospel is a love story between the Savior and the redeemed… nothing more, nothing less, and Paul is extremely jealous for the One, whom he deemed to be the bridegroom of the church: “I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (2 Co.11:2). He exclaims, Maranatha! This word has become a watchword to the church down through the ages, referring to the second coming of Christ. However, Anathema, joined here with Maranatha, signifies His coming in judgment. What a climactic ending to his letter!

Then, Paul concludes with a blessing of grace, the unmerited favor, the free gift of God, towards the Corinthians and every sincere reader, who takes time to study and mull over this letter. Grace to each one and the personal love of the apostle, which he has received from the Lord Jesus Christ. What can he give, outside of what he has received? There is nothing from him or from any human that has any value, but who can measure the value of the love and grace that flows from the Throne of God and Christ Jesus?


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