1 Corinthians 16

 

CHAPTER 16

 

Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. 1 Corinthians 16:1

There is an amazing transition in this verse.  Paul has just dealt with high and heavenly subjects, and suddenly he deals with the lowly subject of the offering.  Stedman says of this: “…Paul moves from the great and lofty themes of the resurrection, where you almost hear the sound of the ‘last trump’ ringing in your ears, and suddenly he says, ‘And now concerning the collection,’ which proves that money is not to be separated from the great spiritual entities of Christianity…” 1  Guthrie adds, “Saint and theologian though he is, he keeps his feet firmly on the ground when it comes to details of administration.” 2

The collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem was a subject that was often on Paul’s mind, especially on the Third Missionary Journey.  Some scholars think that Paul was so insistent about this because of his agreement with the leaders of the church during the Jerusalem Council of AD 49.  The leaders, in agreeing to the Gentile mission, asked that Paul would continue to remember the poor (Gal. 2:9-10).  Shortly before that time, Paul and Barnabas were involved in bringing an offering from Antioch to the Jerusalem church (Acts 11:27-30).

It is important to understand that this present large offering was gathered over an extensive period of time.  Smith thinks it spanned a period of at least five or six years, and possibly a lot longer.3  The offering is mentioned explicitly a number of times (cf. Acts 24:17; 2 Cor. Chs. 8 & 9; Rom. 15:25-32).  In talking about the offering, it is amazing that the apostle uses a total of nine different Greek words to describe it, beginning with the word logias here.  This word means an extra collection.4

We might ask, “Why an offering for Jerusalem?”  In a real sense, Jerusalem was the mother church from which all other churches sprang.  Paul no doubt wanted the Gentile churches to remember this fact.  He says in Romans 15:27, “… For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.”  Comfort says, “Paul believed that the conversion of the Gentiles would bring the Jews to Christ …The Jews would see the gift as a fulfillment of Isaiah 2:2-4; 60:6-7, 11 and Micah 4:13, where it was promised that the Gentiles would bring gifts to Jerusalem.” 5

Another fact behind the offering was that there was much poverty in Jerusalem.  Some of this may have happened because of the great famine around mid-century that hit Judea hard (Acts 11:28-30).  We also know from Scripture that the Jerusalem church cared for many widows (Acts 6:1-6).  Through the centuries, Jerusalem has had a difficult time, and even today in the heart of the city many people are very poor.  For several years I was in charge of delivering food to the needy in Jerusalem through our Christian organization.  Through time, we literally delivered hundreds of tons of food to the poor Orthodox people in the heart of the city.  Today, as in days gone by, many of these religious people live on contributions from abroad.

Paul had given certain instructions to the Galatian churches concerning this offering and he repeats the instructions here. No doubt, he wished to spark a bit of friendly rivalry between the churches regarding which one could raise the greatest offering.

“On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made” (16:2). In this verse we have a solid proof that the early Christian church met on Sunday, the day of resurrection (cf. Acts 20:7).6   It was true then just as it is today in Israel that Sunday, or the first day of the Hebrew week, was a work day.  This no doubt presented Christians with a special challenge and their meetings would have necessarily been confined to early mornings or evening services.  Today in Israel, a number of churches meet on the Sabbath rather than Sunday because it is difficult for people to get off work for church services.

Some Jewish Christians in the First Century no doubt continued to observe the Sabbath as well as Sunday, just as they do today.  For Christians, Sunday was not the same as the Sabbath, but some considered it a day of rest and worship anyway.7  Although the Greek word used here is sabbatou, it does not mean “Sabbath” but “week” (cf. Lk.18:12).8

These early Christians were instructed by Paul to lay aside an offering each week in proportion to their income.  We must remember that many believers were poor in the First Century and they probably lived at subsistence levels.  Setting aside any amount must have been a sacrifice for these.9  A good number were slaves, and giving any kind of offering would have presented a special problem for them.  They were to lay aside this amount as a gift on the first day of the week.  Scholars do not agree as to whether it was to be laid aside at home or brought to the church gathering and placed in the offering.10  Wiersbe gives a couple of quips here saying, “An open heart cannot maintain a closed hand.”  And, “When your outgo exceeds your income, then your upkeep is your downfall.” 11

This special offering and the information concerning it is really the only place where the New Testament speaks to any degree about our offerings as Christians.12  Since we are no longer under the law, the tithe does not really apply to us.  However, we should want to give more than the tithe because our salvation is much greater than theirs.  When we look at the Hebrew offerings and count them up, we realize that the average person probably gave in excess of 50 percent of his or her yearly income.13

“Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem.  If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me” (16:3-4).  Paul was extremely cautious about the handling of money.  His plan was to have representatives from each of the churches actually accompany their gifts.  If the gift was large enough, he himself would go along (cf. Acts 20:4).14  This united offering was no doubt quite a large sum of money.  We remember that this was the day before banks and international wire transfers.  The vast amount had to be carried on their persons in cash.  Surely, there must have been many anxious thoughts of pirates, shipwrecks, and the numerous other things that could befall travelers in the ancient world.  In the end, there must have been a large collective sigh of relief when the money was finally delivered to the church in Jerusalem.

 

TRAVEL PLANS

 

After I go through Macedonia, I will come to you— for I will be going through Macedonia.  1 Corinthians 16:5    

In his Second Missionary Journey, Paul had delivered the gospel to Philippi, Berea and Thessalonica, making the first thrust into what would become Europe.  He was now anxious to return to these churches and check on their welfare.  After that, his plan was to then visit the Corinthians and spend some time there.  When it took place, this evangelistic tour consumed some time, even throughout much of the summer and autumn (Acts 19:21; 20:1-2).  It might have even included some time in Illyricum (Rom. 15:19).15

Paul’s plan was interrupted somewhat as he had to make a quick and painful visit to Corinth to settle some unknown but urgent problem (2 Cor. 2:1; cf. 12:14; 13:2). He returned to Ephesus and afterward sent Timothy and Erastus to Macedonia (Acts 19:22) and presumably on to Corinth (1 Cor. 16:10).  Later he sent Titus to assist with the gathering of the offering and to further help with church problems (2 Cor. 2:13; 7:6, 13).  Paul departed from Ephesus to Macedonia after an ugly and dangerous riot erupted over his teaching (Acts 20:1ff.).

“Perhaps I will stay with you for a while, or even spend the winter, so that you can help me on my journey, wherever I go” (16:6). Paul was being careful with his planning.  Later we learn that some in the Corinthian church thought he was “fickle” with his travel arrangements (1 Cor. 4:18).  Of course, traveling by ship was a little difficult to plan.  Because of winter storms it was impossible to travel on the sea between November to February.16  The verb he uses in this verse is propempō.  It has the technical meaning of supplying travel needs for God’s itinerant ministers.17  Paul’s extensive travels and his final three month stay in Corinth are a little sketchy.  Bruce feels that it could have even been the following winter after that when he actually stayed with them.18

“For I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits” (16:7).  We see in Paul’s journeys that he relied very much on the providence of God (Acts 18:21; 1 Cor. 4:19).19  We know that at least on one occasion his plans were completely and radically changed by the Holy Spirit (Acts
16:6-10).

“But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me” (16:8-9).  It is clear that Paul planned to keep this Jewish feast.20  Pett says, “The fact that he refers to Pentecost demonstrates that he expected the Corinthians to have some awareness of Jewish feasts…” 21 Also, the fact that Paul would stay on in Ephesus is proof that this letter was written from that place.22

A great door of opportunity had opened for Paul at Ephesus and this brought about also a great tide of opposition.  It is amazing that Paul wished to stay there with this in mind.  Trapp says, “Truth never lacks an opposite.” 23

 

THE WORK OF YOUMG TIMOTHY

 

When Timothy comes, see to it that he has nothing to fear while he is with you, for he is carrying on the work of the Lord, just as I am. 1 Corinthians 16:10

Wiersbe says, “Money and opportunities are valueless without people.” 24  Paul no doubt realizing this surrounded himself with good and dependable workers.  Timothy was a favorite of Paul, although he was quite young (cf. 4:17). Paul’s sending of Timothy must be connected with Acts 19:22, where the apostle sent Timothy and Erastus to Macedonia, while he himself stayed in Ephesus.  Erastus was a Corinthian believer (Rom. 16:23; 2 Tim. 4:20) and may well have been the same Erastus who is mentioned in a Latin inscription that was uncovered at Corinth.25

Although Timothy was a favorite of Paul, he was young and appears from several references to be a little timid.  The church at Corinth was obviously a pretty intimidating crowd from what we see.  No doubt there was a good deal of concern with Paul as to how Timothy would be received.  Thus, we see Paul building Timothy up and highly recommending him.  Barclay says, “The situation in Corinth was difficult enough for the experienced Paul; it would be infinitely worse for Timothy.” 26   Yet, “ the vine is the weakest of trees, but full of fruit. A little hand may thread a needle. A little boat may do best in a low river…” 27

We cannot be absolutely certain that Timothy ever reached Corinth.  In sending him out, Paul only mentions Macedonia.  The expression “when Timothy comes” is rendered in several translations as “if Timothy comes.”  In 2 Corinthians 1:1, we see him with Paul in Macedonia.  Also, in 2 Corinthians 12:18, as Paul speaks of Titus and the group sent to Corinth, he does not mention Timothy (cf. 2 Cor. 2:13; 7:6-7). Paul’s sending Titus to Corinth may have been in some way to make amends if Timothy didn’t arrive.28

“No one, then, should treat him with contempt. Send him on his way in peace so that he may return to me. I am expecting him along with the brothers” (16:11).  In case Timothy did arrive in Corinth Paul was taking extra care that he would be treated well.  He wanted no one to despise Timothy’s youth (1 Tim. 4:12).  Timothy should be sent away in peace.  Paul obviously is expecting Timothy to be with other brothers.  One of these was obviously Erastus but we have no idea who else was involved here.

 

THE WORK OF APOLLOS

 

Now about our brother Apollos: I strongly urged him to go to you with the brothers. He was quite unwilling to go now, but he will go when he has the opportunity.
1 Corinthians 16:12

We know from Scripture that Apollos was a highly educated Jewish believer from Alexandria.  He was instructed in the things of Jesus but he knew only the baptism of John.  Priscilla and Aquila befriended him in Ephesus and explained the faith to him accurately.  Apollos then planned to go to Corinth.  He did so, and there he powerfully debated with the Jews and proved to them that Jesus was their Messiah (Acts 18:24-28).

Paul greatly desired that Apollos go and minister once more to Corinth but Apollos was unwilling.  We see by this that Apollos conducted a rather independent ministry and was not under the direction of Paul.  We can understand that there was absolutely no jealousy between Paul and Apollos.  Both were powerful ministers of the gospel working in the areas assigned by them by the Lord.  We do not know from Scripture whether or not Apollos ever returned to Corinth, although he was highly esteemed there.  Ambrosiaster felt that Apollos did not wish to go to Corinth because the church was divided.29  We already know from 1:12 and 3:6 that there was an Apollos party in the church at Corinth.

 

STANDING FIRM IN THE GOSPEL

 

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.  1 Corinthians 16:13-14

Paul uses several military terms here as he gives final instructions to the Corinthian church.30  First of all they are to be on their guard, to be alert and to stay awake or vigilant (grēgoreite).  They are also to stand firm in their faith and be courageous.  The word for courageous is andrizesthe, and it means “to play the man.” 31   They were not to be spiritual wimps but they were to stand up and be strong.

What kinds of things were they to watch for and guard against?  Coffman summarizes them for us: “(1) the danger of division, (2) the deception of false teachers, (3) the atheistic denials of the resurrection, (4) the failure of love of the brethren, etc…” 32

The apostle has already spent all of chapter 13 to emphasize love.  Really, love has to be the basis of everything in the Christian life.  All of our efforts, if they are without real agape love, count for nothing.

“You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people. I urge you, brothers and sisters, to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it” (16:15-16).  The household of Stephanas (cf. 1:16) was the first whole family of converts in the Roman province of Achaia.  We know from Acts 17:34, that there were previous converts, such as Dionysius, Damaris and some others from Athens, which was also in Achaia.  While these were individuals, it seems that the family of Stephanas was the first whole household.33

It is fair to assume that Stephanas and the others carried the letter of 1 Corinthians back to Corinth.34  Stephanas seems to have been a leader in the church but perhaps one whom the Corinthians had not given proper respect.35  Paul was seeking to remedy this situation by asking that the Corinthians submit to him.  He and his family were people devoted to the Lord and his work.

“I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you. For they refreshed my spirit and yours also. Such men deserve recognition” (16:17-18).  This is the first mention of the traveling companions, Fortunatus and Achaicus.  Together, they may have delivered some of the questions asked by the Corinthian church as well as returning Paul’s letter to the church.  It seems from history that Fortunatus actually survived Paul.  Some forty years later we see him as the bearer of the letter from Clement of Rome to the Corinthian church.36

“The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house” (16:19).   When Paul speaks of Asia, he is speaking of the Roman province by that name that was located in the western portion of what is now Turkey or Asia Minor. There were other important churches in that province, like Colossae, Ladiocea, and Hierapolis.

We have the mention here of Aquila and Priscilla, the Jewish couple who were no doubt some of the greatest church workers in history.  This dynamic couple had been forced out of Rome by the decree of Emperor Claudius in AD 49 (Acts 18:2).  From there, they went to Corinth where they became acquainted with Paul as they worked together in tent making. From there they went to Ephesus (Acts 18:18).  Finally we see them back at Rome (Rom. 16:3). In all these places they seem to have established churches in their home.  In order to do such traveling they must have had some wealth.  Since Priscilla is mentioned first in many of their appearances (cf. Acts 18:26; Rom. 16:3) it is thought that she may have been a woman of some importance and perhaps of some wealth.37  It is of note that this couple had a lot to do with the true conversion of Apollos.  They also risked their lives to protect Paul in Ephesus.

The fact that they had a church in their house tells us a lot about the church in the First Century.  Churches did not meet in church buildings but in homes.  This custom went on for the first three-hundred years of the church’s existence.38  Morris cites R. Banks who says, “The entertaining room in a moderately well-to-do household could hold around thirty people comfortably…” 39  This helps us understand how larger houses could accommodate a small church. We need to realize that cities like Ephesus and Corinth could have had several house churches of this type.  Since Aquila and Priscilla had lived in Corinth they were no doubt well known to the church.

Throughout Paul’s ministry we see that he was surrounded with good friends and fellow-workers.  Meyer says of him, “The apostle was careful to cultivate friendship, one of the priceless gifts of God; and he was very generous not only in his references to his friends, but also in his dealings with them.” 40

“All the brothers and sisters here send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss” (16:20). Sending greetings from one group of Christian friends to another group was a very common practice in the First Century.  Another well-known practice was the giving of a holy kiss.  The “holy kiss” (philēmati hagiōi) sounds a little strange in our western culture.  The kiss was common though in Jesus’ day and we read of him rebuking his Pharisee host because he failed to give Jesus the expected kiss of greeting (Lk. 7:45).  We also read of the kiss of greeting that Judas gave Jesus at his betrayal.

The custom of giving the holy kiss of greeting continued in sub-apostolic times.  Justin Martyr (c. AD 160) remarks about it: “Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss.” 41  Apparently as time passed the holy kiss was abused by some. Clement of Alexandria (c. 195) complains: “There are those who do nothing but make the churches resound with a kiss, not having love itself within.” 42  Keener remarks about it also: “Due to abuses, in subsequent centuries the church limited the practice of the liturgical kiss of fellowship to men kissing men and women kissing women, although this was not the initial practice.” 43

We might wonder if this practice is still in vogue particularly among the Jewish people.  In Israel the kiss as a greeting is probably more popular than a handshake.  It is very common to see Jews of both sexes giving a greeting kiss, but the kiss is quite unlike our Hollywood style of kissing.  When two people meet, the greeting kiss and light embrace is given gently and simultaneously by both parties and both sides of the face are kissed.  Each person is actually kissed three times, to one side and then the other and finally returning to kiss the side that one began on.  There is nothing sensual about this kiss even when it is done between a man and a woman.  We might hasten to add that such a kiss, while practiced commonly with Arab men, would never be given by a strange man to an Arab woman.  The same is true in regard to Orthodox Jewish women.  In these cases even a handshake is usually out of order.  There should in fact be no handshake unless the woman initiates it.

Today, because the holy kiss is so foreign to our culture we would probably do much better to stick with a warm handshake or a gentle loving embrace.

“I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand” (16:21).  It was Paul’s custom, in order to authenticate his letters, to take the pen from his scribe or amanuensis and write the final note in his own handwriting (cf. Gal. 6:11; Col. 4:18; 2 Thess. 3:17).  This was the apostle’s way of guarding against false letters from false teachers.44

“If anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be cursed! Come, Lord!” (16:22). Other translations like the NJB have it reading, “If there is anyone who does not love the Lord, a curse on such a one. Maran atha.” This translation makes plain that the original Aramaic word is used in the text.  The word Maran atha was apparently quite common in the early church and probably didn’t need translation.  It means simply “Our Lord, come!”

The apostle brings down a curse upon those who do not love the Lord and who are in fact his enemies.  This is the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew herem, meaning a thing cursed, devoted to the Lord for destruction.45

“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen” (16:23-24).  While Greek letters often contained the word chairein (greetings), Paul usually changed this Greek word to charis, which means grace.46  Then the apostle ends with a statement unusual for him, “my love to all of you.”  Utley notes how this statement is given to a church with many factions, and to a church that had given Paul much trouble.47