1 Corinthians 16
1 Corinthians 16 is a happy chapter. There are exhortations, even subtle warnings, but no serious errors to correct… quite a contrast to the previous chapter. It is touching to see that Paul does not end on a sharp note. He had discharged his weighty admonitions, concluding with the heaviest of all in ch.15. But now, to confirm them as saints and as the true assembly of God – in spite of their disorders – he concludes with remarks about the collection for Jerusalem, his travel plans, various exhortations and salutations.
The Collection for the Saints (16:1-4)
¶ Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the assemblies of Galatia, so do “ye” do also. 2 On the first of the week let each of you put by at home, laying up in whatever degree he may have prospered, that there may be no collections when I come. vv.1-2 Instructions for the Collection. Throughout the New Testament we have instructions and patterns set forward for the assembly to have collections where funds can be gathered and used in the service of the Lord. It is striking that Paul strove for unity in practice among the assemblies. He directed the Corinthians the same way as he had directed “the assemblies of Galatia”. The two places were completely different, and the struggles they had were completely different. Yet Paul directed the assemblies in both regions to do the same thing. It displays the unity of Spirit. The practice of the collection is this: funds should be set aside by each believer (“each of you”; i.e. both male and female) as the Lord has prospered them on a weekly basis. The reason for this is that Paul didn’t want a sudden scramble when He arrived. Any sacrifice that a believer makes, whether of praise, or service, or of money (Heb. 13:15-16) should be done voluntarily. It is a priestly function. By delaying, the Corinthians would miss out on the privilege of sacrifice. To give under pressure, in mob-mentality, or in haste is to do so without the heart engaged. On the other hand, to give as regularly and mechanically as a robot, but with indifference, and without thought and exercise of conscience is still giving without the heart engaged. By collecting each week, they would be able to avoid a “special collection”. Special collections are not wrong, however they tend to take the focus off the Lord and draw attention to the need itself. The saints are to lay up funds according to how they have prospered. If we are in debt (not talking about a mortgage payment schedule), it would be questionable to lay up funds, because we would be giving money to the Lord that belongs to another. On the other hand, if we have money to spare, we should give it to the Lord rather than spend it on ourselves. This is not the Christian version of tithing. Jews had an obligation to give 10%… Christians are free to voluntarily give much more. To implement the collection as a Christian “tithe” is to put ourselves in practice under law. The Corinthians were wealthy, yet when it came to giving they were slower than the poor Macedonians who gave abundantly (2 Cor. 8:1-5). The funds were to be laid up “at home”, but evidently brought for general “collection” when the assembly came together “on the first day of the week” . We know from Acts 20:7 that it was customary for the disciples to break break on the first day, the Lord’s Day, and perhaps the collection took place at the same time as the breaking of bread. We have no specific instruction as to the exact timing of the collection, however we see from Heb. 13:15-16 that the sacrifice of money is connected with the sacrifice of praise. Based on this, many feel it would not be out of order to involve the collection in the same meeting in which the Lord’s Supper is kept. This money itself is nothing… God is not poor, nor does He see it as “filthy lucre” (1 Pet. 5:2). It is the giving heart that God is interested in; “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).
3 And when I am arrived, whomsoever ye shall approve, these I will send with letters to carry your bounty to Jerusalem: 4 and if it be suitable that “I” also should go, they shall go with me. vv.3-4 The Collection Sent to Jerusalem. The collection is really “for the saints” (v.1). As individuals, we are to be very forward in giving to the poor of this world, feeding the hungry, etc. as we have in our Lord’s own ministry, and displayed in His own habits (Matt. 6:3; Matt. 19:21; Matt. 26:11; Luke 12:33; John 13:29). See also Acts 10:2 and 1 Cor. 13:3. But concerning the collection, its primary use is for the saints. We find two categories of usage for the collection in scripture;
- To support the servants of the Lord (Phil. 4:16; Gal. 6:6; 1 Tim. 5:17-18).
- To supply the material needs of saints living in poverty (1 Cor. 16:3-4; 2 Cor. 8-9; Acts 24:17; Rom. 15:25-26).
In this case, the collection was being used for the saints living in poverty; for the saints in Jerusalem. The brethren in Judea were is a state of continual poverty since the very earliest days of the Church, as a result of three things: first, they had sold their possessions in unselfish love to have all things common (Acts 4:32); second, there arose a great famine in the days of Claudius Caesar (Acts 11:27-30); and third, they suffered the spoiling of their goods by those who opposed and persecuted them (Heb. 10:34). Paul had been instrumental in bringing one collection already to Jerusalem prior to his first missionary journey (Acts 11:27-30). He had arranged with Peter to do so again before leaving on his second journey (Gal. 2:10), and upon returning from his third journey, he delivered a collection sent by the assemblies in Macedonia or northern Greece, and Achaia or southern Greece (Acts 24:17; Rom. 15:25-26). It was fitting that the apostle to the uncircumcision be the one to round-up these funds. The collection would be sent by a delegation approved by the Corinthians. By the Corinthians bringing the collection, everything was above board and there would be no place for Satan to get an advantage. Counting and carrying funds is the function of a deacon, and Paul would not presume – though he was an apostle – to appoint deacons. In scripture, apostles (and delegates) appointed elders, but the assembly did not; however, the assembly appointed deacons, but apostles did not! We get the appointment of deacons in Acts 6:1-6, where the assembly chose “seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom”. Honesty is especially important when dealing with funds. Further requirements for deacons are given in 1 Tim. 3. Notice also the plurality of deacons; “these I will send”… it wasn’t just one brother, but multiple. It is wise, whenever dealing with matters of the assembly, to do things by two or by three, because “in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established” (Deut. 19:15; Matt. 18:16; 2 Cor. 13:1; 1 Tim. 5:19). Furthermore, if these deacons were sent without Paul, they would carry letters of commendation, which Paul would need to write, because they were working on his behalf. This gives a pattern for sending a letter with funds.
An added reason. Additionally, this gift would be a tremendous boost to the unity of the early Church. By their poverty, the Jewish believers were thus cast upon the generosity of the Gentile believers, and the bond that would unite them and help to overcome natural prejudices that might exist. Together their hearts would be lifted up in thanksgiving to God (2 Cor. 9:12). This same bond is felt between those who give and receive in the assembly today.
Paul’s Travel Plans: His Initial Visit to Corinth Postponed (16:5-9)
5 But I will come to you when I shall have gone through Macedonia; for I do go through Macedonia. 6 But perhaps I will stay with you, or even winter with you, that “ye” may set me forward wheresoever I may go. 7 For I will not see you now in passing, for I hope to remain a certain time with you, if the Lord permit. vv.5-7 Paul had intended to travel through Corinth on his way to Macedonia, and to come back through Corinth again on his return trip (see 2 Cor. 1:15-16). He states that he had cancelled the initial visit to Corinth; “I will not see you now in passing”. He gives part of the reason here; “I hope to remain a certain time with you”… he didn’t want their visit to be interrupted by his departure. In the second epistle Paul gives the rest of the reason; “Moreover I call God for a record upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth” (2 Cor. 1:23). If he had visited in Corinth earlier, He would have had to come “with a rod”. Paul wanted to leave the first epistle with the Corinthians, and allow the Spirit of God time to work in their consciences before he visited. It was his heart that kept him from going quickly to them. Therefore, he leaves this somewhat nebulous in the first epistle; e.g. “perhaps I will stay with you” and “I hope to remain a certain time with you” and “if the Lord permit”.
8 But I remain in Ephesus until Pentecost. 9 For a great door is opened to me and an effectual one, and the adversaries many. vv.8-9 Paul would not embark for Macedonia until Pentecost, because the work in Ephesus was so important, and he felt the Lord wanted him there. Paul realized that “a great door” was opened for the gospel in Ephesus, and the results were evident (it was an “effectual” door); i.e. his disputing in the “school of Tyrannus” for two years. This sets before us a great example in service. What defines an open door for ministry? The open door is the door through which the Spirit is leading, not where we naturally want to go. For example, Paul and Silas wanted to go east into Bithynia, “but the Spirit suffered them not” and instead led them west to Macedonia (Acts 16:7-10). The open door is marked by God evidently doing a work there. An opened door is NOT defined by the path of least resistance, because Paul goes on to say; “and the adversaries many”. There were enemies of the Ephesians, and also from the Jews; i.e. the seven sons of Sceva, who impersonated the apostles. However, in spite of the opposition, the door remained open for two years (Acts 19:21-22). In other words, the opened door allowed Paul to stay in spite of the adversaries. When God begins to do a work, then Satan appears to oppose it. In fact, Satan’s opposition, far from indicating a closed door, often indicates that God is at work, otherwise there would be no struggle! The apostle had already suffered a great deal in the Ephesian opposition, but Paul remained there because the door was still open. After dispatching Titus and a brother to Corinth with the first epistle (2 Cor. 12:18), and after sending Timothy and Erastus into Macedonia (Acts 19:22; 1 Cor. 4:17), something changed in Ephesus. A riot broke out in the city over the effect that Paul’s preaching had on idol-makers. This riot closed the door in Ephesus for the time being , and Paul departed for Macedonia (Acts 20:1). But when one door closes, another door opens, and this time in Troas (2 Cor. 2:12). Continue reading…
Practical Exhortations Concerning Service (16:10-18)
¶ 10 Now if Timotheus come, see that he may be with you without fear; for he works the work of the Lord, even as I. 11 Let not therefore any one despise him; but set him forward in peace, that he may come to me; for I expect him with the brethren. vv.10-11 Concerning Timothy. Paul’s heart was for Timothy to come to Corinth. He desired it, but left the decision up to Timothy, as the Lord might lead him. Timothy had a particular character that could be a real help to the strong-minded Corinthians. Timothy was well acquainted with Paul’s “ways which be in Christ” (1 Cor. 4:17, 2 Tim. 3:10), having traveled so extensively, and having served with Paul in the gospel “as a son with the father” (Phil. 2:22). But also, Timothy had a loving, pastoral heart; “I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state” (Phil. 2:20). Paul was smoothing the way for Timothy, a younger brother. Many years earlier, Barnabas had done the same thing for him. It is a good thing for older ones to help out younger ones in that way. In his service, Paul viewed Timothy – and every other servant – on the same level as himself; “he works the work of the Lord, even as I”, therefore, Paul would not order Timothy around, and simply says “if” he comes. Timothy was a reticent young man, and Paul often exhorted him to not fear, to not be ashamed, and to use his gift (2 Tim. 1:6-8). Knowing (1) the state of the Corinthians, (2) their unruly assembly meetings, (3) their admiration of eloquence, and (4) their abundance of gift, it was needful to exhort the Corinthians to be gentle with Timothy, to esteem him, to listen to him, and to help him forward on his journey. There is immense practical instruction in this. Are there those in the assembly (or visiting) that while gifted are quieter? or more timid? Let’s be careful to leave room for them to participate, and make them feel welcome. In this chapter we get one side of the coin: the saints were not to despise Timothy. In 1 Tim. 4:12 we get the other side of the coin: Timothy was to allow nothing in his own conduct that would invite others to despise his youth.
12 Now concerning the brother Apollos, I begged him much that he would go to you with the brethren; but it was not at all his will to go now; but he will come when he shall have good opportunity. v.12 Concerning Apollos. Notice, first of all, that there was no need to exhort the Corinthians to be hospitable to Apollos, or to leave room for him as with Timothy. Apollo’s was “an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures” (Acts 18:24). Apollos had been edified considerably by the teaching of Aquila and Priscilla in Ephesus (Acts 18:24-28), and now he could be a great help to the Corinthians. As with Timothy, Paul desired Apollos to go to Corinth, but he would not have dominion over another servant of the Lord. It was not Apollos’s mind to go to Corinth at this time. It doesn’t say why, but perhaps he too was sensitive to the grave disorders among them, or thought his gift would be a distraction to them. Yet Paul was confident that Apollos would eventually visit them “when he shall have good opportunity”. He wasn’t boycotting Corinth. Why was Apollos free to go to Corinth but not Paul? Because Paul was an apostle, and would need to use his apostolic “rod” (1 Cor. 4:21) to correct the errors. Apollos did not have apostolic authority, and therefore his case was different.
13 Be vigilant; stand fast in the faith; quit yourselves like men; be strong. 14 Let all things ye do be done in love. vv.13-14 Their Practical Conduct. But whether Timothy and Apollos came or not, the Corinthians were responsible to walk for the Lord on their own. The apostle gives five short exhortations to the end that the Corinthians might be blessed.
- Watchfulness. The first thing Paul tells the Corinthians is to “be vigilant”. The enemy, like a roaring lion (1 Pet. 5:8), was looking to corrupt and divide the saints in Corinth, and he had already been partially successful. The solution to this is to be vigilant or watchful.
- Steadfastness. The second thing is to “stand fast in the faith”. The presence of the definite article tells us that “the faith” refers to the body of Christian knowledge. The Corinthians had not been vigilant, and as a result they had imbibed false doctrine concerning the resurrection.
- Courage. The third thing is to “quit yourselves like men”. This means, ‘be men of courage’. We need courage to swim against the current of the world. It doesn’t mean to be callous or hardened. An example might be David, who “encouraged himself in the Lord”. This is the antidote to the problem of spiritual babyhood (1 Cor. 3:1).
- Strength. The fourth thing is to “be strong”. Strength and weakness in the epistles is often connected with being established in grace, and not entangled with law (i.e. 1 Cor. 8). Timothy was told to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1). Perhaps the Sadducean error that had come in was coupled with a legal influence. We cannot know for sure.
- Love. The fifth things is to “Let all things ye do be done in love”. This final exhortation is given to reinforce what the Spirit has taught in the eighth, ninth, and above all, the thirteenth chapter. Love is what ought to regulate all our activities, whether the exercise of Christian liberty, or the exercise of gift in the assembly.
¶ 15 But I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the first-fruits of Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the saints for service,) 16 that “ye” should also be subject to such, and to every one joined in the work and labouring. vv.15-16 Concerning the House of Stephanas. Paul had not established oversight in the Corinthian assembly, perhaps because he had not remained there long enough. We see the same thing in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, where no appointed elders existed; a fact that makes sense because of how young the assembly in Thessalonica was. Still, there were those in that assembly who took the lead. Who were they? They were those who labored among the saints, just as the house of Stephanas did in Corinth. It isn’t a matter of gift, but of devotion to the saints. Notice that Paul did not mark out as leaders those who were heading up schools of thought in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:10-16), but rather those who were humble. These were leaders in the local assembly that were never officially appointed by the apostles. Therefore, we have a principle that even without appointed elders (such is our case today), God has still provided those who can be leaders in the local assembly. The house of Stephanas may have encompassed a number of individuals, and they were “the first-fruits of Achaia” (southern Greece), meaning they were the first ones in that region to be saved. What characterized them was consistent devotion in service to the saints. To these brethren, and to “every one joined in the work and laboring”, the Corinthians were to “be subject” to them. We can apply this in our day as well. Not many are going to meet the list of qualifications for an overseer in 1 Tim. 3 or Titus 1, but we can find those around us who are joined in the work of the Lord, and we can subject ourselves to them as our leaders.
17 But I rejoice in the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus; because “they” have supplied what was lacking on your part. 18 For they have refreshed my spirit and yours: own therefore such. vv.17-18 Concerning Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus. Apparently, the head of the household mentioned in v.15 (Stephanas), along with two other brothers (Fortunatus and Achaicus), had come from Corinth to visit Paul in Asia. They had supplied “what was lacking” on the part of the Corinthians. This supply would seem to be monetary support, but would also certainly include spiritual refreshment; “they have refreshed my spirit and yours”. The Corinthians had not communicated funds to the Apostle, nor did he ask for help. When Paul was in Corinth, he worked to support himself, and the Macedonians – not the Corinthians – provided for any outstanding needs (2 Cor. 11:9-10). Here there were three brothers that rose up an ministered to the apostles needs even though the assembly was not willing to. It is wonderful when individuals have the exercise to help in spite of corporate failure. Their coming did more than supply Paul’s financial needs… they refreshed him spiritually. How instructive this is! It isn’t the money so much that encourages an itinerant servant of the Lord, but the love expressed by the gift. The exhortation for the Corinthians was that they should recognize the place these brothers had in leadership; not given them by official appointment, but recognized because of their moral weight.
Serving the Lord Christ. When we compare vv.10-16 with what we see in Christianity today, one “missing” component is the mission board. Here in Paul’s account of the servants of Christ, there is no mention of a mission board or some para-church organization. The Lord is the one who send these servants in His “harvest” (Matt. 9:38). Paul himself is careful not to order these servants around. He recognizes that they are under the Lordship of Christ. The Church does not send… the Holy Spirit sends, and the Church lets them go (Acts 13:2-4) with the right hands of fellowship (Gal. 2:9). This is something that the Church has gotten very mixed up today. Now-a-days, missionaries are held accountable to the local Church for their service. This is a mistake, and it will only serve to hinder the work of God. It is true that, as members of the body of Christ, all servants are accountable to their local assembly as far as their conduct and doctrine is concerned. However, as far as their ministry is concerned, there is only one tier in Christ’s missionary organizational structure; Christ the “Lord of the Harvest”, and all His servants are directly under His authority. This doesn’t set aside the fact that the Lord can use one servant to tell another servant where he should go, especially if he does not have the Lord’s mind (e.g. as Agabus did for Paul in Acts 21, and as Paul did for Timothy in ch.4). We still need to listen to our brethren.
19 The assemblies of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla, with the assembly in their house, salute you much in the Lord. 20 All the brethren salute you. Salute one another with a holy kiss. vv.19-20 Ephesus was the capital of the Roman province of Asia, and Paul was well acquainted with the brethren in that whole region. Therefore Paul could pass on greetings from across the Aegean Sea. When Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome, Aquila and Priscilla were forced to leave, and relocate to Corinth (Acts 18:2-3). There they had been instrumental in establishing the Corinthian assembly, and many in Corinth would have been familiar with them. Therefore, this couple could salute them “much” in the Lord. After some time in Corinth, they traveled with Paul to Ephesus, and remained there. During that time, the assembly in Ephesus began to meet in their home. Later they returned to Rome, and at the time of the epistle to the Romans, one of the assemblies in Rome was meeting “at their house”. How hospitable! Mr. Kelly remarks that, as tent-makers, Aquila and Priscilla would have always had a large room in their home for laying out tent fabric, which would have been quite suitable for a meeting room! Further abroad, “all the brethren” from Paul’s journeys sent their greetings; i.e. practically living out the truth of the one body. The final salutation is an exhortation to the Corinthians to greet one another. With the divisions in the assembly, affection between brethren had broken down. Paul seeks to stir those affections up. It is amazing how far simple greetings can go to heal divisions in the assembly. Notice however that they were to be careful that their greetings were above reproach; “a holy kiss”. It was important that the love between brethren should not give the appearance of evil, or slip into behavior that was morally wrong.
¶ 21 The salutation of me Paul with my own hand. v.21 Paul’s standard procedure was to dictate each epistle to an amanuensis, or scribe. Then he would write the salutation in his “own hand” (handwriting) so the recipients would know for sure it had come from Paul. This was his “mark in every letter” (2 Thess. 3:17). It was important because there were some that had written false epistles in the name of Paul (2 Thess. 2). There were two exceptions to this order; Galatians and Philemon. Paul wrote Galatians with his own hand because the error they had fallen into was so serious (Gal. 6:11). He speaks there of “so large letters” or ‘block letters’, which are indicative of poor eyesight. Philemon also was written by Paul’s own hand due to the sensitive and personal nature of the content (Philemon 1:19).
22 If any one love not the Lord Jesus Christ let him be Anathema Maranatha [‘Accursed: the Lord comes’]. v.22 This is another confirmation that there were some among the Corinthians who were not saved. It was a “mixed multitude”, like the congregation of Israel coming out of Egypt (1 Cor. 10:5). The coming of the Lord was going to reveal that some of their number “love not the Lord Jesus Christ”. Every true believer will love the Lord Jesus, although it is not a person’s love for Him that secures their salvation. (Sometimes this verse is used by scripture-twisters to deny eternal security.) What a solemn way to close the epistle! Could it be, that much of the difficulty in Corinth has a result of Satan’s activity, who “while men slept … came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way” (Matt. 13:25)?
23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you. v.23 There are two aspects of grace: (1) grace to us and for us, and (2) grace in us and with us. The first is that disposition of favor on God’s part which He shows toward us, the second is an attitude on our part of favor which we should show towards others. Most epistles begin with the grace of God for us, and end with the grace of God in us. The first epistle to the Corinthians is no exception. They would need grace just to receive this letter with its serious contents. If there was going to be divisions healed, evil dealt with, grace in practical conduct, or profitable exercise of gift… then the same grace that our Lord Jesus Christ demonstrated in His life must be present in the lives of these dear brethren. The same is true for us today.
24 My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen. v.24 Finally, after addressing numerous failures and disorders, Paul leaves them in the confidence of his own love. Not love for a small group of them, or for the houses of Chloe and the house of Stephanas, but for “all” the assembly. That is how our love should be; i.e. impartial. Nor was it love at the expense of truth, but Divine (agape) love “in Christ Jesus”. His love for the saints in Corinth was not because of their own merit, but a responsive love, on account of Christ’s love. How settling this final salutation would have been to those in Corinth whose consciences were touched by the prior contents of the letter! The rebukes and corrections came from Paul’s heart of love; “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Heb. 12:6). In all our dealings with brethren, let us never give the impression that our heart holds anything but love for them, and an ardent desire for their good and blessing.
- Kelly, William. The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians. Bible Truth Publishers, 1975.
- Darby, J. N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible. G. Morrish, 1940.