First Corinthians

1 Corinthians (2013) - Lesson 16

Chapter 16

  • Today we study the 16th and final chapter of Paul’s letter

    • With it comes Paul’s answers to the final two questions he was asked through Chloe’s delegation

      • The first question concerns the proper manner for giving for the needs of the saints

      • The second question concerns the possible return of Apollos to Corinth

    • Lastly, Paul wraps up the letter with some words of encouragement to the church and instructions on obeying leaders

      • The correction of the letter is behind us at this point

      • All that remains is instruction on these points as Paul brings his letter to a close

  • Paul opens the chapter with the familiar “now concerning” phrase, which indicates we are moving away from the prior topic of resurrection and into a new topic

1Cor. 16:1  Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also.
1Cor. 16:2 On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come.
1Cor. 16:3 When I arrive, whomever you may approve, I will send them with letters to carry your gift to Jerusalem;
1Cor. 16:4 and if it is fitting for me to go also, they will go with me.
  • The next question the church asked Paul to address was the proper manner for the collection of the saints

    • Paul’s answer gives us the opportunity to examine the biblical expectation for how we are to support the body of Christ financially

      • One of the reasons I am dedicated to preaching and teaching in a verse-by-verse style rather than in a topical style is the freedom it gives me to address sensitive topics

      • As we move through books of the Bible teaching the whole counsel of God, inevitably we will come across a topic that we don’t want to hear

        • Topics that cause us to become defensive or even angry

    • When a topical teacher raises one of these issues on some Sunday, we’re tempted by our flesh to accuse the preacher of having an agenda

      • Rather than crediting the Holy Spirit with drawing our attention to a problem in our thinking or behavior, we tell ourselves that the pastor was just picking a fight for selfish reasons

      • And on the basis of that thinking, we find our excuse to dismiss whatever instructions the teacher offers from scripture

  • The opening topic of Chapter 16 is a good example of one of these sensitive topics

    • Some of us may have been conditioned through past experiences to react negatively to any discussion of giving

      • We may assume the pastor wants more money for himself

      • Or for his ambitious grandiose building plans

      • So we brace ourselves for the guilt trip that we know must be coming

      • And as a result we close our ears and hearts to the conviction of the Holy Spirit

    • On the other hand, when you and I have been studying a book of the Bible verse-by-verse, everything changes

      • Both the audience and the teacher are constrained by the text of scripture

      • We must address whatever topics we find on each page

      • Verse-by-verse teaching ensures that ears and hearts remain open, since at least they can’t impugn the motives of the teacher

      • Whatever else you might say, you can’t say I chose this topic for personal reasons

      • The Holy Spirit chose it, and so we should all be listening closely

  • The church in Corinth was unclear on the expectations for Christian giving, so they ask Paul to clarify the practice

    • Paul’s answer will surprise many Christians, both for what he says and for what he doesn’t say

      • Paul says in v.1 that he is giving the church in Corinth the same instructions he gave to the church in Galatia

      • This comment is important because it shows us that Paul was teaching a consistent approach to giving throughout the New Testament church

      • These are not unique instructions for just one church or situation

      • This is Paul’s prescribed manner for giving for all churches, including ours today

    • Then in v.2 Paul gives us the manner for giving

      • Before we look at his instructions, let’s take a moment to reflect on how little Paul says on this topic

      • To my knowledge, this is the only verse in all of the New Testament letters that specifically addresses the manner of giving in the church

      • One verse only

    • To be sure, Jesus speaks extensively about money in the Gospels

      • He talks about the need to be generous, selfless and unattached to our money

      • He speaks of storing up treasure in Heaven and not merely on earth

      • He speaks of being a good steward and caring for the needs of others

    • But when we ask what are the rules for how to fulfill these expectations with our giving, we find only this one verse

      • Now consider how much preaching takes place on this topic

      • Something’s wrong when preachers are far more fixated on Christian giving than the Bible is

  • Also, take note that a certain word is missing from Paul’s directions

    • That word is tithe or tithing

      • Tithe is a word that means one tenth

      • The common teaching in the church today is that Israel was required to give one tenth of their income to God

      • Therefore, today Christians are required to give one tenth of their income to the church

      • In reality, neither idea is biblically correct

    • The word tithe first appears in the Bible in Genesis 14

      • It describes Abraham’s contribution to Melchizedek from the war spoils he obtained defending Lot

      • Abraham gave one tenth as a thanks to God

    • Later in the covenant given to Israel, the Lord incorporated the concept of tithing into the Law

      • But Israel was required to give far more than one tenth to the Lord

      • In reality, the Law contains three separate tithing requirements for Israel

        • In Numbers 18, Israel was required to give a tithe to support the priests

        • In Deuteronomy 12 the nation was required to give an additional tithe to support the three feasts of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles

        • And in Deuteronomy 14 the nation was required to give a third tithe for the poor

      • Taken together, these tithing requirements amounted to upwards of 30% of a Jew’s income

    • So if someone is to argue that Christians should repeat the pattern of Israel, then be careful what you wish for

      • Because we’re signing up to a commitment well beyond just ten percent

      • We’re signing up for 30%

  • Of course, the Christian is not bound by the Law of Moses

    • That law was given to Israel as part of their Old Covenant

      • Paul tells us in numerous places that if we are under the grace of the New Covenant, then we are not under the Law of Moses

      • Therefore, the tithing requirements of the Old Covenant are not the standard for our giving today

    • In fact, we can’t tithe as required under the Law, because the institutions designated by the Lord to receive Israel’s tithes don’t exist any longer

      • The Jewish priesthood does not exist today

      • And the temple is not operating

      • So without these institutions in existence, it is literally impossible to tithe according to the Law

    • This is why Paul never uses the word tithe in any of his letters

      • In fact, the concept of tithing is completely missing from the New Testament

        • The Bible never commands a Christian to tithe

      • So if you have ever heard a Bible teacher or preacher tell you that we have an obligation to “tithe” that is to give 10% to the church, then you have not heard the truth according to scripture

        • Because tithing in Israel meant 30%, not 10%

        • Secondly, tithing was a prescription for Israel only, and it’s never repeated to the New Testament Christian

  • So with that background, we’re now in a position to consider Paul’s instructions with an open mind for what the Christian should do to demonstrate a generous heart

    • First, Paul asks the church to put aside money in savings on the first of every week

      • The mention of the first of the week is a measure of regularity and consistency

      • I don’t believe Paul is intending to prescribe the exact interval or day of the week for our setting aside

      • I believe his point is that we are to be diligent and committed to setting aside some of our income on a regular basis in order to give it away

    • Notice again that Paul never designates an amount

      • He doesn’t say how much we set aside because the New Testament believer has liberty in this area of life

      • We set aside whatever amount the Lord places on our heart

      • If you feel led to set aside 10%, then so be it

      • If you feel led to give more or less, than do so

      • Whatever you do, you must be convinced in your own heart that it is what the Lord is asking from you

    • But notice in the next part of v.2 Paul says we should set aside as we prosper

      • In other words, as our income rises and falls, so should our setting aside

      • In good months and good years, we are expected to become more generous

      • And in lean times, we are expected to adjust our saving accordingly

      • This only makes sense of course, but while it’s often easy to adjust downward, don’t forget to adjust back upward when business picks up

  • Next, Paul says that no collection was to be made when Paul arrived in Corinth

    • When Paul arrived in any city, like Corinth, he always asked the church to make a contribution for the needs of the next church on Paul’s itinerary

      • Notice in vs.3-4 Paul mentioned his intention to take a contribution from Corinth to the believers in Jerusalem when he departs

      • When Paul left the church in Macedonia to travel to Corinth for the first time, the believers in Macedonia gave a contribution to Paul to fund his work in Corinth

    • Paul reminded this church of their generosity in his next letter

2Cor. 8:1  Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia,
2Cor. 8:2 that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality.
2Cor. 8:3 For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord,
2Cor. 8:4 begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints,
2Cor. 8:5 and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God.
  • The church in Macedonia was poor while the people in Corinth were wealthy

    • Nevertheless the believers in Macedonia wanted to support Paul’s work in the Gospel

    • Later in 2 Corinthians, Paul turns the tables on the church in Corinth asking them to support the poor believers in Macedonia

    • But Paul didn’t want these collections taken merely on the occasion of his visits

      • He didn’t want his arrival to be the cause for the church’s giving behavior

      • He wanted the Church’s giving behavior to be consistent, not based on circumstances

      • More importantly, Paul’s ministry was funded by those who had benefited from God’s work in a previous day

      • Paul never burdened those he was serving at the time

    • Verse By Verse Ministry International follows this same pattern

      • We never ask for funds from those we serve as we serve them

      • Instead, we depend on the generosity of those who have been blessed by our work in the past and want to ensure others may be blessed in the future

      • That was Paul’s pattern

  • Lastly, notice where our giving is to go: into our own savings

    • The believer is called to save up privately for the needs of the saints

      • We set aside a portion of our income into a fund designated for the needs of the saints

      • Then as needs are brought to our attention, we have a ready resource from which to fund our giving

    • There is no requirement in scripture that our giving go automatically to a single institution or body

      • There is no expectation in scripture that churches have bank accounts with large balances that we sustain

      • We don’t depend on the church to hand out funds on our behalf

      • We should take an active part in that distribution

    • On the other hand, remember the three reasons the Lord told Israel to tithe

      • They were called to support the needs of the priests and temple

        • To care for those who dedicated themselves to ministering to the nation in corporate worship

      • They were called to support the feast celebrations in Israel

        • To support the corporate activities of the body

      • And they were called to support the poor in Israel

        • To care for the needs of those who lacked what we have received from the Lord in abundance

    • These three reasons have parallels in the Christian experience

      • Like Israel, we set aside funds to support the needs of those who minister to us

      • We fund the operation of the church and the programs that provide us spiritual benefit

      • And we come to the aid of those in the church who have needs

  • Of course, this system depends on our self-discipline and willingness to obey the Spirit

    • We must have the self discipline to store up regularly

    • We must be willing to obey the Spirit’s prompting for how much to store

    • We must have the integrity not to rob from the fund recognizing it has become God’s money

    • And we must have the generosity to distribute the funds as the Lord leads without hesitation

    • Like every experience in our Christian life, liberty gives us an opportunity to walk in the Spirit and in freedom

      • But the benefits of liberty depend on spiritual maturity

      • Liberty in the hands of an undisciplined, immature Christian leads to license to sin

      • And in the end, the one who suffers the most will be that Christian himself who abuses his liberty

      • When we walk in obedience, we will be blessed

  • Next, Paul describes his travel plans with the church

1Cor. 16:5  But I will come to you after I go through Macedonia, for I am going through Macedonia;
1Cor. 16:6 and perhaps I will stay with you, or even spend the winter, so that you may send me on my way wherever I may go.
1Cor. 16:7 For I do not wish to see you now just in passing; for I hope to remain with you for some time, if the Lord permits.
1Cor. 16:8 But I will remain in Ephesus until Pentecost;
1Cor. 16:9 for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.
1Cor. 16:10  Now if Timothy comes, see that he is with you without cause to be afraid, for he is doing the Lord’s work, as I also am.
1Cor. 16:11 So let no one despise him. But send him on his way in peace, so that he may come to me; for I expect him with the brethren.
1Cor. 16:12  But concerning Apollos our brother, I encouraged him greatly to come to you with the brethren; and it was not at all his desire to come now, but he will come when he has opportunity.
  • Paul wrote this letter while he was working with Timothy in Ephesus, and as he wrote he planned to travel north to Macedonia before returning to Corinth

    • He mentions these plans probably because his supporters in the city were looking forward to his return and wondered when it would happen

    • We know from 2 Corinthians, Paul changed his plans and went directly to Corinth from Ephesus

      • He did spend a winter with them as he promised, but it was a year later than he expected

      • He says he wanted to spend time with them, probably because he has seen the need to deal with so many apparent problems

      • His reference to Pentecost means he wrote this in Spring, but it also suggests that Paul’s religious year was still driven primarily by the Jewish feasts

    • In v.9, Paul speaks of a great opportunity in Ephesus which requires he spend more time in that city

      • He describes the opportunity as an open door, which is a favorite metaphor meaning opportunity for people to know the Gospel

      • And yet that occasion is accompanied by many adversaries

      • This is a very different attitude than we may encounter in the logic of the church today

    • Today, when we encounter many adversaries or opposition, we often declare the door of opportunity is closed

      • Strong resistance is interpreted as a reason to pause or re-evaluate our plans

      • But the true measure of opportunity in ministry is the amount of fruit available, not the ease with which we harvest it

      • Paul was determined to stay in Ephesus because he saw great opportunity with Timothy

      • And the great resistance he faced was all the more reason for Paul to remain and fight for the Gospel

  • Speaking of Timothy, Paul tells the church he will send Timothy in his place, and they must receive him as they received Paul

    • He asks them not to despise Timothy

      • That’s quite the endorsement of Timothy

      • Paul is simply speaking honestly knowing the Greek culture placed an emphasis on strength and age, neither of which Timothy possessed

      • Timothy was young and prone to stomach problems

    • He wasn’t going to strike a powerful image in Corinth, but Paul sent him anyway because he knew the Lord was working in Timothy in a great way

      • Perhaps this was Paul’s strategy

      • Perhaps Paul intentionally sent someone in his place, who the Corinthians would not be tempted to idolize as they had Paul and Apollos

      • This is another perspective Verse By Verse Ministry International tries to emulate

      • To the extent possible, we want to diminish my profile and the profile of other teachers to guard against encouraging a celebrity mindset among those who hear our teaching

    • You can see that celebrity mindset in the Corinthian church, to a degree, when they ask Paul the final question of the letter in v.12

      • While some wanted to know when Paul was returning, others wanted to know when Apollos was returning

      • Remembering that the letter began with the Paul vs. Apollos argument, here we see those factions still seeking for their respective hero

    • Paul answers their question, saying that he encouraged Apollos to come  back, but Apollos had no interest in returning at this time

      • Paul’s strong statement seems designed to reassure Apollos’ followers that Paul was not to blame for Apollos’ reluctance to return

      • We don’t know Apollos’ reasons nor do we know if he ever did return

      • But I suspect that Apollos was staying away to avoid feeding the unhealthy desires of his “followers” in that city

      • Apollos didn’t want followers any more than Paul did

      • Both men wanted the church to follow Christ alone

  • Then to finish the letter, Paul gives a few instructions and greetings to the church

1Cor. 16:13 Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.
1Cor. 16:14 Let all that you do be done in love.
1Cor. 16:15  Now I urge you, brethren (you know the household of Stephanas, that they were the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves for ministry to the saints),
1Cor. 16:16 that you also be in subjection to such men and to everyone who helps in the work and labors.
1Cor. 16:17 I rejoice over the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have supplied what was lacking on your part.
1Cor. 16:18 For they have refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men.
1Cor. 16:19  The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Prisca greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.
1Cor. 16:20 All the brethren greet you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
1Cor. 16:21  The greeting is in my own hand — Paul.
1Cor. 16:22 If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed.   Maranatha.
1Cor. 16:23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.
1Cor. 16:24 My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.
  • I really like Paul’s direct commands in vs.13-14

    • Given all that’s been said in this letter

      • All the critique, admonishment, correction…

      • Still Paul wants to make sure the church is stirred to walk with the Spirit in confidence, not defeated or discouraged

    • He tells them to be alert

      • To maintain eyes for eternity

      • To recognize the urgency of the times, the needs to remain soberly mindful of their coming judgment

    • To stand firm in the faith

      • To have courage and assurance in what they believe and in WHO they believe

    • To act like men, which is to say to be mature in their thinking concerning spiritual things

      • Paul does not mean think like men, not like women

      • He means think like men, not like children

      • The Greeks admired wisdom, so Paul says let’s aim for spiritual wisdom

    • To be strong

      • The Greeks admired physical strength

      • But Paul says let’s aim for spiritual strength

      • A strength built upon spiritual wisdom

    • Most of all, act in love

      • The love God showed to us in the face of Christ must become the source for our love to others

      • Self-sacrificial, selfless, intended to unite not divide

  • Paul’s last instruction involves how the church would receive other leaders in the church who might visit them from time to time

    • Specifically, Paul mentions Stephanas and two other men who come to Corinth

      • This delegation may have accompanied Paul’s letter of reply to Corinth

      • Paul sent along these instructions so that as the letter was read, these men have been seen to receive Paul’s endorsement

    • These men had proven themselves to Paul, so Paul tells the church to acknowledge these men

      • He wants them to acknowledge their authority

      • Moreover, he wants them to subject themselves to their authority as they minister to the church

      • Paul’s instruction reaffirms that men may be assigned authority in the church and that authority follows them into other congregations

      • That’s why we say once an elder, always an elder

      • But that authority extends from their character and their work ethic, to be committed to devotion to ministry

  • Then Paul ends the letter with greetings, intended to unify the church and encourage them to think as a single body geographically distributed across the globe

    • Paul mentioned Aquila and Priscilla, the couple that came from Rome to join Paul in ministering in Corinth before leaving with Paul for Ephesus

      • Their home in Corinth had become a house church

      • Now it’s clear they were using their house in Ephesus as another church

      • Their model is the ideal model for the church in any day

      • A couple ministering together, devoting their lives to ministry

      • Using their resources for the glory of God

      • Setting up shop wherever the Lord sends them

    • Then Paul extends a general greeting and kiss from all the brethren in Ephesus

      • Paul ends his letter taking the pen from the scribe who wrote on his behalf

      • This one line written in his own hand validated his authorship

    • In the next line, Paul gives a final strong warning to the church

      • That should anyone fail to show love for Christ, then this person is revealing themselves to be accursed

      • They are not a believer, and therefore we must see them as infiltrators in the church

      • Paul finishes the thought with maranatha, which is Aramaic for Oh Lord come

      • Paul writes it here in Aramaic, a language largely unknown in Greek society

      • This tells us that the word had become a Christian expression like Hallelujah is today

  • Paul ends the letter in a manner similar to the way he started

    • He extends grace to the church, just as he began by saying grace to you

      • No single word better expresses all that Paul taught or all that Christ has done for the church

      • Grace is favor shown without cause or merit

      • The church was called to live according to the grace the Lord extended to them

      • Showing each other favor without cause or merit

    • In doing so, they are showing the love of Christ, as Paul ends

      • The love of Christ be with us all