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First Corinthians

Theme Song: Unity

1 Corinthians 16

There is a temptation in this chapter. The first two verses are often quoted in offering messages. So it seems reasonable to spend a lesson on the first two verses – and skip the rest as being miscellaneous greetings of no current importance. This misses a great point. Paul has spent the bulk of this letter dealing with the unity of the church. Now he has a few minor details to settle – and all of them relate to that unity of the church. See if you can perceive them as Paul finishes this letter:

(1 Cor 16 NIV) Now about the collection for God's people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. {2} On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. {3} Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. {4} If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me. {5} After I go through Macedonia, I will come to you--for I will be going through Macedonia. {6} Perhaps I will stay with you awhile, or even spend the winter, so that you can help me on my journey, wherever I go. {7} 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. {8} But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, {9} because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me. {10} If 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. {11} No one, then, should refuse to accept him. Send him on his way in peace so that he may return to me. I am expecting him along with the brothers. {12} 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. {13} Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. {14} Do everything in love. {15} You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints. I urge you, brothers, {16} to submit to such as these and to everyone who joins in the work, and labors at it. {17} I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you. {18} For they refreshed my spirit and yours also. Such men deserve recognition. {19} 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. {20} All the brothers here send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss. {21} I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. {22} If anyone does not love the Lord--a curse be on him. Come, O Lord ! {23} The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. {24} My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen.


At first reading – the verses are so familiar – it does seem we are talking about tithing in the first two verses. But consider the following:

Who’s the recipient?

It’s clear from the context that the offering requested is not for the ordinary expenses of running a church building. Rather, it is to relieve the poverty and suffering of their fellow Christians in Jerusalem and Judea. A parallel in our time would be an offering taken to support a church community in another country, for example. Even in this you will see the unity of the church:

· These people didn’t know the saints in Jerusalem personally; they are giving to them only because they are saints in need. So we see the unity of the church as a whole.

· But even in the manner of giving, we see the unity of the church. It is the same method that Paul has prescribed for the other churches. We do the same thing, in the same way; we are one.

Set aside

One difference which those of subtle mind will note is that we are to “set aside” the money – not bring it to the church each Sunday. Why would Paul command that?

· If we brought it to the church each Sunday, the poor might be embarrassed if we saw how little they had to bring. Offerings were very public in those times. By setting it aside and bringing it in all at once, even the poor will have an offering with which to be satisfied.

· As a practical point, it decreases the workload of those administering the church – but it also spreads the responsibility. Think of a building fund drive: if it doesn’t reach its goals, do we not tend to hold the committee in charge to be responsible? Yet who does the giving? So Paul puts the burden where it belongs, and in so doing unites the church.

· The financial methods of the time make this important. Unlike today, when most people are salaried, in those days income might be sporadic. You could have many weeks of nothing (and embarrassment) and one week of plenty. Both would be scrutinized to your embarrassment.

· This method also makes each of us a steward over the things of God. Instead of a committee to handle the money, we become stewards in small things. If faithful in little, faithful in much – and the faithful build the church.

· Finally, so that it would be “no big deal” when Paul finally came – no publicity campaign, nothing. So it would not be seen as “Paul squeezed a gift out of them” but rather that they gave generously – which unites both gift and giver.

The men you approve

See also that Paul does not pick out the messengers – though he could likely enough nominate some worthy men. But instead:

· Paul tells them to pick and choose – thus refusing to impose himself upon them in such matters. They therefore feel strong in their own congregation.

· But he does tell them he will write letters of introduction – thus guaranteeing that he will ratify their decision and smooth their path. This unites him again with them, and with the church in Jerusalem.

· If that were not enough, he even proposes to accompany them to Jerusalem, as if to add honor to their gift. In this courtesy he makes it clear that he is their Apostle who corrects them, not their dictator.

Sharing Plans

When people are united in a great work, they share their plans. Have you ever worked on a team where the boss only handed out little hints as to what the plan might be? And then held you responsible if the plan failed? No such tactic is used here; Paul openly tells them what he is planning to do, and why.

Staying at Ephesus

The folks in Corinth would probably like to see him again – so why isn’t he coming? He explains it in terms of their common goals:

· There is a great work in Ephesus – great opportunity. They would see this as reason enough.

· There is also great opposition! Most of us would see that as God telling us to move on; not Paul. He sees it as a sign that Satan has recognized the danger. Duty calls; the Corinthians would see this as his work in the one church.

If Timothy comes

Paul uses a curious phrase here: “see that he has nothing to fear.” Why would he put it that way?

· First, because Paul is an old, experienced warrior – and Timothy is not. He’s a young man, and likely to be intimidated by some of those in Corinth. But Timothy carries Paul’s message. So Paul asks his friends for the intimate favor: take care of my little buddy.

· Paul is deliberately sending Timothy to them – with the same message in person that Paul has put in this letter. Timothy is likely enough to face opposition in this. As stern as Paul has been in the letter, he wants to smooth the road for Timothy. So the chastisement can then be followed by soothing words, which Timothy can deliver in person.

· Mostly, however, it is so that God’s work will go unhindered. The laborer is worthy of his hire, or, as Napoleon said, “Respect the burden.” If your preacher is one who abhors conflict, it is for the unity of the church that you resolve conflict without stressing him.


You might remember him. He was – unwittingly – one of the faction leaders Paul chastised these people for. Most scholars suspect that rather than be the leader of a faction, Apollos sacrificed himself for the unity of the church and left town. That way, his “faction” would fall apart – and the unity of the church be increased. But now Paul – having spotlighted the problem and set it on its way to correction – urges his brother in the faith to return. His return would be a public sign that the factionalism was gone. So – in due course, the man has other duties – he will return.

Stephanus and company

These guys are likely the finks who told Paul about the trouble in Corinth in the first place. So they’re the ones who got the Corinthians chewed out about this business of unity in the church. What kind of reception do you think they’ll get when they return home? Paul is taking no chances – he doesn’t want “ins and outs” any more than any other kind of faction.

· He shows the Corinthians that they are, indirectly, obligated to them because they came to Paul with practical help. They brought the help from Corinth that Paul needed.

· He shows them also that – despite the fact that no one likes getting chewed out – they needed the reprimand, or things would have gotten worse. So they have actually performed a service for the Corinthians as well.

· Because they had the guts to do it, Paul tells them that such men should be honored and recognized – because they share in the work too.

In short, they’re not just idle gossips – they’re the guys who started you on the road back to unity.

Personal admonitions

Like a father sending his kid off to school, there are always a few last personal admonitions. These too center around the unity of the church:

· Stand firm in the faith – in other words, use your knowledge of the faith to uphold your church. It is “the faith” – one Lord, one faith, one birth, the central unity for us all.

· Be men of courage. Knowledge is of no use if not coupled with action, and action requires courage. By being strong, you show others the way to be strong – and again, the church is strengthened in this.

· Knowledge and action are not sufficient; you can do all these things in a spirit of stern legalism, which divides the church. Rather, do all these things in love, which unites the church.

· Submit to those in authority over you – or, as we might put it, be a team player. How do we know those in authority? By their work. Not by their title, not by their presumptuousness, not by their learning – by their work.

We are at the end of the first letter to the Corinthians. Its theme is simple: the unity of the church. Judging by the state of the church today, it is just as timely now as when it was written.

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