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Jan 18, 2015

“The Stuff At the End of the Letter” 1-18-15

I Corinthians 16
January 18, 2015

Today we will finish a journey we began on January 12th of last year, so our trip through I Corinthians has taken us a little over a year.  We have learned or been reminded of much about the Apostle Paul and the Christians who lived in Corinth in the First Century AD.  As we finish our time in I Corinthians, we come to the 16th chapter, which characteristically for Paul contains final instructions and greetings which did not require specific sections in the body of the letter.  Indeed, what we find here, although they come before his signature farewell, are more in the nature of what we call Post Scripts.  That does not mean that they are add-ons.  Some of them relate to things that were discussed in detail in the letter.  And they all seem to have to do with how Christians are to relate to each other.
The first subject Paul deals with in this section is something that was dear to his heart and important in his ministry.  He refers to it here as the collection for the saints.  This offering had first been collected in the church at Antioch.  Antioch was a city in Syria.  It was also the location of one of the first congregations which was predominately Gentile.  When the church leaders in Jerusalem had heard about this congregation, they had sent Barnabus to check it out, to see if their beliefs were in accord with what was being taught by the Apostles and to teach them more about God and Jesus if necessary.  Barnabus certified that they were a legitimate congregation of Christians.  But he also felt that they needed some teaching in Jewish and Christian doctrines, so he got Paul, and together they preached and taught at Antioch for a year.
At the end of that year, a prophet named Agabus came from Jerusalem and prophesied that there would be a famine.  The Christians in Antioch were worried that the famine would have a severe effect on the Christians in Jerusalem, so they took up an offering for them and sent the results to Jerusalem with Paul and Barnabus.  When Paul and Barnabus returned to Antioch the congregation there commissioned them as Missionaries and sent them off to evangelize the gentiles in what is now Turkey and points West.  That is how Paul eventually came to Corinth and started the church there.
But during his missionary work, Paul always taught that the new churches owed a debt of gratitude to the mother church at Jerusalem.  So in the churches he started he always encouraged them to take up an offering for the Christians in Jerusalem.  It is that offering about which he gives instructions here.  And the instructions are interesting.
He encourages each of them to prepare for the offering by saving up some of the money each week, so they will have a good offering to offer when the money is sent to Jerusalem.  This is excellent advice for all donations to the cause of Christ.  We ought not to give just on the spur of the moment, from what we might have on hand, but we are to give in a planned way, saving up our offerings week by week, then at a certain time we can give those offerings to the poor, to other Christian ministries, or for the operations of our or other churches.  In this way we can please our lord by giving more to Him.
Paul also directed them to choose people who would take the offering to Jerusalem.  They were to be trusted and Godly men.  They would be accompanied by letters from Paul or by Paul himself, if the time was right for him to go.
In those days, there were no checks or credit cards, and money had to be taken in person by reliable escorts.  We can thank God that we live in a time where it is much easier to get our contributions to Christian Causes and Churches. 
In verses 5-8 Paul writes that he hopes to visit them but that when he does so, he wants to be able to stay with them for a while, not just come and go in a hurry.  He needs to spend some time with them.  Quality time with other Christians is beneficial to us.  Our world is in such a hurry, that we rarely do so.  Maybe that is why deep seated problems in the Christian community are hardly ever resolved.  In order for Paul’s relationship with the various constituencies within the church at Corinth to be healed, he needed to be with them for an entire winter.  We might learn from him in healing our relationships and developing relationships with other Christians.
In the rest of the chapter, Paul deals with one of the issues that he dealt with in the letter, but on a more personal basis.  In the first 4 chapters of the letter, he had discussed their propensity to break into groups claiming particular leaders and apostles as their authorities and not honoring other leaders.  Thus they were fracturing the body of Christ and dishonoring the leaders who were not recognized by their little groups.
It is with that background in mind that Paul wrote to them about Timothy, Apollos, Stephanas and others.
The words about Timothy sound strange.  He does not want Timothy to have anything to fear from them and he does not want them to despise Timothy.  Timothy was a co-worker with Paul in his
Apostolic Ministry.  Timothy represented Paul in places where Paul sent him.  Paul had sent Timothy on a journey that included Corinth, and was a little worried.
Timothy was younger than most of Paul’s co-workers, and tended to be quiet and shy.  Maybe even timid.  He was just the kind of guy that some of the partisans in Corinth would enjoy making fun of.  Remember, those folks at Corinth had been a challenge even for Paul with his somewhat forceful personality.  So Paul tells them to treat Timothy with respect for his leadership and Service to the church and to Paul.  Then he reminds them that after Timothy visits them, he will visit Paul, so Paul will hear about how they treated him.
In that same section he also mentions Apollos, saying that he had urged him to go to Corinth and Apollos was not willing to go at that time.  Paul is making sure that they know that he and Apollos have talked about the problem at Corinth and that Apollos does not want to go there yet.  He is also making it clear that Apollos is not under Paul’s authority, He comes and goes as directed by God, not Paul.
He talks about Stephanas and his household which probably included Fortunatus and Achaichus.  These 3 men had carried the letter from the church at Corinth to Paul and were now carrying this letter from Paul to Corinth.  In this way and evidently in many other ways, the household of Stephanas, especially these 3 had distinguished themselves as being loyal servants of the congregation.  Paul is telling the members of the church that Stephanas and others of his household should be recognized as leaders and honored as such.  One of the problems in Corinth was in not having their own leaders, so they divided themselves according to which of the Apostles they preferred.  They needed to come together under local leadership.  Paul is recommending Stephanas and others in his household to be pastors, Elders, etc.
And as we reach this point in Paul’s letter, I have to say that as your pastor, I commend you in this matter.  You are able to identify good leaders and after you elect them, you follow them as they lead.  Our transition from one denomination into another was made much easier because of the caliber of leaders you elected and the fact that you trusted them and voted according to their recommendations.  May such practices continue to be blessings to us all.
In the final paragraph, Paul reminds the Corinthians of two other leaders.  Aquila and Prisca, or Priscilla, who had been leaders of the church in Corinth, and were now leaders in the church at Ephesus.  The church of Corinth or part of it had started in their home when they lived in Corinth.  They now have a church meeting in their home in Ephesus.  And they send their greetings along with all the Christians in Ephesus.  All Christians should greet and love each other, even though they are not personally known to them. 
He also exhorts the Corinthians to greet each other with a holy kiss.  Our relationships with other brothers and sisters in Christ are to be warm, emotional, and loving, but also holy, not degenerating into improper relationships.
Paul closes this letter with some common blessings, “The Grace of the Lord Jesus be with you, (and) My love be with all of you in Jesus Christ” 
Indeed, Love seems to be the theme of this entire chapter.  In it Paul instructs the Christians how they are to love their brothers and sisters in Christ.  They are to plan their giving and give generously to other Christians, the needy, and the Church.  They are to search for honorable Christians who have been serving others and the congregation and they are to make them their leaders and follow their examples and their decisions.  And they are to warmly receive and greet and assist Christians who are not among their congregation, some of whom are far away.  They are also to spend time with other Christians, working out their conflicts and developing warm, loving, relationships.
And I will close by saying that these convey my prayers and hopes for all of you and for us.
And thus ends this part of our journey together.
Amen.

 

Pastor David L. Horner
Faith Presbyterian Church
West Lafayette, IN 47906