[This sermon is taken in large part from Warren Wiersbe’s sermon on this text]
Last week in 1 Corinthians 15 we studied Paul’s teaching about a foundational piece of the gospel – the resurrection. That teaching was a bit of a doctrinal study, but it flowed right into an exhortation about how we are able to live with peace and confidence as we reflect on God’s sovereignty and the certain victory we share in Christ.
We will find today that as Paul moved into his conclusion of this letter, he continued to teach the church how this doctrinal understanding of the resurrection of Jesus translates into practical expressions of faith. It is to the credit of the believers at Corinth that, when they wrote their questions to Paul, they asked him about the collection he was taking for the poor saints in Jerusalem, and Paul answered their question and then closed his letter by informing the church of his personal travel plans and also the plans for his associates in the ministry.
This chapter may seem unrelated to our needs today, but actually it deals in a very helpful way with three areas of stewardship: money (1 Cor. 16:1–4), opportunities (1 Cor. 16:5–9), and people (1 Cor. 16:10–24). These are probably the greatest resources we have, so we must manage them well.
Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. 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. 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.
1 Cor. 16:1-4
One of the most important ministries Paul had during his third missionary journey was the gathering of a special “relief offering” for the poor believers in Jerusalem. He hoped to achieve several purposes in this offering.
First, he felt that the Gentiles owed material help to the Jews in return for the spiritual blessings the Jews had given them (Rom. 15:25–27). Second, at the Jerusalem Conference years before, Paul had agreed to “remember the poor,” so he was keeping his pledge (Gal. 2:10). Paul not only preached the Gospel, but he also tried to assist those who had physical and material needs.
Why was there such a great need in the Jerusalem church? It is likely that many of the believers had been visiting Jerusalem at Pentecost when they heard the Word and were saved. This meant that they were strangers, without employment, and the church would have to care for them. In the early days of the church, the members had gladly shared with each other (Acts 2:41–47; 4:33–37); but even their resources were limited. There had also been a famine (Acts 11:27–30) and the relief sent at that time could not last for too long a time.
Apart from keeping his promise and meeting a great need, Paul’s third and greatest motive for taking up the offering was to help unite Jewish and Gentile believers. Paul was a missionary to the Gentiles, and this bothered some of the Jewish believers (Acts 17:21–25). Paul hoped that this expression of Gentile love would help to heal some wounds and build some bridges between the churches. (For more information about this offering, read 2 Cor. 8–9.)
Even though this was a special missionary offering, from Paul’s instructions we can learn some basic principles that relate to Christian stewardship:
Giving is an act of worship. Each member was to come to the Lord’s Day gathering prepared to give his share for that week. It is tragic when church members give only as a duty and forget that our offerings are to be “spiritual sacrifices” presented to the Lord (Phil. 4:18). Giving should be an act of worship to the resurrected and ascended Savior.
Giving should be systematic. Some have suggested that many people were paid on the first day of the week during that time in history. But even if they were not, each believer was to set aside his offering at home and then bring it to the assembly on the first day. Paul didn’t want to have to take up a number of collections when he arrived in Corinth. He wanted the whole contribution to be ready.
Giving was personal and individual. Paul expected each member to share in the offering, the rich and poor alike. Anyone who had an income was privileged to share and to help those in need. He wanted all to share in the blessing.
Giving is to be proportionate. “In keeping with his income.” (1 Cor. 16:2) suggests that believers who have more should give more. The Jewish believers in the church would have been accustomed to the tithe, but Paul did not mention any special proportion. As the Lord gives us more, we should plan to give more.
The trouble is, too many of us, as we earn more, want to increase our standard of living and then we don’t have more to give to the Lord. Instead of finding a suitable standard of living and remaining there, we keep trying to “go higher,” and our income is spent rather than invested.
Paul made it clear in 2 Corinthians 8–9 that Christian giving is a grace, the outflow of the grace of God in our lives and not the result of promotion or pressure. An open heart cannot maintain a closed hand. If we appreciate the grace of God extended to us, we want to express that grace by sharing with others.
Money is to be handled honestly. The various churches involved in this special offering appointed delegates to help Paul manage it and take it safely to Jerusalem. (See 2 Cor. 8:16–24 for more information on the “finance committee” that assisted Paul.) It is sad when Christian ministries lose their testimony because they mismanage the funds entrusted to them. Every ministry should be businesslike in its financial affairs. Paul was very careful not to allow anything to happen that would give his enemies opportunity to accuse him of stealing funds (2 Cor. 8:20–21).
This explains why Paul encouraged the churches to share in the offering and to select dependable representatives to help manage it. Paul was not against individuals giving personally; in this chapter, as well as in Romans 16, he named various individuals who assisted him personally. This no doubt included helping him with his financial needs. But generally speaking, Christian giving is church-centered.
It is interesting that Paul mentioned the offering just after his discussion about the resurrection, so the readers would go right from Paul’s hymn of victory into his discussion about money. Doctrine and duty go together; so do worship and works. Our giving is “not in vain” because our Lord is alive. It is His resurrection power that motivates us to give and to serve.
After I go through Macedonia, I will come to you—for I will be going through Macedonia. 6 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. 7 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. 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.
1 Cor. 16:5–9
Ephesians 5:15-16 says, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Paul was as careful in his use of time as he was in his use of money. Someone has said that killing time is the chief occupation of modern society, but no Christian can afford to kill time or waste opportunities.
Paul informed his friends at Corinth of his plans for future travel and ministry. It is worth noting that his statements were very tentative: “It may be suitable … it may be … wherever I go … but I trust.” Of course, the entire plan was dependent on God’s providential leading: “if the Lord permit.” Paul’s attitude toward his future plans agreed with the instructions we find in James 4:13–17.
Paul was at Ephesus when he wrote this letter. His plan was to travel to Macedonia for a time of ministry, spend the winter at Corinth, and then go to Judea with the collection. From November to February, it was impossible to travel by ship; so it would have been convenient for Paul to stay at Corinth and be with his friends. There were some problems to solve in the church and Paul had promised to come to help the leaders (1 Cor. 11:34).
However, various circumstances forced Paul to revise his plans at least twice. His “Plan B” was to visit Corinth, then travel through Macedonia, passing through Corinth a second time on his way to Judea (2 Cor. 1:15–16). Instead of one long visit, he planned two shorter visits; but even this plan did not materialize. “Plan C” turned out to be a quick and painful visit to Corinth, after which he returned to Ephesus. He then went to Troas to wait for Titus (who had been sent to Corinth, 2 Cor. 2:12–13; 7:5ff), then he visited Macedonia, and then went to Judea. He didn’t spend as much time at Corinth as he had hoped or as they had expected.
Paul had an open door of ministry in Ephesus, and that was important to him. He wanted to win the lost in Ephesus, not go to Corinth to pamper the saved. God had opened “a great door for effective work” and Paul wanted to seize the opportunities while they were still there.
An ancient Roman proverb says, “While we stop to think, we often miss our opportunity.” Once we know what to do, we must do it and not delay. We can usually think of many reasons (or excuses) not to act. Even though Paul was in danger in Ephesus (1 Cor. 15:32), he planned to remain there while the door was open.
The stewardship of opportunity is important. The individual believer, and the church family, must constantly ask, What opportunities is God giving us today? Instead of complaining about the obstacles, we must take advantage of the opportunities, and leave the results with the Lord.
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. 11 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.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.Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.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. 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.
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.All the brothers and sisters here send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand.If anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be cursed! Come, Lord! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen
1 Cor. 16:10–24
Often at the close of his letters, Paul named various people who were a part of his life and his ministry; and what a variety they were! He was not only a soul winner, but he was a friend maker; and many of his friends found their way into dedicated service for the Lord.
Money and opportunities are important, but they are useless without people. Jesus did not give His disciples money, but He did invest three years training them for service so they could seize the opportunities He would present them. If people are prepared, then God will supply both the opportunities and the money so that His work will be accomplished. Some of the people that Paul invested in were:
Timothy (vv. 10–11). Timothy along with Titus, was one of Paul’s special assistants, usually sent to the most difficult places. Timothy had been brought up in a godly home (2 Tim. 1:5), but it was Paul who led him to Christ. Paul usually referred to him as “my own son in the faith” (1 Tim. 1:2). When John Mark abandoned Paul and returned to Jerusalem, it was Timothy who was called to work as Paul’s assistant (Acts 16:1–5).
Apollos (vv. 12–14). Apollos was an eloquent Jew who was brought into the full understanding of the Gospel by Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:24–28). He had ministered with great power at Corinth, and there was a segment of the church there that felt attached to him (1 Cor. 1:12; 3:4–8). It is unlikely that Apollos promoted this division, for his great concern seemed to be to preach Christ. In spite of the division, Paul did not hesitate to encourage Apollos to return to Corinth for further ministry. It is clear that there was no envy on Paul’s part or sense of competition on the part of Apollos.
Paul did not have the authority to place men against their will. Apollos did not feel he should go to Corinth at that time, and Paul had to concur with his decision. It is wonderful the way these different men worked together.
Stephanas and his household (vv. 15–18). These were the first people to be won to Christ in Achaia, and Paul had baptized them himself, instead of leaving it to one of his helpers (1 Cor. 1:16). They became important leaders in the church, for they “devoted themselves” to Christ’s service. Whenever they saw a need, they went to work to meet it without waiting to be asked. They were Paul’s helpers, and they labored (“toiled to the point of exhaustion”) for the Lord. What a wonderful thing it is when an entire family serves the Lord faithfully in the local church.
Stephanas was joined by Fortunatus and Achaicus as an official committee sent from Corinth to Ephesus to confer with Paul about church problems. Paul saw in them a representation of the entire church; their love to Paul compensated for Paul’s absence from Corinth. But these men did more than share problems with Paul; they also refreshed his spirit and brought him blessing. Paul encouraged the church to honor this very special family and submit to their spiritual leadership. It is right to honor faithful Christians if God gets the glory.
Aquila and Priscilla (vv. 19–20). These two were a dedicated husband-and-wife team whose lives and ministries intersected and intertwined with Paul’s. The apostle met them at Corinth because, like Paul, they were tentmakers (Acts 18:1–3). This godly couple had been expelled from Rome because Aquila was a Jew; but that was only part of God’s providence to get them to Corinth where they could assist Paul.
Priscilla must have been a remarkable woman. This couple’s names occur in the New Testament six times, and in four of these instances, Priscilla’s name stands first. We get the impression that she was the stronger of the two, a devoted leader and witness. They worked together in serving the Lord and helping Paul.
When Paul moved from Corinth to Ephesus, Aquila and Priscilla packed up and moved their business with him and assisted in founding the church in that needy city (Acts 18:18ff). They were so capable that Paul left them to oversee the ministry while he returned to Antioch. It was while they were at Ephesus that they assisted Apollos in better understanding the truth of the Gospel.
But Priscilla and Aquila did not remain in Ephesus; for when Paul wrote to the saints at Rome, he greeted this couple there (Rom. 16:3). Once again, they had a church meeting in their house (Rom. 16:5). In Paul’s last letter, he sent greetings to Prisca (alternate spelling) and Aquila by way of Timothy, who was then overseeing the work in Ephesus (2 Tim. 4:19). This remarkable couple had left Rome and were now back in Ephesus, this time to assist Timothy as they had assisted Paul.
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. 14 Do everything in love.
1 Cor. 16:13-14
Like Paul, as we reflect on the victory we have in Christ, we can focus on living for God’s kingdom. We can do this by being intentional about how we manage the money, opportunities, and people God entrusts to us. As we live in this manner, our lives should reflect Jesus and Paul gives specific instructions in this regard in verses 13-14. I want to close with his instructions here as I think they form a great conclusion for this book. Based on all that he has taught them, Paul instructs the believers in Corinth to, “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of good courage; be strong. Do everything in love.” We would do well to memorize these words and review our lives often to see if the way we are living reflects these instructions.