Paul is giving his concluding remarks to the Corinthians. These remarks include travels plans, admonitions, and greetings. You can imagine Paul trying to fit everything he possibly could in the closing of this letter. “Let me make sure I don’t forget Aquila and Prisca’s greeting.” “Let me make sure to tell then about me staying in Macedonia.” “Let me make sure to encourage them to be strong.”
We read this and it seems so scattered doesn’t it? We also are left with many questions, especially with how it applies to us. “What does Paul’s travel plan have to do with me?” “Are you really going to preach on a text that commands us to ‘act like men’ on Mother’s Day?” “What in the heck is a holy kiss?”
But, when we stop and slowly look at Paul’s concerns at the end of his epistles, we see godly concerns and a pastoral heart. In this closing section of 1 Corinthians we see Paul’s concerns about Christian community. In fact, we can see 6 confessions of Christian Community in this text.
Confession 1: We are made for Community (5-7, 12)
5 I will visit you after passing through Macedonia, for I intend to pass through Macedonia, 6 and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may help me on my journey, wherever I go. 7 For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits.
See Paul’s concern- I was to see you. I want to be with you. He mentions spending the winter with them. Notice v. 7, “I do not want to see you just in passing.” Paul’s concern is that he would have community with the Corinthians believer. Simple letters wouldn’t do.
Have we considered the importance of being with people? Community is not something that can happen simply in text messages, or online. Christian community is face to face and it is long term.
Paul could have easily said, “This church has issues. I’ll give up on it! But, let me go out kicking and screaming- let me post my frustrations on Facebook first!” But, that is not how Christian community works. We live life together, we covenant together in the long-term. Paul goes on to mention Apollos:
Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but it was not at all his will to come now. He will come when he has opportunity. (v. 12)
Again, “visit”- the emphasis is on being physically together. Friendship, life, cannot happen unless we are physically together. While technology is a great thing- we cannot let it replace real life.
God did not create man to be with Iphone. He created other people to be with the man because, “It was not good for man to be alone.” (Gen. 2:18).
In his article “Six Ways Your Phone is Changing You” Tony Rienke writes,
“Our digital interactions with one another, which are often necessarily brief and superficial, begin to pattern all our relationships. “When you begin to become shallow in your interactions with people, you can become habituated to that.” All of our personal interactions take the same shape. The barista at the coffee counter gets a DM-like response. When we hang out with friends, we offer a series of Tweet-like responses in a superficial conversation with little spiritual meaning.”
We cannot have real life through a screen- were we meant to live life in community.
Confession 2: We exist for mission (8-9)
But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, 9 for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.
Notice, Paul says, I cannot see you now because there is a great mission opportunity here in Ephesus. He will stay until “Pentecost” which many is months away from the Paul is writing, which is around Passover. Paul wanted to see them, but he had a greater concern for mission.
Yes, we need community, but we cannot let community replace mission.
In fact, I think many churches have a battle between being a community and being on mission, and this shouldn’t be the case. Community is not the same as a commune. While we should gather together as believers, we should not do so at the forsaking of ministry all around us.
This neighborhood around us is ripe for harvest! Paul says, “Community is important, but I cannot allow it to get in the way of an open door of ministry opportunity!”
The church is not simply a place for community. This is not a social club for saints, but hospital for the sick and the sinner. The church does not exist to serve every whim of the attenders, but to reach the world around us for Christ!
Confession 3: We cannot make it alone. (10-11)
“This sounds like your first point.” It certainly does relate to the first point, but Paul turns to mention Timothy. See what he writes, “10 When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am. 11 So let no one despise him. Help him on his way in peace, that he may return to me, for I am expecting him with the brothers.”
Paul addresses not just the need for community, but one specific benefit of community: You can get help when you need it. We not only were made for community, but we often cannot make it without the help of others. Notice, Timothy is going to come to you, Corinthians- help him! Do not see your brother and his needs as a burden, but as a way to bless! “Do not despise him.” Rather “help him on his way in peace.” Don’t create drama out of his need- see his need as an opportunity to serve! Solomon sums up this idea well in Ecclesiastes:
9 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? 12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. – Eccl. 4:9-12
Confession 4: We must respect each other. (v. 15-18)
One mark of grace in our lives is the ability to give credit where credit is due. When we truly understand grace, we have no need to take any of the credit, but to give credit to those who deserve it. Paul does this often, and we see him do it here. See what he says,
“15 Now I urge you, brothers—you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints— 16 be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer. 17 I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, 18 for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such people.”
He says, look at the Stephanas house! They have served tirelessly. They have been at this since the beginning, they were the first converts in Achaia. Consider Corinthians, you would not know grace except through these people. Their faithfulness is why you have faith at all. So, Paul says, we should respect these people. Their is historical evidence that claims that Stephanas and the other guys mentioned here became pastors at Corinth. They were fathers of the faith to these believer and Paul wanted them to respect them. He gives them two ways to do this:
“Be subject to them.” In other words, listen to them! Those who brought the Word of God to you care deeply about you- if they are telling you something it more than likely coming from a heart that cares. We are so quick to assume negative motives in others around us. “they said this intentionally to wound me.” “They did that simply to cause drama..” While yes, people may do things with the wrong motives, we should not always assume bad motives, especially from those who have shown us love continuously. We all have seen parents who gave us advice and we thought were being mean to us, who we later realized where being kind to us.
Those who are your family in the faith, especially those who may be in leadership, care deeply about you and the people around them. Don’t assume bad motives. Listen to them. Be subject to them. Try doing what they suggest- you may find out that it is not coming from the place you think it is.
“Give recognition to such people.” Paul was enacting this very command. Give credit where credit is due. Thank those around you who have given you refreshment (as these people had for Paul). When is the last time you just told someone thank you without them doing anything for you first? Just “thank you” for all they’ve done or put up with? We should recognize those around us. Today is a day set aside to do this for our Mothers. But we shouldn’t need a day to remind us how thankful we are to be born and to have been served for countless numbers of years- even as you did nothing in return for them?
God calls us to consider that example as we consider our faith family as well. Are willing to serve and to recognize others around us without needing to get the spotlight? Will we recognize that God is often not at work in the spotlight, but behind the scenes?
Confession 5: We welcome all people (19-20)
19 The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord.20 All the brothers send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
Being weird is not a good reason to not love someone. Corinth was a weird and messy church and yet these other churches took the initiative to reach out and greet them!
Look at the churches that sent greetings:
Asia- they crossed and greeted people across ethnic boundaries!
Aquila and Prisca- they crossed and greet each other across gender and cultural boundaries!
They even extended a kiss to them! This was equivalent to a hug of the day. We hugged someone from a different walk, why? Because Jesus died that we might not divide by these things. Are we willing to welcome people from different walks of life to extend the gospel to them? Are we willing to welcome the outcast and cross cultural boundaries for His glory?
Confession 6: We are debtors (v. 21-24).
Notice how Paul closes his letter, “21 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. 22 If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! 23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. 24 My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.”
Apart from the love of Jesus- we stand cursed. We have rebelled against God. We have tried to make it our own way and it hasn’t worked for us. Notice how his final words give us the solution: grace and love. We are the recipients, in Jesus, of grace and love- even as His enemies!
We are the passive recipients of the work of Jesus and apart from this work we’ll never make it.
The church is a place where people come together and confess: We don’t have it all together. This is not a place to come and appear to have it together. The fact you’re here is a confession that you are not. We confess that we owe a debt that has been paid. We are debtors.
Martin Luther described Christians as “beggars telling other beggars where to find bread.” When we preach the gospel message- we are proclaiming a good news. We are proclaiming a message to the needy- to the hungry- to the broken- to the weak.
How are to apply this? Where do we go from here? Especially since the passage is so scattered?
In fact, the central command of this passage (v. 13-14) leaves us with 5 applications of this message. Hear God’s word, “13 Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love.”
Certainly this is call to be watchful for ourselves. There is temptation all around, and we are commanded throughout the Scripture to be watchful about these things. We cannot fall asleep at the wheel of life.
But, I think Paul is encouraging us to be watchful for each other. The Kentucky translation of this command is, “Y’all watch out!” We should care about others around us- to be watchful for them. One way we can do that is through praying for each other. We can pray for our pastors, our friends, our family, our church community- it is a way to be watchful. Mother’s you can be watchful for your kids through your prayers!
Consider this from Octavius Winslow, “Your child may be far away from the sheltering home, voyaging on the stormy sea, or dwelling in some distant climate beyond your voice. But they are still within the reach of the mightiest power a mother can wield – the power of prayer! And although you cannot throw around them your maternal arms to shield them from the evil of the world, you can invest them with your wrestling believing petitions, and secure on their behalf the Arm which encircles the globe, and is mighty to save. Oh that the Church of God may be filled with such praying mothers!”
We need to watch out for others. So many of us are only concerns ourselves and our own, but that is not what God calls for us to do! Paul writes in Philippians 2:4, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
Stand firm together
We are commanded to put our feet in the dirt together. Hold fast together. Stand firm together.
What does it mean to stand firm?
Well, first to stand together means we must be together. We need unity. Paul makes this exhortation explicit in Philippians 1:27 he exhorts the church to “stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” A church divided will fall. We are called to stand together, side by side, together.
Second, to stand firm we must have something to stand in. What does the church stand in? We stand in the good news- the gospel- the message of God’s grace through Jesus! See what Paul says back in chapter 15 verse 1- Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand. Paul calls the Galatians to stand in the freedom that Christ has bought.
As a church we stand together, but what do we stand in? The gospel! Not our legacy. Not our traditions. Not our culture or our preferences. We stand in the message of what God has done in Christ to save us and reconcile us to God.
We stand together proclaiming one message. All other things are secondary to this reality.
Act like men
On this Mother’s Day God has a command for you- be manly! Church- man up! Repeatedly this term is used to call soldiers to stand tall in courage. Do not be afraid!
Christians- there is much to be afraid of. But, Christians, God is calling us to have courage. In fact, when we are standing firm together and being watchful over each other courage comes naturally!
When we stand together, we are far more courageous. We are more courageous together then we could ever be apart.
When we recognize who we are in Christ- we are far more courageous.
Christian- God calls you to be courageous. He calls the men here to lead the church and the family boldly. But, he also calls women to be fearless as well. Hear this from 1 Peter 3:6, “do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.”
Do not be afraid! Mothers, Fathers, sons, daughters- walk fearlessly!
He puts it together. By being watchful, standing firm and be courageous- this is godly strength. Be strong!
Let all things be done in love.
Lastly, we are called to walk in love. Strength and love are not enemies, but true strength is found in loving the messy and the hard to lovable. In extending grace to the outcast. We do not exist for us, we exist as a church for others. We have been loved and therefore we are called to love. Our community must be one of love and when it’s not, it defames God. Jesus said that the world would know us by our love (John 13:35).
We can love our enemies because God loved us as enemies. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. – John 15:13. Yet, Jesus did it while we were enemies. Romans 5:7-8 says, “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”
If you are a non-Christian, will you receive the love of the Father?
Christians, will we extend the love of the Father?