Collection for the Saints
In the early stages of the Gentilesí first admission into the church of the living God, there was some confusion about their status. Some maintained that they had to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses or they couldnít be saved; others, like Paul, maintained that a reversion to the law was unnecessary and even deleterious. When the issue couldnít be settled in Antioch of Syria, it became necessary for Paul, Barnabas, and unnamed others to go to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles and elders concerning this issue. The end result was that the apostles Peter and John recognized that Paul preached the same gospel as they, and that no Gentiles were required to be circumcised. But since Paul and Barnabas had previously brought financial help from Antioch for the poor saints in Judea, the other apostles asked them "to remember the poor," which Paul stated he was eager to do (Galatians 2:10). Hence began efforts on Paulís part to gather a large contribution from the Gentile congregations to be brought to Jerusalem, which they eventually carried with them in the journey recorded in Acts 20. So here in this first epistle to the Corinthian brethren, the apostle inaugurates the first steps of this offering with his instructions.
- Paulís directive - The logistics of this offering from the Gentile congregations promised to be challenging. For Paul to organize a collection from each of the key Gentile congregations, to be able to get the offering finally together in one place, and to get it to Jerusalem was no minor undertaking. Corinth would need to follow the apostleís instructions, as would every other participating congregation, in order for him to make it work. "Now concerning the collection for the saints," he introduces his topic, "as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also" (I Corinthians 16:1). These congregations were scattered across an area larger than the state of Montana, and communication was difficult. Hence the apostle had the same basic set of instructions for Corinth, Lystra, Derbe, Iconium, Thessalonica, Berea, Philippi, and others. Implicit in the letter: follow the directions!
- The first day of every week - The first century congregations met on the first day of the week for the breaking of bread, to participate in the Lordís Supper. It would make sense, therefore, that the brethren would make regular contributions on the day of the week the congregation assembled. "On the first day of every week," is Paulís emphasis, "let each one of you put aside and save, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come" (I Corinthians 16:2). This was a special offering for the saints in Judea; it was not a collection for the regular work and expenses of the congregation. Hence those who willingly participated were to set aside monies as they had prospered, and to bring them to the common storehouse every week, so that no major collections would have to made when Paul arrived.
- Guarding the offering - In the days when money consisted of materials of intrinsic value, such as gold and silver, such money occupied physical space and needed to be carried from place to place. Hence there would be Christian men, with swords, guarding a very large collection from these various Gentile congregations who would travel to Jerusalem with that offering. "And when I arrive," states Paul of his intentions, "I shall send them with letters to carry your gift to Jerusalem; and if it is fitting for me to go also, they will go with me" (I Corinthians 16:3,4).
This offering was part of Godís big plan to bring the Jewish and Gentile sectors of the church together in love and mutual appreciation. As Paul in general terms described this offering for the brethren in Judea, in the presence of the Roman governor Felix, he stated, "Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation Ö" (Acts 24:17). This answered a portion of a prayer he asked the brethren in Rome to pray, that "my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints" (Romans 15:31). Since God orchestrated everything connected with this offering, it can be concluded that it accomplished its purpose!
"The mind of man plans his way," said the wise Solomon, "but the Lord directs his steps" (Proverbs 16:9). It was important for the apostle Paul to establish a strategy, to plan his route, and to govern his time. He had told the congregation in Rome, "now I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints," referring to the offering he was collecting from the Gentile congregations (Romans 15:25). He petitioned the brethren to pray earnestly for him, to strive together with him in his prayers, that the offering would prove acceptable to the saints, and "that I may be delivered from those who are disobedient in Judea" (Romans 15:31). His offering undoubtedly proved acceptable, but the scripture records that he was not entirely delivered from the hands of the hostile Jews, but was to spend most of the rest of his life in jail or under house arrest. Paulís mind planned his way, but the Lord directed his steps.
- Next stop, Macedonia - Paul is writing this first letter to the Corinthian brethren from Ephesus, capital of the Roman province of Asia in what is now southwest Turkey. At this point he had not yet decided whether to accompany the gift for the poor saints in Judea, but he is letting the brethren in Achaia know what his plans were before that offering was totally collected and sent on its way. "But I shall come to you after I go through Macedonia," he says, "for I am going through Macedonia Ö" (I Corinthians 16:5). When Paul finished what he intended to accomplish in Ephesus, he would go on to Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, and whatever other locations had established congregations. The history in the book of Acts shows he eventually accomplished this.
- On to Corinth - Paul was desirous of getting to Corinth as soon as he could, out of concern for the doctrinal and divisional issues developing there. Earlier in the epistle, he had stated, "I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills" (I Corinthians 4:19). The challenge for Paulís management of time was that there were so many priorities and so many needs that had to be met. Hence he could not drop everything he was doing and bounce over to Corinth; travel in those days was slow and difficult. "But I shall come to you," he assures them, "and perhaps I shall stay with you, or may even spend the winter, that you may send me on my way wherever I may go" (I Corinthians 16:6). The apostle had a general idea of what he wanted to accomplish and when he wanted to do it, but it is clear that his plans were not completely fixed. He was, however, also preparing the brethren in Achaia to help him financially to get on to his next place after Corinth, because he was dependent upon faithful saints to assist him in paying for transportation and traveling costs. "For I do not wish to see you now just in passing," he adds, "for I hope to remain with you for some time, if the Lord permits" (I Corinthians 16:7). He knows that it is going to require quite a bit of time in Corinth, so he is making the appropriate time adjustments.
- Remaining in Ephesus - But for right now, his priority was in Ephesus. "But I shall remain in Ephesus until Pentecost," he informs the Corinthians, "for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries" (I Corinthians 16:8,9). The apostleís experience was that when a door for the word opened, he had better go through it. So he was going through that door in Ephesus, and with the Lordís help fight off the adversaries; he would come to Corinth when the timing seemed right.
The apostleís plan worked according to his forethought and he was able to go through Macedonia after he completed what he wanted to accomplish in Ephesus. "And when he had gone through [Macedonia] and had given them much exhortation, he came to Greece [presumably Corinth]. And there he spend three months, and when a plot was formed against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he was determined to return through Macedonia" (Acts 20:2,3). At first his plans went as his mind planned them, but then the Lord really began to redirect his steps!
Working with Evangelists
The epistles do not read like they are some fictitious letters penned out of the imagination of some ivory towered author. They read like real letters would read, with specifics, details, and people who could not have flowed from the pools of imaginary thoughts. Paulís first epistle to the Corinthian church deals with situations that arise out of life and out tremendous spiritual warfare, the types of things that would have never arisen out of the heart or thought of unregenerate man. The apostle warns of the dangers of Greek "wisdom," he is concerned about some serious immorality in the congregation, he answers marriage questions, he deals with the issue of meats offered for sale in the meat market that had previously been offered to idols, he speaks concerning division in the congregation and the Lordís Supper, he gives instruction concerning the use of gifts or manifestations of the Spirit, he answers questions about the resurrection from the dead, and initiates a special offering for the poor saints in Judea. Truth is indeed, "stranger than fiction," and fiction would never have produced such a letter!
- Welcoming Timothy - Paul also gives personal instructions concerning some of the brethren who worked with the apostle or who were effective in the kingdom. Timothy is a good example of one of Paulís co-workers who rings of reality. Paul had earlier in the epistle mentioned that he was sending Timothy to them, to remind them, he says, "of my ways which are in Christ" (I Corinthians 4:17). As he approaches the end of his missive, he further writes, "Now if Timothy comes, see that he is with you without cause to be afraid; for he is doing the Lordís work, as I also am" (I Corinthians 16:10). Elsewhere, in personal communication to Timothy, Paul was concerned about Timothy being a little on the fearful side, and had written to him that "God has not given us a spirit of timidity" (II Timothy 1:7). Here he is encouraging the congregation at Corinth not to overpower Timothy, but rather to recognize that Timothy is doing the Lordís work and operating in accordance with Paulís instruction. "Let no one therefore despise him," he superadds. "But send him on his way in peace, so that he may come to me; for I expect him with the brethren" (I Corinthians 16:11). The brethren were not only to accord Timothy the proper respect and consideration, but they were also to help him financially on his way. The parting was to be amicable and peaceful, their having received Timothy and his instructions openly, and being able to send him on his way in a timely manner.
- Open to Apollos - After Paul had spent time in Corinth in establishing the congregation, he and his companions ó Aquila and Priscilla ó traveled on to Ephesus. In Ephesus, the husband and wife team met a Jew from Alexandria, Egypt, named Apollos, instructed him more accurately in way of the Lord, and wrote a letter of commendation for him to the church at Corinth. Apollos "watered" what Paul had "planted," and then moved on. Of him, Paul writes, "But concerning Apollos our brother, I encouraged him greatly to come to you with the brethren; and it was not at all his will to come now, but he will come when he has opportunity" (I Corinthians 16:12). Apollos was an evangelist, and as was the practice in the churches of the first century, he could come to Corinth or not come to Corinth as he chose. He was functioning according to his desire, as he saw the priorities in front of him.
Not only are these comments clearly not fictitious, but they teach modern Christians how to relate to those who labor among them. There are modern Timothyís and modern Apollosí, just as there are modern congregations like Corinth. It behooves the saints to govern themselves properly in accordance with similar instructions in the divine writ.
Christians are individuals, and the overall performance of a congregation is simply the sum of the attitudes and actions of those individuals. The congregation at Corinth clearly had a lot of issues, but those issues could only be handled on an individual basis. Jesus in particular, then, and the Bible in general, focus on the individual rather than looking for mass solutions. Jesus said the good shepherd would leave the ninety-nine safe sheep and go after the one sheep that was lost. The mass never has responsibility; the accountability is always placed on the person. Just because a person was born poor does not give him the right to steal. Just because a person had a difficult upbringing does not give him the excuse to bail out on his responsibilities. "The righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself," said the prophet, "and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself" (Ezekiel 18:20). Hence those especially under the terms of the new covenant are exhorted to do their part in taking on the character of Christ.
- Be alert - There is a tremendous spiritual war going on for the mind and soul of each person. "Be of sober spirit, be on the alert," warned Peter. "Your adversary, the devil prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (I Peter 5:8). If an individual needs to be in a state of awareness in a dangerous neighborhood or area, how much more in the spiritual realm where the saintís soul is at stake. The apostle Paul states it simply for each of the brethren in Corinth: "Be on the alert" (I Corinthians 16:13).
- Stand firm - Satan does everything he can to shake peopleís faith. Paul commented to the Ephesian brethren that "we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming" (Ephesians 4:14). "Take up the full armor of God," he mentioned a bit further on, "that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm" (Ephesians 6:13). Again, to the brethren in Corinth, he issues a brief statement, "Stand firm in the faith."
- Act like men - "No longer children," is part of the continuing exhortation. "In evil be babes," the apostle had earlier encouraged them, "but in your thinking be mature" (I Corinthians 14:20). Not only were they to mature in their thinking, but they needed to be able to go into spiritual battle as mature warriors rather than as young and weak. "Act like men," says he, "be strong."
- Love as a foundation - Ultimately, the agape love that is from God is tough, strong, faithful, and unbending. Because the warfare being waged is spiritual rather than physical, the prowess of the individual is not with the physical sword but with the spiritual sword. Speak "the truth in love," the apostle had also encouraged the brethren from Ephesus. Love tells the truth in as engaging and intelligent a manner as possible, as befits the circumstance. Love, as discussed elsewhere, first of all is concerned about the other personís eternity. Everything else is really secondary, although it can be used to communicate love for the other manís soul. "Let all that you do," then exhorts Paul, "be done in love" (I Corinthians 16:14). "All that you doÖ" Interesting words!
It was incumbent upon each member of the church in Corinth to lay aside personal issues and agendas and focus on the purpose for which Christ died. They were to be aware, on an individual basis, of the work that Satan was doing in trying to divide the congregation and get it sucked into adopting portions of Greek philosophy. They were to stand firm in their faith, and not be pulled down into the immoral morass of the culture around them. Each saint needed to stand on his spiritual feet like a man, to be strong for the Lord. Each was to be motivated by love for the lost and concern for the saints. If these were to be carried out by most individual Christians, the whole congregation would then exhibit that outlook. And the lessons apply today!
Subjection to Real Workers
If people are not organized, they do not get very much of a productive nature done. This also applies to the work of the local congregation. Hence the local congregation is a structured body rather than an unstructured one with ó when completely organized ó elders, evangelists, teachers, special servants, and others who fit in various places on the team. The apostle Paul, earlier in this letter, spent a whole section on the local body of Christ and established how important each member is. In writing to the brethren in Ephesus, he also pointed out that "we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love" (Ephesians 4:15,16). Each part needs to fit, each part needs to work, and each part needs to work properly.
- Devotion to ministry - When Paul first came to Corinth, he personally immersed the first converts in the name of Jesus. Later believers were immersed into Christ by other disciples, as Paul noted, "I thank God I immersed none of you except Crispus and Gaius, that no one should say I immersed in my own name." As he thought about it, he then added, "Now I did immerse also the household of Stephanus" (I Corinthians 1:14-16). So Stephanus and his family were among the first Christians in Corinth. As the apostle prepares to close the letter, he once again brings up this prominent family. "Now I urge you, brethren," he encourages the saints, "you know the household of Stephanus, that they were the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves for ministry to the saintsÖ" (I Corinthians 16:15). The saints require a lot of ministry; in fact the saints sometimes seem to require so much ministering to that it can bog down the work of evangelism. That Stephanus and his household would devote themselves to that ministry would be a huge help to men like Paul, who was trying focus on getting the gospel to the lost.
- Subjection - The battle for the soul of each individual is intense, and Satan the roaring lion is working inside every possible head. And when saints lose sight of the goal of saving the lost and conserving the saved, then the outcast angel has an opportunity to wreak some havoc. Teamwork requires that someone be in charge, and good teamwork requires that the right people be in charge. The apostle Paul trusted Stephanus and his household. His words to the church in Corinth are "that you be in subjection to such men and to everyone who helps in the work and labors" (I Corinthians 16:16). The nature of spiritual warfare is such that the brethren were not to grumble with words such as, "Why does Paul always get to pick his favorites?" In Christ there is to be a lot of cheerful mutual submission because it is all submission to a common goal. Jesus Himself set the stage, showing how real leadership has to make some choices about who does what. The rest of the apostles could have been upset that He always seemed to pick Peter, James, and John; but other than their fighting over who was going to the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, there is a clear acceptance of Jesusí authority to select whoever He wanted for whatever task He wanted.
The emphasis is to be in subjection to everyone who helps in the work and labors. Brethren need to be able to tell the difference between the talkers and the workers. Men like Stephanus were obviously workers who got their jobs done. Such devoted workers are worthy of respect, and their intelligent, spiritual leadership should be followed.
Rejoicing in Fellowship
God has woven the revealing of Himself in the mesh of real history and through real people. Whether it is in the information recorded in the chronicles of Israel, or the records of Jesusí travels and teachings, the All Wise is step by step revealing the wonders of His mind to the interested sons of men. Lukeís history, known as the book of Acts, contains the record of real places, real people, and real and significant spiritual events. And the letters of men like Paul are written of real saints with real problems and real contributions. God in this way communicates the character of His soul and what He desires to reproduce in those who would be "sons of the Most High."
- Coming of brethren - When trial and hardship face individuals, they find joy in real fellowship with their true and tested brethren. Only those who had been to the front edge of the battle could have the respect and trust of such a one as the apostle Paul; he would be somewhat "on duty" with anyone not so tested and to whom he would have to minister. But with those who had the same type of battle scars, those who had withstood the same types of tests as that great preacher and teacher of the gospel, he could relax and enjoy the camaraderie. "And I rejoice over the coming of Stephanus and Fortunatus and Achaicus," he informs the Corinthian brethren, "because they have supplied what was lacking on your part. For they have refreshed my spirit and yours" (I Corinthians 16:17,18). If they were able to refresh the spirit of the apostle Paul, they could certainly refresh the souls of the other brethren!
- Value of refreshing - One of the names of the Holy Spirit is "times of refreshing" (Acts 3:19). He would not choose that description of Himself if it were not one of His major functions, and if it were not needed for the saints. Because of the aforementioned intensity of spiritual warfare, even outstanding men such as the apostle Paul needed a mental break. The brethren in Corinth could not give him that because of the reality of physical separation as well as their possible spiritual immaturity. What they couldnít do physically and spiritually, they could do by sending men who could. The apostle was deeply grateful and was willing to compliment the brethren for providing the ability for him to have some special joy.
- Acknowledgement - The challenges of leaving a place of residence and providing assistance and encouragement to someone else can be nearly innumerable and unfathomable. Travel in all ages has been hazardous as well as taxing, and for brethren to extend themselves in such a way is worthy of commendation. Stephanus, Fortunatus, and Achaicus were such men, and Paul applauds them in these words: "Therefore, acknowledge such men" (I Corinthians 16:18).
- Fellowship greetings - It is encouraging to know that there is a "brotherhood" out there who experiences the same sufferings, difficulties, and joys in the name of Jesus the Christ. Apollos, for example, had come to Corinth from Ephesus, capital of the Roman province of Asia. "The churches of Asia greet you," forwards Paul, who wrote this letter from Ephesus. Prisca [Priscilla] and Aquila had been there at the start of Corinth, and had been the ones to send Apollos their way; hence it was fitting that "Aquila and Prisca greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house" (I Corinthians 16:19). "All the brethren greet you," he adds, encouraging them to "greet one another with a holy kiss" (I Corinthians 16:20). And finally his own: "This greeting is in my own hand ó†Paul" (I Corinthians 16:21).
The day-to-day battle is intense, and the war goes on and on. How precious is spiritual refreshment from brethren who can be positive rather than a drain and a drag! How precious the sincere greetings from the brethren! And how precious it is to know there is a caring brotherhood out there as an extension of Christ Himself!
Christianity is serious business. Each personís salvation and eternity is serious business. Satanís attacking each Christian and trying to bring each person down to hell with him is serious business. And because the warfare is so intense, the saints of God who are truly committed to the cause of Christ have a very tight-knit fellowship. They like to see each other, communicate with each other, pray for each other, and can greet each other with a holy kiss. People like Aquila and Prisca, who were at the core of the formation of the church in Corinth, could send their greetings "heartily" to the brethren, and the saints in Corinth would know the greeting was sincere. The apostle could likewise send his: "The greeting is in my own hand ó Paul" (I Corinthians 16:21). The letter was apparently dictated to another, and then apostle signed it in closing with his own distinctive hand, so that brethren would know that it was not a false letter.
- Love the Lord - The great commandment, dating from the days of Moses, was: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (Deuteronomy 6:4). This is an interesting command, because the clear implication is that the individual is going to have to put strenuous effort into loving God. Israel would have a clear reason for so doing, for they had been brought out of Egypt with Godís uplifted hand and outstretched arm. For those under the terms of the new covenant, the reasons for loving God multiply. The love of God for each lost person has been clearly demonstrated in Christís dying for the sins of each and His attempt to rescue each from the fires of hell. So Paul says to the brethren in Corinth, "If anyone does not love the Lord, let him be accursed" (I Corinthians 16:22). Strong words, strong warning, strong encouragement to the brethren to make their efforts to love the Lord their God.
- Maranatha - The scripture repeatedly lets the followers of Christ know what the true condition of the world is. The view from Godís throne shows that the residents of this planet, with help from the forces of darkness, have made this place nasty and corrupt. The first time that the gospel of Christ was preached, on the day of Pentecost 30 AD, the apostle Peter pleaded with the people to "be saved from this perverse generation" (Acts 2:40). Jesus spoke often of the "unbelieving and perverted generation" of His day, and there is no reason to believe that mankind overall has improved any since. Hence it is that saints of Paulís day as well as now would find their righteous souls tormented by the wickedness around them, and would earnestly desire that the Lord Jesus come and torch this place off. "Maranatha!" the apostle appealed. "O Lord, come!"
- Grace and love - The apostle had started the congregation in Corinth. He had been led by the Lord to cross from what is now western Turkey to begin the mission foray into eastern Europe, and after having been run out of Macedonia he finally arrived in Corinth. At the beginning of his time in the port, he had no financial support and worked as a tentmaker with a fellow Jew name Aquila. He preached, he taught, he sacrificed, and he suffered for the sake of those lost souls in capital of Achaia, so he once again was laboring to preserve their souls from the distracting and destructive influences working in the congregation. He is in earnest when he then appeals, "The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you" (I Corinthians 16:23). And he is sincere when he reassures them, "My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen" (I Corinthians 16:24).
The apostle Paul loved the eternal souls of each of the saints in Corinth. The instructions, rebukes, and exhortations in this letter were given with the intent and hope that the brethren would take them to heart and make whatever personal and congregational corrections were needed. If they would, many souls would be turned in the right direction for all eternity; if they failed, then much destruction would result. The choice, then and now, is clearly delineated!
Praise be to God that there was a congregation in the seaport city of Corinth. Praise to the Almighty for having orchestrated events so that the apostle Paul arrived there, nearly penniless, but fired by the fervency of having the gospel to preach to both Jew and Greek. His early teaching in the synagogue was modestly successful, especially when compared to other locales. Crispus, the leader of the synagogue at the time of Paulís arrival, was one of the first people to be immersed into Christ, and, apparently, very soon the next leader of the synagogue, Sosthenes, was added to the body of Christ and eventually co-authored this letter. Then the gospel went to the Gentiles, and the congregation in Corinth was well on its way.
- Division - Where there is apparent success, there are those who want to capitalize on it, who want to use the fruit of someone elseís labor and twist the momentum for their own personal purposes. Hence in Corinth, factions were developing, fueled by those who subtly appealed to Greek-style sophistry and were willing to sanction immorality in order to maintain and increase their power base. The appeal of the apostle was for the brethren to be "in the same mind and in the same judgment" (I Corinthians 1:10).
- Immorality - The pagans, then and now, have been notoriously immoral, sinking to the depths of greed, envy, and sexual impropriety of every kind. The appeal of the apostle was to leave those vices behind, noting, "you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (I Corinthians 6:11). "Your body," he said, "is a temple of the Holy Spirit Ö glorify God in your body" (I Corinthians 6:19,20). Part of the solution, he averred, was a good Christian marriage. "Better," he stated, "to marry than to burn" (I Corinthians 7:9).
- Handling idolatry - Many in the congregation had come out of idolatry. Some of the weaker brethren still regarded the idols as having some mystical power, although through continuing education they could become conditioned to the idea that gods made with human hands were not gods at all but demonic inspired figments of imagination. The long exhortation of the apostle was that the stronger Christians were to limit their liberty of being able to eat anything offered on the meat market, as an example, so that they would not destroy the brethren with newer faith and less understanding. "Flee idolatry," was the inspired exhortation. "You cannot drink of the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons" (I Corinthians 10:14;21).
- Gifts of the Spirit - Gifts of the Holy Spirit were given at the direction of the Spirit through the laying on of the apostlesí hands. Some in the congregation were abusing those gifts (clearly illustrating that the gifts were under the control of the user), and the instructions were written that all things might be done for edification of the local body of Christ. Whether it was using the gifts of the Spirit, or using "the perfect thing" ó the completed New Testament ó all things were and are to be done in love.
- Resurrection of the dead - Yes, there is a resurrection of the dead. If there were no resurrection, then Christ would not have been resurrected. But Christ is indeed risen; hence there will be a resurrection of all ó good and bad ó at Jesusí second coming. "We shall not all sleep," also asseverated the apostle, "but we shall all be changed." "At the last trumpet," he taught, "the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed." When "this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ĎDeath is swallowed up in victory!í "
MARANTHA! COME, LORD JESUS!