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.

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!



Paul's Plans

"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.

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!

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.



Personal Instructions

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.

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.

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."

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!



Maranatha!

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.

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!



Summation

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.

MARANTHA! COME, LORD JESUS!