I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.
Introduction: All of Us Are in this Together
Have you ever run in a three-legged race? This game is quite popular at youth camps and summer picnics. Children have to put themselves 2 by 2 to participate in this race. Once each child has their play partner, you place them side by side and tie together the legs of two kids in a team. Children will therefore have to run by coordinating their feet so as not to fall. They can only move forward if they move in sync with each other.
In the same way, the Christian life is a lot like a three-legged race. We are obviously not in this world alone. We're part of a body of believers. And the only way we can do God's work in God's way is to move in sync with one another. However, there aren't just two of us moving. There is, rather, the whole church, the Body of Christ. Every believer is a potential partner to move God's work forward.
More specifically, God has given to each of us the ability to join a local body of believers who can, together, make a difference in this world for the cause of Christ.
In the book of I Corinthians, which we have been studying, Paul is addressing one of those local bodies of believers who haven't been working well together. They have been quite divided, and many were being led astray by some false teachers. We saw an example of that in the 15th chapter of the book where some were saying that there is no resurrection of the dead, when Jesus quite openly proved them wrong by Himself rising from the dead and becoming the first Fruits of those who sleep.
It is at the end of this wonderful resurrection chapter that Paul explains that the greatest reason that we live for God is our unwavering belief in the resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ from the dead. It is through His resurrection from the grave that we have hope and the promise of life eternal with Him. The apostle ends his resurrection chapter like this:
"The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord." (56-58).
It is following these immortal words that we get into Paul's last instructions and greetings to the Corinthian Church in chapter 16 of the letter. And it is in these final 24 verses that Paul gives examples of how these Corinthian believers can abound in the Lord's work. Interestingly, all of these examples revolve, in some way, around the help of fellow believers in need, or the cooperation of fellow Christians with one another in doing God's work on earth.
The first example, that we looked at last time, was our responsibility to help poor saints in need. Paul discussed this in the first 4 verses of chapter 16 by talking about taking a collection for the impoverished believers in Jerusalem.
The next responsibility that we can glean from this passage is that a Christian should be available to help those itinerant or traveling evangelists and ministers who are spreading the gospel.
I. Christians Should be Available to Help Itinerant Evangelists and Ministers (5-12)
Churches tend to get so focused on their own efforts to spread the gospel and help people grow in their knowledge of Christ that they may not always care who else is doing God's work throughout the world. And we may forget how much these other people can add to our own ministry when they are in town.
Paul, himself was a traveling evangelist and church planter who also founded the Church of Corinth. He not only continued to care for and write to that church, but he kept them informed, as best he could, of his work in other parts of the world.
Here in this section Paul is relaying his plans to visit them soon. Bibleref.com has a concise summary of this. It tells us:
"First Corinthians 16:5–11 describes Paul's plans to come and see the Corinthians in person within the year. First, he will stay in Ephesus to take advantage of an open door to the gospel, intending to leave at Pentecost to visit churches in Macedonia. He hopes to arrive in Corinth in time to spend the winter months with them. In the meantime, Timothy will arrive to represent him and the Lord to them. Paul warns them to put Timothy at ease and to send Timothy and his party back to Paul in peace."
We learn in II Corinthians that things didn't quite go as planned. He did eventually travel to both Macedonia and Corinth. However, not on the anticipated timeline.
But we can learn from this section that the apostle knew that he could count on the Corinthians to see to it that he was taken care of while there in Corinth. He even confidently says these words:
"But I will come to you after I go through Macedonia, for I am going through Macedonia; and perhaps I will stay with you, or even spend the winter, so that you may send me on my way wherever I go" (5-6).
Paul saw these Corinthians as his brothers and sisters in Christ whom he cared for, and he knew that they cared for him. In many ways, his continued ministry around the world was an extension of their ministry, for they were all members of the same body of Christ and were all serving the same Savior as well as preaching the same gospel.
He felt free to let them know that he wanted to spend some quality time with them but wasn't going to do it at this time because of the wide-open door of ministry in Ephesus that the Lord had given to him. He knew that they would understand this and be thrilled for him.
And Paul also knew that these believers would not feel slighted in the least when he told them that after he finishes his other ministry that:
"I hope to remain with you for some time, if the Lord permits." (7).
We should always be led by God's will and not our own whims. The Corinthians were aware that God's will came first with the apostle and that the Lord's plans should always take precedence over any other plans we may have.
The apostle was also free to tell the Corinthians about those that opposed him as well. That is what brothers and sisters in Christ do. They share the good as well as the bad, knowing that they have a group of people who will understand and care.
In the same way, Paul vouches for his son in the faith, Timothy, who would soon visit the Corinthians. He had sent him with Erastus to Macedonia and then he was to travel to Corinth. It was Timothy who, most likely, carried this letter to give to the Corinthians.
Paul wanted them to treat Timothy well just as they would have treated Paul if he were there. He tells them:
"And if Timothy comes, see that he may be with you without fear; for he does the work of the Lord, as I also do. Therefore, let no one despise him. But send him on his journey in peace, that he may come to me; for I am waiting for him with the brethren." (10,11).
Paul also talks about another friend, Apollos, who was an evangelist, apologist and church leader. The apostle Paul had urged him to come but Apollos didn't want to at that time. He probably had something more pressing to do. Paul says he would probably come later at a more convenient time. Apollos was another itinerant minister whom the Corinthians would welcome any time he came into town, and they would take care of his needs while he was there.
Once again, each of these men were a part of the three-legged or rather many-legged race which is the Christian life. We are all in this thing together and we must, in our day as well, think about those who have chosen to serve the Lord as travelling pastors, missionaries and evangelists to spread the gospel where we are not able to go ourselves.
II. Chrisitians Should Submit to the Church Leadership of Those Who Dedicate Their Lives to the Ministry (13-16)
Paul then goes on to give some quick commands. He tells the Corinthian believers to:
"Stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love." (13-14).
After these commands, the apostle then gives examples of men who have done that in their own congregation. Further, these men have devoted themselves to the ministry. This is what Paul says about them. He tells the Corinthians:
"I urge you brethren-you know the household of Stephanas, that it is the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the ministry to the saints." (15).
The members of the household of Stephanas were among the first converts in Corinth, which is located in Achaia, the southern province of Greece. Stephanas was one of the few Corinthian believers that had Paul baptized personally (1:16). He was probably visiting with Paul in Ephesus when this letter to the Corinthians was written.
Stephanas, and his whole household apparently had dedicated their entire lives to the ministry to the saints. Paul urges the Corinthians to be in subjection to such men who had the welfare of the church and the furtherance of the gospel as the main burden of their lives. They were doing a valuable service to the church of Jesus Christ and were worthy to be followed by God's people as they served the Lord in a leadership capacity. And this is true of everyone who helps in the work and labors for God (16).
Obviously, we must be careful whom we allow to lead our churches. But for those who have proven themselves by their life and their ministry, we should honor them and honor their ministry that God has given to them as they serve on our behalf in the church.
III. Christians are to Show Respect for Those Who Go Above the Call of Duty to Serve (17-18)
Another way we can cause the many legged race of the Christian faith to go forward is to show respect to those who go above and beyond the call of duty to help the needs of others. This is especially true of those who give aid to those in need who are spreading the gospel.
Paul was thrilled when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived in Ephesus. They went there specifically to be with him. He told the Corinthians:
"I am glad about the coming of Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus, for what was lacking on your part they supplied. For they refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore, acknowledge such men." (17-18).
Although those who are genuinely serving God aren't doing it for the applause, it is still very encouraging to those in service who are acknowledged for doing this. And in some cases, by our encouragement, we might be the difference between them giving up in frustration, not seeing any results of their labor, or continuing on to do more labor for the Lord. We may not feel called to serve God in the particular way that they are called. However, we participate in their ministry sometimes by simply encouraging them to continue on in it.
IV. Christians Should Acknowledge Other Churches Serving the Lord (19-24)
A final instruction that we can glean from this concluding chapter for successfully running the Christians race is that we should acknowledge other local churches who are faithfully serving the Lord as well. And possibly look for ways that we can serve Christ together with these fellow believers.
Paul ends this book of I Corinthians by saying:
"The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house. All the brethren greet you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. The salutation with my own hand-Paul's. If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed. O Lord, come! The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen."
It seems that most churches today tend to ignore one another at best, or they act like we are all in competition at worst. We should not try to compete with each other but should acknowledge that God has placed us both in the area to do a work and that we are all doing our part to reach a lost world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Obviously, we don't seek fellowship with those who don't love the Lord Jesus Christ and look for His appearing. As we just read, Paul went so far as to say:
"If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed. O Lord Come!" (Anathema, Maranatha!).
However, the others are our brothers and sisters in the Lord, with whom we will spend eternity. We must treat them as such and work with them when we can.
I began this study of I Corinthians 16:5-24 with the illustration of a three-legged race and how working together is the only way that we will ever be able to effectively do the Lord's work on this earth. I bring this to a conclusion by giving another illustration that I recently read. It is an illustration with the title: 'Family Unity.' And it goes like this:
"There is in South India a story of a wealthy landowner who had some very quarrelsome sons, always jealous of one another and always at strife among themselves. On his deathbed he called them and divided his property among them. Then he called for some sticks to be brought, nicely tied into a bundle, and asked them one by one, beginning at the eldest, to break the bundle. So long as they were thus closely bound together, they could not break any of the sticks. Now,' he said to the eldest, 'untie the bundle, and try to break the sticks singly.' This was not difficult, and soon each of the sticks, broken one by one, lay before them in two pieces.
The father thus taught them that—united they stood. Divided they fell."
We all have to realize, if we are to do anything of value for God on this earth that we are not serving God alone. There is no biblical evidence that it should be God and me against the world. He, rather, places us into a body of believers called the Church, the Body of Christ. And we will be together for eternity.
It is my prayer that all who hear this message will take their responsibility as members of Christ's Body seriously. We are truly in this race together. Let us seek to cross the finish line willingly tied together as brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. For United we stand and divided we fall. May we stand united!
© 2022 Jeff Shirley