Text: 1 Corinthians 16:5-23
Date: Sunday May 28, 2023
Today we come to the close of what has been a nine month journey of studying the entire book of 1 Corinthians, verse by verse together. We have covered much ground, and today, we will be looking at the final chapter, chapter 16. This last section is a classic closing of a letter. In it he provides a few last brief instructions and personalizes the letter with mentions of individuals who are important to him. My goal today is two-fold, I want to earnestly understand this last chapter, and particularly focus on verse 13 as a vital last call from Paul, of what to do with this entire letter. Let us read the text entirely.
1 Corinthians 16:5-24 “I will visit you after passing through Macedonia, for I intend to pass through Macedonia, and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may help me on my journey, wherever I go. For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries. When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am. 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. 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. Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. Now I urge you, brothers—you know that the household…”
Three Loves of the Apostle
First, let us get our bearings straight by taking a look in general at this section. In verses 5-11 Paul lays out his travel plans, and his longing to come visit the Church in Corinth. I think Paul’s heart comes through very clearly in these words. He is such a good pastor. Let us look three loves of the Apostle that we saw in this text.
1 His Love of the Corinthian Church: I find his longing and love for the Corinthians quite remarkable.
1 Corinthians 16:7 “For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits.”
Paul wants to do significant life with them. He wants to shepherd them, to care for them. To spend enough time with them that they can form memories, and make sure that the doctrine he is teaching is not just doctrine to store in the head, but is doctrine to live out in faithful community among saints that love each other.
Christian—we must be certain that we are fostering this kind of love of Christian community that Paul exemplifies here. The heart of a Christian is towards their entire Church. They want to see every member grow in their knowledge of God. To see every member bring their whole life into accord with God’s Word. “If one member hurts, the whole body hurts. If one member celebrates, the whole body celebrates.
2 His Love of God’s Kingdom: Secondly, we see Paul’s love of God’s Kingdom. There is a part of him that wants to get on a boat and come visit the Corinthians, but in verses 8 and 9 he says,
1 Corinthians 16:8-9 “But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.”
The way Paul lived his life is how every Christian ought to live their life. He was led by the Spirit and he was driven by a desire to be an effective laborer in God’s Kingdom. And he was always looking for where God was opening doors for effective work. And a door opened, he didn’t leave too quickly. He stayed there and kept lingering.
Reading Paul here should force us to ask ourselves, where in our life is God opening up doors for effective Kingdom work. Perhaps it is an ongoing conversation with a coworker. Perhaps there is somebody in our life who has reached out to us, and who we may offer some guidance. Don’t rush through these things. Every Christian will be used by God in different ways and in different degrees
3 His Love of His Friends: Lastly, I want you to see the love he has for his friends. In verse 10 he mentions Timothy who elsewhere Paul calls himself a spiritual father to Timothy. And he pleads with the Corinthians to take care of him when he arrives. In verse 12 he mentions Apollos, another close friend and ministry partner. In verse 15 he mentions Stephanas, Fortunatus, Achaicus and celebrates the way that his soul has been lifted up because of their love. In verse 19 he praises Aquila and Prisca for the Church that they are allowing to meet in their house. Paul had deep friendships that were focused around Christ, around prayer, around the work of the ministry
We cannot have this level of intimacy with every person in our life. But, the Christian ought to develop a handful of Timothy’s, Aquila, Apollos’s on whom they can depend on. Do you have deep friendships with other Christians who are spurring you on to deeper love of Christ, and deeper resolve in Christ. If you don’t, might I encourage you this summer to make the most of every opportunity. You are blessed here with an incredible Christian community. Form friendships that last. They are needed in this city.
Three Loves: Love of the Church. Love of God’s God’s Kingdom. Love of His Friends.
Imperative 1: Be Watchful
Now I want to our attention to verses 13 and 14 where we will spend the rest of our time. In these verses Paul blasts us with five separate commands. This is not uncommon for Paul, in fact he does something similar in 2 Corinthians 13:11 as he brings that letter to a close as well. These commands are like a charge. He’s just finished his letter, and now he wants to leave them with parting instructions.
The first imperative is that are to be watchful. The term is can be a reference two two different ideas. First, it can be expressing the need for Christians to live in eager anticipation for the return of Christ. Second, it can more broadly refer to the need to just be on guard, to have a constant readiness about us. I believe both have merit in how we are to interpet this
It has been a theme we have disussed in 1 Corinthians that Christians are to be watchful for Christ’s return. Chapter of 1 Corinthians is that glorious chapter in scripture that outlines with great clarity the future that we hope for. That day when Jesus returns to usher in the final heaven and the final Earth. That day according to Scripture will come like a thief in the night, when we are least expecting it.
1 Corinthians 15:51–52 ESV Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.
When Paul instructs us to be watchful, he is encouraging us to not overly place our hope in the the things of this world. And in our study of chapter 15 we encouraged each other to think of heaven daily, to let the reality of your resurrection shape your vision of today.
The second more general sense is that we are be watchful in regards ot our daily life, that we are living in accordance with God’s design and desire. We are to live in such a way that at all times we are on alert. There is a vigilance to the ordinary activity of the follower of Christ. The image that comes to mind when we read these words is of men in the military who take turns staying awake in order to stand guard, and make sure nothing happens to the community. If we get lazy, if we fail to “be watchful” devastation may come upon us. This is a regular theme in the New Testament.
1 Thessalonians 5:6 ESV So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.
1 Peter 5:8 ESV Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
Perhaps as Paul considers these concluding remarks he has in mind the controversies that he has already covered in this book. The division in the Church from chapter 1. Recall in chapter that divisions were popping up, factions arising among the Corinthians, that were threatening to divide the Church. And he’s instructing them to be watchful. Don’t let divisions, and gossip, and factions in the Church destroy your testimony of Christ. Look for it and root it out before it begins. Or perhaps he has in mind chapter 5 and the promiscuity and immorality that had crept into the church, and that everybody was acting fine with. Paul’s advice, be on guard. Be vigilant. Be watchful. These things will slowly corrupt and kill a church.
Perhaps you recall the story of Nehemiah from the Old Testament. God used Nehemiah during a critical point in Israel’s history. Israel had been expelled from own land by Babylon and the had been living in exile for decades, when a new king permitted a few of them to return to Jerusalem and to begin to get Jerusalem in order again. The first line of business was rebuilding the great wall of protection around the temple. This was a massive project. In the book of Nehemiah we read that the surrounding nations hated Nehemiah and the Israelites for seeking to rebuild this wall. They wanted to do everything they could to stop them. They sent spies. They lied about their purposes to the King and slandered them publicly. They threatened them. But Nehemiah was a strong leader and would not be derailed by pressure. And in Nehemiah 4:18 we read
Nehemiah 4:18 ESV And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built. The man who sounded the trumpet was beside me.
Christians are to be like the men of Nehemiah’s day who built the wall with their sword strapped to their side ready for battle at any moment.
How do we do this well? We must develop a very real life of honest confession with God. This can happen in the privacy of your prayer closet. But I also recommend a few faithful friends who you can be utterly transparent with. We need to regularly scan our life and our heart. And as we confess weaknesses and sinful tendencies, we plead with God to transform us, which he has promised to do because of Union with Christ. We must be on guard about the media we consume, and how that media shapes our minds, and our hearts. Our children’s minds and our children’s heart. We are not playing games. We are watchful, because we love Christ.
Imperative 2: Stand Firm in the Faith
The second imperative is that we are to ‘stand firm in the faith.’ This is the idea that we are to be committed, of firm conviction and belief. We are tot ake our stand in the traditions that have been passed down to us, and we are not to budge from them. This language is common throughout the New Testament.
Philippians 4:1 ESV Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
2 Thessalonians 2:15 ESV So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.
Standing firm is related to ‘being watchful’ and yet this has a far more doctrinal perspective. The idea is that we are not to be deceived by false teaching that so often sneaks into the lives of Christians as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Rather, we are to unapologetically stand on the Word of God, and train ourselves to think rightly about every idea. To filter every thought, every philosophy every, worldvision through the lens of the Word of God in order to determine if it is true. And when we discover false ideas, even subtly false ideas, we don’t budge. We stand firm.
Perhaps Paul is considering that great synopsis of our faith at the start of chapter 15
1 Corinthians 15:3–5 ESV For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
And he is saying cling to this as the bedrock of your faith. Don’t make it about anything else. Perhaps Paul is considering his words to the Corinthians in chapter seven surrounding principles for marriage and divorce. Perahps he knows how tempting it would to begin thinking like society on that topic, think that divorce was permissable for any old reason. And he’s saying, “stand firm!” Don’t buy the lie that divorce is to be casual. Perhaps Paul is considering chapters 8-10 and the five sermons we had on the issue of food offered to idols. If you remember we learned that Paul was addressing in their context what to do when our faith collides with culture. For them it was whether they could or could not eat meat that had been knowingly been sacrificed to a false god, a practice as common then as visiting a Starbucks is today. Do you recall Paul’s advice. He said, “You cannot eat the meat.” Even though everyone around the was saying, “Just eat the meat, it makes no difference.” As a Christian, driven by love for God and love for neighbor, you can’t eat the meat. You don’t want anybody around you to get the false idea. So maybe Paul here is saying, “Stand firm against the temptation to not have a dividing line between you and the culture around you.
How do we stand fast in the faith. Well, in the words of Paul Washer, Faith is not just blind faith in optimism. It is trusting in what God said, in his Word. Therefore we must first and foremost be student of the Word of God. Some of us don’t know where to stand fast simply because we don’t know what the Bible says. We know about what Twitter says. We know a whole lot about what Reddit says on a topic. But we don’t know what the Bible says because we are busy in the study of it.
2 Timothy 3:16–17 ESV All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Friends, please do not believe the lie that some people are just good at Bible Study its not for everybody. Studying the Bible is work. But its also the very tool that gives us life. You cannot stand firm in the faith, as Paul commands us to do, apart from the Word of God, because you won’t know where to stand.
We must be prayer filled. Because in prayer God sensitizes our heart to the things of God. In prayer, he conforms the heart to the heart of God. A prayerless person will not be able to stand fast. A prayerless person is simply depending on themselves. And so when it really gets hard, they will have no muscles developed to lean into God and his wisdom. There will be no standing fast. Be watchful. Stand fast.
Imperative 3 & 4: Act Like Men. Be Strong.
The third and fourth imperatives that Paul gives us go together. That phrase ‘act like men’ is an interesting one, its a very unique word that can be translated, “be manly.” Either Paul is speaking in very general terms the entire congregation, both and men and women and calling them to Christian courage. Courage is a historic of Biblical masculinity, and now he takes that general idea and applies in a spiritual sense to the entire congregation, both men and women. Or, Paul is revealing that in these last few words, he is now specifically speaking to the Elders of the Church, the governing officials, who are all men, and calling them up to their task. Either way the implications are similar.
All throughout the Scriptures the idea of ‘being courageous’ and ‘being strong’ go together. God’s people are always marked by a courage to stand where others might not. God spoke these words to Joshua.
Joshua 1:5–7 ESV No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.
Ah yes—true Christianity is a fight. It is a battle in which a person yields themself to God. Over and over throughout Scripture the Christian faith is referred to as a battle. Very few battles are easily won. A battle against our flesh which wages war against us. A battle against the Devil who prowls around seeking to devour us. You must be strong and courageous.
This is not a strength that comes from your own will, your own exertion. This is a strength that is mustered only in a person who has immersed themselves in God. Why would Paul include these commands at the end of 1 Corinthians. Recall that earlier in chapter 10 he had spoken of temptations and trials they would face.
1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
Or perhaps, Paul is considering the courage and strength it takes to live out chapter 6, and those instructions that Christians are not to sue each other in a pagan court, but are to settle their matters among each other, using the wisdom of the Church. And then Paul had that amazing line in 1 Corinthians 6:7
1 Corinthians 6:7 ESV To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?
What kind of inner strength and courage does it take to permit yourself to be defrauded so as to make Christ look better to the outside world. Because you’re more concerned with the glory of Christ being put on display than you are with getting what is rightfully yours. That is not natural behavior. That is supernatural meekness endowed on a person who is behaving like Christ.
I would like to speak boldly to the men of this Church. Men, you have been called nobility, to leadership, to headship. This is not some macho thing, this is a call to men to live and love like Christ. We must not make the same mistake as Adam who stood by passively as his wife, his family, was attacked. He had no courage. He just went along for the ride. Men we must not make this same mistake. You have been called to set the pace for your homes, and for your Church. You have been called to defend your family, defend your wife. To guard the home from false doctrine. To guard your children from reading false doctrine and from slowly drifting away from the faith. This is your task. Phillip Brooks says it this way.
“Do not pray for easy lives! Pray to be stronger men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be a miracle.”Philip Brooks
Imperative 5: Do All In Love
The final imperative of Paul’s is, “Let all that you do be done in love.” This great command, at the end of four other commands, holds the other four in check. It would be easy with only the other to think that Christianity was all about who could be the boldest, who could be the most courageous. But the glue that holds all of this together, is the ethic of love that drips from the cross of Christ. Remember that great chapter 13 where Paul spoke of love. He discussed it is possible to have incredible faith but not love, to have incredible courage but not love. He said,
1 Corinthians 13:1–3 ESV If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Christian—we are to love others as Christ has loved us. Our courage, our faith, and our strength depend on whether or not we do this. Remember how we described love in our study of chapter 13. Love is an action. It moves towards others in sacrifice, in power, in giving up one’s rights in order to see another lifted up. Love is not passive, it is active. Christian love is modeled after Christ
Romans 5:8 ESV but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
The greatest act of love ever done in this world was when Chrsit died on the cross. “While we were still sinners.” Christ does not demand that we get our life in order, that we become righteous first, that we first root out all sin in our hearts and lives, in order to be loved by him. No that’s impossible. First, Christ loves us. First Jesus takes our sin on his shoulders and buries it. First Jesus declares a son and a daughter whom he will never let go. And then that love moving through our life utterly transforms our soul. It raises our sights to heaven, and conforms our minds and desires to Christ’s desires.
Christian, as we close up 1 Corinthians, you are invited right now to take an honest assessment of your heart. Is Christ your greatest treasure? There is a way to go about our Christianity that simply external. The external motions of religiosity. Jesus constantly came down on the Pharisees for this. There are many who go by the title Christian who know not Christ. They attend Church, but there is no union with Christ. They know about the Bible, but there is no being mastered by the Bible. They have heard of the Holy Spirit, but they have never experienced the power of the Holy Spirit. They now about Church community, but there is no dependence on Church community! May this not be you today.
Be Watchful. Stand Firm in the faith. Act like men. Be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.
As I close out this sermon series, I want to simply read Paul’s final words to us. The Apostle Paul, dripping with love for these Christians echoes my own heart as your Pastor dripping with love for you.
1 Corinthians 16:23-24 “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.”