Apostle Incoming: 1 Corinthians 16
1 Corinthians wraps up with the standard closing portions of a letter: the greetings sent to known colleagues and the information about the writer’s future plans. In this, Paul is fairly ordinary in his approach. He also follows the typical pattern of providing a brief closing statement. In this case, look at 1 Corinthians 16:21-24 as definitely written by Paul rather than by a scribe.
The rest of 1 Corinthians 16 is a combination of update and instruction. Paul is overseeing a collection for the “saints,” typically understood as believers in Jerusalem. One basic reason for the assumption about Jerusalem is that v. 3 reflects that he plans to send letters to Jerusalem with the collected gifts. That would make the destination obvious.
Alongside this, we also see some instructions about the taking of the collection and the way the church is urged to respond to Apollos and Timothy, who are both apparently traveling to proclaim the Gospel. Paul gives his travel plans, as well, including his desire to go through Macedonia and his plan to stay in Ephesus for a while.
Another point that should be considered in summarizing this chapter is found in 1 Corinthians 16:13-14. Here we have a clear point in Scripture where two verses must be taken together in their application. 13 speaks of being alert, standing firm, being strong, “acting like men,” all of which are calls to action. Calls to action like these, though, must be tempered in the right manner—v. 14 give it. All that is done must be done in love, not in celebration of the doer but in pursuit of the best of the beloved.
Let us take a moment, though, and focus on one of the overarching messages of this chapter: Paul is coming to Corinth. He mentions his impending visit throughout the book, and then in this chapter alone, he brings his trip up in six verses. It is clear that his goal is to come to see them.
Why is he coming? The whole of 1 Corinthians has spoken of Paul’s concern for the Corinthians and the church in Corinth. He wants to come and check out everything, to try and correct the problems that are there.
With that in mind, I want to tell you a story about my time at UPS. (When I first started blogging, I still worked there so left them anonymous…obvious, but anonymous.) Our hub was due for a visit from one of the top executives from corporate—I believe it was the guy we expected would be the next CEO once the job was vacant.
We prepared for his visit for several weeks. First of all, new coats of paint were applied in all sorts of places. Second, we stopped hiring folks for a couple of weeks. Third, we actually encouraged a few people to plan on taking that day off and arranged for other folks to cover their shifts. Oh, and all of us front-line supervisor types made sure our uniform shirts were nice and clean.
Why? Because we wanted everything to look good when the big boss came around, that’s why. It wouldn’t do for the CFO to see that some days, our shirts were dirty from box dust or see that people who haven’t worked very long at a job don’t do it very well. And it certainly wouldn’t have done for some out-of-the-way piping in a rarely-traveled area to not be bright yellow instead of dingy yellow. The appearances had to be right.
Never mind that his visit looked nothing like the everyday operations. We put on the show…and went right back to old habits after he was gone. (As a contrast, I also worked for a Chick-fil-A when the Cathy family meandered through the region and stopped by every Chick-fil-A. We did nothing different. Nothing. Well, we blocked off a couple of parking spaces for them.)
Paul has mentioned his visit to the Corinthians with the hope that they will not respond like we did at UPS—the goal is not for a one day spruce up and then a lapse into old habits.
The goal for them, as it is with us, was to encourage them to live out the transformed life of the Gospel. Yes, he wanted the trash taken out and the broken things repaired: take a read back through 1 Corinthians and you’ll see what trash there was, what things were broken.
Our lives should follow suit: as the Spirit of God works in us, it is not intended that we slap on some fresh paint and give our sins a day off, only to bring them back later. We need to fix the broken things, carry out the trash, and then get on with doing what we should have been doing in the first place!
Let us live our lives in light of the reality that Paul is not coming anytime soon, church: Jesus is.
That’s a big deal.
First, look at 1 Corinthians 16:15. Then look at 1 Corinthians 1:16. Notice a similarity? The household of Stephanas. Leads me to wonder if Paul updated 1:16 as he got to the end when Stephanas was on his mind.
We all want to take the Bible literally until 1 Corinthians 16:20. Then we want to wash it through the cultural grid, find the principle, and apply it within our own context.
1 Corinthians 16:22 ends with “Marantha,” which means “O Lord, Come!”