I Corinthians 16

Foci: vv. 1–4, 13–14

Do Everything in Love

Laura Miguélez Quay

Linebrook Church

April 23, 2017

 

After fifteen weeks of walking with Paul in his letter to the believers in the Corinthian church, we’ve arrived at the last chapter of this epistle. Though they were clearly believers in and followers of Jesus Christ, as we’ve seen, the Corinthian Christians were just as clearly young and unformed—and even uninformed—in key facets of Christian belief and practice. As a church family and individually, they had not come much further in their faith than believing in Christ as their Savior and Lord. And though this, of course, is an important and essential starting point, such belief should have led to changed lives, to lives lived in conformity to Jesus’ own words and deeds. But the Corinthians fell short in both areas for by their actions and teaching they had made evident that they hadn’t grasped the life-transforming nature that a saving faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ ought to have. Consequently these believers lived in a manner that didn’t honor God in Christ for, as we have seen, they were:

divisive;

and involved in all sorts of sexual immorality (incest, adultery, homosexual behavior, prostitution);

and not only that but their immorality appeared included greed—

and idolatry—

and slander—

and drunkenness—

and swindling—

and thievery—

and taking one another to court over trivial cases.

So part of what Paul was having to teach this church was that being Christ’s body—being Christ’s temple—we should avoid all sinful behavior because individually and corporately we are called to be holy even as he is holy—even as God is holy. And because we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, we shouldn’t be proud of or, what is worse, boast in sinful behavior—in behavior that goes against what he has clearly taught us in his Word—but we should rather mourn and grieve such behavior and—with the help of Christ’s Holy Spirit and with the help of one another—place all sin out of our midst.

And in addition to reminding these believers—who were already saints in Christ by virtue of their union with him—that they were God’s temple and therefore should act as such, Paul reminds them as well that though all things may be permitted to them, they shouldn’t be mastered by anything. Though all things may be allowed them by virtue of their freedom in Christ, nonetheless by virtue of their union with each other, they should always put the rights of others over their own for not everything is beneficial. So they should ever be vigilant, keeping an eye out for the weaker brother or sister who may stumble back into idolatry or former ways of life due to believers’ not considering or thinking about the effect that their actions might have upon these younger-in-the-faith believers.

And Paul reminds them of the proper place of spiritual gifts—that their purpose is that of serving one another and building each other up that all who are present in worship, from the unbeliever to the young believer to the mature believer, might be edified.

And last, but certainly not least, Paul has reminded them of the importance—as we heard last Sunday—of Christ’s resurrection, something the Corinthians affirmed. But Paul also had to set them right in demonstrating that if Christ has risen from the dead, then so will all who believe in and have committed their lives to him, which the Corinthians didn’t affirm. So Paul had to teach them that either Christ—and therefore we—will rise from the dead and thereby conquer death in him—or neither Christ or we have been raised from the dead. And given the many believers who saw and interacted with the risen Christ, his resurrection—and that of all who have come to a saving faith and knowledge of him—is secure.

I confess that after such a powerful, climactic chapter last week, this final chapter in I Corinthians feels anti-climactic, like a bit of a let-down for in it Paul is tying up loose ends—asking about a collection to be made, telling the church about his travel plans, and those of Timothy, and Apollos—and Stephanas and his household—and Fortunatus—and Achaicus; and he closes by offering final greetings and exhortations. How boring! How can this final chapter even begin to compete with the power of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead, so taking our sins upon himself, defeating death, and guaranteeing our union with him not only now but forever??!!

And yet because the entirety of the 66 books in the Bible are God’s Words to us and God’s Words for us, he wants us to read and understand his Word in its entirety. Otherwise, we’ll be susceptible to the very false teachings and practices the Corinthians were dealing with. Those who pick and choose which parts of the Bible they will believe in and follow have been given a very special—and not very nice name—throughout the church’s history: they’ve been called “heretics,” a word whose origin actually means “to choose,” expressing how it’s possible for those who want to follow God can nonetheless be led astray if they pick and choose, if they only accept parts of Scripture as being from God. So let’s see what we can glean from this final chapter in Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church.

Having already addressed numerous difficult topics, Paul begins this chapter by talking about a topic that at least today we often prefer not to think about—that of money. And I’d like to take the opportunity to focus primarily on this portion of this final chapter in Corinthians because it provides helpful suggestions about how we ought to view our material goods. So starting with the first two verses, Paul says, “1 Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do.On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.” I want to reflect with you on Paul’s statement that “each…should set aside a sum of money in keeping with [their] income.” Years ago I was a member of a church that wanted to start up a capital campaign to raise money to expand its meager parking. So they brought in a fund-raising specialist and, hokey though it may sound, I found myself both convicted and moved by what he had to say. As he addressed the congregation, asking that each one present consider how much she or he would be able to pledge, he shared a phrase that I found to be so very helpful: “Not equal giving, but equal sacrifice.” I confess that though I’m delighted to hear that wealthy philanthropists like Bill and Melinda Gates donate thousands of dollars to fight malaria or that Oprah Winfrey similarly gave generously to establish a leadership academy for girls in South Africa, their generosity doesn’t actually inspire me because I can’t even begin to conceive the amount of money they’ve earned over the course of their lives. How does someone who makes thousands comprehend someone who makes millions? For someone who makes thousands, knowing that someone who makes millions gives away thousands simply doesn’t impress because I don’t imagine giving away these thousands makes much difference in their day-to-day living. Though their given is commendable, of course, it doesn’t seem like much of a sacrifice.

Yet to speak of equal sacrifice does click with me. So had the giving of the Gates and Winfrey been so extensive that they found themselves struggling to get by, then I would find that incredible. If, for arguments sake, they were approached by Jesus—as he approached the rich young ruler[1]—and Jesus were to similarly encourage them that to have treasure in heaven they should give away all that they had to the poor—and they did, then that would impress me. Isn’t this one of the reasons why we find the account of the widow’s mite[2] so compelling? If you’ll recall, Jesus was sitting and watching opposite the place that the crowd put their money, where the offerings were collected in the temple treasury. Among those he saw were many rich people who threw in large amounts. “But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.”[3] Jesus’ response? “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” The point certainly seems to be that true giving has to do with how sacrificially we give for the sake of others.

A current-day example of this I heard about while teaching at Wheaton College came from one of my students who shared about a family he knew—I believe they were a family of four—that had been making around $40,000/year and managing to get by. But at some point when they found themselves making more than that, as they thought and prayed about it as a family, they decided to see how long they could continue to live off of $40,000/year so that they could give away any money that came in above that amount. And they were so very encouraged and amazed at how much they were able to help others as a result of this decision that they managed to live on this amount for many years.

A story like this catches our attention because it’s not the way most of us tend to think about money. Studies have been done in which people from all income levels—ranging from poverty level to millionaires—were asked, “How much money do you think would be enough for you?” And the same answer was given by all: “A little more than I have right now.” We all tend to think that if only we had a little more, we’d be all right. But we never reach that level, do we? No matter how much more we have, we could always use “just a little more.” This is why hearing about a widow’s mite—or a family that tried to figure out how little they needed to live from—catches our attention.

One more anecdote and I’ll move on. John Wesley, the father of the Methodist Church, gave a now famous sermon entitled, “The Use of Money.” And the first time I read it I remember being surprised that this man born at the turn of the 18th[4] sounded so much like a modern-day capitalist in making his first point: “Gain all you can!” What? Wesley, the founder of a key branch of Christianity that stressed piety and holiness was encouraging his congregants to make as much money as they could? Well, he was and his second point encouraged them to “Save all you can.” But by the time Wesley arrives at his third point, you realize he was no capitalist but was indeed a committed and devout follower of Jesus Christ, for his third point is “Give away all you can.” Let me allow brother John to do some of my preaching for me as I read to you a portion from his sermon, in his own words:

Having gained and saved all you can, then give all you can. Why is this? You do not own the wealth that you have. It has been entrusted to you for a short while by the God who brought you into being. All belongs to him. Your wealth is to be used for him as a holy sacrifice, made acceptable through Jesus Christ. If you wish to be a good steward of that which God has given to you on loan the rules are simple enough. First provide sufficient food and clothing for yourself and your household. If there is a surplus after this is done, then use what remains for the good of your Christian brothers and sisters. If there is still a surplus, then do good to all people, as you have the opportunity. If at any time you have a doubt about any particular expenditure, ask yourself honestly: Will I be acting, not as an owner, but as a steward of the Lord’s goods? Am I acting in obedience to the word of God? Is this expense a sacrifice to God through Jesus Christ?

Isn’t that marvelous? Granted “giving all you can” is as much a subjective notion as much as “how little do we need to live on” is a subjective notion. No one can determine what these amounts might be. But they do provide a guideline—and reminder—that our money is not our own but that God intends us to view not only our lives—not only our gifts—not only our time—but even our money as being on loan to us from him and that all that we have is to be used not only upon ourselves to meet basic needs but for the sake of those whom he’s placed in our lives.

And how we use our money—where we spend our money—can be an indication of what our priorities are. In his sermon on the mount, as recorded by Matthew, one of the things that Jesus said is, “19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”[5] And Luke’s version of Jesus’ words complete and fill this out: “32 Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”[6] Through Jesus Christ, our King, we are not only enabled to call God our Father, but our Father is pleased to give us his kingdom. What’s his is ours. And what’s ours should be shared with the poor, with those who have less than we.

The spirit of these passages pervade what Paul says in the first few verses of chapter 16. Again, regarding a “collection for the Lord’s people…. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up” (1–2). Notice that he doesn’t tell them how much money to set aside. And this is surprising since the practice within Judaism would’ve been ten percent. Instead Paul leaves things more open-ended. “Set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income.” At the end of the day, equal giving isn’t equal sacrifice. In our terms, for an individual or family that makes $20,000/year, 10% is far more a sacrifice than for an individual or a family that makes north of $100,000/year. The former feels it; the latter, probably not as much.

And what is especially touching is that Paul plans to use this collection for the poorer church in Jerusalem. As one source I found noted, “This was a collection he took up among the Gentile churches to help Judean believers who were facing harder than usual economic times as a result of a famine during the mid to late 40s. Paul and Barnabas made an initial famine-relief visit to Jerusalem in A.D. [44 or] 46 and delivered a monetary gift from the church at Antioch (Acts 11:29-30). At that time the Jerusalem church expressed the hope that the believers associated with Paul would continue to remember the Judean believers, which Paul was more than eager to do (Gal 2:10).”[7] Another source noted that the possible cause of the poverty of the church in Jerusalem was the persecution that had taken place there, led by none other than Paul himself when he was persecuting Christians, prior to the risen Christ appearing to him.[8] So Paul may have been trying to right an earlier wrong in his care for these believers. Though the Jerusalem church was over 800 miles from that in Corinth, these early Christian believers watched out for each other—which is what we’re called to do. I’m grateful that though small in number our church family uses its Deacons Funds to help those in our family who may have a financial need; and we’ve been able to use donations to the Missions Fund to help those, like the Mugaris (who are over 7,600 miles away) and Jinsook (who is 1,037 miles away) who are already serving or hope to serve abroad.

In the remainder of Paul’s letter, something else comes through, in addition to the sacrificial giving of these believers on behalf of believers from other distant places. And that’s that these believers knew one another. After telling the Corinthians about his own plans, beginning in verse 10 he tells them that Timothy is coming and there’s a bit of sternness in what Paul says in stating, “10 When Timothy comes, see to it that he has nothing to fear while he is with you, for he is carrying on the work of the Lord, just as I am. 11 No one, then, should treat him with contempt. Send him on his way in peace so that he may return to me.” It’s possible that as Paul’s authority was being challenged by some within the church in Corinth, he felt concern that Timothy might not be welcomed properly given his close association with Paul.

And Paul mentions as well, “our brother Apollos” in verse 12. This would have been the very Apollos over whom in chapter 5 Paul had to admonish them, “no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas[that is, Peter] or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.”[9]

Paul additionally speaks of “the household of Stephanas” who “were the first converts in Achaia” and who “have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people” in verse 15. Of them Paul says, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, 16 to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it.” He similarly speaks positively not only of Stephanas, but also of Fortuatus, and Achaicus in verse 17 who “refreshed” Paul’s “spirit” and that of the Corinthians as well and thereby are worthy of recognition.

This kind of specificity and warmth reminds me of when Jinsook would lead in the pastoral prayer and on occasion would take the opportunity to pray for each person present by name. When she did this, I would always smile as I listened and prayed silently along with her for this is how families should love and pray with and for one another.

Finally, though he began this chapter by speaking about the collection for the church in Jerusalem, Paul ends by noting “19 The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings.” And then he again specifies “Aquila and Priscilla[10] greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house. 20 All the brothers and sisters here send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.” And after noting “If anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be cursed! Come, Lord” in verse 22—Paul is still concerned about the effect the ungodly among these believers may have upon this temple of Christ in Corinth—he bids them “The grace of the Lord Jesus” in verse 23 and he bids them his love “to all of you in Christ Jesus” in the last verse.

As I began with a sweeping reminder of the key themes Paul has addressed in writing to this church, I’ll end with a brief summary of Paul’s corrective to many of the abuses that could be found there. And this is a summary that Paul himself provides in verses 13–14 and which could hold true for all churches—for all temples—for all bodies of believers—for all church families that seek to follow Christ Jesus: “13 Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. 14 Do everything in love.”

We’re to be on our guard because we’ve been entrusted with God’s Word and so should take seriously that trust to properly present, and protect, and defend the truth of who God in Christ is and all that he’s done;

We’re to be firm in the faith because it’s a true faith. Scripture, the 66 books we’ve been left in the Old and New Testaments, is God’s communication to us letting us know who he is and how we can best understand and live out our earthly lives for him;

We’re to be courageous because simply because we’re believers in Christ, it doesn’t mean we will be spared the effects of the Fall and the disorder and evil that resulted. As is the case with all people, Christians, too, have to deal with pain and sorrow and loss but we can persevere—we can take courage—knowing that our hope, our confidence, in Christ Jesus, who has been raised from the dead and will one day raise those who are his, is well-placed;

We’re to be strong—not in ourselves, but in turning to God who loves to show his strength especially when we are weak[11] and totally and completely relying upon him;

And perhaps most important of all, we’re to do everything in love—even in something self-evidently “spiritual” like using our gifts, we’re to use them with an attitude of loving, doing the right thing in the right spirit and for the right motive. And seeking to do all we do—our work, how we treat our one another, how we treat strangers, how we use our time and money and energies—seeking to do all of these in love will provide the greatest check on our motive and help us to know that we are doing what we do for God who loves us with an eternal and everlasting love.

Let us pray.

[1] The account of the Rich Young Ruler may be found in Matthew 19:16ff as well as Mark 10:17ff.

[2] Found in Mark 12:41–44: 41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. 43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” Luke 21:1–4: 1As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

[3] Mark 12:42.

[4] Wesley’s dates are 1703–1791. Interestingly, Adam Smith was born in the same century—1723–1790.

[5] Matthew 6:19–21.

[6] Luke 12: 32–34.

[7] <https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/IVP-NT/2Cor/Paul-Sets-Forth-Guidelines> Acts 11:29–30: 29 The disciples, as each one was able, decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea. 30 This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.; Galatians 2:10: 10 All they [James, Cephas, and John] asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.

[8] Zonderan NIV study Bible references Acts 8:1. If this is the cause, then Paul had been involved. “And Saul approved of their killing him [Stephen]. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.”

[9] I Corinthians 3:21–23.

[10] Aquila and Priscilla had helped Paul establish the church at Corinth. Acts 18:1–4: After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.

[11] 2 Corinthians 12:10: That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

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