Coming to the end of studying a book of the Bible is a great accomplishment. Especially when studied with a group of brothers and sisters walking through it together.
So we enter our final week in the letter of 1st Corinthians, where we will be picking it up in chapter 16 starting in verse 5. And as we come to the end of our study, let’s do one final recap of the overarching themes of this letter.
As we’ve talked about every week since chapter 1, Paul writes this letter to the Corinthian Church to bring unity to a Church in disarray. The Church was inundated with issues that were causing divisions in the Church in two main areas.
These two main areas, were the personal relationships that the believers had with each other, and the time when the Church would come together for worship. In both of these areas, and with all the issues that went with them, the underlying problem was a focus on self.
And so Paul gives us the best way to bring about unity, and that’s through agape love for one another. A love that looks to seek the best for others before self. It’s this agape love that Paul called the Corinthian Church to put into action when he brought up the collection for another Church far far away. By getting the Corinthians to focus on others by taking up a collection, Paul gave them physical way to put agape love into action.
And it’s with this understanding of having agape love as our foundation to combat disunity, that we come to the final stretch of Paul’s letter. So let’s read these final verses and then see what the Holy Spirit wants to leave both the Corinthians and us today.
5 After I go through Macedonia, I will come to you—for I will be going through Macedonia. 6 Perhaps I will stay with you for a while, or even spend the winter, so that you can help me on my journey, wherever I go. 7 For I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. 8 But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, 9 because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.
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. I am expecting him along with the brothers.
12 Now about our brother Apollos: I strongly urged him to go to you with the brothers. He was quite unwilling to go now, but he will go when he has the opportunity.
13 Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. 14 Do everything in love.
15 You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people. I urge you, brothers and sisters, 16 to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it. 17 I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you. 18 For they refreshed my spirit and yours also. Such men deserve recognition.
19 The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla 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.
21 I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand.
22 If anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be cursed! Come, Lord!
23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.
24 My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Paul’s final words here seem to be just a list of Paul’s itinerary and simple instructions. But if we look closely, we’ll see within the list Paul again calling the Corinthians to engage in agape love. The love is to be extended to Timothy, who is Paul’s young protege and might easily be scoffed at because he is not on Paul’s level of authority. And so Timothy’s arrival gives the Corinthians an opportunity to extend some agape love.
Following this, Paul brings up Apollos, who at the beginning of the letter one’s one of the leaders that the Corinthians were fighting over. This gives us a little insight into how Apollos didn’t want to go to the Corinthians, with it almost seeming because he doesn’t want to fan the flames of those who elevate him over others. This now brings us full circle, and it’s almost as if Paul is giving the Corinthians insight into what their actions cause. It’s almost as if Apollos is avoiding the Corinthians, like a person avoids someone else all costs.
But’s here in verse 13, that Paul embeds three actions the Corinthians need to take, almost as if he is summarizing the chapters between the first mention of Apollos and the his final words. This first action is to stand firm in the faith. This is a common phrase Paul uses throughout his letters. It’s a call to Christians that we must persevere in our trust of God. That we must dive ever deeper into God’s Word, that we must be prepared to share the Gospel, and that we must be ready, as 1s Peter 3;15 reads, “…Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have…”
This leads us into the second action, which is be courageous and strong. The actual greek phrase is “Be a man”, but it’s the same it’s the same as the modern phrases, “man up” or “Cowboy up”. The implication is to be courageous and strong. And so, when we encounter hardships and trials we are to always fall back on the strength of God. We are always to rely on him as our strength, as the prophet Isaiah records God saying in Isaiah 41:10, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
And finally in verse 13, Paul calls us to the action of agape love. Everything we do, every word, every deed, is to be done with and through the agape love of God. Love that fights for truth, who seeks justice, and who shares the Gospel even in adversity. This is what calls us to in Micah 6:8, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” And what Jesus said hung the words of the prophets in Matthew 22:37-40, “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
And so Paul is summarizing his whole call to unity by calling Church to take our calling form God seriously. To be firm in our faith courageous in it’s execution, and loving in the process.
And it’s with this that Paul gives his final acknowledgments of people like the household of Stephanas and greetings to the Corinthians from people like Aquila and Priscilla.
In the final three verses, Paul first writes a warning to those who claim to love God but don’t that there is a curse on them. In other words, don’t play with being a Christian and claiming you love God, when you are in consent opposition to the work of love done by the Holy Spirit.
Paul proclaims Maranatha, which is translated as, “Come, Lord!” which is a call for the return of Jesus, and that he would come soon.
Finally, Paul ends with an encouragement of his own love and desire that God would bless them by his grace.
So ends our summer series into 1st Corinthians. And as we walk away from this letter, let us too take the challenge of being firm in our faith, courageous in opposition, and loving through it all. I want to challenge you this week, to take each of these are work on it.
For being firm in your faith, I want to challenge you to pick on thing about the Bible, God, or any topi that concerns your faith that you don’t really know much about and research and become firm in it. That might be topics like, “Can I trust the Bible?”, “How do I know God exists?”, or “How do I share the Gospel in an straight forward say way?”.
For being courageous, seek God’s strength in prayer and have something like this for your prayer, “God be my strength and shield and move by your Spirit to enable me to stand strong in your truth.”
Finally, seek God to move in his love through you. In interactions that could cause you to act harshly, pray for God’s love to work in you and through you to other people. Let God’s agape love, be at the forefront of you mind this week.
Let us take the call of 1st Corinthians seriously, that the unity of the Church would be strong even in our differences. Because as Jesus spoke in his high priestly prayer of John 17:22, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
Let us be one as God is one, amen.