1 Corinthians Week 11
Seattle Pacific University Professor of Educational Ministry
Read this week’s Scripture: 1 Corinthians 16:1-24
T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men” ends with an often quoted stanza:
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
This week’s Lectio passage, 1 Corinthians 16:1–24, ends Paul’s letter. It may feel like a “whimper” to the “bang” of our last Lectio passage, 1 Corinthians 15:1–58. Recall how Paul concludes his teaching on the resurrection: “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).
After this stirring, high-water teaching, Paul now closes his letter with seemingly mundane matters: a plan for collecting money to help Jerusalem Christians; an account of his travel plans; mention of six specific co-workers in the ministry; and a personal benediction.
This potpourri of topics raises again the question posed at the outset of our journey through Paul’s letter: How do we hear a word from God when we read texts written to people 2,000 years ago and half a world away? With some topics, it seems doable. We can imagine hearing a word from God when we read Paul’s resurrection teaching. But finding God’s word in Paul’s travel plans — not so much!
As we move through this week’s Lectio material, we may need a special measure of the Holy Spirit to enliven our imaginations. Let’s pray for lively imaginations as we examine this concluding passage in Paul’s letter. For each section in Chapter 16, we will briefly examine the Corinthian situation and then imagine how the text might speak into our lives today.
The Jerusalem Collection (16:1–4)
The Corinthian situation. Our passage opens with “Now concerning,” Paul’s standard introduction when he responds to a question or concern raised by the Corinthians. The brief response (16:1–4) concerns a collection Paul is organizing to help Christians in Jerusalem. The Corinthians were already aware of the plan. Paul wants them to follow the same instructions he gave the church at Galatia (16:1).
From Galatians (2:7–10), we know that Paul is making good on a promise to remember the poor by collecting a benevolence offering for Jewish Christians. From Romans (15:25–26), we know that churches in Macedonia and Achaia (the region around Corinth) contributed to the fund and that Paul saw these donations as “payment in kind” by the Gentiles for the spiritual blessings that had come through Jewish believers. (Romans 15:27)
Paul’s instructions are primarily about strategy. He wants Corinthian believers to set aside, on the first day of the week, whatever they can afford. How much could they afford? Paul gives no fixed amount or percentage of income. The verb Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 16:2 is euodoō, which means “prosper.” He is telling them that they should set aside money each week “as they have prospered along the way.”
We gain deeper insight into Paul’s views of giving in 2 Corinthians 8–9. In this passage, Paul has already secured a gift for the Jerusalem Christians from churches in Macedonia, and he is making his pitch to the Corinthian believers (2 Corinthians 8:1). Paul believes the Corinthians’ giving should flow from a generous heart, be proportional to their means, and aim for everyone’s needs being met.
Our situation. On which side of the collection plate do you find yourself? Would Paul be asking for your financial help or bringing you financial help? If we are on the giving side, we can certainly join Paul in remembering the poor through steadfast giving of our resources. Paul also emphasizes the need for planned giving. How would you describe your plan for giving?
Travel Plans (16:5–11)
Paul’s situation. Paul’s comments in 16:5–11 provide information about when and where this letter was written. Paul plans to stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, a Jewish festival celebrated in late spring or early summer (16:8) [see Author’s Note 1]. Paul believes God has provided opportunities to advance his ministry (16:9), though he gives no details about the “open doors” he saw in Ephesus. When he leaves Ephesus, Paul plans to travel through Macedonia, arriving in Corinth in time to settle in for the winter.
Paul gives the Corinthians details about his travel plans to allay concerns about if and when he would visit Corinth again. Earlier in the letter, uncertainty about his travel plans creates confusion about Paul’s intentions and interest in the Corinthian church (4:14–21).
Paul himself seems ambivalent. In 4:17, Paul says he is sending Timothy to “remind you of my ways in Christ Jesus.” In 16:10, Paul uses a conditional clause, “If Timothy comes.” Has Paul changed his mind about sending Timothy to Corinth? Paul clearly is worried about Timothy’s reception. It’s not a good sign that Paul has to admonish the Corinthians to be sure that Timothy has nothing to fear (16:10) and that no one despises him (16:11).
Our situation. How can we imaginatively enter into this text? While I might enjoy imagining a vacation to Corinth and a few sun-drenched Greek islands, I suspect the Holy Spirit will direct our imaginations elsewhere. Let’s try placing ourselves in Paul’s shoes.
Here is a person who seeks to do God’s will, yet sees no clear path ahead. Things are not going as well as he would wish. He worries that his efforts may come to naught. He makes plans, but plans to keep them flexible. It’s a wait-and-see approach. Paul’s watchword is “if the Lord permits” (16:7). I suspect this describes life for many of us. We may feel that life controls our moves as much as we control our life-moves.
There is comfort knowing that God is active in our midst, operating in a dynamic way to open opportunities for effective work. Let us attentively seek those opportunities, as the Lord permits.
Greetings All Around (16:12–20)
The Corinthian situation. Paul mentions six people by name in this section: Apollos, Stephanas, Fortunatus, Achaicus, Aquila, and Prisca (Priscilla). The section begins with a final “Now concerning …,” and it concerns Apollos [see Author’s Note 2]. The Corinthians must have wondered, “What’s up with Apollos — when is he coming back to see us?” Paul informs the Corinthians that he did his best to encourage Apollos to travel to Corinth. Perhaps this was Paul’s tangible way of showing that he and Apollos were collaborating (3:9), not competing (1:12), with one another.
After a string of five exhortations in 16:13–14, Paul next mentions Stephanas, whom Paul identifies as one of the few people Paul personally baptized (1:16). Paul’s rejoicing at his coming suggests that Stephanas was in the delegation of Chloe’s people who traveled from Corinth to Ephesus (1:11). Paul commends Stephanas’ household to the Corinthians as people who were devoted to serving the saints (16:15).
Paul concludes the section by sending greetings from Aquila and Prisca, former members of the Corinthian church who are now leading a house church in Ephesus. Paul also adds greetings from all the churches of Asia and reminds the Corinthians that strong “family bonds” should characterize life in the Lord (16:19).
Our situation. One of Young Life’s mottos is “earn the right to be heard.” In the church we might adapt this motto to “earn the right to lead.” Leadership should be placed in the hands of those who have a track record of service and who are willing to work collaboratively with others, rather than building their own little empires.
Fond Farewell (16:21–24)
The Corinthian situation. The letter closes with a personal touch and message. Paul typically dictated his letters, but adds greetings “in his own hand” (16:21). He then “circles the wagons” with a rather strongly worded reminder that loving the Lord is the Church’s admission requirement.
Paul concludes by assuring the Corinthians of his love for them all, an appropriate reminder given the difficult issues addressed in the letter. Paul’s love for the Corinthians had holding power, because it could hold both the positive and the negative aspects of their relationship.
Our situation. How do we respond to disagreements with other believers? It’s easy to run from differences and disagreements to seek like-minded people — people just like us. It can be difficult to stay engaged with disagreeable others in a market-based church culture where more-agreeable people are surely at the church just two blocks down the road.
Early Christians had no such luxury. In exchange, they perhaps learned more about loving others through conflict. Are we learning the holding power of love — the ability to stay engaged even when we disagree?
At the beginning of this week’s Lectio we noted that Paul moves from a mountaintop explanation of resurrection faith in Chapter 15 to matters of everyday living in Chapter 16. The link between these two chapters is 15:58:
Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
In Chapter 16, Paul emphasizes steadfastness through giving to the poor, inviting the Lord into our plans, sustaining our connections with believers, and doing all things in love.
Paul’s conclusion to his Corinthian letter may well provide an appropriate pattern for our day. As important as resurrection faith is for believers, we still need to be steadfast in our everyday lives. As we carry out the obligations of daily living — brushing our teeth morning and night, going to work or school, interacting with friends and strangers — we steadfastly wait for the Lord’s victorious return. May God grant us the grace we need!
Questions for Further Reflection
- What do you find most challenging in being “steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58)?
- What principles guide your giving practices?
- Do you find yourself in a “wait and see” mode with any parts of your future? How do you experience God leading you in these times?
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.