Do Everything In Love
1 Corinthians 16:1-24,
Key Verse: 16:13-14
“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love.”
This chapter is the final chapter in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. After assigning an entire magnificent chapter to the issue of resurrection, Paul now concludes his letter to them. He talks to them about offering. He talks about his future plans to visit them. He then gives them a final exhortation. And finally he relays greetings to them. In this last chapter we find a summary of Paul’s purpose in writing this letter to the church at Corinth.
It’s not often that we talk about money issues, or better yet, the subject of “offering” in the sermons that are given on Sundays. Neither does the Bible focus on material issues in its vast books unless God feels it is a problem to deal with. In all the years that I have been serving God in this church and ministry, we have on very rare moments addressed issues or money, or material offerings in Bible study and in sermons. Perhaps it is because when the Gospel truth is preached, the Gospel itself imbues the believer with willingness to offer for the Gospel cause. The true believer understands that God’s work, regardless of its purely spiritual nature, requires material offerings for its function. Not that God requires our money in order to do his work, but that the Gospel evinces sacrifice and encourages giving to God and to others. And no matter how sacrificial a person may be in giving to God and to the needs of others, still the Bible would teach us how and when to best give, in the way that best pleases and honors God. And that was the case with the Corinthians.
The Corinthian church was riddled with many problems, problems that called for Paul’s intervention and Scriptural teaching as well as correction. But it may have been that that particular church didn’t need any correction in matters of giving. They are likely to have been a sacrificial community of believers who had no trouble in giving of their monies to God, to the church, and to worthy causes. They did not need to be taught to give as the people of Malachi’s day needed to be corrected. God told the people of Malachi’s time: “’Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.’” (Mal3:10) Those needed to be told to give to God, because they were cheating God in their giving, withholding from God their best and giving him defected offerings. But the Corinthian church had no such problem. They were giving and sacrificial people. What they needed was not a command to give, but advice on how and when to give.
Look at verses 1-4. “Now about the collection for God’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 his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me.” It’s interesting to note that while many people talk about money as of first importance, dominating sermons and speeches and exhortations, Paul mentions the offering last, at the end of his letter, and not at the beginning. He simply instructs them on the issue of offering. He tells them that each of them must put aside a sum of money to be offered on the first day of each week. This requires planning ahead. It requires thoughtfulness in regard to God’s work. it requires a willing heart. It also requires faithfulness to carry through their decision to give without fail. Paul also instructs them to offer in keeping with their incomes. This reveals God’s thoughtfulness in regard to all their other needs. God knows that money is important for survival and the necessary conveniences of life. He does not require more than one is able to give. Those who have should give less than they are able to give, but give from what they have been given from God, for all incomes are the blessings of God. And those who do not have must not be expected to give more than what they have, but to give in accordance with the little they have. This requires honesty and integrity of heart, as well as a spirit of sacrifice. It requires a spirit of love, of loving God and of loving the work of God that their money would be supporting. Dishonesty in offering is an offense against God who is the provider of all needs. Then there are those who give to God their all, because they not only love God but also trust that God alone is their sustainer.
Paul did not have to exhort them to give. He only instructed them on how and when to give. He reminded them that this particular collection of offering was being also done among the Galatian churches, a unified and shared purpose with the Corinthian church. And it was most likely to be used to support the suffering churches in Jerusalem. The Jerusalem churches were suffering from poverty and famine. The churches of the Gentiles were perhaps experiencing an abundance. Not that it matters whether they were richer or poorer than the Jerusalem churches. What matters is the spirit of sacrifice and a bond in sharing with their brothers and sisters’ suffering, for they were all one in the Lord, sharing the same grace. Paul was sure that they would immediately begin collecting this special offering such that when he finally comes to visit them, they would not have to rush about to make any special offering for the Jerusalem church. This is indeed interesting, that while Paul could have waited until he visited them to collect a special offering for the suffering church in Jerusalem, instead helped them to begin the process right away. Offering is not for the sake of show nor for recognition of the giver, nor is offering for the sake of applause or boasting. It is for the sake of God and for his work and his children. When Paul finally arrived at Corinth to collect the offering, it would be one offering given from a collective heart, and offered in faith and in a spirit of pure love.
Paul also trusted them to appoint some members who were trustworthy for the sake of taking the offering by hand to the Jerusalem church. Such a show of sacrifice and of love must be noted by the Jerusalem church, especially when it was coming from Gentile churches. It would be a loud and powerful testimony to the grace of Jesus, working all over the world to build up his kingdom. As Paul had already told the Corinthians in his letter before, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” (1 Cor.4:20) And the offering given from the heart of a people once lost in sin but now redeemed by the blood of Christ Jesus is indeed a demonstration of the power of the Gospel at work in hearts and peoples. Paul said that if it were found to be necessary, he himself would join this delegation in taking the gift of love to Jerusalem. Surely offering to God is commanded by God, but it is mostly a matter of heart. “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven— for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:47) Those who recognize the great love of God through the sacrifice of Jesus usually sacrifice much, while those who do not recognize the value of God’s grace, are reluctant to give little if any.
Read verses 5-9. “After I go through Macedonia, I will come to you–for I will be going through Macedonia. Perhaps I will stay with you awhile, or even spend the winter, so that you can help me on my journey, wherever I go. 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. But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.” These are such great words that reveal to us the very heart of Paul the shepherd in two ways.
First, “So that you can help me on my journey, wherever I go.” As we said time and again, this church was riddled with problems of all sorts. And throughout the letter Paul’s language was now severe and now gentle in dealing with their problems. But that did not cloud his heart from what is truly important. Even though his letter may help in resolving many problems and controversies and conflicts, there is always the danger that these problems might return. So in the last chapter he pointed them to the Gospel. He wanted them to once again remember the grace of God in and through Jesus’ death and resurrection. If they only contemplated this grace, every impossible problem to solve, would become possible to resolve. If they would once again stand on this grace and never let go of it. But Paul did not just want them to remain in that grace. He wanted them to share that grace with the whole world. He was a pioneer by nature. He went from place to place planting Gospel faith in people’s hearts. And he would have them now participate in his eternal mission to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth. “So that you can help me on my journey, wherever I go” tell us that Paul would have them not just pray for his journeys but participate in world mission. His shepherd heart for them would not allow them to be ordinary Christians basking in the grace of God, but would aspire that they become extraordinary Christians who share in the same mission as Paul— to bring the Gospel to all people.
Second, “But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.” Paul wanted to visit the Corinthians more than anything else, for he was like a spiritual father to them. But he would not ignore a door the Lord had opened for him. God was doing great work in Ephesus among the Ephesian Christians and people. And as much as Paul wanted to visit the Corinthians in their time of struggle, he would remain in Ephesus because the Lord so willed for him to remain. He would fully entrust them to God and to God’s care, while he went through the door of work God had opened for him. It amazes us that while he was being persecuted by those who opposed him in Ephesus and caused him undue suffering, Paul would not abandon the open door God had opened for him. He would also teach the Corinthian Christians the importance of being sensitive to the opportunities that God gives us from day to day. He would also teach them not to shrink back from troubles and sufferings that accompany the work of God, but to remain steadfast in the faith, serving the Gospel purpose without fail. Paul the shepherd would teach them to follow the will of God regardless of difficulties.
Paul would not leave Ephesus in the midst of God’s work to go to Corinth. But he would send Timothy his precious coworker to instruct them on certain issues and to relay Paul’s heart and God’s will to them. In verses 10-12 he instructs them not to despise but to accept Timothy as Paul’s representative. Timothy was young and timid but he was as much a servant of God as Paul was. He was trustworthy to relay Paul’s words to them, and faithful to the Gospel. Paul would have sent Apollos but Apollos would not be able to come to them at this time. So they must make every effort not to cause Timothy any grief. It is remarkable that in Paul’s earnest desire to help Timothy grow spiritually, he would appoint him to do something very hard to do in helping those Corinthian Christians. Most of them were older than Timothy and had been in the faith longer than him. But it did not change the fact that Paul trusted him and sent him to them. As Christians under the same grace of God, they must recognize Timothy as they would Paul and not hinder his efforts to do the work Paul sent him to do. It required tremendous humility from them to acknowledge this work of God and submit to it as God’s will. It required them to be sensitive to Paul’s heart’s desire to help Timothy take leadership and treat Timothy with the respect due him as a servant of God. Not many have the humility to deny themselves and to submit to the will of God. Most people are arrogant and would think it an insult to send someone like Timothy to take the place of Paul in this matter. But humility is the trademark of those who are deeply thankful to the grace of God, to those who know that their sins are forgiven, and those who know how to love God practically even in difficult things. Please remember those words next time a younger and less worthy person comes to you with God’s mission on his or her heart.
In the midst of giving practical instructions, Paul paused in verses 13-14 to share one last exhortation with the Corinthians. These words summarize the essential point of Paul’s letter. Let’s read verses 13-14. “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love.”
First, “Be on your guard.” Paul once told the Ephesian Christians that “our struggle its not against flesh and blood” but against the evil forces in the spiritual realm. Although the Corinthian Christians had many struggles with each other, the real problem was the devil who set them up against each other, and worked hard to break them as a people and a church. If you have any struggles or conflict with anyone of your brothers or sisters I urge you to reconcile based on Paul’s command to be on your guard. We must be on guard against the devil’s wiles that causes division and struggle and pain with one another. Our conflict is not with flesh and blood. Rather flesh and blood are our brothers and sisters whom we must love and protect and shelter and embrace as we would our own father and mother and brother and sister.
Second, “…stand firm in the faith” There is no need greater than the need to have faith in all things and also to stand firm in it. Our faith in Christ is the only thing that differentiates us from all other people. Without it we are as if drifting in the wind. Stand firm then in the faith is an appeal against all the things that arise in the world and in our midst. One time Isaiah the prophet brought a message to the besieged people of Jerusalem, and to the King who was supposed to shepherd them. God said: “If you don’t stand firm in the faith, you will not strand at all.” (Isaiah 7:9) How do we strand firm in the faith? We don’t collapse under pressure. We don’t weary of our labor. We put aside self pity for confidence in the Lord with the faith that our situations are no accident but rather the love of God and his sovereignty. We wake up to a new day of forgiveness and of showing love to one another and to the stranger. Mostly we stand firm in the faith when we stand in the grace of Jesus all the time, saying thank you Lord for everything thank you.
Third, “Be men of courage.” Courage is one thing many men don’t have in our generation. Most men are weak, cowardly, unwilling to take chances nor to challenge the difficult situations of life. No courage to commit to anything, neither to God nor to men. No courage to try again when facing failure. Most men have lost the essence of manliness because courage is missing from their hearts and lives. Especially Christian men must have courage to venture in the faith. They must be courageous in doing the right thing, in defending the weak, in declaring their faith to all people. Joshua was once challenged with the impossible task of filling Moses shoes. But God’s word to him was the same: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9, 7)
Fourth, “Be strong.” Where does strength come from? In this world, physical strength is important. But real strength is spiritual. Strength comes from knowing who you are in this life, and what you’re doing here on earth. Genesis teaches us that we are God’s children and that God put us here on earth to serve his purpose in our lives. With this heart knowledge, we can be strong. Strength also comes from knowing where we come from and where we are going in life. Genesis teaches us that we come from God and are returning to God. With this heart knowledge, we can be strong. Strength is in forgiving rather than in condemning. It takes strength to forgive those who sin against us. Strength is in giving form what we do not have, in sacrificing from the little we have. People think that a humble man or woman is a weak man or woman. But strength is in humility. John the Baptist’s real strength of leadership was in his utter humility before Christ. Paul’s exhortation to Timothy was this: “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” (2Tim2:1)
Fifth, “”Do everything in love.” Paul says “in everything”! To live by that teaching, the love of Christ must rule our hearts at all times. The love of Christ must be the motive of all that we do. Whatever we do, we should do it in love. We must do everything in love: Whether we study Bible study or teach it whether we serve the church or our brothers and sisters in every way we are called to serve, we should do it with a spirit of love.
In verses 19-24 Paul relays some final greetings to the church at Corinth. He also tells them to “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” It was customary for Greek people of the time to greet others of the same gender with a hug and kiss. It was important that Paul redeem this custom to encourage the affection of Christ within the Christian community. In the end, the only thing that counts is the grace of Jesus Christ, and his immeasurable love for us. Let us pray that we may remain rooted in the grace of Christ and in his love, and give our hearts to doing everything in love. Amen.