“Watch ye, stand fast…”
How smoothly does your life run? Some seem to go through life with many woes, some not at all. Some bear the weight of the world on their shoulders, whilst some seem not to care less. As Christians we sometimes think “If only we lived at the time of the Apostles – oh, how different it would have been!” But, would it have been?
Paul knew much suffering and frustration. His letters to the Corinthians show a very deep disappointment with their actions. Yet, he rallied and mixed encouragement with rebuke. The disappointments we come across today are no different from those of yesteryear. Even the apparently new promiscuity amongst all ages is not new – laxity of morals seem to hit the world in cycles and is no stranger to men and women.
Many Christians try to bear the burden for the sins of others by being in constant anxiety, but Christians cannot carry a cross where they are not expected to do so by God. Christians are called to give all their burdens to God, not to carry them on their own backs. It does not matter WHAT the anxiety is about – give it to God, or become depressed and useless!
Every person is responsible for his or her own sin and will make mistakes, some of them very bad indeed. Christians can only watch and pray. The tendency to shoulder a burden for the sinning person is misplaced, because carrying a depressive burden for another’s sin is unwholesome and unhelpful. It means that the sinner usually carries on as normal, enjoying his or her life, and the observing over-sensitive Christian crumbles under the huge weight of despair and hurt that the person has created.
The answer? It is found in scripture – the Christian must pray and be watchful for an opportunity to give true scriptural advice, rebuke, or encouragement, when needed. Tell the person that he or she is sinning, but say that God will forgive if there is repentance. Then pray and get on with your own life, hard though it may seem at the time. Give the whole situation over to God. That is where the burden should be, because as human beings we get it wrong every time!
We see in this chapter a man who is an elder in the faith, one who would not know how God would use his ministry and words to teach generations of Christians to the end of time. Yet, this major figure did not always get his own way! See how he asked Apollos to visit Corinth, but Apollos declined. As Believers we would dearly wish for this or that conclusion, but God and others might not wish to go down that path. On those occasions we must gracefully accept the situation, but not the sin that caused it. If we do not, we will disintegrate into a sinful mess and not portray a true Christian response… anxiety is not an attractive Christian characteristic.
It is easy for Christians to be Christian when things run smoothly. Paul had a life that was anything but smooth! Yet, he continued in Christian grace and humility, knowing he was not responsible for the sins of others, nor could he force others to live holy lives. He left all that to God to sort out. It is painful to watch fellow believers, especially loved ones, willingly enter into sin, but we can only rebuke and urge repentance. We can do no more.
Paul watched the Corinthians enter into more sins than many experience in a lifetime, yet he remained calm and resolute. He knew the nature of men and also knew God is in control, even when Christians or the unsaved go wrong. So, he left it up to God and got on with the business of living his own life in holiness and trust. Very importantly, he did not condemn the Corinthians, but showed respect and love, even though they had done some rather bad things in their Christian lives.
It is not up to us to condemn another person; not even Jesus did that when He was on this earth. He said the Father would condemn, because He, as Messiah, came to save. The objective of any Christian, when another person is sinning, is to rebuke, but also to lovingly attempt to restore that person to a right relationship with God. Sometimes the best solution at times is to shut up and say nothing – the path we take is up to the testimony of the Holy Spirit.
When another person sins, it highlights the fact that he or she is not alone! But for God’s grace we could all sin just as much, if not worse. That is why we cannot condemn the person, but we can condemn what he says and does. Even then, there must always be room left for him or her to repent.
“Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye.
Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.
And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem.
And if it be meet that I go also, they shall go with me.
Now I will come unto you, when I shall pass through Macedonia for I do pass through Macedonia.
And it may that I will abide, yea, and winter with you, that ye may bring me on my journey whithersoever I go.
For I will not see you now by the way, but I trust to tarry a while with you, if the Lord permit.
But I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost.”
Paul now goes on to talk about caring for Christians who need help: the ‘collection for the saints’. This collection or logia refers to money collected for redistribution to the poor. Those who give regularly to charities should note that the collection is for the saints, not for the unsaved. Many billions are given around the world by genuine Christians to charities that really ought not be supported. The relief needed is often very real – but giving to the unsaved before giving to the saved is unwarranted and not found in scripture.
This request is based on a previous command or order by Paul, given to the churches at Galatia (‘land of the Galli’, central Asia Minor) during his second missionary journey, about AD 51. What applied to Gaul, says Paul, also applies to the Corinthians and, by logical association, to those in every age.
This idea of supporting the saints is not as common as we may suppose. Christians tend to prefer giving to causes they do not really know. They will give plenteously to Christian missionaries and groups they have only third hand knowledge of, but give surprisingly little (if anything) to the needy Christians on their own doorsteps, or to vital ministries.
There was a time when I was fully in poverty – indeed, for 18 years. During that time only my mother helped when she could. My local church told me to ‘pray’ and sent someone around with a small box of fruit and vegetables once a year, to get rid of the Harvest Service bounty. They did not ask whether we had food the rest of the year. Nor did they ask if we had enough money, or if we could pay the rent.
They even saw me wearing old worn clothing and shoes with holes in the soles, but did not offer help. They saw me walking miles in the pouring rain, snow and wind to get to church meetings, arriving soaked to the skin… but never offered me a lift in their cars, even though it took me sometimes an hour and a half to get there and the same time to get back home again. On Sundays I did this up to three times, often getting home only to gulp down a lowly meal of crisp sandwiches or beans, before going back out again.
On wet days I remained soaked for the whole day because I had no other clothes or shoes. But, no help came, nor did I ask for any, for I knew the hearts of the people and saw how they avoided asking leading questions. The same happened to all who were in a similar position and I know that this is the experience of many poor Christians in many other places.
Paul was trying to obliterate the cosy giving of the churches. He wanted them to realize that some were in very real need and should expect help from their brethren, as both their duty and as a sign of their love for each other. When we think of the benefits of others rather than of ourselves, this is a true sign of Christian love and faith.
Paul told the Corinthians to make their collection every Sunday and to keep doing so until he or a representative came to pick up the money. There is no direct command here to make ‘collections’ every Sunday in every church in perpetuity, only a command to the Corinthians at that time, though logic tells us that it would be prudent for every local church to collect money for many reasons.
You will note that each Christian was to give according to how he had ‘prospered’ during that week, with the meaning of success. Obviously, then, if some were not successful and earned little or nothing, far less was expected. We must, in this context, bear in mind the widow’s mite, for having far less does not mean we can give nothing at all. What is important is not the amount but the state of the heart when giving.
Paul expected to visit Corinth again but until that time he asked the Corinthians to send him a letter to recommend who should come to the city to collect the accrued cash, given out of ‘liberality’ or kindness, charis. The Corinthians were to collect money until the couriers and/or Paul arrived, so that there would be no fuss, just a simple handing-over of the monies. How many Christians love others to know how much they have given in the weekly collection, or to charities?
The money was then to be conveyed to Jerusalem, where the apostles and their co-workers could allocate the funds according to needs (of Christians) they knew about. If Paul was in Corinth at the hand-over, then he would accompany the couriers back to Jerusalem.
Paul fully intended to visit them, as the rest of his letter suggests and as he says here – he was going to travel in Macedonia…”I do pass through”. Now much smaller, Macedonia (‘extended land’) was north of Greece, and the first country in Europe to hear the Gospel, via Paul, who held the Christians there in very high regard.
He continued that when he reached them he would probably stay for the winter, if God was willing, so that he could refresh himself before starting back to Jerusalem. For the moment, he tells them, he will stay at Ephesus (‘permitted’) until ‘Pentecost’ (‘the fiftieth day’), a feast that was closely linked with the Passover, when the Jews rejoiced with their families and others. This feast is important to the Jews because the law was given to Moses on Sinai on the fiftieth day after leaving Egypt. Two loaves are offered to God as the firstfruits, and the Jews in the desert represented the firstfruits of the nation dedicated to God.
“For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.
Now if Timotheus come, see that he may be with you without fear: for he worketh the work of the Lord, as I also do.
Let no man therefore despise him: but conduct him forth in peace, that he may come unto me: for I look for him with the brethren.
As touching our brother Apollos, I greatly desired him to come unto you with the brethren: but his will was not at all to come at this time; but he will come when he shall have convenient time.”
Paul’s journeys were undertaken because, as he puts it, “a great door and effectual is opened unto me…” (verse 9). That is, a massive opportunity, where a ‘door’, thura, has been opened. The thura, in this context, is the One who brings salvation to the elected sheep, or, the opportunity to enter the kingdom of God. Paul was saying, then, that he had to travel because the Holy Spirit would thereby save large numbers of people.
But, as those of us who preach the truth know, when the Gospel is preached unadorned, it will attract enemies whose aim is to shut the mouth of the preacher. ‘Adversaries’, antikeimai, who set themselves against the preacher and his message and offer an alternative but false message, opposing the truth. That is how we should view Arminianism, because it is not just a ‘view’ – it is preached by antikeimai, who oppose the true Gospel.
Paul was expecting to be attacked, verbally and physically, for preaching. He was willing to do this, for the sake of the ‘harvest’ that he fully expected to see. Today, many preachers are afraid to preach the true Gospel for fear – not of physical attack, but for fear of being shunned by their peers! What lame ducks they are! What a shame to the Church!
Paul tells his readers that Timothy was likely to visit, too, and, if he did, they were to treat him with kindness and respect. Timothy, he said, needed to preach boldly, without being opposed by the Corinthian Christians, because he was sent by God to preach, as was Paul. When he was finished preaching, Paul expected to see him alongside other co-workers. There is a small hint in this that Timothy might be mistreated, maybe because he was a younger man.
Apollos, says Paul, was asked to go to Corinth, too, but he refused. Paul really wanted him to go to Corinth, but it was not Apollo’s ‘will’ to go there with other brethren. It was not his thelema to go… his desire or purpose from God. This is an interesting text, and one that I have come across in my own life. That is, where another Christian believed I should do this or that, but I have known no calling in the matter, so I refuse the action.
Obviously, Paul felt Apollos should do this thing, but Apollos felt otherwise, showing that even a great man like Paul might not always know God’s will in a matter. Alternatively, it could mean Paul was correct and Apollos refused the will of God. This can often happen, and it makes me wonder if rejecting a certain course of action might take us away from a path that could alter our entire ministry or life. In this case Apollos said he would visit at another time, when he was able to do so. From this we can see that God has His own timing, which usually does not coincide with our own idea of what ought to happen, and when.
“Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.
Let all your things be done with charity.
I beseech you brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints),
That ye submit yourselves unto such, and to every one that helpeth with us, and laboureth.”
Winding-down his letter, Paul gives general advice to the Corinthians. They should ‘watch’, gregoreuo – be vigilant, cautious, to avoid laxity and sinfulness that could come suddenly. They must stand fast in the faith, steko, remain firm in their trust in God, so that they are strong in the Lord. They are to ‘quit (you) like men’, which is all one word in the Greek – andrizomai: to show yourself as a true man, brave and bold.
This ought to inspire all men to be brave and bold! Many Christian men today are weak and ineffectual, because they fear opposition or loss, or the verbal and physical attacks they might receive. All men must be brave and ‘strong’, krataioo, strong and increasing in strength and bravery. This ties-in with the teaching that we must be warriors for the Lord, ready to fight at any moment without fear or respite. This bravery and strength must be underpinned with ‘charity’, agape… love and respect.
Paul then implores the Corinthians to copy the example of Christians like Stephanas, the first man to be saved in all of Achaia, along with his entire household and family. Stephanas (‘crowned’) lived in Corinth and so was one of their own. The name Achaia might also be used in this case to include Macedonia as well as Greece. This man was ‘addicted’ to serving the people of God: tasso, ordained by God to do so, either as a preacher or teacher, or as supporter.
Few Christians recognize the important role they play when they support God’s men called to preach. They feel they have failed because they themselves have no outward gift of preaching, etc. They do not understand that God has chosen them to give support of every kind to those called to preach. Just as an army must be supported by a column of supplies, so a preacher must be supported by those who can give of their time and money, energy and prayer, leaving the preacher free to do his task unimpeded.
The Corinthians are commanded here to submit to such men as Stephanas, whose daily life reflected the glory of God and His purposes. It seems others are also held up as examples (“and that (they) have addicted themselves…”). Christians are to submit to such men (verse 16) because they are sent by God and bear His authority. Do you submit to the authority of your preachers and teachers?
“I am glad of the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus: for that which was lacking on your part they have supplied.
For they have refreshed my spirit and yours: therefore acknowledge ye them that are such.”
Evidently, the messengers from Corinth who went to see Paul included Stephanas, and two others respected for their ministries, Fortunatus (‘well freighted’) may have been one of Chloe’s household. Archaicus (‘belonging to Achaia’) we know nothing about, except that he was favoured by Paul as a man to be submitted to. These three men were what the others in Corinth ought to have been like. They made up for the ‘deficiencies’ in the others and so made Paul feel much better, refreshed as were the Corinthians, by their presence. Christians ought to remember such men and pray for them, supporting them as much as they could (verse 18).
“The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.
All the brethren greet you. Greet ye one another with an holy kiss.
The salutation of me Paul with mine own hand.
If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.”
In the salutation, Paul says all the churches of Asia (‘orient’: mainly today’s Turkey) sent their greetings to Corinth, as did Aquila and Priscilla and the ‘church that is in their house’. Aquila was a Jew who escaped from Rome and lived in Corinth when Paul first went there. All Jews were ordered out of Rome by Claudius. Both Aquila and Paul worked as tent-makers in Corinth for 18 months, and then Paul, Aquila and his wife, Priscilla, went to Ephesus together. It was this couple who taught Apollo.
Priscilla (‘ancient’) was Aquila’s wife and deemed more important, hence her name is usually put before that of her husband. She is used as an example of what a Christian married woman ought to be. Note that this couple had a church in their house. This can mean either their whole household and family were Christians, or, that the local church met in their home, the true version of a ‘house church’, or a ‘church in a house’.
All the Christians Paul was then with, sent their greetings. Paul instructed the Corinthians to welcome and dismiss each other with an ‘holy kiss’, a philema that showed love and respect. This was a real kiss, probably on the cheeks. Paul says he sends his salutation or greeting in his own handwriting… it was not an impersonal piece of dictation.
As he closes, Paul warns that anyone amongst the Corinthians who displayed no love for Jesus Christ, in word or deed, should be Anathema Maranatha. Anathema means to be accursed, or bound by a great curse and doomed to enter hell after suffering on this earth. Maranatha, an Aramaic expression, means ‘our Lord cometh’. Thus, the two words together mean that when Christ comes again, those who are not His will be destroyed.
But, to those who are faithful, Paul desires them to know the favours (grace) of Jesus Christ. Finally, Paul sends his personal brotherly love, agape, in Christ’s name and service. Amen – so be it, he says, let all that I have written be known in your lives.
© February 2003 (Revised November 2016)