1 Corinthians 16:15-24
June 2, 2019
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 16:25 in the audio file.
Or, The Difference Between Maranatha and Anathema
We have made it to the final sentences in Paul’s epistle to the saints in Corinth. There are a few more things to observe and then I want to make some letter-wide observations myself. I’ve spent a lot of hours with half a dozen commentators over the last two years and, as usually happens at the end of the kind of commentaries I read, I feel sort of let down when I come to their final comments on the last verse with no, “So this!” to follow. I think we should ask what we learned. How did this part of the Lord’s living sword cut us up as living sacrifices?
Last Lord’s Day we considered the five exhortations in verses 13-14. From verse 15 to the end we see some more typical parts of a Hellenistic first-century letter, with some notable Christian additions. Paul mentions the men who brought him the Corinthians’ letter, he mentions greetings from fellow believers to the Corinthians, and he writes his own greeting, warning, prayer, and blessing.
Though Paul doesn’t refer to their letter to him or his letter back (though he does mention the latter in verse 21), there is no reason for him to mention these three men in the way he does unless they were the sent representatives of the Corinthians. These guys weren’t on a business trip or vacation to Ephesus and just happened to run into the apostle.
Now I urge you, brothers — you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints — be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer.
There is some good stuff in here. Of smallest focus, but still noteworthy, is that the household of Stephanas were converts, and of a mature enough age with capacity for having devoted themselves to the service of the saints. I mention it at least to say that arguments are made for things that happen to whole households, especially when it comes to baptism, that must have included the babies. But here is at least one household where all of them were converts who were old enough to commit to ministering to others.
These were the first converts in the region, the “first-fruits,” same word as used in 1 Corinthians 15:20. As such Paul saw them as proof that more converts were coming, and the work of Stephanas gave further indication.
They devoted themselves to the work, they “put themselves in line…for such service; they made a regular business of it” (Lenski). The KJV: “they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints.”
Because of the household’s service, the Corinthians were to be subject to them. When men give themselves for others, pay attention to them. When a man tries to push you into doing what he won’t, don’t follow. When a man serves you and shows an example of jumping up to serve and then asks you to jump, you should ask: how high?
I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such men.
Stephanas and his household were baptized by Paul (see chapter 1:16). Fortunatus and Achaicus are both Roman/Latin names, and could be slaves or even freedmen who had joined the household.
The ESV translation makes sense of the nature of the visit to Paul. Paul received the presence of the three men as the representation of “what was lacking” (NAS), which was the presence of the Corinthians. “They were a little bit of Corinth” to Paul (Thiselton). Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus had been sent with the letter that Paul has been responding to throughout this letter, and no doubt they carry Paul’s letter back to them. If there were others who brought their letter, why didn’t Paul mention them? These men represented the church and refreshed Paul.
These three were likely standing with the Corinthians listening to the letter when Paul exhorts, Give recognition to such men, give them your respect. As it’s been said, authority flows to those who take responsibility.
As usual at the end of a letter to a group, an entire network of relationships is mentioned.
The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord. All the brothers send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
Paul had planted the churches of Asia and was responsible for them. He was writing from Ephesus, in Asia, and so he spoke for all the Christians in the region. This wasn’t him speaking out of turn, it was him reminding the Corinthians that they were part of something much bigger than themselves, a repeated theme throughout the letter.
Aquila and Prisca, or Priscilla, were husband and wife and had been in Corinth with Paul (Acts 18:1-2). They came to Corinth from Rome when Claudius commanded all the Jews to leave Rome (see also Acts 18, corroborated by Suetonius, Divus Claudius), and then they seemed to have travelled to Ephesus to serve the church, and Paul, in that city. They were fellow tent-makers with Paul, and they must have done well enough in their trade to have enough money to be so mobile. They also had money enough for a home large enough for one of the groups to meet at. (Eventually they moved back home to Rome, Romans 16:3.) All the brothers, all the believers, were connected.
This broad network of relationships appears to be the reason for his exhortation at the end of verse 20. Greet one another with a holy kiss. It’s debated, apparently (but what isn’t?), whether the kiss was a typical greeting, or whether it was no longer a typical greeting. The fact that Paul calls it holy certainly describes it as something done with purity among Christians. It is like a holy hand-grenade…I mean, a holy side-hug…a holy hug, or maybe a good handshake, “the right hand of fellowship.” The point is that they were to be getting along. It meant more than hello, it was a sign of honor. Greet your people. These are your people.
Paul has been dictating the letter up to this point. I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Using a scribe or an amanuensis was common, and so was the author sealing his approval with a signature. It’s sort of like a handwritten signature in a typed letter (Garland). It’s an epistolary version of our modern political ads: “I approve this message.” Paul goes well beyond that.
If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. This is an anathema, a curse. It’s the word usually used to translate things that were devoted to destruction in the Old Testament. These were things that were under the ban, things that could not be redeemed and used in service for the Lord. Paul doesn’t clarify where these anyones might be found, but that means there could be some in the church, hanging around with the Christians, perhaps professing to be such, who have no love for the Lord.
Love for the Lord is the defining mark of a Christian.
For those who do love the Lord, Maranatha! Our Lord, come! This is originally an Aramaic expression brought into Greek (Μαρανα θα), a cry for His return. It’s possible, based on context, that Paul could be praying for the Lord to come in a spiritual way and weed out those who are among the Lord’s people but who do not love the Lord. That is a proper prayer, but at the end of the letter, which included a long chapter celebrating the hope of resurrection and Christ’s return to defeat all of His enemies, I believe this cry is better understood as a desire for the physical coming of Christ and His final judgment.
As Paul started his letter, so he ends, with grace. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. Grace is a common salutation, but this is grace from the Lord Himself. There is salvation grace, undeserved favor that declares us forgiven and undeserved favor that strengthens us to run the race, and there is eternal underserved favor that will resurrect us into powerful and imperishable bodies. There are many other graces that we get in our daily lives, and these are all from Jesus.
The final sentence in the letter is unlike any other last word of Paul. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen. The Corinthians had serious problems, and Paul was straightforward with them, correcting and rebuking at times. But it was all out of love. He referred to himself as one of their spiritual fathers (1 Corinthians 4:15), so he was doing what he was out of his own love for the Lord and his love for them.
So what did we get from going through this book of the Bible? How have we been encouraged or shaped or edified through Paul’s teaching to this troubled group? Here are some summary exhortations.
Figure out a diet that is more thankful than fearful, and that includes people rather than judges them. 1 Corinthians has a lot of teaching about food, and usually how people used food as a way to distance themselves rather than a way to increase fellowship.
Related, come to the Lord’s Table with an expectation of blessing not an expectation of judgment. The Corinthians had made the Supper a party, but the problem was not the joy, it was the selfishness. But we can be selfish in different ways, not rejoicing in our common salvation and isolating ourselves in a different way.
Be strong and run to win in your seed body, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that you will be raised to an imperishable, glorious, powerful, spirit-driven body. Various weaknesses are a reality, but they should not be used as an excuse to be little-faithed or to live out of control.
Flee sexual immorality, and do not tolerate the sexually immoral who claim the name brother, and also delight (don’t deprive) your spouse. One reason I chose to study this letter was based on the cultural perversity shared between first-century Corinth and twenty-first century America. Whether the believers were Jewish or Greek, there was a true moral center for behaving as male, female, and in marriage.
Remember that you are the body of Christ, that you are gifted by the Spirit, and that you must build up the body in love. We do not all have the same abilities because God made it that way, and if we refuse to use our gifts for others, or if we refuse to appreciate their gifts for us, we will be the wrong kind of weak as a body.
Refuse to boast in men, especially preachers, for all things are yours. “Whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present of the future–all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:21-22). This is not a call to avoid caring about anything particular, this is a call to increase the number of particulars you care about.
Love the foolishness of God and the weakness of God and boast in the Lord. The word of the cross is God’s power to salvation. The natural man cannot understand the things of the Spirit. His ways are not our ways, and so don’t worry about the judgments of the world.
Do all that you do in love. Love the Lord it’s the difference between His coming being a curse or a blessing. Our Lord, come!
You may be packing up to leave from worship not feeling much different than when you were preparing to come. You don’t have less to do, now you have a couple hours less to do all you need to do. You were reminded of some true things, and perhaps it mostly reminded you that you’re not sanctified enough, or serving enough, or satisfied in Him enough. You love the Lord, but You can’t say your spirit is refreshed. Beloved, your salvation is all of grace, grace that calls you to worship and that blesses your work. The God of all grace sends you on your way with His abounding and effective and undeserved favor.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible. (Ephesians 6:10, 23–24, ESV)