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1 Corinthians 16:13-24

13.) Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong.

14.) Let all that you do be done with love.

15.) I urge you brethren, you know the household of Stephanas; that it is the first-fruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints,

16.) that you also submit to such, and to everyone who works and labors with us.

17.) I am glad about the coming of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, for what was lacking on your part they supplied.

18.) For they refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore, acknowledge such men.

19.) The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Pricilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.

20.) All the brethren greet you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

21.) The salutation with my own hand, Paul’s

22.) If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus, let him be accursed. O Lord come!

23.) The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

24.) My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.

 

This is it. We are completing our study in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  This will also be the last teaching I will submit for the web-site and Facebook, as Jersey UMC is once again opening for services on June 28th.  My final sermon will be preached in the sanctuary on that date, too, and  I hope to see everyone there.

 

It is amazing to me how much is communicated by Paul in the final verses where we think he is just saying goodbye.  He starts in verse 13 by exhorting the Corinthians to, “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong.”  He is telling them to be vigilant, for deceivers are everywhere. fThose who would like to pervert the faith are all around.  He tells them to stand fast in the faith and to trust in Christ’s finished work.  The Greek for faith is pistis (pronounced pis’-tis), and it means to stand in conviction of the truthfulness of God.  In this case, it is standing in the truthfulness of God’s redemption, forgiveness, and salvation found through the finished work of Christ on the cross.  Paul wants the Corinthian believers to be brave in the face of persecution, to not back down when confronted with opposition, and to not allow themselves to be bullied.

 

I think in many ways today we as individual Christians and as the church allow ourselves to be bullied.  We back down or go silent when confronted about our stand fast in the faith.  Because of this corona virus so-called pandemic, the detractions within our own denomination have been put on the back burner.  Our own Annual Conference is going to be a very shortened, virtual event.  General Conference has been canceled this year.  Most churches’ focus has been on just getting the doors back open.  In the world around us, a lot of evil acts are being justified in the name of one politically correct organization or another.  Yet if we were to find ourselves in a place where we were to speak out against it, we would be told that we don’t understand, or be called names that do not represent us and label us as something that we are not.  And in some cases, we might even be physically attacked or have our property damaged.  However, in the church, our stand as Christians should not be based on what is perceived as correct by the world but on what that word pistis translates: a conviction based on the truthfulness of God.  Not what is truth from our standpoint, or the way we like to see it, or what we think.  Conviction is to be based on the truthfulness of God.  What God tells us about Himself and ourselves is how we are to relate with Him.  In Romans Paul quotes almost verbatim Isaiah 45:9, where Isaiah says, “Shall the clay say to him who forms it, what are you making?”  Paul says in Romans 9:21, “Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?”

 

Clearly, God is the potter, and we are the clay.  The world, creating God in its own image, tries to turn this around.  If we watch, if we stand fast in the faith, if we are brave and strong and speak out, we will be called names and attacked.  Paul knew this.  It was already happening to him among some in the Corinthian church.  The interesting thing is that each of these words in the Greek carries with it a quality of male gender.  I know the feminists will not like this, but Paul is telling the Christians at Corinth to man up!! Definitely not politically correct today, but his meaning is correct:  You know the truth – live it! Confess it! Stand upon it and proclaim it forward!

 

Next, Paul brings up the household of Stephanas, who was the first convert {first fruits) in the Corinthian church.  We have discussed first fruits in the past.  Earlier in his letter, Paul speaks of Jesus as the first fruits from the dead.  We discussed the offering of the first fruits in the Old Testament.  So in speaking of Stephanas as the first fruit, Stephanas does not only represent the first in time but the first of many.  In the Old Testament, the Israelites’ bringing the offering of the first fruits proclaimed a trust in God’s faithfulness that there would be much more where these came from.  This is what Paul is celebrating, that from the conversion of Stephanas has come the church in Corinth.  But there is something else that Paul wants the Corinthian to understand.  Stephanas and his family were not just the first.  He and his household were also devoted workers in the church.  Paul says, “They have devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints.”  Paul tells the church that they should submit. The Greek here is hupotas (pronounced hoop-ot-as’-so) which means to make subject to or to be obedient to.

 

Part of the problem may be that Paul and Stephanas are close, since he was the first convert. Stephanas has a special relationship with Paul because he is the first fruits.  He and two others of the brethren are the ones who have brought the letter with the questions Paul is answering.  They will be the ones to return to Corinth with this letter Paul is writing and that we are studying.  So, Stephanas may be catching some flack from the members of the church who are not as enthralled with Paul as he is…I believe that Paul has a deeper meaning than just submitting.  It comes across very strongly, and Paul intends it to, because it is not necessarily the people Paul wants the Corinthians to submit to but the work.  He wants the Corinthian church to respect the work and all the laborers who are doing the work.  Oftentimes in the church, a position is respected but not so much the people who on an everyday basis make things happen.  Too often there is a great disparity between designated leaders and those who actually do the work.  Paul wants the Corinthians not to just respect Stephanas and his household in their positions as the first believers but to also respect them for their devotion to the work being performed.

 

There are also a few incidentals found in Paul’s farewell.  He wants the Corinthians to understand the joy of seeing Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus.  It sounds like they brought him material supplies, which they may have, but it was the seeing of them and their presence as members of the Corinthian congregation that refreshed Paul’s spirit.  For him those three being there represented the Corinthian church being there and his being with the Corinthian church.

 

The final verses include greetings to Corinth from all the churches of Asia Minor, projecting the connectiveness of the churches through the Gospel, as well as greetings from Aquila and Priscilla, two of Paul’s closest friends and co-laborers in the Corinthian church at its beginning.  Then there is Paul’s own personal salutation, but before that he tells them to greet one another with a holy kiss.  Paul has ended several of his other letters with this command.  I have been asked and have asked others, “What in the world is a holy kiss?”  I don’t have a good answer to that question myself, but what I have gleaned is that in some Jewish synagogues, they greeted one another with a kiss.  Men would greet men and women would greet women.  Some scholars claim that Paul must have carried this over to the churches which may have had their beginnings in the synagogue.  Early church fathers in the 2nd century speak of it.  Some have said it was something done after the Lord’s Supper. What is the most interesting to me is not the word “kiss” but the word “holy”.  The Greek word for holy here is hagios (pronounced hag’-ee-os) and means morally clean, without blemish, deserving of respect.  I believe whether they kissed or not, what was truly important to Paul was that that greeted and treated one another as sinners saved by grace, clothed in the righteousness of Christ; and because of those two reasons alone, all should be treated with respect.

 

Let’s go back to verse 14 where Paul says, “Let all that you do be done in love.”  Paul uses words translated love three time in this section.  In verses 14 and 24 he uses the Greek word agape, (pronounced ag-ah’-pay).  This is a word that had been around as long as the Greek language but was used very little in classical or ancient Greek until the letters of Paul and the Gospels.  It was a word in the church meaning a selfless, sacrificial love.  Paul’s word for love in verse 22 is phileo (pronounced fil-eh’-0).  It means to be fond of or be a friend to.  In verse 14 Paul tells the Corinthians to do all that they do in agape, to love one another in a selfless way, to be willing to sacrifice self for the other.  This calls a person to deny what they may want for themselves for the betterment of the other or the body of believers.  This kind of love takes convenience and personal desires and places them very low on the priority list.  Paul is reminding the believers that the labor of the Gospel and being a disciple of Jesus Christ is highest on the priority list.

 

In verse 22 Paul basically says that if you are not a friend of Jesus, you are accursed.  The actual Greek word here is anathema (pronounced an-ath’-em-ah).  It translates as separated from the favor of God, devoted to destruction.  Paul is really not pronouncing a curse on nonbelievers.  He is simply stating the judgment on those who do not believe in Jesus Christ and His finished work.  One who does not believe is not a friend.  One who is not fond of Jesus is condemned.  In our PC society this sounds harsh, but it is the truth.  In our time, there is a falling away from the church.  Some people think that creating God in our own image will make God more desirable and make more people want to follow Him.  The problem is that they are not following God, but themselves.  Jesus’ name to many has become an anathema.  You can still mention God generically, because that can cover a long list of belief systems.  There are people on the fascist far left that see a practicing Christian as weak, unable to stand on their own.  When it is possible, these folks are more than willing to humiliate a believer.  They view Christians as people who need a crutch to get through life, someone not worth knowing or having as an acquaintance, much less being a colleague or fellow laborer.  They see a believer as ignorant, not having enough sense to get in out of the rain.  Some people, trying to placate the religious, will speak of God and God’s will, God’s love without including the name of Jesus.  But you see, it is impossible to know God’s love or God’s will aside from the finished work of Jesus on the cross.  Paul is saying in today’s lesson that if you are ashamed of the name you are not a friend.  If you are ashamed of the name you are ashamed of the His work.  If you are ashamed of Christ’s work, you definitely don’t believe in His work.  If you don’t believe in His work, then you are anathema – separated from God and destined to destruction. I’m sure Paul knew this oppression personally, as he shouts, “O Lord, come!’

 

The third time Paul uses the word “love”, he again turns to agape, where he speaks of his love for the Corinthian church and for the Lord Jesus Christ.  Here, no matter how much some in Corinth may disagree with him, they can’t deny his selflessness and his sacrifice for them and for all the other congregations Paul is responsible for founding.  Paul is again sharing with them that the love he wants them to have for themselves and the church is the love that he has lived, shared, given, and exemplified to them.

 

We live in a world where Paul’s words are as meaningful, valuable, pertinent, and relevant as they were in Corinth 1,970 years ago.  It is still our responsibility to be vigilant, brave, and strong and to stand fast.   Not just for the faith but in the faith – to not be ashamed of the name or the mighty work of Jesus.  As Paul tells us in Romans 1:16-17, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, the just shall live by faith.”

 

The challenge for us is to be as unashamed of Jesus as our Savior as He was unashamed to be called a friend of sinners.  We are called to love Christ, His work, His church, and one another with the same agape love that Jesus loved us.

 

AMEN!

 

Remember to pray and confess Psalm 91 daily in the first person.

 

BLESSING:  The GRACE of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the LOVE of God the Father, and the COMMUNION of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  Amen. ( II Corinthians 13:14 )

 

 

 

 

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