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Bible read me 1The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 16:12-18

Final Instructions

12 Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but it was not at all his will[a] to come now. He will come when he has opportunity.

13 Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love.

15 Now I urge you, brothers[b]—you know that the household[c] of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints— 16 be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer. 17 I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, 18 for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such people.

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Last week’s post was about Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians about the good treatment of Timothy, who was going to minister to them, young though he was.

Paul mentions Apollos, whom he urged to visit Corinth, then says that he did not wish to go at that time (verse 12).

Apollos is mentioned in Acts 18:24-28:

24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit,[a] he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.

My post on Acts 18:24-28 has much more about this Jewish convert who went to the southern part of Greece — Achaia — and ended up at the church in Corinth for a time. He was a highly eloquent speaker and some members of the congregation put more weight on his teachings than they did Paul’s.

In 1 Corinthians 4:6, Paul exhorted the Corinthians to view all good preachers in unity. One should not be favoured over the other:

I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers,[a] that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.

Matthew Henry explains that Paul really wanted Apollos to return to the Corinthians (emphases mine):

Paul did not hinder Apollos from going to Corinth in his own absence, nay, he pressed him to go thither. He had no suspicions of Apollos, as if he would lessen Paul’s interest and respect among them, to the advancement of his own. Note, Faithful ministers are not apt to entertain jealousies of each other, nor suspect of such selfish designs. True charity and brotherly love think no evil. And where should these reign, if not in the breasts of the ministers of Christ? 2. Apollos could not be prevailed on for the present to come, but would at a more convenient season. Perhaps their feuds and factions might render the present season improper. He would not go to be set at the head of a party and countenance the dividing and contentious humour. When this had subsided, through Paul’s epistle to them and Timothy’s ministry among them, he might conclude a visit would be more proper. Apostles did not vie with each other, but consulted each other’s comfort and usefulness. Paul intimates his great regard to the church of Corinth, when they had used him ill, by entreating Apollos to go to them; and Apollos shows his respect to Paul, and his concern to keep up his character and authority, by declining the journey till the Corinthians were in better temper. Note, It is very becoming the ministers of the gospel to have and manifest a concern for each other’s reputation and usefulness.

In the end, Apollos did return to Corinth and became an elder in their church. Some Bible scholars believe that Apollos wrote the Book of Hebrews. He is recognised as a saint in the Orthodox churches, the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

Paul then gives the Corinthians two instructions. The first is to stand firm in the faith with maturity (verse 13). The second is to do everything in love (verse 14).

John MacArthur has a whole sermon on these two verses.

Henry has a more succinct analysis:

The Corinthians were in manifest danger upon many accounts: their feuds ran high, the irregularities among them were very great, there were deceivers got among them, who endeavoured to corrupt their faith in the most important articles, those without which the practice of virtue and piety could never subsist. And surely in such dangerous circumstances it was their concern to watch. Note, If a Christian would be secure, he must be on his guard; and the more his danger the greater vigilance is needful for his security. 2. He advises them to stand fast in the faith, to keep their ground, adhere to the revelation of God, and not give it up for the wisdom of the world, nor suffer it to be corrupted by it–stand for the faith of the gospel, and maintain it even to death; and stand in it, so as to abide in the profession of it, and feel and yield to its influence. Note, A Christian should be fixed in the faith of the gospel, and never desert nor renounce it. It is by this faith alone that he will be able to keep his ground in an hour of temptation; it is by faith that we stand (2 Corinthians 1:24); it is by this that we must overcome the world (1 John 5:4), both when it fawns and when it frowns, when it tempts and when it terrifies. We must stand therefore in the faith of the gospel, if we would maintain our integrity. 3. He advises them to act like men, and be strong: “Act the manly, firm, and resolved part: behave strenuously, in opposition to the bad men who would divide and corrupt you, those who would split you into factions or seduce you from the faith: be not terrified nor inveigled by them; but show yourselves men in Christ, by your steadiness, by your sound judgment and firm resolution.” Note, Christians should be manly and firm in all their contests with their enemies, in defending their faith, and maintaining their integrity. They should, in an especial manner, be so in those points of faith that lie at the foundation of sound and practical religion, such as were attacked among the Corinthians: these must be maintained with solid judgment and strong resolution.

That said, we should act in love and charity:

We may defend our faith, but we must, at the same time, maintain our innocence, and not devour and destroy, and think with ourselves that the wrath of man will work the righteousness of God, James 1:24. Note, Christians should be careful that charity not only reign in their hearts, but shine out in their lives, nay, in their most manly defences of the faith of the gospel. There is a great difference between constancy and cruelty, between Christian firmness and feverish wrath and transport. Christianity never appears to so much advantage as when the charity of Christians is most conspicuous when they can bear with their mistaken brethren, and oppose the open enemies of their holy faith in love, when every thing is done in charity, when they behave towards one another, and towards all men, with a spirit of meekness and good will.

Paul then mentions Stephanas and his household, the first converts in Achaia (verse 15), the part of Greece in which Corinth was located, and tells the Corinthians to be subject to them as well as every other fellow worker and labourer in the church (verse 16).

MacArthur gives us some background on the earliest years of Paul’s ministry in Achaia:

The south part is the ancient Achaia – he preached Christ. In fact in the seventeenth chapter of Acts it tells us that he preached at Athens and some believed including Dionysius the Areopagite and another person as well believed, and then he went from there on – and probably some others in addition to those two – then he went on into Corinth and there he preached and there were many who believed. There was Crispus who was the leader of the synagogue. There was Gaius who probably, according to Romans 16:23, was Paul’s host while he was there in Corinth. And there was this household of Stephanas, and there was the household of one named Chloe, and there were many others who believed. Now watch. What he’s really saying here is that God was going to grow a church in Achaia. That was His plan. And as a guarantee that God was going to grow a church, God gave some first fruits

Further, there may have been other individuals saved before him and perhaps he was the first household and that’s why he’s designated as first fruits. But either he’s included in the first fruits or he’s the first household saved in Corinth. The point simply being that he was the guarantee. By the Spirit of God giving this family and this household, God was in effect saying there’s going to be a full harvest in the city of Corinth. And there was, there was a great church built there, a wonderful church to which Paul ministered for one and a half years teaching the Word of God. And this group was the beginning of that church.

Henry says that Stephanas would have been a man of high social rank, yet, once converted, he and his household devoted themselves to serving the church in Corinth:

They have disposed and devoted themselvesetaxan heautous, to serve the saints, to do service to the saints. It is not meant of the ministry of the word properly, but of serving them in other respects, supplying their wants, helping and assisting them upon all occasions, both in their temporal and spiritual concerns. The family of Stephanas seems to have been a family of rank and importance in those parts, and yet they willingly offered themselves to this service. Note, It is an honour to persons of the highest rank to devote themselves to the service of the saints. I do not mean to change ranks, and become proper servants to the inferiors, but freely and voluntarily to help them, and do good to them in all their concerns.

Both commentators use the word ‘addicted’ in describing the service of Stephanas and his household, because that is what the word ‘devoted’ means in Greek.

Henry says:

they had moreover addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints, to serve the saints.

MacArthur explains:

Now let me go back to the word devoted. It’s the word tassō. Moffett and Morris, in his commentary, say that the root meaning of this word is addicted. Did you get that? Addicted. What a great thought? They have addicted themselves to the service of the saints. Isn’t that great? They have addicted themselves to it. Now you say well, what is the service of the saints? Well, the word service or ministry, and your Bible may say ministry, is diakonia, from which we get deacon. Now diakonia originally meant a table waiter, and it came to mean anybody who serves somebody else in the church out of love. Any loving service is diakonia.

Now the New Testament describes all kinds of diakonia. For example, it talks about the diakonia of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:5. It says, “there are many services,” and then it goes on to describe the spiritual gifts. So spiritual gifts is one kind of diakonia. If we’re addicted to serving the saints, it means we’re addicted to using our spiritual gifts. Another one, in Acts 11:29 and 2 Corinthians 8:4, it speaks of the diakonia of giving. So that when we give our money that is serving the saints. Not as many of us are addicted to giving as perhaps we ought to be. So being addicted to the serving of the saints means we serve the saints through our spiritual gifts. We serve the saints through giving.

Stephanas, along with Fortunatus and Achaicus, went to stay with Paul in Ephesus; Paul says they have made up for the absence of the rest of the Corinthians (verse 17), which is a wonderful thing to say to such a wayward congregation. Paul loves them all, the good and the not so good.

Paul says that the three men’s presence has refreshed his spirit as well as the Corinthians’, therefore, the congregation should give them recognition, or respect, for that (verse 18).

Henry’s commentary says that the men gave Paul more details about what was going on in the Corinthian church, possibly allaying his worst fears:

They gave him a more perfect account of the state of the church by word of mouth than he could acquire by their letter, and by that means much quieted his mind, and upon their return from him would quiet the minds of the Corinthians. Report had made their cause much worse than it was in fact, and their letters had not explained it sufficiently to give the apostle satisfaction; but he had been made more easy by converse with them. It was a very good office they did, by truly stating facts, and removing the ill opinion Paul had received by common fame. They came to him with a truly Christian intention, to set the apostle right, and give him as favourable sentiments of the church as they could, as peace-makers. Note, It is a great refreshment to the spirit of a faithful minister to hear better of a people by wise and good men of their own body than by common report, to find himself misinformed concerning them, that matters are not so bad as they had been represented. It is a grief to him to hear ill of those he loves; it gladdens his heart to hear the report thereof is false. And the greater value he has for those who give him this information, and the more he can depend upon their veracity, the greater is his joy.

In closing, MacArthur gives us this insight on 1 and 2 Corinthians:

No other church is so rebuked as this.

On the other hand that is an evidence of love, because love is something that admonishes and rebukes when sin is visible. In fact I just would call your attention to the fact that if you take the 16 chapters of 1 Corinthians and you take the 13 chapters of 2 Corinthians that totals 29 chapters written to straighten out one church. Now in terms of chapters that makes it the longest book in the New Testament. There’s no other book that has 29 chapters. The closest is Matthew and Acts but this one had 29 chapters, because there was so much to say, because there was such a mess in Corinth. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not have 29 chapters written about me to try to straighten me out, but that’s what happened in Corinth. The book is loaded with rebuke but it is also loaded with love, because you see, it’s love that calls to righteousness. Isn’t it? It is love that rebukes always. It’s love that says, “Here is the way; walk ye in it.”

My next post on 1 Corinthians 16 concludes the book. After that, it is on to 2 Corinthians.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 16:19-24

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