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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 16

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

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Verses 1-4


1 Corinthians 16:1. The collection.—Very fully dealt with in 2 Corinthians 8:0,

9. Traceable thus; earlier, in Galatians 2:10, Paul’s original pledge that he would “remember the poor,” which he had already led the way in doing (Acts 15:29); Paul “gives order” to the Galatian Church, (here) and now to the Corinthian; he “boasts” of the beginning made at Corinth to the Thessalonians and Philippians and Berœans (2 Corinthians 9:2); to be completed at Corinth before his delayed visit (ib. 1 Corinthians 16:3-5; here, 1 Corinthians 16:2); the collection made, or in the making, in Macedonia and Corinth, is, when Romans is being written, nearly ready to be taken up to Jerusalem, and (perhaps) is mentioned, as an indirect, suggestive appeal to the Romans for assistance (Romans 15:26). It duly reached Jerusalem ([Acts 21:19], Acts 24:17). Evidently a thing already known of at Corinth. The saints.—From Romans 15:26, evidently at Jerusalem. The community of goods (Acts 2:44; Acts 4:32) had not caused, but had attempted for a time to palliate, a chronic poverty at Jerusalem; aggravated probably in the case of Christians by the loss of home and friends and livelihood for Christ’s sake, and by the famine of Acts 11:28-30. Gave order.—Acts 18:23. Notice “Churches,” not “Church in Galatia.”

1 Corinthians 16:2. Gatherings.—“Collectings,” as in 1 Corinthians 16:1. When I come.—To delay Paul, or divert their attention from more important things at his visit. Notice a suggestion here that “the first day of the week” is becoming a day in some way emphasised by Christians. Cf: John 20:26; Acts 20:7; perhaps Revelation 1:10 also; further it is urged, as, e.g., by Bishop Bramhail: “That the Day of Pentecost fell upon a Sunday is undeniable; because the “Resurrection of Christ was upon a Sunday, and Pentecost was the fiftieth day from the Resurrection.”

1 Corinthians 16:3.—Co-delegates of Paul, chosen by other Churches (2 Corinthians 8:19; 2 Corinthians 8:23). Letters.—Such as Paul did not need (2 Corinthians 8:4).

1 Corinthians 16:4. Meet.—If the collection raised was so large as to make it fitting, or desirable, that an apostle should escort it, or be its “convoy.”

HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—1 Corinthians 16:1-4

“Concerning the collection.”

I. Note the place and the manner of the introduction of the topic.—This wonderful letter is drawing to a close. Might have believed chap. 13 an unsurpassable climax of interest and beauty but that chap. 15 has followed, surpassing it at least in the interest of its amazing disclosures of the future. “Chap. 15 is certainly the climax.” Yes; but this “Now concerning the collection” is not an anticlimax. Paul certainly did not feel it so; indeed, rhetorical form in his letters can, hardly more than in his preaching (1 Corinthians 2:1), have been any object of endeavour or of thought to him. Chap. 15 was no “climax” to him. The climactic effect and magnitude of the chapter is in the matter of the chapter. One can hardly conceive of him as, so to speak, taking breath after the long climb to the heights of chap. 15, and pausing to review complacently the long way up and to take in the height to which he and his readers have attained, before dropping to another, lower, commonplace level of money matters and route arrangements and personal talk. Can hardly suppose that he felt nothing of the different magnitude of the topic now to be dealt with; yet clearly he passes from the Resurrection to the Collection with no sense of any impropriety, or incongruity, or unworthiness of sequence. There is no incongruity, nothing unworthy; both are equally parts of Paul’s message to Corinth, or rather of the Spirit’s message by Paul,—equally, if not of equal importance. The passage from the one to the other is therefore made with no sense of shock; the thought and heart run upon the new lines with perfect smoothness, with the smoothness of entire naturalness, the naturalness of a man to whom any smallest topic connected with his Lord, and His people, and His work, is as really holy ground for thought and talk as any largest and most important topic. Nothing which affects or belongs to Christ or His Church is on a “low level.” The whole level is high, though not equally high. “Up” or “down,” “higher” or “lower,” in any rightful occupations of a Christian man’s time, or thought, or tongue, are not so much ascents to some mountain-top and descents to the plain at the base, as variations of level upon the surface of a broad tableland, where all, even the “lower,” are high together. Collection or Resurrection, women’s veils or the glory of Charity, all are topics of one and the same “higher life.” Nothing is finer than the conversation in the family circle of a Christian home, where every life is “in Christ,” where everything is judged as by those “in Christ,” where nothing is admitted—and it leaves a wide range of topics and pursuits—which cannot find a place within the holy circle traced by the words “in Christ”; the talk passes “from grave to gay,” from earnest to hearty fun, from politics to religion, from religion to anything, with the most perfect naturalness and simplicity. All is part of one whole life, whose centre and view-point is located by the side of Christ. The merriment is made holy, and guarded in its outbursts by the sure instinct of a holy heart; the transition from topic to topic is controlled by the supreme direction of all the thought and heart to the glory of Christ. The man in Christ is as really “marching through Immanuel’s ground” in this chap. 16, as when he was in chap. 13 or chap. 15.

II. Note the characteristics of the collection and its management.—

1. Personal gifts are its support. “Every one of you.” No slipping out from doing much or doing anything, because “the whole Church is doing so liberally.” No man has been left out of God’s blessings; no man may be left out of the Church’s giving. The “Unspeakable Gift” was given to him in his poverty; his best gift to the poverty of Jerusalem fellow-Christians is not too large an acknowledgment. Its value will largely be in that it is his own gift, with his own gratitude and thought put into it. The gift has no value except as it means the man. And so we have—

2. His personal thought. “In store.”—Then it is no mere spasm of benevolence; it has been provided for and arranged with purpose. As in Ephesians 4:28, to have something to give in charity and to God is a distinct motive and object in the Christian life. [A remarkable passage. Some Ephesian Christians had been thieves; of such material does Christ make “saints” and build up His Church. Now every Ephesian rogue must be an honest man, if he become a Christian. What motive shall be urged to induce him to take to regular ways, and “to labour, working with his hands the thing that is good”? The dignity of labour? The “better policy” of honesty? The peaceful conscience of the honest man? The misery of the thief? And so on. No. Paul urges this: “Let him work, that he may have something to give away to him that needeth.” So then ask, Why should a Christian work to-day? To keep up the home? Yes. To educate the children? Yes. To leave them enough to exempt them, not from the need of real work, but from the paralysing pinch of means so narrow as to leave no margin for contingencies? Yes, perhaps. To have the yearly holiday and an occasional day of recreation? Good objects all. To provide against sickness and old age? Yes. But this also is to be put in as an object co-ordinate in importance with the rest, to have “a store” from which there may always be something to give when “need” of any kind demands it.] The “store” meant steady, thoughtful, hearty preparation to give. As between man and man, a gift brought by the wealthy man who has impulsively walked into the first shop he came to, and has bought the first likely or unlikely thing which caught his eye, “no matter about the price,” is worth nothing in comparison with the far humbler gift which has meant a poor but grateful heart, which has considered what will be pleasing or suitable or useful to the receiver, and has secured or made it, with personal trouble and perhaps work or sacrifice. The planning how to have a “store” makes the gift one acceptable to God. The most mercenary gift, bestowed with a self-interested purpose, does the same material service to the collection, as Paul gathers and forwards it. But in the subscription lists kept by the Lord Himself, the gift is differently appraised according as it is the mere haphazard, impulsive gift of a hasty, accidentally stirred, good nature, or as it is the carefully treasured “store,” got ready for the claim of Christ and His work or His poor, after quiet, conscientious weighing of all other claims and their rightful adjustment to such other and to this. The smaller gift out of a prepared and devoted “store,” is better than a far larger one which is a mere chance “dip” into whatever one may happen to have within reach and available. The man and his personal thought are in it. The worth is in these. And the gift which means a deliberate “sacrifice,” a distinct deferring of something of one’s own, that the claim of God may be met, is the most precious of all. Moreover, it is stored for a special object. A good giver thinks about the destination of his gift, and is interested in the “Jerusalem saints.” Also it is—

3. A thank-offering.—Because “the Lord [or God] hath prospered him.” God has enabled him to get; God has enabled him to give; gratitude demands that he should give. And this by no means as a satisfaction in full of God’s dues, leaving him free to do as he pleases with all the rest. “Tithe” or “firstfruits,” whatever be the system or scale of giving, the part of time, or money, or energy first given to God, does not mean that, e.g., “Sunday is God’s; the rest of the week is now my own.” Rather the firstfruits, the “Corban,” means that we gratefully offer a “sample,” where all is God’s own; and that we purpose thankfully to employ what He arranges we shall keep and use, only as those who are dealing with what is His. The gift is a thank-offering, the first handful, the earliest sheaf, of the last week’s harvest He has privileged and aided us to gather in. And not only “because,” but “as,”—for

4. The “store” is accumulated on system; there is a principle governing the manner of accumulating. The God-given “prosperity” not only supplies the motive, but it also fixes the measure, of the gift. Two ways then present themselves of working this “sliding scale.” First: “The Lord is running me shorter; I must cut down my gifts”; and this is done with a promptitude not always shown when the tide of prosperity turns in our favour,—is so turned by God. Second: “The Lord has not seen fit to give me as much this week, or this year. But He has been very good. I must trust Him a little longer before revising my gifts downwards. I will give the old sum this time, once more; I may never have the power to do it again.” Such givers are not imagination, monsters of goodness created by parsons’ fancy; but are happily found in all the Churches; often quiet, unostentatious people, in whose quiet life such trustful, grateful excelling of the rigid proportion is the one piece of romantic and heroic. The storing is systematic, not spasmodic or emotion-born, a great “spurt” of unmeasured bounty, when some Paul “comes” and urges and persuades a big “gathering.”

5. At a regular date and after a regular interval. “On the first day of the week.”—Obviously all these details of injunction to Galatia and Corinth are not so much definite prescription to us to-day, as particular instances, historic examples, which carry a principle. The Sunday morning breakfast table, or the morning service on the first day of the week in the accustomed sanctuary, may be the best time and place for the giving. No day more suitable; not many so suitable. But, as under 4, no “tenth” or any other particular proportion is binding, whilst the proportion should increase faster than even the prosperity increases; so here no day, no particular interval, is matter of obligation. The regularity of the bounty is the important thing; and also that, whether literally joined to the “first day” and its worship, the giving should be made “worship” by its direct, grateful devotion to Christ, in Whom God’s good mercy and bounty have most clearly shone forth.

III. The prudent, business-like administration of this relief fund for Jerusalem.—(Very fully dealt with under 2 Corinthians 9:0) What is carefully, thoughtfully collected must be righteously devoted to its proper object; pains taken to secure that it reaches its destination; [not like some fine rivers which lose themselves in an absorbent desert-sand before they can reach their goal, the sea;] administered by trusty hands and wise hearts.

Verses 5-14


1 Corinthians 16:5.—This arrangement set aside an earlier plan (2 Corinthians 1:16) to come direct to Corinth from Ephesus by ship, and thence to go to Macedonia. Now he will come to Corinth viâ Macedonia. This change of plan now announced occasioned the misconception and misrepresentation of 2 Corinthians 1:17, etc. The true reason was 2 Corinthians 1:23.

1 Corinthians 16:5-6.—“I (only) pass through (not stay in) Macedonia; I shall perhaps stay, and perhaps even winter with you.” You.—Emphatic: “I want that to be your help to me: I want to have you do it.”

1 Corinthians 16:7. By the way.—I.e. merely as passing through Corinth; Corinth should be the “objective” of his journey “now,” as it was not in the earlier plan. No sure argument to be based on this “now” as if it meant that he had seen them en passant on some (unrecorded) visit, between has first, long one in Acts 18:0 and this proposed one.

1 Corinthians 16:8.—Then he is writing in Ephesus; probably in the Spring [Passover is perhaps about due, or just being celebrated, 1 Corinthians 5:7 (where see)]; by Pentecost navigation would be perfectly open.

1 Corinthians 16:9. Door.—Colossians 4:3; 2 Corinthians 2:12 (at Troas); Acts 14:27; Revelation 3:8, are worth comparison. “An opportunity great and already beginning to show fruit,” or “calling for effective utilisation.” Yet “many adversaries,” whose opposition culminated in the riot of Demetrius (Acts 19:0). Note, these are a motive to Paul not to fly, but to stay.

1 Corinthians 16:10. If Timothy come.—Read Acts 19:21-22. But had he not been “sent specially, and with definite instruction?… The Apostle felt it quite possible that his messenger’s [who was sent viâ Macedonia] arrival might be delayed, and that, as appears really to have been the case, he might not at that time reach them at all. Timothy was … still in Macedonia when the Apostle wrote … 2 Corinthians 1:1” (Ellicott). Without fear.—Some years after this he was still a young man (1 Timothy 4:12). Ellicott protests a little against the usual inference from these passages, and from 2 Timothy 1:6-7; 2 Timothy 2:1, as being very precarious indeed, viz. that Timothy was gentle, or even timid. For more of Timothy, see Philippians 2:20; Philippians 2:22. The Lord.—Expounded as “of Christ” (Philippians 2:30).

1 Corinthians 16:11. Despise him.—Timothy is to see that he on his part does nothing which shall lead them to do so (1 Timothy 4:12). Stronger word here than there. The brethren.—Viz. those travelling with the money raised for the Relief Fund, and named or indicated in 2 Corinthians 8:18; 2 Corinthians 8:22-23 (Stanley). Or only his companion Erastus, with perhaps others (Acts 19:22). I expect him.—I.e. on the supposition that he did reach Corinth.

1 Corinthians 16:12.—Stanley continues his reading of 1 Corinthians 16:11 by supposing that Titus only became the head of the mission after Apollos had excused himself from going; perhaps lest the self-styled, “Apollos” party should try to exploit him, to their advantage over their rivals. Apollos seems to be back again at Ephesus, after Acts 19:1. See how happy the relations between him and Paul. The “will” is surely that of Apollos; not of God!

1 Corinthians 16:13-14.—“The whole duty of the Corinthian convert [summed up] in the trying times and amid the varied temptations in which this Epistle would find him” (Ellicott). (See homiletic treatment below.)

HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—1 Corinthians 16:5-14

Three Contrasts.

A. “I will,” … “I do” (1 Corinthians 16:5), “I will not” (1 Corinthians 16:7)—“It may be” (1 Corinthians 16:6), “I trust,” “If the Lord permit” (1 Corinthians 16:7).

B. Timothy—Apollos (1 Corinthians 16:10-12).

C. “Be strong”—“Allwith charity” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14).

A. A Christian man’s purposing.

I. Two minds, two wills, are working together in the ordering of Paul’s life.—A deep, a bottomless, problem of philosophy how this can be. In practice, the devout heart makes no difficulty. The difference between Bible histories and the history of our own times, or our own lives, is not that God is found more actively interposing in them than in ours, but that in them we are taken behind the scenes, so to speak, and permitted to see—where we usually must believe—Him at work. The Bible characters and histories are, as it were, dissected examples, that we may learn how to think of the ordinary examples, where the beating heart and the complex machinery are all hidden. We are to read them, and to learn how to look for, and to see, God in the newspaper, in the national, the personal, records of to-day. Bible stories, Bible lives, are by no means full of miracle. They are full of God; but not more full of God than are ours. In the Bible we see, in the case of men and in the case of nations, how God and man work together in weaving history on the loom of Time. If we look at the side on which man works at the pattern, it all seems his own, and he seems to work quite after his own mind and will. If we turn the fabric, as we always do in Scripture narrative, and look at the side where God is working upon His own pattern, we see the same events and incidents “showing through.” Every one is being woven into God’s own design; but they have a different colour and character. How man can work in perfect freedom, and yet God’s pattern be also wrought, is a problem which the Bible only “solves,” so far as is needful for practical purposes, by showing us in a few specimen cases both sides of the work. Paul brings the will and purpose of Christ still closer to his own when he writes: “I trust in the Lord,”—i.e. as a man whose whole life and its hopes and plans are not at all independent, but all of them “in the Lord,” I trust,—“that I myself shall come … shortly” (Philippians 2:24). Here Paul’s plans are not only subject to, but full of, “the Lord” Christ’s “permission.” All is Paul; all is Christ.

II. These facts of revelation and experience emerge:

1. Man proposes, God disposes. If Paul’s Master do not arrange for his short stay at Corinth, then, as he once found in those very regions, Paul plans and tries for an opening in vain (Acts 16:6-8). There is no reason why Paul should not “propose,” no reason why he should not argue that the mind of his Master was that he should “remain at Ephesus until Pentecost,” drawing his inference from the very facts, that the Lord had “opened a door” which claimed to be entered, and that there were “many adversaries” being stirred up for the Gospel, whose opposition “needed” that Paul, the captain of the host, should himself be in that part of the fight. Men are most frequently left to learn the plan of God from such circumstances as these. But all needs God. [If, when Benaiah says “Amen,” the Lord God of Israel do not say “Amen” too, David appoints Solomon to be king in vain (1 Kings 1:36). Man’s “Amen” is “May it be so”; God’s “Amen” is “It shall be so.”] Paul’s plans only succeed when they fall in with Christ’s plan. Men strive against God’s purposes in vain; without God they strive for their own plan in vain. “Men are architects of their own fortune,” and they are not. The plans of human builders must “pass His office.” If in wilfulness men persist, God willing or unwilling, they find that their edifice has no sure foundation; they can mix no cement for their work which will not crumble into utter weakness. The top stone can never be lifted into its place. If man’s will will not take God into its counsels, yet it cannot shut Him out of its work. That work will rise as He “permits,” and as far as He permits; and when He wills, the whole fabric of man’s plan will collapse into utter ruin. [And often the greatest mercy of a man’s life that it does!] Napoleon’s fall dated from the day when, on his way to Moscow, he turned away from the faithful remonstrance of good Queen Louise of Prussia with his bold defiance of God: “Madam, I propose and I dispose!”

2. Man should propose.—As above, no reason why Paul should not make the wisest arrangements, and draw the wisest conclusions, he was able. No man need say, “Whatever I do, God’s plan will be carried out; I will, I need, I can, do nothing.” Human effort is not so to be paralysed; the noblest natures have their own logic, which sweeps away such Turk-like, indolence-breeding fatalism. They often cannot give or get demonstration; they often cannot detect the fallacy of the fatalistic reasoning; but the nobler the man, the more certainly he will start up and say, “I must plan; God made me to plan. God help me! Yet He has also made me to help myself; I may hope that He will.” Prayerfully, submissively planned work for Christ may look for His blessing of success. [Remark Proverbs 16:3, “Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established.” I.e. what men aimed at in their work shall be surely accomplished, even though perhaps by the frustrating of their own “works” altogether.] Christ will “permit” Paul’s plans; He will guide Paul in planning, so that his plans fall in with, and become part of, Christ’s larger plan and government of His Church and of the world.

3. In humble dependence upon God.—The humility will save from all fretting and chafing when Paul’s own plans are “revised” away altogether by the Lord’s superior will; and, still more, if it even be something set aside which we thought essential, humility will not simply bow to the inevitable, but will acquiesce in, and embrace, the Higher Will. The dependence will give hope and heart, when planning difficult tasks. Not left alone in either our purposes or our execution of them.

“Thou art not only to perform thy part,
But also mine; as when the league was writ,
Thou didst at once Thyself indite
And hold my hand, while I did write.”

—George Herbert.

B. Timothy and Apollos.—[Much good material in Dean Howson’s Scenes from the Life of St. Paul, chaps. 7, 8, “The Companions of St. Paul.”

I. Two types of worker and of character; “of worker” because “of character.”—As to Timothy, Howson sums up thus: “All this reveals to us a life of incessant activity and toil, and a character worthy of respect and affection. Not, indeed, that we need suppose that Timotheus was destitute of defects. From the repeated and emphatic injunctions to courage (1 Timothy 1:18; 1 Timothy 3:15; 1 Timothy 4:14; 1 Timothy 5:21; 1 Timothy 6:12), it seems not unlikely that there was something of timidity in his disposition [but see Critical Notes on 1 Corinthians 16:10], caused, not improbably, in some degree by his delicate health; and it is no unreasonable fancy which ascribes to him a certain softness of character, and, so to speak, a ‘feminine piety.’ Nor is it likely that this would be any hindrance to the continued and deep attachment which evidently subsisted between him and St. Paul; but rather the contrary. Even in common human friendship the stronger character often finds its consolation in drawing the weaker character close to itself.” In contrast with all this,—which must not be overpressed to Timothy’s disadvantage; he is a fine fellow,—Apollos does here seem to stand forth an example of something more “masculine.” Timothy needs that Paul should throw around his youth and his timidity the strong defence of his own plea for all consideration for him at Corinth; Apollos is a man parallel with Paul, whose judgment and will match themselves against the wish of Paul; whereas Paul’s wish is command enough for Timothy, whom he sends. Apollos has a mind of his own, and prefers his own time. Not, however, in the slightest sense as displaying that “independence” which is only pride goading on weakness to assert itself, or from anything but absolute harmony of mind and soul with Paul. The “refusal” to go argues a thorough loyalty to Paul on the part of Apollos. In Paul’s absence he had, quite innocently, given a name to a party antagonistic to Paul. For Paul’s sake, and for his own fair name’s sake, he would stand clear from these men, who, without shadow of warrant, used his name as the badge of their party. His presence at Corinth “at this time” seemed to him not advisable; the factious party should have no semblance, or show of sanction, such as might be, wrongfully, based upon his presence in Corinth just now. Under the circumstances Paul, in desiring to send him again to Corinth, shows how utterly without jealousy Paul was, and how full of generous trust in Apollos himself; whilst Apollos’ wish to be excused just now “shows a prudence and self-restraint and delicate consideration for” Paul which argues well for Apollos’ character. There is prudence in this “refusal” to set foot in Corinth just at this juncture. Altogether the suggestions of the few incidental remarks we may gather up as to Apollos, show us a very fine man, around whose name it is a great marvel that so few ecclesiastical legends have collected. [That he should be suggested as the writer of the Hebrews rests upon no surer foundation than this: The author’s turn of thought, and some occasional grammatical forms, as well as a somewhat rhetorical form about the letter, are said to be characteristically “Alexandrian,” and, of all Paul’s “school” of disciples, Apollos is the one man we happen to know who, coming from Alexandria, might be supposed to be Alexandrian in thought and style, “eloquent” as he was, and “mighty in the Scriptures.”] The practical suggestion is that Christ has use for every type of man and of mind in His Church. “Dependent ones” like Timothy, young and perhaps shrinking from conflict and friction, are not by any means useless. They win stronger hearts for themselves and then for their Master. There are many forms of labour, and many styles of “success.” The workers of other types, and on other lines, need to be as broad as Paul would have the Corinthians to be in their judgment of Timothy: “He worketh the work of the Lord, as I also do.” The men of stronger type find it difficult to appreciate such natures as need, like clinging plants, the strong support of a Paul, or his sheltering, appealing love; difficult not to “despise” them, as “poor creatures,” “unmanly,” and the like. They laugh at the “fear” which their own rough handling and rough judging cause, and are apt to crush and kill a tender spirit, intending no harm. The Timothys, when put to it, can be entrusted with difficult and responsible work at Ephesus or elsewhere (1 Timothy 1:3); and acquit themselves well by the grace of God “enabling them” (ib. 1 Corinthians 16:12), as He “enables” the Pauls, to hold their own and do their Master’s work, though they must handle older, “grave,” men (ib. 1 Corinthians 3:1-11), and even “unreasonable and wicked,” or “blasphemously” heretical ones (2 Thessalonians 3:2; 1 Timothy 1:19-20). The very faculty of winning such tender affection as that which Timothy won and kept from Paul (2 Timothy 4:9-13; 2 Timothy 4:21) is a very valuable gift to the Christian worker, and opens hearts, and opens doors, where the Paul and the Apollos may not, or not so readily, enter. No shape or temper of tool comes amiss to the hand of the Divine Worker.

II. Paul revealed in his friendships.—

1. How broad his sympathies and his nature, to be able to attach to himself, and to understand and work with, and love, such a diversified group of friends as those we see round him in the Acts and Epistles. He must himself have been a many-sided man, offering many points of attachment, that such different styles of men always found in him a side where they could take hold and “catch on.” [May it be reverently suggested that the polygon of character, with these many sides, the more in the nobler and larger natures and lives, grows to the perfect circle—the polygon of an infinite number of sides—in the One Friend, in whom all men find a place, a side, where they touch and can grasp and can hold?] Men of such pronounced character as Paul sometimes pay the penalty of their very strength, in an utter incapacity to read, or work with, or care for, or be just to, any type but what approaches their own; and in consequence they have few friendships, though these are close and strong, if sometimes undemonstrative, and their life is spent in an isolation of greatness and strength. Paul could be strong enough, and could speak strongly enough (e.g. 1 Corinthians 16:22); he appreciated strength highly (e.g. 1 Corinthians 16:13); but he won to himself Lydias and Marys (Romans 16:6) and matrons like Rufus’s mother (ib. 1 Corinthians 16:13), and clinging natures like Timothy, and strong men like Apollos and Titus. [How like the rugged, yet so lovable Luther!]

2. A man’s friendships bring out his characteristics.—He is put to the test by his friendships. See whom a man chooses as his friends, see how he keeps them; you see a long way into the man. As we have found, a man is not at all of necessity simply mirrored and reproduced in his friendships; but he is revealed by them. To himself and to others they are a touchstone of character. See, then, how this foremost apostle is tenderly considerate for a young minister who needs encouragement, who should indeed be respected by himself, and by others, as a fellow-worker; who shall not, if he can help it, be treated with anything but respect. An old minister and his young colleague. See, as between him and Apollos, how utterly, apostle though he is, he holds aloof from anything like dictation. He claims no right to move men about in the field like so many pieces on a chess-board. He might perhaps have found Timothy acquiescent, if he had attempted to do so; Apollos would, perhaps, have resented it. As a fact, he has no thought of it with either of them. Timothy is “his son” in the Gospel; but in the work they are equals before their common Master. Paul was a wise master-builder before Apollos began to learn from Aquila and Priscilla the rudiments of the Christian “trade”; yet he respects, and bows to, the judgment and will of Apollos, and his own “great desire” is waived. How smoothly the work of God progresses when the workers, all round, are of this temper and style!

C. Strength and love.—(Cf. under 1 Corinthians 11:11, “The Man” and “the Woman.”)

I. Complementary graces.—

1. The verses might almost stand as a summary of the suggestions of B. Say to Timothy, “Watch; … stand fast; … be strong.” Say, perhaps to Apollos, certainly to Corinth, “All things … with charity.” A good rule is given earlier in the letter: “All … decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). This is as much better, larger, higher, as “love” is higher than “order.” Order good; but love will secure, if its working be perfect, all that is really of worth in “order”; the “order” of “love” is natural, necessary, inevitable, and sure. Strength, too, is good; but it needs clothing with love. Speaking architecturally, strength finds the construction in the Church building, love the ornament. Ornament without strength is collapse; “ornament your construction” is perfect art. Strong men! build lovingly; work lovingly; save men lovingly, if you can. [There is an evangelism that is hard. There is benevolence, aid to sickness and poverty, which is unsympathetic, mechanical, hard, and that unintentionally hurts where it means to help.] Loving men! be strong, “be men” (1 Corinthians 16:13, literally), be watchful. 1 Corinthians 16:13 is a soldierly verse, a campaigning verse, a verse for warriors. 1 Corinthians 16:14 would Christianise the spirit of Wordsworth’s lines:—

“Who, doomed to go in company with Pain
And Fear and Bloodshed, miserable train!
Turns his necessity to glorious gain;
In face of these doth exercise a power
Which is our human nature’s highest dower;
Contests them and subdues, transmutes, bereaves,
Of their bad influence, and their good receives;
By objects, which might force the soul to abate
Her feeling, rendered more compassionate;

Is placable—because occasions rise

So often that demand such sacrifice;
… more able to endure,
As more exposed to suffering and distress;
Thence, also, more alive to tenderness.”

The Happy Warrior.

2. The controversial conflicts of the Church need that the fighting be done “with charity,” and, after the fight, nothing but “charity,” though both sides have “quitted themselves like men” against each other, “standing fast in the faith” as they each have apprehended it, “knowing,” all of them (together), only “in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9). But the very “charity” must be ready to fight (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:22); it must not be so “liberal” as to believe that “nothing is worth disputing about.” There are vital issues raised, from time to time; there have been “decisive battles in the history of the” kingdom of Christ; when love without strength would easily have become treasonable indifference.

II. Complementary counsels (1 Corinthians 16:13).—

1. “Watch,” “stand fast,” when there seems no fighting, and even no foe in sight. In the midst of the conflict, in the presence of the foe, “be strong,” “play the man.”

2. “Watchful; steadfast; strong;” a complete programme for the Christian soldier; [add “loving,” and it is a complete programme for the Christian life].

3. Watchful; there are many foes; the soldier’s peril is to fall asleep; all the camp are on sentry duty; every man, and not official sentries only, is told off to give the alarm of treason, or of subtle or open attack. Steadfast; as appreciating the significance of “The Faith,” the value of that Gospel for a lost world, which is its heart and burden and main content; as yourselves believers of strong faith in “The Faith” [which is a thing believed and only known or understood by believers. Faith is a condition (sine quâ non), without which knowledge is necessarily impossible]. Standing fast in days when, as on a memorable Sunday, June 18th, 1815, a line of British squares could do nothing but doggedly hold their ground through the long hours of waiting for Blücher’s new help. As Napoleon said of them, “How splendidly they fight; they don’t know that they are really beaten!”; so the “steadfast” Christian soldiers have many a time tenaciously held to a “Faith” which had been discredited by some of its very defenders [“not wise, or worth while, to attempt to sustain that old position”]; themselves have been forsaken by treason or fear; by all rule and reason definitely pronounced “beaten” in the judgment of the assailants; yet doggedly have “unreasonably” kept to their substantial position; until their tenacity has been vindicated and crowned by unexpected reinforcement raised up by their Great Lord, who is Himself “The Faith” and “The Truth”; unlooked-for help has many a time made the long struggle end in victory. All of which has its echoes and analogies in the struggle of the personal life to maintain its ground, e.g., in the workshop, full of sceptical and scoffing workmen, or in the school dormitory, full of teasing, mocking, or angry fellow-students. Strong, whether in watching or fighting; in experience and purpose; and (not least) strong because busy (1 Corinthians 15:58).

4. Watchful against subtle danger; steadfast against persistent attack; manly against “wise” assault; strong against many-sided strength of evil.


1 Corinthians 16:9. An Opened Door.

I. Figure obvious enough in meaning.—Very curious accident that the phrase and the figure are always connected with this same Proconsular Asia.

1. In Revelation 3:8an open door” is “set before” the Philadelphian Church. Persecution, poverty—whatever has shut up Philadelphian Church into a narrow field of life, are removed. There is escape from confinement in the figure. Whatever has shut them out from access to their heathen neighbourhood around is removed. There is entrance into a new sphere. Circumstances now favour. They are to go in and take possession, in His name Who has opened the door.

2. On Paul’s second missionary journey, it is said (Acts 16:6-12) that, having passed through the central tableland of Galatia, and having come down to the coast, somewhat north of this Ephesus, he wished to open his commission in this Roman “Asia.” The Director of his course, however—the Holy Spirit—in some way forbade him. That door was shut. He turned away north-east, and “assayed to go into Bithynia.” But no! “The Spirit suffered him not.” The door is closed in that direction also. His path into new fields of labour lay another way, and he turned aside to Troas and waited. Then the way became clear. The door, the way, opened into Macedonia; into a Europe waiting for the Gospel.

II. In all such cases of providential leading it is to be remembered that the closed door is as really a part of God’s leading as the opened one.—

1. It is a real temptation—though there is an honourable side to the feeling—to a soul full of devotion to Christ, eager to put the fervour of devotion into concrete shape in some new activity in His cause; full also of sympathy and compassion for the souls and bodies of men and women for whom as yet Christ seems to have died in vain, and with a holy inventiveness and organising gift, ever fertile in new plans for doing something fresh for these souls and for Christ; to chafe when these plans are again and again put aside by insuperable difficulties, or when circumstances repeatedly make a hopeful commencement hopelessly abortive in its conclusion. To stand and see work that wants doing, souls that want saving, a world that needs Christ’s Gospel, and to be powerless to do anything; [to stand upon the shore and see the poor fellows drop off, one after another, from the frozen rigging of the wrecked vessel into the surging waves; no open door of escape for them, and no open door of help for those who stand and watch, because there is no boat or rescue apparatus; to stand in powerless idleness and watch the burning house; or the like illustration;] is a sharp trial to an eager, devoted, capable Christian worker. No doubt many an obstacle may be removed which at first seems insuperable. Prayer, tact, patience, work, will generally open a door. But not always. Asia and Bithynia are closed even to the eager heart of a Paul. For that journey. Now “Asia,” Ephesus, is open. Then Philippi, Berœa, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth,—all needed him first. Christ had a larger plan of campaign than even Paul saw in Acts 16:0. The closed door was just then the will of Paul’s Lord.

2. To grasp this will keep the spirit of the eager, devoted worker in peace.—Look at Philippians 1:12-18; Philippians 1:21. To a man like Paul, for years the forefront evangelist of the Christian Church, and of a zeal burning, as steadily as intensely, beyond that of most, it must have been no small trial to have been, for two years at least, in confinement in Rome, “reduced to” writing letters to friends and Churches, to conversation and discussion with “callers” and inquirers; to know, moreover, that the closing of the door upon himself was being eagerly made the opportunity of teachers who “preached Christ” indeed, but in a presentation which was not “his Gospel” (2 Timothy 2:8; Romans 2:16), and which he regarded as “the word of God adulterated” (2 Corinthians 2:17); to remember also that this eager and quickened activity of theirs was in a large degree prompted by no kindly feeling towards himself, but rather was triumphing in having a clear field with him out of the way [every “dog” (1 Corinthians 3:2) of them hoping that his bark would irritate the caged lion, behind his closed door]. Yet he is not irritated. If the door close for him, and open for them,—well, any way men are hearing of Christ who would not otherwise hear of Him at all. “I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice!” And as to any personal irritation, where should that come in? “To me to live is—not Paul but—Christ.” Paul is kept patient within a closed door.

3. There are closed doors in the personal life.—Most perplexing to the understanding; most trying to faith. Every step of the path has been committed to God’s guiding wisdom and love; not a step without prayerful “consultation” with the Father. The way seems to clear. Door after door opens until—one stands closed. Indeed, it looks as if there were no door at all, to be closed or opened. The way that seemed so clear has ended in an impasse, a cul de sac. There appears nothing to be done except to retrace some steps, or many, and try down some other path. But what then of all the lost time? What of all the “lost” prayer? What of all the way that seemed so clearly opened up to the last point? The full answer can many a time never be given; but the triumph of faith is to hold doggedly to the conviction that God even in such a case has made no false move nor permitted a false start, but rather that He has some larger plan into which this journey down a by-lane that leads to nowhere, enters as a needful and wise detail. [We were perhaps “shunted on to a siding” whilst danger passed, or whilst some arrangements for our after-journey were being made, on what is after all the main line of His system for our life.] The closed door has many and many-sided purposes in God’s plan, and in men’s training. Sometimes the development of the after-path justifies the doggedly tenacious faith which, by grace, “would not” doubt. Men see and praise God by-and-by for many a closed door.

III. The open door is:

1. A mercy to be thankful for;

2. A call to be responded to;

3. A responsibility to be assumed in Divine strength.

1. A mercy not only to the world or to the neighbourhood waiting to be evangelised, sitting in darkness and hunger waiting for the Light and the Bread, but also to the Church itself and its workers, for the sake of the effect upon their own life. No greater calamity could happen to a Church, or to a worker, than that they should settle down into easy contentment with what has been already accomplished, not attempting to do more than retain ground already—perhaps by a more eager generation in the past—won and cultivated. Such satisfaction is next door to stagnation. Such stagnation is next door to death. Let a Church, or the individual, lose the spirit of enterprise, the élan which carries them forward, exploring for new “opened doors”; let (per impossibile) the Head of the Church open none, or entrust them with none; the end of that Church would not be far off. O. W. Holmes lays his hand on a true trait of genius,—“it is always breaking out in fresh places.” The Church could have no greater calamity happening to it than that it should have no inner impulse with a sanctified “genius” to break out in fresh places, or should be condemned to beat in vain against closed doors in every direction. For not only are the habit and spirit of enterprise kept alive by open doors, but hope. It is easy, fatally easy, for Israel with an evil contentment to build its own city, under the very walls of a Jerusalem held by Jebusites into whose fastness there seemed no open door, and which seemed to leave no hope of its being captured for God. An open door keeps alive that hopefulness of spirit without which no great things will ever be accomplished for the work of God. Quite obvious to add that the Church which has been praying and waiting for an opened door, praises its Great Head with all fulness of thanksgiving, when at last, and perhaps suddenly, “the door is opened.”

2. A call to enter.—

(1) “Know ye that Ramoth in Gilead is ours, and we be still and take it not out of the hand of Syria?” Ahab’s spirit of enterprise may be serviceably pondered. “Ephesus is ours! Ephesus is Christ’s! It is in the hands of His enemies! The door is opened! The opening is a call!” Some morning the ice, which for weary months has shut in as with the grip of death the vessel of the Arctic explorers, is seen to be stirring and heaving and splitting with the swell of a warmer current or the first touch of the returning summer. How in an instant orders are given to make ready to push into the opening channel through the enclosing ice-floes! The occupations, work or play, which have beguiled the long weeks and the continuous night of the Arctic winter, are thrust aside. The opened door through the ice is a call. [Queen Elizabeth once kept Raleigh dallying about her at Greenwich, until one morning the wind, for which in part he had been waiting, to carry him out of the Thames turned down stream. The Queen would have kept him for another day. “Madam, the breeze commands me away!” The opened, door into the wide sea and the wide world, was an imperative call to set sail and go.]

(2) Christ calls by opened doors. It is the most frequent fashion in which to-day His voice is made to reach His Church. It is not to be denied that special guidance is sometimes directly given, by the visions of “men of Macedonia,” for example. The success has now and again vindicated the leading of a dream that showed “an open door.” Some who have lived in special nearness to God, and in close touch with His Spirit’s least intimations, have proved to be rightly guided by strong impressions that doors were opening. [Paul’s experiences in Acts 16:6-8 would be more definite and decisive than these.] But, ordinarily, the sanctified good sense and the consecrated judgment must co-operate with the look of circumstances, to discover the will and way of Christ. And “the door” which commends itself as “opened” to the sound, sanctified judgment; the circumstances which look so promising and so probably right;—in these the Lord of the Church will ordinarily indicate His will, and through these utter His “call.” [When Saul left Samuel, three special foreannounced signs should be given him, tokens to assure him that so far he was in the way of God for his life. But after that, no more signs, no more special, miraculously announced tokens for guidance. His own sense and the opening of events were to be his guidance: “Do thou as occasion serveth thee; for God is with thee” (1 Samuel 10:7).] “Occasion,” as Samuel called it; the “opened door,” as Paul calls it,—these are generally the voice and call of God.

3. A responsibility to be assumed.—

(1) From the “opened door” at Ephesus, Paul could not, dared not, turn away, even to push forward to Corinth or Jerusalem. He was urgently wanted there, no doubt, but he was wanted at Ephesus. It was at Ephesus where “the door was opened.” Ephesus was his immediate responsibility. “To do one thing at a time” is an old and true recipe for accomplishing great things, great at least in amount, in a busy life. To attempt one, whilst harassed by the “claims” of two or a dozen others, is ruin to all steady application, or thoroughness of labour, or peace of heart; and without these the thing in hand is only half done or ill done. Do “open doors,” do the claims of opportunities, in the deepest truth of the matter, ever compete? To the man who is going forward, doing “what his hand finds to do,” the nearest first, then the next, and the next, do claims ever really “clash”? The Christian man, or the Church, is responsible only for the door opened (as Paul says) “to me”; the door which is next him. No need to be harassed, diverted, divided, flurried, distressed, about other open doors, however urgently clamorous may seem their claims. The Lord “who openeth” (Revelation 3:7) “doors” will care for those. The man, the Church, for whom each of these is opened, is standing near it, with the same responsibility for entering through his own.

(2) This responsibility for one’s owndoor” is to be remembered. Thankful that one need only be concerned with that, yet mindful that one ought to be concerned with that. The worker, the work, the door between them closed; then, the door opens. Paul’s argument with himself was, “assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us, for to preach the Gospel unto them” (Acts 16:10). And we might emphasise “us”; “us, and no other workers.” There is an argument, a call, a responsibility, upon the man before whom “the door opens.” He may not shirk it in indolence, or fear; nor may he in a diffidence of himself which logically would issue in charging the Lord of the Workers with having chosen the wrong man, or, at least, not the best, seek to find somebody “better fitted than” himself to enter in and do the work. He has it to do. He can do it; he can be “made able” (2 Corinthians 3:6).

(3) In dependence upon Divine equipment and aid. There is fighting to be done inside the door: “Many adversaries.” [Yet “shall such a man as” Paul “flee”? (Nehemiah 6:11). No; indeed, it is to him an added reason for staying longer at Ephesus. The captain must be found where the fight is thickest. He has had his taste of it already, like a man “fighting wild beasts” in the arena (1 Corinthians 15:32).] All entering in to open doors is with something of difficulty, something of danger. Jabez asks that his “coast” may be “enlarged”; but enlargement to an early settler in Canaan in his days meant dispossessing Canaanite occupiers by war. “Oh that Thou wouldst keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me!” (1 Chronicles 4:10). Never yet was an opportunity utilised without hard work. And the best workers best know their own insufficiency. Look within, and who will enter an opened door? Look up, and who may not? “Let us go up at once, and possess, … for we are well able; … the Lord is with us; fear them not” (Numbers 13:30; Numbers 14:9). “But who goeth a warfare,” or entereth an open door, “at his own charges?” (1 Corinthians 9:7). The call puts responsibility upon the man; but it gives him a claim upon God. He Who calls, and Who opens the door, knows Who must “find the wherewithal,” if the opening is to be entered and the work to be taken in hand. He knows that He will need to “see the workers through” with it. It is upon that understanding, upon that assumption, that He calls by the “opened door.” He calls those “who have no might,” absolutely none at all of their own, that in them He may, as He must, “increase strength” and wisdom (Isaiah 40:29). “Suppose I enter the door, what next? And if the work develop upon my hands, what then? Perhaps I may break down, or may be so placed that I really am at the end of my resources, and at my wits’ end; how then?” “Go in at the open door. Leave the rest. Be thankful for the pioneer’s honour put upon you. Let the Master supply all the need of the ‘next’ and the ‘then.’ ”

1 Corinthians 16:9. A Great Door and Effectual; Many Adversaries.—[Many occasions in the personal life of the Christian man when these words rush into his memory as exactly descriptive of his case and its conditions. No mere “happy adaptation” of language this; a real, closely connected analogy. The extension and establishment of the kingdom of God within the individual run on lines perfectly parallel with those which are its characteristics in the case of the world. In the Johannean (and Pauline) sense, there is a little “world” within the man which is part of that larger “world” outside, which has its “Prince” (John 16:11), etc., who, whether within or without, is to be “judged and cast out” by the holy encroachment of the power of the kingdom of light. In both campaigns, in both fields,—the world-wide and racial, or the narrower and individual,—there are crises of opportunity for advance and growth and victory and extension, “opened doors,” to enter into which, however, means the arousing and the opposition of “many adversaries.” Every Christian understands how, beneath the happy appropriateness of the language to his case, there is a real analogy, a real unity, of fact. Taking them in the personal, narrower application, let it remind of the “opened doors” of removed hindrance, of favouring circumstances, of inviting opportunity, for occupying some new ground in the heritage of God’s new Israel, holiness.]

I. The privilege of being brought up to an opened door.—

1. Recall days when, with all the suddenness of a revelation, or the opening of a door in a blank wall, and with unusual depth of impression, the desirability, and necessity, of higher religious attainment, of closer walk with God, stand clear before the vision of the heart. Like Moses, led up to where the whole Canaan of God’s “rest for His people” (Hebrews 3:4) lay spread out attractively before the eyes, possibilities of blessing and holiness stretching away in “length and breadth” (Ephesians 3:18), as never before seen; unlike Moses, led up to see a land waiting for conquest and occupation. Or it is rather the “opened door” of the “banqueting house” (Song of Solomon 2:4), on whose table are spread in tempting array the “feast of fat things,” etc. (Isaiah 25:6), for the children of God’s family; the Christian is led up to the threshold and is bidden enter and sit down and “taste as well as see” (Psalms 34:8). At such times the very presence of sinful tempers and inclinations becomes unusually painful; themselves become unusually hateful; the standard higher than ever; holiness, full and perfect, more desirable than ever.

2. A privilege; for no man seeks more grace with any heartiness or hope, merely because he ought; driven to an “opened door” by a sense of duty. He who is led up to it by a quickened desire, is not far from entrance and possession of what lies within. God is in the quickening of desire; the quickening is therefore a pledge of further blessing. A privilege, and a mercy, remembering how often, led thus far, the soul has turned away from the door and the feast in half indifference, saying great things of the feast and of the bounty of the Provider, but not caring enough about it to enter and partake; till the quickened desire, imperfect as it was, died away. A mercy, remembering how eagerly other things are pursued, other open doors are entered, until Divine things, thus dishonoured and disregarded, are crowded out of thought and heart. It is favour worthy of His love when by an “opened door” attention is again arrested, desire revived, hope excited.

3. No greater calamity could occur than a fatal satisfaction with present religious position and status; no sorer curse from the “grieved” Spirit of God than that the heart should be suffered to lower the standard into adjustment to the facts, or should never catch sight of a larger life inviting the soul through the “opened door.”

II. The responsibility for entering thus created.—

1. Privilege and responsibility always go together. To accept the privilege means to accept and fulfil all that belongs to it. Fulfil no conditions, discharge no responsibility, forfeit all privilege! “A man will not work? Then neither shall he eat!” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). (As true of the secular life as of the spiritual.) Do nothing for God; get nothing from God! But the responsibility may be faced cheerfully. Three things always linked together: a promise; a call to seek for its fulfilment; a further promise of grace to obey the call. The door shall always be an “effectual door” to the man who endeavours to enter.

2. There is the responsibility of an indebtedness to Christ. When you have been contriving and saving and denying yourself, and giving time and labour and money to procure a present for one you love; if it is received with profusely worded, but evidently formal, thanks, if it is never used, but put away, only to be now and then decently taken out and ‘admired’ and your ‘great kindness’ again extolled; do you like it? What did it cost Christ to secure for you the possibilities which offer themselves through the “door” which “opened” so suddenly, so invitingly, as you were reading, or meditating, or were on your knees? Ought you not to enter?

3. If, then, the Spirit of God shows some new and higher standard of Christian living, spreads out some new breadth of Christian privilege, bringing it near, laying its desirableness upon the heart, filling with desire for it; that is “an opened door” into which it is a duty and responsibility to enter and labour, or fight, or enjoy. “If ye know …, happy … if ye do” (John 13:17). Heavy the responsibility of all new knowledge, if ye “do” not! Indeed, heavy the condemnation of “an opened door” refused; the blood ceases to cleanse from guilt, if we walk not in all the light—much or little—that we have (1 John 1:7).

III. Many adversaries.—

1. The Self desires, and does not desire, to enter. [Said “Rabbi” Duncan: “When C. Malan said to me, on a never-to-be-forgotten day, ‘You have got God’s word in your mouth,’ I felt as if a flash of spiritual electricity had then passed through me. But the old nature asserted itself right in the face of that word, and refused for a while to receive the death-wound.… Now that must not be an infrequent experience. The shock when all that is within rises up and refuses to be slain by the only bloodless Conqueror, till at length the soul yields, and dies that it may live.… I was conscious of a revulsion against my renovation” (Colloquia Peripatetica, 77). The form of illustration is different, but the truth is the same, viz.] the man’s indolent, easy-going, self-loving, sin-loving, man-fearing self is the first great “adversary” and hindrance to his entering Christ’s “opened door.”

2. Sometimes there are conditions to be fulfilled which seem arrayed as “adversaries,” because the indolent, or reluctant, or unbelieving heart makes them difficulties. God can only forgive, ready as He is (Nehemiah 9:17), upon conditions; man’s heart is not ready to fulfil the conditions. The “opened door” is, in God’s desire and intention, to be entered at once; but, on man’s part, much must often be done, something laid aside or given up; and the natural heart creates a difficulty, makes itself an “adversary.”

3. The adversaries will sometimes be literal human opponents. To enter into, and possess, and exhibit the living enjoyment of, a larger, broader, brighter, undoubting, victorious Christian life, will arouse to scorn or displeasure or harassing controversy many average or minimum Christians, of whom such a life is by its inevitable comparison an implicit condemnation. The Great Adversary of the kingdom of God will not willingly see, not only a soul escaping into liberty through “an opened, door,” but a soul passing into a larger liberty and fulness of life through “an opened door” of opportunity and promise and hope.

Verses 15-24


1 Corinthians 16:15.—Postscript-like personal matters begin here. Achaia.—This corrects the wrong reading in Romans 16:5. Stephanas’ household.—See 1 Corinthians 1:16. What a family picture! “Addicted to,” etc. Stanley (apparently alone) thinks the Stephanas of 1 Corinthians 16:17 the slave of this one, who had taken his master’s name, by a not unusual custom; Fortunatus and Achaicus being his fellow-slaves.

1 Corinthians 16:17.—No blame to the Corinthians in “lacking on your part”; they could not, so far away and without opportunity to visit Paul, do what these had done, viz. 1 Corinthians 16:18 (Philippians 2:30; Philippians 4:10 sqq.).

1 Corinthians 16:19. Church in … house.—Cf. 1 Corinthians 1:2; 1 Corinthians 16:1; Romans 16:5. See other cases, Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2. Observe “salute you much.” They had lived in Corinth (Acts 18:2); but are at Ephesus by Acts 19:26.

1 Corinthians 16:20. A holy kiss.—Romans 16:16; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26. “The common form of affectionate Eastern salutation, transferred to the forms of the Christian society, and hence the epithet of holy. The practice continued in Christian assemblies chiefly at the celebration of the Eucharist. The Apostolical Constitutions and the Canons of Laodicea enjoin that before the Communion the clergy are to kiss the bishop, the men amongst the laity each other, and so the women. On Good Friday it was omitted, in commemoration of the kiss of Judas.… It is still continued in the Coptic Church. Every member of the congregation there kisses and is kissed by the priest. In the Western Church it was finally laid aside in the thirteenth century.” (Stanley.)

1 Corinthians 16:21.—The authenticating autograph, 1 Corinthians 16:21-24. So 2 Thessalonians 3:17. What shall it be? What shall he write? What is worthy of his own hand, after all this dictating to an amanuensis? “If any man,” etc. (1 Corinthians 16:22). Note the, shorter reading and punctuation. Maran atha.—“Syriac,” so-called. “The Lord … has? or will?… come.” “Cometh,” best. Very recently M. Halévy divides it “Marana tha,” and translates “Our Lord, come!” And in this is supported by (the Syrian) Archbishop David, of Damascus (Expos., 1889, p. 240). Quite a separate word from the word “Anathema,” N.B. “His grace;” “my love.”

HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—1 Corinthians 16:15-24

Friends and Foes.

I. Friends

1. Even in Ephesus, and because in Ephesus, where there are “many adversaries.” A day came when Paul, like his Master before His judge, stood friendless, “when no man stood by him,” not a Christian in all Rome daring to show himself as a friend of Paul in court that day (2 Timothy 4:10). Yet he was not forsaken: “The Lord stood by me, and strengthened … and delivered.” That is the supreme strength and support of a Christian man. But next to that is the “refreshing of spirit” when, to a hard-worked toiler in a dangerous post in Ephesus, some Stephanas or Fortunatus or Achaicus “comes,” bringing letters and tidings and supplies. Others brought ill news and disquieting (1 Corinthians 1:11, where, however, see note). Paul’s Master is careful that His servant shall not have all disquiet; these bring “supplies.” It is good to see a loyal Corinthian face again! [See another instance of God’s loving consideration, by way of alleviation and compensation (Philippians 2:27), “lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.”] What worker for Christ does not recall many such instances, where the coming of friends has been as “cold water to a thirsty soul,” or as a “draught from a brook by the wayside” (Psalms 110:7); a supply and comfort which was only typical of many another up-springing well of comfort in a very desert of isolated experience or labour. The highest service that friendship can be made to render, next to that of leading a soul to seek the Highest Friendship of all.

2. A new brotherhood is springing up.—“Greetings” fly across the Ægean between Ephesus and Corinth. There are “Churches in Asia” who join hands across the water with a Church in Corinth. Aquila and Priscilla have a “Church in their house” [as afterward they had in Rome (1 Corinthians 16:5)], which greets Corinth. Paul “greets” Corinth,—Corinth and not merely the party “of Paul.” Corinthian is to greet Corinthian “with a holy kiss,” though one may be a rich man and the other a slave. A new love has been born into the world, which forgets that Aquila is a Pontian Jew and Apollos an Alexandrian Greek, and that Stephanas and his friends are Corinthians. “See how these Christians love another!” See how this Paul loves the Timothy who is “his son in the faith.” See how he loves this Stephanas and his household. They were his “firstfruits”; in them he first tasted the joy of harvest in the field of “Achaia.” Christian and Christian, minister and convert, are the closest “kin.”

3. This new brotherhood is an organised thing.—The friends, the brethren, form themselves into Churches, “in a house,” “in Asia.” Of such units of construction “The Church” is being built up; and each unit in its essential feature is a miniature of the Whole; it is “a Church” as really as is the whole. Precedence and sequence are beginning to show, as in all human social life. Some are to “submit” to others, but it is only for their worth’s sake and their work’s sake. And their precedence is in service. Beyond most they “set themselves to minister to the saints” (R.V.). [“Whosoever would be chief among you, let him be your servant” (Matthew 20:27).] In the Church there should never have been office or precedence which did not mean serviceableness to the welfare of the whole; there should never have been an official whose honour was not rooted in this: “He helpeth with us, and laboureth.” There should have been no fainéants amongst the Church’s exalted names. “Working helpers” should be “acknowledged,” and if needful “submitted to.” And in the long-run recognition and deference do come naturally to worth and work.

II. Foes.—There is but one foe: “he who does not love the Lord Jesus Christ.” Not love Him? Think slowly over His Name and full style: “Jesus”—“Lord”—“Christ.” Why in His very name Jew, Gentile, Man, have their share and place. Not love Him? The embodiment of all moral Beauty, Truth, Goodness; the True, the Beautiful, the Good, after which the philosophers sought, and of whose interrelations they disputed in endless discussion—they meet in Him; the simplest Christian is no seeker merely, he has “Heureka!” in his mouth, since he got to know “the Lord Jesus Christ”! Not love Him? Who has loved us to the death; Who for our sakes became poor with a “Great Renunciation” which is, according to any human standard, by any human calculus, quite an incommensurable quantity. Not love Him? What is the matter with the heart that does not love Him? Is it blind, or deaf, or dead? Can it not see, or know, or love Him? The unloving heart perhaps admires, and says, or sings, or writes, fine words about the Teacher of Nazareth; it may gather up its skirts, with a shrinking that is a reminder from former days of a real faith, or which is only an æsthetic shrinking from “bad form,” when some daring, outspoken man calls “Jesus” plainly “accursed,” (1 Corinthians 12:3); but Paul has no softer, lesser word for the loveless heart itself. Not love Him? “Anathema” the loveless one! That seems “unjust”? “You cannot command love?” Certainly; but it can be awakened or suppressed, cultivated or killed, by the man himself. He will cultivate or let it die, as toward Christ, according to the whole moral attitude he takes up. “Mere indifference” to Christ reveals an inner world of moral alienation, and at least a possibility of the very fiercest aversion. Between the man, almost demoniac, who screams, “Jesus is Anathema! Jesus is Anathema!” and the man who perhaps would shrink from saying it outright, but who really feels no interest in, and cares nothing for, Christ, the difference is rather one of possibility, of opportunity, of occasion, of provocation. Press Christ and His claims upon the “merely indifferent” man, and you either lead to submission, trust, love, or you provoke anger at yourself, and dislike, antagonism, hatred to Him. There is no being neutral in the presence of Christ and His claim. “For judgment he is come into this world;” He is the test of character, the Revealer of hearts, making a swift, sharp discrimination between friends and foes (John 9:39). There is no trace of a permission to put mere sincerity in the place of correct faith, of separating a man’s religion from a correct theology on this topic. No man can help taking sides for or against Him; for better or for worse no man can remain the man he was before, after once being really, clearly, intelligently confronted with Christ. To say nothing of His personal “character”; He makes—as is often urged by Christian controversialists—such claims for Himself; He assumes, as with perfect, simple right, such a position in regard both to God and men; He makes such assertions about Himself as are tanta mount to a claim to be, and to be honoured and accepted as, Divine in the highest, the exact, sense. Presuming His sanity, He leaves no alternative: either He is a blasphemer, and justly “Anathema,” or Divine and at once and forthwith to be “honoured even as men honour the Father.” “He that is not with Me is against Me.” Not to be His friend is to be a foe, and necessarily “under the ban.” And He “cometh”!

III. Paul’s outburst of feeling.—These last verses (chap. 16) have been, as it were, gradually “subsiding” from the often highly wrought interest and feeling of the body of the letter. The thought and tone have accompanied each other, as with the settling of a bird alighting, not suddenly, but in a series of gentle curves, each of which, though rising, ends at a level a little lower than it began, till one expects a quiet gliding in the last to the level ground. But instead there is this sudden dash upward; a volcanic, eruptive outburst of feeling. “Let all be in charity,” Paul had just said (1 Corinthians 16:14). What then is this? It is the Intolerance of Love. [Often pointed out that the “Apostle of love,” John, when a young man, was “Boanerges,” who would have called down fire upon the Samaritan village that would give no hospitality to Christ (Luke 9:54); and that the Boanerges temper is not extinct in the old man of ripest love and piety (1 John 4:3; 2 John 1:10). In each case it is to be observed how with John, as with Paul, it is the very intensity of conviction, and of devotion to Christ, which called out the fiery denunciation.] A man cannot be a lukewarm enemy, nor a lukewarm friend, of Jesus Christ. It is the “Intolerance of the Gospel” [title of a good sermon by A. Vinet], and throws much light upon the difficult question of the imprecatory psalms. At least it cannot be said without much qualification that they are wholly of an “Old Testament spirit,” in strong antithesis to that of the New. [Look, e.g., at 2 Timothy 4:14, “Lord … reward him according to his deeds!” (N.B. reading); Galatians 5:10, “Shall bear his burden”; 1 Corinthians 5:12, “Circumcision? I would there were an excision; a clean excision of these men from the body of Christ”; hear Stephen denounce the Sanhedrin (Acts 7:51-52), or Paul Bar-jesus (Acts 13:10-11); hear Christ Himself denounce the Pharisees, “Fill ye up the measure of your fathers!” (Matthew 23:32); hear John, “I do not say that he shall pray for it,”—as though he had been brought into such a perfect accord with God’s own abhorrence of sin, such a perfect acceptance of the righteousness of the heaviest judgment of God upon it, that he anticipates the day when the saved and the heavenly host shall together stand in holy aloofness from the condemned Harlot-evil of the universe, and, over the very judgments of God, shall solemnly sing an exultant “Alleluia!” (Revelation 19:1-5).] The New Testament cannot tolerate indifference to Christ or the Truth. No Christian man can leave it an open question whether his Master be “Jesus of Nazareth” or “Our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is no question of exactly agreeing about the doctrinal phraseology of a creed; but of a love to the personal Christ, which has sometimes co-existed with an imperfect creed about Him. [E.g. Dr. Adam Clarke denied the eternity a parte ante of His Sonship.] It is not the intellectual rightness of the man which is in issue, but the moral state of the man’s heart. The Godhead of Christ is a test question indeed, as men must apply tests; the moral attitude toward Christ, be He what He may, is the deeper thing which stirs Paul’s heart. “He may not accept, or totidem verbis repeat, my Christology; but does he love my Christ? If not, let him be Anathema.” If we are not so outspoken, or so confident in our condemnation, we should inquire whether our devotion to Christ is less intense; whether our convictions are as deep as Paul’s; whether truth is of as much certainty and importance to us. Loyalty to Christ may sometimes need to override all considerations of conventional courtesy and “charity” and liberality. (See also Separate Homily under 1 Corinthians 16:22.)

The Benediction.

The “bird” does “alight,” and very quietly! The outburst of 1 Corinthians 16:22 is quite compatible with a perfect peace and self-control within Paul’s soul. He passes as easily from it to these words of tender farewell, as he did from the Resurrection to the Collection (above). “His grace, my first and greatest wish for you at Corinth. My love, less, but not less real, with you also; and I wish it not with the mere good feeling of a benevolent heart; I wish it ‘in Christ Jesus’ ” Paul’s heart is full of Christ’s heart; to him “to live,” and so to greet his Churches, “is Christ.”


1 Corinthians 16:22, connected with 2 Corinthians 1:20; 2 Corinthians 8:9; 2 Corinthians 9:15, may be made the occasion of a sermon on Undesigned Illustrations ofTo me to live is Christ.”

I. (2 Corinthians 1:20.) Paul had not kept to the route announced in the First Epistle—to Macedonia viâ Corinth. He had gone by the direct, shorter road, viâ Troas. The factious party seized upon this change of route. Said they to the loyal ones: “See this Paul of yours! What dependence on his word? He promises and fails; says he will come and does not.” Others, with more malice: “He wrote a very bold letter, and was going to follow it up with a visit; but your valorous apostle dares not come to Corinth.” This chapter very largely his indignant protest, his defence of his character and conduct. He appeals to his conscience whether all his conduct amongst them was not “in simplicity and godly sincerity.” He calls the True God to witness that he was never amongst them a “Yes and No” man, saying and unsaying in a breath, affirming one day, the next denying what he had affirmed, wavering in his own mind between “Yea” and “Nay.” If he had changed his plan, it was for good and sufficient reasons. But this vindicating of himself was uncongenial work. To him to live was not Paul, but Christ. His character as a man is to him only a matter of importance as it affected his character as a preacher of Christ’s Gospel. Every word in his preaching was “Yea.” He was no man to preach doubts or hints of doubt, or to give to his readers opinions crudely formed or loosely held. And then his thought by instinct rises to and rests in his Lord, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever; Himself the great Promise and the great Ratification of all promises besides. This grand outburst in the midst of all this personal vindication, is a digression, a parenthesis; but he cannot help putting it in. Self-vindication is irksome. Christ exaltation is ever welcome. A word of it relieves him before he resumes the personal talk. To himto live is Christ.”

II. (2 Corinthians 8:9.) Paul puts the Corinthians on their mettle, and tries to shame them into diligence. He has been telling all the Churches, up and down: “Achaia was ready a year ago.” With their zeal he has been calling out the zeal and generosity of many. He begs that they will not shame his boasting when the Macedonian (and other) delegates come with him to Corinth. Macedonia is a model to them, giving even “beyond their power.” Surely Corinth will not be behindhand. And with appeals to such motives many would have stopped. Not so this man; to him “to live is Christ,” and to him the motive to plead is, “Ye know the grace,” etc. In the next verse he is back again to the Fund. But the parenthetic insertion is significant as to this man’s habit of heart. He gladly escapes away from the Fund and laggard Church benevolence into a world of everlasting, world-concerning truth, and to his best-loved theme—his Lord who became a beggar to make him eternally rich.

III. (2 Corinthians 9:15.) With startling abruptness he breaks out: “Thanks be unto God,” etc. The chapter has been full of small details about the Fund, and his plans, and the movements of Titus. What has this outburst to do with the collection? Nothing. Everything. He sits dictating his letter. In the pauses, whilst the writer is doing his part, Paul’s mind goes off upon a well-known path. Every thought of this benevolence of saints to saints is pregnant to him with suggestion of a greater benevolence. He cannot think of these gifts of Church to Church without his thoughts flying off to the ever-welcome topic, God’s Gift to sinners. There is bounty! There is the root and the rule of all kindness between Christian and Christian! And as the amanuensis is finishing the last words dictated, his friend and teacher breaks out, “Thanks be to God for,” etc. For twenty years he had been studying Christ from all sides: the love that did not spare even Him; the grace of the Son which resigned such native dignity and glory; the misery, here and hereafter, of an unredeemed world; the eternally growing blessing flowing from the work of Christ. The twenty years of pondering express their result in one word; they are condensed into this “irrelevant,” parenthetic cry: “Unspeakable! Unspeakable! God’s unspeakable Gift! Thank God for Christ!”

IV. (Here 1 Corinthians 16:22.) He is in Ephesus, getting his letter off. He takes pen in hand to add the authenticating autograph sentence. Usually it is a benediction. In this letter all sorts of topics have been discussed: the resurrection and the collection, the Lord’s Supper and the women’s hair,—grand themes of eternal importance, and mere regulations no longer concerning men except in the underlying principles of which they are particular, passing embodiments. And now the letter is finished. What shall he add “with his own hand”? What he does add is: “If any man … Anathema!” There is apparently nothing to suggest it. But Christ never needs “suggesting” to Paul. To him “to live is Christ.” Within him is a heart of burning love for Christ. The fire breaks out here with eruptive force, but it is always burning. He loves Christ. Who would not? Not love Christ! Not love the Christ he loves! “Accursed be the man who does not love my Christ!” It is the intolerance of devoted love. This spontaneous, irrelevant, fierce exclamation is consummate proof that this man, Paul, has only one love, one thought, one object in life. To him to live is Christ, CHRIST, CHRIST!—H. J. F. From article in “Homiletical Magazine,” Jan. 1883 (condensed).

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 16". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/1-corinthians-16.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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