1 Corinthians 16The first duty which the apostle here directs the Corinthians to, is the making a collection for the poor: and particularly for them at Jerusalem, who were now in great straits, by reason of a famine which was then and there amongst them, as some expositors affirm. He advises that on the Lord's day every one should lay something by, as God had prospered him, that there might be no need of farther collections when he came; and that the charity might be distributed according to their pious intentions, he tells them, they shall send it by messengers of their own; and that if they judged it meet and needful, he would accompany the bearers of their charity, and assist in the distribution of it.
Here note, 1. The great duty which the apostle directs unto: care of, and provision for, the poor saints at Jerusalem. To relieve the poor members of Christ, especially such as suffer for his name's sake, is a necessary, yea, important duty. We evidence our love and affection to the Head, by our pity and compassion to the members. The charitable contributions of such churches as are in and under better circumstances, towards those that are in worse, especially if in want, is an odour of sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable and well pleasing unto God, Phil 4:18.
Note, 2. The time when he advises them to make this charitable collection for the poor: upon the first day of the week, which was the day of their public assemblies, the day upon which our Lord rose again from the dead. Divines, both ancient and modern, do from hence argue for the change of the sabbath from the seventh to the first day of the week. It is evident that this was the day on which the Christian churches constantly assembled to perform religious worship, and read the scriptures, to preach the word, and celebrate the Lord's supper; and it was called by them, the Lord's day. Upon this day the apostle orders the collections to be made for the poor: and all Christians, in compliance with this precept, did offer their alms upon that day.
Note, 3. The apostle's bidding every one to lay by something of his store for the relief of others, intimates to us, that God has given unto every one of us a special, proper, and personal right to what we do enjoy. To have all things common, would run all things into confusion. The apostle directing the Corinthians here to a constant use of their charity every Lord's day, in making collections for the poor, doth suppose that they had something of their own to give.
Almighty God doth keep up the eighth commandment in full force and strength, as a fence and hedge about the worldly estates of men; and he that goes about to break this hedge, a serpent shall bite him. If there be no such thing as property, how shall we exercise charity?
Note, 4. The rule which St. Paul directs the Corinthians to observe and follow in the distribution of their charity, namely, to lay by for others in proportion as God had blessed and prospered them. The good which we do must be proportionable to what we receive. God will not accept of a little, when he has given us an ability to do much: we must always relieve the wants of others as we are able, and some times above what we are able. Such as have ability ought to abound in all kinds of charity; they are to add charity to charity, one way of charity to another, and one work of charity to another: otherwise, though they may do a good work, yet thy are not rich in good works.
Note, 5. How desirous the apostle was that the Corinthians should receive all possible satisfaction in the prudent distribution of their collected charity. He proposes to them to choose messengers of their own to carry their contribution; he proffers to give them letters of recommendation to the saints at Jerusalem; nay, if need require, and they desire it, he is ready to go himself upon this charitable errand. So ready are the ministers of God upon all occasions to contribute their utmost endeavours to promote the charitable relief of the poor members of Jesus Christ: If need be I will go also.
Observe here, St. Paul acquaints them how he had laid his business, ordered his stay and station, where he was, and designed afterwards to come and winter with them, and not to see them in passage only.
From whence we learn, That a wise contrivance of our own business, of our course of labour, and of what we design to do, is very lawful, provided it be done with submission to the will of God. The apostle declares that he had in his intentions contrived, whither to go, where to stay, how long to continue: but adds, If the Lord permit. All was with submission to the wisdom and will of God.
Farther, he informs them of his present intention to stay at Ephesus till Pentecost, because God had opened there unto him a great door for the propagation of the gospel, and had abundantly blessed his labours to the good of many. But there were many adversaries of the truth there, which made his stay longer at Ephesus both necessary and unavoidable.
Learn thence, that the great success of the gospel is usually attended with many adversaries, and great opposition. The devil stirs up all the rage and fury he can against the professors, but especially the preachers of the gospel: but where the devil is most angry, we may hope we have done most good: and that ought to encourage us to stay in our place, though our difficulties are many, and our discouragements great. I will tarry at Ephesus, where a great door is opened to me, though there are many adversaries.
Observe here, 1. Though Timothy was a young minister, and St. Paul an aged apostle, yet doth he bespeak the church to pay respect unto him as to himself, he being a minister of the gospel as well as himself, though far inferior to him in years and abilities. None of the faithful ministers of Christ are ambitious to engross any respect from the people to themselves, but content, yea desirous, that all their fellow-brethren should share with them therein; for all men pretend to a share in reputation, and do not love to see it monopolized by a single person, and every wise and good man rejoices when that respect is given to others which is justly due and payable to their worth and merit.
Observe, 2. How affectionately this aged apostle recommends Timothy to the church's tender care, as well as to their deserved respect: See that he may be without fear; that is, without fear of disturbance from the factions that were amongst them at Corinth: see that he be not exposed to any trouble or danger from any party whatsoever.
Let no man despise him; either because of his youth, or his bodily weakness and infirmities, or for any other cause whatsoever.
But conduct him forth in peace; bring him on his way towards me, and provide for the necessities of his journey.
O! how happy is it when the ministers of Christ are thus careful of, and solicitous for, the welfare of each other, as St. Paul here was for Timothy!
Here again observe, 1. How respectfully this great apostle speaks of Apollos, an inferior minister in the church of Corinth, Our brother Apollos. Nothing better becomes the governors and pastors of the church than humility and condescension, sincere love and affection, a due deference and regard towards those who are under-labourers in our Lord's vineyard, to own and treat them as brethren, co-workers and fellow-helpers with them. God has not made his ministers lions to tear one another, nor bulls to gore each other; but shepherds to watch over, and nurses to cherish, one another: Our brother Apollos.
Observe, 2. How St. Paul, though a dignified person, a great apostle, left Apollos, an inferior minister of the gospel, to judge for himself, whether he had best go to Corinth, or forbear: I desired him to come to you, but his will was not to come. He did not suspend him, or silence him, for not obeying the voice of an apostle: but lets him take his choice.
There may be, and sometimes are, particular cases and circumstances relating to ourselves and our people, (as about going from them, or continuing with them,) which none can adjust and determine as well as ourselves. Perhaps Apollos here had greater and stronger reasons for his refusing, than St. Paul had for his requesting him, to go to Corinth: however, the great apostle only desired him to go, not censuring him for his denial, but leaving him to the determination of himself, whose will was not at all to come to them at that time.
Observe, 3. What might probably be the reason why Apollos had no inclination to go to Corinth at this time; no, not at the solicitation of St. Paul himself. Perhaps it was because he would not encourage or give the least countenance to a faction which was there begun under the authority of his name, 1Cor 1:12.
Some said, I am of Apollos. A pious and prudent minister of Jesus Christ seeks not his own applause, or his people's admiration; but what he does is with a special respect to their edification in holiness, for preserving unity, and promoting love among each other.
Afterwards, when St. Paul had by his epistle allayed those heats, and healed those divisions which prevailed amongst them, we find Apollos did return to Corinth, and was no doubt very acceptable to them, and serviceable among them.
Three duties are here exhorted to, namely, watchfulness, stedfastness in the faith, and holy fortitude and courage.
1. Watchfulness, a necessary and daily duty; we cannot be safe one moment without it; something we must watch over, something we must watch against all sin, all appearance of sin, all temptations to sin, all occasions of sinning; we must watch for all opportunities of glorifying God, all opportunities of doing good to others.
2. Stedfastness in the faith; perseverance in the faith of Christ, and stedfastness in his holy religion, is the great and indispensible duty of every Christian that has a due regard to his soul's salvation: Watch ye, stand fast in the faith:
3. Christian fortitude and holy courage: Quit yourselves like men, be strong. Where we have the Christian's spiritual enemies supposed and implied, sin, Satan, and the world; and his duty declared, and himself encouraged to play the man in opposing, or contending with, and striving against, them.
Verily, a Christian above all men needs courage and resolution; he can do nothing as a Christian, but it is an act of valour; it requires much more courage to be a Christian than to be a captain.
Alas! how many of the valiant sword-men of the world have showed themselves mere cowards, who have come out of the field with victory, and banners displayed; but after all lived and died slaves at home, slaves to their base lusts! It requires more prowess, more bravery and greatness of spirit, to conquer ourselves, than to command an army of men. Therefore quit ye like men, be strong.
Our apostle having in the beginning of this epistle reproved the Corinthians for their uncharitable schisms and unchristian divisions; he concludes his epistle with this excellent rule of advice, To do all things in love, one for and one towards another. Where a true principle of Christian charity prevails amongst the members of a church, it will cast out selfishness, pride, envy, division; and keep them from rash censuring, despising, and abusing one another, and also from separating from the communion of each other.
The sum of all the commandments, both towards God and towards our neighbour, is love; it is not praying, hearing, or receiving at the Lord's table, which is the fulfilling of the commandment, but when these duties are done in love; and we may do many things commanded towards men, yet if we do them not in love to men, we do nothing as the Lord commanded; therefore let all things be done with charity.
Observe here, 1. The honourable mention which St. Paul makes of Stephanas, and his house; they were the first fruits of Achaia, that is, the first three converted to Christianity. It is a great honour to be in Christ before others: happy they that come in at the call of Christ, even at the last hour; but thrice happy those that come in at the first, who are the first-ripe fruits unto God.
Observe, 2. What good proof and evidence Stephanas gave of the sincerity of his early conversion: He addicted himself to the ministry of the saints; that is, he was very forward to assist the poor saints with his estate and labour. There is no better evidence of our interest in Christ than an entire affection and operative compassion towards all our fellow-members in Christ, for grace's sake.
Observe, 3. The great deference and regard, the special respect and honour, which was due, and is here commanded to be paid, to Stephanas, for his ministering to the poor saints that were in want: Submit yourselves unto such: that is, give reverence and honour to them, and to all such as are like unto them, who laboured with the apostle in the furthering of the gospel.
It is very probable that the faithful in the church of Corinth did send these three persons, namely, Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, to St. Paul, at this time at Ephesus, to acquaint him with the state of the church, the rents and scisms that were amongst them; and to desire the interposure of his authority, and the exercise of his apostolical power, in order to the healing of those unhappy breaches.
Now, says the apostle, I am glad of the coming of these men, whom you sent with your letters of inquiry to me; for that account of your affairs which was lacking on your parts in your letter, they have supplied: I am glad, I say, for they have refreshed my spirit with their presence and discourse, and will at their return refresh yours also; therefore acknowledge ye them that are such, own their services, and honour them for the same. There is a tribute of double honour, respect, and reverence, due and payable to such as labour in the church's services even unto weariness, and are willing to spend and be spent in such services as they are capable of, for the benefit of the church in general, or any member thereof in particular.
Here our apostle closes his epistle with several salutations to the Corinthians, from the churches of Asia, from Aquila and Priscilla, and from the church in their house, that is, from the Christian assembly which used to meet in their house for the worshipping of God. Happy that family-governor who has a church in his house, with Aquila and Priscilla; who worships God with all his house, as did Cornelius; who with his household serves the Lord, as did Joshua; who commands his children and his household after him, as did faithful Abraham.
Observe, 2. The nature and manner of this salutation, They salute you in the Lord; that is, with a spiritual affection, for the grace of God that is in you, and wishing you an overflowing stream of spiritual blessings from Christ the fountain.
Next he wills them to salute one another with an holy kiss, a kiss of peace and charity; with which Christians in those times, and according to the custom of those countries, used to salute one another. This was not then a wanton, but an holy, kiss, in which they had chaste and holy thoughts; yet afterwards the piety and purity of the church degenerating and declining, it was thought fit and convenient to lay the kiss of charity aside, which was used in the public assemblies at the celebration of the holy communion. That which is innocent in itself, and pious in its first intendment, may in time fall under such abuse, as to cause it to be wholly laid aside.
Lastly, he adds his own salutation with his own hand. It is generally believed that the apostle employed some person to write his epistle over, which he sent abroad unto the churches; yet that he might prevent fraud and forgery, and that they might know which were his own, he used to subscribe his salutation and apostolical benediction with his own hand, which was well known unto them.
This is, if any man do either oppose Christ and his gospel, or apostatize and backslide from his holy profession, and thereby discover he had no sincere love for Christ, let him be accursed till the Lord comes to judgment; and when he comes to judgment, let him without repentance lie under a dreadful, yea, an eternal curse.
Observe here, How that those who do not sincerely love our Lord Jesus Christ, are under the heaviest and bitterest of divine curses.
Note, 1. The ground or cause of this curse, the not loving of Jesus Christ; he doth not say, If any man hate Christ, or reproach and blaspheme him, or persecute and injure him; but, if he doth not love him. The bare want of this affection to Christ, is enough eternally to separate us from Christ.
Note, 2. The nature of this curse: Let him be Anathema Maran-atha. The apostle pronounces the curse in two languages, Greek and Syriac, to denote both the vehemency of his own spirit in speaking, and the certainty of the thing spoken: or perhaps to show that men of all nations and languages who love not Christ, are under a curse, and that they are deservedly cursed among all nations.
The Greek word, Anathema, signifies execrable; the Syriac word, Maran-atha, is a compound of Maran, Lord, and atha, he cometh. These words were used anciently in the most dreadful sentence of excommunication; as if they had cited the person to the tribunal of Christ, at his coming to judge the world, or left him bound under the curse of that sentence until the coming of Christ.
Note, 3. The extent of this curse, If any man; as if he had said, Let him be who he will that loves not Christ, Jew or Gentile, bond or free, male or female, rich or poor, young or old, prince or peasant, king or beggar, who have oportunities to know Christ and yet do not love him, let him be accursed by him to eternal ages; let him be fully separated from the society of Christians here in this world, and from all fellowship and communion with Christ finally in the world to come.
The sum is, That those who love not our Lord Jesus Christ, much more those who wilfully hate and oppose him and his holy laws, are accursed persons in this life, and devoted to destruction here: but when they shall stand before that impartial judge of the world, they shall receive from his mouth a final malediction, an irreversible execration, which shall be immediatedly succeeded with the anguish and torments of eternity.
Observe here, Our apostle's valediction; it is a benediction. He takes his farewell of them with prayer for them: The grace, or gracious favour, of Christ be with you, and multiply all blessings, both spiritual and temporal, upon you; I am sure I love you all in Christ Jesus, and for his sake.
Happy is it when ministers can take their farewell of their flocks in this manner, with fervent supplication for them, and with solemn, yet serious, protestations of the fervency of their love, and the ardency of their affection towards them. Amen.
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