1 Corinthians tackles many issues, and shows the Apostle’s heart for God’s Gospel and His people. Paul explores the depths of the problems in the church at Corinth, and probes the false values which they are living for, in the place of Christ. Paul has done his work. Now the Corinthians need to get in step through a hearty Spirit-led obedience to what they’ve been taught. Obviously, the same is true of us.
If the letter’s fireworks are over, don’t think that the final chapter of this or any other of Paul’s letters is unimportant. So often, it is here that the main emphases and the lessons of the letter are pushed home a final time. Here are three:
Serve the needy
The first heartbeat of grace in a believer’s life is the outward look to the needs of others in Christ. Suddenly, we’re aware that others need to experience this grace as much as we do. That might be those who are outside Christ, but it is equally those who are already part of His Body, whether in our local church or elsewhere.
Paul put considerable effort into raising a collection from the Gentile churches for the relief of the poor and needy in Jerusalem. It was a genius stroke of showing the world, as well as the Jerusalem church, that the true church is one for people of all places and races. Paul knew that this gift collected from former pagans would speak of the grace which brings new life and new community. So Paul proposes a weekly collection, with the gift gradually increasing until he comes to organise its taking up to Jerusalem (vv.1-4).
What we do with our money says everything about where our hearts are. It’s easy to spend it on ourselves, or on those we know and love. It’s equally easy to save it. But can you give of your money to those who need it who you’ve never met? Can you give to strangers who are totally unlike you, apart from their shared profession of faith in Jesus? In that way, they are your brothers and sisters in Christ. Giving to them is a duty and a privilege.
This command is a challenge to the Corinthians who have shown themselves to be very proud and selfish. Giving attacks personal pride. Try it. It works.
Do strategic ministry
Paul outlines his travel plans and hopes (vv.5-6). That includes making more than a passing visit to the Corinthians (v.7). He wants to give them time, time which was so precious to him, in order to iron out problems and deepen relationships. People mattered to him. And ministry to them was the top priority, whether to the church or to unbelievers. That conviction filled his diary. But it also meant that he wasn’t a slave to the plans he noted in his diary, but was alive to the guidance of God. So in the same breath as he tells the Corinthians that he wants to come to see them, he tells them that “a great door for effective ministry has opened for me” (v.9), which might delay his arrival. In other words, he is so open to the grace of God that he wants to strategise his time and gifts to serve it – even when “there are many who oppose me.”
We need to learn lessons ourselves. How often do we just press on in a given direction as individuals, or even as a church, or no better reason that it looked a good idea to us, when we first made the decision? We may call ourselves principled, trustworthy or well-organised; but we might be failing to see where the Lord is leading, and therefore what we should be doing. Stay humble, be open to God’s Spirit, keep focused on Gospel service. And God will lead, even if you have to tear up the diary.
Honour the workers
Timothy and Apollos were dear to Paul’s heart. He wants them to be dear to the Corinthians, too (vv.10-12). It’s not hard to see that Paul is referring to strain in his relationship with his close colleague Apollos. Here it’s a case of “love always trusts, hopes and perseveres” (13.7). Whatever their past tensions, Paul is committed to serving alongside him, as he has learned that the best Gospel work isn’t done by lone rangers, but by co-workers, who deal with differences and commit to honouring one another.
Our Christian maturity is in real evidence when we “submit to such as these and to everyone who joins in the work, and labours at it” (v.17). Whether they are leaders, co-workers, those who excel in hospitality, encouragement, prayer of whatever else, Paul’s vision is for a church where workers love each other and serve together (vv.15-24). The Gospel is too precious to be jeopardised by a church of selfish or proud people. If God can give us saving grace, He can certainly give us sanctifying grace. The message of 1 Corinthians is that we are called to be like holy like Jesus: we are to be humble, loving, persevering, and doing all things to the glory of God. How we treat each other says everything about how we relate to Jesus. This is His Body, afterall.