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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published weekly on Friday
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men (and women) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1Timothy 2:3-4)
Before we get started I want to acknowledge all the people who recently started following our informal Bible study on the www; we’re glad to have you “on board.”
I have no further announcements for the group, so that leaves us at the beginning of the final lesson of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian saints. Our Apostle Paul gave instructions to the Corinthian church concerning the collection for the saints in Judea in 16:1-4, so last week I decided to contrast the way this was done in the early church with the way the modern, individual churches are presently doing it.
Now, some folks in the modern church may say “That was then and this is now; you can’t compare the two - our church has many needs.” On the other hand, another group of Believers think the church today should be more like the early church and this notion has nothing to do with wanting to hang on to the things of “yesteryear,” for nostalgia sake, but everything to do with adhering to the practical teachings of the apostles. The modern church has drifted away from some of these core teachings. For instance, Paul preached There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:4-6).
In other words, the early church was unified; Christians viewed the church as one family, in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:10, 12:25; Ephesians 4:16). But does this describe the church today – hardly. Instead of being united, the modern church has splintered into “thousands” of individual churches, the majority of these calling themselves Christian churches, yet each one bears a different label, and they hold individualized church doctrines that vary somewhat or greatly from their neighbor church up the street or across town. Catholics don’t attend Baptist churches and Lutherans don’t participate in Presbyterian Bible studies. Each church group functions like a private (members only) club. I saw a sign just the other day that read: Support Your Local Church. Shouldn’t this sign have read: Support God’s one Church!
But there’s commonality to be found in all these organized, religious, corporate entities. Pew Research reveals if you look closely at any of these church budgets you’ll find they spend the greater portion of their revenue on salaries, building mortgages, and other material supplements to ministry. At best 7% of the church funds is allocated to helping the poor or given to needs outside the church that (on some level) aid the needy in your community. Compare that to how the early church spent its money. Although the N.T. talks about taking up collections, it never says this money was used for a building fund, for salaries, or to support individual ministries within the church. And it never mentions giving 10% of your income, which is a common value most modern churches attach to regular giving. I have attended a couple of churches that didn’t pass a collection basket at all and the preacher never mentioned giving during the service. These churches placed a basket at the back of the assembly hall and it was generally understood this was where you placed your “gift” of whatever amount you determined, or as you prospered, before you left the building; or not. The act of giving is between the giver and God and not the giver and the church leader.
When the N.T. speaks of giving, it refers to contributing money to the poor (Romans 15:22-29; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8-9). When Paul declared, “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7) for instance, it was in the context of Gentile churches giving a one-time monetary gift to the poor Jewish Believers living in Jerusalem.
Another thing that set the early church apart from the modern church is they took these words of Jesus to heart: “People SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD (Matthew 4:4)” In Paul’s day they valued the written Word of God and they studied it diligently (Acts 17:10-12). Since the Bible has been a “best seller” for many years, you may think the modern church has finally gotten one right. But even though most Christians own more than one Bible, and most churches offer a wide range of Bible study programs, the majority of Christians today exhibit an unprecedented lack of Bible knowledge. Pew Research reveals 60% of Christians can only name two or three of the 10 Commandments, 81% don’t believe (or aren’t aware of) the basic tenets of the faith they profess, and 12% believe Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife…
However, early Believers soaked up the Word of God like a sponge. The New Testament letters, for example, not only contain direct quotations from the Old Testament they also contain “allusions” or brief phrases that the reader was expected to understand. For instance, the book of Revelation alone does not contain a single direct quotation from the Old Testament, and yet has more than 500 allusions to words or phrases from the Old Testament. These allusions could only be picked up on by readers or Bible students who were intimately familiar with the Old Testament Scriptures.
If the church today resembled the early church, we would truly be the Lord’s ambassadors here on earth, united in thought, word, and deed to the glory of God. Believers would be reaching non-believers effectively on a regular basis. Contrastingly, in too many churches today, the congregations are reaching no one for Christ Jesus in the course of an entire year. There are many reasons for this, one of these resting at the top of the list is in many churches today the congregations can’t agree that Jesus Christ is the one and only way to the Father (John 14:6).
If you’ll open your Bible at 1 Corinthians 16:5-9, we’ll pick up our lesson where Paul begins to write about his tentative plans to visit the church at Corinth, Greece.
1 Corinthians 16
5: But I will come to you after I go through Macedonia, for I am going through Macedonia;
6: and perhaps I will stay with you, or even spend the winter, so that you may send me on my way wherever I may go.
7: For I do not wish to see you now just in passing; for I hope to remain with you for some time, if the Lord permits.
8: But I will remain in Ephesus until Pentecost;
9: for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.
Since Paul had just given instructions concerning the gift the Corinthian saints were challenged to make to the poor Jews living in Jerusalem, he naturally begins to discuss his upcoming travel plans. In verses 2-3 he indicates when he arrives in Corinth he does not want to have a collection taken. This gift should be set aside in advance of his arrival. Once he arrives, he would write letters to accompany the gift and the Corinthians chosen to convey it to Jerusalem.
Even though it’s not mentioned here it should be rather obvious Paul wants to put this Judean collection matter behind them so that they can address all the church-related issues we’ve been covering to date for these are of the utmost importance.
But I will come to you (v1) - Paul’s prolonged absence was obviously a point of contention in this church. How do we know this? Turn back to 1 Corinthians 4:18-19 where we find this comment from Paul: Now some have become (what) arrogant, as though I were not coming to you… Some of these Believers took advantage of Paul’s uncertain travel plans to attack him and his theology, i.e. his gospel.
Reading through verses 5-7, I find there is more here than meets the eye: But I will come to you after I go through Macedonia, for I am going through Macedonia; and perhaps I will stay with you, or even spend the winter, so that you may send me on my way wherever I may go. For I do not wish to see you now just in passing; for I hope to remain with you for some time, (note how Paul ends this section) if the Lord permits.
Permit me to illustrate: in 1963 the Moscow-Washington hotline was established. It links the Pentagon with the Kremlin. Although in popular culture this is known as the “red telephone” and sits on the president’s desk in the oval office, the hotline was never a telephone line, and no red telephones were used. But the hotline does exist and since 2008 both nations have opted to use e-mail to communicate with one another.
If anyone had a direct line to God (as far as guidance is concerned), according to Scripture that man was Paul. On a number of occasions, God gave him special revelation, starting with the appearance of the Lord on the road to Damascus – that was dramatic (Acts 9:1-9; 23:1-16, 26:2-18). In the book of Acts, Paul receives a revelation from the Lord on several occasions such as the Macedonian vision in Acts 16:9, where he and his party are directed to cross over to Macedonia, i.e. Philippi. Then there’s the time the Lord appears in a vision to Paul in Corinth after opposition from unbelieving Jews forces him to cease his ministry in the synagogue. Paul moved his operation next door to the home of Titius Justus (Acts 18:9-11). (See also 11:27-30, 13:1-3, 20-23, 21:10-11, 27:21-25).
By “digging deeper” we find that verses 5-7 actually indicate the way in which Paul normally made his daily decisions and future plans, in humility Paul sought divine guidance before “stepping out” or taking action. In contrast, the Corinthians thought of themselves as being “super-spiritual” (1 Corinthians 4:6-13; 2 Corinthians 10:1-2). But we now know, as did Paul, their decision-making skills left much to be desired from a Christian perspective because he wrote: Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame (15:34). I’ve actually had people say to me, “God spoke to me the other day…,” or “God told me to…,” as if they were in communication with the Creator God on a regular basis, demonstrating their “super-spirituality.” This closely resembles what Paul was dealing with in Corinth.
1 Corinthians 16
8: But I will remain in Ephesus until Pentecost – this remark proves that Paul wrote this letter while he was in Ephesus. Paul delayed his visit to Corinth because he was convinced that it was God’s will for him to remain on at Ephesus. Two things convinced Paul to prolong his stay: there was a great need and there was an opportunity - right now; the door was open - for a wide door for effective service has opened to me (v9). Thus, this was not the time to pack up and leave.
If you were at a social event and a family member sought you out just as you were bagging your leftovers and loading the SUV, stopping you with the question, “Who is Jesus Christ,” what would you do? Would you keep loading and say, “I’ll catch you some other time” and drive away? Or knowing the wide door for effective service has opened; it’s here and it’ NOW, would you take the time to faithfully address the need, knowing this moment may not come around again? Paul encountered a similar cross road in Ephesus and we know the choice he made.
Let’s be careful to note what this book doesn’t say here. Paul didn’t say, “God has opened a wide door for effective service.” I do think this is what Paul believed so this is what he wants Believers to understand, but that’s not what he said. It wasn’t necessary for Paul to say God “led him” to do this or that.
Furthermore, it appears that Paul is careful not to credit God with one of his decisions unless he is certain it was God who directed him, i.e. he knew for certain his actions aligned with God’s will. Why point this out to you? I’m glad you asked – far too many Christians credit God for a decision they made whether the outcome was good or bad. When we have made a decision for which we do not have clear, divine guidance, let’s “own” that decision personally and leave God out of it altogether. Let’s not try to sanctify it by saying I prayed for God’s will and felt the Spirit leading me, “to marry him/her, and you know how that turned out…” or “God said I should invest in that stock; worst decision in my life!” or “I prayed about that job in Seattle, they called me back, so I decided to accept it and move there next week. I hope it works out…”
The way in which Paul dealt with his future travel plans to Corinth provides Believers with a pattern for discerning God’s guidance and not just as this pertains to travel.
When we want to travel somewhere we choose a flight schedule, make airline reservations, we pack a bag and board our flight and leave the rest to the friendly skies. Things were a lot different in Paul’s day. Paul has already confirmed the fact that he wrote this letter from Ephesus, so looking at a map from that time period we find Ephesus is in Asia Minor, across the Aegean Sea from Macedonia where the cities of Philippi and Thessalonica are located. Somewhat south of Macedonia is the Roman providence of Achaia, where the cities of Athens and Corinth are located. Paul could not get from Ephesus to Corinth without considerable travel and without crossing the Aegean Sea. Now, you just didn’t board ship and sail in Paul’s day folks, there were a number of factors to be considered. For example, sea travel was only safe and available during certain seasons.
Note Paul did not claim to have received any direct revelation or divine guidance concerning his travel plans to Corinth, he merely speaks as though he is confident that he will know when and how he will come to them at Corinth when it’s necessary (Matthew 6:34). The other noteworthy item we should take from the text is Paul did not make commitments regarding the future which he was not sure he could keep. He kept his plans subject to the will of God. Paul understood his future (as is our future) is in the hands of the Sovereign God (Isaiah 55:8-9; Romans 11:33-34; James 4:13-17). Paul just put one foot in front of the other, as any other Believer should, trying their best to remain in God’s will.
The wide door for effective service for Paul that opened in Ephesus was not a “cake walk” or a ministry among friendlies. Paul has already revealed something about his work there to us: Why are we also in danger every hour? I affirm, brethren, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. If from human motives I fought wild beasts at (where) Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, LET US EAT AND DRINK, FOR TOMORROW WE DIE (1 Corinthians 15:30-32).
Paul is explaining to us that his ministry in Ephesus brought many people to Christ but it also brought about much opposition and danger every hour. (See Acts 19) From this we learn wherever you find devoted men and women laboring in the name of the Lord, you can also expect to find opposition. The spiritual battle between good and evil which began when Satan was cast out of heaven continues today: For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12; 2 Timothy 3).
Let’s go to verses 10-11.
1 Corinthians 16
10: Now if Timothy comes, see that he is with you without cause to be afraid, for he is doing the Lord’s work, as I also am.
11: So let no one despise him. But send him on his way in peace, so that he may come to me; for I expect him with the brethren.
Since Paul is unable to travel to Corinth at this time, here he offers an alternative plan saying others may come to their city so that these Believers can be taught the truth of God’s Word and encouraged in the faith. But Paul writes this as a command because he knew personally just how unloving these folks could be and he didn’t want his young assistant insulted or harmed because of his youth, his personality, or because he came instead of Paul himself (v 11).
But send him on his way in peace, so that he may come to me; for I expect him with the brethren. The Bible doesn’t say who this involves, but Erastus and Titus are two likely possibilities. According to Acts 19:22, Paul sent Timothy and Erastus to Macedonia seemingly to find out from other saints and churches whether it would be wise for him to pay the Corinthians that extended visit or not: And having sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.
As indicated above Paul awaited their return and their report. According to the text, Timothy was on his way to Corinth to administer whatever spiritual help he might be able to give to the carnal-minded Believers there.
Erastus was the treasurer of the city of Corinth (Romans 16:23). When Paul finally paid the Corinthians that extended visit, Erastus would be an ideal choice in helping him urge the Believers there to participate generously in the offering to be sent by the Gentile churches to Jerusalem. But as we learn from Acts 19:22 Paul sent these two men to Macedonia, not specifically to Corinth. It may well be the information he received from these two men was not favorable because in Acts 20:1-3 we find Paul himself going into Macedonia and as far south as Greece (for 3 months), but there’s no mention of Corinth, which one would expect had this proposed visit with them materialized at that time.
Titus - During Paul’s first missionary journey, a young man named Titus heard Paul preach about Jesus. Titus was Greek. He had not grown up worshiping the God of the Bible. As he listened to Paul, Titus’ heart responded to the message, and he believed in Jesus. Paul brought him to Jerusalem (Galatians 2:1-4) to show the apostles and other Jewish believers how a Greek non-Jew could love God just as much as they did. Titus represented all the other non-Jewish people who became Christians and were completely accepted by God through their faith in Jesus Christ—like most of us.
Titus continued to travel with Paul on missionary journeys, helping in the work of sharing the gospel. During the 3 years Paul was in Ephesus teaching them about the amazing power of God (third journey), Titus was there. Then, Paul sent him to Corinth to alleviate tension there (2 Corinthians 7:6, 13-14) and to collect money for the poor (2 Corinthians 8:6, 16, 23).
I go by what this book says and it says that Paul left the decision to go or not to go to Corinth to Timothy for Paul wrote: Now if Timothy comes… This is one more way in which the early church differs greatly from the modern church today. Many modern churches operate like corporations in that they have a “religious hierarchy” wherein ranking men have the authority to determine where a church leader goes to work and for how long. Picture, if you will, a denominational church leader responding like Timothy to a superior who notified him that he had been reassigned to a new church in the inner city, “You know that’s a generous offer, but it’s really not in my plans at this time to change churches, but I will consider it at some later date.” This church leader would be deemed “rebellious” and called onto the corporate carpet where he would be not only unsympathetically corrected for his arrogance but he would be handed the keys to his new assignment in short order or face some rather stern consequences.
Contrastingly, even Apollos had the opportunity to yes or no to the assignment (v 12).
1 Corinthians 16
12: But concerning Apollos our brother, I encouraged him greatly to come to you with the brethren (whoever this may be); and it was not at all his desire to come now, but he will come when he has opportunity (and if it is the Lord’s will).
Earlier in this letter we learned that some of the Corinthians preferred Apollos over Paul (1:11-12), perhaps in hopes of inciting a rivalry between them, i.e. “my pastor’s better than your pastor” – kind of thing. Now we find Paul encouraging him greatly to come to Corinth with the brethren. However, Paul has already addressed this conflict-ridden attitude with these words: Who then is Apollos? Who then is Paul? They are servants through whom you believed, as the Lord has assigned to each his role. I planted, Apollos watered, but God kept it growing. So neither the one planting nor the one watering is anything, but only God who causes the growth (3:5-7 – Berean Literal Bible).
Paul and Apollos demonstrated by their lives and their individual ministries they were not rivals but co-workers for Christ.
Paul’s Closing Remarks
1 Corinthians 16
13 Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.
14: Let all that you do be done in love.
15: Now I urge you, brethren (you know the household of Stephanas, that they were the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves for ministry to the saints),
16: that you also be in subjection to such men and to everyone who helps in the work and labors.
17: I rejoice over the coming of Stephanas and Fortunaus and Achaicus, because they have supplied what was lacking on your part.
18: For they have refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men.
The closing of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is actually sad when you get right down to it because it begins with mild rebukes that are derived from the military “be on the alert,” “stand firm,” “act like men,” and “be strong.” Paul is admonishing this church to “watch out” to be on the alert against a factious spirit, heresy, debauchery, and above all pride.
Stand firm in the faith – this is another military term for “holding one’s position – at all cost. “In the faith” refers to the Grace Age Doctrine (Jude 1:3, 20). Paul wants them to be alert to Satan’s schemes and to their own tendency to surrender to them as they live the Christian life and thus stand firm in the faith (v13). These Believers had been so concerned about their own petty interests that they were not standing firm in the faith; they were yielding ground to the enemy, vast acreage to tell the truth; as the modern church is doing today.
14: Let all that you do be done in love. It’s also sad that Paul had to devote an entire chapter on (agape) love simply because this church was lacking this essential element – as are many churches today.
15: Now I urge you, brethren (you know the household of Stephanas, that they were the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves for ministry to the saints),
The church at Corinth was the largest church Paul had planted. Because of this, they met in several homes within the city. Out of all these household churches there was only “one” who had devoted themselves for ministry to the saints and this was the household of Stephanas. Please note, concerning this, Paul does not merely say, “be thankful for such a wonderful household of Believers,” but: that you also be in subjection to such men and to everyone who helps in the work and labors (v16).
And then, Paul brings up a matter that should have brought great shame upon the church at Corinth, “I rejoice over the coming of Stephanas and Fortunaus and Achaicus, because they have supplied what was lacking on your part (v17). These two men came from Corinth to Ephesus to aid Paul in some way.
The Corinthian Church possessed the means to aid Paul in his ministry while in Ephesus – they could have helped him greatly in his struggle there. But they chose not to and this is evident from this passage and from 2 Corinthians 11:7-9.
Therefore acknowledge such men – Here Paul instructs these saints not only to be grateful to the men who had so generously supplied him; he instructs them to give them special recognition. In other words, those men who serve and sacrifice for the cause of Christ should be recognized, respected, honored, heeded, and their advice given greater weight than that of others.
Next up – Paul’s 2 letter to the Corinthians.
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