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Saving the Best Words for Last

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: 1 Corinthians 16

A church that is motivated by Christlike love will give generously, stand firm in the faith, and honor and follow godly leaders. Paul concludes his first letter to the church at Corinth by stressing that everything we do should be done in love.


Have you ever noticed that we have a natural tendency to save the best for last? We want to end the day on a good note. If we have had a day of bad news, we want to end it with good news. I suppose that is the same idea for eating our dinner—we eat the vegetables first and save dessert for last.

Well, throughout the book of 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul has been dishing out some vegetables—some necessary elements of correction and instruction. At times, he has been firm, if not harsh, as he has attempted to get them on the right track.

But now, in this final chapter, Paul has saved some positive and encouraging items for last. He is going to end his letter on a good note.

Paul begins in verse 1, writing about the special collection he is taking up for the relief efforts back in Jerusalem. He has mentioned this offering in Romans, and he is going to give it two entire chapters in 2 Corinthians.[1]

Paul’s passion and purpose according to God’s calling was to preach the gospel, and he never wavered from that assignment. But he was also concerned about the physical well-being of believers. He was not a social reformer—he was a preacher. Yet, even as he preached, he did what he could to help suffering believers. And that should be our perspective as well.

The Corinthians had heard of this relief effort, and they evidently asked Paul about it. They were apparently anxious to help as well. So, Paul gives them some instruction in verse 2:

On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.

By the way, you might notice that Paul mentions here the first day of the week, Sunday, the day that would come to be called the “Lord’s Day.” This implies that the Corinthian believers were meeting together for worship on Sunday. By Acts chapter 20, Sunday had become the official day of worship, in honor of the Lord’s resurrection. It also reveals that the church was separating from its early connection with the Jewish synagogue—separating from Judaism and the Old Testament commandment that God had given to Isarel to worship on the Sabbath. This was a new day, and the church was a new organism, made up of both redeemed Jews and Gentiles.

In this verse, Paul also reveals some characteristics of New Testament giving. Unlike the Old Testament, it was no longer based on a percentage, but according to how God had prospered the believer. Giving here also countered selfishness by developing compassion for others—in this case, the needy believers in Jerusalem.

Paul then reveals his travel plans, writing, “Perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may help me on my journey, wherever I go” (verse 6).

You can tell that his desire to see them is genuine. Even though he’s corrected them and at times been firm with them, he genuinely loves them and desires their fellowship. We need these kinds of Christian leaders today, who will be brave enough to rebuke sin but kind enough to encourage and love the flock.                                                                                                                     

I love Paul’s perspective and courage here as he writes in verse 9, “For a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” Did you catch that? A wide door has been opened, and there are many adversaries. We would probably write, “There are many adversaries, so God is obviously not opening the door!”

That sounds more like a closed door to me! But not to Paul. He evaluated God’s will a lot differently than many of us would today. He did not consider God’s will the same thing as smooth sailing.

Then Paul mentions Timothy in verse 10. He tells the Corinthians to “put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord.” This is a good model for every church today in their treatment of pastors and teachers who serve them. Does your church put them at ease or make them feel ill at ease? Does your church hang out a welcome sign or a “No trespassing sign”? Some churches and church members never seem to welcome their spiritual leaders at all; Paul wants them to put out the welcome mat for Timothy.   

Next, Paul refers to Apollos. You might remember early on in this letter that the church had taken sides between Paul and Apollos. They had been arguing over whether Paul or Apollos was the better preacher. But Paul and Apollos are not competing at all. Paul writes the Corinthians, “I strongly urged [Apollos] to visit you . . . He will come when he has opportunity” (verse 12). There is no competition between them, only a spirit of cooperation in the work of the ministry.  

Paul writes in verses 13-14, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” To “be watchful” means to be alert to the devil’s influence. Frankly, the devil had divided this church in more ways than one. They needed to wake up to the danger. Paul tells them to “act like men, [and] be strong,” which is another reminder of the spiritual battle they are in.

You will notice that Paul also writes here in verse 14, “Let all that you do be done in love.” Just because they were to be tough in spiritual battle did not mean they were to be unloving toward each other.   

Now in typical fashion, Paul’s letter turns into a “thank-you” letter, as he expresses gratitude to several people for their service. In verse 17, he commends “Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus,” saying, “They refreshed my spirit as well as yours” (verses 17-18). Then Paul adds this command: “Give recognition to such people.”  

Beloved, in Paul’s world, and in our world today, athletes and actors are highly honored. The world loves to make celebrities out of superstars. Paul says that we are giving the grand prize to the wrong people. The people to recognize, to thank, to imitate are these kinds of people who sacrifice their lives for the work of Christ.

In verse 19, he sends greetings from “the churches of Asia” and from “Aquila and Prisca [or Priscilla], together with the church in their house.”

Paul then tells the church to “greet one another with a holy kiss.” This was a cultural greeting.  I have traveled to countries where everyone in the church greeted each other with a kiss on the cheek. In my home country, we do not have a holy kiss, but we have what you might call a holy hug or a holy handshake. But evidently this church in Corinth was so divided they were not even offering each other this common greeting. Paul tells them to start practicing this greeting again.

In view of some of the problems in the church, they needed this final warning in verse 22: “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed.” I think this is a subtle reminder from chapter 5—that anyone who is living in unrepentant sin should not be allowed in the membership of the church.

Paul then makes this wonderful call: “Our Lord, come!” This is a declaration of confidence in the return of Christ. Paul has saved the best for last. He does not end this letter with a word of judgment but with a declaration of joy: “Jesus is coming again!”  

With that, Paul expresses his love for them and closes this powerful and personal letter to the church in Corinth.

[1] See Romans 15:25-28; 2 Corinthians 8–9.

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