Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. 14 Do everything in love. 15 You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people. I urge you, brothers and sisters, 16 to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it. 17 I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you. 18 For they refreshed my spirit and yours also. Such men deserve recognition. 19 The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house. 20 All the brothers and sisters here send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss. 21 I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. 22 If anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be cursed! Come, Lord! 23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. 24 My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen. (1 Corinthians 16:1-24 NIV)
Do you ever feel like you live in a war zone? We who are fortunate enough to have grown up in the United States have lived most of our lives in relative peace. The people who lived around us may not have shared our belief in God, but they generally shared our basic values: kindness, civility, mutual respect, generosity, meaningful work, and family. (Note: This was a list of basic values that came to mind for me in no order and in no way complete. What would be your list of core values as a follower of Jesus?) This was not the situation in Corinth. The gentile culture was all about power and pleasure, with sexual promiscuity at the core of their religious practices. The Jews in Corinth were working hard to preserve their distinctiveness by keeping the law in direct opposition to the prevailing culture around them. The church added another dynamic to the mix by being a people who rejected the prevailing culture and strict adherence to the law. The gospel stood in the middle with a message of hope that could unite these two quite different cultures. Paul knew from personal experience that the church would face continual and strong opposition, so he encourages the believers to stand firm.
None of the words Paul uses in verse 13 conveys the idea of going on the attack against the opposition. Instead, he commands the church to stand, to be immoveable, and to keep watch for threats that might damage the church. While he does not urge them to attack, he also does not instruct them to hide. Jesus teaches us that we are the light of the world. Our light is not to be hidden. The good news of forgiveness and life in Jesus should be loudly proclaimed.
Paul makes another point that might be easy to miss. He instructs the members of the Corinthian church to submit to those who serve. Leadership, the responsibility to establish the direction for the church, flows from service and not from power or position. It is possible that our ideas about church membership are drawn from this instruction. Paul’s expectation is that those who are a part of the church body will serve one another and work at the mission of the church. I have never heard a sermon preached on this set of verses. We think they are just personal greetings, but there is much here, including these remarks which would be a helpful corrective to the consumer mindset which dominates in many congregations.
While the church must stand against external threats, the most dangerous threats to the health and growth of the church come from within. I think Paul is speaking to the church about those in the church when he says, “If anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be cursed!” Anyone who does not put Jesus first will be a constant threat to Christian fellowship. We are human and I do not expect any group of Christians to agree about everything all the time. However, my experience with internal church disputes convinces me that the issues most resistant to resolution flow from the self-love of those involved. It is common in churches to find people who love teaching more than they love Jesus. Others love worship music more than they love Jesus. Still others love being right more than they love Jesus. Anything we love more than Jesus is an idol and we know that God has often expressed His anger at idol worshipers.
I am going to pay more attention to the conclusions of Paul’s letters in the future. His last words here are important words and I have only scratched the surface of what I think he wants to communicate.