What can be learned from the closing remarks in Chapter 16 of 1 Corinthians? Perhaps often overlooked, these comments of Paul carry wisdom relevant to our age.
1 Corinthians 16
Last time we notice the progression of thought from chapter 15 about resurrection, then on to that truth as a reason to not be moved away from our purpose, always give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord. The fact of the resurrection assures us that we will be rewarded for our good service. Chapter 16 is all about that good service, and not just the use of our finances and the place of giving in Christ’s kingdom.
What can we learn as we look closely at these closing remarks in chapter 16? Perhaps it is the sort of thing you would be tempted to skip, to miss out. Don’t. These closing remarks teach us a great deal of important matters.
Here, we get a glimpse of early church mission and values. Look at all this talk about travelling and greeting and see the priorities these people have, their sense of purpose. These are not missionaries, they are disciples of Christ who see their life having missional purpose.
Money, verses 1-18
I did a general teaching on money and handling our finances last time, which was inspired by verses 1 to 4. But we see that money and how it is used for God’s purposes appears elsewhere in this chapter.
Paul had a particular skill, a trade, he was a tent maker. Think of tents, wagon covers, ship sails, sun shades in the large stadiums. Corinth had two busy harbours. This man would have been able to find work almost anywhere he went. At this time he could have found work connected to the biennial Isthmian Games. The point I am making is that we know he was, at some times, self supporting. Here though he is declaring that he has a right to receive financial support from the Corinthian church. He told them they were responsible to pay the evangelists who came to them and to provide accommodation and all the duties of hospitality.
Paul offers three suggestions about their giving. All three are to do with giving beyond their own local community. What does this say to you and I about missional giving?
1 Now, not later
They were not not sort themselves out theologically or structurally before they started the ministry of giving. They were to practice this ministry in faith regardless of how unformed their church was. In the midst of their theological disagreements and their disunity they were to give.
2 We give as we are able
They were to give as they were able, not according to any apparent need. They were not ask how much was needed. In a book I have been reading the writer said of this point, it was not like a club asking members to put a new roof on a club house. Mission is about systematic setting aside what each of us has purposed in our hearts to give.
Sometimes the givers think they have the right to control. Here we see Paul is saying that he will be making the decisions about where his mission will carry him, yet all the time trusting in their support.
3 The money is to be handled in a way that is fully accountable
Paul then addresses the matter of who will handle the money. Notice that he refuses to handle the money himself which protects him from criticism or misunderstanding. He wants trustworthy people to carry the cash. The Corinthians are to suggest who could be trusted to carry this cash without taking some for themselves.
Those that carried the money would carry paperwork that went with it.
1 Corinthians 16:3-43 Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. 4 If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me.
What do we call this paperwork? An inventory? Or a delivery note? This practice of including some documentation is common practice even today and in this situation it kept people from temptation and from accusation. Were they allowed to use some of it for the cost of their travel and food? If so, all would have been in the documentation and they would have been able to produce the money, the record of the original amount transported and receipts for their legitimate travel costs.
A detail from history:
During the reign of the Emperor Tiberius (AD 37) a case of theft was recorded by Josephus. A man arrived in Rome, along with three others, got a wealthy Roman woman, a convert to Judaism, called Fluvia to give “purple and gold for the temple at Jerusalem.” The men then stole what she had given. The theft was discovered by her husband, Saturninus, who reported the theft to Tiberius. As a result Tiberius ordered, “all the Jews to be banished out of Rome.” The order must have either not been carried out or forgotten and the Jews returned, as again in AD 49 the same order was given for another offence but this time by the Emperor Claudius.
So you see a Jew, such as Paul, collecting money in a Roman colony could attract unwelcome criticism and make him vulnerable to accusation. Paul wanted documentation, signed by the donors, detailing the size and purpose of the gift that would travel with the cash. Paul here sets a standard for churches.
A Holy Kiss
1 Corinthians 16:20
All the brothers and sisters here send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
A kiss?! It may not be part of current British culture now, but males kissing males (on the cheek) and women kissing women has been part of many cultures down the centuries. It still is in many cultures across the world. What is Paul asking? Perhaps the nearest we have is giving someone a hug. This request follows on from his pleas for unity and love.
See 1 Corinthians 13:4-84
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.8 Love never fails…