Focus  On Relationships
1 Corinthians 16: 15-24

By Paul Robison

Someone wrote a poem once where they said: "Friendship is a sheltering tree."  That’s a wonderful word picture.  It takes a long time to develop a sheltering tree, and friendships develop over time as well.  Friends are like branches; they provided shade and refuge from the searing and intense rays of the sun.  A tree can provide both comfort when you are by them and strength when you are near them; so do friends.  A tree can provide fruit which nourishes.  Friends not only nourish us, they also encourage us.  A tree also provides a landmark.  If a storm takes it away or it has to be removed after being blown down, something in our memory is shaken. Somehow we can sense that the scene is not the same.  And when we realize that our old tree is gone, we feel empty.  So it is too, when a conflict arises and we are alone.  We go to call our friend, but then realize that death has taken them too, and we hang up again feeling empty. "Friendship is a sheltering tree."  Today, we come to the close of our series on 1 Corinthians.  This was a very troubled congregation, but the apostle Paul and the Lord had not given up on them.  We have seen how Paul has admonished them to be: a surrendered church, a pure church, a spiritual church, a moral church, a unified church, a loving church, a worshipful church, a peaceful church, a faithful church, a serious church, a steadfast church, an industrious church, and a generous church.  How would you close a letter written to such an immature congregation?  It is interesting to see that Paul closes his letter with this theme: Focus on relationships!  Paul provides us four challenges in this letter's conclusion.
 
First of all, serve other members!  Let's read 16:15: "I urge you—brethren--you know the household of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints."  Back in chapter 1:16, Paul remembers that Stephanas' household were some of the few members in Corinth that he had baptized.  Paul then tells us that Stephanas was one of his first converts in Greece; it is conceivable that he could have been converted in Athens when Paul preached there (Acts 17:34).  Now the next phrase is worthy of our consideration.  This version says: "They devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints."  The KJV has: "They addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints."  Nowhere in this letter does Paul mention any elders or deacons.  Why is that?  One commentator rightly observed that it was probably because they didn't have anybody yet who had the qualifications of those who serve as elders and deacons.  Without such leadership, what does Bro. Stephanas do?  He takes on the responsibility, on his own, without being prodded or appointed by anyone, to serve or to help the other members there at Corinth.  Isn't that amazing?  This good brother, just an average member, decides, devotes himself to, addicts himself to, and determines to help the other members. He does all that he can to be a servant to the rest of the congregation. Serve other members!  Stephanas must have been taught Jesus' lessons on greatness.  In Mark 10:43-45: "Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." Then at the Lord's supper, Jesus also told His disciples after their argument about who would be the greatest in Luke 22:26-27: "But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who is greater, he who sits at the table or he who serves?  Is it not he who sits at the table?  Yet I am among you as the One who serves."  Stephanas had devoted himself to being the servant of all the other members there in Corinth.  Most commentators think that he, Forunatus, and Achaicus were the people who brought the letter full of questions written by the Corinthian members to Paul.  Stephanas was willing to travel and to ask Paul for his help for the troubled congregation at Corinth.  Serve other members!  Let's be servants like Stephanas.  Let's don't wait for the elders or anyone else to ask us to do something.  Let's just determine, or devote ourselves, or even addict ourselves to helping others in this congregation!  If you see a need that someone has in this congregation, then be a servant and jump in there to do what you can to help.  Sometimes, members will complain that they don't see anything that needs to be done.  Just open your eyes and your heart!  We have members at Hillcrest that would love for you to visit and to read the Bible to them. Will you be there to worship with them at the end of this month?  We have parents who would love to have your help in raising and spending some time with their children.  We have a children's ministry group that has been asking for others' help.  We have orphans that need food and cleaning items, but they would also enjoy a visit if you would be willing to make that time. We have members in hospitals and with illness that needs visits.  There are all kinds of ways to serve if you'll just start watching, and listening, and thinking about it.  Be like Stephanas.  Serve other members!  Focus on relationships!
 
Next, submit to your leaders! Now let's read verses 16-18: "—that you also submit to such, and to everyone who works and labors with us. I am glad about the coming of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, for what was lacking on your part they supplied.  For they refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men."  Isn't it always helpful to have a good example to follow?"  Many of the Corinthians had been in the wrong, but here are a few that Paul greatly admires.  They are shining examples of what Christians should be and have made it their business to always be busy helping other brethren.  These three brothers had brought Paul a "little bit of Corinth," and they also filled in the gaps as to what was happening there. Paul was certainly grateful for their report, their interest in his welfare, and their love for the members at Corinth.  Paul says that these good men had refreshed or invigorated his spirit through their visit.  Did you notice that Paul encourages the other members at Corinth to submit to these good men? The Greek dictionary says that the word for submit here means "of submission in the sense of yielding in love" (Bauer).  It is same word in 14:34 where sisters are encouraged to be submissive and in 15:28 where Paul affirms that one day all will submit to Jesus.  Remember back at the first of this letter how we find the congregation here in division and certain preachers have been exalted by some members and cliques have developed? It is interesting that Paul encourages the members to submit to these good men and to others, like Timothy, that might come their way.  Submit to your leaders!  This same truth is seen in many other passages. James 4:7 commands us to submit ourselves to God. 1 Peter 2:13-14 encourages us to submit to the law of the land and to rulers. Hebrews 13:17 admonishes us to submit to the elders who rule over us and watch for our souls.  Ephesians 5:21 states that we should be submitting ourselves to one another.  So submission is a way of life for a Christian.  Submit to your leaders!  Someone shared this interesting story: "Driving down a country road, I came to a very narrow bridge. In front of the bridge, a sign was posted: ‘YIELD.’  Seeing no oncoming cars, I continued across the bridge and to my destination.  On my way back, I came to the same one-lane bridge, now from the other direction.  To my surprise, I saw another ‘YIELD’ sign posted.  Curious, I thought, ‘I'm sure there was one posted on the other side.’  When I reached the other side of the bridge, I looked back.  Sure enough, yield signs had been placed at both ends of the bridge.  Drivers from both directions were requested to give right of way.  It was a reasonable and gracious way of preventing a head-on collision.  When the Bible commands Christians to submit to other members, it is simply a reasonable and gracious command to let the other have the right of way and avoid interpersonal head-on collisions" (Beck).  Often, we may not like to submit, especially if our way doesn't win to day, but being submissive helps to promote unity.  Let's follow Paul's good advice to the divided Corinthian brethren, and learn to be submissive.  Submit to your leaders!  Focus on relationships!
 
Next, remember other brethren! Let's read verses 19-21: "The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.  All the brethren greet you.  Greet one another with a holy kiss.  The salutation with my own hand—Paul's."  This passage begins with the churches of Asia Minor (not those in the continent of Asia) sending their brotherly greetings to the group at Corinth.  Paul states that he is in Ephesus and will remain there in verse 8.  "One must keep in mind that Ephesus ... [was] the cultural and political capital of the Roman province of Asia referred to here" (Oster).  In Acts 18, we learn that Aquila and Priscilla worked with Paul as tentmakers in Corinth and opened up their home to help the church there.  Now they are in Ephesus, and they're sending their brotherly greetings to all the members which they knew in the past in Corinth.  In Romans 16:3-5, we find them living in Rome, and a church meets in their home here as well.  Someone commented: "Acquila and Priscilla were two wonderful people who make their homes centers of Christian light and love, who welcome guests because Christ is always their unseen guest, who make their houses havens of rest, peace, and friendship ..." (Barclay).  "The church that is in their house" reminds us once again that the early Christians did not meet in church buildings.  The architecture of a Roman home would allow about 30 people to assemble comfortably in its biggest room (Morris).  Then Paul adds that all the other brethren in Ephesus send their brotherly greetings as well.  Then Paul encourages the members at Corinth to greet each other with a holy kiss.  Sometimes this kiss was given on both cheeks, which is still a greeting used in many parts of the world today.  Sometimes, it was given on a person's hand.  This kiss was also called "The Peace" by early Christians; it was not a gesture that Paul invented.  It was a widespread practice used in many congregations throughout the Roman empire, and we can find references to it also in Romans 16:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:26, and 1 Peter 5:14.  This is a holy kiss to show brotherly affection in the Lord; there was to be nothing seductive about it.  Although we have no example in the New Testament, it is interesting that one source written around 150 A. D. said that the holy kiss was part of the worship service and came between the saying of prayers and the partaking of the Lord's Supper (Justin).  The apostle Paul has most likely dictated this letter to Sosthenes, but at this point, Paul takes the pen himself and writes the closing words.  This was a practice that Paul used to authenticate his letters.  Remember other brethren!  Isn't it wonderful how the early Christians gave warm brotherly greetings to one another?  The churches in Asia Minor, former members at Corinth, and the members in Ephesus all sent their greetings to the members in Corinth.  Doesn't this show that other members were concerned about the spiritual welfare of the members there in Corinth?  One commentator made this observation about the holy kiss: "Surely never did a church need to be recalled to that lovely custom [of giving a holy kiss to each member] than this church at Corinth, so torn with strife and dissension" (Barclay).  Remembering all members with a holy kiss would probably have done much to eliminate the cliques that had been formed around certain preachers.  And Paul puts his signature on the letter to provide a personal touch too.  All these gestures point to a common thread: remembering other brethren.  How good are we at remembering other brethren?  Are we praying for other congregations here in our area?  Do we make any effort to keep in touch with brethren in our area? I'm a little saddened when we announce that a van will be ready to take members here to a gospel meeting in some other place, and the average has been that about 6 members who will show up.  Have we ever sent cards of appreciation and encouragement as a congregation to other congregations in our area just to say that we love them and we're thankful that they are trying to reaching others around them and to live godly lives? Remember other brethren!  We have missionaries who would love to get an e-mail or letter from you telling about what's going on right here.  Or if you really want to get creative, why not send some missionaries a box of goodies to show our love for them as a congregation?  If you want to get a little closer to home, why not send something to those who have left us and are going to college elsewhere?  You see, we all like to be remembered, don't we?  Do we need to grow in this area?  Peter encourages us with a simple but profound command in 1 Peter 2:17: "Love the brotherhood!" Remember other brethren! Focus on relationships!
 
Next, love and long for the Lord!  Let's read verses 22-23: "If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed.  O Lord, come!  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.  My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen."  Paul closes with a combination of force and tenderness.  He pronounces a curse on anyone who does not love Jesus!  One commentator explains: "If anyone's heart is not aflame with love for the Lord, the root of the matter is not in him [in Paul].  He is a traitor to the cause of right.  Paul cannot contemplate such a person calmly" (Morris).  It is interesting that Paul writes this forceful statement with his own script.  He was hopeful to the end that some of the Corinthian members would come to their senses once again.  The prayer: "O Lord, come!" has a long history and probably goes back to the church in Jerusalem.  It is based on a Aramaic expression, and Aramaic was spoken in Palestine.  The expression had become a watchword among Christians; it summoned up a hope that the pagans could not understand.  This prayer is asking Jesus to hasten to fulfill His promise of coming and bringing an end to history and initiating that great Day of Judgment when King Jesus will separate the goats and the sheep.  Love and long for the Lord!  Paul then invokes the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ to be with this congregation.  Someone commented: "There is no general anathema on the whole congregation .... Even with their problems, Paul granted that the Corinthians loved the Lord.  He evidently believed that [Jesus'] grace could bear with them through their struggles and that he should bear with them too" (Shelly).  Troubled and mistaken Christians certainly need Jesus' grace and His help.  Then Paul says: "My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen."  Someone has noted: His love to them is the only time we find him ending a letter in this way; "there is not the slightest doubt that Paul regarded the Christians with tender affection" (Morris).  Did you notice how Paul said that his love was with them ALL?  And did you notice how Jesus' grace and Paul's love are the letter's last words? Someone made this good observation: "Love the truth, but also love the brethren who are following it imperfectly. ... That church at Corinth was worth caring about, praying for, and building up.  It was like the church where I am a member.  It might even remind you of the one where you are. The Lord doesn't have perfect churches.  So don't be discouraged.  Don't quit.  Don't give up.  Keep on caring, praying, and building!  We are imperfect people in imperfect churches who serves a Perfect Savior.  Our hope lies not with ourselves—but in Him" (Shelly)!  Love and long for the Lord!  Focus on relationships!
 
Here's a poem called "The Bridge Builder"
An old man traveling a lone highway, came at the evening cold and gray,
To a chasm vast and deep and wide, through which was flowing a sullen tide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim, the sullen stream held no fears for him;
But he turned when safe on the other side, and builded a bridge to span the tide.
 
"Old man," cried a fellow pilgrim near, "You're wasting your time in building here.
Your journey will end with the closing day; you never again will pass this way.
You have crossed the chasm deep and wide, why build a bridge at even-tide?"
 
The builder lifted his old gray head: "Good friend, in the path I have come," he said,
"There follows after me today a youth whose feet must pass this way.
This stream which has been as naught to me, to that fair-haired youth may pitfall be;
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim—Good friend, I am building this bridge for him" (Doomgoole).
 
Paul closes this great letter by focusing on Christ and His people.  He challenges us: serve other members, submit to your leaders, remember other brethren, and love and long for the Lord!  Focus on relationships!
 
Let's pray! "Father, we thank You once again for Your word and the way Paul challenges us.  Help us to focus on relationships.  We praise You for showing us how to love others.  In Jesus' name, amen."
 
"By this will all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. ... I am the vine and you are the branches.  He who abides in me, and I in him bears much fruit; for without Me, you can do nothing" (John 13:35 & 15:5).  Have you been building any bridges lately?  Have you been focusing on relationships or has Satan diverted your attention and caused you to focus on the cares of this world?  Maybe you've been more focused on yourself when you know you should be focusing on others. Without Jesus, you can do nothing.  With Him, you can do all things.  Jesus makes all the difference!