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
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
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
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
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
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 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!