A bigger vision of Church – 1 Corinthians 16
“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:13–14 NIV11)
How big is your Church?
Not the size of the building. Not the number of people on a Sunday. Rather, how big is your vision of The Church that Jesus died for? Does it include all the faithful ones or just ‘your’ faithful ones?
As the letter to the Corinthians wraps up in chapter 16 we see Paul doing lots of ‘Paul things’ that don’t immediately seem very gripping but I want to suggest that there’s a theme here connected with his very particular experience of the Church.
You recall that Paul has planted the churches across the Mediterranean. He tells us in Romans 15 that this is no accident but rather an unfolding strategy:
“Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.” (Romans 15:17–20)
The result of God’s extraordinary grace through this converted Jew is that there *is* a Church all over the known world. Paul is the living connection to them all but he wants to see that connection lived out by each planted church in practical and personal ways as love, support, and financial encouragement flow from places of abundance to places of need.
Paul (as always) is particularly concerned for the Jewish believers in Jerusalem. They have been impoverished after the persecution and he is organising the wider Church to love these suffering brothers and sisters.
“Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.” (1 Corinthians 16:1–2)
This same theme of an interconnected trans-border Church explains why he’s in Ephesus (16:8-9), why he’s planning to travel (16:5), and why he’s sending Timothy and Apollos (16:10-12). And so Paul can conclude:
“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. All the brothers and sisters here send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (1 Corinthians 16:19–20)
Paul’s closing greeting is so wide (the churches in Asia) and so intimate (the church in their home) and so personal (send you greetings).
Paul finishes with a call that I think summarises the book. A call to be on guard against all the errors he has addressed so that they stand firm and a call to wrap everything in love.
Putting others first is the big takeaway from the book. The most gifted, the most free, the most wealthy, these ones are to lay aside their benefits and privileges and consider the least as they do everything in love.
“Dear Heavenly Father, help us to see Your Church as greater than ‘my church.’ Help us to have concern for brothers and sisters up the road and across the globe. In the midst of collapsed horizons due to lockdown please help us to see the Church Your Son died for and to care like family. Over all this, and in every place, help us to put ourselves second as we love you and our neighbours as ourselves. Amen.”
I hope you’ve enjoyed this blogging process as much as I have enjoyed writing them. This Sunday we kick off a brand new series called Love in the Spirit in which we’ll spend 10 weeks looking at 1 Corinthians together. If you aren’t currently churching anywhere we’d love yo to join us online this Sunday live from 9:30am (or ‘on demand’ as they say) at our YouTube channel right here: www.YouTube.com/newlifeoranparklive
Grace and peace,
#newlifeisfoundhere #readingforNewLife #1Corinthians