According to George Barna in his book Revolution: Finding Vibrant Faith Beyond the Walls of the Sanctuary (pg. 37):
The Bible neither describes nor promotes the local church as we know it today
Mr. Barna argues that because of particular problems with the church today, people should substitute home Bible studies, Christian fellowships, conferences, and other gatherings for the local church (pp. 22-27).
How should we react to the problems that many churches face today? What should we do with a church that is so compromised by the culture and plagued by strife and worldliness?
Well, this description of the church is similar to the description of the church at Corinth. In 1 Corinthians, Paul is writing to a local congregation that fits closely to the charges that Mr. Barna makes against churches today.
But Paul’s solution is much different from that which Mr. Barna suggests. Instead of a call to abandon the local church, Paul urges the Corinthians to define the church along the lines of humble self-denying love and care.
In 1 Corinthians 16, Paul points to six aspects of church life that particularly needed to be addressed in order to salvage the congregation in Cornith he loved so deeply.
And as we look at these six aspects, I pray that you’ll think self-critically about your own local church / congregation, and that you’d be encouraged and challenged about your life together.
Wisdom About Money (16:1-4)
In verses 1-4, Paul urges the Corinthians to set aside a portion of their money to take up a collection to send to the Christians in Jerusalem who were apparently starving because of a famine. Note how careful Paul was to keep himself separate from the money that was being collected so there would not be even a perception of impropriety (v. 4). This is a good rule for pastors and church leaders to follow.
Also, note that Paul urges the Corinthians to take the collection on the “first day of every week” (v. 2). This assumes that a collection could be taken most easily on the first day of the week, probably because Paul had told them to meet on the first day of the week.
In this case, the collection was taken for the needs of Christians elsewhere. We also do this in our local church through the benevolence fund by helping others with particular needs.
Another striking aspect of this collection is that it was money given by Gentile churches to the church at Jerusalem. So Paul’s goal was not merely for the physical good of the Jerusalem church. It was that the Gospel would be displayed as the Gospel for all.
The application for us is that we should be diligent to build fellowship and love with congregations of different ethnic groups and particularly between black and white congregations.
How does your local church show the diversity of Christ? How are you striving to do this?
Various Teachers (16:5-12)
Paul says that he hopes to visit the Corinthians on a future trip and to spend some time with them (v. 7). But he informs them that he will not come immediately because of an opportunity that the Lord has opened up in Ephesus from where he was writing this letter (v. 8). This was probably an evangelistic opportunity for the Gospel.
But though he could not come immediately, Paul was planning on sending Timothy to Corinth, and he urged them to accept Timothy, even though he was young (v. 10). He also informed them that Apollos, who was very popular in Corinth, was not willing to come (v. 12).
As we look at these particular teachers – Paul, Timothy, & Apollos – we should be reminded to thank God for the different teachers that He has provided for us in our local church. Above all, we should learn and listen to them whether they are young or old, eloquent or not so eloquent.
Certain Commitment (16:13-14)
Paul provides five clear commands in verses 13-14:
Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love.
Paul exhorts them to a military style self-discipline in their faith (v.13). Yet in verse 14, he combines these commands with the command to do every thing in love. These two verses may not appear to go together naturally but upon further reflection we see that they do. This congregation was under attack; there were divisions in the church and false doctrines. The church needed firmness, alertness, courage and strength. Following Christ was clearly difficult for them.
So Paul exhorts the Corinthians to do everything in love. This love calls us to stand guard and be courageous. Consider Christ. He so exemplified the combination of strength and courage and love we see in these verses. His giving Himself to die on the cross is a refection of His love and strength and courage.
Pray that we as individuals and as local churches / congregations would model this strong love.
Great Models (16:15-18)
Paul mentions Stephanas, Fortunatas, & Achaicus as having done good work (v. 17). In verse 15, he describes Stephanus and his household as devoting themselves to the service of the saints. They gave themselves to serving God’s people.
Christian, pray that you would be addicted to serving the saints. At our church, we want to be a congregation that is obsessed with serving and preferring one another. We want it to be typical of us that we cheerfully give of our time to others—that we inconvenience ourselves for God’s people with greater and greater regularity.
Paul calls on the other Christians to submit themselves to servants like Stephanus and others who devote themselves to this work (v. 16). This means that those who are leading the way in ministries should be obeyed (Heb. 13:17). We should notice and acknowledge those who refresh the saints (v. 18).
Do you seek to pray for and actively obey those leaders that follow, seek, and pray for God’s will and wisdom in your church?
A Bigger Image (16:19-21)
Paul ends this letter by sending out greetings from various individuals. He commends Aquila and Priscilla as two further examples for the Corinthians (v. 19). They were serving the Christians at Ephesus by hosting the church in their house.
Paul also challenged the Corinthians by his call to greet one another with a holy kiss (v. 20). This has a particularly special effect because Paul is telling this division-plagued congregation to greet one another with love and sincere affection. All of 1 Corinthians is a call for unity in the church. And now at the end, Paul uses a common custom to teach them how to follow Christ.
Note that Paul is also calling them to a love and care for other congregations by sending them greetings from the congregations around Ephesus. In this way, he builds up the idea that they are part of a large family.
Any local church is helped if you know what God is doing with other congregations. Christian, we are part of something that is much larger than your local congregation. Christians in other congregations are dear brothers and sisters for whom Christ shed His blood. We want to do all that we can to encourage and honor them.
How does your church encourage, pray for, and care for other biblical churches in your area?
Grace & Love (16:22-24)
In biblical Christianity, there’s no concept of a middle ground.
This is what we read in verse 22:
If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed.
Love Christ or be cursed by Him. There’s no middle ground.
God has made us and deserves all of us. We have, however, disobeyed Him and deserve His judgment. This is the situation that we have all been in.
But God is merciful by providing grace through the Lord Jesus Christ (v. 23). Grace is unmerited favor. What is the grace of the Lord Jesus? It is the grace of God available to us for our sins through Christ so that we could be forgiven of our sins. Christ lived a perfect life and died on the Cross. And by His death, He accepted God’s wrath as a substitute for everyone who would ever repent of their sins and trust in Him. Do you know Him? Why not begin a new life? Repent and believe the Gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-4)!
Finally, in verse 24, Paul says:
My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.
This is an interesting end to this letter in light of the fact that Paul has severely admonished the Corinthians throughout the letter. Paul teaches us here that if we’re ever going to be used by God in any way, we must love. Most of us are too proud to learn from someone who does not love us. But let someone know that you love them by words and deeds and you will have a much readier audience and a much more responsive student.
And that’s what Paul was praying for and working on in this congregation in Corinth. Paul, knowing His own need for God’s grace, communicated to the Corinthians in love and tender concern in order that they might be built up and edified.
Are you praying this for your local church daily as well?