Another and a very different topic claimed the service of the apostle, because it fell under the Lord's care for the church. It might seem wholly a matter for the saints; but experience itself proves how much they need in it the guidance of the Spirit through the written word. Hence pretension to superior spirituality here, as elsewhere, sinks below the instincts of love, and the dictates of every sound mind. How blessed to have the regulating wisdom of God, who deigns to give us His mind even for the smallest things of this life!
"Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the assemblies of Galatia, so do ye also. Every first of a week let each of you put by him, storing up whatever he may be prospered in, that there be no collections when I come. And when I am arrived, whomsoever ye shall approve, them I will send with letters to carry your bounty unto Jerusalem; and, if it be suitable that I go, they shall go with me." (Vers. 1-4.)
It is untrue that the assemblies were left without apostolic regulation, or that they were regulated differ entry. The snares and the circumstances of Galatia were as unlike those of Corinth as could be conceived; the directions given by the apostle were the same, and this, not merely on matters of the most momentous significance, as sound doctrine, and holy discipline, and the attesting institutions of Christ, so that the worship and public ways of the saints might present the same testimony everywhere, but here, as we see, even in the exercise of their liberality.
One cannot overlook the frequent remembrance of the poor saints at Jerusalem; and no doubt there were circumstances which gave them a special claim. Probably external distress prevailed, and persecution had left some widows and orphans. Not only were the believers very numerous there, but there only, so far as we read, had they sold their possessions and substance, so as to distribute to all, as any one had need; there only not one said that anything of what he possessed was his own, but all things were common to them, so that none was in want. But there, partly through this surprising testimony of unselfish love, poverty prevailed later; and none among the Gentile assemblies was so urgent as our apostle that relief should be sent for the brethren in Judea, not merely during the great famine under Claudius Caesar, but thenceforward, as we may gather from 1 and 2 Corinthians, as well as Romans. (Of. Gal_2:10; Act_24:17.)
Still a general principle and practice we find laid down of the highest value for any time. The collection for the saints was bound up with the solemn and gracious associations of the first, or resurrection, day. It was to proceed regularly, not occasionally; it was to be done with conscience, according as any might be prospered, not under influence, or pressure, or haste, still less with indifference, or on mere human grounds. Thus faith and love would be called out, and healthfully applied, while waiting for the coming of the Lord. It seems that each was to lay aside at home what he judged according to the means given; but the mention of the first of the week, or Lord's day, points to their joining their contribution, when they came together, as every disciple did, to break bread. This is truly to lay up treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust corrupteth, and where thieves do not dig through or steal.
Again, the apostle was careful to leave no room for evil surmise or appearance; and so he here indicates a fresh application of the apostolic wisdom which we see in Acts 6. The multitude chose their own administrators. They contributed the funds, and they, not the apostles, chose men in whom they had confidence to dispense them. (See also 2 Cor. viii.) As the church cannot impart a spiritual power, so the Lord alone gave gifts for the ministry or service of souls. (Rom. 10, Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4) The apostles, personally or by delegate (as Titus), chose elders, being the chiefs of that authority of which the presbyters were the ordinary representatives locally. (Acts 14; Titus 2) Everything in the church rests on its own proper ground. Here, then, the apostle promises on his arrival to send with letters whomsoever they should approve to bring their bounty unto Jerusalem.
But the letters were to be his, not theirs as the Authorised Version says, following the mistake of the Vulgate, Erasmus, Calvin, Beza, and the Text. Rec., which punctuates wrongly in consequence. For what would be the sense of their approving by their letters when the apostle came? The Corinthians really were to select whom they approved, and Paul, on arriving, would send them on, furnished with letters from himself. So too the Greek commentators understood.
It is common to make the genitive dependent on ἄξιον "meet," and to deduce the meaning, "if the occasion, or magnitude of the collection, warrant an apostolic mission in order to carry it." But such a sense, though grammatically possible, seems to me unworthy, not only of the apostle, but even of the delegates, and only tolerable because men have been lowered by the mendicant habits of Christendom. The truth is that the genitive of design, purpose, or the conclusion to be formed, as here, is a common Hellenistic usage, not infrequent in classical authors. The Authorised Version is therefore nearer the mark, and much more in unison with the dignity of all concerned, as well as with God's word and Spirit, which, while cherishing the largest self-denial and generosity, are wont to slight the resources of unbelief, and to brand covetousness as idolatry. If it were suitable, then, that Paul also should go, the delegates should go with him. He would guard his services from all ground for reproach, providing for things honest, not only before the Lord, but also before men.
"But I will come unto you when I shall have gone through Macedonia, for I go through Macedonia. But perhaps I shall stay, or even winter, with you, that ye may send me forward wherever I may go. For I do not wish to see you now in passing; for I * hope to remain some time with you, if the Lord permit. But I will remain at Ephesus until Pentecost. For a great and effectual door is open to me, and [there are] many adversaries. But if Timotheus come, see that he be with you without fear, for he worketh the Lord's work, even as I. Let none then despise him, but send him forward in peace, that he may come unto me, for I am awaiting him with the brethren. But concerning the brother Apollos, I besought him much to come unto you with the brethren; but it was not at all [his] will to come now, but he will come when he shall have good opportunity." (Vers. 5-12.)
* Not δέ as in Text Rec. following K L and most cursives, but γάρ in the A B C D E F G I M P, many cursives, the best of the ancient versions, etc.
It is evident from verse 8 that the apostle was in Ephesus when he wrote to Corinth this first epistle. The spurious postscript in the common text, followed in the Authorised Version, says "from Philippi," but it was really from Ephesus, as in the Vatican and some other copies; and therefore salutations are given from "the assemblies of Asia." (Ver. 19.) His purpose was to pass through Macedonia: this is the force of Μακ γάρ διέρχομαι a journey then before him as a settled thing, but not actually in progress. He might, perhaps, then stay, or even winter, with them, adding an expression of loving confidence that they might send him on wherever he might go. For he declined seeing them then, for reasons explained in 2 Corinthians 1, hoping to remain some time with them, under the Lord's permission, instead of merely passing through. He should remain at Ephesus, where he then was, till Pentecost. That the Lord was there working was a sufficient reason, and none the less because there were adversaries many. He trusted to carry on the work, and help souls against Satan.
But his heart could not rest without commending Timothy, and the more as he was timid. He would have him be without fear in their midst, and deigns to put him as a workman of the Lord so far on common ground with himself. He is anxious that none should despise him - a danger among the saints, who are as open to be deceived by self-seeking men, as to slight true servants of Christ.
The case of Apollos is also instructive in more ways than one. Paul besought him to go to Corinth, rising above all feeling that not a few set him above himself; Apollos would not then go, it would seem, out of similar delicacy, unwilling to give occasion to such folly and wrong among the saints as they then were. We see how the Lord maintains freedom, as well as calls out grace, among His labourers, even when apostles were there, recording it for our guidance when there are none. Nothing, in its way, can be happier than this picture of unjealous love and respect, but free as before the Lord, among servants so varied as an apostle, his young companion, and a comparatively independent labourer like Apollos.
After these details the apostle gives a few pithy words of exhortation: "Watch, stand in the faith, play the man, be strong.* Let all your doings be in love." (Vers. 13, 14.) They are words eminently suited to the state of things at Corinth, besides being wholesome for all saints in all times and places. Carelessness had marked them as a company, and therefore were they now called to vigilance. They had allowed speculations to work even on foundation truths of revelation, and so they needed to cleave firmly to the deposit of faith. They had been walking after the manner of man (κατὰ ἄνθρωπον and had shrunk from reproach and suffering, feebly dreading the world's opinions; they are urged, therefore, to quit themselves in a manly way (ἀνδρίζεσθε and to be strong. They kind need also, and above all, that whatever they did might be done lovingly. It is the final application of that which 1 Cor. 13 had opened out - the blessed energy of the divine nature, which lives and delights in the good of others; and it is the fitting preface to his next topic.
* Some manuscripts and versions, etc., prefix καί "and," but it is not sustained by the best authorities.
"Now I beseech you, brethren - ye know the house of Stephanas,† that it is a first-fruit of Achaia,‡ and that they appointed themselves to the saints for service - that ye also be subject to such, and to every one that co-operateth and laboureth." (Vers. 15, 16.)
* Some add of "Fortunatus" here, others, "and of Achaicus" also, but the best oppose. It is a gloss.
‡ In the common text of Rom_16:5, Epaenetus is said to be a first-fruits of Achaia; but the ancient and true reading is Asia, not "Achaia," of which Stephanas' house was the firstfruits.
This entreaty of the apostle was, and is, of the highest, for the house of Stephanas represents a considerable class of labourers, if we reckon them up in every place where God has His assembly. They stand on a distinct footing from such servants of the Lord as Timothy, on the one hand, or Apollos on the other. They do not answer to one designated by prophecy, specially gifted to serve with an apostle; neither were they men eloquent and mighty in the scriptures, who from small beginnings learnt the truth more exactly, and could, in a freer action of the Spirit, either boldly speak before adversaries, or contribute much to those who believed through grace.
The house of Stephanas had no such prominent, wide, or energetic sphere; but they devoted themselves in an orderly way to the saints for service. It was their regular work, not a thing taken up perfunctorily now and then; and this, which some dare to deride as self-appointment, is as thoroughly maintained and commended by the apostle in the name of the Lord, as the call of a patron or of a congregation to the ministry of the word is absolutely unscriptural, and opposed to all sound and holy principle. The apostle establishes their attitude and activity as of God, whose love gave them a heart toward the saints in service. They were not elders. Indeed it would seem that as yet none had been chosen at Corinth to the work of oversight by the apostle. But none the less does he call on the saints also to range themselves under such, and every one sharing the work, and toiling. We see the same thing in Romans 12 and 1 Thessalonians 5, where no trace, of presbyters appear, and where, in fact, we can hardly conceive of their existence. But there were those who ruled, or took the lead, those who toiled among the saints, and presided over them in the Lord, entirely apart from exterior appointment. As this was of moment to sanction in those early days, so is it of at least equal importance in our own time, when we have no apostle, or apostolic delegate like Titus, to visit the assemblies, and to establish elders, as of old. The same holy liberty, the same solemn responsibility, and the same apostolic warrant, abide for our day of weakness and need. How evident the gracious wisdom of the Lord, while thus naming but incidentally, as it might have seemed, the house of Stephanas, really providing for all that call on His name, in every place, and at any time of the church's career here below! How blessed in His eyes is the subjection of the saints, not only to such devoted servants, but to every one joined in the work, and labouring!
Another feature of interest is the delicacy with which the apostle notices some from Corinth who had not forgotten his temporal necessities. "But I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas, and Fortunatus, and Achaicus, because what was lacking on your part these filled up; for they* refreshed my spirit and yours: own then those that are such." (Vers. 17, 18.) It would appear from both epistles that the help did not come from the assembly as such, but from these three individuals, whose love the apostle does not fail to record. In his allusion there is certainly the grace which counted on the mention refreshing the Corinthian assembly as it had refreshed himself, but not without a hint that they had lost an opportunity which the three discerned and used before the Lord.
* οὗτοι B C K L P, and the cursives, etc., in general; αὐτοί ADEFGM, etc.
"The assemblies of Asia salute you. Aquila and Prisca* salute you much in [the] Lord, with the assembly in their house. All the brethren salute you. Salute one another with a holy kiss. The salutation of Paul with mine own hand. If any one loveth not the Lord [Jesus Christ,]† let him be anathema maranatha (a curse: the Lord cometh). The grace of the Lord Jesus [Christ] [be] with you. My love [be] with you all in Christ Jesus. [Amen]." (Vers. 19-24.)
* Priscilla as in Acts, but Prisca also in Rom_16:3, and 2Ti_4:19, as in the common text.
† I have given the best authenticated reading; but others add what follows in each case of the dotted brackets.
The salutation from "the assemblies of Asia" falls in with the fact that the apostle was writing from the capital of that pro-consular province. But it seems to me a mistake to conceive that the name of the church or assembly is applied to a single family in the next clause. The truth really is that this godly pair appear to have opened their house habitually for the saints to assemble there wherever they might reside, whether in Ephesus or in Rome. Thus it was in those early days, when true unity prevailed and vast buildings for accommodating multitudes did not yet exist among Christians. So in Jerusalem, from the first they used to break bread καἰ οἶκον That Aquila and his wife should greet the Corinthian saints "much in the Lord," as distinguished from the more general salutation, "all the brethren," or of the Asiatic assemblies, is easily understood from their personal acquaintance with the Achaian capital. But the mode of salutation enjoined here, as on the Romans, and by the apostle Peter on the christian Jews scattered throughout Asia Minor, points to the ardent, but holy, affection which then knit together the saints as such: so should it ever be in a world where sin brings in distance or corruption.
The apostle, then, appends his salutation with his own hand; for here, as usually, the body of the epistle was not in his autograph. But he also adds the sternest denunciation of any one who loved not the Lord, under a seemingly familiar Syrian formula. Calvin ridicules the idea of writing so to Greeks in that tongue; but, explain it as you may, such is the fact, which does not seem mitigated by his own suggestion that it was a customary form of expressing excommunication among the Hebrews. To me it appears to go farther still: yet did it not in the least clash with the love which animated and filled his heart, as one sees from verse 23, and especially 24. It is to be doubted indeed whether love can be unfeigned without abhorring evil; and what evil can compare with bearing the name of the Lord without real attachment to Him?
Thus the first epistle to the Corinthians ends with a denunciation similar in solemnity to that with which the epistle to the Galatians opens. There the apostle in his zeal for the truth of the gospel imprecates a curse on himself, or an angel from heaven, or any one preaching aught besides what he had preached and they received; here he burns with no less vehemence against any one loving not the Lord, and in the light of His coming too, which goes beyond excommunication. But this in no way interferes with his prayer, that not His judgment but His grace might be with you, as he assures them all of his own love in Christ Jesus. Thus confidence and affection mark this autograph conclusion as well as the gravest warning, the wise and worthy personal message to his beloved children in the faith.