One of the pure joys of a road trip is finding ourselves in the heart of a long line of traffic, particularly when we’re way out in the country. It might be due to an accident or possibly construction work. It’s especially fun when the line stretches as far as the eye can see. If by chance an exit is coming up, we might be tempted to get off the highway and try to outflank the congestion.
We might whip out the atlas, that is, if we’re old school. (When I was a kid, I developed a love with geography. I spent many hours looking at atlases with places all over the world.) Or we might simply listen to our friendly MapQuest voice giving directions. “In 500 feet, turn right.”
When my sister and I were young, sometimes my dad would say, “Do you want to go for a ride?” I loved it when he asked that. When the price of gasoline was negligible, a great way to spend the time would be simply wandering around in the car. Of course, I would be the one who suggested taking detours, perhaps with a map poised in my lap—or just because I wanted to see “where that road goes.”
Usually, I had a pretty good idea where we would wind up, but if we happened to get lost, I would be the recipient of ire from the front seat. Still, at least we found out where that road went.
Finding out where roads go means traveling. 1 Corinthians 16 involves plenty of that. The apostle Paul spent a lot of time on the road. The Corinthian church themselves were familiar with movement. The city of Corinth was a hub of activity in the Roman Empire. Folks were coming and going from every direction.
Paul is writing this from Ephesus, which is in modern-day Turkey. It’s on the other side of the Aegean Sea. He’s making his travel plans; he is putting in place his itinerary.
There are some things he would like for them to have in order before he arrives. At the top of the list is the collection for the church in Jerusalem. The Jerusalem church is poor. The believers there are in financial need. However, there are other factors in play besides the economic ones.
There is an acknowledgment that Jerusalem is the birthplace of the faith. The Word went out from there. It is, so to speak, the mother church. With this “collection for the saints,” they are honoring that reality.
Paul asks the Corinthians to set aside some money when they gather “on the first day of every week,” when they come together for worship (v. 2). He doesn’t want to show up with their being unprepared and having to scramble to get the funds in place. It could be a bit embarrassing.
With this appeal for assistance, we might wonder about those with more modest resources. Certainly, we all have various gifts and abilities. There’s the often-mentioned itemized request for giving: time, talents, and treasure. It frequently is the case that those with the least in material possessions do the most with their time and talents—possessions with even greater value.
Is it safe to say, Paul’s words that “each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn” applies to us? Can we do so, without asking questions like, “Are they deserving? Are they one of us?” Who among us hasn’t been the recipient of God’s grace? Have we deserved the grace of God, and that in an overwhelming measure? If we have deserved it, then it isn’t grace.
Verses 3 and 4 show Paul being quite scrupulous in avoiding the appearance of misconduct. He wants them to select the couriers in charge of the money for the trip to Jerusalem. He’s fine with sending them off with his blessing and letters of introduction. Okay, if they want the apostle to come along for the ride, he’s willing to go.
Now it’s time for those travel plans mentioned earlier. Being in Ephesus, Paul is almost directly across the sea from Corinth. It would be a quick trip by water. But he wants to go overland and visit Macedonia, which will take him in a giant loop around the Aegean.
Paul wants to take some time in Macedonia, and he wants to take some time with you, Corinthians. Maybe you will still have the welcome mat out when winter arrives. He doesn’t want this to be a flying visit.
Then we come to verses 8 and 9. The apostle says, “I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” There are many adversaries.
So often, when we encounter opposition, we quickly conclude it is a sign God wants us to choose another path. Where’s that detour? Have we read the signs wrong? Have we misinterpreted God’s will? Serving the Lord shouldn’t be this darn hard.
On the other hand, sometimes we will keep beating our head against the wall. We will engage in head banging. And by head banging, I’m not talking about what lovers of heavy metal do when they’re cranking up the volume. Sometimes—I’m not sure how often—we get punched in the face, and we might reply, “Thank you sir, may I have another?” To borrow a thought from what Jesus says at the time of Paul’s conversion, we will kick against the goads, to our own distress (Acts 26:14). Maybe it really is time for a detour!
It takes spiritually enlightened reason. Both are necessary. Still, it’s easy to minister to and share God’s love with those who are kind to us, those who are grateful.
Cannot an adversary become an ally? A foe become a friend?
Note that the opposition is beyond, as Paul says, “a wide door for effective work.” The word for “effective” is ἐνεργής (energēs), the source of our word “energy.” Paul believes there is some good energy, some good vibes in play.
On a side note, the apostle wants to send some good energy to his friends in Corinth. “Don’t give Timothy a hard time,” he writes. That young man is Paul’s protégé. Don’t give him grief because of his age.
He mentions Apollos, who is an eloquent preacher well known to the Corinthians. Paul wanted him to come and visit them, but as he says, “he was not at all willing to come now” (v. 12). There is an alternate reading: “it was not at all God’s will.” So basically, Apollos will come when the time is right.
Lest they stray from the path, lest they detour, Paul delivers some concise directives: “Keep alert; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong” (v. 13). It’s the third in that list I find especially interesting. “Be courageous” in Greek is ανδριζεσθε (andrizesthe). It literally means “be a man.” I don’t suppose it would be a big surprise to hear “being a man” linked with “being courageous.”
If you’re wondering what the command to “be a man” has to do with the other half of the human race, don’t worry, I’ll get to it in a few moments!
New York Times columnist David Brooks published an article entitled, “Before Manliness Lost Its Virtue.” He uses as a starting point the ancient Greek concept of manliness. “Greek manliness,” he says, “started from a different place than ours does now. For the ancient Greeks, it would have been incomprehensible to count yourself an alpha male simply because you can run a trading floor or sell an apartment because you gilded a faucet handle.
“For them, real men defended or served their city, or performed some noble public service. Braying after money was the opposite of manliness. For the Greeks, that was just avariciousness, an activity that shrunk you down into a people-pleasing marketer or hollowed you out because you pursued hollow things.”
Brooks talks about certain traits the ancient Greeks considered indicative of a manly man: being courageous, assertive, competitive, demonstrating his prowess, being self-confident. Nonetheless, there is something else about the manly man. “[H]e is also touchy. He is outraged if others do not grant him the honor that is his due… They are hard to live with. They are constantly picking fights and engaging in peacock displays.”
He does mention a corrective the Greeks had. They “took manliness to the next level. On top of the honor code, they gave us the concept of magnanimity… The magnanimous leader possesses all the spirited traits described above, but uses his traits not just to puff himself up, but to create a just political order.”
Here’s where I get back to the question of what “being a man” says to women and children. Clearly, the apostle is addressing the entire church.
He praises women who have served Christ and the church, sometimes at great personal risk. Paul refers to Chloe as one of the church’s leaders (1:11). And in another letter, he gives God thanks for Phoebe, a deacon, for Mary (one of several Marys, we don’t know which), the sisters Tryphaena and Tryphosa, and the beloved Persis, among others (Ro 16:1,6, 12).
Iesha Evans in Baton Rouge on 9 July 2016
Keep alert; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. It’s safe to say these women have demonstrated—they have lived—the four-fold directive of verse 13.
So, having said all of that, we immediately have this. “Let all that you do be done in love” (v. 14). Be a man. Be courageous, but do it in love. Maybe we can say, as we saw earlier, be magnanimous!
The last part of the chapter, with Paul’s greeting of various people in Corinth, is appropriate for All Saints Sunday.
Verse 20 calls for greeting one another “with a holy kiss.” In cultures where kissing is a normal part of greeting, this isn’t such a strange thing. The point is it’s supposed to be a “holy” kiss, not something else.
I have a quick story along those lines. When Banu and I were in seminary, I took a worship class taught by a Presbyterian professor. She gave us an assignment. On Sunday, we were to attend a church with a worship service very different from the one we were used to. There was an Armenian Orthodox church about a mile down the road, so I chose it for my assignment.
The entire service was in the Armenian language, except for the sermon and the prayer of confession, which were in English. Included in their liturgy was the kiss of peace, the holy kiss. The only other people in the pew where I was sitting was a family with a father, mother, and daughter. She looked like she was about 20. They started down the line, kissing each other on the cheek. Then the daughter started moving toward me; I became a bit nervous. She extended her hand, so a holy kiss turned into a holy handshake. Potential drama averted!
“Let anyone be accursed who has no love for the Lord” (v. 22). We go from a holy kiss to a pronouncement of a curse. Still, we might think of it as a self-imposed curse. A rejection of love, let alone a rejection of the Lord’s love, in itself would mean accepting a curse.
However, right after that we end on a high note. “Our Lord, come!” That’s the word maranatha. It also means, “our Lord is coming.”
So, to summarize, how are we supporting each other? Regarding the church in Jerusalem, Paul was speaking first of money. But as we saw, there are things more important than money. (Amazingly enough!) How are we doing with holding each other up? How are we doing with holding those up in our community?
Regarding Timothy, he reminds the Corinthians “he is doing the work of the Lord just as I am.” How do we support those doing the work of the Lord in our midst?
And how are we doing in navigating the detours in serving the Lord? How are we doing in discerning the detours, knowing which way to go? Our Lord is much more than willing to lead us. The Lord is ever more ready to hear than we are to pray.
What does all of this look like? I can’t answer that for you. We have to answer that question for ourselves.
So, we go through the detours of life, seeking our way home. We hear the call, “Maranatha.” Our Lord Jesus, come! Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is coming.