1 Corinthians 16:10-24

1 Corinthians 16:10-24

SERIES: Christ is the Answer When the Church Is in Crisis

Marks of a Community of Contagious Christians

SCRIPTURE: 1 Corinthians 16:10-24

Introduction:  After an 18-month journey, we have arrived at the final section of the NT book of 1 Corinthians, where we find the Apostle Paul offering (as he almost always does at the end of his letters) personal encouragement to some real people he knew on a first name basis.  We too readily forget that 1 Corinthians is primarily a letter, and only secondarily a theological treatise.  Paul is writing to his friends at a church which he personally established years before, and he wants them to know that he not only cares about the relational, moral, spiritual, and doctrinal issues he has discussed in detail with them, but he also cares about them–their personal welfare, their mutual friends, their spiritual growth, and their future.  

If there is a theme that ties these personal remarks together, it seems to me that it is the concept of community and how to become infectious with our faith.  Thus, I have entitled my sermon, “Marks of a Community of Contagious Christians.”   Lest you think I am really stretching to find a connection here with our church’s new vision, I invite you to watch for references to community as we read 1 Cor. 16:10-24.  And ask yourself what kind of community Paul is describing:

If Timothy comes, see to it that he has nothing to fear while he is with you, for he is carrying on the work of the Lord, just as I am.  No one, then, should refuse to accept him.  Send him on his way in peace so that he may return to me. I am expecting him along with the brothers. 

Now about our brother Apollos: I strongly urged him to go to you with the brothers. He was quite unwilling to go now, but he will go when he has the opportunity. 

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love. 

You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints. I urge you, brothers, to submit to such as these and to everyone who joins in the work, and labors at it. I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you.  For they refreshed my spirit and yours also. Such men deserve recognition. 

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 here send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss. 

I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. If anyone does not love the Lord—a curse be on him. Come, O Lord! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.  My love to all of you in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

The first thing I notice in these concluding remarks is the concept of Teamwork.  

A community of contagious Christians realizes that ministry is best done with teamwork.  (10-12)

The Apostle Paul is not a lone ranger or a hired gun.  He is one of a team of vocational and lay Christian workers who are committed to being the church and doing church together.  This can be seen throughout the passage, as he actually mentions three different teams:  Timothy and Apollos; Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus; and Aquila and Priscilla.  I will focus here on just the first pair.

I find it interesting that Paul could work well with two people as different as Timothy and Apollos.  Timothy was young and somewhat timid; Apollos was older and was a dynamic, charismatic individual.  Timothy often suffered from intimidation; Apollos was very forceful.  Timothy was tolerated in Corinth; Apollos was the one who really incited their passions.  But despite the radical difference in temperament and personality between Timothy and Apollos, Paul highly valued both of them and saw each as making a unique contribution.  

That’s the key to teamwork–recognizing that our differences are an asset, not a liability.  If you’re familiar with the DISC analysis (a common personality profile), and if you’re familiar with our Elder Board and our Pastoral Leadership Team, you will realize that we have high D’s, high I’s, high S’s, and high C’s in both groups.  There are only a few of us who are perfectly balanced.  Seriously, friends, we need all four kinds, for the worst thing one can have on a team is uniformity; the best thing one can have is unity with diversity.  

The Apostle is striving for unity and teamwork when he instructs the church about their attitudes toward these two men.  In respect to Timothy he says, “If Timothy comes, see to it that he has nothing to fear while he is with you, for he is carrying on the work of the Lord, just as I am.  No one, then, should refuse to accept him.”  I love the fact that Paul was able to see potential in individuals most of us might have overlooked.  Timid, shy people like Timothy often have tremendous ability, but it’s generally the extroverts who attract all the attention.  A man in this church who is now a well‑respected expert in his field, shared with me that he was so shy as a youngster that he was put in remedial classes all through grade school and even into junior high.  What a tragedy that no one was able to see this man’s potential earlier!  Paul saw young Timothy as a valuable member of a balanced team.  

From time to time I am present when committees and task forces are being appointed.  When a name is suggested, I occasionally hear something like this, “No, don’t appoint him; he’s not a team player,” or, “She’s the last person you would want on a committee.”  I suppose those are valid fears on occasion, because there are some people who are just plain difficult to work with.  But sometimes what the objector really means is, “He doesn’t think like I do.”  Or, “She has a personality that conflicts with mine.”  That, friends, is not a good reason to blacklist someone.  In fact, I think it is more often than not a good reason to include them.  Besides, diversity can make us more effective in teamwork. 

Paul’s attitude toward Apollos demonstrates another important factor in any team ministry, and that is sensitivity toward the Lord’s leading in the lives of other members of the team.  According to verse 12, Paul thought Apollos ought to return to Corinth with Timothy and the others, and he encouraged him to do so.  But Apollos was convinced that the Lord wanted him to stay in Ephesus for a while longer.  So, Paul respected his convictions.[i]  Instead of taking a potshot at Apollos’ hesitance, Paul assures the church that he will come when he has opportunity.  Despite the power of his personality and his views, Paul was not a dictator, and no leader should be.  We are brothers and sisters in Christ, working together for the sake of the Gospel.

Now following Paul’s affirmation of Timothy and Apollos, we find a short paragraph of rather staccato commands that I have simply referred to as godly principles for everyday living.

A community of contagious Christians practices godly principles for everyday living.  (13-14)

There are five of them: “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong.  Do everything in love.”  Bible commentator William Barclay suggests that the first four of these commands are military terms and are like a commander’s orders to his soldiers: “As a sentinel, be ever on the alert.  When under attack, stand fast in the faith and yield not an inch.  In time of battle, play a hero’s part.  Like a well‑equipped and well‑trained soldier, be strong to fight for your King.” [ii]  Let’s look at each of these orders briefly. 

Be alert.  The term, “be on your guard,” is used some 22 times in the NT, usually in reference to the need for the Christian to be spiritually awake and alert, as opposed to being apathetic and indifferent.  If you examine the Scriptures you will find a number of issues that require alertness.  I will mention five:

1.  We are to be on the alert against Satan. 1 Pet 5:8‑9 reads, “Be self‑controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  

2.  We must be on the alert for temptation.  Jesus said in Mark 14:38, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”  

3.  We must be alert regarding false teachers.  In 2 Tim 4:3‑5 Paul warns, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.  But you, keep your head in all situations.”  

4.  We are to be alert for the Lord’s return.  As Matthew 24:42 puts it, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.”  

5.  And we should be alert for opportunities to share our faith.  1 Peter 3:15 reads this way: “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect.”

Be firm.  The Corinthians were being easily swayed by the relativism of the age.  They were afraid to take a stand on anything.  So Paul writes, “Stand firm in the faith.”  It’s the same exhortation Jude delivered to his audience when he wrote urging them to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.”  Unfortunately, the Church in general has often gone to the extremes of either complete relativism or extreme dogmatism in its teaching.  We need a balance of tolerance on non‑essentials and uncompromising commitment to the essentials.  In fact, I suggest we should stand firm on whatever the Scripture teaches clearly.  

Be mature.  Paul next exhorts us, “Be men of courage.”  A better way to put it might be, “Act like an adult.”  The Corinthians need to grow up.  Back in chapter 3, the Apostle had observed with sadness that he was unable to talk to them like adults: “I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly–mere infants in Christ.  I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it.  Indeed, you are still not ready.”  Later, when he was addressing the sensational gifts of the Spirit, he again had to chide them for childishness: “Stop thinking like children.  In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.” (14:20)  

Be strong.  The word Paul uses here is actually passive in voice, meaning “be strengthened.”  We cannot strengthen ourselves; that is the Lord’s work.  Our part is to submit ourselves to Him.  Only a spirit strengthened by God through the Scriptures can successfully battle and overcome the flesh.  Again, this is an area where the Corinthians were lacking.  Oh, they thought they were strong.  Sarcastically Paul speaks in chapter 4:10, “We apostles are fools for Christ, but you so wisein Christ; we are weak, but you are so strong.”  That’s, of course, how they viewed themselves, not what they really were.  Anytime a person thinks he is strong, he’d better watch out.  That was the message of chapter 10 and verse 12: “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” 

Now before going on to the fifth godly principle, perhaps this is a good time to take a personal inventory.  How spiritually alert are you?  Are you aware of the false teaching that is being communicated in the news you hear, the magazines you read, the movies you watch, and sometimes even from pulpits?  Are you allowing God’s truth to form your world view, or is the pop culture doing that for you?  I was reading about Rosie O’Donnell’s coming-out party the other day and was reminded that in the past ten years the attitude of millions and millions of Americans toward homosexual activity has drastically changed–all through a powerful and slick promotion campaign by the media.  God’s evaluation of homosexual sin hasn’t changed over that decade.  Has yours?  

Are you growing up as a Christian?  Do YOU have to have your own way?  Are you looking to be entertained when you come to worship?  That’s immaturity.  If you are feeling weak today (and most of us are in one way or another), are you taking any steps to be strengthened?  There are many opportunities to do that, for example, Small Churches and Community Groups.  Just as we minister better in teams, we also grow better in teams, i.e., in small group settings.  

Now the final godly principle, verse 14, seems to be the glue that holds the other four together:

Be loving. “Do everything in love.”  If the first four commands are military in nature, calling us to alertness, firmness, maturity, and strength, this one calls upon us to be sure all those characteristics are tenderized by love.  Pastor Ray Stedman wrote, 

“Nothing hurts the Christian cause more than the discourteous, impulsive rudeness that you see so frequently displayed.  Some time ago I listened to a man teaching some great truth, but he did it with such a chip on his shoulder, such an arrogant attitude of contempt for those of whom he was speaking, that everybody went away turned off at what he was saying.  Now what he was saying was right, but he could have helped his cause tremendously had he been courteous.”

The old saying is still true that “People need to know how much you care before they care how much you know.”  Paul earlier challenged this same church at Corinth with the fact that “knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies” (8:1).  Love is the greatest motivating force for ethical behavior.  

What does love look like in the Body of Christ?  Well, we don’t really have to speculate, because Paul paints a picture of it for us in the next six verses.  

A community of contagious Christians demonstrate their love to one another through…  (15-20)

serving one another, 

mutual submission, 



and personal displays of affection. 

Serving one another.  This mark of a contagious Christian is personified in the household of Stephanas, who were Paul’s first converts in the province where Corinth was located.  He gives this family one of the finest commendations found anywhere in the Bible: “They have devoted themselves to the service of the saints.”  Literally it reads, “they have addicted themselves to serving the saints.” [iii]  In fact, that’s exactly how the old KJV translated it.  

Because of its current association with drugs, gambling, and other similar vices, the term “addiction” today has an unfavorable connotation.  But it is actually quite appropriate to the type of service Paul is talking about here.  Stephanas served habitually, out of a powerful, driving compulsion.  His compulsion to serve the saints, however, came out of a heart of gratitude for what Jesus had done for him, not the kind of compulsiveness that seeks approval from others.

By the way, intentional, sacrificial service didn’t characterize just Stephanas, but also his whole household.  Parents, children learn love and service in the home, and they learn the lack of love and service there also.  They learn hospitality as they see their parents practice it; they also learn to hold on to their stuff tightly as they watch parents who do that.

Continuing his focus on the household of Stephanas, Paul addresses a second way in which Christians demonstrate their love to one another:

Mutual submission.  “I urge you, brothers, to submit to such as these and to everyone who joins in the work, and labors at it.” (15-16) Submission is not earned by holding an office; it’s earned by godly character and service.  There’s no indication that Stephanas was a pastor, or even a church officer.  He was apparently just an ordinary Christian with extraordinary love.  But he deserves as much respect as elected leaders.  Mutual submission is a key theme of Spirit‑filled living. 

All believers are to submit to each other (Eph. 5:21).  

Wives are to submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:22). 

Children are to submit to their parents (Eph. 6:1‑3). 

Believers are to submit to government (Rom. 13:1, 1 Pet. 2:13).  

Younger men are to submit to older men (1 Peter 5:5a). 

But submission didn’t come naturally to the Corinthians.  They were competitive, stubborn, and even arrogant at times.  We, too, often find the concept of submission to be distasteful; we would much prefer being in control.  But it is exactly what Jesus practiced and expects of us.  He said, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave–just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  (Matt. 20:26‑28) 

When we understand submission as putting ourselves under the care of a person or a group or a government or even God Himself, then we see that it is God’s plan for our protection and blessing, not a trick to take our freedom away.

Friendship.  Verse 17 speaks of three dear friends of Paul–Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus–who made the long trip from Corinth to Ephesus in order to meet some of Paul’s needs.  He says of them, “They refreshed my spirit and yours.  Such men deserve recognition.”  Apparently when the financial support for Paul’s missionary work dried up, these three men bailed him out.  But even more meaningful is the fact that they refreshed his spirit.  One of the finest compliments that can be paid to another Christian is to say that he or she is refreshing to be around, picks up your spirit, and encourages you to keep going.  I know a lot of people in this church who are like that; I always feel better after being with them. 

Let me ask you, when you enter a room, is there more joy, peace, and love than before you arrived?  When you leave, is the atmosphere and attitude better?  Do you refresh your fellow‑believers or bring them down?  And let me ask another question:  When you experience refreshment from other believers, how should you respond?  Paul says, “Such people deserve recognition.”  Thank them.  Write them a note.  Give them a hug and tell them how much they mean to you.  

Still another mark of love in the Christian community is …

Hospitality.  Verse 19 reads, “Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house.”  Priscilla and Aquila lived in at least three different cities, according to the New Testament–Corinth, Ephesus, and Rome–and in all three places they had a church in their house.  Furthermore, it was at their house that Paul stayed during his very first visit to Corinth, probably for more than a year and a half.

Last Sunday we had dinner with Bob and Marilyn Perkins, long-time members here, who now live most of the year in Clearwater, Florida.  Several families came up in that conversation, and it turned out that all of them had once lived with the Perkins until they could get back on their feet–one family for three months, another for a year and a half.  Bob and Marilyn never treated anything as belonging exclusively to themselves.  They understood a very important biblical principle–our homes are not our castles; rather they are instruments for community life and ministry.  Besides, you never know when you might be entertaining angels unawares.

P.D.A.  (Public displays of affection).  Those were verboten when my wife and I were in Bible college together back in the early 60’s.  But verse 20 says, “All the brothers here send you greetings.  Greet one another with a holy kiss.”  It’s biblical, friends!  In fact, this is by no means the only time kissing is recommended for church.  It is commanded at the end of Romans, 2 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, and 1 Peter.  Paul sees the custom as a proper corrective to the cliquishness and bickering that characterized the church at Corinth.  It could also serve as a remedy to the tremendous personal isolation that so many experience today.  

Why, then, has this lovely custom of kissing one another on the cheek all but passed from the church?  First, it faded because it was liable to abuse.  Some people had trouble distinguishing holy kisses from other kinds.  Second, it faded because the church became less of a fellowship.  In the little house churches, where friend met with friend and all were closely bound together, it was the most natural thing in the world; but when the little fellowship turned into a vast congregation, and houses gave way to cathedrals, intimacy was lost, and the holy kiss vanished with it.  

The kiss, of course, is not the important thing; a hug or a warm, two‑handed handshake, or an arm around the shoulder can express the same feelings, and in some cultures might be more appropriate.  The key is the love and intimacy that the gesture symbolizes.  Who needs a hug or a holy kiss from you today?

This remarkable letter comes to a close with some …

Final Greetings (21-24)

“I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand.”  Though his eyesight was undoubtedly failing, preventing him from doing much writing, the Apostle often picked up the pen from his secretary and signed his own name to assure his readers that the content, if not the handwriting, was genuinely his.  

He then concludes with both a stern warning and one more affirmation of love.  The warning is to anyone who does not love the Lord.  Interestingly, the word used for “love” here in the original Greek language is not agape, but phileo, the term for brotherly love or tender affection.  If a person does not have even this minimal affection for the Lord Jesus Christ, he thereby demonstrates that he does not belong to Him and therefore does not belong to the fellowship of God’s people.  Paul says, “a curse be on him.”  The Greek word here is anathema.  Literally it means, “Let him be condemned.”  

The very next word after anathema in the original Greek is maranatha.  Anathema maranatha.  One means “let him be accursed”; the other means, “The Lord is at hand,” or “Our Lord, come.”  One speaks of judgment, the other of blessing.  One is the dire consequence of not loving the Lord; the other is the great hope of the believer who does love Him.  

Paul then confers upon them the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and his own love.  Both are important, you know.  People need the grace of God, for without it they are hopeless.  But people need the love of people, too.  Paul knows this and says, “My love to all of you in Christ Jesus.”  He knew some pretty ornery people in the Corinthian church, and some of them made his life difficult, but he sends his love to all of them.  He was Jesus with skin on for the believers in Corinth.

Conclusion:  I return to that word, Maranatha!  The Lord is coming!  Do you realize there are people all around us every day who are far from God, who do not know Him at all, let alone love Him?  How much do we as individuals, or we as a church, care about these people?  Are we really serious about becoming a community of contagious Christians?  I’m sure everyone here agrees philosophically that this is a good idea; there’s too much Scriptural evidence to even question it.  But are we willing to pay the price?  

Are we willing to reject the isolation and independence that is so much a part of the American spirit to begin practicing community?  Are we willing to set aside our personal agendas and work as teams to make a difference?  Are we willing to become addicted to serving one another and submitting to one another in love?  Are we willing to use our homes and our resources to share our faith?  What would happen if everyone in this room became truly contagious for Christ, not just within these walls but everywhere we go?

As we close our study of 1 Corinthians, let’s ask God to infect us today so that we bear the marks of a community of contagious Christians.  

DATE: March 10, 2002







Holy kiss

[i].  Perhaps you remember from the first chapter of 1 Corinthians that Apollos was the hero of one of the political parties in this church.  Paul spoke of this sad situation in 1:11-13:

My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.  What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas “; still another, “I follow Christ.”  Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?

Some pastors would have been too insecure to invite Apollos back to Corinth.  After all, the people loyal to Apollos might not be loyal to Paul.  But Paul will have nothing to do with that kind of cat fight; nor did he blame Apollos for the behavior of some of his more avid followers. 

[ii].  William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians, 166.

[iii].  Perhaps it’s been a while since we called attention to the fact that a “saint” in the NT is not a dead person who has been canonized by the church hierarchy in view of the fact that at least two miracles resulted from prayers to him or her.  A saint in the NT is simply a believer, one who has put his faith and trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins.