What could be more important than the resurrection from the dead? Well, let's look and see.
The Gift for Believers in Israel (1-4)
Jesus always stressed the primary importance of giving to those in need, and Paul followed suit. I don't wish to imply that this was not also also true of devout Jews who did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah: for they too were quite concerned to help others in need. But every group takes a special interest in those closest to them—whether it be members of the same (extended) family, members of the same city, or of the same faith. And although there were poor and needy people in Judea who were not believers, it was the particular plight of the impoverished Judean believers that especially moved Paul. He urged upon all his congregations—Asia Minor, Syria, Greece—the need to give generously to a relief fund for these Judean believers. He also hoped that, since this gift was coming from Paul's Gentile churches, it might heal any developing breach between the Jewish believers there and the new Gentile believers among Paul's churches. We learn from Acts that, when Paul eventually brought this gift to Jerusalem, he brought along a Gentile representative from each contributing congregation, so that it might be vividly conveyed to the recipients who it was that was giving these funds.
12 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.
In the meantime, he will send his young partner Timothy to them. Although Timothy is much younger than Paul, the Corinthians must not treat him like one "wet behind the ears," but must respect him, since Paul himself can vouch for Timothy's maturity in Christ ("for he is carrying on the work of the Lord, just as I am", v. 10).
In case the "I follow Paul" and "I follow Apollos" division at Corinth gives you the wrong impression about these two servants of Christ, they were in fact good friends and trusted one another completely. For this reason Paul tells the Corinthians here that he "strongly urged" Apollos to go on to Corinth ahead of him and minister there. But Apollos felt himself unable to do so at this time.
Behave in Love in Corinth (13-18)
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.14 Do everything in love.
15 You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord's people. I urge you, brothers and sisters, 16 to submit to such as these and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it. 17 I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you. 18 For they refreshed my spirit and yours also. Such men deserve recognition.
Being "on your guard" is always good advice, for there are many temptations that can derail us in our living for Christ. Paul makes the advice general here, rather than identifying a specific danger, such as false teaching. He has already told the Corinthians in this letter what needs correcting. At this point he simply wants them to be vigilant. Errors and bad attitudes once corrected do not always stay corrected! And notice that he puts special stress on one of their biggest lacks: "Do everything in love!" One way in which that love must show itself is in honoring other believers who have sacrificially served you. Paul singles out here "the household of Stephanas" (v. 15) and three other named men (v. 17) who deserve recognition and love.
Final Greetings and Blessings (19-24)
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. 20 All the brothers and sisters here send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
21 I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand.
22 If anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be cursed! Come, Lord!
23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.
24 My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Greetings from afar by old friends always are welcome. Aquila and Priscilla (husband and wife) had lived in Corinth and ministered among the new believers; so they were well known and loved. Now they are in Ephesus, and so send their greetings in Paul's letter. They have a house in Ephesus, and a church meets in it. Paul even wants his hearers to greet each other (v. 20). Although Paul usually uses an associate with a good hand to actually write his letter from dictation, his words here in v. 21 could indicate either that he wrote this entire letter himself (which I think unlikely) or—more likely—that he took up the pen and wrote this last section of greetings personally. His reason for telling them this could have been in his desire that they not brush off his earlier earnest advice and even commands as the work of an impostor, or because he wanted them to know his personal interest in them which drove him to at least write these last lines in his own hand. It is likely that both motives played a role.
Verses 22-24 are an odd combination of grace, love and a curse! We expect the first two, but the third (i.e., the curse) is somewhat unexpected in this letter. It is certainly not typical of Paul to curse mere unbelievers. When Paul ever so rarely utters a curse, it is upon someone who is threatening to undo the work of Christ in the hearts of those whom Paul had a hand in leading to faith. Therefore perhaps it is such people are whom he has in mind in this rather general description "if anyone does not love the Lord [Jesus]." For everyone else he has only blessings from God.
[This concludes our spring and summer series on First Corinthians. This blog will now go inactive for the next month, and will resume in late September with a new series on "Immanuel: 'God with us' Through Old and New Testaments." Please join us again then.]