Striving for Unity – 1 Corinthians Chapter 16: Paul’s Closing Thoughts

By Jenny Fulton

After pouring his heart out to the Corinthian Christians, urging them to be unified, and addressing questions that had been brought to him, Paul wraps up his letter with some matters of business and a few final words of instruction, encouragement, and love.

Verses 1-4: An Offering for the Saints in Jerusalem

Background: The Jewish Christians in Jerusalem hadn’t immediately accepted the idea of a Gentile version of Christianity that didn’t follow Jewish traditions. In Acts 10, God allowed Peter and other believing Jews to witness the the Holy Spirit being poured out upon the Gentiles. One of the reasons for having them observe this act may have been to confirm that everyone from every nation who believed was included in God’s Kingdom. However, it seems that although the Jewish Christians accepted the inclusion of Gentiles into the faith, they still expected them to follow many of the traditions they’d carried over from Judaism into this new faith. It wasn’t until Acts 15 that the Gentile version of Christianity, without Jewish traditions, was accepted as a good and valid way of living out the faith. At that time, the Gentile believers were finally and fully recognized as fellow members of Christ.

Knowing of these tensions, having been, in fact, very involved in the discussions, Paul, in 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, asked the Corinthian Christians to display their oneness, love, and support for the church in Jerusalem by setting aside money to send to the believers there who were suffering from either famine or persecution. A modern-day version of this might be a Protestant church in America sending money to help Catholic Christians in Europe. The traditions and practices of the Corinthian and Jerusalem churches were very different, but they worshiped the same God, the same Father and Lord Jesus Christ. They operated under and were empowered by the same Holy Spirit. Because they followed and worshiped the same God and believed in the same fundamental tenants of the faith, they were brothers and sisters in Christ. With the knowledge that one member of the family was struggling, Paul asked and encouraged the other members to help out to whatever degree they could.

I think the way in which Paul went about this collection is interesting. In all of his writings, it’s clear that he never wanted to place a financial burden on anyone. To avoid this, he gave the Corinthians advance warning so they could wisely plan and prepare their gift. He advised them to set aside a little money each week, if they could afford to do so. Remember, the demographic of this church ranged from slaves, servants, and refugees to wealthy landowners and Roman officials. Paul didn’t want to ask for a collection when he came to Corinth, and instead asked that they save and set aside money bit by bit so that when he arrived there would be a donation ready to be handed off and carried to Jerusalem by someone they trusted.

Verses 5-9: Paul’s Plans

As spiritually attuned to God as he was, not even Paul could predict the future. Like many of us, he made plans he hoped would come to fruition. However, as so often happens in our lives, there were circumstances beyond his control that forced his plans to change.

Paul’s plan: Remain in Ephesus until Pentecost, travel through Macedonia, go to Corinth and potentially stay with them through the winter.

What really happened: A riot in Ephesus and the arrest of Paul’s traveling companions apparently pushed back Paul’s departure date (Acts 19). Although he did go through Macedonia as planned, after learning of a plot against him, he decided to return the same way he’d come. He then went to Troas (Acts 20) where he’d arranged to meet up with Titus in order to learn how this letter had been received, but Titus wasn’t there. Paul finally found him in Macedonia, where he wrote 2 Corinthians (2 Corinthians 2, 7). Given that the book of Romans was written from Corinth, we know Paul eventually made it there (see the names and greetings in Romans 16).

Verses 10-12: Concerning Timothy and Apollos

Timothy was mentioned in 1 Corinthians 4:17. “For this reason I have sent to you Timothy…” In 1 Corinthians 16:10, Paul reminds the church of Timothy’s coming and urges them to treat this young man well for, “he is doing the Lord’s work.” Timothy’s entrance on the scene begins in Acts 16. Through various references, we know that Timothy was often with Paul. In fact, Paul seems to speak of him with extra fondness and protectiveness. “…let no one despise him. But send him on his way in peace,[1]

Paul next mentions Apollos, apparently as a way of explaining why Timothy is coming instead of the great speaker whom the Corinthians highly admired. It seems that although Apollos was also Paul’s first choice to send to this church, Apollos didn’t feel pressed to visit and/or was too engaged with other work. Paul assured this church, as much as he could, that Apollos would return to visit when he was able.

Verses 13-14: Final Instructions

Can you feel Paul’s heart throughout this letter? Can you sense his passion as he nears the end? There’s so much to say, so much he longs for these believers to know and understand. And so, he squeezes in some final instructions and encouragement before closing.

  • Be on the alert
  • Stand firm in the faith
  • Act like men
  • Be strong
  • Let all that you do be done in love

Verses 15-18: Recommendation for Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus

As he closes this letter, Paul tells the church of a few others who will be coming to minister to them and urges the Corinthians to submit to these men, to hear and give heed to their words of instructions and correction, because they are helping and working hard to spread the Gospel and guide the new churches in the ways of God.

Stephanas is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1 as the head of a household that was baptized by Paul.

This is the only place in the Bible where Fortunatus and Achaicus are mentioned.

From these verses, it appears the three men came to Paul, possibly having been selected by the church to carry a letter from the church. Their designation for this task would indicate they were held in some degree of esteem. Paul was very glad to see them and says they “supplied what was lacking” on the Corinthians part.

What was lacking? What is Paul referring to? Their presences? Their love? The information they brought on the state of the church?

Whatever it was they supplied, it obviously refreshed Paul’s spirit as he says it has also refreshed the church’s spirit. Perhaps their coming in person promoted a greater understanding between the church and Paul. What do you think?

Verses 19-24: Parting Words

As he says good-bye, Paul passes on the greetings from those who are with him. Aquila and Prisca (noted elsewhere as Aquila and Priscilla – Acts 18, Romans 16, 2 Timothy 4), who had been with the Corinthian church when it was established, send their love. The churches in Asia and all the brethren there say hello.

“Greet one another with a holy kiss.[2]”  This was evidently a cultural greeting that demonstrated a love for God and fellowship with one another. Given the theme of unity within this letter, it seems fitting that Paul would again urge them to be in unity and fellowship with one another.

While he most likely dictated the letter, Paul ends with his signature to verify that the letter is from him and carries authority. It’s possible that the last few sentences were also written with his own hand.

“If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be aaccursed. bMaranatha [come Lord]. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.[3]

Love for God is a serious matter. Those who reject Him are subject to His divine judgment and wrath. The phrase, “Come Lord,” seems to be a cry and yearning for Christ’s return. Reminding believers of the Lord’s grace is an empowering encouragement and hope. Finally, although he brought correction to the church in his letter, Paul longs for them to know how much he loves them and cares for them. His heart was burdened and torn over their divisions. In love, he wrote this letter urging them to love one another and be united in a fellowship that is based on their love and unity with Christ.

And so ends Paul’s first letter to the Corinthains.

Take-Aways

Here are a few of my take-ways from this final chapter:

  • We should be wise with our giving and make sure we have a plan in place that doesn’t place a heavy financial burden upon our family.
  • Plans change with the circumstances (how much 2020 has shown us that), but God’s work continues. It may look different than we’d thought, but it does continue.
  • We should show respect and kindness to all who are engaged in God’s work.
  • We should stand firm, strong, and courageous in the hope and truth of our Faith. We should be on the alert against anyone who tries to twist the Gospel, presents a different gospel, and/or drives us away from our faith.
  • Everything we do should be done in love for God and love for others.

United or Divided?

In light of the overall theme of 1 Corinthians and Paul’s call to unity… 

Things That Divide Us:

  • Refusing to acknowledge other churches and denominations as being Christians because of different practices and traditions. One of the most heartbreaking, divisive things a Christian leader can do is stand at their pulpit/place of influence and condemn or ridicule another entire denomination.
  • Refusing to act with understanding when unavoidable circumstances cause a change in plans
  • Showing preferential treatment for one of God’s workers over another
  • Despising a lesser known and less preferred speaker and leader
  • Not standing firm in the Faith and truth of the Gospel

Things that Unite Us:

  • Loving and recognizing, as fellow Christians, other churches and denominations who hold to the same fundamental tenants of the faith but have different practices and traditions
  • Helping out other believers who are struggling, to the degree we are able and called to do so
  • Giving grace and understanding when unavoidable circumstances force plans to change.
  • Showing respect and kindness toward those who are actively engaged in God’s work
  • Standing firm in the Faith and truth of the Gospel
  • Doing everything in love for God and love for others

What Do You Think?

What stood out to you from this chapter? What are your take-aways?

What stood out to you from this book?

With as many differences as there are in today’s churches, especially in terms of opinions, politics, ideologies, etc., can there still be unity?

Can a nation be unified if God’s people aren’t?

Could unity among God’s people impact the unity of a nation?

In this Series


[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 16:11.

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 16:20.

[3] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 16:22–24.

8 comments

  1. Hi Jenny !
    Thanks for this well-researched and comprehensive post, and may God bless you as you encourage us to strive for unity.

    I read an earlier post of yours in which you discuss headcovering. This is a particular area of interest for me.

    I wear a black lace chapel veil when I am praying prayers of petition, or intercession.
    To me, it is an outward symbol of submission to God’s will, in everything.

    Thanks also for posting the photos of you. ⚘🤗

    Liked by 1 person

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