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This chapter is the last in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church. It contains several small sections which are all related to each other in a kind of train-of-thought: collection, travel-plans, relations with other believers, and greetings.
The first few verses are about keeping aside offerings. Paul instructs the believers to put something aside regularly, so that there doesn’t have to be a big appeal and collection when he arrives. The offering is only to be in keeping with each person’s ability, and no amount or percentage is mentioned. This collection will presumably go to the poorer believers in Jerusalem. In modern times, most of us are used to this style of regular offering on Sundays, although what is collected is usually given to the ministry of the church and missions, not saved up to be a special gift for the poor.
This topic naturally leads into Paul’s thinking about his travels. He is currently – that is, at the time of writing – ministering effectively in Ephesus, planning to travel to Macedonia after Pentecost (which usually falls in late May or early June), and during that journey to visit Corinth and stay there, perhaps for several months including over the winter (November to January). After that, when spring comes and travel is possible again, he may journey to Jerusalem along with those bearing the offering. We know from the Book of Acts that the journey to Jerusalem was just before Pentecost, so this letter may have been written about a little less than a year before that event, about the same time as the events of Acts 19.
The next section, apart from verses 13-14, is about specific people who are known to both Paul and the Corinthians. Firstly, Paul is waiting for Timothy and thinks he may go through Corinth; as his faithful co-worker, Paul wants to be sure Timothy is treated well and has nothing to fear (cf 2 Tim 1:7). Secondly, we find that Apollos is not actually in Corinth at this time (contrary to what we might have expected from the earlier chapters), but Paul indicates that he will indeed come when the time is right for him. Verses 15-18 give details about Stephanas (cf 1 Co 1:16) and his friends, who came from Corinth to Paul in Ephesus, presumably the deliverers of their letter. Paul urges the Corinthian believers to recognize and submit to these devoted servants who refreshed his spirit.
The last section contains many greetings: from the churches in Asia, from Aquila and Priscilla and their house-church, from Paul in his own hand, from everyone! And Paul instructs the Corinthians also to greet one another. The last three verses are the content of a formal greeting, including sending grace and love (twice).
I have left verses 13-14 for last, as they form an appropriate concluding application for the whole letter. Verse 13 has four imperative verbs: Be alert; Stand firm; Man up; Be strong. (The third verb literally says something like ‘Be a man’.) Standing firm in what we believe was Paul’s thrust in 1 Cor 10:1-13 and 15:1-11. The last word in verse 14 is a third-person imperative, which we normally translate in English using the word ‘let’, as in ‘Let everything be done in love’. This really is the key for the whole letter. Rather than wisdom or gifts, Paul wants the Corinthians to focus on love.
Prayer: Father God, let me be counted as a friend of Jesus, by his grace. Give me your Spirit to enable me to fulfil your command to stand firm in the faith and be strong. May I be a faithful servant like Timothy and Stephanas. And over everything, may I put on love.