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Paul says in 1 Corinthians 16:10, 11,
10 Now if Timothy comes, see that he is with you without cause to be afraid; for he is doing the Lord’s work, as I also am. 11 Let no one therefore despise him. But send him on his way in peace, so that he may come to me; for I expect him with the brethren.
Why was Paul concerned that the Corinthians might despise Timothy? Why might Timothy cause them to fear? It is not that he was strong and aggressive, but rather that he was young and timid by nature, lacking self-confidence and perhaps feeling somewhat intimidated by the gravitas of Paul and the other apostles. So Paul wrote to him on another occasion about this in 1 Tim. 4:12,
12 Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.
Paul admonished him again in 2 Tim. 1:6-8,
6 For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. 8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me His prisoner; but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God.
Apparently, the original plan was for Paul to go to Corinth, and that Timothy was to go there ahead of Paul to prepare the way and to inform them of Paul’s plans. Paul was concerned that the Corinthians would look upon him as being too young and inexperienced to be entrusted with the donations for Jerusalem—or even with the gospel of Christ. But Paul saw great potential in him and had confidence in him.
In later years, the saints in Rome thought highly of Timothy. Timothy must have visited and ministered to the British royal family in Rome, to whom Paul had written his Epistle to the Saints in Rome. Rufus Pudens and his British wife, Claudia, named their son Timothy after Paul’s protégé by the same name. (See chapter 5 of Lessons from Church History, Vol. 1.)
Paul then speaks of Apollos in 1 Corinthians 16:12, saying,
12 But concerning Apollos our brother, I encouraged him greatly to come to you with the brethren; and it was not at all his desire to come now, but he will come when he has opportunity.
Paul had first met Apollos in Ephesus, though he was actually from Alexandria, Egypt. Their introduction is recorded in Acts 18:24, 25,
24 Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. 25 This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John.
The teaching of John the Baptist had reached Egypt, probably through one of John’s disciples, and Apollos’ family had responded to it. So Apollos understood the teachings of Jesus’ forerunner but was apparently unacquainted with subsequent events, such as Jesus’ death and resurrection. He also had not heard of the events that fulfilled Pentecost in Acts 2.
Apollos had also gone to Corinth, where he had been instructed by Aquila and Priscilla before Paul’s arrival there. Acts 19:1 says,
1 It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper country came to Ephesus and found some disciples.
Those “disciples” in Ephesus, which Paul met during Apollos’ absence, were disciples of John the Baptist. No doubt this group (church) had been established by Apollos himself.
Paul arrived in Ephesus while Apollos was in Corinth. So while Apollos was being upgraded by Aquila and Priscilla in Corinth, Paul was upgrading Apollos’ disciples in Ephesus, giving them the knowledge of events that had occurred after the martyrdom of John the Baptist.
Recall from 1 Cor. 1:12 and 3:5 that Apollos was well known to the Corinthian church. He was held in such high esteem that the church was in danger of dividing in factions which threatened their unity. But in 1 Cor. 16:12 Paul refers to him as “Apollos our brother,” showing no sign that Paul felt threatened by Apollos’ ministry and calling. His concern was for the Corinthian believers, who favored various teachers so much that they might divide into various denominations.
Paul had wanted Apollos to go to Corinth with Timothy and perhaps others from Ephesus. But Apollos did not want to go at that time. It appears that he felt that he had too much work to do in Ephesus at the moment. So he agreed to go to Corinth at a later time.
Paul says in 1 Cor. 16:13-15,
13 Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love. 15 Now I urge you, brethren (you know the household of Stephanas, that they were the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves for ministry to the saints)…
Paul encouraged them to “stand firm in the faith,” and he sets forth the household of Stephanas as an example to follow. Recall from 1 Cor. 1:16 that Paul had baptized the household of Stephanas, as they were the first to believe the gospel in Achaia, a province of Greece just west of Corinth. It seems that they had soon moved to Corinth to be part of that fellowship and were diligent in their “ministry to the saints.”
1 Corinthians 16:16 says,
16 that you also be in subjection to such men and to everyone who helps in the work and labors.
Notice that Paul does not instruct anyone to subject themselves to a single man, certainly not to Paul himself. We are to subject ourselves one to another as each does the work of ministering to the saints.
1 Corinthians 16:17, 18 says,
17 And I rejoice over the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus; because they have supplied what was lacking on your part. 18 For they have refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men.
These were probably the men who had conveyed Chloe’s letter to Paul, telling him of certain disputes and problems in the Corinthian church. We do not know who Fortunatus and Achaicus were, but in my opinion it is likely that they were sons of Stephanas, or part of his household. Achaicus himself may have been named for the place in which he was born (Achaia). At any rate, little is known about them, but God knows them and will reward their service.
Paul begins his final greetings in 1 Corinthians 16:19-21,
19 The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Prisca greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house. 20 All the brethren greet you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. 21 The greeting is in my own hand—Paul.
Prisca is short for Priscilla, no doubt her nickname. She and her husband Aquila were in Ephesus at the time Paul wrote his letter, although they had been living in Corinth earlier when they first met Apollos. They had been expelled from Rome by the Emperor Claudius, who expelled all Christians and Jews in 52 A.D. (Acts 18:1, 2). When expelled, they moved to Corinth. Whether they had moved again to Ephesus or if they were only visiting Ephesus (as Paul was) is unknown.
Later, when Claudius’ edict had been repealed, they moved back to Rome. We know from church history that there were two house churches in Rome. One was at the house of Aquila and Priscilla, while the other was at the Palace of the British (Palaticum Britannicum), which was the estate of Rufus Pudens and Claudia.
The Pudentius family was a wealthy senatorial family, and Claudia (whose British name was Gladys) had been taken to Rome with her family after being captured in a war. Rufus Pudens was charged with the task of bringing the royal family safe to Rome as captives, but on the way, he had fallen in love with the 16-year-old Princess Gladys.
When Claudius pardoned the royal family and adopted Gladys, renaming her Claudia (after himself), it was not long before Rufus and Claudia were married. Their mansion became a house church for the royal family and their servants. When Aquila and Priscilla returned to Rome, the second house church was established, mostly for Jewish Christians. (See Vol. 2 of Paul's Epistle to the Saints in Rome, chapter 17.)
Paul’s Roman letter was addressed to the house of Pudens, but it was intended to be shared with Aquila and Priscilla as well. So he greets them there (Rom. 16:3, 4).
In 1 Cor. 16:20, the greeting “with a holy kiss” on both cheeks was an ancient custom, still practiced in the Mideast today and in other places. Such instruction also implies that the believers in Corinth were to put away any divisions and remain in unity.
Paul signed his name to the letter at the end, taking the pen from Luke (his scribe). He then added a few final words in his own handwriting. 1 Cor. 16:22-24 says,
22 If anyone does not love the Lord, let him be accursed [anathema]. Maranatha. 23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. 24 My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Paul’s words come like a clap of thunder. The Greek word anathema, “accursed,” is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew herem, “devoted” or “devoted to destruction.” The laws of devotion are found in Leviticus 27, where property might be “devoted” to God (Lev. 27:21, KJV). Such property did not revert back to its original owners in the year of Jubilee but remained devoted to God and for the use of the Sanctuary.
The devoted property itself was not “accursed.” Instead, those who might take back the property would take upon themselves the divine curse for usurping what was not theirs. So we find that Jericho was “devoted” to God, or “accursed” (Joshua 6:17, KJV). In other words, all the gold, silver, bronze and iron were to be given to God; and when Achan took some of this for himself, he found himself under a curse.
So when Paul says, “If anyone does not love the Lord, let him be accursed,” it meant that all believers had been devoted to God. God then owned them by the law of devotion. If anyone fell away and usurped his own body for his own purposes, he was placed under the curse of the law for stealing that which was not his.
Of course, this does not mean that the other believers were supposed to carry out his execution, as some other religions demand. (Even the church has done this, especially in past centuries.) Such a curse is for God to execute as He wishes.
Maranatha is an Aramaic word that means, “Our Lord comes,” or “Our Lord is coming.” In this case He comes to execute judgment upon those who are accursed. But the believers should not fear such judgment, for they have found grace, Paul assures them.
Paul leaves them with his love, which is defined in 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter. If one truly is motivated by love in all things, then he is sanctified in the sight of God. Paul’s letter of sanctification is fulfilled in that single word: love.