V. Rev. Fr. Nicholas Apostola
Pastor, St. Nicholas Orthodox Church
This is the thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost and we conclude reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. The verses of today’s lesson (1 Corinthians 16:13-24) form the conclusion of the letter, St. Paul’s final admonition and greetings. He tells them that he is sending his younger disciple Timothy to work with them (v. 10) and that Apollos has decided to come to them later (v. 12), perhaps not to seem to be interfering with Timothy’s ministry.
After all of the difficult things he has had to say to them, he leaves them with these words of both admonition but especially of encouragement: “Be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” (v. 13-14) As we reflect on the issues and even strife that had been afflicting the Corinthian community, we can see the power and wisdom of his counsel. “Be watchful!” — because they were spiritually asleep. “Stand firm in your faith!” — because they had been waverying, questioning the very foundational principles that Paul had taught them. “Be courageous! Be strong!” — because they had, in a cowardly and weak fashion, succumbed the passions of pride, selfishness and factionalism.
The most important piece of advice, however, was: “let all that you do be done in love.” The source of the conflicts in Corinth was the lack of love among the brothers and sisters there. The remedy he gave them was to monitor their motives before acting or speaking. Were they doing what they were doing out of love, or for some other reason? We should see this as powerful advice for us as well. At home, at work, among friends and within the Church, is love at the heart of our motivation? When we might need to speak a hard word, is it out of love or anger? In this one phrase St. Paul offers the Corinthians a cure for what has afflicted them.
St. Paul waits until the end to address what could be the most divisive issue: Who was it that wrote to St. Paul? Which members of community journeyed to see him? He was cryptic about this at the beginning of the Letter referring to them simply as “Chloe’s people.” (v. 1:11) Here he tells them plainly, but subtly. “Now, brethren, 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 to be subject to such men and to every fellow worker and laborer. I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence; for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such men.” (v. 15-18)
He gives the Corinthians reasons why he is listening to these men. He says that Stephanas and his household were the first converts, not just in Corinth, but in all of Greece (Achaia). In addition they are devoted, giving of themselves for all of the “saints.” He urges the Corinthians to listen to him and “fellow workers” like him. He also mentions Fortunatus and Achaicus in this regard, and then he says something we can all understand, “they have made up for your absence; for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours.”
When we have lived in a place for a period of time and then moved somewhere else, or, if other people who we have known and loved move away and come to visit, when they are with us they bring news and a real presence of those we miss. In a certain sense they “make up for the absence” of those not present. In this case there is something more. The presence of St. Paul’s “fellow workers” comforts him. He is reassured by their being with him, but even more by their words of encouragement and commitment to the Gospel. St. Paul has confidence in them and knows that through them the Corinthian community will be strengthened.
“The churches of Asia send greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord. All the brethren send greetings.” (v. 19-20) This may seem like a perfunctory thing, but there is a profound message here: there is a deep connection of those who share the same faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. This shared faith makes us all brothers and sisters in a way that biology can only emulate.
He tells them, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (v. 20) St. John Chrysostom says that this is the only place where St. Paul tells people to do this, explicitly. This is not quite the case because he does end a few other letters similarly. However, St. John larger point is that the deep divisions and hard feelings within that community needed to be healed, and healed face to face. It is hard to avoid the issues at hand when faced with kissing one another. But the kiss must be “holy”; a spiritual encounter.
Finally, St. Paul says, “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand.” (v. 21) Surely he had a scribe writing the Letter. He takes the parchment and finishes the Letter himself, so that they will know the depth of his love for them. He then says something that will get their attention: “If any one has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed.” (v. 22) The Greek word we translate as “accursed” is “anathema” which has a much stronger sense. The Corinthians would have been shaken.
St. Paul uses an Aramaic phrase: “Marantha,” meaning: “Lord, come!” (v. 22) This was the fervent prayer of early Christians, as it is ours, that the Lord come! and soon.
He finishes by blessing them: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.” (v. 23-24)