Receive Those Who Labor in the Word
Text: 1 Cor. 16:7-23
For I do not wish to see you now on the way; but I hope to stay a while with you, if the Lord permits. But I will tarry in Ephesus until Pentecost. For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.
And if Timothy comes, see that he may be with you without fear; for he does the work of the Lord, as I also do. Therefore let no one despise him. But send him on his journey in peace, that he may come to me; for I am waiting for him with the brethren…
We are now at the final sermon of this series on 1 Corinthians. We began this series in August of 2015. We took some breaks along the way, usually for Advent, Christmas, and Easter, but still, we’ve been in it a long time. This is the 56th sermon in the series. And there have been some mountain tops in this series. There was the section on Christian wisdom, the section on the communion of the saints and the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, the section on the spiritual gifts and especially love, and there was the enormous section on the resurrection. And now, with this last chapter, it feels like a bit of an anti-climax. It wraps up with some fundraising and some parting greetings. It’s all kind of mundane.
But, as we tried to show last week, these last “ordinary” items are quite central to the life of the church. Charitable giving is a necessary outflow of the gospel itself. And this morning I’d like to focus on another ordinary but essential matter mentioned in these closing words—the place of ministers and leaders in the faith.
As Paul is closing this letter, he tosses out a string of names. He first says that he would like to come and visit the Corinthians, but then he names Timothy, Apollos, Stephanus, Fortunatus, and Achaicus. All of these men are in positions of ministerial leadership, and all of them are going to be in Corinth at some point. Paul says that the saints there should receive them gladly, acknowledge them to be leaders, and submit to them.
This shows us a basic, obvious, but essential truth. Ministerial authority in the church is a good gift from God, and we should receive it as grace in our lives.
Notice All of the Ministers
In verses 5-7 Paul tells the Corinthians that he would like to come visit and spend some time with them. This is actually very important given Paul’s stature and the tenor of most of this letter. Paul has gotten after the Corinthians rather vigorously, and we should remember that this was real life. Now he’s going to come visit. This will give him a chance to minister to and encourage the Corinthians, but it will also give him a chance to evaluate how they have received his teaching.
But it’s not just Paul who will be coming by. Look at all of those names. “And if Timothy comes, see that he may be with you without fear; for he does the work of the Lord, as I also do. Therefore let no one despise him” (1 Cor. 10-11). This is the famous Timothy who has traveled with Paul and has been sent to look over the churches in Ephesus. Next, Paul mentions Apollos. Apollos had been in Corinth before, as Acts 19:1 tells us. Also, remember how Apollos had attained something of a following in 1 Cor. 1:12 and 3:4. He was a big name, and would be coming to Corinth eventually too.
Then Paul mentions three more men: Stephanus, Fortunatus, and Achaicus (1 Cor. 16:17). Stephanus was a leader in Corinth, since Paul says that his household has “devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints” (vs. 15). Indeed, all of these names appear to be kinds of ministers because Paul adds, “submit to such, and to everyone who works and labors with us” (vs. 16).
Ministerial Authority is Good
So each of these men is a kind of minister. They may have been pastors, elders, evangelists, or something else, but they were ministers. And Paul wants the Corinthians to submit to them and receive them gladly, and he wants them to do this because ministerial authority in church is good. It is a good gift given by God.
How can I say that ministers are gifts from God? Because the Bible says it. Ephesians 4 says, quoting the psalms, “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men” (Eph. 4:8). Verses 11-13 then tell us what these gifts are:
He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
So, yes, ministers are gifts from God to the church. Christians must accept this gift. They are to receive their ministers, and they are to submit to them. Hebrews 13 puts it this way, “Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct… Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account” (Heb. 13:7, 17). Your elders watch over your souls, did you know that? And they will have to give an account of themselves to God for this job. That’s one reason you need to submit to them, for you too will have to give an account.
1 Tim. 5:17 says, “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.” In context, that’s talking about payment as well as respect, but submission and respect are basic. You should honor your church leaders. You don’t do this because they are just such spectacular people in themselves. You do it because they are carrying out an office given to you by God.
There are many other passages which teach this. Christians should submit to their elders and pastors. They should respect them. They should receive them as ministers from God for their edification.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. That’s all fine and good, but my pastor really gets on my nerves. He grinds on my gears, saying things I don’t want to hear and even getting in my business and criticizing the way I live my life or run my family. I get rather tired of him. Why should I respect a guy who treats me like that?
There have been, unfortunately, abusive pastors over the years. There have been pastors who just aren’t very good at their job, too. That’s true, and it makes for a tough scenario when it happens. And, it’s sad to say, but there are also just a lot of unbiblical and worldly churches today. We don’t have to deny that. There are godly ways to go about getting a new pastor or finding a new church.
But, and this is very important, the mere fact of conflict, rebuke, or admonition coming from a pastor is not wrong. That should not be the problem you are seeing. After all, what kind of letter had Paul just written to the Corinthians? It was one of the sterner rebukes in all of Biblical literature! And yet he still wanted them to receive him and submit to him, even after he had gotten after them and probably hurt their feelings.
Indeed, submission only counts when there is conflict and disagreement. In fact, it’s only really submission in those cases. Otherwise, you agree, and when you agree, that means you get to do what you want to do. It’s only when you don’t agree that you have to submit. And that’s what Paul wants you to do—he wants you to submit to your pastor. Paul wants you to obey your pastor when you don’t agree with what your pastor is telling you, and on top of this, Paul wants you to respect your pastor while this is happening.
How is Ministerial Authority Grace?
So then, ministerial authority in the church is a good gift from God. But at the beginning of this sermon we said one more thing about it. We said that ministerial authority in the church is a good gift from God, and we should receive it as grace in our lives. How is this the case? How is ministerial authority grace?
If it’s a gift, then it’s a kind of grace by definition. But we can say more than just that. Ministerial authority is given as a way to admonish us, to teach us, and to correct us. Those are all ways that God sanctifies us and makes us who we need to be. Sometimes, ministers even have to chasten their members, and they do that through discipline. Is chastening a grace? Yes. “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives” (Prov. 3:11-12, quoted in Heb. 12). Heb. 12:11 says, “no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” So if a minister brings painful chastening upon you, you should know that it is in order to yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness.
But there’s another way that ministers are graces to us. They are graces insofar as they partake of the gospel ministry and refresh our spirit. Listen to what Paul says about Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus. He says, “For they refreshed my spirit and yours” (1 Cor. 16:18). They refreshed Paul’s spirit by ministering to him, and they refreshed the Corinthians’ spirit by ministering to them. Ministers refresh our spirits.
The word for “refresh” here simply means to give rest. It should remind you of Jesus’ words, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). But how does the minister give this rest? He gives it by giving the gospel, by giving the word of God and opening it up to the people. Yes, he also councils and shows love to the people. But the primary way that the minister can give rest to the souls of the people is by pointing them to Jesus, the one who gives true rest.
And so ministers are grace to you because they refresh your soul. This is an expression that Paul uses on at least 4 other occasions, by the way. Rom. 15:32, 2 Corinthians 7:13, 2 Timothy 1:16, and Philemon 1:7, 20 all speak of ministers refreshing the spirit. Sometimes the minister’s spirit is refreshed by the people, as in the case of Titus in 2 Cor. 7:13. Still, his spirit was refreshed by the opportunity to carry out the ministry to the Corinthians. The ministry, done rightly, brings refreshment to the soul, and that is the grace of God in your life.
So here we are then. First Corinthians is complete. We’ve climbed the mountain tops and wrestled with the weird passages. We have tried to learn what the Lord has to teach us and to submit to every truth. We have not avoided the hard things, and I hope that you have enjoyed it as much as I have.
But we close with this very ordinary thing, this very normal and earthy thing. Listen to your pastor.
This shouldn’t be strange though, because, after all, the ministry is not supposed to be a worldly thing. It’s not just a boss at church. No, the ministry is gospel. It is part of what the church is. It’s how God orders His household, how He builds the new man, and how we live that new life together.
Receive your ministers and submit to them in the Lord. Take joy in them and let them refresh your soul. The ministry is a good thing. The ministry is grace.
Let us pray.