COME, O LORD!

“Come, O Lord!”

1 Cor 16:22 NIV

A number of exclamations have been common in daily Christian usage. “Praise the Lord” has been one. Another is “Hallelujah”. The early Christians said, “Maran Atha”. The words are Aramaic which was the day- to-day language spoken in Israel in Christ’s day. All his conversations with his disciples would have been in Aramaic. It is similar to Hebrew and came from Syria. “Maran Atha” means, “Come Lord Jesus, Come”.

In the early years of the Christian church they confidently expected Jesus to return – any day! This expectation was a carry-over of the hope the Hebrews had that the Messiah would come soon. Jesus had come. He was the Messiah. He had lived, produced miracles, died and risen. They were living in the messianic age. Then the Holy Spirit had “hit them” and made them new people. The apostles had gone out preaching. The air was alive with drama, miracles, the fulfilment of prophecies and so on. In this atmosphere of buoyant expectancy they believed that soon now the end of the world would come. That meant Christ would come in his final glory. “Maran Atha” became their watchword, their slogan, their hope.

But he didn’t come. Slowly the years started to slip by. The hope that it would happen any day became dimmer – and dimmer. Various ways of thinking had to be adjusted. But hope had become a normal way of thinking, and it was positive, confident and faith-filled.

We still hope for Christ to come again. But we are not straining our eyes to look for him despite the quirky calculations of some. We look towards the Jesus who is ever with us, and we labour on amidst the present problems, disappointments, and frustrations, knowing that in life or in death we are in his hands.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Maran Atha. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

FROM THE MAN HIMSELF

“And I, Paul – in my own handwriting! – send you my regards ”.

1 Cor 16:21 EHP

Some eighty years ago a leading British minister wrote a book entitled “Why Jesus Never Wrote a Book”. It was really just a collection of sermons and the one that gave the book its title said that Jesus really meant that his disciples’ lives, work and deeds were his message, and you can read his book in them.

It must have meant a lot to the Corinthians that Paul actually wrote this long letter himself – or does the wording imply that someone else actually wrote it and he just signed it? It must have been greatly treasured with his personal signature on it. The copies that have come down to us were all made some two centuries after the original.

Not all books in the Bible were written by the person whose name they carry, but it was a normal literary device in those days to write an important document and use a famous name. Mark’s gospel is an interesting case. Mark was not one of the twelve disciples but there are many eye-witness details in the stories he tells. A very ancient letter tells us that Mark served as the scribe for the apostle Peter – and that his gospel gives us Peter’s recollections. Matthew would have been there and he copies chunks from Mark – who is regarded as being the first gospel written. Many people have argued that in the gospels we only have the recollections of the apostles thirty to forty years after the events they describe. It is accepted by all but a few sceptical scholars that together the gospels give us an accurate picture of Jesus. You can trust them !

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, thank you for those who have written the books of the Bible.

GREETINGS

“All the friends here say hello. Pass the greetings around with holy embraces”.

1 Cor 16:20 EHP

What a marvellous invention the telephone has been – together with all the new technology that promotes global communication! You can now telephone someone the other end of the world and talk to each other looking at each other face to face by means of mobile phones.

Communication in the early church was very sparse. The Roman Empire did have a rudimentary mail service, but it was not widely used and there was not much guarantee that it was private. Some of Paul’s letters did get written and did arrive – but only one copy was made (the original) and it went only to the people to whom it was addressed. Soon, however, locally made copies began to spread slowly. The churches in the big cities planted small churches in the surrounding villages and made copies of Paul’s letters for them to read and study. (The gospels had not yet been written – they came later). So the occasion of sending a letter was a big event – as was its arrival in the receiving congregation. Paul was the great father-figure, teacher, pastor, organiser, scholar, theologian, problem solver and wise guide. And the people in the far-flung congregations knew that they belonged together as members one of another because they were one in Christ. The letter with its personal greetings warmed their hearts and reminded them of fellow-disciples far away. The greetings meant something special. And the letters were treasured. Not all those that got written became preserved for posterity. Those that have, provide a wonderful insight into the life of the early church. Their message is, “Bind us together Lord, bind us together with cords that cannot be broken”.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help us to love our fellow disciples.

THE CHURCH IN THEIR HOUSE

“Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house”.

1 Cor 16:19 NIV

In the late nineteen forties the Communist regime in China banned Christian missionaries and expelled those that were there. The Chinese church was left leaderless and the former missionaries wondered what would happen to the church there. Many people throughout the world prayed for the Chinese Christians. When, after many decades, the “bamboo curtain” was taken down a miracle had happened. The Chinese church was alive and flourishing. Unable to hold public services, they had met in each others’ homes and there the church had grown – strongly too.

The early church had no buildings. It was some two to three hundred years after Christ before buildings were erected specifically for Christian worship. Aquila and Priscilla were amongst the first to hold services of Christian worship regularly in their home. And when Paul wrote to the church at Corinth he included greetings, not only from Aquila and Priscilla themselves but from the congregation that met in their home. As congregations increased in size so worship became limited to homes that were large enough to accommodate the congregations. Buildings were an afterthought – now we reckon them to be essential to house a congregation.

Always remember that however a community may come to treasure its worship centre, that erection is not essential to the being of the church. Buildings are an optional extra, though congregational life is extremely difficult without one. The people are the heart and core of the church. Buildings can sometimes become a burden and even a hindrance to the spiritual life of a community. And they consume vast amounts of money to erect and to maintain.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help us to use our buildings wisely and economically.

AQUILA AND PRISCILLA

“Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord”.

1 Cor 16:19 NIV

In the long history of the Christian church there are millions of people who have come, committed themselves to Jesus Christ, done their service for the Lord and passed on. What they have done has been nothing spectacular. But they have done it faithfully and well.

Aquila and Priscilla first met Paul when he arrived in Corinth to preach and found the Christian church there. Aquila was Jewish and had lived in Rome with Priscilla. One emperor banned Jews from Rome and Aquila and Priscilla made their way to Corinth. They were amongst Paul’s first converts there and, like Paul, they were tent-makers by profession. They clearly became stalwarts and leaders of the church, helping to instruct Apollo in matters of the faith. And they were prosperous enough to own a house large enough to hold the church assemblies. They later moved to Ephesus where again they figured prominently in leadership roles.

Aquila and Priscilla are a prime example of how strong a marriage can become when Christ is the head of the home. They are also models of what an influence for good and for God a Christian home can become when both marriage partners are servants of the Lord and live to promote the gospel. We do not know further, but can only imagine what a wide influence they must have had in their service for Christ.

There have been many Christian couples who have used their homes as places of refuge, friendship and pastoral care for other Christian disciples and have thereby spread the gospel by their love, sharing and counsel. Are you using your home for the glory of God and for others to experience the presence of Jesus Christ?

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, let our home be dedicated to you and your glory.

MINISTERING TO WHOM?

“They refreshed my spirit and yours also. Such men deserve recognition ”.

1 Cor 16:18 NIV

The minister of a large city congregation heard from his doctor the unwelcome news that he needed surgery. It was a new experience for him and even worse when, on the few days after the operation, he began to pick up some concerns on the face of the doctor and nurse that all was not well. Eventually the doctor said, “I’m afraid we will have to take you back to the theatre and operate again”. His heart sank. It was a cold winter’s day that suddenly felt even colder. How much longer would he have to stay in hospital? How much more was it all going to cost? Would he have ongoing illness? The negative thoughts swirled around his fearful mind. Then came a tap on the door and a woman from his church popped in. She worked in the hospital office and had just heard about the doctor’s verdict. She chatted quietly and then said, “I’m going to pray with you”. Her prayer lifted the whole situation into the hands of Christ the healer. Then she left. He said afterwards, “I stopped worrying and I remembered to pray myself”.

Not many believers in Christ feel prompted to minister to the minister. But ministers too are human and have their times of desperation. The visitors from Corinth brought news to Paul and that ministered to him. But their visit said, “The people in Corinth love you in Christ and respect and appreciate the work you have done for us. God bless you and strengthen you”.

Be sensitive to the human needs of your pastor or priest. Pray for him (or her), and uphold him in Christ.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, make me sensitive to the needs of those around me.

WELCOME VISITORS

“I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you ”.

1 Cor 16:17 NIV

Most people like to receive visitors. Some make us happy when they come. Others make us happy when they go! We are eager to hear news that the visitors bring us. We in our turn tell the visitors what our news is. We talk about health, family events, the progress of children, “hatches, matches and despatches”. And when they are church friends we exchange news and information about the church fellowship – “The minister’s been ill, the congregations are up, the collections are down. The prayer meet- ing is sometimes up – but nothing like it should be. The people who argued for the prayer meeting to be held never come themselves”.

Obviously Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus were trusty friends and leaders in Corinth. Probably they brought news of the easing of tensions between the different factions? Maybe other church problems about which Paul had written were discussed and progress reported. And, no doubt they wanted to know how Paul was sorting out the problems he had been having in Ephesus? Had he heard any up-to-date news of the “mother church” in Jerusalem? Were people coming to his lunch-time lectures in Ephesus? Should they consider starting some in Corinth – or wait till he got there? And doubtless there were some disciplinary issues to work through as fellow-workers together? Maybe Paul had some writings he was busy with and would he get the people in other churches to make copies of his letters and send them to Corinth so that they could study them as well. What could they do to enable Christ to be more obviously present and at work in Corinth?

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help us to fulfil our calling as a global band of Christians.

AUTHORITY

“Submit to… everyone who joins in the work, and labours at it ”.

1 Cor 16:16 NIV

Somebody once said, jokingly, “There are three kinds of church. The first kind is the one run by the minister. The second kind is the one run by the minister’s wife. The third kind are those run by the church secretary”. (This quip is much appreciated by church secretaries!) Those where nobody appears to be in charge tend to potter and flounder along. Some Christian believers might assume that if everybody is a good Christian there is no need for any kind of authority – everybody should get along happily with everybody else.

The New Testament shows us a church where apostles take charge and guide. But they move around from place to place, sometimes spending several months in one place. When Paul was away from a place where he had founded the community, he seems to have appointed leaders to oversee the community in his absence. From the huge amount of problems that arose, it was very necessary. At Corinth he designated the Stephanas family to accept this leadership responsibility. But they were not alone. There was a need for leadership from “everyone who joins in the work, and labours at it”. They would work with Stephanas and his family.

A Christian congregation should never become the personal or family fiefdom of one person or family. This is inclined to happen in those small congregations that do not have any resident ordained minister. Some leaders have to assume responsibility under God, and all who work and labour in the community should, under the guidance and authority of God himself, “take the work forward”.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, may your Holy Spirit work in all levels of leadership in your church.

LOOK UP TO THEM

“I want you to honour and look up to people like that: companions and workers who show us how to do it, giving us something to aspire to”.

1 Cor 16:16 EHP

In most fields of endeavour we find senior, more experienced people than ourselves. Some of them seem to be giants in their respective fields. We admire their expertise, their apparently calm, unruffled equilibrium, and the honour in which they are held. We even find ourselves admiring older Christians for their wisdom, the depth of their faith and the strength they seem to exude. We wonder if one day we will ever reach that level of discipleship. And secretly we hope we will.

In a way we could say that Stephanas’ family in Corinth was a model Christian family. Of course they all derived strength and purpose from the strong marriage of the husband and wife. Strong families usually make strong people of the younger generations. Paul wanted the Corinthian congregation to make sure that Stephanas and his family were recognized and acknowledged as the role-models for the rest of the community. He no doubt hoped that other families would emulate the Stephanas model, all growing in Christ and in grace. If other families got to serving the rest of the believers, it would be a big boost for this very difficult, problem-ridden church. A church is always a network of relationships and the stronger ones form pillars on which the more dicey ones can and will lean. And alongside them the weaker ones will grow. Strong examples not only provide models, they inspire the rest to try out developments and experiments of their own. Such expansion will draw others in from outside and so build up the body of Christ.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help us to build up your body in many different ways.

SERVANT FAMILIES

“I want you to honour and look up to people like that”.

1 Cor 16:16 EHP

Most of us do look up to some people, but they are not always the one to whom we ought to be looking up. Sometimes we assess people by earthly standards, and where most of the members of a church are employees of a nearby business, we often find the church reflecting the status people enjoy in the work place, even when the “bosses” show very little of real Christian commitment.

Stephanas’ family devoted themselves to serving the people of the Christian community. Sometimes “we give leadership to those who have received one particular kind of education, who have a measure of articulacy and general ability to think and speak on their feet and are able to make speeches in meetings, thus measuring up to worldly criteria of leadership. Do we ever take with proper seriousness the perspective Paul provides on leadership as service? Jesus taught the same truth: ‘Who ever would be great among you must be your servant’ (Mt 20:26). This indicates that the authentic, solid leadership of a local church will come from people who give themselves to serving the people of God. Such leadership does not depend on education, qualifications, degrees or natural charisma. It comes from the grace of God equipping his people with gifts which enable them to be servants of others in the fellowship of believers. The whole household of Stephanas lived like that: as a family they served others – adults, teenagers, and children; master of the house and domestic servants: the elderly and the very young. … One of the most effective testimonies to the reality of the risen Christ is the servant-lifestyle of a Christian family” (D. Prior, The Message of 1 Corinthians, p284).

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, raise up more servant families in Christ.