Manuscript of this sermon is available for reading services.
Reading: 2 Timothy 1:1-15
Text: 1 Corinthians 16:5-24
Opportunities and People
2 Timothy 1:1-15 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
Timothy Charged to Guard His Trust
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus [a]by the will of God, according to the promise of life in Christ Jesus,
2 To Timothy, my beloved [b]son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
3 I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience [c]the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my [d]prayers night and day, 4 longing to see you, even as I recall your tears, so that I may be filled with joy. 5 [e]For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well. 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 [f]timidity, but of power and love and [g]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, 9 who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, 10 but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 11 for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher. 12 For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him [h]until that day. 13 [i]Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the [j]treasure which has been entrusted to you.
15 You are aware of the fact that all who are in [k]Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes.
1 Corinthians 16:5-24 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
5 But I will come to you after I go through Macedonia, for I am going through Macedonia; 6 and perhaps I will stay with you, or even spend the winter, so that you may send me on my way wherever I may go. 7 For I do not wish to see you now just in passing; for I hope to remain with you for some time, if the Lord permits. 8 But I will remain in Ephesus until Pentecost; 9 for a wide door [a]for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.
10 Now if Timothy comes, see that he is with you without [b]cause to be afraid, for he is doing the Lord’s work, as I also am. 11 So let no one despise him. But send him on his way in peace, so that he may come to me; for I expect him with the brethren.
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.
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 [c]they were the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves for ministry to the saints), 16 that you also be in subjection to such men and to everyone who helps in the work and labors. 17 I rejoice over the [d]coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have [e]supplied what was lacking on your part. 18 For they have refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men.
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—[f]Paul. 22 If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be [g]accursed. [h]Maranatha. 23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. 24 My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Opportunities and people
1 Corinthians 16:5-24 (Reading 2 Timothy 1:1-15)
Church life is all about taking steps of faith. Often it’s a faith which is tested by the opportunities God gives us. Are we those who are able and willing to take them on? This passage shows us that God provides opportunities and equips people to help build his church.
After Paul encouraged the Corinthian church to contribute to the collection for the needy saints in Jerusalem he informed them of his travel plans and told them that he hoped to visit after having travelled through Macedonia, perhaps visiting churches in the area along the way. These churches may have included Thessalonica and Berea. We note that Paul wasn’t being too definite, it doesn’t look like he had booked his travel tickets just yet. “Perhaps I shall stay with you”, he wrote and adds” if the Lord permits” in verse 7.
So Paul wasn’t sure, mainly because of where he was at the time. He was ministering in Ephesus where Paul felt his work wasn’t quite finished. An opportunity had arisen there, “a door of effective service had opened”, so Paul needed to stay there a little longer.
Paul didn’t end up making a long visit to Corinth but according to 2 Corinthians 2:1 he made a short “painful” visit and instead of returning back through Macedonia, he want straight back to Ephesus. He then travelled on to Troas where he waited for Titus to bring news from Corinth and then from there went on to Judea with the collection for the Jerusalem church.
As it says in Proverbs (16:9) men make their plans but the Lord directs there steps. Sometimes our plans don’t always work out. Does that make us liars or failures? According to 2 Corinthians 1:17 some detractors at Corinth thought that Paul wasn’t to be trusted because of his change in plans. Not so. We know that the short visit Paul made was painful and brief because of the attitude of some Corinthians on account of the incestuous brother mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5 They refused to deal properly with him and attacked Paul instead. No doubt Paul had sharp words with them as well. He doesn’t come across in his letters as one to back down to rebellious and divisive men.
Thankfully after that tearful visit the people concerned in Corinth came to a better understanding of the discipline process because the man had repented and so, in his second letter, Paul urged the congregation to forgive him.
In any case for that reason and then because the Lord had opened a door for effective ministry in Ephesus, Paul changed his plans. He wanted to win the lost for Christ in Ephesus rather than be embroiled in difficulties in Corinth. In any case Titus was there and he was possibly the better man to deal with a conflict situation in Corinth than Paul was at that time.
Even so the work was risky in Ephesus. The pagans weren’t happy about the growing church and at one point a riot broke out but Paul wanted to stay because he saw the potential for further effective ministry there.
Well the main lesson in this is seen in verse in verse 9, “A wide door for effective service has opened to me.” So… let us not miss the opportunities for gospel ministry the Lord provides us with.
What open door is God opening up for you to advance his kingdom? Have you been asked to do anything, help anyone, and encourage someone? Do you see and opportunity for Christian service, a way you can serve Christ and His church? Consider it God a given opportunity and serve. By all means we should use biblical wisdom, pray, study the situation and do our best to determine what God’s will is in His word. We should see what other mature Christian friends have to say about it but when we’ve done all we can and we know what to do then the encouragement in verse 9 is go and do with without delay. .
Notice that Paul also adds in verse 9, “and there are many adversaries”. The situation in Ephesus was not an easy one. Demetrius the Silversmith was stirring up trouble for Christians in Ephesus to the extent that a riot took place. But Paul was keen to remain there any way. He wasn’t so tied to his comforts that he would pass up open door for effective service.
When we get to do something for the Lord; it’s a privilege to serve but it’s often not easy or rewarding in any material sense. Rather, taking up an opportunity for service is more likely going to involve some personal sacrifice on our part. Well that is the essence of the Christian life. Calvin put it well in one of the headings in his institutes of Christian religion; “The sum of the Christian life is self-denial.” It’s a reflection of Jesus words, “if anyone would be my disciple he must deny himself.” As Christians we are not our own but we belong to God who purchased us with the precious blood of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Therefore we are God’s we live for him and we die for him.
But opportunities need people who are equipped to take them on which that leads me to the second point,
Often at the end of his letters Paul named a number of people who he had to do with and who helped him in his missionary expeditions. Clearly Paul wasn’t able to do the work on his own and the Lord never intended that. There are no ‘lone rangers’ in the Lord’s service even though we might in our own minds elevate certain people as exceptional Christian characters such as the apostles, reformers and well known influential Christian writers and speakers today . But they always had a team of people around them. So too with Paul. He travelled with Barnabas, Luke, Timothy, Silas and many others whom he would affectionately call fellow workers in the Lord.
Resources and open doors or opportunities are useless without spiritually endowed people. The churches greatest asset is in fact people!
This is why Jesus invested three years in training his disciples. He trained them so that they might be prepared to continue the work he began of building his church. When people are prepared then God provides both the opportunities and the money to do the work.
So let’s look at the people Paul mentioned at the end of his 1st letter to the Corinthians. How were they equipped to serve and what is God teaching us through them?
Timothy’s name is mentioned first. He was one of Paul’s closest assistants and served as the pastor at Ephesus after Paul. He had been brought up in a godly home, by his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice.
As a young man he was trained by Paul who regarded Timothy as “a son in the faith”. In his letter to the Philippians (chapter 1: 19ff) Paul wrote, “I hope to send Timothy,… for I have no one else of kindred spirit who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare for they all seek after their own interests.” Paul also shows great concern for Timothy. In verse 10 & 11 he asks the Corinthians not to upset Timothy or cause him fear in any way or to despise him probably because he was quite young. In 1 Timothy 4:12 Paul tells Timothy, “let no one look down on your youthfulness.” Rather the Corinthians were to make sure they encouraged Timothy as much as possible. He was doing the Lord’s work, working together with Paul.
This reminds us today that mutual encouragement is so important in the life of the church especially towards those who may be struggling. According to our sinful human nature we can be judgmental and despise others because of their weaknesses and failings. That’s not how the Lord deals with us. Psalm 103 assures us that “the Lord doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve and that as a father has compassion on his children He has compassion on those who fear him.” Jesus never despised but rather healed people with all kinds of afflictions. It says in Matthew 12:20 about the Lord Jesus that; “A battered reed he will not break off and a smouldering wick he will not put out.” In other words to those who have suffered abuse at the hands of others, whose faith might be at a low ebb and is more like smouldering wick rather than a shining light; Jesus would seek to help and encourage that person. He would fan the smouldering wick of faith into flame, rather than snuff it out.
So, if we are going to be able to make use of open doors and opportunities the Lord gives us to help others get to know Christ then we need to be encouraging towards one another, keeping in mind that whoever participates in the life of the church in whatever way, great or small is like Timothy, doing the Lord’s work.
Then there was Apollos. We first come across him in Acts 18:24. He is described there as an eloquent man, well versed in the Scriptures and brought into a full understanding of the gospel by Priscilla and Aquila. His ministry at Corinth mentioned in chapter 1 resulted in some members of the church at Corinth forming an Apollos fan club which Paul considered to be divisive. That wasn’t Apollos’ doing. He just wanted to preach the gospel and so Paul didn’t hesitate to encourage Apollos to return to Corinth for further ministry but Apollos didn’t feel ready to come. Well notice that Paul didn’t Lord it over Apollos and say “Hey I’m the apostle here you ought to submit to me and go to Corinth whether you like it or not!” He accepted whatever reason Apollos had and told the Corinthians that Apollos would come when he was ready. It may be that Apollos had an effective ministry elsewhere at the time. It may also have been the divisions in the church at Corinth mentioned in chapters 1 & 3 which caused Apollos to hesitate and so for that reason Paul urges the Corinthians in verse 13 to “stand firm in the faith, act like men (not naughty children) and be strong.
An important lesson the Lord is teaching us here is that we can only take up opportunities for gospel ministry if we are united. Elsewhere in Ephesians 4:3 Paul wrote “Make every effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace.” We can only move forward on projects as a church if we all agree. Agreement is something that always needs to be worked on. We are all different individuals with our own opinions. The beauty of the Gospel is that we can agree because Christ died on the cross for us that we might have communion with God and with each other.
Then there is Stephanus and his household. They are called “the first fruits of Achaia” and are noted for having devoted themselves to minister to the saints in the church”. In chapter 1:16 it says that Stephanus and his household were one of the few Paul baptised himself. Following his baptism Stephanus and his family, presumably his wife and children devoted themselves to helping their local church. There you have a key ingredient to church growth; whole families devoted to the church, children growing up and participating in the life of the church, perhaps marrying and moving elsewhere but devoted to the life of whatever church they may have moved to. We know it doesn’t always happen. So how can we encourage more of that kind of devotion since strong families do make for strong churches?
A good place to start is in the home. People who speak critically about their church or individuals in the church can do a lot of harm. Often when there’s the habit of gossiping about brethren in the church, children who hear such critical talk, week in week out, will likely not be in that church when they grow up. So its crucial that we all pray for our church and our leaders instead. A church with people who are devoted to one another as Stephanus and his family was; who faithfully pray for each other and who build each other up are more able to take on new ministry opportunities.
Looking at verse 17 it also appears that Stephanus had a few helpers too. Paul had confidence in these men. He was sure that Stephanus, Fortunatus and Achaicus assist Paul with his work in Ephesus and according to verse 18 were indeed a great blessing to Paul.
So, Paul encourages the church to honour people like Stephanus and his family and so must we honor and all those who are like-wise devoted to the Lord and his church.
Finally we come to Priscila and Aquila. Their names are mentioned six times in the New Testament and in four of these cases Priscilla’s name come first. That gives readers the impression that spiritually she was the stronger of the two and an enthusiastic participant in the life of the church. They worked together with Paul in a tent making business to help relieve the burden of the young churches having to provide Paul and his associates with a living during their missionary journeys. It was while Priscilla and Aquila were at Ephesus that they helped Apollos gain a deeper understanding of the faith. We also notice that the Ephesian church met in Priscilla and Aquila’s home which shows the extent of their hospitality. By all accounts they were a dedicated couple who faithfully served the Lord.
Again every local church can be thankful for husbands and wives like that; couples who work together in serving the Lord. They may help those who preach and teach open their homes for church activities and the like. Where ever they might be such couple are a great asset to any church.
In conclusion then we see how important people of faith are in the life of the church. Every church needs people like Timothy, Apollos, Stephanus and his family or Priscilla and Aquila. We need people who, by the mercies of God are willing to offer themselves as living and holy sacrifices to the Lord in their spiritual service of worship. People who put aside personal ambitions wants and desires. People who put aside fears or lack of confidence to do the Lord’s work. People who utilize their gifts to do the Lord’s work. Families who are devoted to their churches to do the Lord’s work. The church needs people who stand firm in the faith, who act, speak and think in love; who encourage rather than criticise. People who are united in the faith and who then take up opportunities great or small for Christian service, together doing the Lord’s work.
May God give us all the grace and humility to put this into practice for the sake of Christ and his church and to the glory of God.