I will visit you after passing through Macedonia, for I intend to pass through Macedonia, and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may help me on my journey, wherever I go. For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.
When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am. So let no one despise him. Help him on his way in peace, that he may return to me, for I am expecting him with the brothers. Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but it was not at all his will to come now. He will come when he has opportunity.– 1 Corinthians 16:5-12 ESV
Paul was a man on the move, because he was a man on a mission for God. He wrote this letter from Ephesus where he would spend three years ministering, one of his longest stops in any particular place. He was constantly looking for opportunities to share the gospel and to help believers grow in their knowledge of God and their faith in Christ. Paul had a deep love for the churches he helped establish and saw the members of the congregations as his children in the faith. He felt a special bond with them and had a strong sense of responsibility for their spiritual well-being. In the case of Ephesus, there were “many adversaries” who were opposing his work and making life difficult for the believers there. Like a mother hen protecting her chicks, Paul was not about to leave the Ephesian believers alone and defenseless. Plus, he saw a “wide door for effective work” opened to him. And as long as there were unbelievers with whom to share the gospel and new believers who needed to grow, Paul would see himself as a man with work to do. His job was never done. And even in spite of pain and suffering, rejection and times of apparent failure, Paul was prone to soldier on, giving everything he had to accomplish the mission given to him by Christ.
When Paul wrote his letter to the believers in Philippi, he did so while in prison in Rome. For a man like Paul, the real pain of imprisonment was not the conditions, but the fact that he was kept from visiting the churches he loved so much. And while he knew that he might very well die for his faith, he was not quite ready to give up his mission.
For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. – Philippians 1:20-24 NLT
You get a glimpse into Paul’s heart in this passage. He longed to be bold and unashamed, even while under Roman guard. He desired for his life to honor Christ – either in life or death. And he was torn between those two options, because in a way, he knew it would be better if he could die and go to be with Christ. But he also knew that there was work yet to be done. Notice that he puts the needs of the Philippians ahead of his own. “But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.”
Paul longed to see the Corinthians again, but he did not want it to be “in passing.” In other words, he wanted to have an extended stay with them, probably because he saw the spiritual needs there as great. His entire letter has reflected the many concerns he had for their spiritual well-being. But while Paul had to delay his visit because of the open doors in Ephesus, he had made plans to send Timothy, his young protegé and disciple in the faith, to Corinth. And because Paul knew that the Corinthians were prone to judge by appearances and were already struggling with divisions over leadership (1 Corinthians 3:4), he had to remind them to “see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am. So let no one despise him” (1 Corinthians 16:10-11 ESV). Timothy was young and easily intimidated. Which is why Paul had told him, “Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity” (1 Timothy 4:12 NLT).
In verse 12, we have Paul’s sixth and final use of the phrase, “now concerning…” In each and every case that he has used it, he was referring to a question or concern raised by the Corinthians. In this instance, we are not sure what the issue was concerning Apollos, but we know that there was a group in the church in Corinth who considered him their leader. They may have been wondering when Apollos was going to return to them. In fact, they may have preferred his presence over that of Paul. But rather than be offended, Paul simply stated that he had urged Apollos to visit them, but for some reason he had chosen not to do so. Paul didn’t throw Apollos under the bus or malign him in any way. For Paul, it was not a competition. It was about sharing the gospel and building up the body of Christ. As he stated earlier in this letter, “I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow” (1 Corinthians 3:6 NLT). Paul assured them that Apollos would come when he had the opportunity.
In the meantime, Paul longed to return himself. He saw much work that needed to be done in Corinth. The church was divided. The people were immature and misusing their their spiritual gifts. Selfishness and pride were evident in the church. The influence of paganism and Hellenistic dualism was having a negative impact on the fellowship there. And all of this would result in Paul’s eventual return. As long as there were immature believers needing to grow and lost individuals needing to hear about the gospel, Paul had work to do. The door was wide open, and he was more than willing to walk through it. No rest for the weary. No retirement plans. No extended vacation. Open doors are meant to be walked through. Opportunities need to be taken advantage of. Pressing needs require immediate attention. And Paul was always reading, willing and able.