Now I urge you, brothers—you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints—be subject to such as these, 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 people.
The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord. All the brothers send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen. – 1 Corinthians 16:15-24 ESV
Paul wraps up his letter with a somewhat random and meandering closing. First, he recognizes three individuals, Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus. They were among the first converts in Achaia, the province in which Corinth was located. Earlier in this letter, Paul indicated that Stephanas and his family were the only ones he had baptized in Corinth. “I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else” (1 Corinthians 1:16 ESV). It seems that Stephanas and the other two had made a recent trip to visit Paul and had been a source of encouragement to him. He was appreciative of their friendship and ministry, and wanted the congregation in Corinth to treat them with respect. He uses these three men as examples of the kind of leadership to whom the Corinthians should submit themselves. They were worthy of recognition. What stood out to Paul was their hearts for service and their attitude of humility as they ministered to him and their fellow believers in Corinth.
Secondly, Paul sends greetings from the house church Asia, which was meeting in the home of Aquila and Priscilla. Paul had struck up a friendship with this couple after having met them in Corinth on one of his missionary journeys. “After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade” (Acts 18:1-3 ESV). They had fled Rome due to persecution and had ended up in Corinth. When Paul left Corinth for Ephesus, Aquila and Priscilla traveled with him and later settled in Ephesus, starting a church in their home (Acts 18:18-20). Again, these two individuals were examples of the kind of disciples Paul was looking to make everywhere he went. They were selfless and each had the heart of a servant. They were willing to open up their home, share their resources and give of their time in order to see that the gospel spread throughout the known world. And they used their trade as tentmakers to pay their own way.
Paul puts the finishing touches to his letter with his own hand. He had probably dictated the rest of the letter, but wanted to sign off in his own writing in order to validate that the letter was really from him. And the final lines he penned are interesting in terms of there seeming randomness.
If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. – vs 22
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. – vs 23
My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen. – vs 24
He calls for a curse, prays for God’s grace, and extends his love – an interesting combination of thoughts. And sandwiched in-between them is an appeal for the Lord’s return: “Our Lord, come!” This was an Aramaic expression and would become a standard greeting among believers in the early days of the church. Those in the church lived with a sense of the Lord’s eminent return. Belief that His coming could happen any day was a motivating factor in their lives. They lived with a sense of anticipation and eager expectation. And for Paul, the world become a place that consisted of either believers or non-believers, the saved or the lost. And if anyone refused to love the Lord, Paul’s response was to let them be accursed. As violent and harsh as this sounds, Paul is simply expressing the sad reality of their condition due to their rejection of the Savior. They were already under a curse, which carried the penalty of death and eternal separation from God. Paul was suggesting that their rejection of Christ was going to result in their rejection by God. His return was going to bring bad news and an even worse ending to their lives. But for Paul and the other believers in Corinth, the return of Christ was something for which they could and should look forward.
The author of Hebrews reminds us that we should have no fear of death and that we should eagerly hope for and in the return of Christ.
Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying. – Hebrews 2:14-15 NLT
In the meantime, while they awaited the Lord’s return, Paul prayed that the grace of Christ would protect them. And he would continue to love them – sometimes in spite of them. He would write them, confronting and encouraging them in their faith, longing to see them face to face, so that he might strengthen them. As he said in his letter to the Romans, “For I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord” (Romans 1:11 NLT).
A brotherly love (phileo) for Christ. The undeserved, sustaining grace of Christ. The selfless, Christ-like love (agape) of Paul for them. And the eager expectation of Christ’s return. These were all on the heart of Paul as he wrapped up his letter to the Corinthians. And they should be the passion and priority of every believer in the church today.