Posted: 28 Feb 2011 11:00 PM PST
IN DRAMATIC MOMENTS IN THE LIFE of Paul he is led by some intervening revelation. What we sometimes overlook is how much of his ministry is a function of planning, instruction, pastoral judgments, even uncertainties—much like our own ministries.
In 1 Corinthians 16, Paul tells the Corinthians about his travel plans (1 Cor. 16:5–9). He does not want to see them immediately, on his way to Macedonia, and make only a passing visit. Rather, he intends to go to Macedonia first, and then "perhaps" he will stay with the Corinthians a while, or even spend the winter (when it was unsafe to travel on the Mediterranean). "I hope to spend some time with you," Paul writes, "if the Lord permits" (1 Cor. 16:7). Before embarking on any part of this trip, however, the apostle intends to stay for a while longer in Ephesus, "because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me" (1 Cor. 16:9). In other words, he still has some unfinished ministry in that great city. Clearly there is uncertainty in Paul's plans, but he is trying to lay out the next few months of his service in ways that will be of maximum benefit for the promotion of the Gospel and the good of God's people.
The next two short paragraphs (1 Cor. 16:10–12) suggest that the movements of Timothy and Apollos were not always entirely predictable either, though in both instances Paul provides the Corinthians with information covering certain eventualities.
Moreover, the first paragraph (1 Cor. 16:1–4) finds Paul instructing the Corinthians to plan ahead in their giving. The "collection" that Paul mentions is a project to help poor Christians in Judea. He knows that if the Corinthian believers start collecting money only when he shows up, they will give little. Faithful, regular giving, set aside "on the first day of every week" (when Christians met for corporate worship, encouragement, and instruction), would ensure that a considerable sum would be raised. Of course, in those days money could not be electronically transferred; someone would have to transport it personally. Paul wants the Corinthians to choose men they themselves approve, and he will provide them with letters of introduction to the leaders in Jerusalem. He may even go with them. Clearly, these sorts of arrangements would vitiate any hint of financial impropriety on the part of the apostle. In this case, too, there is evidence of careful, godly, wise planning, and encouragement to the Corinthians to engage in the same.
Today there is a form of ethereal "spirituality" that wants to wait for explicit guidance for every decision, that regards a phrase like "if the Lord wills" as a sanctimonious cop-out. That was not Paul's perspective, and it should not be ours.
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