1 Corinthians 16:4-12
Paul is concluding his letter to the Church in Corinth here. He speaks of the collection for the Church in Jerusalem which is taking place and speaks of others who may go to Corinth as well. He states that if Timothy goes, he is to be received, and also explains that Apollos will not be visiting any time in the near future, but perhaps at a later time. Obviously word had reached them about the coworkers in Christ which Paul had kept, and they had written out of excitement to meet some of them.
As to his own presence there, he makes a statement which I find very worthy of notice. He states that “I do not wish to see you on the way; but I hope to stay a while with you, if the Lord permits. But I will tarry in Ephesus until Pentecost.” It seems obvious that when he does come to visit, he wants to be able to spend time with them, not be rushed, and that wouldn’t be possible if he stopped on the way, so he determined to tarry in Ephesus until after Pentecost so that he would be able to stay for a length of time in Corinth.
There are two main points in this statement however that I’d like to touch on. The first of which is that he desires to stay in Ephesus until Pentecost. This is so important because the apostle Paul himself bears witness to the fact that the early Church, the Church of the apostles themselves, had already begun to follow a liturgical calendar. And that it was Pentecost is even of more importance, because this wasn’t a feast that was held by the Jews or any of the other religious groups, it was a feast that was exclusive to the Church of Christ. It is a feast held fifty days after the Passover, and was a celebration of the Church receiving the Holy Spirit of Christ after the resurrection. And he goes on to state that he desired to stay there because there were many adversaries, implying that many of the Jews, who frequently caused him problems in his ministry, stood in opposition to this feast.
See, this is of importance to us, because there are so many in the West who oppose these same celebrations. There are many who oppose the celebrations of Pascha (Easter), the Nativity (Christmas), Pentecost, etc. claiming them to be traditions of men and therefore blasphemous. But, to do so would be to proclaim the very apostles themselves as guilty of this same blasphemy. St Paul himself here states that he intends to celebrate this blessed feast, which Church tradition has declared sort of the birthday of the Church. While I am not declaring it blasphemous to not celebrate these feasts, I am defending the idea of those who wish to celebrate in the full liturgical calendar of the Church. As Paul also states, “so let no man judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival…” (Colossians 2:16) and again, “one person esteems one day above another, another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.” (Romans 14:5).
The second point which I wish to address, and more importantly than the celebration of feasts, is his humility that lies in the statement, “if the Lord permits.” This is so important to us because it recognizes the providence of God. In one of the prayers of the Church, we pray, “whatever news may reach me during the course of the day, teach me to accept it with a calm soul and from the conviction that all is subject to Thy holy will.” It is hard, but absolutely necessary, for us to recognize that everything that happens is allowed by God. Thus, when we get angry about something happening, it is because it is our will, not God’s, which has been offended.
I once heard a story about a person who was scheduled to go on a missions trip. The day the flight was supposed to leave, a bad storm came which cancelled the flight. This young person had been so excited to “go and do God’s work” and was upset that the flight had been cancelled. Now, herein lies the true question. If it was truly God’s will that this person left on that exact day, would a storm have been able to delay the trip? Was the storm more powerful than God, that it could overcome His will? Was this person offended because nature had interfered with God’s plans? Or, was this person offended because their will, their plans, had been interrupted?
That’s why this passage is so important. If anyone who ever lived had the right to righteous indignation, it was St Paul. If ever anyone lived who deserved to be upset over the delay of cancellation of his plans to visit a church that he had planted, it was Paul. And yet, he almost sort of brushes off the thought of his plans and desires because, in his humility, he recognizes that it is not his will which determines these things, but God’s. And a large part of that is in recognizing that if it is God’s will, nothing will prevent it from happening. All that happens comes by the will of God, and it is only when we are seeking our own personal will that we become angered or frustrated when something intercedes to interfere with our plans. Nothing is more powerful than God, thus nothing could actually prevent His will from happening.
In this generation, especially in light of recent circumstances, many Christians are angry with the government, with priests, pastors, elders and heirarchs alike, for being unable to meet together. To attend worship services, or doing so only in limited capacity. And yet, for the laymen, for the regular believer; we have no control over such decisions. And thus, we have the option to allow that anger to fester within us, feeding those fleshly passions of anger and betrayal because our will has been offended. Or, we can humbly accept that this is allowed by God in accordance to His will and allow this time to help us grow in our faith. Attend as many services as we are able to, devote ourselves more strongly to prayer and fasting, spend more time reading the Scriptures and the Church Fathers, speak regularly to our spiritual father, spend more time and energy helping our neighbor and giving alms; and recognize with St Paul that all will return to “normal” within the Church, if the Lord allows.
My brethern, let us not allow our anger to rob us of our salvation. Pray for our leaders that they will be able to discern the right time to allow our church buildings to reopen, and until such time, allow our homes to become our monasteries. Rest assured, we will not be judged for being unable to attend the services, however, we very well may if we allow our anger over our desires to be in church to rob us of our love. Let us not forsake prayer, fasting, the Scriptures, and most importantly, let us not forsake the love for one another by which the Lord Jesus Himself declared would be the very way that the world would see that we are truly His disciples. Repent of our anger, repent of any harsh words or feelings that we have had towards any of our leaders, and instead accept that all is allowed to happen according to God’s will.
Christ is in our midst.