This sermon is number 44 in a series of 46
1 Corinthians - Part 44
"Men At Work"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2004 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
I Corinthians 16:5-12
We're turning to 1 Corinthians chapter 16, and we'll be here again next Monday evening as usual at eight o'clock, continuing in our studies in chapter 16. Don't forget that all of the tape recordings of the messages thus far in this series are available, as are this evening's messages on tape after the meeting if you want to purchase them. We're looking tonight at chapter 16 verses 5 through to 12, and the title I have given you on your sheet is 'Men at Work'.
Verse 5: "Now I will come unto you, when I shall pass through Macedonia: for I do pass through Macedonia". Now just in case you weren't here last week, let's just read verses 1 to 4 where Paul took up the subject 'concerning collections', and we'll see how he got on to this subject we're on tonight. "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem. And if it be meet that I go also, they shall go with me. Now I will come unto you, when I shall pass through Macedonia: for I do pass through Macedonia. And it may be that I will abide, yea, and winter with you, that ye may bring me on my journey whithersoever I go. For I will not see you now by the way; but I trust to tarry a while with you, if the Lord permit. But I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost. For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries. Now if Timotheus", that is Timothy, "come, see that he may be with you without fear: for he worketh the work of the Lord, as I also do. Let no man therefore despise him: but conduct him forth in peace, that he may come unto me: for I look for him with the brethren. As touching our brother Apollos, I greatly desired him to come unto you with the brethren: but his will was not at all to come at this time; but he will come when he shall have convenient time".
Now we saw last week in verses 1 to 4 that Paul spoke to us concerning collections, concerning our stewardship financially toward God, our responsibility as a people of God financially in God's eyes. But you know this chapter is not just about money, as we will see tonight, but it's about stewardship in general in many senses. The first stewardship that we looked at last week was our stewardship of income, how many of us have an income in our own domestic lives out in the workplace, and we were encouraged last week to set by some of that income in store as God has prospered us, and bring together with a people of God on the first day of the week, and bring an offering to God out of what God has prospered us in the sense of wealth through our income. We have a stewardship before God, we have a responsibility before God to give to God financially.
Tonight we're going to see that not only do we have a stewardship of our finances and our money, but we have a stewardship before God of our opportunities. We are responsible to God, as we see in verses 5 to 9, for the opportunities - or, as Paul puts it very metaphorically, the open doors that God sets before us in our lives. We have a responsibility and a stewardship to step through the doors that God opens up for us. Then we'll see also, not all of it tonight but certainly verses 10 to 12, and then later on right through to verse 24, that the church of Jesus Christ also has a stewardship of individuals. Not just of income, not just of opportunity, but we have a stewardship of individuals - i.e. people in the church of Jesus Christ. These three stewardships for the greatest resources that we have, apart from the spiritual blessings of course, in the church of Jesus Christ: the resources of income, the resources of opportunity, and the resources of individuals who are gifted and who are called by God to serve Him in the church.
What Paul is teaching us here, even tonight through example, is that these resources of the church must not be wasted. Financial resources; the opportunities that God gives us in His sovereign will as He opens doors before us as a collective people of God or as individual Christians in our personal lives; and also as individuals, those gifted individuals among us - and we know from previous weeks that we're all gifted in one way or another - but we must not waste our resources. We are responsible before God regarding what God has given to us. Now, tonight we're looking at men that Paul mentions, men who are at work in the church at Corinth. We could say 'men of God who are at work within the church of Jesus Christ'. We want never to see men of God wasted within the church of Jesus Christ, but we would have to say that in the day and hour in which we live, we are seeing a great wastage or perhaps famine of men of God. Many of them are passing on to glory, they're dying and going to be with the Lord which is far better - but for us here on earth it's not far better for us, because we're losing great godly men who could teach us many things. There's not too many folk around to teach us those spiritual truths today, and sometimes I feel so much like the Psalmist in Psalm 12 and verse 1, where he lamented the fact even in his day - maybe it's just something that every generation goes through - he said: 'Help Lord, for the godly man ceaseth, and the faithful fail from among the children of men'. Individuals whom God is working through seem to be wasting in our day and age.
We're going to see tonight, first-hand, men of God at work. Let me shoot a warning shot across your bows just at the very beginning here: I don't want you now to switch off and say, he's going to be talking now to people like himself - pastors, and preachers, and missionaries, and evangelists, and full-time Christian workers from whatever shade of the spectrum they may be - you couldn't be further from the truth! Because we've seen in these recent weeks, studying the body of Christ, that we've all been gifted of God in one way or maybe many, but we've all something to do for God - and let me say this very categorically: potentially all of us can be men or women of God, all of us!
We will see from this passage tonight that Paul had no conception of spiritual giants, that there are these nephilim in the spiritual kingdom of God who tower above the rest of us, and we can never reach their pinnacle. Paul did not have that ideology in mind, he believed that all of us, because we're all in Christ, and we all have the same potential spiritual blessings, we all can reach that pinnacle of being men and women of God. Now before we even look at these men of God, there are many lessons in discipleship that we see here in the example of the apostles. Of course, the great apostle was a teacher, and a teacher after the school of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the great teacher of men. Any teacher is diligently committed to his students, and Paul was of course, as our Lord Jesus Christ was - but we know, as we've been studying this book in recent weeks, that the classroom at Corinth was struggling. They were failing the pass mark of the spiritual life, so much so that Paul said: 'Ye are carnal, I have to talk to you like nursery children, you are babes in Christ. You should be eating meat, but you're still feeding on milk'. So they needed someone to come, literally, to where they were and to show them first-hand how to follow God.
They needed an example, so Paul volunteers himself to tutor them and bring Timothy along to help them. So we find in verse 6 he says this: 'And it may be that I will abide, yea, and winter with you, that ye may bring me on my journey whithersoever I go'. 'I'm going to winter with you, I'm going to spend some quality time with you and give you an example in my life and my teaching, in Timothy's teaching and his example, of what godliness really is'. That word 'with' that we have in verse 6 and elsewhere in this passage, it carries the idea of intimate involvement. Paul wasn't just from an arm's length discipling these Christians, he's literally saying: 'I'm going to winter with you, and going to come face-to-face in contact with you, in dialogue, so that I can bring you along as you watch me living for Christ'.
Now can I just say this: what people need today, and especially could I say young people in our assemblies, is not just your exposition of Scripture; but more than that, people today in our world need the example of Scripture lived out in the life - the exposition of the life testifying to the belief. Now let me show you exactly what I'm saying, chapter 15 and verse 58 that he ended this great section on resurrection with: 'Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord'. Paul, in chapter 16 I believe, is now giving Paul's personified examples of verse 58. He's giving us an example of someone who is steadfast, that is Timothy. Timothy is steadfast. What about unmoveable? We'll find that Apollos is exactly that, he's a prime personification of a man of God who is unmoveable. And the last qualification is 'always abounding in the work of the Lord', and who else could be an example of that other than the great apostle Paul himself? Always abounding in the work of the Lord! Timothy: steadfast; Apollos: unmoveable; the apostle Paul: always abounding in the work of the Lord - and do you know what Paul is doing for us? He's giving us expository lives, examples: 'Corinthians, this is the way that you're to live!'.
You will know that in 2 Corinthians and chapter 3 and verse 2 he says to the same group of Christians: 'Ye are our epistles' - you are our epistles! You people, you Christians, your testimonies are our letters written in our hearts, known and read of all men. Men in Corinth of Greek pagan backgrounds, and even the Jews who rejected their Messiah, they're not going to read your New Testament - but you are the Bible that they are going to read, so you have to exposit the Bible in your very life, in your actions, in your word, in your deeds. You've heard the little verse, I'm sure: 'You're writing a gospel, a chapter each day, in the deeds that you do, in the words that you say'. This is Paul's great point in our passage this evening: you, as he says to Timothy on another occasion, you need to study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
Now a lot of men quote that verse, and they quote it in the King James: 'study to show thyself approved unto God' - there's nothing wrong with that translation, other than that the word 'study' is an old English word that just means 'be diligent'. It doesn't mean getting the books down and the Greek Lexicon, and spending a couple of hours in the study - that's not what it means. It means be diligent, do all in your power, study to present yourself approved unto God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed. In other words, you need to do God's work, the Lord's work in the Lord's way, and only by doing that - as we found out in chapter 3 of this book - will we build to ourselves something lasting for eternity, something of gold and silver and precious stones.
Now, we're going to see tonight some master builders at work in the work of God. Come with me as we look at the first one - verses 5 to 9. We see first of all Paul's plans, and we can learn a great deal from Paul's plans. It's twofold in this sense, and I didn't put this in your notes because I want to keep you awake, and you should be doing a wee bit of writing filling in those big gaps in between the three points - there are two sub-points under Paul's plans that I want to give you. Here's the first one: Paul's plans were scheduled by God's will, Paul's plans were scheduled by God's will. Look at verse 4, I want you to see one word: 'And if it be meet that I go also, they shall go with me'. The word 'meet' is a very interesting word, it's the same word that we have in Timothy where he exhorts him to be 'a vessel meet for the Master's use', in other words a vessel fit, a vessel right to be used by God. It's the same sense here, Paul is saying that if it's right for me that I go also, then you shall go with me.
But the point that I want you to see this evening is that Paul's plans were scheduled by God's will and God's will alone. He wasn't bound by or obligated to certain people to do certain things at certain times at their will and every whim. Not the great apostle, he's saying: 'My schedule is planned by the will of God, and if the will of God allows me to come with you, I will come with you - but I'm not giving you any guarantees'. Look at verse 5: 'Now I will come unto you, when I shall pass through Macedonia: for I do pass through Macedonia', verse 6, 'And it may be that I will abide', it may be! He's not selling himself to the Corinthian's programme, he's not allowing himself to be bound by any contract of an organisation or group of people that claim the name of Christ. He is saying: 'My schedule is determined by God's will, led by God's Spirit'.
Look on in verse 6: 'Yea, and winter with you, that ye may bring me on my journey', look at this word, 'whithersoever I go' - whithersoever I go, there's an uncertainty about it. in other words, he's not going to be bullied into where he's going, and be told or signed up into some kind of programme that he can't get out of. The only condition that the apostle Paul gives as to whether or not he will be with these Corinthian people is in verse 7: 'For I will not see you now by the way; but I trust to tarry a while with you, if the Lord permit' - what about that? Oh, this plays havoc with a lot of the ways we do things today in our age, even in our churches. The apostle Paul wasn't planning too far ahead in many senses, but nevertheless his planning that he did make was according to the will of God. He wasn't making any promises to anybody because he didn't know, he might have to break a promise if he made it, because God could say: 'No, you're not going, you have to go over here, this is where I need you'.
I hope you can see this - in fact the apostle James said, didn't he, in his epistle in chapter 4 and verses 13 to 15: 'Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that'. Now I wonder are our plans made by the will of the Lord? Now please don't think that I'm going off the scale tonight in some kind of subjective spiritual realm, where we have to be in some way hearing God's voice to us all the time in what we do, and we can never plan ahead - I want you to see this first point very clearly: he scheduled his plans by God's will. He did schedule them, and although he might have to change a plan now and again, he had a plan to change. He did plan, so we're seeing the balance of the apostle Paul here. I know, and I've read men who said that you shouldn't even plan in the next week or the next month or next year what meetings to take and all the rest, because you should be led by God's Spirit - but you can't live like that in the real world! The balance is: yes, make plans, like the apostle Paul did, but make no guarantees to those plans; and realise that those plans will only go ahead if God permits.
Some people quote you Proverbs 3:5 and 6: 'Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding' - and they interpret 'lean not unto thine own understanding' to mean put your brain in neutral and don't think about the matter. That's not what God's word means, is it? God is legislating planning here, but it is legislating planning according to God's will, and being surrendered and submitted to the possibility of God entering in and wrecking your plans, turning them all upside down. Let me show you Paul's plan specifically tonight, we'll go backwards from verse 8. He's writing from Ephesus, he says: 'But I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost' - I'm just going to stay where I am until Pentecost. Now 'Pentecost' is not talking here about the experience that the believers had in the Upper Room in Acts chapter 2, it's not talking about some religious festival in the church, the New Testament church. It's talking about the time of year when the Jews celebrated the religious feast of Pentecost, and it just meant a date on the calendar like we have dates, and it's very akin to Easter, our own springtime.
So Paul is saying here: 'But I will tarry at Ephesus until springtime', and then if you move back a couple of verses to verse 6 he says: 'And it may be that I will abide, yea, and winter with you, that ye may bring me on my journey whithersoever I go'. So he's going to stay until springtime with these people in Ephesus where he's writing from, and then he's going to move and pass through Macedonia, hoping to be all summer with them, and eventually reach Corinth in winter. Do you see that? Verse 8, he's going to stay with them until springtime, he's going to travel through Macedonia as we see in verse 5: 'I will come unto you, when I shall pass through Macedonia: for I do pass through Macedonia' - and then he'll come in winter time to the Corinthians and spend all winter with them.
Men of God plan, they have to plan, because men of God - and I wish we had time to look at this in the apostle Paul's life - men of God have a vision! People with a vision plan according to God's will, not apart from God will, and not making their plans and then asking God bless them - that's not what I'm talking about, but I'm talking about in accordance and communion with God making plans. Proverbs says the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord; a man's heart deviseth his way, but the Lord leads his steps.
Now Paul gives in verse 9 the reason why he's going to stay in Ephesus until spring is out, and this is so important because this shows us the second principle of Paul's plans. They were scheduled by God's will, according to how God led, he didn't give any guarantees but nevertheless he made plans - but here's the second point in verse 9, the reason he stayed in Ephesus: 'For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries'. Paul's plans, secondly, were regulated by gospel opportunity - have you got that? Not just scheduled by the will of God, but regulated by gospel opportunity. In other words, Paul was saying: God has opened a door here, a mighty door in Ephesus, an effectual door, and He has allowed us a place of blessing, and we just can't get up and leave now - God wants us to do something here!
Now there is a principle if ever there was one - do you get it clearly? The Lord is saying to you tonight, wherever you are, whatever sphere you work for Him, that: 'If I open a door for you, by all means you step through that door if there are great things to be done for God' - you go through that door! Don't let the door close! Don't pass by the door! Don't ignore the door! When God presents you with opportunities, there is a stewardship before you to take those opportunities - but don't miss the other side of the coin. It's a two-edged sword, and the second edge is the sharpest of all, because Paul links these two things together. He says: 'a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries'. In other words, Paul is saying: 'Whenever there's an open door, there's always the old devil' - have you got it? When God gives you an opportunity to do something for Him, you will find that with that opportunity, the adversary - the two go together, they're never separated. If you're going to do the Lord's work, you need to realise that you're going to encounter the Lord's enemy.
So Paul is saying: yes, there's an open door, and if you get an open door like me to do a work, you step through that open door - but step through the open door with open eyes, and realise that there's an old adversary there, that roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. Now I could spend all night going through Bible characters to prove this to you, that anyone in the Bible who has ever tried to do anything for God, and to whom God has opened a great door effectual for them to do a work for Him, they have met the devil himself at the door, they have met every obstacle and every persecution and every suffering possible. Nehemiah, who we're studying these Sunday mornings, was it not he that found in his very preparation of the work there were three men: Tobiah, Sanballat, Geshem, who were all going to oppose his work for God - and what a proof that that was a work for God for Him, that he stirred up opposition.
Do you see this tonight? Even the Lord Jesus Christ in His temptations - don't you believe that His temptation finished in the first couple of chapters of Matthew's gospel, I believe that the testing and the jibing of the devil went right throughout His whole life, right to Calvary. The fact of the matter is: God had opened a door to Christ to redeem the world from sin, do you not think the powers of evil and the adversary were going to oppose that with every power in his being? Paul is telling us: if you want to go through a door for God, you want to do something great for God - who of us don't want to do that? I mean if we're honest with ourselves, who wouldn't put your hand up and say: 'Look, I'd love to be something great for God, I would love to accomplish a great work for my Master' - but here's the question Paul is asking tonight in inference, he's asking first: are you prepared to meet a great enemy? It's not all about walking through great effectual doors, are you prepared if you're going to do a great work for God to meet a great enemy, because there's no opportunity without the adversary!
G. Campbell Morgan, the great Bible expositor, said these powerful words: 'If you have no opposition in the place where you serve, you're serving in the wrong place'. Did you hear that? That's a very exclusive statement: 'If you have no opposition in the place where you serve, you're serving in the wrong place'. In your King James Bible those words 'there are' in the verse, 'For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries' - it's not there, so that the verse reads like this: 'For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and many adversaries'. The adversaries are equal to the open door that is there, they're as real as the opportunities - do you realise this? People go to serve the Lord, and they think it's all a picnic, and it's just a great time in the limelight, and all the great opportunities - listen: if you realise that the fields are white unto harvest, and the labourers are few, you need to realise also that you'll have company in the harvest field - not from more labourers, but from the enemy of souls!
I wish I had time to show you in Acts chapter 19 Paul in the city of Ephesus where he's writing from, this same city where he has that great effectual door of opening and where the adversary is. You will read in chapter 19 alone about a group of blaspheming Jews, about a group of exorcist Jews trying to cast out demons in the name of the Lord Jesus when they didn't even believe in the Lord Jesus, you will read about the occult, black magic, in a deep-dyed form so that when people were converted they brought all their curious arts together and burned them all in a great bonfire. You will read that this was the cultural and pagan religious centre of Diana worship; and when Demetrius, the silversmith who made little gods of Diana, was converted there was a great riot in the whole town and they were going to kill Paul and his followers.
Let me turn you for a moment to 2 Corinthians, this time chapter 1, till we see this. Verses 8 and 9, Paul talking now about his time in Asia and Ephesus, verse 8: 'For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead' - we thought that we were going to die! Now listen, don't misunderstand what Paul is saying here: he wasn't afraid of the adversary, but he wasn't ignorant of the adversary either - he knew that he was there, and he knew the danger that he posed. His approach was to acknowledge adversaries, not to accept them but to acknowledge them and realise that they were there. With Paul the opportunities were more significant than the adversaries, but the fact of the matter is: you need to realise that if God is setting an open door before you tonight in His sovereign permissive will, you need to know that there will be an adversary standing at that door.
John Paton, who was a university student in Scotland, felt the call of God to go to the New Hebrides. He graduated from the University and he married his bride and sailed to the Southwest Pacific and began a work among the savage cannibals. His wife and his infant son died a few months later, and Paton faced the ordeal of sleeping several nights on the graves of his wife and son lest the cannibals dug them up and ate their bodies. He left after four years faithful service without one convert to his name - 'What a waste', we might say. There was a door, effectual, that was open to him, and he stepped through it and there was an adversary there to meet him - but when you read the rest of the story you find out that many years later his son by another marriage returned to those islands, and eventually he saw the entire island come to the Lord Jesus Christ in faith! When the elder John Paton revisited the chief of the former cannibal tribe, the cannibal chief asked the missionary: 'Who was that great army that surrounded your hut every night when first you came among us?'. 'What great army?'. A great army of angels - believe it or not, but they were around him, protecting him! He had stepped through that door, it wasn't painless or costless, but God was with him, and through his faithful work his son saw the whole people brought to Christ. At the end of his trip old John Paton said, after ministering on another island, through tearful eyes: 'I don't know of one native of these islands who has not made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ'.
Oh there are great effectual doors for us to step through, but let us not be unaware of the adversary and of the cross that we must bear! Oh, we're all prepared to step through the doors, aren't we? But are we prepared to meet the great adversary and enemy? Here's the second question - we could be all night on these! Are we prepared to go through small doors first? Paul says in verse 9: 'a great door and effectual' - a big door is there for me to step through. We all want the big doors to step through, don't we? But the only reason why Paul got the opportunity to step through the big door, was because he had entered through many small doors before that. In Acts chapter 14 and verse 17 we read about the door to preach to the Gentiles, and the Lord set before him a door to take the gospel to the Gentile people, and he stepped through it. In 2 Corinthians 2 we read about the door that he stepped through to take the gospel to the people at Troas, and we read of other doors that he faithfully stepped through - and therefore Paul, when he came to the Colossians, had the right to ask them to pray that God would set before him a great door to make the gospel known to more people. He had the right to do that because he'd stepped through every door that God had set before him.
Sometimes we miss these lessons. There are open opportunities all around us here in this city and in our churches, and the fact of the matter is the Lord Jesus said that those who will be faithful in the least will be committed the big things to be faithful in. If you're not faithful in the wee things, the small doors, how do you think God's going to give you a big door to step through? Can I ask you tonight: are you faithful in the small doors that God sets before you? What am I talking about? Here's a verse, Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: 'Enter into thy closet' - that door is always open, you know! The closet door for prayer, have you entered into it? Do you think God's going to give you a great work to do, an effectual door of opening, revival, blessing, if you can't even go through the door of your own closet? What about this one - Revelation 3:20 to the church: 'Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me'. Are we involved in the open door of communion in the congregation, not just in the closet but in the congregation of God's people - are we here to meet Christ?
How can you go to the other side of the world to serve Him, if you can't go across the road and worship Him? Are you prepared to go through the small doors? Here's the third question that Paul is asking us by inference: are you prepared to wait for God to open doors, rather than you push them open? Eh? What about that one? Are you prepared to wait until God opens the door, before you push that door open? Harry Ironside said: 'No servant of God who is in the current of divine will, will ever have to hunt for open doors for testimony - just be obedient'. Did you get that? If God's opening a door for you, you don't have to hunt for it, and you don't have to push it open, and you don't have to bombard it and knock it down!
Proverbs says: a man's gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men - that means you don't need to advertise your availability to the church of Jesus Christ for preaching and taking meetings. You don't need to invite yourself! The amount of preachers that invite themselves even to this pulpit, it's remarkable! 'Can I come and preach? Have you got a Sunday free for me?'. When I was younger - and I emphasise that - I was misled, I believe I was misled and I've learnt my lesson, for I was coming out of college and there was an assistantship in a church that was becoming available. A man said to me, a respectable man, in many ways a man of God, he said to me: 'Why don't you ring up the pastor there and ask him would he consider you?'. What a rebuke I got, when I rang that pastor and he said to me very humbly and meekly: 'David, don't push God's doors open, wait till He opens them for you'.
I wonder do we learn these very basic lessons - but the trouble is we're not willing to let God guide us. He says to one of the churches in Revelation: 'I am he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth'. The business of the servant of Christ is to be in God's will and say: 'Here am I, send me whithersoever you want, and I'll go!'. Are you prepared to wait for God's doors to open, rather than you push them? And here's the final question: are you prepared to have the doors you want to open shut in your face? Are you prepared to have the doors that you want to open shut in your face? That happened to the apostle Paul, and he was providing here for the possibility of it in all these suppositions that he makes about where he's going to be and what he's going to do, because he knows God could just turn it all upside down. He's had experience, in Acts 16 and in verse 7 we read that: 'After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not'.
If I can say it without being too flippant: Paul got up one day, and he said, 'I think we'll go into Bithynia. Come on boys, we're going to go there and preach the gospel', and he went and the Holy Spirit said: 'No, you're not going in there yet'. What about that? Are you prepared to have God shut doors that you want to open? I was astounded to realise that the great man of God and pioneer missionary David Livingstone, who left his heart literally in Africa, he saw many African people come to the Lord Jesus Christ, from a very early age his vision was not for Africa, it was for China right up to the day that he died! But God never sent him to China! God closed China's door for Livingstone, but He opened up Africa and it was the great and effectual one.
Oh, we must move on - look at verses 10 to 11 at another master builder. We've seen Paul, I hope you've learnt that he scheduled his plans by God's will, and secondly he regulated those plans by gospel opportunities. Then secondly Timothy's testimony, the second example - verses 10 to 11. Verse 10, look at it: 'Now if Timotheus come, see that he may be with you without fear: for he worketh the work of the Lord, as I also do'. He is saying that Timothy's testimony commands respect, there is the first sub-point: Timothy testimony commands respect - why does it? Paul says, listen: 'In this regard he's no different than me, because he works the work of the Lord that I'm doing'. Oh, what a lesson there is for us all there: he's doing the same work regardless of his youth, regardless of his inexperience, regardless of his physical health or his disposition whatever that may have been. Timothy is working the work of the Lord, and that's all the qualification that he needs - and therefore the great apostle commends him!
Timothy was much younger than Paul, and in fact even eight years after he wrote this part of the epistle Paul still speaks of Timothy's youth. Age didn't matter to Paul as much as testimony - have you got that? Age didn't matter to Paul as much as testimony - that's why in the qualifications for oversight in the New Testament it says: 'not a novice', not 'not someone of young years in someone's estimation', but 'not a novice' because testimony is the sense there - 'not one who is immature spiritually speaking'. He said in verse 11: 'Let no man therefore despise him', and he expands that in 1 Timothy 4:12 of course, you know where he says to Timothy: 'Let no man despise thy youth, but be thou an example to all the believers in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity' - do you see that? He's saying: 'Timothy, it doesn't matter what age you are; Corinthians, it doesn't matter what age this man is I'm sending to you - what matters is this: his testimony! Timothy I want you to be an example to all believers, young and old, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity'.
So he tells these Corinthians: 'Now, you be easy on him, let him be among you without fear' - because you would know by now that the Corinthians could be a very critical lot, in fact downright rude at times. In 2 Corinthians they say of the apostle himself that his letters, his epistles are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak and his speech contemptible - what are they going to make of Timothy? But the fact of the matter is Paul says Timothy commands respect, and can I say this to you tonight: any servant of the Lord, any servant of the Lord who God has called and commended, no matter who they are, what disposition, what denomination - if God has put His hand on them you've no reason to despise them, they command respect. If they're approved of God, why should they worry if they be approved of you? Who are you?
Timothy commanded respect, but here's the second thing: he is commended by Paul. I want you to see this specifically, in effect Paul is saying: 'Look, don't despise him', verse 11, 'but conduct him forth in peace, that he may come unto me: for I look for him with the brethren'. In effect: treat him the way you would treat me, let him be among you without fear, I want you to protect him. 'I look for him', he says, in other words 'I prize him'. He pleads for him that they'll send him back in a good state with their blessing in peace, because he esteems him, he commends him. I'll tell you, it would be a great thing to have the apostle Paul commend you! I think there's a whole lot of dodgy stuff that's written about Timothy in some commentaries - you'd think he was a weakling, pale-faced weakling that couldn't stand up to anything, or do anything for God. The fact of the matter is, yes, he had often infirmities and all the rest, but he would have to be a mighty man to follow the apostle Paul in anybody's estimation.
Listen to what one commentator says about these two facts - how Timothy commands respect, and how he is commended by Paul, and the standard that the church is to show towards the servant of Christ. He says: 'There is much to learn in these little niceties of Christian conduct. Christianity consists as much of the way we act as in what we say. If one says that he is impressed', and he means there simply astounded, 'with the heresies of modernists, then we say that we are astounded with the hypocrisies of the fundamentalists. It's about time we began to inspect the conduct of our creed as much as we insist upon the correctness of our creed!'. How do we hold our beliefs? Do we hold them in grace? How do we treat other believers, no matter what we think about them? Paul said to this church: 'Timothy commands respect, and he is commended by me, and I want you to respect him no matter what age he is, or no matter what experience he has'.
What a master builder, and Timothy went into the midst of all that and built for God! Paul's plans, Timothy's testimony, and thirdly and finally Apollos' independence. Another man of God at work, let's see what we can learn from him, verse 12: 'As touching our brother Apollos, I greatly desired him to come unto you with the brethren: but his will was not at all to come at this time; but he will come when he shall have convenient time'. This is a remarkable verse - Apollos' independence. Let me show you something about this man, turn with me to the book of the Acts chapter 18, and verse 24, we read of this man: 'And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man', Apollos was an eloquent man, have you got that? 'And mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus', Apollos was an eloquent man who was mighty in the Scriptures - in other words the Old Testament Scriptures, because they didn't have the New Testament yet, but he was a mighty man who could preach the word almost like no one else in his day. A mighty man who was eloquent...verse 25: 'This man was instructed in the way of the Lord', now that's simply another way, I think, of saying that he was a saved man, he was a converted man, he knew God in a personal way. 'And being fervent in the spirit', what does that mean? He wasn't a wet fish in the pulpit, he was a zealous man. He, as we would say here in Ulster, had fire in his belly, he could preach the word with power, 'and he spake and taught diligently'. He was a diligent man, he was consistent in everything he did, whatever he taught he backed it up with his life, he lived what he said. 'Knowing only the baptism of John. And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue' - he spoke boldly, an eloquent man, a mighty man, a saved man, a zealous man, a consistent man, and a fearless man! A Jew converted to Christ, going into the middle of the synagogue and boldly preaching Christ unto them.
Verse 26: 'Whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly'. He was all those things, but he was also a humble man! He was able to have a man and - watch this! - a woman...men, you know what one of those is! Have you ever had a woman teach you? Here it is: he was humble enough, eloquent, mighty, zealous, consistent, to allow a man and a woman to teach him the things of God more perfectly. But let me show you this from Corinthians: he was a man who had a mind of his own - have you got that? He was a man who had a mind of his own, look at verse 12: 'Apollos, I greatly desired him', Paul says, 'to come unto you with the brethren: but his will was not at all to come at this time'.
Now just put yourself in the position for one moment: you're living in the day of the apostle Paul, and you've got a bit of ability with the word of God and you can preach a wee bit - and the great apostle comes along and has a word in your ear and he says: 'David, you've been doing pretty well you know, and I think you are the man - you see that church in Corinth that's in pieces, I think you're the man to go and sort it all out'. What would you think? What would most of us do? 'The great apostle thinks I'm the man? The great apostle thinks I've got the ability?' - would you not be flattered just a little bit? The fact of the matter is, this man having a request from his friend the apostle Paul, wasn't swayed by friendship - it didn't affect him! We have found out from the very first chapter of this book that there were divisions in Corinth, there were factions - some said 'I am of Paul', some said 'I am of Cephas', Peter, some said 'I am of Christ' - but what was the other group? 'I am of Apollos'. He had a friendship in Paul, but he also had a fan club in Corinth! But neither his friend Paul, nor his fans in Corinth could sway this man to go there if it was not God's will.
What a mighty man he was, eh? Someone has said this is pure unjealous love and respect on both Paul's account and Apollos' account. Paul wasn't jealous of the following that Apollos had in Corinth, in fact he invites him to come along and preach to them, because he'll be listened to. Neither was Paul miffed at Apollos' refusal for not coming - most of us would have got our backs up, and said: 'He mustn't realise who I am, the great apostle'. That tells me about Paul that he allowed other people the liberties that he enjoyed himself. But I want you to see too not only the greatness of Paul, but the greatness of Apollos: he didn't promote himself, and he didn't pander to the party spirit in the Corinthians. Surely he could have said: 'These people really love me, I'll get well paid there, I'll get a great listening, I'll be sitting up to a great table of a feast every night - sure they just love me in that wee meeting in Corinth', and we would go - but he didn't go! I wonder is that the reason why he didn't go, he didn't want to serve God and mammon,
Oh, what truths there are here. Paul did not envy Apollos, and there was no competition between Apollos and Paul. What we see here in verse 12 is the type of liberty that prevailed for a servant of God in the early church - all that mattered was: were they guided of God? They weren't dictated to buy any source, in fact even the great apostle himself wasn't authorised to tell Apollos what to do - do you see it? Some people believe that the apostles were the first bishops, and had authority, and Paul was the first Archbishop of Western Asia and Eastern Europe. Well, if he was, he could have told Timothy, like bishops today, 'Just you go there whether you like it or not, and Apollos, you go over there' - but there was no great hierarchy lording it over the rest in the church of Jesus Christ. There were just various assemblies among the saints, the servants of Christ placed of God among them, gifted by the Lord and acting only in subjection to Him.
Harry Ironside has well said: 'I would not like to tear this chapter out of my Bible, it helps me to understand God's way of guiding His servants in their ministry for Him' - is that true? We have seen God at work in men at work! Paul's plans, how he was scheduled by God's will alone, how he was regulated by gospel opportunity; how Timothy commanded respect, he was commended by Paul; and here Apollos' independence, how he didn't have any man, even the apostle, tell him what to do! God was his judge! Have we not seen tonight a man who is steadfast, Timothy's testimony. Have we not seen just now a man who is unmoveable, Apollos' independence according to the Spirit of God in his life. And have we not seen a man always abounding in the work of the Lord, and I can almost hear Paul the apostle saying collectively: 'Be ye followers of us, even as we are followers of Christ'. As he finished verse 58 of chapter 15, and if you're like that, if that's your work like these men at work, your labour will not be in vain in the Lord.
Father, we say with another hymnwriter tonight: 'Beneath the cross of Jesus I fain would take my stand, the shadow of a mighty rock within a weary land'. Lord, we realise that the Saviour, whom we love and believe in, has called us to take up a cross and to follow Him. Lord, we pray that we will do that, and every door of opportunity that You open before us, Lord, that we'll take it, that we'll not be ignorant of Satan's devices but nevertheless we'll be confident of Thy promises; and we will go forth following the testimony of men like the apostle Paul, Timothy, Apollos - men who were moved and motivated by God's will and the gospel of Christ. Lord, we pray that we will have those two facets of the Scriptures as our motivating factors in our lives. The Lord Jesus told us in that great commission: 'Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit' - the evangelism, the soul-winning, and the teaching - teaching them all things. Lord, let us be building up ourselves in our most holy faith, but let us be winning the lost and doing it all, Lord, not from our own motivation and plans, but according to Thy will, walking in Thy Spirit, for Christ's sake we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the forty-fourth tape in his 1 Corinthians series, titled "Men At Work" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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