Saying Goodbye with Grace

Saying Goodbye with Grace

“Saying Goodbye with Grace”
(1 Corinthians 16:19-24)
Series: Chaos & Correction (1 Corinthians)

Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD

Henderson’s First Baptist Church, Henderson

•I invite you to take your Bibles and join me in 1 Corinthians, chapter 16 (page 776; YV).

While you’re finding that, we want to thank those who are praying for us this morning. We’re grateful that there are people in the prayer room praying for our morning worship services.

Today we conclude our verse-by-verse study of 1 Corinthians. As you know, we preach through books of the Bible here at Henderson’s First Baptist. The best way to understand the content of a personal letter someone has written you is to read that letter from beginning to finish and to read all of it, getting a sense of the context and flow.

The letters in the Bible are no different. We read them from beginning to finish, and we read all of it, getting a sense of the context and flow. So we began several weeks ago in chapter 1 and we finish now in chapter 16—and we are at the last six verses, verses 19 through 24.

•Let me invite you to stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word.

19 The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.
20 All the brethren greet you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
21 The salutation with my own hand—Paul’s.
22 If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed. O Lord, come!
23 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
24 My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.



In my graduating year from high school, our school did as many do. Graduating seniors are invited to share some last words to be published in the annual yearbook. So you had your picture and then you had listed the years you were active in various extracurricular activities, and then you had your final words, last words to be recorded in the annual. So some students gave a lot of thought to this, while others gave little to no thought, but in the end there you had it: your final words.

I chose for my final words a quote from Benjamin Franklin. Franklin had once said, “If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write things worth reading or do things worth the writing.”

Franklin’s quote inspired me as I wanted that. I enjoyed writing in some measure and so I wanted either to write things worth reading, or to accomplish something worth writing about.

Of course the Apostle Paul had done both. At the end of his life, he had certainly done things worth writing about. And, he himself had written things worth reading. This letter is one of those things worth reading.

And what are his final words in the letter? After all, last words are important. Speech writers tell us that people are far more likely to remember what we say at the beginning and at the end of a speech than they are likely to remember what was in the middle. It’s called the rule of “primacy and recency.” We tend to remember first things and last things.

So what “last things” does Paul say? Well, he says goodbye, to be sure. We read a moment ago about a number of greetings and then he imparts a few more pointed statements worthy of our careful study.

So rather than just reading through the last words of the letter as something of an unnecessary extraneous section of material, let’s consider these final verses in two halves: verses 19-21 and then 22-24.

And I believe there are a couple of actions for us to take in response to the plain sense of these verses. First, Paul draws our attention to Christ-centered friendships; Christ-centered friendships. That’s the first teaching surfacing from a study of this last passage, the value of pursuing Christ-centered friendships.

I. Pursue Christ-centered Friendships (19-21)

In verses 19-21, there are no less than six different friendships, half a dozen different relationships mentioned. We read in verse 19 of: 1) the churches of Asia, 2) Aquila and Priscilla, 3) the church that meets in the house of Aquila and Priscilla, then verse 20: 4) all the brethren greet you, and also in verse 20: 5) Greet one another (there in Corinth), and 6) from verse 21—the personal greeting of the Apostle Paul.

So it’s hard not to note the value of Christ-centered friendships here at the conclusion of Paul’s letter. Look at them a little more closely. Verse 19 mentions first:

19 The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.

Remember in the New Testament that Asia is not the Asia of today, but an Asia further West in what is today modern Turkey. Paul is referring to the Roman Province of Asia, a province that included Ephesus—the city from which Paul was writing.

But the point is that the churches there sent greetings to the Corinthians. The churches across the Aegean Sea cared about the church in Corinth and sent along their greetings. There was a commonality between these two locations and the commonality was the Lord Jesus Christ.

Have you ever met someone while waiting on a flight in an airport or some such place—and this person was at first a total stranger. You get to talking about one thing or another and before you long you discover that you both are Christians? Then you begin to talk about your life in Christ, where you go to church, what you have learned about Christ, and what you read in the Bible recently. And it seems like you’ve known this person for years, but you just met. But you see this is the value of Christ-centered fellowship and friendship. You have a common bond in and through Christ Jesus. You are family.

So—verse 29—the churches of Asia greet you. Then, he says in verse 29:

19 The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.

It’s easy to remember this husband and wife team, Aquila and Priscilla. I’ve known a Priscilla or two, but have yet to meet an Aquila. But like many couples, if you forget one of the names, you can usually recall it by knowing the other name. Aquila and Priscilla.

You remember them from Acts 18 where Paul departs from Athens and visits Corinth. He meets these two Christians and, like Paul, Aquila and Priscilla were tent makers by trade and they opened up their home to Paul and he lived with them, perhaps the entire year and a half that he was in Corinth (Acts 18:18-19).

So God, in His providence, sees that the path of the Apostle Paul and the path of Aquila and Priscilla’s cross. God brings the two together. Nothing happens by accident. God brings Paul together with Aquila and Priscilla and they develop immediately a deep and lasting friendship. And now the two are with Paul in Ephesus, sending along their greetings to the folks back in Corinth.

Keep your eyes open to the beginning of lasting friendships in Christ. You just never know that person you may meet in school, at college, at work, in a new community, God brings the paths of two together and a new friendship develops. Keep your head up and your eyes open as you focus outward upon others and consider that God may this very day or this very week cause your path to cross the path of another, another brother or sister with whom you may develop a lasting friendship.

19 The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.

In whose house? in the house of Aquila and Priscilla. What a husband and wife team! In Corinth they welcomed Paul into their house and now that they are in Ephesus, they’ve got a little house church going on there.

The early Christians met in houses. It wasn’t a matter of methodology, it was more because Christianity was not Judaism nor some other religion. Those who practiced Judaism exclusively met in Jewish temples. And worshipers of the false Greek gods and goddesses worshiped, of course, in pagan temples.

In Paul’s day, Christianity was not recognized as an accepted religion the way it is recognized today in our country and in many places Christianity was considered an illegitimate religion. So in the early days, Christians met mostly in houses, house churches. It really wasn’t really until the 3rd Century that church buildings were constructed.

So you have those greetings in verse 19 and then Paul adds in the first part of verse 20:

20 All the brethren greet you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

These are other brothers and sisters along with the Apostle Paul. All the brethren greet you and then, last part of verse 20:

20 All the brethren greet you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

Greet one another with a holy kiss. What’s that all about?! Well, let’s do a little “Kissology: Kissology 101.”

This phrase or a similar phrase occurs in four other places in the New Testament (cf. Romans 16:16 ; 2 Corinthians 13:12 ; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; and 1 Peter 5:14). It was an ancient near eastern, cultural expression of love.

We’re not entirely unfamiliar with this form of greeting even in our own culture. My boys are both grown, but I still kiss them on the cheek when I greet them. There’s nothing odd about that. It’s an expression of familial love.

In Paul’s day, women greeted other women this way, and men greeted other men. A man did not, however, greet another woman this way—a woman other than his wife—he did not kiss another woman, nor did a woman greet another man this way. But it was this cultural kiss to either side of the cheek, sometimes even kissing the air a bit.

Now in many European cultures this kissing of either side of the cheek is still practiced. And in other cultures it may be acceptable for a man or woman to kiss one another this way upon first meeting. In Brazil, for example, it was not uncommon for a woman introduced to a family friend to greet him by kissing on either side of the cheek.

But it would be odd, wouldn’t it, to expect this sort of practice here in the West? Not because there’s anything inherently wrong about it. It’s just not our way of greeting one another. Our cultural custom takes the shape of a warm handshake or hug, or in some cases a high five or even a fist bump.

I remember hearing about a young minister somewhere who was trying to bring the practice of a “holy kiss” into some church in the South. Needless to say, it did not go over well! I’m not sure the fellow is even in the ministry anymore. So when we interpret the Bible we must take care to interpret with regard to the context of the book as well as the context of the culture.

Several years ago I was in a church revival meetings where the worship leader did something uncomfortable during the welcome time each night. Do you know this worship chorus from the 70s: “I love you with the love of the Lord?”

I love you with the love of the Lord.
O, I love you with the love of the Lord.
I can see in you, the glory of our King,
And I love you with the love of the Lord.

Not a bad song in and of itself. But the worship leader instructed everyone to turn to the person next to them, take their hands, look them straight into the eyes and sing the chorus. Now, I love my wife and I can sing to my wife that way, but even then I’ve got to tell you that I would feel a bit uncomfortable taking her by the hands and looking into her eyes and not breaking eye contact and singing that.

So imagine you are seated next to a total stranger. Saying hello to a stranger is one thing. Shaking the hand of a stranger is one thing. Even hugging a stranger is one thing—but to take either hand into your own, face them squarely, look deeply into their eyes and then not even say, but to sing! And not just sing, but to sing, “I love you…” You know, the whole thing is just unnecessarily awkward.

And it misses the point, anyway. The point is, that there is within the church a kind of love for one another that is markedly unique among similar groups or organizations. There is no other kind of gathering together of all kinds of persons where there exists this kind of love.

The church is this unique gathering of persons from every possible background, every possible social structure, every race, every language, both genders. Here is a gathering together of persons who are family. Here is this loving and diverse family of people, a teacher sitting next to a convicted felon, a banker worshiping alongside a sanitation worker, a popular student praising Jesus alongside a shy introvert. And these people from all these different backgrounds genuinely love one another.

Verse 21 contains Paul’s personal greeting to the Corinthian church. Literally, it is Paul’s autograph:

21 The salutation with my own hand—Paul’s.

Paul had been dictating the letter as was customary in those days. He used an amanuensis. That’s the word for a secretary or scribe, an amanuensis. And apparently Paul’s amanuensis or secretary was a fellow named Sosthenes. We may infer that from the very first verse of the letter, chapter 1 and verse 1 where Paul mentions that the letter is from himself—Paul—and then he says, “and Sosthenes our brother (1 Corinthians 1:1).”

So Paul has been dictating the entire letter, but as he gets down here now to the end, he says, “Sosthenes, hand me the scroll now. I want to pen my own greeting in my own hand.”

It was a personal touch. I mean it is reasonable to conclude that Paul was also guaranteeing the authenticity of the letter, a guarantee that this letter had genuinely come from his own hand. After all, the practice of suggesting falsely that some other material had been written by the Apostle Paul or others was not unusual (cf. Paul’s concern in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 of a possible forgery carrying his name).

But I think what is primary here is this personal touch of the Apostle. It conveys warmth and underscores yet again the value of Christ-centered fellowship and friendship.

We should pursue such Christ-centered friendships. We should pray for our children and grandchildren that God would bring into their lives godly friendships and a godly spouse. Do you pray for your children this way? Are you such a person to encourage others, a godly Christ-centered friend to others?

Purse Christ-centered friendships. Now the other side of the coin, verses 22 and following:

II. Pursue a Christ-centered Focus (22-24)

The last three verses of the letter indicate Paul’s all-consuming passion for Christ. He writes in verse 22:

22 If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed. O Lord, come!

Wow that sounds harsh, doesn’t it?! “Let him be accused!” It does sound harsh, but remember that the audience is not an audience of unbelievers, but professing Christians. The audience is a church whose members profess to believe in Christ and to love Christ, and to follow Christ.

So Paul thinks it unimaginable for a person to say he is a Christian and not love the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s just not possible. You must love the Lord Jesus Christ if you profess to follow Him. And you can’t follow Him without loving Him. The two fit hand in glove. Following Christ and loving Christ go together.

Remember that Christianity is not a kind of religion. Christianity is not an ethic to follow. It is not even a set of principles to learn. Christ is not a set of principles to learn; Christ is a person to know. Christ is s person to love. So, verse 22:

22 If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed.

The only way to avoid the curse of sin and death is to love the Lord Jesus Christ. And the only way to love the Lord Jesus Christ is to be saved from the curse of sin and death. Apart from Christ, we are doomed to hell. We will spend eternity in hell separated from God. The only escape is to love the Lord Jesus Christ and the only way to love the Lord Jesus Christ is to be saved from sin.

22 If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed. O Lord, come!

Those words, “O Lord come” are a transliteration of an Aramaic word, “Maranatha.” You’ve heard of the music publishing group, Maranatha? That’s what the word means, “O Lord come.”

It was the expression of a person who had a Christ-centered focus. It expressed a yearning for the coming of the Lord and a dissatisfaction with the present world. Paul’s use of the phrase here is similar to John’s use of the phrase at the end of Revelation, Revelation 22:20, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

Maranatha! O Lord, come! It is the heart cry of a person with a Christ-centered focus. Paul longed for the day to come that would make all of his present sufferings and hardships and difficulties worth every second of pain.

Romans 8:18, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” O Lord, come!

2 Corinthians 4:17, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” He adds, “While we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18).” O Lord, come!

Craig Blomberg reminds us of the 1970s film, “Heaven Can Wait,” a movie about a professional football quarterback who died in a car accident and was disappointed to find himself in heaven because he would miss out on the Super Bowl. It was a popular movie perhaps because it carried a message that resonated with many people living in the comforts of this present world.

Well, this world was not Paul’s focus. His focus was upon Christ and he yearned not for this world with all of it’s entrapments, but he yearned for the world to come, a world of perfection, a world that would be re-created by the Lord at His coming. O Lord, come!

23 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Grace. Amazing grace. Paul says to Christians, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” And His grace is with us and His grace will be always with us.

If we Christians find ourselves not loving Christ as we should, if we find ourselves focused on this present wold rather than the world to come, we may thank God for His grace. We may thank God that, in spite of our sin and failure, “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is with us.”

We thank God for His grace. In the words of the hymn writer, we thank God for grace that is greater than all our sin.

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!

We thank God for:

Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace that is greater than all our sin.

24 My love be with you all in Christ Jesus.

Paul ends this letter to the Corinthians in a way unique to this letter alone. In no other letter does he end with this strong affirmation of his love for a church. He had begun the letter in love and he closes the letter in love. What church was more in need of love than the church at Corinth? What church needed Paul’s love more than the Corinthians?

One commentator (Dever’s 9marks commentary) notes the irony of Paul’s closing words. He writes:

We should marvel that Paul begins and ends with such kind comments when everything in between has shown us what a messed-up church this is. Paul has identified and challenged their foolish, worldly-minded divisions, their astounding tolerance of immorality, their gospel-denying litigiousness, their confusion over marriage, their selfishness, and their resurrection-denying heresy—and then in closing he says: ‘My love to all of you in Christ Jesus’!

That’s saying goodbye with grace, isn’t it?! “My love be with you all in Christ Jesus.” That’s a great way to conclude a letter. And that’s a good way to conclude a sermon.

•Let me invite you to stand for prayer.

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