When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am. So let no one despise him. Help him on his way in peace, that he may return to me, for I am expecting him with the brothers.
Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but it was not at all his will to come now. He will come when he has opportunity.
Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.
(1 Corinthians 16:10-14)
Have you ever visited a church when you’re on vacation away from home and felt like you weren’t quite welcome there? It isn’t that the people tell you to go away. It is more just a feeling you get when you’re sitting there and interacting with them. You walk away and think, “did I say or do something wrong?”
The problem may not be with you.
The church in Corinth was a group of people who clearly had a number of things out of balance in their life as a church. If you read the entire letter, you’ll see they were a very gifted, very proud church. In their pride they were allowing their people to run rampant with unrepentant sin. They were also riddled with factions. At the beginning of the letter Paul says, “What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Sounds like so many churches today.
Look at what Paul has to say here at the end of the letter: “When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you.” Timothy wasn’t just some guy. This was one of the men who had helped plant the church. Paul also feels that he needs to remind them that Timothy is doing God’s work and that they need to be careful not to despise him. Geez. Now there’s hospitality for you.
Apollos, one of the men some of the Corinthians claimed as a model (head of their clique, if you will) didn’t even want to visit them. One has to ask why these people were even still a church together. Part of the answer to that is that there weren’t regional mega-churches they could retreat to. If they didn’t like each other, they were stuck. If we don’t like each other, we can just go down the street or to the next town or the next county, or that matter. They couldn’t.
Notice that Paul doesn’t say, “you people need to disband,” or “you need new leadership.” He works with what he’s got and with who they are. All Paul says by way of correction is, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.”
Business coaches will tell you that when you’re correcting an employee, you offer the correction and then tell them something positive at the end. That’s what they’ll remember. Paul puts the most important thing last in the hope that the next time someone visits the church in Corinth they’ll be welcomed in love and not with odd stares.