Theme: We're given a picture of God's will for the general conduct of the church through Paul's closing exhortations to the Corinthian believers.
In the first half of this closing chapter, Paul expressed his personal plans to the Corinthians. In these plans, we see him demonstrating the character qualities of a faithful servant of God. Now, in the latter half, we see him expressing his vision for the godly conduct of the believers in Corinth through his closing exhortations . . .
I. WHAT THEY WERE TO DO (vv. 13-14).
A. They were to "watch"—that is, they were to be observant and look carefully to themselves and to the things that were going on around them. Already, they had not watched out concerning their own conduct, or the teaching of those who taught falsely in their midst. The church needs to keep its eyes open to what's going on around it and in it.
B. They were to "stand fast"—that is, they were to keep their feet firmly planted on the truth that they had been taught. They were not to allow themselves to be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine; but to know well, and be firmly established in, the gospel of Christ.
C. They were to be "brave"—literally, to play the part of men. A strong stand on the the word of God in a world that is ensnared by the lies of the devil is going to require a firm resolution to fight for the truth. We are to fight the good fight of faith.
D. They were to be "strong"—that is, to be willing to pay the price, and not be undone by times of persecution, or pressure, or disappointment.
E. These are imperatives in the present tense; suggesting ongoing practices. And Paul adds that all things are to be done in love.
II. WHO THEY WERE TO SUBMIT TO (vv. 15-16).
A. Paul reminded them of the household of a man named Stephanas; who he identified as the firstfruits of Asia (which probably means that they were the first to believe). This was a group of people that Paul affirmed that he had baptized (see 1:16); and now, he holds them up by way of reminder. They were exemplary; and Paul urged the Corinthians to keep them in mind.
B. Having come to Christ, this group "devoted themselves to the ministry [or service] of the saints" (v. 15). We can see something of this in verse 17; since it was they that had ministered to Paul on the behalf of the Corinthian church. Paul calls their example to mind; because he urges them to "submit" to such devoted, hard-working believers; "and to everyone who works and labors with us" (v. 16). Those who truly do the work of the kingdom should be both submitted to and supported by the church at large.
III. WHO THEY WERE TO ESTEEM (vv. 17-18).
A. Paul makes reference to the coming, not only of Stephanas himself, but also Fortunatus and Achaius. We no nothing of these other individuals, except that they are forever recorded in God's word as those who made up what may have been lacking in the support of the Corinthians, and who also refreshed Paul's spirit (v. 17-18).
B. They somehow also refreshed the spirits of the Corinthians. This was a group of men who had a ministry of encouragement—not only to the workers in the church, but to those who were ministered to by them. Paul calls the Corinthians to hold such in "esteem", and to "acknowledge" them for their sacrifice. One of the things that ought to characterized the body of Christ is thankfulness for those who faithfully serve it.
IV. WHO THEY WERE TO BE IN UNION WITH (vv. 19-20).
A. They were to receive the greeting of other churches and other leaders. They were, for example, to receive the 'hearty' greeting from Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:1-3, 18, 26; Romans 16:3-5a). What an encouragement it must have been to have received the greetings from such outstanding servants of Christ! Also they were to receive the greeting from the church that met in their house. They also were to receive the greeting from 'all the brethren'.
B. Likewise, they were to pass on Paul's greeting to "one another"; with "a holy kiss" (which was a standard form a greeting). The church is not to be in isolation; but is to be in loving communion with others of the faith.
V. WHAT HOPE THEY WERE TO HOLD TO (vv. 21-24).
A. In Paul's closing salutation, he wrote with his own hand. This was the identifying mark in his letters (1 Thess. 5:17). He wrote that if anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed; and he added the reason "maranatha"; which means "the Lord comes". An identifying mark of the believer is that he or she loves the Lord's coming (2 Tim. 4:8).
B. Because of the hope of the coming of the Lord, Paul can affirm, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you." Check the end of all of Paul's letters, and you'll find a similar closing. That was Paul's great passion—that the grace of Jesus Christ be extended to and embraced by those he preached to.
In a very hard letter—one that is filled with dealing with problems and struggles—note that he closed with an affirmation of love in Christ. Paul shared a love with those who loved the Lord that he himself also loved.