The Work of the Lord, Part 3: Refreshing Souls

Good evening, please turn with me to the end of 1 Corinthians. 1 Corinthians chapter 16.

My aim is to finally wrap up our study through this book. It’s taken us right at 3 years, but I think we’re finally at the end. Some of you will be sad to hear that, others perhaps feel great relief at the news. I haven’t quite settled on where we’ll head next, but it will likely be in the Old Testament.

But let’s begin by reading this closing section one more time. 1 Corinthians 16:5-24:

I will visit you after passing through Macedonia, for I intend to pass through Macedonia, and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may help me on my journey, wherever I go. For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.

10 When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am. 11 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.

12 Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but it was not at all his will[b] to come now. He will come when he has opportunity.

13 Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love.

15 Now I urge you, brothers—you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints— 16 be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer. 17 I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, 18 for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such people.

19 The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord. 20 All the brothers send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

21 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. 22 If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! 23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. 24 My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Last week we spent our time in this closing section of Paul’s letter talking about the idea found at the end of verse 15, where Paul commends the example of Stephanas and his household. He specifically says of them that they “Devoted themselves to the service of the saints.”

Devoted themselves to it. They were committed. They wouldn’t turn aside from it. They couldn’t be distracted from it. Serving the saints was what they did. It was habitual, in the best sense of the word.

And we noted also that this devotion to the saints was not at all unhinged from devotion to God. Paul mentions their conversion in the preceding phrase of verse 15. You have to be devoted, converted to God, before you can have genuine and lasting devotion to serving to the saints. We might say you have to have the vertical right, if you’re to get the horizontal right.

Love to God and love to neighbor flow from the same place, but we mustn’t ever pit the two against one another, or get imbalanced and focus on one to the neglect of the other.

This week I’d like to continue down the road a bit, and see in this text how the faithful doing of the Lord’s work will produce certain things. Being devoted to the work of the Lord and to the service of the saints will bear fruit. And the first of those fruit we can see in verse 18.

Paul says, starting in 17: “I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, 18 for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours.”

They refreshed my spirit. When someone is doing the work of the Lord, and they are devoted to the service of the saints, they tend to have a certain effect on the souls of the saints around them. They are refreshing to the soul. They revive the spirit.

Conversely, we’ve all had dealings with people that have the opposite effect, haven’t we? People that kind of take the life right out of you, rather than giving life to you. They drain you, rather than fill you up. The kind of personality that only seems able to bring joy to a room when that said person leaves the room.

We don’t want to be that kind of person. No, we want to have the godly effect of refreshing the souls of people around us.

But what does it mean to be a refresher of souls? What does it look like?

First, let’s start with what it is not. To be refreshing to souls is not simply to have a particular personality type. Paul is not here commending extroversion, or being outgoing, or being bubbly and social. If you’re naturally those things, you might find it easier to talk to people, but that doesn’t make you necessarily more refreshing to the people around you. In fact, without self-control to use the tongue properly, you might have the opposite of your intended effect.

To be refreshing isn’t limited to a particular kind of personality or natural gifting. Certainly, some people are better at it than others, but nobody is excluded from the possibility of being refreshing, simply because they are shy or quiet.

Second, being a refresher of souls is not simply to be an optimist. Refreshment is not found in mere optimism. There are some people who by their very nature seem to be perennially optimistic. Whatever the problems are around them, they are able to keep moving, keep pressing on, keep plodding with a smile on their face.

They’re like Dory in the finding nemo movie: just keep swimming, just keep swimming, undaunted by whatever tragic thing just happened. This person’s favorite phrase might be Hakuna Matata, or “Don’t Worry Be happy.”

These people try to be helpful and say things like, “we’ll tomorrow’s a new day,” “Keep your chin up, things are bound to turn around for you soon.”

Now, something about persistent optimism seems right to us. But take note, that there is nothing necessarily Christian about merely being the perennial optimist. The optimist bases his optimism on well-wishing and conjecture. He has nothing solid on which to base his optimism.

He has no idea that tomorrow will be better than today. Tomorrow could actually be worse than today. He doesn’t know. And so any kind of refreshing feeling that we might feel from the words of a perennial optimist, those feelings are fleeting. They can’t last.

Because we’re just sticking our head in the sand and hoping that things just can’t stay this bad for much longer. That’s no hope at all.

Next, a third thing that might seem refreshing at first, but actually isn’t, is flattery. Flattery. Flattery is when someone says a bunch of nice things to your face, but they don’t mean it. And flattery might feel very encouraging at first. It might even feel refreshing to your soul for a time.

But in the end, flattery is actually destructive, rather than restorative. Proverbs talks about flattery in multiple ways, all of which are bad in the end. It says flattery is a net that is set in order to trap someone. Flattery brings ruin, the text says, and that it comes from a deceitful heart.

Flattery might sound refreshing at first, but in the end, it leads to ruin and death. Don’t fall for the trap of thinking that flatterers are your friend, simply because they feel nice to listen to at first. In the end, they aren’t concerned with refreshing your soul at all.

Fourth, a fourth thing that feels refreshing at first but actually isn’t, is gossip. Gossip.

Proverbs 18:8 describes the effect of gossip in the soul: “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts.” There’s something about illicit knowledge that enters into our ears and is satisfying to our sinful hearts.

And when that gossip goes into our souls, it can feel invigorating, exciting, even feel something like refreshment to us. But we must remember that it is not real refreshment we feel.

It’s the kind of exciting feeling that the Adulterous Lady Folly provokes within the foolish young man when she entices and lures to his death. That’s what gossip does. It lures us in. And it is only after it is too late that we realize that this gossip is actually poison to our souls.

Gossip promises excitement and life, but ends in poison to the soul. It promises refreshment, but actually puts decay into our bones. Gossip, however juicy it may be and however pleasing it might feel going down, can never provide real refreshment to your bones.

Now those are things that might seem refreshing at first, but actually fall short. But there are all sorts of things that we all know are clearly not refreshing to us either.

Here is a little exercise for you to do. Think in your mind, think about the people that you’ve experienced in your life that seem to consistently suck the life out of you. They do the opposite of refreshing your soul. What are the kinds of things that consistently mark those people?

Let me give you a list of some that I’ve come up with. These are things that consistently fail to refresh people:

First, pride. Pride. It’s almost impossible for a proud person to be refreshing to your soul. Proud people like to talk about themselves too much. They’re not concerned about you at all. They want to talk about what they’ve done, and how they are doing.

And even when they try to comfort you through your trial, they seem to almost immediately telling you a story about how THEY in their wisdom already came through a situation just like this. Such self-centered people are draining to the souls of people around them, and will struggle to refresh anyone.

Second, consistently cynical people fail to refresh. Cynics. This kind of person may say that they are just “a realist” or “shooting you straight” or “calling a spade a spade,” but what they actually are is sinfully discouraging.

This kind of person is perpetually negative. They can’t acknowledge anything positive or hopeful. They’re always critical. They seem perpetually disgruntled, always dissatisfied, always irritated, and typically complaining.

They fixate on the problems and aren’t really concerned with solutions. Sometimes it is the political cynic, who has never known a politician he was unafraid to slander. Sometimes it is the church member cynic, who has never met a staff member or church program he wasn’t afraid to critique, all the while not lifting a finger to help.

Such people are definitely not refreshing to anyone. However, it is worth noting that these kinds of cynical people tend to gravitate together. Birds of a grumbling feather, flock together.

And so, they can actually FEEL refreshing for a moment to be among fellow cynics. They become a kind of resonating echo chamber confirming their own cynical observations. And that can feel comforting and reassuring and encouraging for a time.

But in the end such a group of cynics becomes destructive, both to themselves and to whatever is around them. They promote distrust, dissension, division, and hostility, to the point that nobody of any character can stand to be around them. And sow whatever they’re involved in eventually erodes into nothing.

Cynicism undermines lasting refreshment of soul.

Third, a third quality that isn’t refreshing to your soul is something that I struggled to find the exact word for, and I think it is best described as a lack of peace. A lack of peace. Peace is a fruit of the holy spirit, and people that lack it, struggle to be refreshing to souls.

Rather than a confidence peace built upon the work of the lord, this person tends to be restless. We might say they are marked by an instability of soul. As we think about the most refreshing people in our lives, they usually are marked by a strength of faith that produces a stability, a kind of godly resiliency, that when it is lacking in others, removes the fruit of refreshment.

For example, if I know that somebody is likely to be irritated or judgmental if I come to them and confess my needs or my sin, then I’m certainly not going to be refreshed by talking to them. Rather, I’m going to feel the need to be self-protective, to guard my mouth lest I say something to draw their judgmental barbs.

Similarly, unstable or immature people can be easily provoked. That is, they might have a short fuse, or fly off the handle when things to go their way. They are like a powder keg, ready to blow at all times.

Or maybe they get really impatient. They’re quick to write people off, quick to leave people in the dust, especially those who don’t think or act like them. They lack mercy and compassion for people who are different than them, and they get irritable, because they are quick to judge. Rather than having the confidence and grace that comes from peace with God, they seem better equipped to bring unrest by their presence, than peace.

And if you act like that, then it is no wonder that people don’t want to talk to you, don’t want to be around you, because they are afraid of your volatile instability, and so they are on edge around you, rather than being refreshed.

There we go: two short lists of un-refreshing things: base-less optimism, flattery, gossip, pride, cynicism, and a lack of peace.

So if we find any of these things in ourselves, if we find anything less than a refreshing disposition in us, what are we to do about it?

Well, the first thing we should do is recognize that any lack of being refreshing isn’t merely some personality quirk. It’s not a simply a missed opportunity. It is a failure to love, and any absence of love is sin.

If you think back to the behaviors I’ve listed above, you’ll note that they are all the opposite of love.

What does Paul say in 1 Corinthians 13: love is patient, it doesn’t fly off the handle, but rather is long-suffering.

Love is kind. It is not judgmental, but rather gentle and merciful.

Love does not boast, which means it isn’t proud and self-centered. Love doesn’t want to dominate the conversation.

Love does not insist on its own way, nor is it irritable, or easily provoked. Rather love is stable, fixed on the good of others, not on demanding its own way.

Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, which is to say that it certainly isn’t cynical and always complaining. Love doesn’t grumble and whine.

Rather, love rejoices in the truth. Love is unwilling to deal in falsehoods, and would never consider flattery a godly use of the tongue.

Loving is what we are called to be. And when we’re not refreshing to the souls of others, its usually because we have failed to love well.

And that makes us guilty. Failing to love is ungodliness, unrighteous, and sin. And therefore we need to be forgiven. We need to be restored.

But before we get to that, we should ask ourselves, why do we so often fail to refresh others? It’s usually because we have failed to be refreshed ourselves.

We have selfishness within us, preventing us from being at peace. We have turbulence in our hearts because we’re grasping for things that can never satisfy. We’re seeking lasting satisfaction from things that were never designed to provide it.

In short, we can’t be restful to the souls of others around us because our souls are not restful themselves. We haven’t been restored or refreshed.

And here is where the good news comes in. The language that Paul uses in our passage about refreshing or restoring, that same word is used by Jesus in Matthew 11:28 when he promised, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

I will give you rest. I will refresh you. I will give you calmness and restorative rest that will soothe your soul.

We can never be restful and refreshing to others without having first been refreshed our own souls by Jesus.

Jesus is the only one that can provide such a feeling of refreshment. That’s why he could tell the woman at the well in John 4, ““Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.”

Our souls are parched, longing for meaning, longing for satisfaction, longing for fulfillment, longing for pleasure, and we try to fill them with all sorts of things.

We seek significance through power and prestige, so we dominate others and gossip about them.

We seek satisfaction through relationships, and so we flatter people hoping that they will like us.

We seek fulfillment through feelings of self-importance, so we pridefully judge others, looking down on them so that we don’t have to actually deal with our own inadequacies.

Whatever the problem, the root is that we’re seeking our refreshment in things other than Jesus, the only true fountain of refreshment. And that foolish.

No, we’re called to find our rest in Jesus, which necessitates coming to him: Come to ME, he says, and I will give you rest.

If you’re soul is restless, you have to come to Jesus. Learn about him, hear his message, trust in him, believe what he says. Don’t believe because some preacher said it. Believe the message because Jesus said it. It’s his offer, his invitation.

And when you come to Jesus, you can find rest and refreshment for your soul because your greatest sources of anxiety are taken care of. Rest is an option because the things that make you feel restless are dealt with by Jesus.

Are you afraid, worried about the future? well coming to Jesus deals with that because the God of the universe has promised to work all things together for your Good. Not merely work them all out, but work them all out for your good. Let your soul rest in that promise.

Is your soul restless because you feel guilty? Are you plagued by recurring feelings of guilt because of something you’ve done in the past? Then come to Jesus and get rest for your soul. He has provided the perfect atoning sacrifice for sinners, and the New Testament now says that Peace with God is what characterized our relationship.

God is not angry at you. God doesn’t see you as inferior, as a second-class kind of Christian. As someone filthy and dirty and polluted. He sees you as an adopted Child in His house. He loves you with the same kind of love that he Love the Son. Rest in that good news.

Nothing you can do will make you more acceptable before God. Nothing is lacking from your account. God is perfectly satisfied with Christ’s offering in your place, and nothing can take that away.

No future event is going to revoke God’s judgment. No circumstance is going to shake Christ’s standing. And that firmness of future can provide stability and peace of soul within us today.

Do you have that peace in your soul? Has your soul been refreshed by Jesus and his offer of rest? If not, then why not do that today? Your soul’s problem has been presented, and the only lasting solution is before you. Don’t wait for something better. It won’t come.

Don’t neglect such an offer of salvation and peace, because it can be yours immediately. Come to Jesus, trust in his promises, and you WILL find rest for your soul.

And for those who have experienced this rest, who are trusting in Jesus, but who are finding that they aren’t as refreshing to others as you’d like to be, then heed this invitation also. Christ tells you to come to him and find rest for your soul.

That is not merely a one-time offer for use at conversion. He continually beckons you to return to him, and find rest and refreshment for your soul.

Come to him and find your peace. He is your contentment. He is your humility. He is your satisfaction. He is your pleasure. He is your fulfillment. He is your safety.

And when your soul gets filled with that kind of spirit-refreshing truth, only then will you be ready to pour that kind of refreshment into others. We’ll never be able to refresh others, if we’re not first refreshed by Christ. We can’t share with others what we haven’t tasted ourselves.

So let us be diligent to stay close to Christ, so that having first refreshed ourselves, we can then take that same refreshment and share it with others.

Now, moving on to a final point, which is the manner in which this devotion to the saints will be expressed. If the effect of our devotion to serving the saints is that their spirits are refreshed, the manner in which our devotion is expressed will be with godly affection. Godly affection ought to mark our doing of the Lord’s work, and especially our service to the saints.

We see examples of Paul’s godly affection throughout this letter, but especially in the closing. Verse 19 lists several groups who sent their greetings: Aquila and Prisca, whom we can read about in Acts 18, and who are hosting a church in their home, which Paul mentions also in Romans 16. They, along with the church, are sending greetings.

All the brothers send greetings, Paul says in verse 20. They are not indifferent to the work of God being done in other places. They’re eager to hear of the work, and so send encouragement, and greetings, not as some sort of trivial politeness or social expectation, but as fellow workers. Fellow laborers in the Lord.

United by both the work and by shared affection. Paul even commends appropriate showing of Christian affection at the end of verse 20: Greet one another with a holy kiss.

Paul isn’t commending anything illicit here, nor anything unusual. The kiss, usually done twice, one on both cheeks, was a standard greeting for both men and women at the time, much like it still is in France or Italy today.

It was a standard social convention, not unlike our shaking of hands or giving a hug. The point Paul was making was less about the exact physical expression of the affection, and more about the heart behind it. What makes the holy kiss holy is not the kiss, but the holy person giving it.

There’s a necessarily physical expression of Christian affection which is appropriate, and it’s significance is often seen even more sharply when it is removed. If a man here were to rudely refuse to shake your hand, you’d be likely be offended, and rightfully so. The expression of the affection is significant.

And so Paul encourages them to express their affection. And we should reflect here for a moment, to make sure that we’re doing a good job at this. Are we warmly greeting others, both those we know and those we don’t know, when we come together?

Am I hospitable in my disposition? Or am I cold and aloof? Some of us are better at this than others, but I think we can all grow in this.

Further, I think it is worth reflecting upon this verse and the expression of affection that Paul is commending, and seeing how such an expectation could never be met by occasional church fellowship.

If you’re never or rarely among the body, you lack the opportunity to express godly affection. Indeed, not only can you not show that affection in a physical way, you’re actually communicating the opposite.

If my fellowship with you is so unimportant to me that I won’t bother gathering with the body of Christ to worship, what does that communicate about any affection and love I might have toward you? It communicates a lack of love and affection, doesn’t it?

You’re not important enough to me for me to bother with coming to worship. That’s what’s communicated by people who willfully choose to avoid gathering with the body of Christ.

I’m glad that Jesus didn’t act that way. He walked among his people. He showed his affection with his words and his actions. He gave up his body, his life, in order that his people might be embraced.

Let us not forget to show our affection to one another. Refresh your soul in Christ, and then refresh others with a godly affection.


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