As Paul nears the end of his first epistle to the Corinthian church, he lets the believers in Corinth know about his travel plans and how they might intersect with the collection being gathered to alleviate the suffering of the poor Christians in Judea. We see this in 1 Corinthians 16:1–3, where the Apostle, once he arrives in Corinth, promises to send letters of recommendation with the party that will carry the funds to Jerusalem. Essentially, these letters will prove that the funds are coming from other believers. However, as we see in today’s passage, Paul notes that he will travel with the couriers “if it seems advisable” (v. 4). In the ancient world, travel was often dangerous, especially if a large sum of money was being transported. Moreover, Paul’s presence would have been reassuring both to the couriers and the Christians who would be receiving the money, giving Apostolic weight to the gift. At the time 1 Corinthians was written, Paul had not yet determined to go with the party carrying the money. However, by the time Paul wrote Romans, he had decided to accompany the couriers (see Rom. 15:25–26).
Today’s passage overlaps with Acts 19:1–20:5, indicating that 1 Corinthians was written while Paul was in Ephesus before he traveled to Macedonia. Paul notes that he hopes to come to Corinth after his stay in Ephesus, passing through Macedonia between the two cities (1 Cor. 16:5–9). However, as 2 Corinthians 1:15–18 indicates, Paul ended up having to reverse the order of his travels, and he visited Corinth before Macedonia. (Acts does not record this.) He was able to change plans because, as 1 Corinthians 16:7 indicates, he knew that his intent would be achieved only if the Lord permitted it.
The overarching providence of God in determining the outcome of our plans is the chief lesson of today’s study. We should surely make plans, but we must hold on to them loosely, for whether they will come to fruition depends wholly on God’s will. John Calvin comments regarding the phrase “if the Lord permits”: “With this reservation, saints ought to follow up all their plans and deliberations; for it is an instance of great rashness to undertake and determine many things for the future, while we have not even a moment in our power.” He then argues that we must have this conviction fixed in our minds but that using phrases such as “if the Lord permits” in our speaking can be a helpful way of reinforcing the truth that everything we do is only by the Lord’s permission.