Continuing the concluding remarks of 1 Corinthians, Paul in today’s passage refers to three men known to the Corinthian church: Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus. What the Apostle says in 1 Corinthians 16:15–18 gives us some insight into the historical background of Paul’s letter as well as some important principles for honoring Christian workers today.
First, Paul mentions “the household of Stephanas,” who “were the first converts in Achaia” (v. 15). “First converts” is better translated as “firstfruits,” since Stephanas and his household were not the first in the province of Achaia to believe. When Paul ministered earlier in Athens, which was also located in Achaia, Dionysius and Damaris believed, before the Apostle came to Corinth (see Acts 17:34). The Apostle’s point is not that Stephanas and his household were the first in Achaia to believe but that their conversion was a special indicator of the greater harvest of believers to come in the region. We cannot be sure of who made up Stephanas’ household, but there may be here an indirect reference to infant baptism. The infants would have been baptized along with the rest of the household if, in fact, there were infants in the household (see 1 Cor. 1:16). In any case, it is worth noting that some commentators believe that Stephanas and his household played a key role in establishing the church in Corinth and that Stephanas may have been an early leader there given the way Paul speaks about them as those who “devoted themselves to the service of the saints” (16:15).
We know almost nothing about the other two men mentioned, Fortunatus and Achaicus, except that they were a great encouragement to Paul alongside Stephanas when they came to visit him during the Apostle’s absence from Corinth (vv. 17–18). The names Fortunatus and Achaicus are both Latin names, and scholars suggest that this means they were likely slaves or former slaves. It could also be that they were somehow members of the household of Stephanas, or at least close friends of his.
Paul calls the church at Corinth to be subject to those who devote themselves to the work of the church and to recognize those who bless God’s people (vv. 16, 18). This is not a call for obedience to those in a higher authority, though that is certainly necessary, but an exhortation to honor those who serve Christ and His gospel.