One: 1 Corinthians 3:18 - 4:7
February 24, 2013 Series: One | First Letter to the Corinthians
Topic: New Testament Passage: 1 Corinthians 3:18–4:7
Intro: What & Why
In last week’s text, Paul reminded the Corinthian Christians that they are God’s construction project. They are a worksite in progress. The foundation of Jesus Christ has been laid. And upon this foundation, using a people work crew he has saved, He is building Himself a dwelling place among His people. The church is the temple of God’s Spirit, an assembly of individuals who each possess the Spirit of God within them. God has freed this crew of diverse sinners (each with their own story), blessed them with unique tools, and issued hard hats that we might work together for one purpose — to be worshippers. For the last 2,000 years, young, old, educated, uneducated, skilled, unskilled, funny, serious, fat, skinny, ugly, good looking, creative, boring, rich, and poor are ALL united in their mission to make much of Lord Jesus in a given city and a given generation. This is the Corinthian mission; this is our mission.
Ironically, the greatest hindrances to building God’s people are the people themselves. The Corinthian church is a building project gone wild. It is full of division. Everyone is claiming spiritual enlightenment and building however, whenever, and whatever they want. At the heart of their division is pride—they each think that they are more “right” and better than the next person. Each one is boasting about their own greatness by attaching themselves to different leaders who have come through: Paul the planter, Apollos the teacher, Peter the leader, some even use Jesus. Each may feel like they are working for God, but they are really working for themselves, and destroying the ONE church God is trying to build. That is WHAT is happening. But we really need to ask WHY this is happening. We don’t often ask these kinds of questions in relationships (parenting, marriages, friendships, etc.): What is going on in the heart to cause that behavior? What is the sin behind the sin? What is the deeper need not being satisfied in Christ?
v. 6 Issue of Identity
The truth is, they are not simply picking different teams of leaders to look better than others, but they are picking them to feel better about themselves. Division in their church is caused by an issue of identity in the individual. As people, we cannot stop thinking about ourselves—we are always trying to feel better about ourselves, trying to feel like we are somebody, or prove that we have value. And because we are so overly self-concerned, we don’t concern ourselves with others. More than that, our self-centeredness works against unity. This is because our sense of identity is often ONLY satisfied through comparison with others—those with less make us feel better. It follows that we compare ourselves with those more blessed, gifted, fortunate—we feel worse. Both of these are rooted in something God hates: PRIDE. As C.S.Lewis once wrote, “Pride is not the pleasure of having more as much as it is the pleasure of having more than the next person.” (Mere Christianity)
In Chapter 4, verse 6, Paul writes what his hope is for the Corinthians is that they will not be prideful. Specifically, he says he wants them to NOT find their identity in the WORLD but the WORD. He wants them to learn how NOT to be “puffed up” against one. 6 I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. Tim Keller has a great e-book about this called: The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness. READ IT. In it, he explains that this is a unique word used here, it literally means overinflated, swollen, or distended beyond its proper size. The image is that of a distended body organ that has had too much air pumped into it. THIS IS MAN’S IDENTITY——a bloated stomach, painful, swollen, and ready to burst.
There was a time when our identity was full, pain-free, and strong. There was a time when we were certain of WHO WE WERE—Genesis 1 and 2. In the beginning, Scripture describes us as creations, made in his image, who enjoyed a special relationship with God who provided them everything they needed. But men rebelled, and sought wisdom apart from God, men fell. When men fell, they abandoned their relationship with God and our identity was lost—we became empty. We lost any true sense of who we are and what we are supposed to do. And since then, as men wander from God with a sense of eternity in their hearts, they sense a need to fill it with something to make them feel valuable. But, anything we put in there is too small, as it is designed to house God (Keller). But that doesn’t stop us from searching for all kinds of things to build our lives on other than God—all of which don’t satisfy. All of these things eventually hurt us so, in order to avoid pain but fill the emptiness, we try and find something new to satisfy it. Therefore, we swing back and forth between feeling pride and despair as our sense of self, my desire for worthy, my need to be sure I am somebody remains UNFULFILLED.
v. 18- 20 The Danger of a broken Judgment
The WHAT is obvious…but the WHY is not always so clear. But we never admit that the problem is one of the heart—we lie to everyone, even ourselves—pretending that the chaos in our life is the result of something or someone else. In essence, our judgment is so infected with sin that, apart from the grace of God, we don’t perceive our problems or their solutions accurately. This is why Paul tells the Corinthians to be careful about SELF-DECEPTION: 18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” 20 and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” Did you know you could deceive yourself? (No admits it).
We deceive ourselves into believing that THE WORLD is not broken. We wrongly believe that the promises of the world will give us meaning, hope, and joy; that sin will satisfy. We see people “succeeding” using the wisdom of the world—so we begin to doubt God’s way really satisfies. So we believe the lies and begin to worship and sacrifice to get those things—they will give us meaning. But when they fail to satisfy we realize we were deceived.
We deceive ourselves into believing that WE are not broken. Many of us will get to a place where we will come face to face with the consequences of our brokenness. We’re broken relationally, broken emotionally, broken physically, even broken materially. It’s obvious to everyone. But that doesn’t mean we’ll ever admit the root cause is that we’re spiritually broken. It’s bad luck, a bad season, a bad decision, anything but a bad heart. We don’t believe we are part of the problem at all. What is broken is the system. What is broken is the communication. What is broken is that other person. What is broken is the leadership. Anything and everything is broken BUT my empty identity.
We deceive ourselves about HOW to fix the brokenness. Even though we don’t think there is something broken IN us, we feel it. And we wrongly believe that the solution to our emptiness, the way to feel better about ourselves, is to pursue more self-esteem. So we continue our search for something to fill up our emptiness, to make us feel important, special, and valued. We follow the world’s solution to fix “bad” feelings. We do what the Corinthians do, boast in who we are (or who we are pretending to be), which invariably leads to a coveting-compare game that can only result in pride or despair. We deceive ourselves, others, but God is not fooled. He knows our deepest needs.
v. 21-4.5,7 Paul’s Judgment
So at their heart, the Corinthians identify themselves with a particular teacher in order to feel better about themselves. In response to their self-judgment, Paul instructs them as to how where they should find their identity by telling them where he finds his… This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God
Paul IDENTITY is not found in the judgment of men. …small thing that I should be judged by you court.
Paul IDENTITY is not found in the judgment of men.The Corinthians are making judgments about men, Paul included. Later in the letter we discover that are dismissing Paul’s authority and ability. But Paul does not care. He does not look to the Corinthians for approval. He does not care about judgments of men—positive or negative. He does not look to any human court for a verdict that he is worthy, valuable, or somebody. This is hard NOT to do. When you root your identity in the judgment of men, you think too much of what men think. That means that what they say or what people think or what you assume they believe about you becomes too important to us. When our identity is driven by what people think about us, we can be devastated with any critical comment or sense of disapproval. We puff ourselves up, then someone comes along with a comment or decision and puts a pin in our pride—we feel deflated, inferior, and less than.
Paul’s IDENTITY is not found in his own judgment. In fact, I do not even judge myself.
Paul’s IDENTITY is not found in his own judgment.We do not, however, exchange the judgment of men for our own judgment. In other words, it doesn’t JUST matter “What I think about myself.” But when you base your identity on your own judgment, then you think too little of anyone else's judgments or opinions. You begin to define your life by your own standard and you either pity those “below” you or criticize those above you. There is no problem with despairing over criticism because you are the standard for everything. Paul doesn’t even judge himself because he knows his flesh too well. What I think about myself is not necessarily true—good or bad. I can easily set standards that are too high or too low. I can evaluate myself based on who I think I am, what I have done or not done, who I know, etc. But my flesh can only lead me to pride and despair—I’ll either be dishonest about my sin or overwhelmed by my sin.
Paul’s IDENTITY is found in the judgment of God. This is how one should regard us..
The problem with the Corinthians is that they are looking for someone to judge them to be somebody. Their division is caused an issue of identity. Paul says that you can’t trust the judgment of men for that identity. You also cannot trust the judgment of yourself. Either of those two options results in people thinking of themselves constantly (What do THEY think about ME what do I think about ME). Paul is at the point where he has stopped thinking about himself entirely. Instead, he is focused on the judgment of God—what God declares about Him in His Word. This is the difference between an identity that is puffed up with pride and one that is filled up with the gospel. When you are filled up with the gospel, you become CONTENT in who you are and SELFLESS in ALL relationships. Paul says, I don’t care who you say that I am, I don’t care who I think I am, the only thing that matters is WHO, by faith in Christ, God SAYS that I am! Who does God say Paul is?
It’s not a matter of avoiding all opinions. On the contrary, it is a matter of listening to the correct one.
*GOD has identified Paul to his SON you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s
There is a JUDGE. And that one judge has given a verdict. And the gospel says that God has given a verdict BEFORE any performance, before any work, before being fixed, before being clean. To paraphrase Keller, Gospel Christianity is the only faith where performance doesn’t lead to verdict. In Christianity, the verdict leads to performance. There is no need to compare, no need to be better than, because God has said in Christ: You are approved. You are forgiven. You are loved. You are somebody. You are valuable. You are special. You are a child of the King. It doesn’t matter if you are not _______(healthy, wealthy, wise), because you are Christ’s. GOD has identified you to be a SON
**GOD has also identified Paul as a SERVANT servants of Christ
And that knowledge transforms your identity and your perspective, especially toward others. The gospel informs Paul not only that his old worthless life has been buried with Jesus, but he has been risen to new life. And with that life, Paul is no longer a slave to sin, but a servant to Jesus. He has a LORD. He has a master. He has an owner. He lives a life of self-denial whereby his desires are in submission to the desires of His King. He is called to serve as Jesus served—to life selflessly considering the needs of all others more important than himself—to the point of loss, even death. We don’t search four our niche’ or wait for the perfect job to be created. We serve wherever there is a need. GOD has identified you as his SERVANT, in your marriage, your family, your church, your job, your city, etc.
***GOD has also identified Paul his STEWARD and stewards of the mysteries of God
But more than a servant, Paul is God’s steward. A steward is one charged with responsibility, someone appointed to task, someone with a job. Paul is not only owned by God but he is given ownership of God’s stuff to manage. A steward is someone who has nothing in that, everything they do have is owned by someone else. Paul asks in verse 7, What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? Consider all the things that you have been entrusted to you—it is all God’s. There are the gifts, the talents, the skills, the experiences, the people, the relationships, the jobs, the money, the time, the mind, the body, the breath, the children, the husband, the wife, the church, and the message of the gospel itself. The list is endless. But being a steward is more than holding. A good manager not only keeps something untarnished, he makes it more beautiful. He builds into it because he knows he going to be give an account for what he has done with it. GOD has identified you as a STEWARD
Conclusion: From Self-centered to Selfless
Don’t be deceived. You cannot fix yourself. You need Jesus. You cannot find what you are looking for in the world. It will not satisfy. You cannot grow in your faith alone. We need each other. Growth as the people of God requires unity, a shared identity, shared mind, and shared mission. But unity requires humility. The humility of the gospel isn’t thinking LESS of yourself (God loves you) it is thinking of yourself less. It is refusing to listen to the world’s judgment or our own, in order to determine WHO WE ARE.
The only thing that matters is WHO, by faith in Christ, God SAYS you are! In Christ, you are a son, you are servant, and you are a steward. You have an identity, you have a role, and you have a responsibility. There is freedom in forgetting yourself and living in Christ. And only with an identity secure in Christ, will you be able to experience genuine peace and joy in who God has made you to be and what He has given you to do, not tomorrow, but today.