One: 1 Corinthians 4.6-21
March 3, 2013 Series: One | First Letter to the Corinthians
Topic: New Testament Passage: 1 Corinthians 4:6–4:21
Introduction: All is Grace
Chapter 4 is the end of Paul’s introduction. Paul is writing in response to a letter and a report he had received from Corinth. Before he answering any of the practical questions of his letter, he deals with the biggest problem in the report—their division as a church family. Paul spends a quarter of this letter on unity because disunity is how marriages, families, and churches become weak, contentious, and dead. Division is the first sign that the gospel is lost—that something else is wrong with our own belief in the gospel. A deep belief in the gospel will make our identity in Christ stronger. And a strong identity in Christ will take our identity with one another deeper. Jesus is not just MY Lord, this isn’t just MY church or ministry, I don’t have MY mission, or even MY calling. Jesus is OUR Lord, this is OUR church family, WE have a mission, and WE have calling to complete together. If you are concerned only with yourself (your own comfort, your own benefit, your own fame, etc.) then you’re Corinthian. You’re finding for your identity in the wrong place and it is only a matter of time before you hurt yourself or us.
We must all find our identity what is written in the unchanging Word, not what is said by the ever-changing world. The wisdom of the world tells us that the emptiness we feel is a result of not loving ourselves enough. We need to boast in who we are or are not, boast in what we know or have experienced, boast in what we do or haven’t ever done, or boast in what we have or don’t have in order to feel better about ourselves. Such foolishness leads only to pride, or despair, as we swing between feeling superior or inferior to others. The wisdom of God tell us that the cause of our emptiness is that we have declared independence from God and that relief from the emptiness I feel is not found in ourselves. We are not worthless because we have been made worthy. We are special, not because of anything we have done (or not done), but because of what God did in Christ for us. All is grace. Nothing is deserved. Nothing is earned.
When you start to believe that anything you have is earned somehow, you begin to believe that the life in Jesus you have should be better than Jesus had. So, using his own life as an example, Paul teaches them what it really looks like to live out one’s Christian identity as a Son, and a Servant, and a Steward of Jesus. And though it is a life that looks foolish to the world and a life that none of us in our flesh want, it is a life that those who follow Christ should expect to have AND find joy in.
V. 8 The Way of the Corinthian
In verse 8, Paul describes the way of life that the Corinthian are advocating 8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! The Corinthians are acting like Kings. In stoic philosophy, one who was “wise” was considered to be a “king”. And like kings they are only concerned with building, celebrating, and perpetuating their own kingdom. It is much easier to climb up on the throne of Jesus then to bow down to it. Kings do everything in their power to ensure their position, their preferences, and their perspective reign. Kings are always looking to fight against those who would threaten their kingdom or challenge their throne. Kings believe they can do whatever they want and everyone is inferior. And Kings believe no one knows better how to rule better than them.
We are talking about believers who think “maturity” in Christ means building more and more of your own kingdom and sacrificing less and less for God’s—we stop being disciples and we become “Christians”. In response, the apostle Paul describes the painful path to maturity that he has walked as he has gotten older:.
V. 9-13 The Way of the Christ
9 For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men…. The Corinthian experience of the Christian life could not be any more different than the apostle’s experience. Paul’s is not being defensive, but descriptive of all of the lives of leaders they are claiming to follow. Their lives are completely different than the Corinthians who are working hard to be first, rich, wise, strong, respectable, and acceptable in the eyes of the world. But as he details his life or hardship, we get the sense that he considers all of his hardships something to boast and rejoice in. He says:
1. We are last, that all others might be first, for Christ.
2. We are a like dead men walking—ready to die for Christ.
3. We are on display, gladiators in the arena, thrown to the beasts for Christ
4. We are fools for Christ.
5. We are weak for Christ.
6. We are disrespected for Christ.
7. We are hungry and thirsty for Christ.
8. We are dressed in rags, beat up, and homeless—we live with less for Christ..
9. We are tired from working hard for Christ.
10. We are hated, persecuted, and slandered like Christ and for Christ.
If that is not bad enough…Paul compares the apostles to SCUM that falls off of ships when they are cleaned, like the DIRT you clean off of your sandals—as good as garbage for Christ. This is anything but an ideal job description for the Corinthian dream, or our American dream. And it is likely that, at some point, the Roman world around them actually viewed the Corinthians the same way. But instead of embracing their foolishness, they responded to the “disapproval of the world” by running to become like it—by abandoning Christ. In stark contrast, when the disdain and hatred of the world was poured out on the apostles, they responded by blessing, enduring, and praying.
There is a strange irony in all of this. From the beginning of the letter, we read that individuals in the church were claiming to “follow” Jesus once said that: 40 A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. (Luke 6.40). If they are going to follow someone, their attitudes and their lives should look more and more like that someone. But the lives of the Corinthians and the Apostles could not look any more different. Paul says: Apparently, they have “arrived” and the apostle is still arriving. Not a very attractive job description. Good thing we don’t aim to be an apostle. What about a job description for a Christian? SIGN ME UP!
Do you expect something different from the Christian life? What kind of life do you expect as a disciple of Jesus? Shouldn’t we expect that our life will look and feel like Jesus? Do you know what kind of life that was? The Kingdom of God was founded on Jesus Christ—a man who lived a life of suffering to the glory of God. In fact, the suffering of Jesus was the best and only way that God’s mission could be accomplished. And if God is building on that foundation, we should not expect our life will include suffering. This is not a hindrance to building our faith and our church, but ONE OF THE PRIMARY WAYS GOD BUILDS US UP. As one commentator wrote: “The Christian life is not the fast track to glory but a slow, arduous path that takes one through suffering. The suffering so visible in the life of the apostles is not some tedious detour for an elite volunteer corps but the main highway for ALL CHRISTIANS.”
I dare not say we must pursue suffering, we don’t have to—it finds us. But I do say that as Christians we are called to share in the sufferings of Christ, like Christ, for Christ. Both Paul and Peter agree:
2Corinthians 1.3-5 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.
1Peter 4.12-16 12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.
The Corinthian boasts in their own awesomeness as they try to avoid any discomfort, dishonor, or disruption to their lifestyle. They are more comfortable sitting on the throne of Jesus then bowing down to it. But there is nothing more weak and repulsive than Christian PRIDE, and nothing more powerful and attractive than Christian HUMILITY—where true disciples, in response to the great LOVE of Jesus, trust him enough to relinquish position, power, and preferences in order to suffer for, with, and like Him.
V. 14-21 The Decision to make
We all try very hard to identify with Paul when, in truth, we are more like the Corinthians than we’ll ever admit. And when we read descriptions of “SUPER CHRISTIANS” like Paul, or any number of faithful men and women in history who have served Jesus, we feel ashamed. That is not Paul’s intention.
As a pastor, it is difficult to call people to follow Christ—to cease being comfortable in their Christianity—without them feeling shame. Sin causes shame, not God. Paul ends his introduction, therefore, by revealing his heart and spelling out the intent of his letter. It is clear that he expects his letter may not be well received—it is going to make them cry. He has addressed them as a brother and a fellow builder, now he addresses them like a Father: 14 I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me. 17 That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church.
We learn a lot about the relationship between a pastor and the flock God has given him to shepherd Paul’s goal is for the Corinthians to love Jesus more than they do now. And in order to encourage them to listen to his voice, that he reminds them of his unique relationship with him.
The pastor must love like Christ. Paul planted the church. He watched as God took them from death to life. The Corinthians flock should respond to Paul because he knows them, and they know the voice of their shepherd. We have to have a relationship. When there is no relationship, there is no trust. When you don’t trust your pastors, you infer the wrong things, assume the wrong things, and believe the wrong things. I cannot be your best friend, the father-figure you didn’t have, or the one to fix all your problems. I can get close enough to know you and you can get close enough know me. Closeness develops a loving trust that, over time, will cover a multitude of sins (1Peter 4.8)
The pastor must admonish in Christ. There is a different between shame and admonishment. There is a difference between speaking mean words to cause hurt and hard words to cause change. Men and women must be called to repent, to turn from loving their sin to being loved by Jesus. A good pastor makes people cry. He speaks words not to make grieve them only, but to grieve them into repenting. Stop following the world. Stop finding your identity in the world. Stop loving the world. Stop living a comfortable Christianity and start acting like the son, servant, and steward you are in Christ.
The pastor must instruct by Christ. There is a difference between admiration and submission. Paul intends to reestablish authority over and against all the other loud voices competing for their allegiance. Paul reminds them that, like a FATHER, his commands and instructions are not OPTIONAL. Hebrews 13.17 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. As your pastor, there are times when I am not asking. This is not obey ME in anything I ask you to do, it is when I instruct you to do as Christ has called you to. Test what we say. Test what we teach. Reject anything that is not aligned with God’s Word and the history of the church. Paul says he is sending Timothy whose sole job will be to “remind them of the ways in Christ.” He will teach them the basics of what it means to become AND live as a disciple of Jesus. There is a way.
The pastor must live for Christ. Finally, and most importantly, there is a difference between do as I say/ and do as I do. Paul tells the Corinthians to imitate him. We will fail if, in asking you to repent, to give, to serve, to sacrifice, to forgive, or to love FOR CHRIST, if we are not doing those things first.. Hebrews 13.7 7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Paul says follow me in the way of Christ. If I cannot stand before you and say imitate me—then I should not be standing before you. My life should be worthy of imitation in so far as it aligns with the gospel. The aim is not to be Sam-like, but Christ-like.
V. 18-20 Conclusion: More than talk.
Paul ends this section with a warning those who arrogantly reject His words. Basically he says, do you want me to come with a ROD or a HUG? 18 Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. 20 For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. 21 What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness? Paul could easily be misconstrued as a pastor bully here—do what I say or I am going to beat your butt. He is likely responding to a predictable Corinthian response to Timothy’s arrival; they will think that Paul is too afraid to take address the problem in person. A true pastor is not afraid to address conflict head on.
Real bullies are the big talkers who believe that the words of the pastor don’t apply to them. When confronted with the fact that their lives really about themselves, they dismiss what the pastor preaches as opinion, at least the opinion about someone else. Arrogant people are above being corrected. They are above being wrong. They are above being repentant. That is their problem they have placed themselves above Jesus, instead of at his feet. The kingdom of God consists of more than talk about how much you like Jesus, but on the power of the Spirit who wants you to look like Him. “Grace is the enabling gift of God not to sin. Grace is power, not just pardon.” – John Piper