1 Corinthians 4
Imagine getting on a plane to fly across the country. As you board the plan, the staff stops you and says, “There are too many people in coach, we would like to offer you a first class pass on us.” How cool would that be? Food. Drinks. Hot towels to wash your hands.
The question I want to have you think through is simple: what do you do with your free gift?
Corinth is such a godless city, it became a verb; to ‘Corinthianize.’ That means no limits, no boundaries, be promiscuous. A modern day city like Corinth might be Vegas. People call it sin city. Why? Whatever sinful appetite you have, you can feed it in Vegas. Not everything in Vegas is bad, you can be married by Elvis, go zip lining, etc. And based on what many people believe about Corinth, Vegas is a cleaned up version of Corinth.
So when Paul starts a church in Corinth, it’s not a surprise that they are the church that gives Paul the hardest time. The people from Corinth who make up the church really like God’s grace but they struggle to grow up and place Christ at the center of their lives. Paul writes them a letter and says this about their spiritual condition;
Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to mature Christians. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life. NLT 1 Corinthians 3:1
Paul was saying to them, “You still act like you belong to this world, you are following all your own desires and not God. Spiritually, you are very immature.” To help the church pull out of this immature condition, Paul started talking to them about what was most important; God’s grace. He wrote,
I deliberately kept it plain and simple: first Jesus and who he is; then Jesus and what he did — Jesus crucified. MSG 1 Corinthians 2:2-3
This is the basis, the foundation, of everything Paul teaches; was, ‘We are saved because of what God did.’ The rest of this letter addresses how the Corinthian people daily follow Christ. That means how they spiritually grow up. How they place Christ at the center of their lives. He said the secret is the Holy Spirit. If you have the Holy Spirit, He unlocks God’s wisdom into our lives. If we don’t have the Holy Spirit, Paul said, you’re not going to get it. In fact, Paul said, God’s wisdom, to your world, your culture, is silly, it’s weird, it can be offensive.
Real quickly, I have to restate what Sam said about maturity. Maturity is NOT based on the time you have in. It’s not like a pension plan at the State. That means you can grow up in church, have 50 years of attendance in and still be immature. Maturity is when we place Christ at the center of our lives and it transforms every area of our lives. Areas like a regular rhythm of Sabbath rest and connecting with God. Areas like giving to God, forgiving those who hurt us or absorbing hurt and giving back love to our family. Areas like living in a rut of negativity or gossip or fear and doing nothing to break out of it. Maturity is about experiencing God’s grace and placing Christ at the center of your life.
Today I get to talk about Chapter 4. Remember, the back drop to this letter is that the city of Corinth is a melting pot of world knowledge, philosophes and religions. There would have been comparisons between each group and speakers. They were attracted to eloquent speakers, wise leaders and highly honored people. There would have been competition. Because the Christians at Corinth are spiritually immature, they started arguing about who is the better leader in the church. And of course, as in every community filled with immature people, divisions were created.
So what does Paul say?
V 1-2 So look at Apollos and me as mere servants of Christ who have been put in charge of explaining God’s secrets. Now, a person who is put in charge as a manager must be faithful.
Paul basically says, “Quit building one leader up and putting another down, look at Christ.” We are only servants of Christ, nothing more and nothing less. It’s not our job to give you a show, it’s our job to be trustworthy and faithful as we share God stuff with you.
Why would Paul have to say this? Because they were comparing Paul with other eloquent speakers and Paul didn’t seem very impressive to them. Paul even addressed his common and simple way of preaching;
When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. NIV 1 Corinthians 2:1-2
Because Paul was viewed as ordinary, they began to compare and criticize him with the other leaders. Paul continues.
V 3-5 What about me? Have I been faithful? Well, it matters very little what you or anyone else thinks. I don’t even trust my own judgment on this point. My conscience is clear, but that isn’t what matters. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide. So be careful not to jump to conclusions before the Lord returns as to whether or not someone is faithful. When the Lord comes, he will bring our deepest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. And then God will give to everyone whatever praise is due.
Paul wanted them to know he wasn’t a people pleaser. He didn’t care if they liked him more or not. He was going to be faithful to God. He was going to share God’s message with passion, clarity and with a pure heart. He challenged the church to look at things that matter. Not the show. Not eloquence. Not appearances. These are all the kinds of things that mattered to the city of Corinth. Paul wanted them to look at things that really matter like, placing Christ at the center of your life. That message might not seem flashy, sexy, fun and maybe it sounds ordinary, but its right. So be careful to not jump to conclusions about what leader is better.
Paul continues to write and help them to see things from God’s point of view.
V 6-7 Dear brothers and sisters, I have used Apollos and myself to illustrate what I’ve been saying. If you pay attention to the Scriptures, you won’t brag about one of your leaders at the expense of another. What makes you better than anyone else? What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if all you have is from God, why boast as though you have accomplished something on your own?
From God’s point of view, everything we have is from God, so how is it possible that anyone would become arrogant and put others down based on what God gave them? If you are a sinner and God’s gives you His grace, how can you become arrogant about your spirituality? It all came from God!
So stop putting too much value on one man, one leader and look to Christ. Everything came from Christ. If you pay attention to the scriptures you wouldn’t be bragging, you would be serving. If you are going to move forward as a church, you are going to have to grow up and be humble.
In this first section of Chapter 4, verses 1-7, Paul is saying, “You’ve taken God’s free gift of grace, and you’ve used it to hurt people.” You have become immature, how do we know? Comparing. Competing. Divisions. Complaining. Criticism.
It’s like they’ve taken that free first class upgrade and they are making fun of everyone in coach. They are fighting with to the others in first class about who is better. Who would live like that? A jerk. Someone who is very immature.
Then to drive home the point, Paul gets a little sarcastic.
V 8 You think you already have everything you need! You are already rich! Without us you have become kings! I wish you really were on your thrones already, for then we would be reigning with you!
Paul is saying, “Wow, isn’t it ironic that you seem to have it all but we apostles have nothing!” His sarcasm is to shake them out of their proud self-willed thinking. The Corinthian Christians viewed themselves rich, elite royalty. They failed to understand, everything they had was from God. It shouldn’t lead them to view themselves as the elite, it should make them want to serve.
V 9-10 But sometimes I think God has put us apostles on display, like prisoners of war at the end of a victor’s parade, condemned to die. We have become a spectacle to the entire world — to people and angels alike. Our dedication to Christ makes us look like fools, but you are so wise! We are weak, but you are so powerful! You are well thought of, but we are laughed at.
Paul continues to poke at them. You are so wise, strong an honored. Look at us, we are fools, weak and dishonored. You live to exalt yourselves, wow, you are awesome. We live to serve. The Christians in Corinth would have been embarrassed of Paul. Why? Paul embraces everything they hated; weakness, humility, serving and rejecting everything they loved like self-promotion, who you know and appearances.
Basically, Paul is stating, you Corinthians have missed the entire point of God’s grace.
V 11-13 To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, without enough clothes to keep us warm. We have endured many beatings, and we have no homes of our own. We have worked wearily with our own hands to earn our living. We bless those who curse us. We are patient with those who abuse us. We respond gently when evil things are said about us. Yet we are treated like the world’s garbage, like everybody’s trash — right up to the present moment.
Paul is outing them. He is showing them how a true disciple of Christ lives. They experience grace and then persevere through anything to share that grace with others. It has nothing to do with self- promotion, who you know, etc.
As the Corinthians viewed themselves as elite, Paul on the other hand is hungry and thirsty. As they judge and criticize, Paul is brutalized and homeless. As they look to be honored and validated, Paul is cursed and persecuted. What a comparison.
In this second section of Chapter 4, verses 8-13, Paul is saying, “I’ve taken God’s free gift of grace, and you’ve used it to serve people.” That’s the point of grace. You didn’t deserve it or earn it. Now show others how they can experience God’s grace.
Paul is challenging them to take that free first class upgrade and give it to someone who needs it more than them. Who would live like that? A genuinely kind person. Someone who is very mature. Someone who understands that grace is a free gift.
After those sarcastic attacks from Paul, they probably felt ashamed. So Paul continues,
V 14-21 I am not writing these things to shame you, but to warn you as my beloved children. For even if you had ten thousand others to teach you about Christ, you have only one spiritual father. For I became your father in Christ Jesus when I preached the Good News to you. So I ask you to follow my example and do as I do. That is the very reason I am sending Timothy — to help you do this. For he is my beloved and trustworthy child in the Lord. He will remind you of what I teach about Christ Jesus in all the churches wherever I go. I know that some of you have become arrogant, thinking I will never visit you again. But I will come — and soon — if the Lord will let me, and then I’ll find out whether these arrogant people are just big talkers or whether they really have God’s power. For the Kingdom of God is not just fancy talk; it is living by God’s power. Which do you choose? Should I come with punishment and scolding, or should I come with quiet love and gentleness? NLT
Paul loved them like a father. He was doing all he could to jolt them out of their spiritual immature condition. He wanted to warn them of a huge spiritual problem called pride. Paul said, “Imitate me.” The Corinthians had to be horrified to imitate Paul. Why imitate Paul? Paul would say, “Because God’s glory and power shines through me.”
To follow Christ daily, it’s about the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s empowered living. It’s not about the show, pretty speeches, dazzling leadership or who you know. It’s about the power of God. The more you stay spiritually prideful and arrogant, you will stay immature in Christ. Complaining. Criticism. Comparing. Competing. Divisions.
In this third section of Chapter 4, verses 14-21, Paul is saying, “The life that God empowers is the life that has been transformed by grace and doing everything so that others can experience it.” God empowers you to help others.
To wrap up 1 Corinthians 3-4, Paul deals with his first big issue in Corinth. They were acting immature because they were prideful an arrogant leading to divisions within the church. They failed to understand that the Church is to be centered around Christ. We are all servants who need God’s grace. When you help others experience grace, that’s when God will empower you.
So let me ask you, what would you do with your free gift?
Here is what MRC is going to do; we are going to plant churches. We are going to give everyone the opportunity to experience God’s grace. We are going to give everyone the opportunity to be their ordinary selves and reach out to people. We are going to give everyone the opportunity to give money. We are going to give everyone the opportunity to lead or serve.
Why? That’s the life that God empowers.