God Over Us – 1 Corinthians 4:1-21
The sixth message in the 1 Corinthians Study.
(Find the other messages from this series here)
Chapter 3 really laid it out that the body of Christ is his people and damage to it would be taken seriously. Any one doing harm to the body of Christ, the collection of God’s people, they will answer to God in the final day.
Paul has covered this well, but before moving on to the major issue of Sexual Immorality in the church, which he will do in Chapter 5, he drills down further on this issue and he gets specific.
The people that were dividing the church were doing so with a pretty singular issue- Paul himself. Those that were calling themselves followers of Peter and followers of Apollos were doing so mainly because they took issue with Paul.Gordon Fee points out that more than they were Pro-Peter and Pro-Apollos, they were Anti-Paul.
We had a primary this past Tuesday and some of you went and voted for a person that you support and others of you went and voted against someone that you do NOT support.
There was no major issue between Paul and Peter and Apollos, there was no major difference in Philosophy- this either or mentality was being created by people who had an issue with Paul.
They were doing what people often do when they don’t like someone in the church, they were spiritualizing. They were attempting to cover their sin with spirituality.
Spiritualizing an issue is what happens when instead of uncovering sin through confession and experiencing forgiveness through God’s grace we attempt to cover our sins by acting spiritual.
This happens today.
People say things like “We just didn’t like it at that church. We weren’t getting fed.” or “We just didn’t feel that the worship was our style at that church, were looking for more of a fill-in-the-blank.” or
“I just couldn’t get into that book they gave me, it was boring.”
When really what they should say is,
“The pastor started preaching on my sins and I didn’t like it,” or “the pastor confronted us about a lie we were telling and we doubled down on it instead of confessing it.” or “that book was challenging me in some really serious ways and instead of wrestling with it I decided to quit reading and stay in my comfort zone.”
Paul calls them out in Chapter 4.
He says, listen I know what the deal is- I know that you have an issue with me and we aren’t going to ignore- we are going to deal with it.
You need to be clear on the role of a Spiritual Leader.
Chapter 4 makes it clear that God who wishes to sanctify us, who is working through us, who is among us, that He has established leaders over us.
Church leaders are servants who teach us the truths of Jesus. (4:1-5)
Paul had used the word servant in reference to himself earlier- He used the word from which we get deacon- diakonos. However, in Chapter 4 he doesn’t use that word. He uses two different words. Hyperetas which means manager and Oikonos which means steward. He’s speaking of a servant who leads the household of servants. The servant who acted as a manager or leader for all the other servants and a steward who is one who manages the affairs of the master.
A good example of this is Joseph.
Joseph was a servant in Potiphar’s house and because he was such a hard worker and honest man Potiphar put him in control and scripture says that Potiphar didn’t even know what he had because he trusted Joseph with it.
Servants are people of great responsibility and very little authority. A steward has responsibility and authority. Paul says as a church leader he was given the responsibility and authority to lead the church. He was to manage the affairs of the church, lead the churhc, and recognize that he would answer to God for his leadership and stewardship. Paul says, I’m not worried about the fact that you are judging me, I’m more worried about the judgement that is down the road, the judgement that I will face when I meet God.
Paul just said, my job isn’t to please you- It’s to please God.
Then he points out, my job isn’t to please myself- I don’t judge myself he says in verse 3. Paul was saying, “I’m not in the clear if I say I am, I’m in the clear if God says that I am.” Paul was not established as an apostle to please the people to to please himself, he was sent to please God. Church leaders are not called to please the people or to please themselves, they are called to please God.
Paul’s attitude is not, “I don’t have to answer to anyone!” His attitude is, I have to answer to God and that’s a much bigger deal. I’m always amazed at the attitude that I hear people say,“Only God can judge me!” That’s not something to say in defiance or arrogance, that’s something to say with fear and trembling. Only God can judge me, and He will and his standards are extremely high!
Paul makes it clear that he is a servant of God who has the responsibility to communicate the truths of Christ and the authority to lead the church, and that he will answer to God one day for how he fulfills this role.
Paul says that God has made an exhibition of Paul and Apollos. That God has used the Apostles as a testimony to the church.
v.6 I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us
v. 9 9For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last,
for we are made a spectacle unto the world,
Church leaders are examples who show us life with Jesus. (4:6-13)
It must have been frustrating for Paul to have been with the Corinthians and not demand what was his right as their church leader- to hold back and suffer need and reproach when he deserved more and better- however he had decided to go above and beyond while he was with them so that no one would have reason to accuse them or question their motives- And as a direct result of the sacrifices that Paul made for their sakes, the people take issue with him.
Paul’s heart shows in these verses. He gets pretty passionate. He says, God has used us as a spectacle to the World- we have been beaten, rejected, and gone hungry and your issue with us is that we aren’t very dignified and powerful by this world’s standards. Paul recognizes that while the Corinthians are rich, dignified, powerful, and living as kings he and his band of ministry partners is suffering.
10We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ;
we are weak, but ye are strong;
ye are honourable, but we are despised.
we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace;
12And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it:
13Being defamed, we entreat:
we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.
but his point is that while all of this is true it is because of their efforts, their suffering, their difficulty that the Corinthians and others like them know Jesus.
He says in verse 7
and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?
Paul is saying, the reason that things are so great for you is because God has given it to you- don’t act as though you’re better than us- You’ve just been blessed by the gifts of God, one of which was us coming to you with the mysteries of God.
Paul is asking them, “Where would you be if we hadn’t been so willing to labor and work with you for the sake of the gospel?!”
You know what Paul is doing? He is laying it on thick like a only a mom could do. You know what I mean?
When a mom says,
I only carried you in my womb for 9 months and sustained you and then stayed up with you through the night and cared for you when you were sick, that’s all.
Oh you’re busy? Well I remember being pretty tired when you a baby and you absolutely refused to sleep through the night without a feeding until you were 18 months old.
Now, I’m exaggerating- but Paul is laying it on thick enough that he says in verse 14, I’m not saying this to shame you… Paul says in a few different ways that he was an example, a spectacle, a testimony. Paul had a responsibility to teach the people the truths of Jesus and to live those principles out before them.
We have pretty serious standards for pastors and for good reason. I’ve had to rework this part of my message to make sure I don’t say something out of the flesh- but I will tell you that few things make my blood boil like a church leader who wants retain their position of steward of the truths of Christ when they’ve stopped living as an example of those truths. Much harm has been done to the work of God by men who kept teaching truths that they weren’t living out.
Paul had taught them the gospel, lived out the gospel, and desired to guide them through live with Christ and that last part is his focus in verse 14-21. In verse 14 Paul uses the word “warn” and you could easily substitute “admonish” or “exhort” – the idea is I’m earnestly calling out to you. in verse 16 he uses the word beseech, this could be plead or beg.
In the last couple of verses he speaks of coming with a spirit or meekness or a rod of discipline and the choice of the two is up to them.
Paul is speaking of knowing their particular situation and coming to straighten it out in person if need be. Paul knew the truths of Christ, he had lived them out, and he also knew the Corinthians and where they were lacking. He knew the steps that they needed to take and he was coaching them toward the goal.
Church leaders are coaches who push us toward Jesus. (4:14-21)
There’s a difference between an expert and a coach.
An expert knows the sport well.
A coach knows knows the sport and his or her athlete well.
In verse 15 Paul points out that The Corinthians could have 10,000 instructors but only a few fathers in the faith. There were many that could tell them the truth, but only Paul could speak to them like a father. Only Paul knew them closely. Only Paul knew both the truths of Christ and the full brokenness of the Corinthian Church. Paul was the Corinthians spiritual coach and he knew their areas of weakness like no one else.
This entire letter is issue after issue that the Corinthians need to work on, problems in their church, in their lives, in their homes, and Paul knows exactly what they need to do and he is imploring, admonishing, challenging, and pushing them toward it.
I played basketball in high school and I can remember games where we were playing poorly and we’d walk into the locker room at halftime and there would be all of these parents yelling at us from the stands all of these things that we needed to do differently, all of these things that we were doing wrong…
You better believe that learned to ignore that and listen to the game plan that our coach gave to us in the locker room because he knew our team better than anyone else, he was the one who was with us at every practice, he was the one who had drawn up our plays, he was the one who had selected the team…
Like any good coach, there were times that Paul wasn’t very popular. Like any good coach there were times that Paul needed to threaten to come and straighten things out.
Paul was pushing the Corinthians toward the life with Jesus that he knew that they could have, that they should have. His language would be strong and bold, but it would push them to where they needed to be in their walk with Christ.
I can remember days out on the soccer field that I hated my coach. One particular practice has always stood out to me- it was blistering hot and we were running suicides on the half field, to the goal line and back, to the penalty box and back, to the half field and back…
He would say, if you run this one in so many seconds, we’ll call it a day. People were pushing so hard hoping that it would be the last one and we’d miss it by a few seconds.
Guys were throwing up and I can remember the look on the coaches face like he was having a blast. I was like, this guy is a sadist! He enjoys inflicting pain and suffering!
There were many soccer practices that I left hating soccer and hating my coach, but our team got better and better. His grin wasn’t that he was hurting us- he was grinning because he knew that we would face teams that were more talented, but we wouldn’t play anyone that worked harder or ran faster than us.
He was pushing us. He was challenging us. He was making us better.
You know, that’s my calling.
I’m to be your coach.
And there will be times that you don’t like me.
There will be times that I’m going to say truths that push you, callings that challenge you, teachings that sting, but it’s for your benefit.
So when you’re neglecting your marriage and I preach a series on marriage that stings, don’t get mad at me- I’m trying to help you.
When you’re not investing in your kids and I remind you that it’s your responsibility to point your kids to Jesus, to teach them to love God with all of their heart, soul, and mind- I’m trying to push you toward Jesus. When you’re living beyond your means and swimming in debt and I tell you to Act Your Wage- I’m trying to help you.
When you’re flaking out, when you don’t show any commitment, when you don’t show up, and I call you out on it, I’m trying to coach you toward Jesus.
Let me ask you-
Who do you have in your life that is coaching you toward Jesus?
Who do you have in your life that could call you over to the sidelines and point out some stuff that isn’t going like it should?
Who do you have in your life that can say, okay timeout we need to review the game plan for a minute.
In Chapter 5, which we will talk about next week Paul points out that he is expecting behavior from the Corinthian believers that he doesn’t expect from the unbelievers…. I have no right to judge those outside the church, but as Pastor I have every responsibility to challenge our believers to walk worthy of Christ.
Some of you don’t have a coach, because you are not on the team. Thankfully you don’t have to try out or audition to be on God’s team. He’s got slots he’s looking to fill and your addition to the team isn’t based on your performance, it’s based on Jesus. None of us are good enough to make God’s team.
We are all sinners, so Jesus came and lived a perfect life. He took care of the performance part.
All of us sinners deserve eternal punishment for our sins, so the eternal jesus suffered the punishment of death and that sacrifice of the eternal son of God covered the eternal punishment we deserve.
Now a way for you to be on God’s team has been made, all you need to do is accept the offer. God invites you to be on his team, do you want to accept?
You accept by 1. admitting that your are sinner who needed Jesus to die for you, 2. trusting Jesus will forgive you and accept you, and 3. committing to follow his leading or coaching.