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1 Corinthians 4

August 12th, 2012 by Vic

1 Corinthians 4

“Judged by Faithfulness”

July 29, 2012


Corinth was a sea port town with temples in the city and temples on a nearby hill.  The tourist pictures you see include the pillars from the Temple of Apollo ruins.  There were temples to Aphrodite/Venus, Athena, Demeter/Baal (agriculture and fertility), Isis (Egypt), Poseidon, Artemis, Dionysus, Cybele (Phrygia), and probably others they have not found yet.  The mystery religion of Cybele required the initiates to be put in a pit in the temple floor.  Planks were put over the pit.  A bull was brought in and slaughtered over the planks so the new member was baptized in blood and a few other things.  Tambourines were popular in their rituals.  Fasting and chanting were used to excite the worshippers and bring worship to an ecstatic frenzy.


The Corinthian Christians were familiar with pagan worship and mystery religions.  However, they did not have a manual on how to organize a Christian church.  They could not visit other churches in the neighborhood.  They had joy in their hearts.  They knew their sins were forgiven.  They knew the Holy Spirit had come.  They had received God’s grace and felt that they had all there was to have.  They had accepted Paul’s teaching.  He had left them to visit Jerusalem and other churches.  They thought they were doing pretty good.  They assumed their leaders had special insights and status.  They were pleased with their church.


Paul says, “Don’t glory in how smart your pastor is, but glory in the God who gave him grace (3:21).  God has given each of us exactly what He thought was good for us.  There is no room for pride or jealousy.  We all belong to Christ and He cares for us.  All things are yours; you are Christ’s.  Don’t be so divisive and competitive.

4:1  Don’t look up to Apollos or Paul as you did your priests in the temples.  Apollos and Paul are servants of Christ who is the foundation and cornerstone of the church.  Regard Apollos and Paul as your fellow servants and stewards of the secret things of God.  The word for servant is literally ‘under-rower’.  These are the people on the lower level of a 3-story ship.  When they followed the orders of the pilot precisely everyone on the ship benefitted.


The word for ‘steward’ or ‘those entrusted with’ is a household administrator.  He ran the household.  He was entrusted to manage the master’s estate, especially his financial affairs, and had great authority and prestige.  Jesus is the Owner of the house.


Paul did not consider himself the leader of a new religion like the common priest they were familiar with, but rather an equal rower with other Christians.  He was also given responsibility for proclaiming the gospel.  The mystery is that Christ can live within your heart and be your hope of glory (Col 1:27).


4:2  “Moreover here” in the church the chief responsibility and requirement of a household administrator is that he be faithful and trustworthy.  He does not have to be clever.  He does not have to “cast a vision.”  He does not have to “be relevant”.  He must be faithful with the trust given to him.


Our culture seems to be better at fickle than faithful.  We used to be more faithful in our church attendance Sunday night and Wednesday night.  We used to be more faithful to our employers.  We used to be more faithful to our relatives past and honor the dead.  We used to be more faithful to the future of our kids and not spend our kids’ inheritance.  Those given a responsibility must be faithful.


There is no such thing as part time faithfulness.  If your car starts only 5 days a week it is not labeled faithful.  If your dog stays around 5 days a week it is not faithful.  A husband who is faithful to his wife 5 days a week is not faithful at all.  Paul is committing himself to be faithful no matter what the church in Corinth does or says.  The rest of this chapter is really an elaboration of what being faithful looks like.


4:3-5  Paul says the judgment of other people matters a little bit to him.  He does not despise public opinion.  He does not want to offend or cause someone to sin.  He will listen to your criticism, but at the same time he knows that God’s judgment is really what matters.  The phrase ‘human court’ is the translation of ‘man’s day’ in the Greek.  The day of the Lord is what matters.  Man’s day is much less significant.  Even self examination is not reliable.  My conscience can be biased so my opinion of myself is skewed.


In Matthew 7 Jesus told us not to judge but we are to be fruit inspectors.  Our culture is plagued with sexual predators.  Our children must be protected.  Jesus died for their sin.  They need a heart transplant.  In the next chapter Paul gives some guidelines for dealing with sin in the church.


The church was judging Paul.  Paul said it is not the time to judge (5).  It is not your responsibility to conduct any preliminary investigations.  Man looks at the outward appearance.  Only God can see the heart (1 Sam 16:7).  You cannot know the motives of another person’s heart.  Just be faithful stewards and wait for the praise of God.  None of us will escape the judgment of God.


4:6  The standard for judging must be from God’s point of view as given to us in the written word of God.  The Corinthians were judging at the wrong time and using the wrong measuring tool for evaluation.  Your past experiences and opinion matter little.  The way you have always done it before will probably not work as a citizen of God’s kingdom.  Think of your motives for judging.  Pride distorts your judgment.  Why are you judging?


4:7  Rather than seeking popularity, you need to recognize who you are in Christ.  There is no hierarchy in God’s kingdom.  Christ is the head.  The rest of us are body parts.  Christ is the vine.  The rest of us are branches.  Humility in fellowship is appropriate.


What did you do to have God put your soul in American parents?  What do you have that was not given to you?  Who made you different from everyone else?  There is no realistic basis for pride and conceit.  Why would you boast as if you are responsible for what God has given to you?


4:8  Irony was a standard rhetorical and literary device among Greek philosophers.  Paul uses irony and says, “Already you are filled full of spiritual food, already you are rich.  You have seated yourselves on thrones of leadership without us.  You act as if you do not need to hunger and thirst after righteousness any more.  You act as if you are kings in God’s kingdom.  You are puffed up with your favorite teachers and your new knowledge in Christ Jesus.  You don’t think you need your spiritual father any more.”


4:9  Paul chooses a vivid picture and compares himself and the other apostles to condemned prisoners that are made a ‘theatrical spectacle’ to the whole world and angels.  After a Roman general won a victory he was allowed to parade his victorious army and all their trophies through the streets of Rome.  It was called a Triumphal procession.  Some captives may also be paraded.  The last captives in the parade were taken to the arena to fight with the beasts.  Paul is ironically comparing the Corinthians to the conquering general and the apostles to the small group of captives doomed to die.


4:10  So with his irony Paul writes, “We are fools for Christ sake because we preach nothing but Christ and Him crucified.  You are wise in Christ.  (Their church was very seeker friendly.)  We are weak.  You are strong.  (They do not yet understand that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.)  You are honored.  We are dishonored.  (For the Greeks it was uncultured to work with your hands for a living.)


4:11  How many preachers today can say with Paul “Right now I am hungry and thirsty, poorly clothed, roughly treated, and homeless.”


4:12-13  Paul is testifying about a life of faithfulness.  He has committed himself to be faithful.  He boasts in his low social status.  He is proud of his ability to earn a living with his hands.  The Greek philosophers might beg, charge for their teaching, or be supported by a patron but they would not think of working with their hands.  The temple priests never worked with their hands.  The wealthy Corinthians would be embarrassed to invite friends to hear the teaching of Paul.  He worked with his hands for a living.  Manual labor was undignified for the Greeks, but Paul gloried in it.


When he was reviled, he blessed.  When he was persecuted, he identified with Christ.  When he was slandered, he answered kindly.  From the world’s point of view he was treated as scum and refuse.  The word for scum was used for dirty wash water.  The word for refuse was used for the stuff left after butchering an animal for sacrifice.


4:14  Paul is not trying to shame them so they would feel badly.  They are his children in Christ.  He is warning them that life as a Christian is not an easy street.  Jesus did not promise you success and prosperity.  He did promise suffering.


4:15  They may not see themselves benefitting from association with Paul.  They may have smoother teachers.  They may have more classy counselors.  But Paul proclaimed the gospel to them and he reminds them that he was their spiritual father in Christ.


4:16  Therefore as their spiritual father he commands them to keep on becoming imitators of him.  Later Paul says, “Follow me as I follow Christ.”  Spiritually you need to be like your spiritual dad.  The word for imitate is ‘mimeo’ to mimic, to copy, to mime.  For Christians there is one standard for all, Christlikeness.  This probably got their attention.  Paul had compared himself to an under-rower.  He worked with his hands for a living.  He had no status.  He had no appearance of success or prosperity.  Now, he says we must be like him?!


4:17  Paul says, “For this reason I have already sent Timothy.  I want you all to be more Christlike.  Timothy knows my ways as a son.  He will remind you that what I teach and how I live is consistent in every church.”


4:18-19  “Some among you are so full of yourselves that you have written me off.  You have heard I’m not popular with the Jews and you never expect to see me again.  But I’m praying that the Lord will let me return to you and confront those who have impressed you with their speaking but have not demonstrated the power of God in their lives.”  Have they demonstrated the power to live pure lives in a sinful city?  Have they humbled themselves like Christ?


4:20-21  Is God on the throne of the hearts of your leaders?  The kingdom of God is not about talk but action.  Committees do not build churches.  Talk is cheap.  They are talking big.  Has God been allowed to work in your lives to build His kingdom?  Are you thinking you can build the church on your own?


The Greek tutor or guardians often carried a big stick.  He was the trusted slave that took the child to school and cared for his character.  So Paul asks them, “Do you want me to come to you as a tutor or as a father?”  Do I come with discipline or love and gentleness?


In this chapter Paul has told us what it means to be faithful to God.  Our friends and family will criticize us.  We will grieve.  But we know that their basis for judgment does not have all the facts.  We will be faithful; knowing that others do not know us like God knows us.  God judges us by our faithfulness not our success, riches, outward appearance, or any other external measurement.  We are a child of the King.  We are ambassadors of Christ.  We are under-rowers like every other Christian.  We are stewards of the riches of God’s great grace.  We must be faithful even when it is not politically correct, tolerant, or beneficial.  Let all who come behind us find us faithful.

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