Big Idea: Love must cause pain if that is the only way to achieve a change in direction.
1 Corinthians 4:1-5
1. What did the Corinthians think of Paul?
There are many ways we can view our spiritual leaders and I want to focus on three of them. The first way is to elevate them, putting them on a pedestal. The risk is that our focus shifts from God to this person and they become an idol to be worshipped by us. We may get to the point that we cannot do anything without their direct guidance. Many of the Corinthians had this view of Paul or Apollos. The result was a division within the church as believers argued over which of these leaders was superior and the one to be followed.
The second way is to look for flaws in leaders so their leadership and teaching can be dismissed. Sometimes the motive for doing this is to be able to dismiss the message they are delivering from God. The individual doing this has made himself an idol. The only wisdom this person needs is his own. In the case of the Corinthians it appears that this is the view they took with the person they had chosen not to follow. So, for followers of Apollos, Paul became worthless while Apollos was worshipped.
The third way is to view leaders as fellow servants of God. They will not be perfect, but God is still capable of speaking through them. We should listen carefully and evaluate what they say against scripture (see Acts 17:11). The goal in this view is to better hear what God has to say. Leaders do not become idols and the church can be united in its worship of God.
2. Whose opinion is important to Paul?
God’s opinion outweighs all others for Paul. The opinions of people will always be in conflict. The only way to find peace is to focus on what God thinks.
3. How can Paul’s conscience be clear while he expects God to find him guilty?
Paul is realistic. He does the best he can to live a perfect life. By doing this he keeps his conscience clear. He also recognizes that he does not know God perfectly. He is fallible, so he can be confident he is doing his best while recognizing that God will be aware of imperfection and sin in his life. This in no way shakes Paul’s confidence because it has been placed in the grace of Jesus Christ.
4. Why do motives matter to God?
Behavior tells us nothing about what is going on in our hearts. We were watching a basketball game last evening and a player from one team stepped over another player who was on the ground striking him in the head with his knee. The announcers made the point that the officials would have to make their decision about the severity of the foul based on what they saw. They noted that officials cannot judge intent.
We can easily see what a person does. It is very difficult to determine why a person did what they did, even if they tell us. If it were me stepping over someone else the cause would be clumsiness and my sin would be in attempting to do something I am not capable of doing and not thinking about the potential risk to the person I stepped over. If a highly skilled basketball player does the same thing it is easy to think that the collision was intentional, but we don’t know.
Sin begins inside us, and that is why God judges our motives.
5. What is Paul waiting for that he expects everyone to receive?
He is expecting to receive praise from God. Paul probably received much praise from men, but the praise that mattered most to him was the praise that would come from God. He wants the Corinthians to seek that praise.
1 Corinthians 4:6-8
1. What does Paul mean when he says, “Do not go beyond what is written?”
There are many different thoughts on this. I think that Paul is emphasizing the more objective nature of the written word over the subjective and sometimes emotional nature of the spoken word. Specifically, he is referring to the Old Testament and possibly to early copies of the gospels. The New Testament as we know did not exist at this time. However, he could also be referring to this letter that they are reading.
The problem in the church in Corinth was division that was created by people becoming fans of various teachers whom they had heard. Some preferred Apollos’ style over Paul’s. Paul is telling these believers to focus on the substance of their message rather than the style. We have not learned the lesson Paul is trying to teach. In some ways the problem has become worse, because of our ability to access teaching from many different teachers through the Internet. We can easily become fans of a particular teacher and lose sight of the written word that we have in the Bible.
2. What is Paul’s argument against the division in the Corinthian church?
Pride is at the root of the division in Corinth. The members of the church divided themselves based on who they thought was the better teacher. They thought they had made themselves superior based on their choice. Paul makes the point that there is no one who is a self-made person. We have no reason to think we are superior because everything we have and are, we have received. We should be thankful for all God has provided us. We should also be thankful for all God has provided others. Gratitude for what we have received is an effective weapon against pride.
3. What do the Corinthians think they have that feeds the division?
They think they have superior knowledge based on the teacher that they follow. Since they think they have superior knowledge, they also think they should be in charge.
4. Why does Paul talk about what it means to reign?
When we become followers of Jesus, we become part of His kingdom. When we talk about the authority of a king it is common to say that the king reigns. One of the promises we have as followers of Jesus is that one day we will also reign. I do not know what we will reign over. The Bible does not say, so we will all have to wait until eternity to find out. What we do know is that as long as we are on earth, we should be searching for ways to submit and serve.
1 Corinthians 4:9-13
1. What does it mean to be at the end of a procession?
Romans loved parades and used them to honor the emperor or victorious generals. The links above provide much detail on what these parades might have looked like. The people at the end of the procession were those who had been defeated and captured. Their fate at the completion of the parade was either slavery or death. Paul is not disturbed by this. I think he is desperately trying to get the Corinthians to understand that followers of Jesus are to follow Him to death. The prideful and divisive behavior of the Corinthians does not reflect this attitude.
2. How does Paul feel about the situation in Corinth?
It is difficult to express the same kind of emotion in writing that it is possible to express through volume and tone of voice. Paul is very concerned for the Corinthians and his choice of words is the result of that concern. Ancient writers did not have all the tools we have for emphasizing a point: all caps, bold font, colored type, or different font. What they had was repetition. He begins by drawing four different contrasts and finishes by comparing he and his fellow apostles to garbage.
3. How do you feel about Paul as you read these words?
My initial response is to feel that Paul is being arrogant and cruel. He does not use crude words, but his words convey very strong emotion. I can learn a lesson from these words of Paul. Paul is not being cruel. He cares so deeply about the Corinthians that he cannot soften his words in attempt to make them feel better. It is like he sees them about to step off a cliff and he must get their attention any way he can. His words are direct and anyone who reads them should easily pick up on the attitude of the Corinthians that is the problem.
1 Corinthians 4:14-18
1. What will happen to the Corinthians if they continue on their current path?
There are several possibilities. The most obvious one is that God will be dishonored. When a church divides a strong and negative message is sent to the surrounding community. When we express hatred toward our brothers and sisters in Christ, we tarnish God’s image and this would be a real concern to Paul.
There is also the possibility that Paul is concerned about the ultimate salvation of these believers. They are headed the wrong direction, not following Jesus, and unless they turn around there is the possibility that they will walk away from God forever.
One final possibility is that these believers will have no desire to share the gospel with those around them. Participating in the church will have become so distasteful that even if they maintain their own faith, they will have no motivation to share it with anyone else.
2. How does Paul describe his relationship with the Corinthians?
He thinks of them as his children. They are family to him. He introduced many of them to Jesus and watched them experience a new birth. He loves his children and wants to see them grow into mature adulthood.
3. What are children prone to do when their parents are away? What does this reveal about their character?
Unfortunately, children often use the absence of authority to act out a variety of selfish and sinful desires. What we do when no one is looking is the best way to measure our character. Paul’s closing expression in this section is an indicator that those who are being divisive know that what they are doing is wrong. They continue to do it because they think there will not be any consequences.
1 Corinthians 4:19-21
1. What kind of power is Paul referring to?
It is easy to talk. Currently we have an ever-increasing number of ways to express ourselves and people do express themselves. What is rare are the people who do much more than they talk. I think this is the power Paul is referring to. In Matt Redman’s song “Unbroken Praise” there is a line that describes what Paul is looking for:
So let my deeds outrun my words
And let my life outweigh my songs
Paul is looking for people who depending on the Holy Spirit continually do the loving thing. These are the people who are experiencing and expressing the power of God.
2. Paul gives the church two options. Which would you prefer?
I would prefer for Paul to come with gentleness. This would be an indication to me that I only needed a minor course correction, a gentle nudge to get me back on track. However, if I was headed in the wrong direction and putting myself and others in danger, I would desire the rod of discipline. I would hope that someone cared enough about me to risk our relationship to get me back on track. I am grateful for the people in my life who have been willing to use the rod of discipline when I needed it. Paul is hoping that the church will change its direction based on what he has written to them. He wants them to know that he will use stronger measures if they do not.