At the beginning of my senior year of high school, I already knew where I wanted to go for my undergraduate education. I had decided over the summer that it would be Simpson College in Redding, California. I applied at a few others, but Simpson was my preferred choice. As I spoke with the admissions counselor, I informed them that one of the reasons why I wanted to attend Simpson was because of their baseball program. The counselor then told me that in order to play sports in college, I had to get at least an 800 on my SAT test.
Now, the problem with giving me a low goal at this time in my life was, I strove to not work harder than I needed. So, I set it in my mind to get the 800. Most people study really hard to get the best score they can, I didn’t. I took one practice test, scored about an 850, and I was good to go.
In the fall, I arrived at the testing site at 7:30am, check-in was at, 8am, and the test started at 8:30am. Unbeknownst to me though, because I didn’t really bother with understanding how the SATs work, I could use a calculator on the math section, which, if you’ve listed to me long enough, you know I am not to good at the math stuff.
Well, I had no calculator, so I ran over to the Target next to the testing site, bought a calculator I had never used before, ran back to the testing site, right at 8:30. The test went by quickly. Which wasn’t necessarily a good thing, when you’re the first to finish with about 2 hours to spare.
But in the end I got an 880, and was able to play sports in college. After that, I began to rethink my stance on being prepared for tests. But it wasn’t a lesson I really learned unto the end of my college experience.
But it’s this idea of being ready to be tested, that brings us back into our summer sermon series of 1st Corinthians, where were arriving at chapter 4, verse 1. And as we come to verse 1 of chapter 4 in 1st Corinthians, let’s refresh ourselves with where we’re at in this study.
For the past three weeks we have covered the first three chapters of 1st Corinthians, where we have seen Paul, the writer of the letter, communicate his desire for unity in the Corinthian Church. This is because the Corinthian Church is not united and instead is dealing with several issues that are causing splits within the Church. The first of these issues is leadership, and it’s this issue that Paul deals with in the first four chapters.
In the first week we talked about how Paul was calling the Corinthians away from a focus on human leadership, and instead reminding them that it was Christ who is the authority over all. This is because the Corinthians were grouping themselves around the authority of different human leaders, which was leading to one of the issues causing a split. Paul calls us to remember that no human leader is to be set above Jesus, and that it is Jesus that we must follow.
In our second week, we saw Paul call the Corinthians to reject worldly wisdom and embrace godly wisdom. This is because, God doesn’t work in a way that makes sense to a worldly mindset, and so, by trying to hold onto worldly wisdom, there will be natural strife. The lessons of God cannot be implemented when they are forcibly coupled with lessons from a worldly mind. And so, this coupling of godly and worldly wisdom ends up causing division. But when we fully embrace God’s wisdom, and fully reject the world’s, unity and godly understanding can occur.
Finally, in our last week we talked about seeking goodness. The Corinthians were viewing their leaders as the access point in which to experience God’s goodness. For the Corinthians, by holding onto a certain human leader, they thought they could experience certain things from God. Yet Paul calls the people to reject this idea. In fact, Paul tells the Corinthians that, because of what Jesus had done for them, they already had access to all the good things of God. And that the teachers that God brought into their lives, where a part of that goodness, that they could praise God for.
With that now in our minds, let’s return to 1st Corinthians and begin reading in verse 1 of chapter 4. And as we begin, we’re going to separate this passage more than usual so that we can better follow the flow of thought as Paul writes. Let’s read.
1 This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. 2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.
Paul gives us a brief understanding of the role of a leader. Using the apostles and other preachers of his day, Paul lets us know that leaders are first and foremost servants of Jesus. The word servant here is the Greek is hupéretés (hoop-ay-ret’-ace), which was someone who maned an oar on a lower part of the ship, there were usually slaves. In other words, Paul was letting the people know how low a position it was to be a leader of the Church. This fits perfectly with Jesus’ teaching on leadership in Matthew 20:25-28, where Jesus says in verse 26, “…Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave…”
This is the way of the Christian leader, to be the first servant.
And then Paul lets us know that leaders are also entrusted with, or stewards of, “the mysteries God…”
Meaning that the Gospel, the story of: God creating the world perfect, humans then caused sin which put all of creation into bondage, which then they couldn’t do anything to fix it and therefore were destined to die in their sin, but God the Son came to earth as Jesus, died to pay sin’s requirements, and now gives life to any who would accept him as Savior, and those who accept him are to now follow him in the way he has called us; that story is a leader’s job to pass on to believers in a continual passing of the torch.
These are the roles of a leader, and when more authority, or prestige is given to them beyond this, we make an idol for ourselves out of them. Instead of them doing the job in which they were called to do.
We can see the negative results when Christian leaders go beyond this simple role of God.
Let’s move on to verse 3.
3 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.
6 Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other.
In these verses, we see Paul begin to talk about judgment. In verses 3, Paul almost comes off as cocky in the way he writes, “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear…”
But, as Paul continues to write he ends that section with, “that does not make me innocent.”
What Paul is getting at isn’t that he is above judgment, but rather he is entrusting his judgement to the only One who can judge him correctly.
Later on in chapter 6, Paul will address the inability of the Corinthians to judge in small matters. Since they are unable to judge small situations, they would also be unable to judge Paul in his spiritual life. Paul too is unable to judge himself, because only God is truly able to judge the motives and actions in us. And so, what are we then to do?
This is where Jesus’ teaching on judgment in Matthew 7:1-5 comes in. Jesus says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
Judgment must start with us, and our sin must be dealt with before we can even think of judging others. So instead, we are to take ourselves before God for judgment. In the 26th Psalm, King David writes, “Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind…(v.2)”
Again in the 51st Psalm, David writes, “7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. 8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. 9 Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. 10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you (v.7-13).”
This is what each of us is called to do. To have our lives judged before God so that we can be cleansed of sin. We cannot speak into the lives of another until we are willing to have God judge us.
So what is the process then? Well, first we must take our spiritual lives before God and seek his judgment in them, then we may speak into the lives of those that God has place us in, as a person seeking the betterment of others. Jesus says, “…first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” David writes, “Then I will teach transgressors your ways…”
So we must personally walk through the judgment of God first, then we may speak into the lives of others. It has to has to happen in this order, because if not, there is no love in correction and division in the Church then occurs.
And what does Paul say? In verse 6 he writes, “Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit…”
Paul has gone through this process and is now speaking to the Corinthians. But how have the Corinthians acted in their own process? Let’s drop down to verse 7.
7 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?
8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign—and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you! 9 For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. 10 We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! 11 To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.
Here, Paul is being a little bit facetious. And I have to admit I missed that in my first few readings, because it doesn’t really come off as facetious in English, but does so in the Greek. Paul is contrasting the need to be humble, to that of the Corinthians thinking of themselves as rich and kingly. To the Corinthians they can choose a human over Christ because it suits them. To the Corinthians, they can reject Paul because they don’t consider all that he has done on their behalf. In other words, they have received all the riches of Christ, and now act as if they deserved it, rather than being humble in their acceptance.
And so, Paul let’s them know what it really means to be a leader and follower of Jesus. It means hardships. It means going hungry and thirsty at times. It means to be dishonored, gossiped about, reputation tarnished. It means to bless those who curse you. I means to endure torture and persecution. It means to be seen by the world as less than human.
And if you’re not experiencing those things, you should as least be humble in thanking God for your circumstances, and not be like the Corinthians that attributed their circumstances, not to God, but to them being better than others.
Paul is attacking their pride, for the purpose he gives us in verse 14.
14 I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children. 15 Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 17 For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.
Paul attacks the Corinthian pride so that they would be more humble in their treatment of those that God has placed over them. In verse 15, Paul uses the Greek word, paidagógos (pahee-dag-o-gos’) which was a slave who’s job it was to help a child in their development of morality. Paul is saying that the leaders that who they are fighting over are still lowly workers in God’s economy. They are doing a job they are called to, but that job is different than what Paul had done for them.
There’s a difference between those workers and Paul. Paul says they are like a slave in the care of a child, guiding them in morality, but they are not family. It’s a job to these other leaders. But to Paul, the Corinthians are more like his own children. And so Paul uses the word gennaó (ghen-nah’-o), meaning one who brings fourth another, like a father brings forth a child. Paul is saying that the Corinthians were brought forth by him as a father would their child. And so, he has a greater desire for them to succeed.
This leads us into Paul’s final words on this subject of leadership. Since he is a leader, and since he is like a father to them, he has some final words for them. Let’s read them in verse 18.
18 Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have. 20 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. 21 What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit?
You ever hear a child talk big about how they’ll do something as they well please, but then they buckle when they see their parent?
On the first weekend of college, I was taking a group of fellow students out to a lake to hang out. Marika was in the front seat with me, and three guys were in the back. I had never been to this lake before and so I was following some leaders of our small group. Well, they took off like a shot, and I tried to keep up with them. The fact is, I was going way too fast trying to catch up, and a eventually saw two flashing lights behind me.
After the officer took my information and walked back to their, one of the guys in the back started talking big. Saying things like, “If I was driving, I’d tell the cop what I thought.” And in my mind, I was thinking, “Yeah you can talk big, except you don’t have a car, and you had to ride with me.”
It’s the same with some of the Corinthians. There were some talking in defiance of Paul’s authority in their lives, and Paul calls them out on it. And ends up asking them a rhetorical question, “What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit?”
Of course no one likes being reprimanded, but Paul’s intent is, again not to come to the Church with harshness, but rather to build them up in unity. But that doesn’t mean he will shuck his responsibilities of a father to his children. It really is a, “this is going to hurt me more than you” situation.
And this brings us to what God has for us. If a letter with this last chapter was written and sent to us, challenging us in our spiritual walk, how would we respond? If I am honest, I think I would have some pride show up. I would respond with, “I pray, I read my Bible, I go to church.” But Paul doesn’t address any of those things, rather what’s being addressed by Paul is, are we willing to be judged by God, and have our humbleness in our faith challenged? Because that’s what Paul is doing to the Corinthians in this chapter. He is challenging them to check their lives, asking God to judge what’s going on in them, and then be humble about the results. That’s hard, because we tend to become prideful, forgetting what God has done to bring us to where we are today. We can forget the distance we once were from God, and how far those who God sent into our lives have worked on our behalf.
But God wants us to recognize the work he has done, and how he calls us to continually seek his work so that we may come closer to him. We are called to constantly go before God and ask him to search us, cleanse of all unrighteous thoughts and actions. And by doing this, we will be humbled by God’s work in our lives. And this leads us to better unity in the Church, because if everyone is seeking to be humbled by God, then no one is seeking their own self interest, but only the interest of God himself.
So my challenge you for this week is to read Matthew 7:1-5, and ask God everyday, what David asked in Psalm 26, “Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind…”
In this way we will bring greater unity to the Church, through godly humbleness. Amen.