Skip to content

The Sunday Sermon. 1st Corinthians 4.


Relationships within the Local Church 1st Corinthians 4

Paul has been dealing with the terrible problem of division in the local church. He has devoted almost all of the first four chapters of this book to the subject. It is important, for division in the assembly ruins our witness and spoils our worship. In Corinth, the division is over preachers. There had been a number of former ministers involved in this church, and the congregation had divided into a number of little groups, each favouring one of these former pastors. Feelings had become raw, as the groups defended the merits of their own particular favourite, while these ministers themselves were horrified that such a situation could develop.

Many churches are divided over personalities. (Not necessarily the personalities of preachers!) But there are other reasons for division! Perhaps the cause of division in your local church is just pettiness, stubbornness, or a ‘dog in the manger’ attitude to others. Whatever the reason, Paul considers such division to be such a serious matter that he devotes a considerable part of this letter to it. But now, he gives some good advice on how we should interact as Christians within God’s Church and God’s kingdom.

Paul’s Service Considered
1 Cor. 4:1 Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.

These preachers were SERVANTS. The word rendered ‘ministers’ in AV would probably be better translated as ‘servants.’ Now we know that the word for servant in Greek is ‘deacon’ – διακονοs. The word here is different. The word that Paul uses is the word ‘υπερετεs, which was the word used to denote a galley slave, in a boat. In fact the huperetes was not just a galley slave he was a galley slave on the lowest row in the ship! You can see the implications of this! Paul and Apollos and these other preachers who had been at Corinth were all pulling together, under one master to arrive at their destination. They were the ‘slaves’ of Christ and the slaves of the church. They were on the bottom rung of the ladder! How different from some modern teaching on ministry! Modern ministers are self-confident, aggressive, high-flying professionals. They reckon themselves to be apostles, or rulers in the church. They are overbearing in their attitudes, they walk over people who have for many years been leaders in the local churches. They desire personal power, prestige and affluence. They boast about the numbers attending their services, the responses to their appeals, the amount of money they lift in their offerings, the size of their buildings and the grandeur of their projects. Like the Corinthians they are totally MAN-CENTRED! How different was Paul! He was the under-slave of Christ and the church!

These preachers were STEWARDS. Again there is a specific teaching here, and a very particular analogy being drawn by Paul. We have again to back to the Greek text. The word for ‘steward’ is literally, ‘one who over-rules.’ (‘οικονομοs) The nearest English word is the MAJOR-DOMO. Again, this steward is a slave, but this time he is a slave whom the master has entrusted with the overseeing of his household. He is responsible to his master! Such a slave has control of his master’s estate, his financial affairs and his fellow slaves. He MUST BE FAITHFUL! 1 Cor. 4:2 Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. That is the key to service for God. We are not required to have huge crowds, personal esteem, great reputations, even huge appeals. We are not required to be eloquent, or brilliant theologians, or personally outstanding!

We are REQUIRED TO BE FAITHFUL! When we stand before the Lord in judgment that is the criterion upon which we will be judged. Our faithfulness! 1 Peter 4:10 As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.

Paul’s Scrutiny Contrasted
Paul notes that there are three types of judgement operating in the church.

Judgement by other MEN. 1 Cor. 4:3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: Well, others will certainly judge us! As soon as you take a stand for Christ, other people will start to pass judgement on you. You must not be worried! Paul says that this is a small matter indeed! What others think of us is not really that important. What is absolutely crucial, is what God thinks of us!

Judgement by ONE’S SELF! 1 Cor. 4:3 yea, I judge not mine own self. 1 Cor. 4:4 For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. Here is another form of inferior judgement! Paul reminds us that we cannot even trust our own assessments of ourselves! A person who judges his own spiritual activities will either over-rate himself or under-rate himself! He will become full of pride, or he will become discouraged! You cannot even trust your conscience! We all have that little voice of conscience within us, which tells us when we do something that is wrong! We ask, regarding murderers and terrorists and sexual offenders and fraudsters and criminals, ‘have they no conscience?’ But our conscience can be ignored, and deadened and dulled until that little voice of conscience becomes almost imperceptible! Conscience cannot be trusted!

Judgement by GOD! 1 Cor. 4:5 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, Only the Lord truly knows what we do for Him, in His service! Only the Lord knows the motivation that lies behind our actions and our words! Illus. Wilbert & the City Hospital at 4am! He knows those who say that they serve Him, and do not! Those who say that they serve Him, but do so with wrong motives! Those who quietly go about the Lord’s work, and never receive the praise of man, He knows! And the day will come when all of these things will be revealed!
Jeremiah 17:9-10 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.

To the Corinthians, divided over which preacher and which personality was the more superior, Paul quite simply says, leave that to the Lord, for you don’t know the heart of a man. You get on with your own service!

Paul’s Satirical Comments
Now this is extremely interesting section of the chapter! It shows that Paul had a wry sense of humour, but underneath, he is making a very serious point:-

The self-made man abased! Paul says, 1 Cor. 4:7 For who maketh thee to differ from another? 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? These Corinthian Christians just thought that they had everything! There was nothing more that they could receive from God. They had the best church, the best spiritual gifts, the best preachers, the best lifestyle! In fact, they were so convinced of their own spiritual superiority that they thought there was nothing more available to them than what they had received already! The logical outcome was that they didn’t even look forward to heaven, for they thought they had everything God could offer them already! So Paul says to them, YOU HAVE NOTHING, THAT YOU DID NOT RECEIVE FROM GOD! He says, “Who makes you superior and sets you apart from another, giving you the pre-eminence? What have you that was not given to you? If you have received it from someone, why do you boast as if you not received, but had gained it by your own efforts?” (The Amplified Bible) There is a lesson here for us too! We have nothing of ourselves! Everything we have, we have it because of God’s grace!

The self-made man caricatured! This is where it gets interesting, and Paul actually pours ridicule on these self opinionated and smug Corinthians. He draws a picture in words. Verse 8-9. In the Roman world, a general returning from war would be accorded a great, heroic welcome on his return. It was called a ‘Triumph’. The gladiator would march into the city, and through the streets. He would proudly show off his trophies of war, he would parade his soldiers with him,. And his greatness would be recognised by all the people. He would be lauded and applauded and he would be garlanded with laurels! At the rear of the procession would come a number of broken captives of the war. They would be beaten and bowed, they would be cowed over and in submission. They were doomed, for after their public humiliation, they would be taken to the arena and fed to the lions, ripped apart for the pleasure of the great people of Rome. And this is what Paul likens these Corinthian Christians too! (The Amplified Bible), “In your conceit, you have ascended your thrones and come into your kingdom without including us!” Verse 8.

The irony of Paul’s illustration is driven home in verse 9, where he asserts that he and the other apostles are right at the back of the procession, like those condemned, humiliated men. They have been made a spectacle, a theatre show, for the entire world! Listen to how Paul contrasts the Corinthian schismatics with the Apostles, himself, Peter and Apollos! Verse 10-13

Paul’s Saintly Care
1 Cor. 4:14 I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.
Why is Paul being so caustic, so scathing in his ironic comments against these Christians? He now sets the record straight. These people are his children! He loves them, and he does not want to shame them, he wants to help them! He has the heart of a pastor! So, he makes some final recommendations to them. He wants these believers to have:-

A parental resemblance! Verse 15-16. He talks here about how they have many teachers. The word translated ‘instructors’ in the AV, could be better translated as ‘tutors.’ The actual Greek word is παιδαγωγουs. The root word is ‘paido’, which we know refers to children. According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of NT Words, this man was one who exercised discipline in the family. (In fact the word is often connected with scourging, or lashing or chastening, Hebrews 3:12 being an example!). To be a little more specific, this ‘instructor’ was also a slave. This time of a different type. He was an older slave who took charge of the education of the master’s son. He would school him, he would discipline him, he would teach him the manners and customs of the people, and he would go with him to the lessons of the philosophers. A young man, says Paul, may have many of these instructors, but he will only have one father! An instructor may come and give advise and counsel to God’s Children in the local church, he may build up a personality cult around him, but he must never become the centre of our attention, for ultimately the person we mast learn to imitate is not our teacher, but our father! Thus we thank God for the Protestant Reformation, where the freedom of every man to own and to read God’s Word was enshrined!

A perpetual remembrance! In fact what better way to be like our father, than to get back to the Christianity of the apostles! Paul urges the Corinthians to imitate him! Philip. 3:17 Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. Paul is going to send Timothy to Corinth, so that he will remind them of his own life, and thus help them to remember what a Christian should be like, and how he should live! Verse 17.
A powerful reality! When Paul himself does come to Corinth, he prays that he will not know the utterly meaningless verbosity of these arrogant, proud schismatics, puffed up with their own self importance. He wants to know the power of God.

1 Cor. 4:21 What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?
Here is Paul’s final comment on this matter. He gives the Corinthians an option. Which do you prefer? Will you put these matters to rights, so that I can come among you as a shepherd, with love and a spirit of gentleness, or will you continue in your ways, so that sterner, harsher discipline is necessary? I have always found that local church problems need early attention! The longer problems go on, the harder they are to solve!

From → Sermon Notes

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: