Be A Surrendered Church!

 
1 Corinthians 4:10-21
By Paul Robison

At a certain children's hospital, a boy gained a reputation for wreaking havoc with the nurses and staff.  One day a visitor who knew about his terrorizing nature made him a deal: “If you are good for week,” she said, “I'll give you a dime when I come again.”  A week later, she stood before his bed.  “I'll tell you what,” she said, “I won't ask the nurses if you behaved.  You must tell me yourself.  Do you deserve the dime?”  After a moment's pause, a small voice from among the sheets said, “Gimme a penny” (Copeland in Swindoll)!  There was a congregation in the New Testament that had gained a reputation for wreaking havoc as well—it was the church in the Grecian city of Corinth.  Now if Paul had made a similar deal with this church, they were so proud and arrogant that when he would ask them, “Do you deserve the dime?”  They would have replied: “No way, man, we're so spiritual, we deserve a quarter!”   Corinth was that commercial, intellectual, and immoral “Las Vegas” of the ancient world.  The city was known: for its port with its lucrative transportation business, for its philosophers who debated at Poseidon's temple, and for its thousands of sacred prostitutes who worked at its numerous temples throughout the city.  The main idea today is: Be a surrendered church!  Let's make a quick review and show the context leading up to this theme.  Our text today is closing out the first major section within the letter to the Corinthian Christians.
 
The apostle Paul had heard about problems in this congregation from two groups of people.  He also had received a letter from them asking for his help on many issues.  So he dictates a letter to them in 54  A. D.  Immediately in the opening verses, he tried to help them get their focus back on Christ (note how He is mentioned in almost every verse).  When Paul gets down to business in his letters, he usually states, “I beseech, I plead, I urge, or I beg you to do something.”  He often talks about God's goodness before making such an appeal, but this is not the case in 1 Corinthians.  After trying to get the focus back on Jesus, notice what he writes in 1:10: “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same name and in the same judgment.”  Now look at 4:21-22: “Therefore let no one boast in men.  For all things are yours: whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas [or Peter], or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come—all are yours.”  Just like those in their culture who exalted a certain philosopher over the others, so some the members at Corinth were exalting one of their Christian teachers over the others, and they were forming cliques around them and claiming their group was the best.  Paul wants this divisive practice of ranking teachers to stop, so all throughout the first four chapters, he is addressing this issue.  He says that their focus should be on unity, on Christ crucified, and on divine wisdom (ch. 1).  Then Paul exhorts these divisive brethren to have the Spirit's wisdom (not their culture's), to be maturing and peace-loving, and to exalt God and trust in His power (ch. 2).  Then he reminds them that the congregation is God's field, God's building, and God's temple for His Holy Spirit (ch. 3).  Your teachers are servants and stewards, and they are not be judged according to worldly standards of eloquence and fine speech making but according to God's standard of suffering for Christ.  Now Paul is ready to conclude this appeal to unity by urging the Corinthian brethren to be a surrendered church.
 
“I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children, I warn you.  For though you might have 10,000 instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel.”  “Even after the fiercest rebuke, Paul can revert to the tenderest appeal” (Halladay).  As their spiritual father, his affection for them was great (Morris)!  The appeal begun in 1:10 has been one of exhortation—urging them and instructing them toward unity (Halladay).  He is “setting up his spiritual authority over them in the matters that he is addressing” (Oster).  The word “warn” is a term for a father who admonishes and advises his children (Barclay).  It is like the same word in Col. 1:28: “Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect [or mature] in Christ Jesus.”  What is our disposition towards warnings, especially God's warnings?  Are we like the boy on the bike?  There was boy who had a paper route in Jr. High.  One day as he was coming home after doing his route, he thought it would be easier to take a shortcut across his neighbor's yard instead of going to the end of the block.  He felt guilty at first since he knew the owner really prided himself on his yard work.  Each day became a little easier to take the shortcut.  Then the neighbor put up a sign: “Keep off the grass—no bikes!”  The boy's reaction was this—now it was an official dare and the sign's fascination all the more caused him to want to use the shortcut (Swindoll2).  So, he basically ignored it, and later suffered the consequences of his neighbor's wrath!  Here are some labels on products to warn the owners.  Litigation must force such labels, but are they really needed (Larson/Elshof)?  On a Batman costume was this, “Warning: Cape does not enable user to fly.”  On a car sun shield, “Don't drive with sun shield in place.”  Duh?   On a baby-stroller, “Caution: Remove baby before storing.”  Now do we need labels like these for our spiritual lives?  “Warning: Missing worship can cause faith to shrink.”  “Ignoring prayer creates weakness.” “Caution: Failure to invite others can cause church to fold.”  Now here's a serious warning from God's Word in Revelation 21:8: “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone; this is the second death” (Revelation 21:8)!  Mark Twain met a man in Boston who said that nothing could stop him when he had his mind made up about something.  He was going to Israel, climb Mt. Sinai, and read the Ten Commandments aloud!  Twain was unimpressed and said, “Know what?  Here's a better idea.  Why don't you stay in Boston and keep all ten of them each day” (Swindoll “Disobedient”)?  Ezekiel 33:5 tells us something important about warnings: “He who heard the sound of trumpet, but did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself.  But he who takes warning will save his life” (Ezekiel 33:5)!  Take a concordance and read all the verses where you find the words: “Take heed!”   You might be surprised at how many there are!  Listen to warnings.  Be a surrendered church!
 
“Therefore I urge you to imitate me.  For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church.”  “Remind” is a polite way of saying, “You must have forgotten something.” “My ways” are those of a sufferer, not of an orator.  What Paul says to the Corinthians he also says to other churches; so they aren't being singled out.  How absurd to push all these cliques and rank teachers when all of them are really the world's most despised people (Oster)!  “Imitate me!”  Notice what is just before this in 10-13 where Paul speaks somewhat sarcastically: “We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ!  We are weak, but you are strong!  You are distinguished, but we are dishonored!  To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless.  And we labor, working with our own hands.  Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat.  We have been made as the filth of the world, the off-scouring of all things until now.”  “All of these terms refer to genuine bitter hardship [given] by enemies of truth [to] apostolic preachers.  The false teachers at Corinth suffered none of these injuries or discomforts” (Coffman).  “Instead of retaliating, Paul returned good for evil ...” (Ibid.).  The contradiction in the values of the true Christian and Grecian culture is clearly seen (Ibid.).  How about us?  Are we willing to suffer for Christ’s sake?  What is our CQ?  That's our contemptible quotient?  How much ridicule and pain can we endure for Christ from our wicked culture?  One commentator made this good observation: “He reaches the climax with two very impressive terms: scum and refuse.  Scum refers to the debris thrown out after a cleanup job.  Refuse refers to the filth left after rubbing something clean. ... Paul's point then is that the apostles were regarded as the most contemptible of people” (Morris).  Maybe our prayer should be like this one made by someone after they read about the actions of Paul and Silas when they were imprisoned for Christ's sake: “In this musty midnight of my life imprisoned in a dungeon of confusion bound by chains of anguish, help me, please help me to pray, to sing, to praise until the foundation shakes, until the gates fling open, until the chains fall off until I'm free to share the good news with other chain-bound prisoners” (Calkin in Swindoll “Trials”).  A church leader in 1659, wrote this good observation: “As our mercies, so our crosses seldom come single; they usually come treading one upon the heels of another ... it's mercy that every affliction is not an execution, every correction is not a damnation.  The more the afflictions, the more the heart is raised heavenward” (Swindoll “Trials).  Here's a good example of suffering for Christ that comes from China.  Chinese officials from the Public Security Bureau raided a Sunday school in 2005 and herded 30 children into a van to take them to a police station for further investigation.  One boy started singing, so all then chimed in too.  They were singing as they entered the station.  They were told to write 100 times, 'I do not believe in Jesus.'  Instead, they wrote 100 times: 'We believe in Jesus today, tomorrow, and forever.'  The officials then called the parents and would try to get them to renounce Christ before giving them back their children.  One widow came for her twins, and she was urged to renounce Christ.  She replied: “Keep the boys, for without Jesus, I couldn't care for them.”  The exasperated officials finally said, “Take your sons and go!” (Eclov in Larson/Elshof).  2 Timothy 3:12 affirms: “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”  Suffer for Christ.  Be a surrendered church!
 
“Now some are puffed up as though I were not coming to you.  But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord wills, and I will know, not the word of those who are puffed up, but the power.  For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power.”  The leaders of the cliques in the Corinthian church are acting arrogantly.  Since Paul is sending Timothy, they jump to conclusion that Paul is not coming.  But Paul corrects that by saying he will come as God allows it.  Then Paul shows that the proud leaders may be eloquent in their speech, but they aren't showing lives filled with God's power.  One commentator puts it this way: “They had big mouths but could not support their claims.  They could 'talk the talk,' but they could  not 'walk the walk.'  He challenged them to prove their boasts” (Roper).  The kingdom is based on God's power, not human talk (Oster).  There's a challenge for us too.  The surrendered church will go beyond words.  Someone in this congregation asked a good question in an e-mail: “Are we just going to talk loudly or really get involved?”  Only each one of us individually can answer that question.  There was a wealthy Christian who lived in Texas who invited a preacher to eat with him.  After the meal, they walked to the back yard, and to their left were 25 oil rigs, straight ahead were fields of grain, and to their right were herds of cattle. “I didn't have much a few years back, but now look!”  He thought the preacher would compliment him, but he put one hand on his shoulder and pointed the other toward heaven, and then asked: “How much do you have in that direction?”  The man replied hanging his head: “Not much, I haven't thought too much about that direction” (website).  One member here shared a resolve, and they are following through!  They are going beyond their words!  That's what we need.  There was a black officer in the army who came from a family of eight raised by a mom on welfare in New York.  His grandmother often took him to church.  After one service, they were walking home, and there was a drunkard hugging a lamp post.  She said to her grandson: “See that man?  He’s always bragging about his big plans, but he never has done anything.  Talk is easy,” she continued. “but it’s the doing that counts. ... Remember, Maxwell, Monday doing is better than Sunday talking" (sermoncentral.com).  James 2:16 encourages us to go beyond mere words:  “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Depart in peace, be warmed & filled,' but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit” (James 2:16)? James is right: what does our talk profit?  Jesus told us that deeds would tell the tale of one's authenticity: “You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16).  Someone has rightly remarked: “One deed is worth a 1000 words; we are known by our deeds” (Barclay).  Go beyond words.  Be a surrendered church!
 
“What do you want?  Shall I come to you with a rod, or in love and a spirit of gentleness?”  “Paul's love was the love which shows that sometimes it has to hurt in order to amend” (Barclay).  “Paul concludes this particular admonition with a suggestion that it would be far better if they amended their behavior to enable Paul to come to them in loving affection, rather than for the purpose of punishing their wickedness” (Coffman).  “He is, spiritually speaking, threatening the disobedient Corinthians with a whipping if they do not accept his parental authority over them in the Lord” (Oster).  Paul doesn't command them, but gives them the options and leaves it up to them to decide.  “[The cliques’ leaders] are alas, the foolish son who brings grief to his father” (Halladay).  How mature are we acting?  Someone has observed that you are only young once, but you can be immature all your life (Rowell).  Another proposes that God's primary interest is His children's spiritual maturity (Smith in Rowell).  Notice how James describes maturity in 4:16-18: “For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.  But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” Someone else has noted that this maturity involves accepting Jesus' instructions and His seeds: “So here's One who wants to help you live your life in joy, and love, and true freedom ... The more you think about, the more appealing it gets.  Bring all of your life and put it down before Him, for His instruction. ... Plant His seeds in your heart, and you'll grow to be a productive and joyous person.  That's His promise” (Saunders)!  Paul wanted the Corinthians brethren to give up their cliques and be united around Christ.  Surely, we need to practice the same admonition as well!  We need to give up our cliques and make all feel accepted!  Let's act with maturity!  Be a surrendered church!
 
“All to Jesus we surrender, all to Him we freely give.
We will ever love and trust Him, in His presence daily live.
We surrender all, we surrender all; all to You, our blessed Savior,
We surrender all!”

“At first, Lord, I asked You to take sides with me.
I cried with David the psalmist: 'Lord, let me stand above my foes ...'
But with all my pleading, I lay drenched in darkness until in utter confusion I cried: 'Don't take sides, Lord, just take over.'
And suddenly it was morning” (Calkin in Swindoll).  Let's be a surrendered church!
 
Let's pray: God, we thank you for Your Word and the lesson that we can learn from it.  Help us not to be proud.  Help us to be a surrendered church.
 
“Not My will, but Yours, be done.”  Seven simple words.  Seven simple words of total surrender!  Has this been our collective prayer or have we been as arrogant as the Corinthian brethren?  Are we listening to God's warning and suffering for Christ?  Are we going beyond words and acting with maturity?  Are we ready to give up our cliques and work to be more united?  All these things require changes in behavior, and God can help us to make those changes if we will but ask Him.  Can we pray for you, that you will do God's will?  If you are a member, will you show that you are willing to be a surrendered church?  If you are not a member, will you show that you are willing to confess Christ and to put Him on in baptism?  Think seriously & respond visibly to this invitation!