Important Realizations 

1 Corinthians 4:1-9

 
By Paul Robison

Have you ever tried to balance your checkbook, but couldn't get the figures to work out?  So you start over and carefully try to discover why the figures didn't add up.  Then suddenly you realize why things were amiss.  With that realization, you can breathe a sigh of relief because now you know what went wrong during the first attempt.  Here's another interesting realization that someone once shared in a radio broadcast: “If there is no intelligence behind the universe, then nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking.  Thought is merely the by-product of some atoms within my skull.  If this is so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true?  And if I can't trust my own thinking, I can't trust arguments leading to atheism, and therefore have no reason to [become] an atheist ...” (Lewis in Larson Elshof).  Here's one more realization.  Your heart beats about 103,000 times a day, which means that over a lifetime, it will pump one million barrels of blood!  Now do you realize why you're so tired all the time?
 
Now let's switch gears altogether.  What comes to your mind when you hear the word “Triumph”?  Maybe you thought of a victory after a war. 
Maybe you thought of a win after a ball game.  Maybe you thought of motorcycle or an archway.  Well, when you spoke of “Triumph” in Rome in the first century, here's what happened: “When a Roman general won a great victory, he was allowed to parade his victorious army through the streets of the city with all the trophies [from the enemy] that he had won” (Barclay).  In fact, when a group of us were in Rome this past May, we saw the Arch of Titus, and on it are pictures of the booty that they brought back from the temple in Jerusalem.  The candlestick with its seven branches was very visible.  “At the end [of this procession], there came a little group of captives who were doomed to death; they were being taken to the arena to fight with beasts and so to die” (Barclay). 
Now we'll refer later to this Triumph so keep it in mind.
 
Now back to those realizations.  The apostle Paul has been wanting the brethren at Corinth to realize some things.  He had heard of problems from several sources and began dictating a letter to them in 54 A. D.
Immediately, Paul tries to help them get their focus back on Jesus in the opening verses.  These young members in the faith had carried their culture’s exaltation of philosophers, eloquent speech, and worldly wisdom right into the church by exalting their favorite preachers and those who had baptized them.  This created cliques in the congregation that were quarreling with each other and claiming that their group was the best.  Paul gets right down to business and says they should not be divided, but they should be perfectly joined together with a proper focus.
They should focus on unity, on Christ crucified, and on divine wisdom, and not worldly wisdom.  In the next section of the letter, Paul continues to focus on God's wisdom and also begins to give a direct response to all those members involved with exalting certain preachers and creating cliques.  He exhorts them to have the Spirit's wisdom, to be maturing and peace-loving members, to exalt God and trust in His power.  Paul reminds these divisive brethren that the congregation is God's field, God's building, and God’s temple, where the Holy Spirit dwells.  He wants them to be humble, to quit boasting in their preachers, to realize that all spiritual blessings are found in Christ, and to let Jesus possess them.  In chapter 4, Paul keeps trying to help these brethren to get back on track.  What he tells them can serve as important realizations for us as well.
 
Now let's look at our text in 1 Corinthians 4:1: “Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.”  The apostle Paul was a very humble man.  He said that those who had preached and taught at Corinth should be considered as servants of Christ and stewards of God.  The word for servants here means someone who mans the oars below the deck in a Roman battleship.  Rowing involves hard work.  Now that oarsman was responsible to the ship's pilot.  Likewise, a steward was one who oversaw the estate of individual.  He was sort of a middleman or a manager.  In fact, one of newer versions uses the word “manager”. 
Paul was saying that God had made the apostles and prophets managers of the Gospel; those revelations that had been hidden in the past but were now revealed in Jesus.  So, the steward was responsible to his master.  You see how both the terms servant and steward stress one's responsibility to another.  This leads us to our first realization: Do you realize that you are responsible to Another?  Jesus said that you should see yourself as an unprofitable servant (Luke 17:10), and Peter tells us that we are stewards of the manifold grace of God and we should be ministering to others (1 Peter 4:10).  If we are servants and stewards, we need to do our duties responsibly, always remembering that Christ is our Master, and we are ultimately responsible to Him!  A workplace poll once asked employee this question: If you knew your employer could see content from your social network website, like Facebook, MySpace, or Friendster, would you remove any content from it?”  Right at 37% said no, 33% said yes, and 30% were undecided.  Three out of ten were feeling guilty.  Now think about this: Our Master, our Eternal Employer in a sense, knows not only the content of our lives but also our inner intentions and motives.  Do we need to let Him help us change or remove anything wicked that may be amiss before we stand before Him Who will be our final Judge?  Jesus once said in Luke 12:43-44: “Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.  Truly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all that he has.”  The apostle Paul wrote these sobering words in Romans 14:10-12: “For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.  'As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.'  So then, each of us shall give an account of himself to God.”  Do you realize that you are and will be responsible to Another?
 
Now let's read verse two: “Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.”  Stewards were not always closely supervised because the master expected them to get the job done.  Paul says that his job as the steward of God's Gospel was to be faithful in preaching it to others. 
Do we realize that as stewards of the Gospel and of all that God has blessed with, we too should have faithfulness as our goal?  Our Master has some high expectations for us as stewards.  We are to share the Gospel with all people, we are to love and serve our neighbors, and we are to give generously from the bounty with which we have been so richly blessed. 
Paul did not say a steward's goal is to be successful, but his goal is to be faithful!  Another preacher once said, “I feel that God has put me beside a cliff where people [walk] close to the edge.  I say to them, 'Look, if I were you, I wouldn't get so close.  I have seen people go over, and they always get hurt.  Some of them even got killed.'  And they say, “I really appreciate your telling me that.  I didn't realize it was so dangerous.' 
And then they still jump!  I feel so responsible for the pain.  And the Father reminds me through His Word: 'My son, you are not responsible for the jumping; you are responsible for the telling.  As long as you are faithful, you don't have to play God'” (Brown in Rowell).  Telling, loving, and giving will show our faithfulness as well.  The following story is true. 
“One Sunday, an elderly woman named Mary fainted during the worship service, struck her head on the end of a pew, and went unconscious. 
And EMT in the congregation immediately called for an ambulance. 
After the emergency personnel strapped her to a stretcher and got ready to head out the door, she regained consciousness.  She motioned for her daughter to come near.  All the members thought that she was summoning her strength to convey what could be her final words.  The daughter leaned over until her ear was near her mother's mouth.  'My contribution is in my purse,' she whispered” (Hulstrand in Rowell).  Now there's an example of faithfulness!  Do you realize that faithfulness should be your goal?
 
Now let's read verses 3-5: “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court.  In fact, I do know even judge myself.  For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord.  Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and revel the counsels of the hearts.  Then each one’s praise will come from God.”  Paul's basic point here is this: Only God is my Master, so what the Corinthian members or any other group of humans think is pretty irrelevant.  Only in the Day of Judgment will men's true motives and intentions be made known.  Then, God will be the One to give men His praise for the good work that they have done. 
You see, the Corinthian members had been making their judgments based on the world's wisdom: Did they speak eloquently?  Was their style smooth and persuasive?  Did this preacher’s presentation have more polish than another preacher's?  The members' judgments were causing them to rank preachers as superior and inferior.  Now it's fine to admire a particular preacher, but when you start exalting one at the expense of degrading another and when you start forming a clique around him and trying to gain followers to join your group, then you've gone too far and sinned.  One commentator noted: “[Some Corinthian members] were addicted with pride.  What is party spirit other than oneself writ large” (Morris)?  Here's another realization that we can take to heart: Do you realize that exalting church leaders is senseless since you can’t really know their hearts?  One a woman wrote to Ann Landers that she saw people buying birthday cakes and shrimp with their food stamps, and she thought those who treat themselves to such non-necessities were lazy and wasteful.  A few weeks later, Landers printed some of the responses to that letter.  One lady said she bought shrimp because the plant where her husband had worked for 15 years was shutting down; it was their anniversary, and she made a shrimp casserole which lasted three days.  Another woman said she bought a birthday cake since it would be her little girl's last one; she had bone cancer and would be dead in about six months.  Now if we can make misjudgments about food purchases, what makes us think that we can do any better when it comes to elevating, ranking, and downgrading preachers and teachers?  1 Sam. 17:28 states: “Now Eliab his oldest brother heard when he spoke to the men; and Eliab’s anger was aroused against David, and he said, 'Why did you come down here? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your pride and the insolence [or disrespect] of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.'”  Eliab thought he knew David's intentions, but he was mistaken.  We can make the same mistake as well.  Do you realize that exalting church leaders is senseless since you can’t really know their hearts?
 
The next realization comes from verse 6: “Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other.”  A more modern version translates this passage in this way: “Dear brothers and sisters, I have used Apollos and myself to illustrate what I’ve been saying.  If you pay attention to what I have quoted from the Scriptures, you won’t be proud of one of your leaders at the expense of another.” 
Paul had just cited at least three Old Testament passages with dealt with being wise according to the world's wisdom.  Living within the bounds of Scripture would keep them from exalting others and developing cliques. 
Here is an application for us: Do you realize that you should not act beyond what is written?  God's words to Joshua would be good for us remember as well concerning our obedience to the new covenant: “Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go.  This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it” (Josh. 1:6-8).  Let's strive to observe all that is written in the New Testament!  We must not reduce it or go beyond it, but simply obey all that it teaches.  Praise God that He put His will in writing for us so that we read and know His commands about how we can live what Jesus calls the abundant life (John 10:10)!  Someone made this good comparison: “Freedom does not mean the absence of constraints or moral absolutes.  Suppose several skydivers at 10,000 feet announce to the rest of the group: 'We're not using a parachute this time!  We want our freedom!'  The fact is that these skydivers are constrained by a greater law—the law of gravity.  But when the skydivers chose the 'constraint' of the parachute, they are free to enjoy the exhilaration. 
God's moral laws act the same way: They restrain, but they are absolutely necessary to enjoy the exhilaration of real freedom” (Campbell in Rowell).  Do you realize that you should not act beyond what is written?
 
Now let's read verse 7: “For who makes you differ from another?  And what do you have that you did not receive?  Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”  Another version reads this way: “For who separates you from the others [as a faction leader]?  What have you that was not given to you?  If then you received it [from someone], why do you boast as if you had not received [but had gained it by your own efforts]?”  Paul is asking three questions here so that the divisive members at Corinth will re-evaluate their situation and move beyond their pride.  Christ is the One who had given the preachers, and teachers, and these divisive members their leadership abilities so there was no room for boasting about anybody else's  accomplishments, talents, or skills.  None of them had a right to say that they had earned an elevated status through their own abilities.  Christ was the reason for anyone's success.  Here's another realization for us: Do you realize that there is no room for boasting since God has given you your abilities?  Ephesians 4:7ff reminds us: “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.  Therefore, He says: ‘When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.’ [Jesus had given gifts, talents, or abilities to each member.]  (Now this, ‘He ascended’—what does it man but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth?  He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things).  And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”  How did all the leadership in the church come about?  He Himself, that is, Jesus gave men gifts so that each of these roles could be fulfilled in order that they might equip and strengthen the rest of the members.  Jesus has supplied the leadership with their capabilities, so there should be no boasting among us about who is the better elder, preacher, or teacher. 
We are all on the same team serving the same Master who has blessed us with our talents and abilities.  Let’s avoid creating cliques based on personalities whom we admire for their abilities.  All of our capabilities get back to Christ and His generosity towards us.  Do you realize that there is no room for boasting since God has given you your abilities?
 
Now let’s notice another realization that can be seen in verses 8-9: “You are already full!  You are already rich!  You have reigned as kings without us—and indeed I could wish you did reign, that we also might reign with you!  For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men.”  What a contrast Paul is painting here between the leaders of the cliques in Corinth and those personalities whom they have built their cliques around!  Paul, Apollos, and Peter, who are they?   Remember “The Triumph” of the first century that we discussed at the first of this sermon?  Paul says that such men are like the people at the end of the procession who are condemned to death. 
Instead of being exalted according to human wisdom, they have become a spectacle (and this is the word from which we get our word “theater”), they have been put on a stage, for all the universe to see and to treat shamefully!  Here’s another realization: Do you realize that true disciples will be persecuted and publicly shamed?  “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.  Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).  “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).  Taking your stand for God and good in a world in which Satan rules and in which evil is prevalent means that you are going to face opposition, ridicule, and perhaps even violence for your stance.  Recruitment posters for our armed services often emphasize getting to see the world or getting financial help with college, but they rarely publicize that you could be facing terrorists or you could be getting a chance to see the evils of war firsthand.  Jesus and Paul didn’t just tell us about only the “blessings” of following Christ, they also told and showed us the hardships that such a decision entails.  Remember, we are like the condemned people at the end of the procession in “The Triumph,”  a spectacle for all to see and to treat shamefully!  Do you realize that true disciples will be persecuted and publicly shamed?
 
There is one last realization that may sum up all that the apostle Paul has said in this chapter: Do we realize that teamwork is what will make the dream work?  A coach was once asked why his job was so hard, and he replied: “It's easy to find good players; the hard part is helping them learn that they must work together.”  How many people does it take to build a house?  Doesn't it take a least a dozen?  Architect, contractor, carpenter, plumber, electrician, technician for heating and air, brick mason, plaster and floor workers, painters, decorators, landscapers, inspectors.  You see, it's a team effort.  How many people will it take to build a congregation?  “Just one, the preacher!”  Sorry, your church is going to be mighty slow in growing if it's just the preacher's job.  Building a church takes teamwork.  Teamwork means: “Together Enjoying A Ministry Worshiping Our Righteous King!”  The Lord has blessed us this year with several good ministries: our Bible reading program, the women's soup brigade, the ladies' Bible class, the Spirit of Service group, a new literacy program that is helping others to learn how to read, and our WBS group had more responses than last year!  That's what it's going to take: teamwork is what will make the dream work.  “Together Enjoying A Ministry Worshiping Our Righteous King!”  Individuals win trophies, but teams win championships!  We can be a championship church, but it will take believing in one another.  Not exalting an elder or preacher, but believing in each other, working shoulder to shoulder together to get the Gospel taught, to get a ramp built, to get our children excited about Jesus, to get our missionaries the support they need, to get our neighbors won for the Lord!  And in the end, only our great Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ gets the credit.  He loved us, and saved us, and shapes us, and makes us what we are!  “Together Enjoying A Ministry Worshiping Our Righteous King!”  Do we realize that teamwork is what will make the dream work?  If you haven't let Jesus become the Lord of your life, that's the first step towards teamwork!  Believe that He is God's Son, turn from sin and start waking in the opposite direction, and let all here know your intentions by being immersed right now into Jesus' name.  If you have been acting like the divisive members at Corinth, it is not too late to change your heart and start letting Christ help you to develop more of a team spirit. 
Whatever your need might be, why not finish off 2010 by dedicating yourself totally to Christ?