June 16, 2013
Pastor Joe Wittwer
A Glorious Mess
1 Corinthians 4
Happy Father’s Day! Let’s see the hands of all the dads—give them a big cheer!
When I was a little boy, I wanted to be just like my dad. He was a cop, so I wanted to be a cop. My biggest thrill (picture) was to dress up in his cop stuff: his hat, badge, whistle, cuffs, flashlight, and best of all, his gun! Just like dad!
I see the same thing with my grandsons who want to be just like their dad (pictures). Here’s Zealand (6) and Stejer (3) working out with their dad. Just like dad!
Today, we’re going to read 1 Corinthians 4. In it, the apostle Paul reminds the Corinthians that he is their spiritual father, and so they should imitate him. Paul’s advice: be just like dad.
That’s what we’re going to talk about.
Introduction and offering:
Philippians 4:19 And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
Welcome to A Glorious Mess! We are reading 1 Corinthians in the New Testament, a letter that the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth to address a number of problems, first among them, division in the church. They were quarreling about which teacher was best, and dividing into groups: “I follow Paul.” “I follow Apollos.” “I follow Peter.” They had developed an intellectual pride, and thought they were wise—especially, that they were wiser than Paul and his foolish message of Jesus Christ crucified.
So in Chapter 4 Paul addresses their relationship to him. Some of them were not only for Apollos (or some other teacher); they were against Paul. The problem was that to be against Paul was to be against the gospel he brought them. So Paul defends himself because what was at stake was the gospel and the very life of this church. If they abandoned the simple message of Jesus, the church would die. Paul’s argument falls into three parts.
Paul’s role: Paul begins by defining his role as a servant and steward (or manager) of God’s message.
Paul’s challenge: He challenges them to be humble, and compares them to himself.
Paul’s appeal: He appeals to them as a father that they imitate him.
The Big Idea: We learn how to follow Jesus by following others who follow Jesus. Be a follower, and an example others can follow!
1. Paul’s role: servant and steward. 1-5
1 Corinthians 4
1 So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. 2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. 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 till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.
Paul returns to an idea that he introduced in chapter 3: the leaders they are fighting over are only servants. You don’t fuss over the servants. In fact, he told them, “You say, ‘I belong to Paul or Apollos,’ but really they belong to you. And not only them—everything belongs to you in Christ.” It’s an astonishing statement! Paul says, “You are aiming too low. By aligning yourself with only one person, you are missing out on everything else that belongs to you.”
So Paul is a servant who belongs to them. But that doesn’t mean that he is accountable to them. Paul adds another word here: he is a servant and a steward. A steward, or manager, is one who has been given a trust. The Greek word (oikonomos) was one entrusted with management of a household. The owner entrusted the running of the house to the steward. Think of Joseph at Potiphar’s house.
Genesis 39:4 Potiphar put Joseph in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned.
Joseph was an oikonomos, a steward or manager—he ran the whole house for Potiphar.
What is required of a manager? He must be faithful. He must do what the owner wants, not what he wants.
ILL: Some of you have a financial advisor that is managing your vast wealth—or at least the $50 a month you are saving for retirement. What is his job? It is to do what you want done with your money; it is to make your money grow for your retirement. Whose money is it? Yours!
So how do you feel when you hear that he has retired, and he has used your money to retire? “Oh, that was for your retirement?” he says.
A good manager does what the owner wants. He has to be faithful to the owner.
Paul says that he is a steward of the mysteries of God—which is the gospel of Jesus. As a steward, he is accountable to God. So he really isn’t concerned with their judgment of him, or even his own judgment of himself. It is clear that some of them were not very impressed with Paul.
2 Corinthians 10:10 For some say, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.”
Paul says, “It really doesn’t matter what you think of me; all that matters is what God thinks of me. Have I done what God asked me to do?” All that really matters is God’s judgment. He is the owner.
So Paul’s advice is to withhold judgment. God will take care of that on the day of Christ’s return, when he will bring to light what is hidden and will reveal the motives of our hearts. Paul isn’t saying that they should not make any judgments and just accept everything uncritically. In the next two chapters, he will tell them to make a judgment about a man who is sleeping with his step mom, and that they should be able to make judgments in order to settle legal disputes between Christians. Paul is addressing their judgment of him; he is saying that is best left to the Lord, who is the owner.
Here’s an important takeaway for us: you are God’s manager too. God has entrusted you with much, with spiritual gifts and with the gospel.
1 Peter 4:10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.
The word “administering” translates the Greek word oikonomos. Literally, this reads, “as good managers of God’s grace”. Notice the first two words: each one. May I see the hands of each one? That’s all of us. Each one of us has received gifts from God that are to be faithfully used to serve others. You are God’s manager too.
You have been entrusted with so much, and you will answer to God for what you do with what he gave you.
ILL: In Matthew 25, Jesus told a story about a man who was leaving town for awhile, so he called in three of his servants and gave them large sums of money to manage, each according to his ability. One man was given $5 million, one $2 million and another $1 million. Some people think, “No fair. The last guy got gypped!” Hey, he got a million bucks! How many of you would like to have a million bucks? The guy who got the least still got a lot.
The owner leaves, and when he comes back, he calls in the three guys for an accounting. The first and second guy had both invested the money and doubled it. To them the man said, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with a few things; I’ll put you in charge of many. Come and share my happiness.”
But the third guy had buried his money in the backyard for safekeeping. He was afraid to take any chances, afraid of losing it, afraid of what the owner might do. So he dug it up and gave it back to the master, who was not at all happy.
The point of Jesus’ story? God has greatly gifted you, and expects you to make the most of it. And one day, you’ll answer for what you did with what He gave you.
You are God’s manager. What are you doing with what He gave you? What are you doing with your one and only life? If you stood before God today, would he say, “Well done, good and faithful servant”?
2. Paul’s challenge: don’t be proud. 6-13
6 Now, brothers, 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 take pride in one man over against another. 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 become kings—and that without us! How I wish that you really had become kings so that we might be kings with you! 9 For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. 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. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.
Paul challenges them—with some sarcasm—not to be so proud. He begins by saying that he wants them to learn the meaning of the saying, “Don’t go beyond what is written.” What does this mean? I don’t know. Most scholars’ best guess is that Paul is saying that if they would think about the Scriptures he has quoted, they won’t be proud anymore. This is how the New Living translates it.
1 Corinthians 4:6 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.
While the saying is a mystery, Paul’s desired outcome is clear: don’t take pride in one man against another. No more proud divisions and quarreling. Then he asks three rhetorical questions.
Who do you think you are?
What do you have that you didn’t receive?
And if you received it, why do you boast as though you didn’t?
Each of these questions challenges their pride and arrogance.
Then Paul compares them to himself—he is still challenging their pride—and he gets a little sarcastic. “You have everything. You are rich! You are kings!” Paul contrasts their self-exalted state with the abased state of the apostles.
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!
While they thought of themselves as kings, the apostles were like prisoners condemned to die. While they thought themselves rich, the apostles were going hungry, thirsty, dressed in rags, mistreated, and homeless. The apostles were cursed, persecuted and slandered. They were the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.
What’s going on here? Paul is challenging their pride. They think so highly of themselves, and so little of Paul. So Paul sarcastically contrasts their self-exaltation with the apostles’ humility. Paul is living out the theology of the cross—suffering so others can be redeemed. Paul is living his message: Jesus Christ and him crucified.
Here’s an important takeaway for us: be humble. Listen again to Paul’s question: What do you have that you didn’t receive? Everything ultimately is a gift from God. We like to think that we earned what we have. That’s certainly part of the equation: many of you have worked hard and made the most of what you’ve been given. But the point is that without those “givens”, you wouldn’t have much despite your hard work.
ILL: Let me give you a painful illustration.
One day this week, I rode my motorcycle to a downtown meeting and parked it in an alley. There were half a dozen homeless people congregated in this alley, just sitting there smoking. Their clothes were dirty; most were missing teeth; some of their eyes were dull and glazed. I have to admit that my first thought was, “Will my bike be safe here?” Later, I was thinking about the difference between them and me.
Honestly, many people would consider these folks to be, in Paul’s words, the scum of the earth. And many people would consider me to be successful, important, and honored. It would be easy to compare myself to them and be proud. But what is the difference between us?
Is it intelligence? That’s a gift.
Is it abilities? Those are gifts.
Is it education or other social advantages? Those are gifts.
Is it my upbringing? That’s a gift.
Is it mental health? That’s a gift.
In other words, every advantage I have is a gift. Rather than being proud, I should be humble and grateful, and eager to use what I have to help others.
What do you have that you didn’t receive? The answer is nothing. Everything is a gift from God, starting with our salvation.
Ephesians 2:8–9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
Are you a Christian? Don’t be proud—it’s a gift.
This week, Jerry Sittser and I were meeting with some young church planters in our region, and Jerry reminded them that humility is a distinctly Christian virtue. The ancient Romans and Greeks considered it a weakness. It was Jesus who made humility a virtue. “I am gentle and humble in heart,” He said.
I hope you’ll reflect on this question: What do you have that you didn’t receive? Be humble and make the most of it.
3. Paul’s authority: imitate me. 14-21
14 I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you, as my dear children. 15 Even though you have 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 am sending 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.
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 whip, or in love and with a gentle spirit?
Here is the conclusion of this long answer to the problem of their divisions. Paul finishes with an appeal based on his authority as their father. A father’s relationship with his children includes tender appeal and the threat of discipline.
So he begins with the tender appeal. He was their father in the gospel. He introduced them to Jesus. Ten thousand others might teach them, but he would always be their father in Christ. So, “imitate me.” He appeals to natural instinct of children to imitate their parents.
The problem: Paul wasn’t there. To remedy that, he was sending Timothy, who would remind them of his way of life, which agreed with what he taught everywhere. “Timothy is my son; like father, like son. Watch and listen to Timothy—and imitate me.” This was Paul’s appeal.
But dads, what do you do when your appeal is ignored? You discipline. So after appealing, Paul reminds them that he is coming to visit them. “Then we’ll see about the big talkers,” he said. “Are they just hot air or do they have any power? Do you want me to come in love and gentleness or do I need to bring the spanking stick?”
ILL: Dads, has this ever happened to you? You’re at work, and your wife tells you that one of the kids is misbehaving and won’t respond to her. “Put him on the phone,” you say. “Junior, this is dad. I’m going to be home in a couple hours. Here’s the deal: when I get home, we can play and have fun. Or I can give you a spanking. It all depends on whether or not you obey your mom. Obey and we play; disobey and I spank you. What’s it going to be?” How many dads have had that conversation?
That’s what Paul is doing here. He’s exercising his dad muscles—his authority as their spiritual father. And he’s hoping they will choose to imitate him, rather than fight him.
Here’s the takeaway for us: We learn how to follow Jesus by following others who follow Jesus. Almost everything I know about following Jesus I have learned by watching other people who follow Jesus.
ILL: No one more than Noel, my father-in-law. He is a great example. This is why so many people love Noel’s classes. It’s not just what he says—although that’s great. It’s how he lives. It’s who he is. You watch Noel and think, “That’s what it looks like to follow Jesus. I want to be like that. I want to follow him.”
This is what discipleship—learning to follow Jesus—is all about. It’s done life-to-life. It’s not something you learn in a book; you learn it in community, in relationships. We don’t make disciples by just putting people in classes and teaching them ideas—although that’s important. We make disciples by putting them in relationships and showing them how to follow Jesus.
This is so important that Paul talks about it often.
1 Corinthians 11:1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
Follow me as I follow Jesus. Imitate me as I imitate Jesus.
Philippians 3:17 Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.
Follow my example.
Philippians 4:9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.
Follow my example.
1 Thessalonians 1:6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.
You imitated us and the Lord.
2 Thessalonians 3:9 We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow.
We are a model for you to follow. It wasn’t just Paul; other NT authors said the same thing.
Hebrews 13:7 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.
1 Peter 5:3 (Pastors, you should) not lord it over those entrusted to you, but be examples to the flock.
We learn how to follow Jesus by following others who follow Jesus. So here are two questions.
First, who are you following? Who are you imitating? It is so valuable to have mentors in your life—people you respect who are ahead of you in their spiritual growth and can be an example to you. I mentioned Noel; there are many other mentors who have shaped me, some up close and others from afar.
Did you know the word “disciple” means “learner?” To be a disciple of Jesus means we learn from Jesus. It also means that we learn from others who have learned from Jesus. We must be lifelong learners. The older I’ve gotten, the more I learn from other people, and that includes people younger than me.
Paul sent Timothy to Corinth to be an example to that church. Timothy was a young man. Later, Paul sent him to Ephesus, and then wrote this to Timothy.
1 Timothy 4:12 Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.
You can be young and still set an example for others. I challenge high school and college students and young marrieds and young families—set an example for others! You can be young and still set an example. And you can be older and learn from someone younger. Be a lifelong learner. Accumulate mentors.
Who are you following.
Second, who is following you? Who is imitating you? Each of us can be an example for others. Each of you should have someone ahead of you—a mentor. And each of you should have someone behind you—a disciple. Each of you should be able to say to someone, “Imitate me. Follow me, as I follow Jesus.”
What keeps us from saying that? For most of us, it’s that we’re imperfect. But Paul wasn’t perfect. Paul called himself the chief of sinners! One of the things people who follow me learn is how to repent. How to say, “I’m sorry. I was wrong.” And how to be forgiven. This is part of following Jesus, isn’t it? Part of what we show people is how to deal with our junk, our sin and failure, how to be forgiven and get up and keep going. So don’t let that stop you.
What keeps us from saying, “follow me as I follow Jesus?” Honestly, for some of us, it’s that we’re not following Jesus. We’re just churchgoers. Or we’re religious, but we don’t really know Jesus or follow Him. Or maybe we’re following, but from a distance—we’re not all in. We’re hanging back. In a moment, I’ll give you a chance to change that.
Every Christian should have someone ahead of you whom you’re following—some mentors. And every Christian should have someone behind you who is following you—some disciples. This is what our mentoring groups for men and women are about. Take a look at this.
Ok…how many want Eric to build them a swing like that?
Eric said it. Everyone should have a mentor and everyone can help someone else along, getting from here to there—to spiritual maturity. I wish everyone was in a mentoring group or a life group—some small community of faith that will help you grow. Today, I want to specifically challenge the dads. Dads, I wish every one of you was in a mentoring group to make you a better follower of Jesus, a better husband and father. And I wish you in turn would mentor your children, and eventually become a mentor to other men.
If you want to do that, write down your contact info on your tear off, and turn it in at the Info Center, or come give it to me or Tim Johnson, our men’s pastor.