1CORINTHIANS 4:1-21 (NIV – UK)
The nature of true apostleship
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. 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. 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 honoured, we are dishonoured! 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.
Paul’s appeal and warning
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.
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?
ALL FOR JESUS
Paul has been speaking about divisions in the church over the first three chapters, and now he is coming in to land. Paul is an Apostle, appointed a servant by Jesus himself to preach the good news. Paul doesn’t want to be seen as just another teacher spreading his own philosophy, he doesn’t want to take any credit for what he preaches. Instead, Paul wants the Apostles to be regarded as ‘servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed’ (v. 1). Paul is a servant of Jesus, and the message he is passing on is not his own, but is from Jesus himself. That’s why Paul says that the apostles ‘do not go beyond what is written’ (v. 6). They don’t add their own philosophy – but pass on Jesus’ message. For this reason, there is no difference between Paul or Apollos (v. 6) because they are both preaching the same message. The one we must follow is the originator of the message – Jesus himself.
But it is not just the Apostles who have been entrusted with the Gospel message – in fact, every follow of Jesus has been also. Jesus himself gives that command in the great commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). It falls to you and I, therefore, to pass on the Gospel message – to our friends, our family, our children, our neighbours. It’s at this moment that many of us shirk – ‘how could I possibly start telling people I know about Jesus?’ ‘It wouldn’t go down well!’ ‘It would just be weird’. You are probably right – that’s why Paul says the Apostles ‘are fools for Christ’ (v. 10). They lay aside their own interests and are willing to be seen as foolish by the world for the sake of Jesus. It was tough for the Apostles too – here’s how the Apostles found it:
‘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’ (v. 11-13).
Question: How willing are you to be a fool for Christ?