Church can be messy, very messy, it’s not perfect. The church at Corinth was such, yes, the church that was birthed by God’s grace through the ministry of Paul. They knew the presence and power of the Spirit, they were not lacking in any gift, yet they were also fleshly – behaving like the world from which they had been called out.
In the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians we discover that…
- There was the cult of personality and charisma (1:12,13; 3:3), which subsequently produced competition, jealousy and strife among the various groups (3:3), a temptation that is never far away today, maybe more so in our day with it’s emphasis on fame and following – who has the most impressive personality and charisma.
- They were into doing Church by the world’s standards and practices (3:10-15; foundation and building) – a temptation that faces the church today in the form of ideas, principles and practices from the world of business. Building around and to me, not Jesus.
- They were self-indulgent and proud, thinking that the kingdom had come in fullness and they had arrived and knew how to do it and had no need of Paul (Paul’s use of sarcasm – 4:8-10, 18).
- They were behaving as infants (chapter 3: 1-4) ‘I couldn’t talk to you as spiritual people……’ Paul was disappointed, he had expected more. Their Christian experience was in danger of becoming more about right confession and convictions and not about transformed lives.
Paul brings them a corrective word – yes we need not only encouragement in our lives but we also need correction, that is the nature of love. And he does it not as someone who lords it over them for their own ends, but as a brother, and as a father – something he picks up on in 4:15 where he says ‘though you might have many teachers or guides you only have one father, and I am that one.’
If there’s something that the enemy wants to rob us of it’s fathers, we need them badly there are many orphans out there and you can’t go it alone; sadly there are some in the ministry today who are ministry builders, professionals (John Piper wrote, Brothers we are Not Professionals, something every leader should read). Fathers give life, they love, they care, they guide, they protect, they nurture, they listen, they correct, they train, they give time – we all need a spiritual father or mother, and we all need to grow into spiritual fatherhood and motherhood.
As a father/brother Paul reminds them/brings them back to the wisdom of God – a wisdom contrary to this world, a wisdom that was foolishness in the eyes of the world, a wisdom that will not allow man to take any glory (remember the Old testament stories of Israel (you were nobody special that I should choose you), the walls of Jericho, Gideon’s 300, Naaman washing seven times in the Jordan, David slaying Goliath with a sling and stone) and here ultimately, the wisdom of the cross; a wisdom contrary to all human wisdoms – a wisdom where we are all placed on the same footing as sinners in need of a Saviour; a wisdom whereby salvation is found in Christ alone, through faith alone, by grace alone; a wisdom that unites us into one body, one family, one temple in the Lord – a place where no one can claim anything and boast in themselves but only in the Saviour. We are who we are and where we are by the grace and wisdom of God.
He also reminds them who they are, the very temple of God (3:14), a reference to the inner part of the temple where God dwelt – ‘don’t you know?” he says. And that that being the case it belongs to God and it is holy – therefore live as such – it was a call to live into what they are. But in order to do that Paul says they need to stop deceiving yourselves by living or doing church according to the world’s standards – how easily we excuse ourselves, justify our actions; Paul says, recognise it, stop it (3:18).
In 3:5 he draws them back to the wisdom of God by raising a question, ‘After all who is Paul or Apollos….?’ (3:5). In subsequent verses he unpacks it:
- They were servants as opposed to being kings – (again in 4:1) the word servant means a rower of the lowest rank; they were not about the seeking of social status as those who can give patronage – they were merely workers in God’s field on his building. Faith and following do not belong to them.
- They were stewards/managers, it wasn’t theirs, they didn’t own it, and they will be judged (4:2-4).
- It was by God’s grace not human wisdom, techniques and talents (3:10; 4:7), any results are down to to God, they could claim nothing.
- They were fools as opposed to the wise in this world (4:10).
- They were weak as opposed to being strong according to this world’s standards (4:10)
- They were ridiculed as opposed to being honoured, how we love the praise of men, but it’s a snare (4:10).
- They walking and served with a limp (4:11-13), they lived with tensions and trials, lack of food and water, clothing, even a home, name it and claim it wasn’t part of Paul’s theology. Yes, there’s tension there, but there’s also God’s power. Paul knew what it was to pray and seek relief and for God to say ‘my grace is sufficient for you, my strength is made perfect in weakness.’ (2 Cor. 12:9). A wisdom contrary to this world’s!
So Paul says imitate me (4:16,17) – we tend to say don’t follow me follow Jesus, not Paul, he says ‘imitate me – my ways in Christ.’ Yes, that’s the type of life we are called to be living.