- Sermon Notes
1 Corinthians 4:1-21
Paul is writing to a church filled with new believers, they are immature in their faith. Paul calls them babes in Christ. This is a letter of instruction,
to edify and build up their faith, to bring maturity in their relationship to God so that they would no longer be babes, but spiritual in nature.
Paul wrote that there are essentially three types of people. There’s the natural man that does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, they are
foolishness to him and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually appraised.
Then there is the spiritual man or woman who takes hold of spiritual thoughts and spiritual words and grows in the wisdom of God. The spiritual person
is teachable and eagerly wants to apply spiritual truths in how he or she lives his life. This should be what we all desire to become.
But we do not start out in our relationship to Christ as spiritually mature men or women, we all start out as babes. That’s the third kind of person
Paul describes. The key then is to not stay or remain as immature, or as a babe in Christ. We all need to grow in faith, we need to grow in spiritual
maturity, but how does that happen? We need to change our perspective.
Illus – A son thought he was doing too much work around the house so he gave his mother an itemized bill– total $20. His mother decided he needed a change of perspective, so she gave him an itemized bill for all the work she had done for him – total – $0. Signed, “Love, mom.”
This is what Paul shows us in this chapter. How we are changed, how we are transformed, how we grow spiritually.
Maybe a good place to start, however, would be to look back over the last 5 or 10 or 15 years and see if you’ve been growing, if you’re being transformed.
We are all in the process of becoming, of changing, but changing into what?
Are you growing in grace? Are you growing in faith, in patience, in kindness, is there greater hunger for spiritual things? Are you taking hold of
the words of Christ and living according to them in greater measure?
I. Value God’s Appraisal
- The reason there was strife and division, Paul is saying, is because they were not seeing this from God’s perspective, they were appraising this
- In the first few verses, Paul is trying to change their perspective. One group was aligning themselves with Paul, another group was aligning themselves
with Apollos, etc. That means there were intense debates about who was better; Paul, or Apollos, or Peter…
- Look, says Paul, let us be regarded simply as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In other words, there is no division among
us so why is there division among you?
- They needed to see things from a spiritual perspective, so he begins the correction.
A. Be servants and stewards for Christ
- Two key words Paul uses here are instructive. The word “servants,” literally means “a subordinate acting under a captain, or commander, or king.”
Originally it meant a “skilled-rower” inside a naval ship, but later the word meant a servant who held a position of trust as an assistant
to an official.
- This is an absolutely powerful key to growing spiritually; are you trustworthy under the authority of Christ’s direction?
Illus – When I was teaching my kids the drive, I started with the first and most important rule, “You must do exactly what I say.” Unfortunately, I learned this lesson myself the hard way…
- In raising children, this is one of the most important keys to their maturity. A child wants what he wants and wants it now. A well trained child
is willing to accept the direction of his parents, even if he wants something else.
- Interestingly, this word is often translated as “officer” in the scriptures.
John 18:12, So the Roman cohort and the commander and the officers of the Jews, arrested Jesus and bound Him…
- In other words, there is position and blessing that comes with being a trusted subordinate under the authority and direction of Christ.
Illus – A Roman centurion once came to Jesus because his servant was paralyzed at home. Jesus said that He would come and heal him… “Just say the word,” the centurion and said, “and my servant will be healed…”
- This humility and teachability is the key to spiritual maturity.
- Paul also said that they were stewards of the mysteries of God and that it is required of stewards that one be found faithful.
- Paul was entrusted with the mysteries of God. Those same mysteries, those biblical truths are also deposited within us; will we be faithful?
- A steward is given responsibility and trusted by the master of the house to manage finances or provide whatever the household needed.
- Probably the best example in the scriptures would be Joseph… In spite of many difficulties against him, he remained faithful.
Illus – Though he was betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery in Egypt, he was faithful in Potiphar’s house and became the chief steward. Then, betrayed by Potiphar’s wife and thrown into prison, he served faithfully and was given responsibilities in the prison. Finally, God made him the chief steward in Egypt itself.
Luke 16:10, “He who was faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.”
- This is a key to spiritual maturity. They had formed divisive groups, being argumentative and debating with jealousy and strife. They didn’t get
that from the Lord, so where did it come from?
B. God gives the only appraisal we need
- In verse 3 Paul says, “To me, it is a very small thing that I should be appraised by you.” In other words, they were appraising Paul’s strengths
and weaknesses to decide if they should align with him or Apollos.
- They didn’t really know Paul’s heart, and yet they were saying things against him, so Paul responds, “Hey, I’ve heard that you’ve been judging me.
Well to me this is a small thing, for the one who appraises me as God.” Paul is not the least bit bothered. You gotta love Paul.
Galatians 1:10, Am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.
- Paul really touches on spiritual immaturity. Many people want the approval of others at the expense of their relationship to God, but we need God’s
perspective, God’s view of us first and foremost.
John 12:42-43, Many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of fear of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him… For they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.
- This can be applied to many aspects of life. Take parenting for example…
Illus – When Jordi and I were going to Israel I explained to my son who was 16 at the time that an adult would be there in the house while we were gone. He didn’t agree with that at all, so I said, “God has asked me to use wisdom and that’s exactly what I’m doing.”
- In verses 3-4 Paul says, “In fact, I do not even examine myself… the one who examines me is the Lord.”
- I’ve come to understand that most people’s view of themselves needs a serious change of perspective.
- People will commonly you think far too highly of themselves or think far too poorly of themselves, sometimes they will do both at the same time.
- I certainly understand that a lot of things happen in life and people feel beat up, broken down, discouraged, hopeless, worthless and ashamed.
- Therefore, it’s absolutely critical that our appraisal of ourselves comes from God and not from our own thinking, because our own thinking is wrong.
Illus – There are many secular books written on the topic of the importance of good self-image, but the emphasis is on the image you have of yourself. But we are too fickle, our assessments change with our moods. If you want to be healthy emotionally and spiritually, may I suggest that your view of yourself be given to you by God?
Isaiah 55:9, “As the heavens are higher than the earth… so are my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”
- That would include His thoughts toward us.
- Then in verse 5 Paul says, “Do not go on passing judgment before the time, wait for the Lord who will bring to light things hidden in darkness and disclose the motive of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.”
Matthew 25:21, “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’”
- These are the words that a faithful servant would love to hear for it is required of stewards that one be found faithful and trustworthy.
II. Humility Comes from God’s Perspective
- “Don’t become puffed up in behalf of one against the other,” Paul said.
- He’s really touching on the root of their spiritual immaturity. It’s pride; the group aligned with Apollos thought they were superior to the others.
A. You received everything you have
- What do you have that you did not receive? Paul asks. That’s a humble perspective. That’s the perspective that comes with spiritual maturity.
- It’s the truly humble Christian who understands that God is the one who gave him his gifts and abilities and He deserves all the glory.
- We live in a society that prides itself on achievement and being self-made.
Illus – Whenever I hear that expression, “I’m a self-made man!” I wonder what part did they make exactly. The humble businessman knows that God gave him everything he has.
John 3:27, 30, John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven… He must increase, but I must decrease.”
- If you received it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? Paul asked in verse 7.
Illus – A young preacher gave a message to a congregation on a special occasion and God richly blessed the message and it had a great impact. Afterwards, going home with his wife, evidently enjoying himself in his own heart, said, “I wonder how many great preachers there are in the world?” His wife replied dryly, “Probably one less than you think!” God knows how to change our perspective.
- In the next few verses Paul is trying to change their perspective by drawing a great contrast between himself and Apollos and the immature Corinthians.
- He uses some sarcasm to exaggerate their claims of spiritual superiority. “You have everything you need, or so you think. You’re acting like kings.”
– Verse 8.
- Then, to show the contrast, though the Corinthians were trying to reign as kings, their spiritual fathers, Paul and Apollos, were suffering greatly
in the cause of Christ. “Even now we are both hungry and thirsty, and poorly clothed, and roughly treated, and are homeless…” – Verse 11.
- And then Paul shows that from God’s perspective, though life is difficult, you bless others; even those who treat you poorly. That’s spiritual
1 Peter 3:8-9, Be humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but give a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.
Luke 6:35, “Love your enemies and do good… and you will be sons of the Most High; for He kept himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.”
- “I’m not trying to shame you, Paul wrote, “I’m admonishing you was my beloved children.”
Illus – When God corrects, He’s blessing our lives. When He changes our perspective, He’s building us up.
1 Corinthians 4:1-21 NASB
1 Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards
that one be found trustworthy. 3 But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even
examine myself. 4 For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. 5 Therefore
do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and
disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.
6 Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written,
so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other. 7 For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did
not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?
8 You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings without us; and indeed, I wish that you had become kings so that we also
might reign with you. 9 For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle
to the world, both to angels and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you
are distinguished, but we are without honor. 11 To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated,
and are homeless; 12 and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; 13 when we are
slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.
you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16 Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me. 17
For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ,
just as I teach everywhere in every church. 18 Now some have become arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you soon,
if the Lord wills, and I shall find out, not the words of those who are arrogant but their power. 20 For the kingdom of God does not consist in
words but in power. 21 What do you desire? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love and a spirit of gentleness?