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First Corinthians

Unintentional Division

1 Corinthians 4

We are indebted, indirectly, to Hal Lindsay for this lesson.

Some years ago I taught a series of lessons on the Book of Revelation. Having no firm opinion as to which theory is correct, I taught the course using the three main opinions with occasional variations that were of interest. It was a rather academic look at the subject, I’m afraid, and that tended to upset people. There are those of us who are passionate on the subject.

One such person came up to me between sessions, stuck his finger under my nose and announced to me that Hal Lindsay had discovered that Operation Desert Storm was specifically prophesied in the Bible. (I am unable to verify this assertion). It was a point of obvious triumph to him, that “his teacher” (Lindsay) was right and I was wrong.

Whether or not Mr. Lindsay has it right, his teaching in this instance caused division in the church. It is highly likely that this was not his intention, of course, but it was the result. In the passage we examine today, we see Paul dealing with a similar situation, and showing us what to do today.

(1 Cor 4 NIV) 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. {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. {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?

Stewardship – the model of Christian leadership

The Christian leader must always remember that he (or she) is the steward of God’s most precious possessions – his saints. Therefore, when divisions arise, the steward must take action to remedy these. That’s what Paul has done here. So when we read this passage, we need to remember that Paul’s comments about “judgment” are in the context of church leadership – that is, stewardship. These are comments not about judgment in general, but about judging those who are in leadership positions in the church. In short, here’s his commandment concerning our evaluation of how well people are doing as leaders in the church.


We must first remember the burden they carry. They are entrusted with God’s saints; this is no light thing. So many see this as “a task” – but not a trust. But any teacher or preacher is given a trust, and this is not a light thing.


Stewardship comes with accountability. If you have stewardship, you will be held accountable. But there are some misconceptions about this which Paul corrects:

· First, it matters very little what others think of your stewardship. They may not have all the facts (very likely). So what they have to say – particularly in the usual grousing method of telling someone else – should be of very little concern.

· Indeed, our own opinion of our performance means little either. There’s a lesson in this: just because we “feel good” about our service doesn’t mean that we’re doing it right. Just because we “feel rotten” about it doesn’t mean we’re doing it wrong.

· What does matter? Christ’s judgment of our service. For that reason, we should continually examine ourselves to see if we are meeting his standards – whether we feel good or not.

What shall we do?

How, then, should the Christian in the pews react to leadership and its divisions? What lessons are there for the average Christian?

· We should not judge others – but wait for sin to be exposed. It will become obvious in due time. Then we should apply church discipline in the spirit of love which Christ intended.

· Clearly, we should examine ourselves as we do this, so that we do nothing out of divisiveness but everything out of love.

· If there is one thing most counseled, it is WAIT. Wait for the Lord to expose things, wait for his return. Let him unfold things in his time – he has all of it.


Paul’s writing here takes a biting tone. Up until this point he has been using himself and Apollos as examples. Now, having laid the ground work, he bites into them for their arrogance.


Paul can have a slice and dice tongue at times, and it’s shown here. Beneath it, however, he asks those who follow the divisive leaders a few questions which still are worthy of asking today:

· First, what makes you so different from the rest of the sinners in this church? Is it really the case that following a particular teacher makes you somehow “better” than other Christians? If Hal Lindsay is right and I’m wrong, what credit is that to you?

· Second, isn’t everything you have in Christ a gift anyway? Or did you really believe that you’re working your way into heaven?

· Therefore, tell me: just what are you bragging about? Why are you so proud? None of this is to your credit – neither what you brag about, nor the bragging itself.


Paul drives the point home with a little comparison. He presumes in this section that everyone knows the greatness of the Apostles, and then sarcastically makes the comparison between himself and them:

· The first comparison is physical: you’re sitting back in the pews while I’m getting beat up for the cause of Christ. You know what our Lord will honor; but you’ve been given a life of ease. What, then, is the complaint here? Is it just possible you know that my (Paul’s) suffering brings greater reward than your comfort? (There is a difference between admiring Mother Teresa and being like her).

· The next comparison is in how other people think of you. If you’re one who loves to be in a faction, one reason is that you really care about this. But see again: who do people think highly of – the rich guy in the pew or the scraggly evangelist?

· But the real clincher is this: look what we (the Apostles) do in response. You grouse and complain, you fall into factions and divisions – and when we are kicked and abused, we return blessing. Do you see anything wrong with this picture?


It is entirely in keeping with Paul’s mission that his response to this is simply this: he now proposes to warn them – as a father would – of the consequences of their actions. Having done that, he will then encourage them to imitate him, as he imitates Christ.

Sequence of Correction

Paul does just that. Follow the logic:

· Since Paul is entrusted with them as a steward from God, and

· Since they need to imitate him as he imitates Christ, he will

· Therefore send Timothy to them to accomplish this objective.

It sounds rather simple – but understand that it is very expensive to Paul to do this. He is giving them the best he has.

Character of the messenger

We need look no farther than at Timothy himself to see the price Paul is paying in setting the Corinthians straight:

· He is Paul’s son – the constant companion in trials, the one whom he loves just like a son.

· He is the bearer of Paul’s message – if you will, his message in the flesh.

It is very reminiscent of how God sent his Son to us; Paul is imitating that in sending Timothy to the Corinthians. In like manner, it is very costly. But stewardship is never very easy.

What’s to be done

Timothy does not come to lecture them. Indeed, Paul uses a very specific phrasing here: Timothy is to remind them.

· He is to remind them of the example Paul set for them, in his way of life.

· He is also to remind them of the teaching Paul gave them – and that this is the same teaching he gives to all the church.

Timothy is young; by sending this letter Paul intends to provide him with the proper credentials in the faith. But he will not stop at this. Paul, if the Lord is willing, will return later as well.

This too is an imitation of God, who will return to us on the Day.

God offers a choice

Like Paul to the Corinthians, God offers us a choice. He begins by reminding us that when he comes again, he will find out exactly what’s been going on:

· He will expose how the arrogant talk against him, and how they treat his words with contempt.

· He will also expose – to them and to us – the real meaning of power, for all power is his.

But until then, he will not leave us without help.

· He sends messengers – some formal, others not – to guide us in our choices.

· But he leaves those choices to us. We will be judged on the day by what we did in those choices.

The day is coming. On that day, He will be gentle with the meek who followed his word, kept his church together and followed his commands. But he will be a whip to the arrogant who knew so much better than he what should be done.

The question is still before us – for a while.

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