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Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians (11)

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Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians (11)

1 Corinthians 4:6-21

Broadcast: February 15, 1998; Message Number 1459

The Sin of Pride

Among the so-called seven deadly sins, the one that heads the list is pride. Pride is a great sin, but one that often goes undetected and therefore does not bother us as much as it should. Because we are often not aware of this sin in our life, we commit it frequently, with the result that our spiritual health is impaired. This was the problem in the Corinthian church. They were especially beset by this sin. They were preoccupied with their own importance and boasted of their gifts. They thought they were spiritual giants and formed exclusive cliques around their favourite preachers.

Paul uses a very blunt expression to describe their attitude. Three times in this chapter and three more times in the rest of I Corinthians, he says you are "puffed up," or inflated with self-importance.

The Corinthians were proud of their ability to judge ministers. They knew a good preacher when they heard one. The preachers they so admired were true and faithful servants of the Lord and the Corinthians had every reason to be thankful to God for sending them to them. But instead of being thankful they were proud as if they deserved these ministers.

Paul warns them not to do this. Dear brothers, he writes in verse 6, I have used Apollos and myself to illustrate what I've been saying all along. Don't brag about one of your leaders at the expense of another. Ministers of the Gospel are only servants and stewards of God, he says, so there is no reason for us to be proud. Neither is there any reason for you to be proud.

While it is necessary to give proper honour and respect to God's faithful servants, we must never go beyond the limits of Scripture. Godly respect can easily turn into ungodly adulation and this always results in jealousy and friction among brethren. We are just ordinary men, Paul says, and so are you. Don't be so arrogant and puffed up! And why do you boast? There is no reason for it. In fact it is absurd and that for the following three reasons:

1. First, who makes you to differ from another, Paul asks? What is so special about you? Why do you think you are superior to other believers? What makes you think your group is better than any other? You are made of the same stuff they are.

2. The second question he puts to them is: what do you have that you did not receive? In other words, God has given you everything that you have. You have salvation, eternal life, God's Word to guide you, preachers to expound it to you, spiritual gifts and countless other benefits for which you have done nothing and can do nothing. These are all gifts of God's grace. You have no reason to boast therefore, either in people or possessions. Not only ministers, but all Christians are only stewards. Everything we have is on loan from the Lord and entrusted to us for a while to use in serving Him.

3. The third question follows logically: if you did receive it, why do you glory, why do you boast as if you had not received it? Why do you take credit for it as if you had created these things or earned them? This is absurd. These people were deceiving themselves. Look at you, he says rather sarcastically in verse 8, you are already filled. You have already become rich, you have become kings without us. I would indeed that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you.

There is a sense, of course, in which believers are full, rich and reign as kings because of their position in Christ. The Corinthians were displaying an altogether wrong attitude towards this privilege. They were filled with smug satisfaction. They felt they had arrived spiritually. But they had arrived without Paul. They had left Paul behind. He could not keep up with them. They had received their crowns from Christ without him, that is, without help from Paul and Apollos or from any of the other apostles.

At this point Paul modifies his sarcasm and says in a more serious tone: I would indeed you had become kings so that we also might reign with you. O, how the apostle wished that it were already coronation day for him and all believers! But that was not the case. They were not in heaven yet, but still on earth.

Paul drives this point home by reminding them of their real status in the world. They are not kings yet. As long as they are in this world they are nobodies. They don't count. This is certainly the case with us, the apostles, Paul says. You may think you are big shots, but we know different. As for us, Christ's apostles, God has marked us for death. We are made a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men (vv. 9-13).

The Greek word translated "spectacle" is theatron or theatre. Paul is referring to a Roman amphitheater where people would go to watch gladiatorial games and athletic events. The emperor and his entourage would move into their private seats in the coliseum to view the activities. The common people would fill up the remaining sections and the show would begin. After each fight, slaves would enter the arena to scrape off the bloodstained sand and pour new fresh sand in its place. Everybody would eagerly await the grand finale when soldiers would drag condemned captives into the amphitheater to fight wild beasts. At this point the bloodthirsty spectators would scream for blood. They were seldom disappointed. The lions, tigers, bears or whatever other ferocious animals they could muster, would tear the victims' bodies apart and the slaves would put hooks into the corpses and drag them away to the death house.

Paul uses this gruesome illustration to explain that Christians had about the same social status as these condemned prisoners. They were considered to be troublemakers, enemies of the state, proponents of worthless and silly ideas that contributed nothing to the advancement of mankind. They were good-for-nothing scoundrels deserving only death. The life of discipleship is a life of servanthood, is a life of humility, shame, deprivation, suffering and death.

Sure, at Christ's return the apostles will reign with Him. But while here on earth, they served, occupying the lowest positions. As the Saviour had told them, "If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and the servant of all" (Mark 9:35). The implication is, of course, that what Paul is saying here of himself and the other apostles should also be true of ordinary Christians like the Corinthians. That was the problem--they were not interested in serving; only in ruling. So Paul says to them, again with biting sarcasm: "We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong, you are honourable or distinguished but we are despised, without honour."

The contrast between their lifestyle and that of the apostles was enormous. "To this present hour we both hunger and thirst, and are naked, [poorly clothed]; we are buffeted [roughly treated] and have no certain dwelling place [homeless]" vs.11. Yet Paul was not resentful or bitter. "Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it [we endure it patiently]; being defamed [or slandered], we intreat ([we try to conciliate]. We are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day." The Corinthians imagined themselves sitting on top of the world, but the apostles knew they were on the very bottom and they accepted their lot for Christ's sake. They were scum--be it religious scum--deserving to be treated the same way as criminals awaiting their execution.

Everything Paul is saying is calculated to shake up his fellow believers in Corinth, and us too. All Christians are supposed to be engaged in spiritual warfare. You must fight the good fight of faith. But fighting is done in the arena, and more particularly on the floor of the amphitheater. That's where the action is. Not on the bleachers; not on the grandstand. That's where the Corinthians wanted to be. They were sitting in their boxes while the real men of God were down on the battlefield suffering shame and humiliation.

Are not many of us like the Corinthians in this respect? We are spectators, rather than participants and don't like to pay the high price of discipleship.

In vv. 14 and 15 Paul's tone changes. "I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you. Though you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me." What Paul means is this: as your spiritual father I want to remind you of your birth in Christ and how you became part of God's family. Do you not remember how you were saved and what feelings you had then? There was no spiritual pride then. The Gospel conquered your hearts and you trusted in Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. You were humble, poor sinners at that time, begging for mercy. What has happened to you since those days? Retrace your steps, therefore, and find out where you went off the tracks. Then confess it to the Lord as sin and become humble again as at first.

To help them go back to their roots, the apostle informs them that he has sent Timothy to them. "For this cause I have sent unto you Timotheus who is my beloved son and faithful in the Lord who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church."

Paul closes this section with a final warning. Some of the Corinthians thought that they would probably never see Paul again, so they felt they could do as they pleased. They might even have thought he would not dare to confront them. But if they thought so, they were wrong. Paul assures them that he planned to see them soon, if the Lord willed. He would certainly not be afraid to face them. Soon he would discover, "not the speech or words of those who were puffed up but the power, For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power" (vv.19,20). They no doubt thought they had good arguments for Paul in the event he showed up. But he would know the difference between mere words and real power. A person's true spiritual character is not determined by the impression he makes with his words, but by the power of his life.

Paul was hopeful that the Corinthians would repent of their arrogance and that by the time he arrived they had changed. "What do you want," he asks, "shall I come to you with a rod or with love and a spirit of meekness [gentleness]?" Naturally, he preferred the latter approach and had said so already. He did not want to shame them, but only admonish them as children he loved dearly. If he had to use a rod to correct them, he would not hesitate to do so. He was prepared to deal sternly with their pride because it is the sin God hates most. But if they responded favourably to his letter, he would treat them with patience and with kindness, as any good father would.

Additional Info

  • Audio: 1105195916
  • Speaker: Rev. C. Pronk
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