Nearing the end of our series through 1 Cor 1-4, Paul has begun to apply to the Corinthians more directly what he’s been saying thus far about worldly judgements and dividing over leaders. In fact, in today’s passage he makes it explicit:4:6 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.
At the start of each day I’ve been summarising the content of 1 Corinthians so far, so we can keep the flow of argument before us. Thankfully, Paul has already done this for us as we come to chapter 4:3:18-23 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
In other words, stop bringing worldly judgements about leaders (or anything else) into the church: God’s wisdom is of a different order. All leaders belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God – we’re all on the same team. (So get along! Remember the theme-statement of the letter, in 1:10.)
Yesterday, we saw how we have a choice of materials with which to build God’s church: perishable materials (relying on human effort) or imperishable materials (relying on the power of G0d). Today, Paul ends with a warning for those who seek to build God’s church.He says our work will be tested when Jesus returns. Like fire tests a building. Then we’ll see how we have built God’s church. Because only that built with imperishable materials will survive into eternity.
Over the last two days we’ve seen how it’s foolish to divide over leaders: they are simply God’s servants who are on the same team, with different roles that work toward the same goal. That goal is the building of God’s church, described by Paul as both a “field” being farmed and a building being constructed.
In the next section he expands on this, warning all those who labour in the church that it is God’s church (not ours) – so be careful how you build it.
Yesterday we saw how foolish it is to divide over leaders. To begin with, leaders are merely God’s servants. Paul reminds us not to see them as anything more (or, conversely, anything less).
In today’s passage we see a second reason it’s foolish to divide over and compare leaders: they have different roles, with complementary functions in God’s work.
So far in our series through 1 Cor 1-4 we’ve seen how the Corinthians were divided over leaders. Over the next few days, we’ll see how Paul shows this behaviour to be utterly foolish. In fact, it’s immature. They think they’re being spiritual, but the fact that they’re divided shows how worldly they still are. They’re still judging others by the values of the world, not God’s values:3:1-4 Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?
Last week in our series through 1 Cor 1-4 we saw how the Corinthians were divided around leaders, because they were bringing the world’s status values into the church. Paul refused to play the game, deliberately avoiding the kind of showy public speaking they craved. It meant he was compared unfavourably with other Christian preachers, like Apollos. Paul defended his tactic by pointing out that God refuses to pander to human pretensions, and most of the time chooses to work through the unpretentious. God’s wisdom runs counter to human “wisdom”.
And that’s what drives the next section of the letter – read it now (1 Cor 2:6-16).
In our series through 1 Cor 1-4 we have seen how Paul refuses to play the world’s status games. In Corinth he didn’t try to impress them with the kind of eloquent public speaking they esteemed, which had a negative effect on how they perceived him. Yesterday, we saw Paul begin to defend his approach, showing how God refuses to play our status games, too. We see this firstly in the gospel of a crucified saviour, which is “foolishness” in human eyes (1:18-25).
But not only does God refuse to pander to human pretensions. It seems he also prefers to do his work through the un-pretentious. Through ordinary people, who aren’t trying to pretend to be something better than they are.
In our series through 1 Cor 1-4 so far we’ve seen how the Corinthians were divided. The wealthier members were trying to display their sophistication and importance by hosting the most eloquent Christian speakers. They were still trying to play the world’s game, but doing it in the church. They were attaching themselves to the various speakers like a fashion accessory; a way of promoting their own image to the world.